Sunday, December 8, 2019

"Wolfe Island" by Lucy Treloar

Started reading: 7th December 2019
My score:

Aussie Author Challenge: Female author, historical/speculative fiction?

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

Started reading: 11th November 2019
My score:

I haven't finished reading this book yet. I'm 115 pages in but still not really liking any of the characters. It is a shame as it feels like the book is building suspense and probably will be a really good thriller. I might pick it up again soon, but for now I am reading Lucy Treloar's "Wolfe Island" and that has hooked me from the first pages.

Friday, October 4, 2019

"The Old Lie" by Claire G. Coleman

Started reading: 4th October 2019
Finished:sometime in October 2019.

I read Claire's first novel "Terra Nullius" last year, and it was a very powerful book that had a huge impact on me. While very different in some ways, "The Old Lie" also has similar powerful themes throughout it, making you reflect on humanity, refugees, empathy, racism, colonialism, all while being gripped by a sci fi war story full of interesting characters whose paths eventually intertwine in unexpected ways. I thoroughly recommend it. The book also connects to one of the few poems I remember learning at high school that made an impression on me at the time - Wilfred Owen's "Death et Decorum est" - the beginning of the story definitely transported me into the scenes that poem evoked.

Aussie Author Challenge: Female author, Indigenous Australian Author, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction.

“The Missing Lynx” by Ross Barnett

I was very excited to start reading this book about the cool Pleistocene (“Ice Age”) mammals of the UK written by fellow ancient DNA time travel friend Ross. We shared a PhD supervisor, although Ross was based in Oxford and I was based in the Australian Centre for Ancient DNA (ACAD) at Adelaide, and while my PhD focused on the ancient DNA of extinct and ancient bears, Ross’s PhD  focused on ancient Felids/large cats like Smilodon and Cave Lions.

I bought my copy of the book from Ross directly, and he kindly posted it to me along with a bookmark inserted at arguably the most important part - a whole chapter on ancient bears!

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. After a pretty intense few months reliving some of of the not so great aspects of my PhD experience this year, this book helped to remind me why I wanted to do a PhD in ancient DNA in the first place! It's incredible to think of all the wonderful almost mythical creatures that roamed the earth not that long recently in fact that our ancestors would have seen and hunted them. It is so sad that so many have been driven to extinction and we will never see Mammoths, Mastodons, Giant Short-Faced Bears, Cave Lions, Sabre-Tooth cats again. But with ancient DNA, it is kind of the closest you can get to time travel, using genetic and isotope technology and paleontological analysis to learn about what they ate, how they responded to climate change, their interactions with early modern humans, what they were related to...etc It also makes you value the diversity of species we still have left, but scares you with how much humans have destroyed and are continuing to destroy in this 6th Mass Extinction that we are living through (and causing) currently.

Ross not only tells you interesting facts about all these cool creatures of the Ice Age, but shares fascinating stories of history and science and human culture, plus lots of random and often hilarious side stories and footnotes. It is not a dry non-fiction book, it is page-turning and full of interesting stories, personal insights/opinions and humour. There are plenty of side references to pop culture throughout, including Lord of the Rings, Star Trek and Star Wars. The book obviously was pretty close to home for me, with many of the animals and ancient DNA techniques, characters and concepts being familiar from my PhD days...but I still learnt heaps of things from the book and thoroughly enjoyed it. I also dont think you would need to be an ancient DNA nerd like me to enjoy it immensely.    

Started reading: 14th September 2019
Finished: 4th October 2019
My score/review: 9/10

Genre/Topics: Non-Fiction, Ancient DNA, Paleontology, Ice Age, Extinctions.

"Too Much Lip" by Melissa Lucashenko

"Too Much Lip" by Melissa Lucashenko was the latest book I chose to read as part of the annual Aussie Author Challenge that I take part in most years (where I try to read 12 books by Australian Authors), and as part of my personal reading challenge to myself (to make sure at least 6 of these books are by Indigenous Australian authors this year).

This book was the Winner of the Miles Franklin literary award in 2019. I found it to be a real page turner (I read it cover to cover in less than 2 days, and it has been a long time since I have done that), yet it wasn't a light superficial book, it was packed full of hard truths about racism. I’ll be reflecting on this book for a long time, and I am really grateful for Melissa writing this book and giving me the chance to see a glimpse of life in Australia from a very different perspective to my privileged white experience. It shows many ways that colonisation has had a negative impact and still is having a negative impact on Aboriginal Peoples. The story is raw, hard-hitting, but also full of dark humour. I was gripped by it and was drawn into it. In contrast to Kim Scott's "Taboo", Melissa has injected a lot of Aboriginal language (Yugambeh language?) from northern NSW/QLD and Aboriginal-English slang throughout the story. Sometimes the words are explained, often they are just woven into the story and the reader can guess the meanings from the context. I really loved this aspect of the book, and given how many Indigenous Australian languages have been destroyed through colonisation I think it is really generous to share little parts of this language with the readers in this way. 2019 is the International Year of Indigenous Languages, and I have been loving hearing various Australian Indigenous languages celebrated more openly in the last year or so. I would love more local Indigenous languages being spoken around Australia, with place names and other words reverting from the English names to the names they were previously given for 1000s of years. For those who are interested, there is an ABC Radio podcast called "Awaye" that covers a lot of interesting topics on Indigenous art and culture and often has segments showcasing Indigenous Australian words from different languages around the country.

