Saturday, January 1, 2022

2022 Reading Goals


How was your reading year?   

I set myself a goal of 50 books but only managed to read 32.

Too much bridge playing me thinks ;)

This year, because I never learn, I've set an even higher goal. But more of that in a moment.

So here are the titles I read (or listened to) in 2021.  The blurbs are from Goodreads:

  1.  Love and Virtue by Diana Reid - Feminism, power and sex play out through the eyes of young Australian uni students in a contemporary narrative that is fiercely authentic. On The Australian's Books of the Year list. And the Chat 10 Looks 3 list. Contemporary Fiction.
  2. The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovatt - Arthur Prescott is happiest when surrounded by the ancient manuscripts of the Barchester Cathedral library, nurturing his obsession with the Holy Grail and researching his perennially unfinished guidebook to the medieval cathedral. But when Bethany Davis arrives in Barchester to digitize the library's manuscripts, Arthur's tranquility is broken. Appalled by the threat of modern technology, he sets out to thwart Bethany, only to find in her a kindred spirit - and a fellow Grail fanatic.I listened to the audio version which was great. Mystery/Historical Fiction
  3. The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre - Inspiration for the major motion picture Mama Weed; translated from the international bestseller La Daronne, winner of the European Crime Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policière, France’s most prestigious prize for crime fiction. Crime/Mystery
  4. Adventure of the Christmas Pudding by Agatha Christie -First came a sinister warning to Poirot not to eat any plum pudding...then the discovery of a corpse in a, an overheard quarrel that led to murder...the strange case of the dead man who altered his eating habits...and the puzzle of the victim who dreamt his own suicide.Crime/Mystery
  5. Still Alice by Lisa Genova - Still Alice is a compelling debut novel about a 50-year-old woman's sudden descent into early onset Alzheimer's disease, written by first-time author Lisa Genova, who holds a Ph. D in neuroscience from Harvard University.Contemporary Fiction.
  6. Betoota-isms by The Betoota Advociate - Sugarcane Champagne
    / sug-ar-cane sham-'pén /

    1. Bundaberg Rum/Bundy Rum
    2. Biblical holy water produced and enjoyed in South East
    3. Official fighting fluid of North Queensland

