Welcome

For many years I’ve wanted to join a book club, but have found it impossible to commit to monthly meetings for various reasons, or if I did, what about the guilt I would feel if life got in the way and I didn’t manage to finish the book, or what if I simply chose not to continue with the nominated book because I was finding no value in doing so. Would that be considered a legitimate choice? Or would I be crucified for my decision? So part way through 2017 I decided to create the Quarterly Bookclub for people like me. Most people I talked to felt that they could make it to a quarterly event and hoped that they just might be able to read a prescribed book every three months. What I wanted most was to create an accessible space for people to be able to share a love of books and reading but remove the obligation, pressure and regulation. This site is an extension of all those ideals, and an attempt to tap into the vast resources of others known or not.

If I’m lucky enough to see my 95th birthday I may be able to read another 2,288 books, and that’s only if I can maintain a one book a week pace. When I first became aware of this I felt alarm, as for the past year or so I’d lost my reading mojo, a slump that’s a book lovers worst nightmare. Almost every book I seemed to pick up was either poorly written, formulaic or bloody beige. I’m no writer, my skills don’t lie in that area and I’ve battled with grammar all my life. While I may not always be able to articulate why a book is well written, I think I can recognise one when I read it.

I became disillusioned with reviews when I selected a book based on industry trusted praise, only to get to the end and be utterly perplexed as to why? I thought that I’d missed the whole point, the story was boring, the writing was clunky and poor and in need of a good editor. I dug a little and found that the author was the daughter of a respected publisher. Of course I understand that there’s a level of subjectivity that needs to be allowed for and that a readers journey is personal. But I felt ripped off and vowed to be more circumspect with the reviews I chose to listen to.

I sought out alternative reviews to book sellers and those with vested interests, and so began subscribing to a plethora of magazines and visiting online review platforms. I was astounded by the length of the reviews and frustrated when a reviewer spent most of their time waffling on about various related or unrelated topics and only a couple of paragraphs about the actual book. I felt like it was more about them and their own ego. Or there was the online reviews that were formatted on the right of reply, which incidentally is a general concept I support, only to be preachy and/or about slagging off the previous reviewer. Half a dozen of these reviews and I’d lost an hour, and while I acknowledge the value in all of these mediums, I want to spend my valuable time reading an actual good book.

It’s not a cliché to say that time is valuable when in today’s world it really is just that. Quite frankly I don’t have enough of it available to spend hours researching. I want to read a review that’s independent, tells me if a book is well written, and lets me know if there’s a good story for me to be able to connect with. Or it may be that I’m following an idea or am curious about a current affairs or perhaps a social commentary topic and seeking to be better informed and exposed to various opinions and theories. When I have time for reading I want do all I can to make it count.

With respect to books, I want this to be a forum that provides short, one paragraph reviews. So by all means please contribute, be frank and fair with your reviews but restrict yourself to the book only. We also don’t need to resort to personal attacks on each other or the author despite how we feel about the book, surely we can be honest without that. We have an inch, so let’s not take a mile. On this point I will be strict and reserve full rights to delete anything that I feel goes against the spirit of what we’re trying to achieve. Which is to fill a gap in the review space that caters for busy people who don’t have the luxury of spare time to waste on banal endeavours and the ego of others.

While reading is certainly one of my great loves, I also feel energised by good conversations. I don’t mind difficult topics and feel that there’s a lot to gain from discussions that represent a multitude of opinions, thoughts and ideas. One overriding factor that is critical for me when I take part in such exchanges, is that those who participate be able to maintain their dignity and we all display a level of respect for each other by not descending into personal attacks. No value comes from this. I want to be able to learn from others and be able to allow the evolvement of my own thoughts, ideas and opinions as I become more informed. With this in mind, at various times I may introduce a topic for discussion and it is my hope that we can draw on our vast resources to be able to expand our knowledge and provide varied reading resources, publications, journal articles, essays, and perhaps even poetry and podcasts to enliven and enlighten. The eternal optimist in me believes that we can create a space for this type of exchange.

I may not get it right all the time and I expect there will always be books or discussions that I don’t like or enjoy for whatever reason, but quite frankly that in itself is not a good enough reason not to expose myself to them. However what I do want is to spend my remaining years reading wisely, widely and as well as possible while continually reflecting on my position.

So please join in and connect if you feel this is for you.

