Thursday, November 25, 2010

Book 64: Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin

I finally read Mao's Last Dancer by Li Cunxin after borrowing it from my parents almost two years ago and leaving it in my car that I didn't drive for months. It's a doorstop of a book but it's easy to read, a simple biography of a man who had an interesting life. I was avoiding this one because there are so many sad stories from the cultural revolution in China and sad books aren't really my thing.

Li Cunxin grew up a peasant boy in China who was tapped on the shoulder to become a dancer at Madam Mao's academy of dance. He tells the story of the rise and fall of communism as a backdrop to the journey of his learning to dance and learning to love. During which he defects to the west, injures himself and falls in love twice.

This was an easy read and quite enjoyable. I would mildly recommend it but it won't change your life.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Book 5: Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

I felt like a bit of a Australian fraud not having read this book. I got it as an audio book with some credits that my Dad thoughtfully got me and it's been awhile since I listened to it and I've had a baby and lost a lot of sleep in the meantime so this review will be a tad vague.

The book covers the life of two large families the Lambs and the Pickles. The Lambs are a god fearing, hard working christian bunch who are struggling with their faith after a tragedy in the family where one of their sons is almost drowned and is brought back to life but retarded by the lack of oxygen. The Pickles believe in luck and not hard work and their own tragedy, a father's work accident, their mother's predilection for other men have led them to rely on the generosity of their extended family. When their family member dies leaving them a big house in the city they move to Perth and the Lamb's become their tenants.

The book then chronicles the lives of the two families as they make a go of it in their supernatural ramshackle giant house.

All the characters in this book and there is a lot of them are deep and well defined. The way the book is written is deeply Australian and it's really amazing to hear a book written in that tone. I guess that so much of what we read is American (or other) and almost all the TV and movies that I watch are, so I get the greatest sense of comfort and familiarity from reading this author.

Well worth a read (or a listen if you're a commuter).

Peter, my brother, brought me a kindle reader which arrived just today. So I'll probably be doing a lot of reading on that and I'll let you know what it's like when I've done so.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book 37: The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Have you seen the movie? OMG put it out of your mind. I hated the movie of this book and it put me off reading it for the longest time. In fact if it wasn't for the top 100 books then I probably wouldn't have ever gotten around to reading it. The actors in the movie are a fantastic cast Kevin Spacey, Judy Dench, Cate Blanchett etc so I don't know what fell short for me. However ignore the commentary about the movie but take my advice on this one. Read this book it's fantastic.

The story is written about Quoyle who is raised in a dysfunctional family with little love, marries the wrong kind of girl who treats him woefully and is not good at his job as a pathetic hack reporter. His wife Petal, makes his life a misery but has two baby girls who Quoyle loves and Petal does not (but she's like pathological and sells them off). Quoyle gets them back meets his Aunt who comes to town due to his parents death and convinces him to move back to Newfoundland where his ancestors emigrated from some time before.

Quoyle gets a job at the local paper and starts to make friends in the local community which is full of CRAZY newfies who are like the Canadian version of the two headed Tasmanians that Australians make fun of (I would like to just point out that I have nothing against Tasmanians and do not partake in the Tasmanian jokes). The characters are warm and wonderful and full and compelling and you will fall in love with them. Also the books has some dark parts but it has plenty of happy moments as well and has a happy ending! I love a happy ending.

I am having a baby tomorrow but I wanted to get this review written because who knows when I will get a chance to sit down and do it!! Could be months!!!

Monday, August 2, 2010

I've strayed from the path

Since I'm on maternity leave I have found myself in the glorious position of being able to lie around reading books and it's been divine. The thing is that I didn't have any books to read that I hadn't already read, seeing as I haven't been in Brisbane for a few years and I haven't yet discovered a great source for second hand books.

I read a book called Bareback by Kit Whitfield which was about an alternative world where humans are the minority and lycanthropes are in the majority. The minority humans are required to keep the majority of the population in check on the nights that they turn into wolves. It was readable but I wouldn't have read it if I had something better :) Also naming a book after a sex act is just weird.