  7. Convenience Store Woman by Sayara Murata - Convenience Store Woman is the heartwarming and surprising story of thirty-six-year-old Tokyo resident Keiko Furukura. Keiko has never fit in, neither in her family, nor in school, but when at the age of eighteen she begins working at the Hiiromachi branch of “Smile Mart,” she finds peace and purpose in her life.Contemporary Fiction.
  8. Secrets of Happiness by Joan Silber - Ethan, a young lawyer in New York, learns that his father has long kept a second family - a Thai wife and two kids living in Queens. In the aftermath of this revelation, Ethan's mother spends a year travelling abroad, returning much changed, just as her now ex-husband falls ill. Literary fiction.
  9. Good Talk by Mira Jacob  -Mira Jacob's touching, often humorous, and utterly unique graphic memoir takes readers on her journey as a first-generation American. At an increasingly fraught time for immigrants and their families, Good Talk delves into the difficult conversations about race, sex, love, and family that seem to be unavoidable these days.Memoir
  10. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri - Nuri is a beekeeper; his wife, Afra, an artist. They live a simple life, rich in family and friends, in the beautiful Syrian city of Aleppo - until the unthinkable happens. When all they care for is destroyed by war, they are forced to escape.Historical fiction
  11. Still by Matt Nable - The humidity sat heavy and thick over the town as Senior Constable Ned Potter looked down at a body that had been dragged from the shallow marshland. He didn't need a coroner to tell him this was a bad death.Crime/Mystery
  12. Should we stay or should we go by Lionel Shriver - When her father dies, Kay Wilkinson can’t cry. Over ten years, Alzheimer’s had steadily eroded this erudite man. Surely one’s own father passing should never come as such a relief? Contemporary Fiction.
  13. Patch  Work by Claire Wilcox - A linen sheet, smooth with age. A box of buttons, mother-of-pearl and plastic, metal and glass, rattling and untethered. A hundred-year-old pin, forgotten in a hem. Fragile silks and fugitive dyes, fans and crinolines, and the faint mark on leather from a buckle now lost. Claire Wilcox has worked as a curator in Fashion at the Victoria & Albert Museum for most of her working life. Memoir
  14. How to Love Your Laundry by Patric Richardson - Humour and yes it is about doing your laundry/Household Management
  15. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams - In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid’ was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it. Historical fiction
  16. A Clear Vision by Elisabeth Wheeler - A Clear Vision is the story of Mrs Janet O'Connor, first Lady Principal of the new Brisbane Girls Grammar School in 1875. Her philosophy of education would clash with the grammar mode and she went on to found her own school in the City which moved to Oxley and was called Duporth.Non-Fiction/History
  17. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu - Growing up is always hard, but especially when so many think you're a washed-up has-been at twenty-two.Contemporary Fiction
  18. Downsizing with Family History in Mind by Devon Noel Lee and Andrew Lee -Whether you have 1 hour or 1 year to downsize your possessions or those of a loved one, the task is overwhelming and fraught with error. Downsizing with Family History in Mind guides you through the process with Action Plans based on the time you have available to complete the downsizing process. Non-Fiction/Genealogy
  19. Isabel Lopez-Quesada at Home by Isabel Lopez-Quesada -Innovatively combining period and contemporary furniture and art in a sophisticated mix, the homes of Isabel López-Quesada are inspirational and unforgettable. In At Home, the Spanish designer tells her own story. Memoir
  20. This Lovely City by Louise Hare - London, 1950. With the war over and London still rebuilding, jazz musician Lawrie Matthews has answered England’s call for labour. Arriving from Jamaica aboard the Empire Windrush, he’s rented a tiny room in south London and fallen in love with the girl next door.Historical fiction
  21. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths by Barbara Comyns - Marry in haste, repent at leisure. Sophia is twenty-one years old, carries a newt -- Great Warty -- around in her pocket and marries -- in haste -- a young artist called Charles. Swept into bohemian London of the thirties, Sophia is ill-equipped to cope.Classic/Virago
  22. Sisters by a River by Barbara Comyns - On the banks of the River Avon, six sisters are born. The seasons come and go, the girls take their lessons under the ash tree, and always there is the sound of water swirling through the weir. Then, unexpectedly, an air of decay descends upon the house: ivy grows unchecked over the windows, angry shouts split the summer air, the milk sours in the larder and their father takes out his gun.Classic/Virago
  23. Flesh Wounds by Richard Glover - A mother who invented her past, a father who was often absent, a son who wondered if this could really be his family. Memoir
  24. The Spyglass File by Nathan Dylan Goodwin - Morton Farrier was no longer at the top of his game. His forensic genealogy career was faltering and he was refusing to accept any new cases, preferring instead to concentrate on locating his own elusive biological father. Yet, when a particular case presents itself, that of finding the family of a woman abandoned in the midst of the Battle of Britain, Morton is compelled to help her to unravel her past. Historical fiction/Genealogy Mystery
  25. Girl in the Walls by AJ Gnuse - Elise knows every inch of the house. She knows which boards will creak. She knows where the gaps are in the walls. She knows which parts can take her in, hide her away. It’s home, after all. Thriller
  26. Certain Lives by Margaret Reeson - Spanning the century from 1830 to the First World War and the Great Depression comes this dramatic story of three generations of Australian women. Bestselling author Margaret Reeson evokes with warmth and insight the pain and progress, joy and tragedy of Anna, Mary and Grace – mother, daughter and granddaughter. Family History/Faction
  27. The Champagne War by Fiona McIntosh - In the summer of 1914, vigneron Jerome Mea heads off to war, certain he’ll be home by Christmas. His new bride Sophie Delancré, a fifth generation champenoise, is determined to ensure the forthcoming vintages will be testament to their love and the power of the people of Épernay, especially its strong women who have elevated champagne to favourite beverage of the rich and royal worldwide.Historical fiction
  28. The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai - With the epic sweep of Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko or Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing and the lyrical beauty of Vaddey Ratner’s In the Shadow of the Banyan, The Mountains Sing tells an enveloping, multigenerational tale of the Tran family, set against the backdrop of the Viet Nam War.Historical fiction
  29. Nobody will tell you this but Me by Bess Kalb -Bess Kalb--whip-smart, Twitter-famous TV comedy writer and regular New Yorker "Daily Shouts" columnist--has saved every voicemail message her grandmother, Bobby Bell, ever left her. The two were best friends and confidantes. Bobby doted on her granddaughter; Bess adored Bobby. In 2017, nearly ninety, Bobby died Memoir
  30. Honeybee by Craig Silvey - Honeybee is a heart-breaking, life-affirming novel that throws us headlong into a world of petty thefts, extortion plots, botched bank robberies, daring dog rescues and one spectacular drag show.Contemporary Fiction/Bookclub
  31. Weather by Jenny Offill - a shimmering tour de force about a family, and a nation, in crisis  Contemporary Fiction
  32. Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey - Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Memoir

