Life Update

Hi lovely readers! I’m sorry for not having posted any reviews in the last few weeks – I have been insanely busy writing essays and studying for exams. I’m finally free now though, so I’ll try to get through my backlog over the next week or so. Also, some pretty big changes have happened/are happening in my life right now, and I just thought I’d share them with you.

  1. I had my last exam this morning, which means that I have officially finished my degree. Woohoo! I’m relieved to be done with assessments, but I’m a little sad that my university days are over (at least for now).
  2. At the end of the month I will be leaving my beloved Melbourne to go and play in a music festival in France. I’m unbelievably excited about this, but I’m a bit heartbroken about leaving this wonderful city and all the wonderful people in it for an indefinite amount of time.
  3. I have resigned from my amazing bookshop job and will be heading off on a year-long adventure across North America in October. I don’t really have much of a plan yet, which is both exhilirating and terrifying. If you have any recommendations for things to do/places to see/bookshops to fawn over in the USA or Canada, I would love to hear from you.

Anyway, that’s my life at the moment. It’s a bit of a mess, but it’s an exciting mess. I also read a few books over the last few weeks, which I will try to review as soon as possible. Here is the list:

  • The Last Painting of Sara De Vos – Dominic Smith
  • The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern
  • The Lost Continent: Travels in Small-Town America – Bill Bryson
  • Adulthood is a Myth – Sarah Andersen
  • O Pioneers! – Willa Cather
  • Wishful Drinking – Carrie Fisher

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of them? Do you have any good post-graduation book recommendations? Or recommendations for books that will get me excited about road-tripping across America? Would love to hear your thoughts. 🙂 

~Anna

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Around The World in 26 Books!

Earlier this week, while talking to Tristen over at musingsfromablogabroad, I came to the realisation that the list of countries that I have read books from is shockingly short. I have read a lot of European, American, and Australian literature and, well, not that much else. It’s terrible, I know! Anyway, I’ve decided to remedy this by setting myself a challenge: I am going to try to read one book from a different country for each letter of the alphabet (i.e. A for Argentina, B for Belarus, etc).

As you can probably imagine, it gets a little tricky with letters like Q, Y and X, which is why I need your help. I thought I would post my very tentative reading list and if you have any recommendations, please let me know. I am finding it especially difficult to find Qatari, Omani and Yemeni literature that has been translated into English. Anyway, here it is!

A – Argentina, Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges

B – Belarus, Chernobyl Power by Svetlana Alexievich

C – Cuba, Before Night Falls by Reinaldo Arenas

D – Denmark, Out Of Africa by Karen Blixen

E – Egypt, Arabian Days and Nights by Naguib Mahfouz

F – Finland, Under the North Star by Väinö Linna

G – Greece, Zorba the Greek by Nikos Kazantzakis

H – Hungary, Journey by Moonlight by Antal Szerb

I – Iran, The Blind Owl by Sadegh Hedayat

J – Jordan, Snow in Amman: An Anthology of Short Stories from Jordan by Ibtihal Mahmood

K – Korea (South), The Vegetarian by Han Kang

L – Libya, The Return by Hisham Matar

M – Moldova, The Good Life Elsewhere by Vladimir Lorchenkov

N – Nigeria, We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

O – Oman, Earth Weeps, Saturn Laughs by Abdulaziz al-Farsi

P – Philippines, Noli Me Tangere by José Rizal

Q – Qatar, The Holy Sail by Abdulaziz al-Mahmoud or The Girl Who Fell to Earth by Sophia al-Maria (not sure if this one counts because she grew up in the US, Qatar and Egypt)

R – Romania, any book by Herta Müller

S – Singapore, Ministry of Moral Panic by Amanda Lee Koe

T – Thailand, Sightseeing by Rattawut Sapcharoeasop

U – Uruguay, The Ship of Fools by Cristina Peri Rossi

V – Vietnam, The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

W – Wales, Gillian Clarke: Collected Poems by Gillian Clarke

X – Mexico, The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

Y – Yemen, A Land Without Jasmine by Wajdi al-Ahdal

Z – Zimbabwe, We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo

Have you read any of these books? Do you have any recommendations? I would greatly appreciate your help and if any of you want to join this reading challenge, please let me know. 🙂 

~Anna

EDIT: I forgot to mention that Tristen and I will be attempting this challenge together. Well, I didn’t exactly forget – I’m just technologically challenged and couldn’t figure out how to add the link to her blog. Anyway, I figured out how to do it and you can find her blog here. I strongly recommend checking it out as her reviews are very good and she has read pretty much every book on the planet. Oh, and she is much better at posting regularly than I am.

