Category Archives: Six Degrees

Six degrees of separation: From Rodham to….

Well, another book that I haven’t read to start off this month’s Six Degrees of Separation. For the rules of the game, see here. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

The first book is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Rodham. I don’t know anything about this book except that it’s a fictionalized story of Hilary Clinton. Of course, Hilary never got to be President, but someone who did get to be Prime Minister was Julia Gillard which leads me to…

The Gillard Project (2015) was written by her speechwriter, Michael Cooney. I really intended to read Julia Gillard’s own autobiography – which I even purchased and even now is still sitting in its paper bag unopened- but I picked this up while waiting for books to be delivered at the State Library. It’s interesting that Julia Gillard is best known for her misogyny speech (“I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man”) which was delivered off the cuff, and not written by a speechwriter at all.

One of the best known recent prime ministerial speechwriters is Don Watson, whose Recollections of a Bleeding Heart I loved, but did not review in this blog. However, Don Watson was originally a historian and Caledonia Australis was a very early book, first published in 1984 and republished in 1997 and 2009. It is about the Scots emigration to Australia, starting back with the Highland Clearances, then hones in on Angus Macmillan, the so-called ‘Father’ of Gippsland. Although lionized as a ‘pioneer’ in times gone past, Angus Macmillan bears a more ambiguous reputation today – and indeed, his statue was recently targeted as part of the Black Lives Matter Campaign (although it still stands – for now).

Don Watson wrote about Gippsland, to the east of Melbourne, but Margaret Kiddle wrote about the Western Districts in her Men of Yesterday, which was written in 1961. It’s a rather unfashionable and blinkered book today, with its blithe dismissal of the dispossession of the indigenous people on the lands that her forebears “took up”. But it is beautifully written, and I wish that I had blogged about it in more detail (and in fact, I’ve included it in a Six Degrees previously, so it certainly made an impression).

Clang! Here I go off onto a digression. “Yesterday” surely evokes the Beatles, rousing all my baby boomer enthusiasms. Looking Through You: Rare and Unseen Photographs from the Beatles Book Archive is a collection of photographs of the Fab Four taken by photographer Leslie Bryce. They were originally published in a small A5 booklet format called The Beatles Monthly Book. They’re beautifully clear photographs, many of which I hadn’t seen before.

The Beatles came from Liverpool of course, and Liverpool is one of the settings in Peter Behren’s The Law of Dreams (2006), which awarded the Canadian Governor-Generals Literary Award for Fiction. It reminded me of a Canadian version of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, because both books are written about one of the author’s forebears and their journey to a British settler colony. In this case young Fergus, orphaned by the Irish Potato Famine, ends up in Liverpool working on railway construction, before heading for America.

And here I’m feeling very smug at ending up with Barak Obama’s Dreams from My Father (1995), which of course leads me right back to where I began with the American presidency (although, of course, Obama actually won). A beautifully written book, penned years before the Presidency, which makes you miss him even more and despair at what replaced him.

Six degrees of separation: from How to Do Nothing to…..

odell_nothingSo, another month- another Six Degrees of Separation – see the ‘rules of the game’ here.

I haven’t read the starting book, Jenny Odell’s How To Do Nothing (2019). I think my son read it, but it has really passed me by. I think that the title must offend my Protestant Work Ethic background.

Johnson_cleanstrawBut the title put me in mind of George Johnston’s Clean Straw for Nothing (1969), the second of his David Meredith trilogy, and the sequel to My Brother Jack. Unfortunately, I read it before I started my blog, so you’ll just have to take my word for it that I absolutely loved all three books of the trilogy.

wheatley_cliftSo caught up was I by the trilogy that I became fascinated by Charmian Clift, writer and journalist and, as it happens, George Johnston’s wife. Nadia Wheatley wrote a brilliant biography of her called The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift (2002) which, again, I read before starting this blog.

 

australian-women-war-reportersClift was a journalist, although more of the domestic kind, with long-running columns in the ‘women’s pages’ of the newspaper. Jeannine Baker explores the world of Australian woman war journalists in her Australian Women Reporters (2015). She traces through the various wars that Australia has been involved in, identifying women reporters who had to forge their own roles in a journalistic genre that lionized male war reporters.