So, 7 contemporary fiction, 7 historical fiction, 3 crime/mystery, 2 humour, 6 Memoirs, 2 classics, 1 history, 1 thriller, 1 genealogy book, 1 family history, 1 Literary fiction.It's also important to acknowledge that I did start reading 24 other books but I'm not going to put them here.  Most of these were new to me authors with the exception of Agatha Christie, Lionel Shriver, Fiona McIntosh and Nathan Dylan-Goodwin.

If you asked me which books I liked reading best I'd have to say Honeybee, The Mountains Sing, Flesh Wounds, A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing, Should we stay or should we go, Good Talk, Convenience Store Woman, Still Alice, The Lost Book of the Grail and Love and Virtue.  10.  Not bad out of 32.  Not that some of the others weren't good but they were the ones I like best or found easy to read and enjoyed.


Okay here is the plan for 2022


  1. Journey to Paradise by Dorothy M Richardson Virago
  2. Second Place by Rachel Cusk Contemporary Fiction
  3. Burning Island by Jock Serong Historical Fiction
  4. The Promise by Damon Galgut - Book club
  5. Fancy Meeting You Here by Ali Berg - Romance
  6. Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris Historical Fiction


  1. The First Stone by Helen Garner Feminism
  2. All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West Virago
  3. Bobbin Up by Dorothy Hewitt Virago
  4. Without My Cloak by Kate O'Brien Virago
  5. Canticle Creek by Adrian Hyland Crime Mystery
  6. Dissolve by Nikki Gemell Memoir


  1. Miss Herbert by Christina Stead Virago
  2. Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby Virago
  3. Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane Virago
  4. Letty Fox - Her Luck by Christina Stead Virago
  5. Devotion by Hannah Kent Historical Fiction
  6. By Pass by Michael McGirr


  1. Ann Veronica by HG Wells Virago
  2. Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton Virago
  3. Frost in May by Antonia White Virago
  4. Lucy Gayheart by Willa Cather Virago
  5. Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan New release Mystery
  6. Believe in Me by Lucy Neave  Contemporary Fiction


  1. Mad Puppetstown by Molly Keane Virago
  2. Glitter of Mica by Jessie Keeson Virago
  3. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann Virago
  4. Reckoning by Magda Szubanski Memoir
  5. The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie Memoir
  6. Your Own kind of Girl by Clare Bowditch Memoir


  1. Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier Virago
  2. The Holiday by Stevie Smith Virago
  3. A doll's House by Henrik Ibsen Classic
  4. Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver Classic
  5. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel Historical Fiction
  6. Daughters of the Labyrinth by Ruth Padel Contemporary Fiction


  1. Jenny Wren by EH Young Virago
  2. Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge Virago
  3. The Cuckoo's Cry by Caroline Overington Contemporary Fiction
  4. The Streets by Anthony Quinn Classic
  5. Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage Mystery/Crime
  6. Sacred Hunger by Barry Unsworth Historical Fiction


  1. Ante Room by Kate O'Brien Virago
  2. The Little Company by Eleanor Dark Virago
  3. Moonraker by F Tennyson Jesse Virago
  4. Story on the Stone by Cao Xuegin Classic
  5. Dinner with the Schnabels by Toni Jordan New release Contemporary Fiction
  6. Fatal Grace by Louise Penny Mystery/Crime


