Tag Archives: literature

For your reading list.

Two wonderful books have recently crossed the bigbookcase desk. Both have been at the centre of publishing industry hype via strong sales, awards and/or film options.  Having now read these books, they clearly both deserve every second of hype and more. If it is time for you to spoil yourself with a new book, head to your local bookseller for one (or both) of these titles. And don’t walk, run.

rosie projectThe Rosie Project

by Graeme Simsion

Text Publishing, 2013


Professor Don Tillman is a quirky man: logical, organised, intellectually brilliant yet utterly socially awkward. Don clearly displays elements of Asperger’s syndrome or high-functioning autism, a fact which is evident to everybody except him. The premise of The Rosie Project is that a very logical Don realises he is lonely and sets about to rectify this problem in a very scientific manner, devising a questionnaire to screen future candidates for the position of his wife. Yet love is the least scientific of all the human elements and Don finds himself in all sorts of bother, especially when he meets Rosie.

Simsion began this book years ago as a screenplay, and after a somewhat roundabout voyage his project ended up as a novel and the feel good hit of 2013, with the rights being sold in over thirty countries. After its original inception as a screenplay it is ironic that after the success of the book, the film rights have been promptly optioned by Sony Pictures.

The Rosie Project is utterly charming, heart-warming and laugh out loud hilarious. It is a novel about human relationships in all their forms, and about the power of love to overcome almost anything.


harold fryThe Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

by Rachel Joyce

Black Swan, 2013


Harold Fry is a retired Englishman, barely existing in a repetitive and melancholic fashion with his wife Maureen. One ordinary morning he receives a letter from an old colleague Queenie, who informs him that she has a terminal illness. On his way to post a reply, Harold decides to walk to the next post box, then the next and suddenly he has embarked upon a pilgrimage to walk from one end of the country to the other. He believes this act of faith will save Queenie.

As he walks, Howard slowly comes to life. This gentle and, as we discover, damaged man undergoes a significant transformation as he methodically puts one foot in front of the other. The reader becomes aware of many Christian references as the novel proceeds: faith, pilgrimage, discipleship, love and redemption. Howard revisits the painful aspects of his life, including the troubled relationships with his son and wife, and we share his grief. During his journey Harold meets a succession of eclectic characters, and eventually word of his pilgrimage leaks to the media and suddenly Harold’s humble journey turns into something more. Yet its ultimate purpose remains unchanged and the final scenes will bring more than a tear to your eye.

As a debut novelist, Rachel Joyce has achieved something very rare – a novel examining the very core of human existence which still manages to be joyous, inspiring and utterly exhilarating. No wonder it was long listed for the 2012 Man Booker prize.

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry will make you laugh yet it will break a little piece of your heart. Touching and ultimately uplifting, Joyce’s prose is deceptively simple yet utterly moving. If you read just one book this year, make it this one.


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Filed under General fiction, Reviews

Top 10 Australian books.

Australian Books JellicoeLast year the First Tuesday Book club conducted a survey to discover Australia’s favourite all-time books. These were the top ten Aussie books to read before you die:

1. Cloudstreet – Tim Winton
2. The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
3. A Fortunate Life – A.B. Facey
4. The Harp in the South – Ruth Park
5. The Power of One – Bryce Courtenay
6. Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey
7. The Magic Pudding – Norman Lindsay
8. The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
9. The Secret River – Kate Grenville
10. Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay

These books were vigorously debated by the panel on the show and like many readers I question a couple of the inclusions, but I am more astounded at some of the omissions: books by Peter Carey, Geraldine Brooks and Nobel Prize winning Patrick White.

Since the announcement of these top ten Australian books I have been pondering my own favourites and have come up with my Top 10 Australian books. My choices are based on the memories these books evoke (something I wrote about here) and the pure joy they have elicited. So, after much deliberation and angst, here are my Top 10 Australian books:

1. A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute.
I have long been intrigued by all history regarding the Second World War. Perhaps this is because growing up I heard many stories from family members relating to that era. For me, the World War Two era is history within touching distance – only one or two generations removed from my reality. I remember reading A Town Like Alice as a teenager and I simply adored it. I loved the history, the scenery, the romance and most of all the characters. Joe Harman is the quintessential Aussie digger and Jean Paget remains one of my all-time heroes, featuring in my list of Top 10 heroes from literature, where I wrote “As a teenage girl I was mesmerised by Jean in A Town Like Alice. She spent three years as a POW being marched around Malaysia, surviving the brutalities of war. Later when she finds out Joe Harman is still alive, she travels half way around the world to a very foreign country to find him. She endures the harshness of outback Australia with dignity and humour, and shows entrepreneurial skill in an era when women garnered little co-operation or respect in doing so. She is one tough lady”.