My Bedside Book Mountain

My bedside book mountain is really getting out of hand. Yesterday I bought two new books instead of picking up one of the million unread books lying around my apartment. Pitiful. But they both looked so good and I needed them on my shelf! To be honest, that’s probably a lie, but whatever. Anyway, I thought I would share with you some of the books I’m working my way through at the moment. I wish that I were more disciplined and could read just one book at a time, but I have a bad habit of picking up new books at random, discarding ones that don’t interest me, and most unfortunately, buying new ones instead of going to the library or reading what I already have.

1. The Story of a New Name – Elena Ferrante

I picked up My Brilliant Friend a couple of weeks ago and absolutely adored it (you can find my review here). The characters are wonderfully complex, the writing is so fierce and vibrant, and the story is very gripping. Needless to say, it took me less than 24 hours to buy the second book in the series after finishing the first. So far I am enjoying it immensely and to be honest, I think it might even be better than the first. I have definitely been converted.

2. The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke

I am also currently reading Maxine Beneba Clarke’s powerful and harrowing memoir about growing up black in Australia. I’m not going to lie, this is a difficult book to read, but I think that it is a very important book for Australians at this time. To be honest, I have neglected this one a little just because it is so depressing – the blatant and cruel racism that Maxine describes really makes my stomach squirm – but I definitely plan on finishing it soon.

3. The Hidden Life of Trees – Peter Wohlleben

Now for something completely different – The Hidden Life of Trees! In this book, Peter Wohlleben shares his deep love of trees and forests and explains the amazing scientific processes of life, death, and regeneration he has observed in the woodland. He argues that much like human families, tree parents live together with their children, communicate with them, and support them as they grow, sharing nutrients with those who are sick or struggling and creating an ecosystem that mitigates the impact of extremes of heat and cold for the whole group. As a result of such interactions, trees in a family or community are protected and can live to be very old. I’m only a couple of chapters in (this is my go-to lunch break read at work), but I still can’t figure out whether this guy is a treehugging nut case or a total genius. Will have to wait and see.

Which books are on your bedside book mountain? Have you read any of these? Do you have any recommendations? 

~Anna

My Top 5 Post-Election Recommendations

I don’t think that I’m alone in saying that the results of the recent US election have left me feeling pretty down. But more than anything, they have left me wanting answers. How could this have happened? Why did it happen? What can we do about it? Almost every day customers come into the bookstore and ask me to recommend something that will lift them out of their post-election depression, which has inspired me to put together this list of my top five post-election recommendations.

1. Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis – J.D. Vance

Written by a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, Hillbilly Elegy is a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, this book is a fascinating study of class, culture, and the American dream (or rather, the loss of the American dream for many). While this book does not explain – at least not directly – why Trump won the election, it certainly is a touching and troubling meditation on the lives and experiences of those who made up his largest voter base.

2. Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities – Rebecca Solnit

Although it was published in 2004, this book could not be more relevant at the moment. In Hope in the Dark, Rebecca Solnit makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and her extensive research into political, social, and environmental history, Solnit reflects on the often-neglected victories of activism and argues that the positive consequences of our actions are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable. As usual, Solnit’s writing is beautiful, but more than that, she hits home with her hope-filled message for anyone who feels overwhelmed, discouraged, and desperate about the current state of political affairs.

3. The Underground Railroad – Colson Whitehead 

While most of the books on this list are non-fiction, the power of a novel should not be underestimated. This book deals with America’s disturbing racial history and reimagines the path that slaves took to escape the Deep South as an actual railroad that runs beneath the earth. To be honest, I haven’t read this one personally, but quite a few of my coworkers attest to its brilliance. Oh, and it won the 2016 National Book Award, so there’s that.

4. White Trash: The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America – Nancy Isenberg

This book is a fascinating history of the class system in America, extending from colonial times to the present, and challenges all comforting myths about equality. It’s well-written, thoroughly-researched and very relevant today. Would definitely recommend reading it in conjunction with J.D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy. 

5. Year of Wonders – Geraldine Brooks 

Sometimes I think that the best cure for post-election depression is a little bit of perspective, which brings me to my final recommendation. Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders is set in 17th century England in a small, isolated village gripped by the plague (how’s that for perspective?) and tells the story of a brave young woman struggling to survive and to prevent the disintegration of her community. While it sounds pretty depressing, this book is actually incredibly uplifting and weirdly relevant to the US election.

Anyway, that’s it from me. Which post-election reads do you recommend?

~Anna