  1. Some Everyday Folk and Dawn by Miles Franklin Virago
  2. One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes Virago
  3. Painted Clay by Capel Boake Virago
  4. O Quinze by Rachel de Queiroz Memoir
  5. The Friendly Young Ladies by Mary Renault Virago
  6. The Memorial Feast for Kokotoy-Khan by Saimbay orozbq uulu Classic


  1. Oh William by Elizabeth Strout
  2. The Squire's Daughter by FM Mayor Virago
  3. The Rector and the Doctor's Family by Mrs Oliphant Virago
  4. The Sheltered Life by Ellen Glasgow Virago
  5. The Four Chambered Heart by Anais Nin Classic
  6.  The Curate's Wife by EH Young Virago


  1. Never No More by Maura Laverty Virago
  2. Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim Virago
  3. Three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge Virago
  4. The Semi-attached Couple in the Semi-Detatched House by Emily Eden Virago
  5.  A Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines Classic
  6.  Novel on Yellow Paper by Stevie Smith Virago


  1. Deerbrook by Harriet Martineau Virago
  2. The Unlit Lamp by Radclyffe Hall Virago
  3. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace-Thakeray Classic
  4. Zadig by Voltaire Classic
  5. Marcella by Mrs Humphrey Ward Virago
  6. Germinal by Emile Zola Classic
There's a proliferation of Virago Modern Classics and other classics here.  I've got 317 Viragos and it's time I read them.  That was the plan when I bought them.  Read them in retirement.  Well retirement is here.  Get on with it girl!
I've joined about half a dozen Reading Challenges on Goodreads just because they are so much fun to write up.  Of course, there are so many more books I want to read.  I don't know what to do in terms of what I order from the library.  I think I need to be much more restrained about what I order in.  And of course I've got bookclub books yet which I don't know about.
Such is life.  How has your reading year been?  How's this year shaping up? 


Saturday, June 5, 2021

What I borrowed today...


So here's the stack I borrowed from the library today.  Text Publishing sent me an email this week highlighting their latest releases. I chose the Gail Jones and Robbie Arnott books, not because they're latest releases but because they have both been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award. 

 All I've read of Gail Jones is Five Bells.  Robbie Arnott is new to me.

I listened to the ABC's Bookshelf program yesterday on the way to Bel's place and so have been sucked in to reading more Patricia Highsmith.  Yes, I have ordered the new biography. Eek! I'm such a goose.  I now realize that Those who Walk Away is the only Patricia Highsmith I have read.  I will have to order another.  Strangers on a Train sounds good.  I've also ordered The Blunderer because it is such a splendid title.

I have wanted to read A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing for a while. Have you read it? Did you enjoy it?

And I borrowed a couple of magazines for idle browsing.  I love the healthyfood magazine and I thought I would see what The Simple Things magazine is like.  I get bored easily when making meals and need a bit of inspiration.  Hence the Healthier Together cookbook as well. I find it challenging just cooking for two all the time.  

Last but not least a knitting book because you can never look at too many knitting patterns.  I don't think I know about KlompeLOMPE but maybe I follow them on Instagram.  At any rate, it looks fun and lovely.

What am I reading currently?  Well I started listening to The Lost Book of the Grail by Charlie Lovett as suggested by Modern Mrs Darcy. 

I've also got There was still Love by Favel Parrett beside the bed and  The Group by Mary McCarthy which I was trying to read for a Virago Book Club discussion on Facebook.

The Echo wife by Sarah Gailey, The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert and The Edward Street Baby Farm by Stella Budrikis are also lying in wait for me.

What did you borrow from the library this week?  Any comfort books like me for long winter nights?  Are you cooking and knitting more?  Do you like reading Patricia Highsmith?  Do you ever get to read the books you borrow?  How do you commit to reading so you reach your goals?  I'm 7 books behind on my goal of reading 50 books this year.  How are you going?

