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Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Year of Reading Backwards - Book 1: 'The House of Mirth', 1905

You may remember that I've decided to make this The Year of Reading Backwards. For my first book I chose Edith Wharton's heart-breaking story of socialite Lily Bart, The House of Mirth. Set in New York during the 1890s poor Lily just can't take a trick - in fact you'd be hard-pressed to find a greater self-sabotager in the whole of English literature. Although she arguably meets her perfect match in the very first chapter her inability to choose between marrying for love or money leads her to make a string of unfortunate choices that lead her further and further from her goal of security and happiness. I wanted to throttle Lily much of the time but Wharton's insightful and sympathetic prose kept me reading long into the night.

No sooner had I finished the sad tale of Lily Bart, however, than I found myself backsliding into the world of new releases with Franklin and Eleanor: An Extraordinary Marriage by Hazel Rowley - and I'm so glad I did. Eleanor Roosevelt was everything the fictional Lily is not. Like Lily, Eleanor was a member of the New York 400 and was bought up to make a 'good marriage'. Unlike Lily, however, she married for both love and money making a formidable match with her distant cousin, Franklin D. Roosevelt.

What an extraordinary couple they were! Both as a couple and as individuals they continually challenged themselves and each other to fulfil their individual destinies. Imagine becoming the president of the United States without anyone realising that you couldn't walk (Franklin was struck down by polio in his 30s and his minders ensured that he was never photographed being carried anywhere - how times have changed!). Eleanor herself was a remarkable woman championing civil rights, helping to draft the Universal Declaration of Independence and transforming herself from a shy young woman to an inspirational national figure. Sadly Australian biographer Hazel Rowley died just months after her book was released to critical acclaim. She was 59.

Next book in 'The Year of Reading Backwards' is 'The Woman In White' by Wilkie Collins. Have you read it?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Feeling small...

A person's a person no matter how small... Horton Hears Who via

With so many momentous civil and natural disturbances going on all over the world at the moment I've been feeling like a very small speck indeed. My world seems smaller than usual revolving around kids, school, swimming lessons, work, cooking, reading and sleeping and as humdrum as that may sound I'm acutely aware that there are many, many displaced people out there who are desperately missing that sense of homely routine.

If you feel you'd like to help you might like to donate here, here or here.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Woollie Weather...

Image via. It's by Japanese manga artist Junko Mizuno (I'm sure that a heart she's knitting from!!!)

There's a nip in the air this evening so knitting/crochet season can't be too far away...

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Supporting The Shop Around The Corner...

Storytime at the delightful 'Shop Around the Corner' featured in You've Got Mail (1998)
Image via

Tomorrow is World Book Day but many book-loving Australians may not feel that much like celebrating. Last week Angus & Robertson, one of Australia's oldest bookstore chains (first opened in 1884) went into receivership following a disastrous marriage with megabook empire Borders. While it would be easy to just blame growing internet sales and the rise of the ebook for the group's demise the truth, as always, is more complex. Angus & Robertson should never have joined forces with an already ailing Borders as explained here and here and while the demise of Borders may seem like a victory for the little guy, the people who'll suffer most are those who live in the suburbs and regional areas of Australia where most of the A&R stores are located.

I remember when Borders first breezed into town in 2003 with their superstores and price discounts. We all watched in amazement as they opened an enormous store right across the road from Melbourne's favourite indie bookstore, Readings. Things looked pretty grim for the little bookstore but it fought back and today the Readings stores are bigger and better than ever. So how did they do it? They did it by employing staff who live and breathe books, by supporting important community projects and by stocking the best damn selection of books in the city. They have no loyalty program and offer no discounts at the till but they are still my favourite place to shop.

Don't get me wrong I've certainly bought the odd book at Borders over the years (and A&R and Dymocks and lots of other places) and I've even bought a few books online but there is something so wonderful about shopping in an independent bookstore where you can 'feel the love' that it's a ritual I refuse to give up (even if it does costs me a few dollars more). Imagine a world where you can't just nip into a bookshop, soak up the ambience, browse the shelves, check out the new releases and find and fall in love with a new author/book. Makes me shiver just thinking about it! So go on - celebrate World Book Day by going out and supporting your local independent bookshop. I'm sure there's someone working there who's dying to recommend a great book...

Barnabus lives on...

Autumn is here already and we don't seem to have had any summer at all which feels a bit strange. But not as strange as the fact that Tom saw my old car whizzing down the highway yesterday. I was so sure the car dealers would sell it for scrap and I'm so glad they didn't. Barnabus lives on...