Hotel Florida by Amanda Vaill.jpg

And one of the biggest male reporters of them all is Ernest Hemingway, who is just one of the journalists that Amanda Vaill deals with in Hotel Florida (2014). During the Spanish Civil War, international journalists were based at the Hotel Florida in Madrid, and she traces through the interleaved lives of press journalists Ernest Hemingway, Martha Gellhorn, photographers Robert Capa and Gerda Taro and press officers/censors/propagandists Arturo Barea and Isla Kulscar.

mccamishMentioned in passing is the Australian journalist Alan Moorehead, who was also in Spain during the Civil War. Thornton McCamish wrote a fine biography of Moorehead in his Our Man Elsewhere (2016). This book dealt with Moorhead’s experiences as a war correspondent, then his plunge into popular history with, for example, his book Coopers Creek about Burke and Wills.

murgatroyd_digMoorhead wasn’t the only historian to write about Burke and Wills. English writer Sarah Murgatroyd wrote an eminently readable history in her book The Dig Tree (2002), which again, I read before I started this blog. It was quite tragic to learn that she died of cancer just a few weeks after it was published. It has been republished as one of the Text Classics, which is impressive for a book published so recently.

My, I’ve been non-fiction-ny this month.

Six Degrees of Separation: from What I Loved to….

It’s the first Saturday of the month, and so it’s Six Degrees of Separation day. To find out more about this meme, check out Books are My Favourite and Best where all will be explained.

what-i-lovedSo, the starting book is Siri Husdvedt’s What I Loved. I could have sworn that I have read this book, but I have no record of it at all, and when I read the synopsis it doesn’t sound familiar either. But I gather that it starts off with an art historian and a painting, so that leads me to….

 

sittersAlex Miller’s The Sitters which is about an aging portrait painter and his young portrait subject, a visiting academic. It’s only a small book, and like much of Miller’s work, it has layers under its apparent simplicity. Talking about sitting for a portrait leads me to…..

 

thelongingCandace Bruce’s The Longing, which has a dual narrative: one set in the mid 19th century where a young indigenous woman working as a domestic servant in one of those large Western Districts homesteads, observes her mistress’ infatuation with a visiting portrait painter, and a second narrative where 150 years later an art historian visits the same homestead to make a significance assessment of a portrait kept by the family in their now-decayed mansion.  That Western Districts of Victoria setting takes me to….

kiddle_menofyesterdayMargaret Kiddle’s Men of Yesterday: A social history of the Western District 1834-1890. This book, written in 1961, is written by a daughter of the Western District herself, celebrating the white settlement of western Victoria. Its reverence for ‘settlement’  and ancestral pride, without considering the theft of indigenous lands, does not sit well today but it is beautifully written by a young historian who died before it was published. Another historian who discovered Margaret Kiddle’s work was Maggie Mackellar, who used it in writing her own work on Western Districts squatter Niel Black. I haven’t read that work, but I did read Maggie Mackellar’s memoir which led me to….

Whenitrains

When it Rains, Maggie’s memoir of packing up after a family tragedy to return to her grandparent’s property in outback New South Wales. She steps into small town life, while continuing to write through her grief, which she expresses as a series of short chapters, acting as a voyeur in her own life, circling around the pain. The isolation of pain and grief leads me to….

bereftChris Womersley’s Bereft, set during the influenza epidemic of 1919, when Quinn Walker returns from the Western Front of WWI to his childhood home. There is no grand home-coming for him because he had fled his hometown ten  years earlier, when he was accused of a rape, and had been reported dead on the front.. Realizing that his mother is very sick with influenza, he approaches the house when his father is absent, and speakers with his mother, who thinks she is hallucinating. The setting of the book during Australia’s influenza epidemic leads me to….

Spinney_paleriderLaura Spinney’s Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and how it changed the world  is  a global account of the influenza pandemic that reached Australia in 1919. It is well researched and fascinating. She focuses on the disease, its manifestations and the scientific response, but she also interweaves this with a consciousness of how the experience of suffering and recovering from the flu leached out into music and literature in the succeeding decade.

How odd. I seem to have spent quite a bit of time in Australian literature this time, with only my book-end books set internationally.

 

 

 

Six Degrees of Separation: from ‘Normal People’ to….

normal-peopleUsually the first Saturday of the month passes me by and I miss out on the Six Degrees of Separation meme from Kate’s blog Books Are My Favourite and Best.  But I’ve caught it this time, even though I haven’t read the starting book, Sally Rooney’s Normal People.