2. On the Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta.
This features in my Top 10 favourite books of all time, where I wrote: “Whilst she is better known for her other works such as Looking for Alibrandi, for me Jellicoe Road is Marchetta’s best work. The plot is original and the narrative structure is perfect. When I first read this book I was so moved and excited by it that I wanted to share it. I gave it to an English teacher at my school, who returned it unread. I promptly gave it back to her, insisting “you must read this book”.
She returned the book to me with tears in her eyes saying “thank you for making me read this book”. Years later she met Melina Marchetta and told her the story. Marchetta signed a copy of the book for me with the inscription “I’m glad you thought it was worth the journey”. It was and I treasure that signed copy”.

3. The Women in Black by Madeleine St John.
Published in 1993, I only discovered this book a couple of years ago. I love it for the magic and romance it evokes. Set in a Sydney department store in the 1950’s The Women in Black provides a snapshot of a more innocent city, with brilliant observations of the human spirit, underscored by St John’s superb wit.

4. Grand Days (The Edith Trilogy) by Frank Moorhouse.
I read this book within the last year (you can read why here). Set in the 1920’s amid the establishment of the League of Nations in Geneva, the story centres around an ambitious young Australian woman named Edith Campbell Berry. She is quite simply one of the most entertaining and engaging characters I’ve ever read.

5. For Love Alone by Christina Stead.
This was one of my English texts during my final year of school. As a teenager, I found the protagonist quite intriguing: Teresa Hawkins, a strong-willed young woman willing to defy societal norms to follow her heart to London. Though her passion may have been misguided, the book for me was about the ability of a woman to reject expectations in order to discover her own fulfilment. Way ahead of its time (first published in 1945), I probably didn’t fully appreciate the strength of Teresa as a young girl, but this book always brings back memories of my before school English classes with my brilliant English teacher Mrs Wade.

Australian Books Alice

6. A Fortunate Life by A. B Facey.
I read this book as a teenager and I believe it captured my imagination due to my own grandfather’s story. Whilst I have written about my grandfather’s rich reading history here, I failed to mention his days as a young man in the Depression traipsing around the countryside looking for work. Much of A Fortunate Life made me think of my own Pop and as a teenager living a comfortable life, reading about the hardships of others is a humbling experience (which is why I believe so many teens have embraced Ahn Do’s The Happiest Refugee). At one stage the sum total of my grandfather’s possessions was his bicycle and swag, and he had to rely on the generosity of strangers or the luck of his rabbit trap for a meal. Yet like Mr Facey, my grandfather believed he lived a fortunate life.

7. The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville.
This is another inclusion in my Top 10 favourite books of all time. Set in a small Australian town Harley and Douglas have some serious self-worth issues and both are full of their own inadequacies. I think I love this book because there is something really affirming about thoroughly decent yet less-than-perfect characters.

8. For the Term of his Natural Life by Marcus Clarke.
Published in the 1870’s this is a remarkable story of convict life in early Australia. Following the life of wrongly convicted Rufus Dawes, the book provides a rich history of convict life in the early years of settlement which, as a teenager when I first read this book, I found utterly intriguing.

9. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey.
This was another hotly contested book by the panel of the First Tuesday Book Club, specifically as it has been referred to as Australia’s To Kill a Mockingbird. I believe this reference does not do justice to the richness of Silvey’s work. Yes the novel explores racism and bigotry, but there is so much more to Jasper Jones than the division of a town. One of the joys of Silvey’s work for me is the beautifully crafted friendship between Charlie and Jeffrey, and the wonderful humour injected by Silvey into this partnership. And I love protagonists who are well-read like Charlie.

10. My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin.
Published in 1901 and set during the same era, this book about the headstrong and entertaining heroine Sybylla Melvyn and her rural upbringing thoroughly captivated me as a young teenager. I was also intrigued that Miles Franklin was herself a teenager when she wrote this semi-autobiographical novel and that it was published with the help of Henry Lawson.

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Filed under Top 10 lists

On my reading list

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day in my part of the world. In preparation for this, one of my children invited me to shop for my own gift – a truly wonderful invitation. Of course I headed straight for my local bookseller.

It didn’t take me long to choose. Firstly, I wanted a new release which has received some tantalising reviews:

The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

Random House, 2012


Regular readers of bigbookcase will have noticed that I have long been a fan of Anne Tyler. She appears in my Top 10 favourite books of all time and my Top 10 book openings. What I most enjoy about Tyler’s writing is the way in which she manages to portray everyday life in the most sublime and beautiful language. In a Sydney Morning Herald review Kerryn Goldsworthy describes this as “Tyler’s trademark tenderness for her fellow human beings, a generosity unsullied by sentimentality”.