Sunday, February 28, 2021

Certain Lives: The Compelling Story Of The Hope, Tragedy And Triumph Of Three Generations Of Women

This novel was recommended at a recent Society of Australian Genealogists Friday Book Hangout. We we were all suggesting books that might appeal to family historians. This one called out to me because it is partly set in the Cowpastures/Camden area where my convict ancestors were married.

This is a three-generation (and probably more) story which starts in England in about 1830 and follows the journey of a free couple and their children out to Australia and the progress of their descendants. The focus is on the matriarchs of the family; the grandmother, daughter and grand-daughter. Much of the latter story is set in south western New South Wales at Coolamon or thereabouts. There is a lot of history to cover; early settlement, the Gold Rush, the first World War and the Depression.

The book is over 400 pages and had to be obtained as an inter-library loan through the Brisbane City Council (thank you Wagga Library for entrusting me with it). I had two weeks to read it so was on a strict timetable. This did not allow me to savour it but rather pushed me through some bits which I would have otherwise found somewhat repetitive and indeed may have caused me to give up and toss aside.

At times I found the religious overtones almost too much and wondered if younger readers might find them too off-putting. On reflection, however, I was glad I persisted. Methodism, or what became the Uniting Church, was a powerful force in this particular family's life (check out the author's biography on Wikipedia). Whether we agree with it personally or not, it certainly shaped the family's response to and experience of historical events and should not be discounted.

As always, this account reconfirmed how much easier we have it these days in terms of house-keeping/home-making. Just the business of preserving meat, fruit and vegetables was a full-time job on its own without having to wash and care for a family. As the old refrain goes, "I don't know how our grandmothers did it all!"

It was lovely to read the Epilogue and hear how stories had been passed down through the generations. I particularly liked the one of the pioneering grandmother who refused to get off the boat until her husband went into Sydney to buy her a bonnet to replace the one lost earlier on the long and arduous voyage. Bless her heart.

Did I learn anything new? Yes I think I did. I was particularly fascinated to read about how the original wealthy landowners went belly-up as it were in I think the 1840s-50s so I need to read up more about that particular part of Australian history. I also didn't know about how hard it was for farmers during the depression with the government promising certain prices for prices for wheat and then defaulting on those promises. And as I say, it also opened my eyes to how much religion can be a driving force in a family and how that should be taken into account in considering ancestor's lives, even if it's not the case in today's world.

This novel is testament to the love the author has for her ancestors' fortitude and strength of character. Reeson has also written biographies and historical accounts covering a wide range of topics. I may have to read more!

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Girl in the Walls by A.J. Gnuse


I received this book as part of #BRPreview. 

I am not usually a gothic novel reader so was initially apprehensive. The story ticks all the boxes when it comes to the conventions of a Gothic novel but it is not Frankenstein. This is American Southern Gothic literature; something quite different. 

The setting is in the months leading up to Hurricane Katrina in 2005. 

At first, I wrestled with the premise of a young girl living inside the walls of her old home while a new family lived there. As she climbed up and down inside the walls like a spider monkey, I was mentally sputtering "Preposterous!". But I have lived long enough now to know nothing is impossible. 

Once disbelief was suspended, I had a fine old time, scaring myself silly with the "monster" who inevitably shows up. 

This book is a triumph on many levels: the writing, the characters, the pacing. I loved the short little chapters. They helped ease me into the story and made me feel I could dip my toes in carefully. A big thank you to all who brought this story to life. So many important ideas to think and talk about; what is home, a monster,  fear ? Great job!

Saturday, February 6, 2021

The Mountains Sing by Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai


I read this book in a bit of a rush because I decided I wanted to participate in the first Avid Reader online bookclub.  (If you would like to participate, you can register for the next one on 2 March.  It will be about Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey).  Thanks to Gold Coast Libraries I was able to find an e-version quickly.

This from Avid Reader's website:

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai was born in Việt Nam in 1973, and grew up witnessing the war's devastation of her country. She worked as a street seller and rice farmer before winning a scholarship to attend university in Australia. She is the author of eight books of poetry, short fiction and non-fiction in Vietnamese. Her writing has been translated and published in more than ten countries and has received many honors, including the Hà Nội Writers Association's Poetry of the Year 2010 Award. She currently divides her time between Indonesia and Việt Nam.

