Book Review: 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

Book Review: 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.

Book Review: 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 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.

Quarterly Bookclub 1 – Wrap

Good Morning!

And what a superb morning it is with the sun on the back of my head while in front the bay and to the left a strong brew of Irish breakfast!

For those of you that missed out on joining us, let me be quite clear, you really did miss out…the desserts alone were gastronomic masterpieces.

While only Gina (and Sandy) managed to complete ‘The Ministry of the Utmost Happiness’, I think I just may be convinced that I will be rewarded by getting through to the end…at the very least we are all in awe that you found the will to get to the end!

We’ve decided to go with one of Fran’s suggestion of a non-fiction for the next Meetup:

Book: The Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Date: Friday 15th December (ish)

Poetry came up as a genre that we’re all interested in exploring so we’ve decided to add it to our quarterly agenda with a scattergun approach to start. We each bring along a poem or poet that we have connected with and introduce it to the group. I think in time it would be quite rewarding to profile a poet.

Fran also reviewed the NGV’s current exhibition ‘The House of Dior’ and they also have an exhibition by Hokusai on at the moment which I’m quite keen to see as well. Gina and I are thinking of going this Saturday afternoon before a MSO performance we are attending that night, so by all means join us if you’re keen.

Another event that the NGV offer is music on a Friday night which by all accounts is a fabulous night out. I’m going to keep an eye out on upcoming exhibitions and combine this with a musical performance on a Friday night some time soonish.

I’ve been watching the construction of the pop up of Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre at the Myer Music Bowl over the past couple of months and I’m planning to try an attend a couple of performances. At this stage I’m looking to go to ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ with my friend Nat, so if any of you are interested in joining me for any of the other performances, just let me know. Tickets seem to be selling fast so I’ll be deciding over the next few days.

Sue mentioned another author that may be of interest, Ken Follett. ‘Pillars of the Earth’ is described as a historical masterpiece, so I may just join Sue in reading this.

J xx

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

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