J xx

Featured post

‘Ghostly Tales: Spine-chilling Stories of the Victorian Age’, illustrations by Bill Bragg

Review: Give me a good psychological horror, add in a hardback edition with haunting illustrations and the subtle formality of the writing style of the 1800’s, and you’ve nailed one of my many reading pleasures! This is a collection of seven short stories, some familiar and some new to me. Although none are truly terrifying, I must confess as I was driving home a week ago in the midst of a storm, a modern version of Amelia B. Edwards, ‘The Phantom Coach’, was playing out in my mind. Through these stories I was reminded of the mastery of Dickens with ‘The Signalman’, while being introduced to F. Marion Crawford, who had me sitting by the fire, three parts gone with a glass of Hulstkamp, right beside Captain Charles Braddock while listening to his tale of the screaming skull. Every now and then we need to be reminded of what good writing is, and it’s right here.

Pages: 175

Genre: Horror

Reviewer: Jody

Blurb: A vengeful phantom lurks in a country graveyard. A whaling crew becomes trapped on a haunted ship. A human skull is kept locked in a cupboard, but sometimes at night, it screams….This collection of tales will transport you to a time when staircases creaked in old manor houses, and a candle could be blown out by a gust of wind, or by a passing ghost. Penned by some of the greatest Victorian novelists and masters of the ghost story genre, these stories come alive alongside exquisitely eerie art in this special illustrated edition.

Source: Dubin, E. (Designed by), Ghostly Tales: Spine-chilling Stories of the Victorian Age’, illustrations by Bill Bragg, (2017), Chronicle Books, San Francisco.

Quarterly Bookclub 3 – Wrap

Good Morning All,

A big thank-you to Gina for hosting and her food spread, your table always looks amazing. I’ve decided that if one eats lots of fruit, it counterbalances the chocolate consumed. Fran, your spanakopita is spectacular, and welcome at any gathering!

Next Meetup: Friday, 29th June

Venue: Jody’s home, 7.00pm

Book: ‘White Teeth’, by Zadie Smith

Secondary Book: ‘Frankenstein’, by Mary Shelley

Poetry: Your choice

I love waking up to days like this. Today my little corner of the world is like a vortex, as the windows are flexing in the wind and from here the whitecaps on the water look almost tidal, a sea mist is hovering and threatening to descend. And now comes the rain, a perfect day to spend in my reading chair!

As I was leaving for Bookclub the other night I bumped into my neighbour. We had a quick chat about our various weekend plans, both commenting on the pleasures of a quiet weekend in. Descending in the elevator I reflected on the bottle of bubbly and the book in my hands, this wasn’t one of those nights, tonight I get to go down into the rabbit hole that in everyday life we tend to avoid for the sake of decorum and not offending or being offended. So that’s what Bookclub is to me, it’s a few hours where we get to talk about topics and themes where sometimes we’re objective and measured and sometimes we’re passionate and unrestrained, but we’re always thoughtful and respectful. For me, it’s a privilege to share time with this amazing group.

Moby Dick! What an expedition, and one that we’re all richer for having had, no matter how far each of us made it through this object of vertu. We all agreed that this certainly is a book that demands much from its reader, there’s no doubt that it’s bloody hard work, and yet it rewards you on every page. It teaches us, it makes us feel a little wiser, it respects us as readers, it assumes that we are capable and leaves us better off for having made it a part of our lives for however long. We were all in awe of Melville’s depth of knowledge at the age of thirty-one. This is the work of an exceptional writer which Sandy captures well, as it’s not just the ‘language, as well as the mind and personality of Melville that shines through. It is beautifully descriptive as well as philosophical.’ We all appreciated the short chapter style, allowing much needed respite at times, while adding to is charm.

So which rabbit hole did we fall into? Gina drew our attention to chapter 89 which gave an insight into the legislation around ownership at the time, using the analogy of a ‘harpooned woman’ and her being the possession of her husband, while pointedly asking the question directly to the reader about each of our part in being both ‘a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish’, a chapter I encourage everyone to read again or even on its own. While insightful in context of the time, it provided fodder for a fascinating discussion on equality of representation in organisations, positive discrimination and whether analogies can or even should be drawn with minority groups despite women being around half the population.

Moby-dick is a most certainly a gift to readers. If you ever have the opportunity to read this for the first time or again it will be worth every moment you invest in it. Make no mistake, it is hard work, but give yourself time and be patient and you will be better placed to tackle this leviathanic opus.

Just a quick comment about our secondary book; I was having a look at the ‘Readings Bookstore’ website under Bookclub recommendations and came across the suggestion to pair the original Frankenstein with a book, a reimagining of the original, that’s been long listed for this years Booker Prize, ‘Frankenstein in Baghdad’, by Ahmed Saadawi. Published in 2014, it won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction so could be an interesting read also.