I had about five days to read The Mountains Sing.  Let me tell you, I had no trouble reading it at all.  It was very engaging from the get-go.  

As a family historian, I was delighted to see the Tran Family Tree on the first page.  And indeed, this is a family saga, told from two points of view, see-sawing between the grand-daughter's and then the grandmother's point of view.  

My bookclub read Pachinko last year which was a real eye-opener to me in terms of history and this was much the same. I was transported immediately into the Vietnam war and its terror.  

This is not a memoir, rather a fictitious story made from stories told to Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai combined with her own memories and experience.  

What I loved about the book was that it was by-and-large a compelling read.  I say by-and-large because there was one point in the book, about two-thirds of the way through, where I started to feel it getting "soapy" and I felt "outside" the story rather than being immersed in it.  I almost felt that it was written by another author in bits.  

The online bookclub discussion was very good and other readers offered insights into why I might have felt this way e.g. problems with translation; sometimes it is hard to capture subtleties in language.  But not to worry, this was only for a short while and then I became engaged in the story again.

I also loved the lyrical quality of the language.  There are some standout passages in this story.  The one that resonated or touched me deeply was the following one:

My mother was like a tree uprooted.  She would just sit there on the phan, her gaze distant and empty.  Minh, Ngoc and Dat didn't leave her alone, though.They surrounded her, becoming the soil of her life, demanding that she grow new roots. "Grandma, play with us," they said, pulling her arms, leading her out of the house, and into their childhood games.

Just beautiful, no?

I gave this 4/5 stars in the end.  It certainly stimulated me emotionally AND intellectually and  I learned heaps e.g. I grew up thinking Hanoi and Saigon were just that but no, they are Ha Noi and Sai Gon.  Just little things like that makes me realize how ignorant I am.  As if I didn't need more reminders ;)  The author describes the complexity of the Vietnam War from the families who didn't fit neatly into North and South, or indeed the soldiers.  I had no idea about the Great Hunger and the description of Land Reform was truly shocking.

Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai wrote this story as a plea for no more war.  She didn't need to convince me but I hope her book is widely read and disabused anyone who thinks there might be glory or salvation in war.  

If you would like to see the Avid Reader interview with Nguyễn Phan Quế Mai you can catch it on YouTube here.

Honeybee by Craig Silvey

I finished 4 books in January.  My review of Memorial Drive is the blog post before this.  Then I read Weather by Jenny Offill, Honeybee by Craig Silvey and Nobody Will Tell you this but Me by Bess Kalb.  All very different books.

Today I will review Honeybee by Craig Silvey.

Craig is an Australian writer based in Western Australia.  He is probably most famous for his novel Jasper Jones.  I confess to not having read Jasper Jones but I did see the movie.  Does that count?  I can highly recommend it.  It was directed by Rachel Perkins and has a to-die-for cast including Toni Collette, Hugo Weaving, Dan Wyllie, and Susan Prior.  

I was very slow to read Honeybee. Everybody else seemed to read it waaaay before I did.  I was lucky to borrow it from the Ipswich Library service and they had plenty of copies to borrow at their wonderful Karalee Book Pod.

The subject matter didn't feel very original to me at the beginning.  I kept thinking to myself "Oh this is a bit of Julie and Julia or Animal Kingdom.  But I persevered and slowly the characters started to grab hold of me.  More importantly, I began to worry for Sam.  There is a wide range of characters in this story from drug addicts to bullies, to drag queens and Vietnam Vets.  Craig did a great job of making them all believable.  In particular, I loved Sam's friend Aggie's character to bits; so unique and funny as well as being heartbreakingly honest and a real friend.  

Going back through the book I am surprised how quickly the story unfolds (much quicker than I remember). The best bit about the book was that you weren't told why Sam was called Honeybee until the very end.  I loved that.