This is the first book by Melissa Lucashenko that I have read, but I will definitely be adding one of her previous books "Mullumbimby" to my 'to read' list now.

Started reading: 13th Sept 2019
Finished: 14th Sept 2019
My score: 10/10

Aussie Author Challenge stats: Female author, Indigenous Australian author, New to me author

Sunday, August 4, 2019

"Dyschronia" by Jennifer Mills

"Dyschronia" by Jennifer Mills is one of the short-listed books for the Miles Franklin 2019 awards. It is set in South Australia and has an environmental/climate change angle which of course makes it a must-read book for me.

The first thing I want to say about this book is that Jennifer Mills' writing is beautiful, unique, and skillful. I wrote down several quotes from the book as I read it because I was so captivated by the words and how she captured the tricky ways in which time can seem to move:

"Three years since she'd seen Ivy, maybe four. Twice that long since she had left saying she needed time, as if time wasn't everywhere, seeping into every crevice."

"It wasn't right the way these moments, the worst moments, could tear out of their resting places. As if nothing ever passed into history, as if everything was only another layer of now, sticking over and over itself like old wallpaper."

"And time came off it's axis and rolled away".

"Time doesn't stop until it stops for good. It only heals until it kills."

These are just some of the examples of the way time is described in "Dyschronia", and similarly other concepts, are written in a multitude of different ways that each seems to capture the essence of the thing being described so perfectly, only to have that thing described again in a completely different way at another point in the story that is perfect from another view.

The book itself can be hard to follow in some ways, deliberately so, as most of the book is told from the point of view of Sam, who suffers from migraines that appear to forewarn of the future, and each chapter jumps back and forth in time and between what is really happening and what Sam has 'seen' through her migraines over several decades of her life. As I have read mentioned elsewhere, the other chapters of the book are reminiscent of the 'chorus' from Greek Tragedies like King Lear or Antigone, and are told from the point of the collective town members.

The story itself is dystopian/speculative fiction, set in South Australia in a town called Clapstone with many similarities to real world Whyalla, including multiple references to the giant cuttlefish that spawn in that special part of the world. The book deals with climate change, it appears to be set in the very close future, and looking back at our current time in a nostalgic way, but this is mixed with a depressing acceptance of the new reality of unviable land, forced relocations of towns and cities, living in 'domes', never-ending drought, the death of all sea life, hardly any birds except drones that look like birds or caged pet budgies.. the book is quite bleak, and depressing, because it feels like this is eerily familiar to what we are on the cusp of now with the general apathy and lack of leadership in this country to address global warming and the climate crisis with the urgency and seriousness that it deserves. It's like we are sleep-walking into a dystopian migraine of a future that seems all too credible:

"For our generation, the course of life seemed tilted towards growth. The boom was infinite, like the ocean."

"But there's no safe, not after tomorrow. We exist between emergencies, emergency responses, more emergencies."

I would give this book 10/10 for the writing and the uniqueness, but I'm giving it 9/10 overall because I found the last few chapters unsatisfying in tying up the loose ends and was a bit confusing. It was probably intentional, and maybe I was unsatisfied because I wanted a positive outcome, but the ending is probably more in keeping with the themes of the book.

Started reading on my kindle: 4th August 2019
Finished: 13th September 2019
My score: 9/10

Aussie Author stats: female author, new author to me, dystopian/speculative fiction genre.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

"What I talk about when I talk about running" by Haruki Murakami

I picked up this book at my favourite second-hand book shop - Adelaide's Pop-Up Bookshop - currently at the Adelaide Central Markets. I haven't read any other books by Haruki Murakami before, but am aware he's a prolific and highly regarded author. I chose this book because it is about running, something I love doing when I can motivate myself to do it regularly, and although I don't consider myself particularly talented at it, it brings me a lot of positive experiences and a way to process my thoughts.

I really enjoyed this book as it is an insightful contemplation of training for and completing marathons (and triathlons) in various locations around the world. The way the author describes his meditative experiences of running really resonate with me, and I also have contemplated some of the same things he ruminates on while running. As someone who has also trained for and travelled to New York to participate in running events (the New York Marathon for Murakami, the 15km Ted Corbitt run in Central Park for me) I have also experienced similar feelings and scenes.

The book is well written and I really enjoyed Murakami's writing style. This particular book is translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel, I'm unsure if he has translated other books by Murakami, but it was a pleasure to read and I will be looking out for more books by this author/translator team. 

While I have not yet run a half marathon or a marathon, both are on my bucket list, maybe for 2020. I have had a break from running for most of this year - I struggle to find the energy during the heat of summer - but winter is here now and so I have recently started running 3-5km once a week again and once again am about to start building up a regular running routine. I find having a goal event to work towards and look forward to helps with starting or re-starting a regular running routine, but once habituated again I become addicted to running and feel out of sorts when I am prevented from running for some reason. Reading Murakami's thoughts and experiences of regularly running long distances while aged in his 30s-50s was encouraging, plus the way he planned for and travelled to specific places to run events contributed to motivating me to set some new running goals. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys long distance running, or is trying to find motivation for any kind of endurance exercise. 

Started reading: 11th July 2019
Finished: 21st July 2019
My score: 9/10