Until next time,

J xx

The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage

by Philip Pullman

Review: Not normally one to pick up a book part way through a series, let alone a fantasy novel, I thought I’d make an exception for Philip Pullman’s much talked about novel in twenty years. Having no preconceptions of Pullman’s audience, I was surprised to discover that it’s the kind of book you could read to a pre-teen. It’s fantasy lite, well written and ticks all the boxes for a story that’s original and has good pace. It manages to discreetly touch on the topics of refugees, religious zealotry, political and social structures, freedom of thought, sexual predation, gender, empathy and climate change. I can see this as a book that provides an opportunity for parents to introduce all, some or none of these issues to conversations, or simply enjoy and wait for the second book in the series to be released no matter what age you are.

Number of pages: 546

Genre: Fiction, Pre-teen Fiction, Fantasy

Blurb: Malcolm was the landlord’s son, an only child…he had friends enough, but he was happiest on his own playing with his damon Asta in their canoe, which was called La Belle Savage.

Malcolm Polstead’s life in the pub beside the Thames is safe and happy enough, if uneventful. But during a winter of unceasing rain the forces of science, religion and politics begin to clash, and as the weather rises to a pitch of ferocity, all of Malcolm’s certainties are torn asunder.

Finding himself linked to a baby by the name of Lyra, Malcolm is forced to undertake the challenge of his life and to make a dangerous journey that will change him and Lyra for ever…

Twenty-two years after the publication of the ground-breaking His Dark Materials, Philip Pullman returns to this epic parallel world in a masterful new novel: the long-awaited volume one of The Book of Dust.

Blurb Source: Pullman, P., The Book of Dust, Volume One: La Belle Sauvage, (2017), David Fickling Books, Oxford.

Force of Nature

By Jane Harper

Review: Some years ago I heard the term ‘brain clearing’ being used to describe books that don’t ask too much of the reader but are engaging enough to keep you anchored. I put great value in these type of books, to the point where I think they deserve their own genre. This is one of those books and can easily be read in a day. It’s clear, simple and structurally well enough written with a formula that incrementally builds the characters and story to keep you interested enough, despite it being a tad repetitive in parts. The scene of Jane Harper’s second novel is a work retreat where two groups have to hike for three days in the bush, just the place to test relationships and pick through everyone’s dysfunctional families. Predictably things don’t go to plan and we again meet Agent Aaron Falk as he solves his next case along with a few recurring characters from Harpers first novel ‘The Dry’, although each can be read independently. This is just the type of book to read when life around you is a bit crazy, you don’t want to think too hard and you just need a few moments to zone out. Don’t expect too much of it and it won’t expect too much of you.

Number of pages: 380

Genre: Crime Fiction, Brain Clearing

Blurb: What has happened to Alice Russell?

Five women reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking along the muddy track. Only four come out the other side.

The hike through the rugged Giralang Ranges is meant to take the office colleagues out of their air-conditioned comfort zone and teach resilience and team building. At least that is what the corporate retreat website advises.

Federal Police Agent Aaron Falk has a keen interest in the whereabouts of the missing bushwalker. Alice Russell is the whistleblower in his latest case. She knows all the secrets: about the company she works for and the people she works with.

Far from the hike encouraging teamwork, Falk is told a tale of violence and disintegrating trust. And as he delves into the disappearance, it seems some dangers run far deeper than anyone knew.

Blurb Source: Harper, J., Force of Nature, (2017), Sydney, New South Wales, Pan Macmillan Australia Pty Ltd.

* Feel free to add your own review as a comment

Moby-Dick (or The Whale)

By Herman Melville

Review: Initially I was having trouble engaging with this book, repeatedly returning to the start as my reading was not doing it justice. I found an audio on Spotify, this worked by slowing down my reading and allowing me to really appreciate the breadth of mastery of the descriptive language combined with the formality of the 1800’s. There’s layers of references, some of which I grasped and some I didn’t, a richer experience for those that I did manage to connect with and awed – not frustrated – by those beyond my comprehension. Make no mistake, it’s dense, demanding, and sometimes you feel like you’re swimming through concrete, but it’s also intricate and poetic with many lines for pause, reflection and savouring. It’s filled with razor sharp observations; social commentary; character studies; philosophy; mythology; religious, scientific and historical analysis; tradition and superstition; and humanity. An epic and sophisticated book that places high expectations on its reader, yet I’m sure that the more life experience I have the more it will reward.

Pages: 625

Genre: Classics, Literary Fiction

First Published: 1851

Blurb: “It is the horrible texture of a fabric that should be woven of ships’ cables and hawsers. A Polar wind blows through it, and birds of prey hover over it.”

