Book Chat Issue #28
Chocolate and roses
Hello reading friends
Easter is over and most of the chocolate eggs (or in my case chocolate Bilbies) have been consumed. For readers outside Australia, the Bilby is a small marsupial with rather large ears and a pointy nose, faintly reminiscent of a rabbit but more culturally appropriate. A few years ago a marketing whiz decided that we should eat chocolate Bilbies rather than rabbits, even though most Aussies have never seen a Bilby. I don’t mind either way. Good quality chocolate is always welcome, as are good quality books.
What I’ve been reading
A couple of weeks ago I had the good fortune to be invited to the opening night of the Australian Ballet’s production of Anna Karenina. It was an unusual outing for me. I’ve only been to the ballet twice in my life, but luckily for me, my daughter works in the theatre and arts sector and had a spare ticket. I jumped at the chance.
I stayed at her place overnight and in the morning I was dismayed to find that I had forgotten to charge my phone. How would I occupy myself on the trip home? I didn’t have a book with me, (I was travelling light) so I was faced with a long train trip home with NOTHING TO READ!
Fortunately, my daughter is an avid reader and lent me a copy of Pigeon English, by Steven Kelman, a book which I would probably never have read or stumbled across. I spent the train trip home laughing, and then crying.
It’s written from the perspective of Harrison Opuku, an eleven year old Ghanian refugee in London. His attitude to life is full of wonderment. He sees himself as ‘head of the house’ because his Dad is still in Ghana trying to make enough money to bring out the rest of the family. He values friendship and truth and has his own peculiar, but beautiful ideas about the world. Attending a funeral at his local church, he muses on the nature of faith.
People who don’t follow God are called non-believers. They’re lost in the dark and can’t feel anything, they’re empty inside like a robot with the wires taken out. When something good happens they don’t even feel it and they don’t even know when they do something bad. Asweh, it must be very boring. A vampire is like that. A vampire has no soul or blood, that’s why he’s sad all the time.
I’m so glad I read this book and will definitely seek out Stephen Kelman’s more recent novel Man on Fire.
Expand your world
Some people think of reading only as a kind of escape: an escape from the ‘real’ everyday world to an imaginary world, the world of books. Books are much more. They are a way of being fully human.
Books are very important to me and I can’t imagine a life without them. They don’t replace friends, relationships, conversations and laughter, but they do expand your experience of the world. But sometimes our reading choices become narrow and our view of the world shrinks accordingly.
If you want to read more widely, but don’t know where to start, why not try a reading challenge? There are lots of versions on the web, but you can just decide on your own.
Never read the classics? Try reading Jane Austen, the Brontes or Thomas Hardy. My favourite classic is probably Middlemarch by George Eliot (Mary Anne Evans writing under a pseudonym). Issues include the status of women, the nature of marriage, idealism, self-interest, religion, hypocrisy, political reform, and education. A bit of everything really, and a great read.
You could also try reading Tolstoy (Anna Karenina) or choose a book from every country in the world or read some books that have been translated.
Have a special interest? Try some cooking memoirs, or delve into something fascinating like the history of roses. I recommend The Rose Grower by Michelle de Kretser, a beautiful romantic book set against a backdrop of the French Revolution.
The possibilities are endless.
What I’ve been cooking
I’ve been wanting to try this recipe for foccacia by Alexandra Stafford for ages, but I’ve never had enough people to eat it, so having my daughters come for Easter lunch was a good reason to give it a whirl. You have to start the day before and leave the dough to prove in the fridge overnight, but other than that, it’s almost foolproof.
Nevertheless, I did manage to muck it up. I used wholemeal flour rather than the white bread flour specified (it wasn’t labelled properly) and I thought it was going to be a disaster, but it was ok. It’s all got eaten, so it must have been alright.
A final thought
I love getting reading recommendations from friends, so please share if you have a favourite book (or recipe).