I gave Honeybee 4/5 stars and mostly because Craig captured the kind of ghastly conversations someone has with a bully.  They were so gut-wrenching for me to read.  Let me give you an example:

"The fuck are you doing?"
I tried to close the door, but he blocked me.
"The fuck is this?"
"Doesn't fucking look like nothing.'
He stepped inside and I backed away.
'It's nothing. I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I'm sorry.'
He pushed me hard. I fell back.  He closed the door behind him. Then he picked up the iPad.
'Who's this? What are you, a faggot?"
I shook my head.
Steve snapped the iPad in half and threw it aside.
"You're not a faggot?'
'Then what are you?'
"You're nothing?"
'Yes. No."

And so on.  You get the picture.  Pretty harrowing stuff to read.    

But it's not all doom and gloom.  Sam thankfully meets some wonderful people who give them just the support they need to discover who they are, grow strong and be at ease with their identity.

So in summary, the plot is compelling and I think Craig deal with the issues sympathetically but without pulling any punches.  

Yes, I would recommend this book to others but it's not for everyone and comes with a language warning and flags for issues like suicide and gender-identity.  

Sunday, January 3, 2021

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey


This memoir ticked quite a few boxes for me in terms of my reading goals.  Memorial Drive was a nominee for the Goodreads Choice Award for memoir & Autobiography which is why I chose to read it. I became quite obsessed with reading memoirs last year, so this was a continuation of that.  

For 2021, I am keen to increase my empathy for those whose life experience is very different from mine.  I also wanted to read a Pulitzer Prize winner.  Whilst this book didn't win a Pulitzer Prize, Natasha Trethewey did win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2007.  

It's a slim volume at 212 pages but it is by no means an easy read or a book you want to read too quickly.  It needs to be digested slowly.

This is an exploration of delayed grief. A picking away at a wound, buried for many years. The author observes:

 "The whole time I have been working to tell this story, I have done so incrementally, parsing it so that I could bear it: neat, compartmentalized segments that have allowed me to carry on these three decades without falling apart."


The book is broken into two parts.

The first part is about the author's childhood.  The second part is the author's attempt at experiential research; an attempt to reconstruct her mother's life in the final days before her second, estranged husband kills her.

Trethewey breaks up the writing from time to time with bracketed reflections.  Wikipedia tells us that square brackets or crotchets are used to insert explanatory material.  There are five of these bracketed reflections.  They are reflections on the creative process and the subconsious experience of grief.  The first reflection is an account of the author's dream three weeks after her mother dies.  The second reflection is about the dreams that began once the author announced the intention to write about the experience of her mother's death.  The final three reflections are about the writing process.

Time and Place

Trethewey was born in 1966 in Gulfport Mississippi.  On her birth certificate her mother is described as coloured and her father Canadian.  In fact her parents had to marry in Cincinatti, Ohio as it was illegal for them to marry in the south.  Her mother gave birth in the coloured ward of the hospital.  In 1966.  I am dumbstruck that segregation was still operating this late in the day.  

Trethewey's birthday was the 100th Anniversary of the Confederate Memorial Day.  That fact and having two well-educated parents who imparted a great love of writing and literature gives Trethewey a unique perspective and ability to articulate the complexity of her heritage and the challenge of straddling both worlds.  

I've included a map below for those not familiar with the locations described in the book. You can zoom in and out for context.


Themes and Issues

There are so many themes and issues in this little memoir, its difficult to know where to begin.  There is the issue of racial segregation, black and white, north and south, divorce, separation, post-traumatic stress disorder and addiction, mother-daughter relationships, blended families, domestic violence, trauma.  


As a family historian and lover of literature I found this both a visceral and deeply intellectual approach to a memoir.  

The author states:
"To survive trauma, one must be able to tell a story about it."

Her account of being "sideswiped" by grief in reading real records resonated strongly with me.  

As did the crazy happenstance or synchronicity, often in timing, of people connecting you with materials vital to your research.

As the daughter of a writer and a scholar, Trethewey is familiar with the device of metaphor to help us tell stories.  She trawls through her past examining the stories, including dreams, she has told herself, looking for reinterpretation and new meaning.   

She has suffered survivor's guilt and the challenge of acknowledging and/or coming to grips with how much our parents, and particularly our mothers, sacrifice in order to ensure not only our survival but our growth.  

Her testament to her mother's life, and the cruel robbing thereof, is powerful reading indeed and gives much food for thought.