I should have been satisfied with my new Anne Tyler novel. However, my local  bookseller had a ‘three for the price of two’ sale on literary and modern classics. Clearly this was a not-to-be-missed offer, so I chose the following three titles:

  1. Atonement by Ian McEwan – because I’ve seen the movie but have not yet read the book.
  2. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – because whilst I’ve read it a couple of times, I have never actually owned this novel and decided my book collection would not be complete without this classic. This means of course that I will be revisiting the world of Atticus, Jem and Scout in the near future.
  3. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. As a schoolgirl I devoured many classics, including this one. Some, like Austen, I have re-read many times over the years and I am always delighted to see how my interpretation changes according to my own life experience. As a woman who has faced all the joy and pain of life, the passion and the love, the grief and the sorrow, I am keen to measure my adult response to Anna Karenina compared to that of my teenage self.

Mother’s Day is about so much more than gift giving of course, but a little part of me is secretly delighted to be receiving four beautiful books as my Mother’s Day present. I’ll be back when I’m finished reading……









Filed under Reading matters, Reviews, Women

Reading Rule 5

5. Don’t be a snob.

A literary snob that is. This blog contains the rules for getting your child to read. It is about the joy of reading. The idea of reading for pleasure: pure and unadulterated pleasure.  Nothing irks me more than people who scoff at ‘popular’ reads and believe that the only ‘real’ books are those with great literary merit. It is true that in the realms of books and fiction, there is a vast difference in the quality of writing on offer. It would be ridiculous to compare wordsmiths like Howard Finkler or Tim Winton with Matthew Reilly or Janet Evanovich. But I don’t believe the Reillys or Evanovichs of the world expect or want to be compared with writers of great literature. Writers are story tellers. How they tell their story is irrelevant when we are talking about reading for pleasure. If we want to encourage children to read, then it doesn’t matter what they read. If they want to read popular fiction that you don’t think carries much literary merit, don’t worry. Let them read whatever they want. You will be surprised what the popular fiction will lead to.

I am a reader and read everything: great literature such as Booker prize winners to airport fiction, such as thrillers and what I refer to ‘three page chapter’ easy reads. It depends on the mood I am in. All books are worthwhile and valuable, and it doesn’t matter what book your child chooses to read – as long as it’s the right book.

You have to find the right book. It is fair to say that that J.K Rowling single handedly got more kids reading that the combined education authorities across the world. Why? Because Harry Potter was the right book. It grabbed kids, it was readable, it appealed to most tastes and it was a series – read one and you’re more likely to read the next. (It is no surprise that the majority of children’s and young adult novels being released these days are always part of a series, or franchise. This is where authors and publishers can hook a market and make some money). Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight series was also responsible for getting kids, especially girls reading, and Robert Muchamore’s Cherub series continues to hook many boys.

The point is that if you find the right book, your child will read it and probably continue to read other books. I’ve had so many parents tell me that the first book their child read was Harry Potter. Note that they say the first, because their child discovered the joy of reading and kept on doing it. But Harry Potter is not the only book to capture the imagination of young people. I know one Year 9 girl who had not read a book since primary school, and those books were thin, very easy to read volumes. Then Twilight became popular and she was determined to read it. She ploughed through it, going on to read the remaining books in the series. This was no easy feat, considering the last book in the series Breaking Dawn is a hefty tome of 754 pages. But this wasn’t the end of her achievement: she then went on to read another 80 books that year! Now, you will hear many people question the literary merit of Twilight, but I say any book that gets a girl reading 80 books in one year is a masterpiece!

It is not really all that difficult to find the right book. I always tell my students that if they have read a few chapters and they really, honestly can’t get into the book they should bring it back to me and I will find them another. I don’t want a child ploughing through a book they are not enjoying, as I believe it does more damage than good. Reading should be a pleasure. It should be something to look forward to. A good book should have you thinking about it when you’re not reading, anticipating the moment you and the book can be at one again, sharing the story.

If this means cashing in on trends such as Harry Potter and Twilight, then do it. Even if you prefer your child to be an individual and avoid peer pressure, reading should be exempt from this.

Movie tie-ins are another great way to entice kids to read. If a child has seen a movie and enjoyed it, they are familiar with the plot and characters which gives them a sense of comfort and confidence to tackle the book. Books contain much more detail than movies, so the book can be the icing on the cake after seeing the movie. Or the movie can be an inducement:  “read the book and I’ll take you to see the movie”.

A recent example of a successful movie tie-in is I am number four. This book was purpose written as the first in a series of books which will become movies. The book is easy to read, with a great plot and lots of suspense. It doesn’t hurt that the leads in the movie are popular and good looking actors, who have been in other popular movies or television shows. I am number four has a high interest level for both boys and girls – most boys at my school have seen or heard of the movie. They love the book (there are 4 copies in the library which are always on loan or reserved) and one reluctant reader read it in one weekend. All the boys cannot wait for the next book.

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Filed under The reading rules