Then I saw my friend Rhiannon and she is a great reader and she has a huge bookshelf of books that I haven't read. It's great to meet new readers because they always take you somewhere that you might not have gone yourself. There are so many authors and so many books that really what you read is just all chance and you're probably missing so many fantastic books and authors but there isn't the time to read them all. That's why the book group, although fleeting, was fantastic.

So one of you read, I think it was Penny, The Time Travellers Wife which was published in 2003, written by Audrey Niffenegger and I just only had the chance to read it. It's was such a fast fun read and with my background of obsessive science fiction reading it was great to have what was quintessentially a love story put into such an interesting time scale. So the protagonist travels back and forth in time, with no control over when it will happen or where he will go and travels to this one spot over and over again where he meets a girl when she's a child who won't meet him in real life until they're in their twenties and but the time that he goes back to meet her as a girl doesn't occur for him until his thirties, so when he meets her in his twenties he's never met her before but she has met him many many times. It's so confusing to try to explain but it was enjoyable and I would recommend it.

Then I picked up Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen which wiki tells me is was written in Nanowrimo which is national write a novel month. It's the story of Jacob Jankowski who was a bright young man on his way to his final exams to become a vet when his parents died and sent his life into a spiral, into the circus in fact. The story is written back and forth from Jacob's point of view as a young man and his memories that are being prompted by the visiting circus across the road from his old peoples home when he's in his 90s. It is again a love story predominantly but the characters are bold and warm and many of the anecdotes are based on real stories from actual travelling circuses in America.

I'm reading The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx at the moment which is so much better than the movie, which shouldn't suprise me at all because that's the way of things and I'm listening to the audiobook of Cloudstreet by Tim Winton and both of those are on the 100 best books list so I'll be back with reviews when I can.

Our baby is due in about 12 days! so it could be awhile.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Book 4: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

So I still haven't had to go outside of my own book collection to stick to the Top 100 books list yet. Although To Kill a Mockingbird was an easy choice because I have been brought up to love it. This is one of my Dad's favourite books and he reads it every year at least once. The author Harper Lee grew up in a small Southern town and her father was a lawyer but she never said that the book was autobiographical. One of her childhood friends was the author Truman Capote who wrote classics like Breakfast at Tiffany's and the first non fiction novel In Cold Blood. Harper Lee never wrote another novel after this one and mores the pity because it was an instant hit and I understand why. There is conspiracy theories that Truman Capote wrote or shadow wrote the book but I think it's more likely that some people just have one great book in them and this was her book.

The story of Atticus Finch a lawyer in a small Southern town, widowed and left with his two kids Scout and Jem. The story is told from Scouts point of view and she is only about 8 or 9 in the story. Atticus is from an old money family and is doing the best to bring up his children to be moral and upstanding members of the community. No nonsense tough love is handed out by Calpurnia, the negro maid at the house who takes care of the children. Atticus respects and likes Calpurnia and has brought the children up to do the same. He is a loving father but perhaps has brought the children up a little too fast, talking to them like adults and reading the paper with them. They have turned out really smart but a little precocious.

The first part of the book is all about the kids summer adventures, which made me nostalgic for the days when I used to take off into the bush with my friends and spend hours making camps and tree houses and playing games fuelled by our imaginations. Scout and Jem make the acquaintance of the boy staying with their neighbour the strange little guy called Dill who has an amazing ability to tell fantastical stories. Much of their play centres around the character of Boo Radley, a shut in living across the road with his fanatical religious parents. In the book the children in the town have made up hundreds of myths and stories about the Radley family, like if you eat the pecans that fall from their trees you'll die because they're poisoned. However Boo makes gestures of friendship to the kids by leaving secret presents in the tree that they pass on their way home from school.

Their summer idyll is troubled by a big case that Atticus gets appointed to where a upstanding hard-working young black man Tom Robinson has been accused of raping a white girl. Atticus defends Tom's case passionately in the face of racism and hate from other people in the town who feel his actions are traitorous. One of the main themes of the book is the coming of age of young Jem who is a little older than Scout and feels the injustice strongly. I'm sure you can all remember being young and having to deal with something unfair for the first time, it's a hard lesson to learn as a child and one that you can't ever reverse.

This is a classic for a good reason and number 4 on the top 100 books as voted by the Australian public. If you haven't read it then do so! you won't be disappointed.

Much Love