So Melville wrote of his masterpiece, one of the greatest works of imagination in literary history. In part, Moby-Dick is the story of an eerily compelling madman pursuing an unholy war against a creature as vast and dangerous and unknowable as the sea itself. But more than just a novel of adventure, more than an encyclopaedia of whaling lore and legend, the book can be seen as part of its author’s lifelong meditation on America. Moby-Dick can be read as a “disorderly elegy” to democracy, which Melville saw threatened on many sides: by the spirit of utilitarianism, by America’s accelerating pace of expansionism, and by the drive toward industrial power. Written with wonderfully redemptive humour, Moby-Dick is also a profound inquiry into character, faith, and the nature of perception.

Blurb Source: Melville, H., (1992), Moby-Dick, New York, Penguin

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

A Horse Walks into a Bar

by David Grossman

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

Blurb: A comedy club in a small Israeli town. An audience has come expecting an evening of amusement. Instead they see a comedian falling apart on stage; an act of disintegration, a man crumbling, as a matter of choice, before their eyes. Dovaleh G, a veteran stand-up comic – charming, erratic, repellent – exposes a would he has been living with for years: a fateful and gruesome choice he had to make between two people who were dearest to him.

Flaying alive both himself and the people watching him, Dov provokes revulsion and empathy from an audience that doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry – and all this in the presence of a former childhood friend who is trying to understand why he’s been summoned to this performance…

Blurb Source: Grossman, D., (2016), A Horse Walks into a Bar, London, Penguin Random House UK.

Review: What were the judges thinking when they awarded this the Booker International, surely we can do better than this? The setting of an Israeli stand-up comics routine going horribly wrong simply doesn’t work in this instance and ends up being gratuitous, unbelievable, repetitive and dull. By trying to tackle too many themes, the author manages to void any possibility of emotionally engaging, rendering the story scrappy and disjointed. Or perhaps it was just too clever for me!

Pages: 198

Genre: Literary Fiction

Awards: The Man Booker International Prize 2017

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

Quarterly Bookclub 2 – Wrap

Greetings fellow bookclubbing friends,

Firstly, a big thank-you to Fran for organising our second Bookclub at Eaton Mall in Oakleigh. For those of you who haven’t had the chance to visit this little outdoor gem, it’s loud, energetic and has the vibrancy of all that is what we might imagine a meeting place in a Greek town to be! A must stop is Nikos, you haven’t seen a cake shop until you’ve been here. Opening at 7am and closing at midnight every day, it’s a coffee and cake destination, or that detour on your way home. How did we not finish here on Friday????

NEXT MEETUP: Friday 16th March 2018

BOOK: Moby-dick by Herman Melville 

POETRY: Your choice

Hillbilly Elegy:

A big congratulations to all as we all managed to finish the book this time round! Discussions centred around the contemporary insights against the backdrop of today’s society in the U.S. and the parallels in Australia, Hillbilly = Bogan, generational identity, working class, class mobility and the loss of various industries in regional areas. A timely and relevant topic if ever there was one. If you’d like to further explore this I can highly recommend the ‘Quarterly Essay’ series. They’re ongoing opinion essays on current issues concerning political, social and cultural questions and provide an opportunity to think about some of the important issues affecting society today.

Pillars of the Earth:

Gina and I also got through Sue’s secondary suggestion of ‘Pillars of the Earth’ by Ken Follett. Mixed feelings about this 1076 page monster; repetitive, simplistic, and it was all that, but on a positive I read it when I was in the middle of exams so it was the perfect book for me to wind down to before bed. It didn’t ask too much of me, therefore fitting into the category of what I term a ‘brain clearing’ and Sandy terms ‘pulp’ books. I’m a big believer that these books have a valued place at different times in our reading life.

Poetry:

It seems we’re all impacted by the beauty and insightfulness that this genre has the power to provide the reader. What a treat it was to share with each other poems that have touched us at different moments or that we continue to be drawn back to. A truly delicious addition to our format, so explore and enjoy if you have time.

Fran: ‘Warning’ by Jenny Joseph

Sandy: ‘Wild Geese’ by Mary Oliver

Gina: ‘Bright Star’ by John Keats

Jody: ‘Sonnet 130’ (My Mistress Eyes) by William Shakespeare

Notes:

There was a consensus towards a classic for the next meetup and we raised the idea of supporting each other in our reading wish list. ‘Those books’ that we’ve always wanted to read, but for some reason have never quite got to. I think of them as my ‘bragging rights bunch’! And as one of those fitted the criteria of a classic, and of which none of us had read, we settled on Moby-dick. Quite fitting as we’re coming up to the summer months where we’re all likely to partake at sometime in some ocean swimming…

We also discussed the option of an Australian author, which even though we didn’t end up selecting one, we all agreed that we should look to explore for the Bookclub after perhaps. On that note I think Tim Winton’s new book is due to be released around mid-March so that may be one to consider. Bring along your suggestions and we’ll decide on the night. Gina also suggested that we select a secondary book for those that have the time, I think this is a great idea even though we didn’t settle on one this time.