On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book.

taylor_bright_young_people

 

Rather than normal people, I start off with D.J. Taylor’s Bright Young People: The Rise and Fall of a Generation 1918-1940. This is the story of the self-absorbed generation of London that ‘came out’ at the end of the war, partied their way through the 1920s, were brought undone by the Depression, then tended either to fascism or the idealism of the Spanish Civil War and Communism.

dancing-with-empty-pockets-australias-bohemiansAustralia had its own Bright Young People too, but they generally did not have the entrenched wealth of those in Britain, and they gravitated more towards the arts and the intelligentsia. Dancing with Empty Pockets by Tony Moore explores Australia’s Bohemians, switching the focus between Melbourne and Sydney, with chapters taking in a timespan of about twenty to thirty years, with the 1920s and 1950s given chapters of their own.

moraA real live Bohemian is the late Mirka Mora, whose biography Wicked but Virtuous takes her from WWII Europe as the daughter of a French Jewish resistance fighter through to Melbourne of the 1950s and 1960s. There she became a fixture of the contemporary art scene. More recently she became a puckish and mischievous stalwart of most documentaries of Australian cultural life.

bittoEmily Bitto’s The Strays is a coming-of-age novel set within the unconventional family setting of an artistic bohemian group.  The only child of a rather boring, middle-class family, Lily is treat as one of the ‘strays’ who circulate around the loud, bold Trentham family.  It is an exploration of the heady combination of sex, alcohol and freedom, and the lure of a transgressive lifestyle.

 

doveyWhen I think of strays, I think of dogs which takes me to Ceridwyn Dovey’s Only the Animals, which not only has a dog but camels, tortoises, apes, parrots and dolphins as well. A series of separate short stories, these animals are each caught up in a human conflict during the twentieth century. In each case, there is a connection with a writer who paid homage in some way to an animal in her or his work.

 

Hocking_DismissalDovey? Dovey? Where have I heard that name before? That’s right- Margaret Whitlam was Margaret Dovey before she married Gough. I haven’t yet got round to reading Jenny Hocking’s two-volume biography of Gough Whitlam. However I did read her The Dismissal Dossier, which should be read by those of us who think we remember the 1975 dismissal should read, as well as those who weren’t born at the time.

 

From a romance of two millenials from the same Irish town to the maelstrom of Australian politics – now that’s a journey!

Six Degrees of Separation: From The Outsiders to….

I did this last month and enjoyed it, so I’ll do it again! See the ‘Six Degrees of Separation’ meme over at BooksAreMyFavouriteandBest. This month we start off with S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders. I’ve never read it and I confess that I had to look it up on Wikipedia to see what it was about. I knew that it was ‘young adult’, but I thought it was science-fiction. It’s not- instead it’s about gangs in 1960s Oklahoma.

larrikinsAh! they’re a gang of larrikins – such a beautifully Australian word!- which is explored in Melissa Bellanta’s history Larrikins: A History. Bellanta’s book takes larrikins like Steve Irwin, the forgettable (and best forgotten) Corey Worthington, the Beaconsfield miners and former Prime Minister Bob Hawke and explores the concept of the larrikin throughout Australia’s history.

hazelBob Hawke was a bit of a larrikin, and played up to the image. His America’s Cup jacket and white bathrobe were a bit cringe-inducing, but many Australians had a soft spot for his wife, Hazel. She was a dignified Prime Minister’s wife, especially after he left her for a younger woman, and she was courageous in her openness about her battle with Alzheimer’s (or ‘The Big A’ as she called it), documented in her daughter Sue Pieters-Hawke’s book Hazel’s Journey.

russell_franklinBefore there were Australian Prime Ministers, there were Governors, and Lady Jane Franklin was the wife of Governor Sir John Franklin in Van Diemen’s Land in the late 1830s and 1840s, before he sailed off into the Arctic in the Erebus, never to be seen again. On a much smaller scale, Jane Franklin was pretty intrepid too, traveling alone to Port Phillip and Sydney, and in An Errant Lady, historian Penny Russell presents Jane Franklin’s diaries.

wantingJane Franklin has spawned a number of biographies and has been incorporated into fiction as well, most recently in Richard Flanagan’s Wanting where Flanagan draws together a whole cast of mid-century ‘historical’ characters – Charles Dickens, Sir John and Lady Jane Franklin, George Augustus Robinson, Wilkie Collins – into the fictionalized rendering of the true-life story of the young Aboriginal girl Mathinna in Van Diemen’s Land.

shakespearePeripatetic English author Nicholas Shakespeare was not born in Tasmania, but felt drawn to it by its beauty, only to find that he had family connections there as well: Army officer and merchant Anthony Fenn Kemp and Petre Hordern, a failed alcoholic from a wealthy family, who submerged himself in the bush and dragged his family into poverty. In his book In Tasmania, he uses these two characters as bookends to explore a narrative of Tasmania.

lakeshorelimitedAnd with a surname like ‘Shakespeare’, of course one thinks of plays – especially ‘Hamlet’.  The play-within-a-play is a motif that Sue Miller, whose books I’ve been reading for decades, uses in her The Lake Shore Limited, set in Boston. Not quite Oklahoma where I began, but a round trip from America to Australia and back again.