I want to emphasise that this isn’t the type of Bookclub that you can’t come to if you haven’t read the book, we’re all busy and sometimes it just doesn’t happen. Nor are you expected to even turn up, if you can make it you’re most welcome, if not, then maybe next time. If you know someone who wants to join in then by all means invite them, it can be as a one off guest or ongoing. It’s simply about people getting together every few months to chat primarily about books and poetry, and then perhaps even movies or plays or even podcasts, or anything at all that you think might be of interest.

On another note, Sue has floated the option of a Bookclub on her boat ‘Claire’. As discussed at Bookclub, this is a great option for an extra event for those that are interested in reading poetry on the high seas of the bay! It would mean putting aside a day rather than the quarterly Bookclubs format of a few hours, but I can highly recommend this as a fabulous day out and if it does go ahead I will definitely be joining in. I will endeavour to find some fearsome watery offerings to inspire and startle…I’ll leave this up to Sue to organise, but wanted to flag it with the rest of the group.

So until next time,

J xx

Mythos

by Stephen Fry

Review: What a fascinating and intriguing introduction into the world of Greek mythology. I had no idea it was so intricate, encompassing, influential and relevant to so much that we experience on a daily basis, from commonly known emblems like that seen on an ambulance to the many lexical derivations like xenophobes which originates from the word Xenia meaning hospitality, the sacred duties of hosts towards guests, and guests to hosts of which The King of the Gods was sometimes referred to as Zeus Xenios. The stories are wildly debauched, achingly tragic, and madly hilarious. There’s the constellations, why mulberries are crimson, the many associations with figs, Shakespearian references and why a spider weaves a web, I could go on and on! Fry has managed to awaken what I expect will be a life-long curiosity, how many books do we read that can do that? This book deserves a second reading.

Pages: 410

Genre: Fiction, Greek Mythology

Blurb: No one loves and quarrels, desires and deceives as boldly and brilliantly as Greek gods and goddesses. They are like us, only more so – their actions and adventures scrawled across the heavens above.

From the birth of the universe to the creation of humankind, Stephen Fry – who fell in love with these tales as a child – retells these myths for our tragic, comic, fateful age. Witness Athena born from the cracking open of Zeus’s great head and follow Persephone down into the dark realm of Hades. Experience the terrible and endless fate of Prometheus after his betrayal of Zeus and shiver as Pandora opens her jar of evil torments.

The Greek gods are the best and worst of us, and in Stephen Fry’s hands they tell us who we are. Mythos – smart, funny and above all great fun – is the retelling we deserve by a man who has been entertaining the nation for over four decades.

Blurb Source: Fry, S., (2017), Mythos, Penguin Random House.

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

Lincoln in the Bardo

by George Saunders

Review: Set in the cemetery and after the burial of Willie, President Lincoln’s eleven year old son. Saunders contextualises this moment in time by using historical excerpts to create a layered picture of the President and the year 1862. Through a complex and original style, we are introduced to the various souls trapped in the bardo, a Tibetan transitional realm, where we find heartbreak, humour, mayhem and madness. A challenging, yet rewarding book that will take you out of your reading comfort zone.

Pages: 343

Genre: Literary fiction, Magical realism

Awards: The Man Booker Prize 2017

Blurb: February 1862. The American Civil War rages while President Lincoln’s beloved eleven-year-old son lies gravely ill. Days later, Willie dies and is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery. Newspapers report that a grief-stricken Lincoln returns to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body. From this seed of historical truth, George Saunders spins an unforgettable story of familial love and loss that breaks free of realism, entering a supernatural domain both hilarious and terrifying. Willie Lincoln finds himself trapped in a transitional realm – called, in Tibetan tradition, the bardo – where ghosts mingle, squabble and commiserate, and a monumental struggle erupts over his soul…

Written with George Saunders’ inimitable humour, pathos and grace, Lincoln in the Bardo invents a thrilling new form, and confirms him as one of the most important and influential writers of his generation.

Blurb Source: Saunders, G., (2017), Lincoln in the Bardo, Great Britain, Bloomsbury Publishing.

* Please add your own (one paragraph only) reviews by using the ‘comments’ option.

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