November 2013 Roundup: Classics and Literary

This will be the last of the monthly round-ups. The next round-up will not be for December but for the full year. It will be interesting to see how the year has panned out, but I think we know already which will be the most reviewed book in this category!

November Numbers

We had 9 more reviews than last month, which was great to see. Good reading folks at this busy time of year!

  • 23 reviewers posted 29 reviews: Natasha Lester (While the kids are sleeping) led November’s pack with 4 reviews.  Three reviewers – Janine Rizzetti (The Resident Judge), author Kirsten Krauth (Wild Colonial Girl) and yours truly (Whispering Gums) – posted 2 each.
  • 26 different books were reviewed by 25 authors: Hannah Kent was the most reviewed author with 4 reviews for her novel Burial Rites, making 18 now for the year. Kirsten Krauth’s just-a-girl received two reviews, and two books by Annabel Smith were reviewed.
  • While 21 reviews were for contemporary and historical novels, two classics, two crime books, one verse novel and three non-fiction works were also reviewed.

Classics

The two classics reviewed were new to the challenge: Janette Turner Hospital‘s The ivory swing and Christina Stead‘s For love alone.

the-ivory-swing-turnerJanette Turner Hospital is an expat Australian writer from Queensland, who has spent most of her life in the USA and Canada. The ivory swing (1982), her first novel, was written while she was on a posting to India with her husband. Janine (the Resident Judge) was not enamoured of the book, writing:

This is a very ‘interior’ book, with page after page of internal dialogue as Hospital shifts her attention from one character to another.  I found myself wondering whether I even wanted to be inside these characters’ heads, and the short answer is ‘no’.  […]  The imagery of the Ivory Swing is heavy-handed and at times the writing is overwrought.

By contrast, the other classic, which was reviewed by Whispering Gums (c’est moi), was much liked. For love alone is Christina Stead’s semi-autobiographical novel about a young woman, her search for love and the misogynistic man she sets her heart on.  Stead is rather wordy, but I loved her words. Her descriptions of Sydney are particularly evocative, and her analysis of women and their relationships with men is insightful.

Non-fiction

I usually relegate non-fiction to the end of the report, but today I’m promoting it. Of the three non-fiction works reviewed this month, only one, unusually, was a memoir. It was Alice Pung’s first memoir, Unpolished gem and was reviewed by Janine Rizzetti.

night-games-krienThe other two books are quite different. One is Anna Krien’s investigative work, Night games, about sex, power and sport. Recently shortlisted for the Walkley Awards, this book explores the way society, specifically the fans, media and the sports hierarchy itself, condones bad behaviour by footballers. Her framing device is a rape case involving Collingwood players, their hangers-on and a female fan, but she explores widely from this into such areas as female sports journalists, women on sporting boards, and the meaning of “consent”. As reviewer Angie (Projected Happiness) writes:

Krien has written an immensely important text here but to her great credit as well, has treated the topic with appropriate gravitas while still maintaining a page turning style.

Different again is Germaine Greer‘s newly published White beech about her fight to rehabilitate a subtropical rainforest in southeast Queensland on a farm she bought some years ago. She describes the trial and error involved, the challenges and achievements. She talks of current government policies versus private action. Tracey Sorensen reviewing for the Newtown Review of Books says that, ultimately

White Beech is not about policy but an account of one woman’s passionate, intelligent engagement with the natural world that we are all a part of and that we’re all watching fall apart with a sense of rising despair. Instead of turning away or giving up, we can pay careful attention to what is happening around us.

Publishers

Amongst the data we like to gather from challenge reviewers is the publisher of each book they review. This month, a few publishers predominated, with University of Western Australia and Penguin (surprise!) each appearing four times. Picador is represented three times, with Allen & Unwin,  and small presses Black Inc and Text Publishing each appearing twice. However, several other small presses also appeared including Fremantle Press, Margaret River Press, The Miegunyah Press, Scribe and Spinifex. It’s encouraging – and surely healthy –  to see such a wide mix of publishers from big to small, from international to local, from university to corporations, from Western Australia to Victoria.

ElementalCurtinI thought I might briefly highlight one of the university presses representeded this month. The University of Western Australia Press was established in 1935 (or, at least, its website says it’s been “publishing important books since 1935″. Perhaps they were publishing “unimportant” books before that?). Like the other two university presses from this month – Melbourne University’s Miegunyah Press and the University of Queensland Press –  the University of Western Australia Press publishes fiction in addition to scholarly academic works. UWA’s recent or current authors include Amanda Curtin, Annabel Smith and Kirsten Krauth, all of whom are receiving good reviews for their work. (They also generously review for this challenge).

UWA has embraced the digital world, making a good proportion of its list available on a wide variety of digital platforms. It might seem strange to see universities active in what is, really, a general commercial arena. Yet as research institutions they have a role to play in testing the waters in terms of what is published (taking risks for example on new writers, on forgotten classics, and on different forms of writing), and of how it is published, marketed and distributed. I’m not sure if that’s how they see it, and I suspect each one has different economic imperatives, but I’d like to think that analysing and researching the publishing landscape is part of what they see themselves doing.

NOTE: I’ve featured only a few of the books reviewed this month but you can check all the reviews by clicking this link.

About Whispering Gums

I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 that turned me onto literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!

My love of Aussie literature started in childhood with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I “met” and fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have made sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.

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6 Comments

  1. Only two classics?? I reviewed a classic novel – A Fortune for the Brave by Nan Chauncy; I must have entered it wrong in the form. Would have liked to see good ol’ Chauncy get a shout-out! Mostly because her books are mostly out of print and I really want a publisher to re-release them, so I figure talking about her would be a good start! ;)

    Reply
    • Oh good for you Shannon … hopefully it will be picked up in one of the Children’s/Teen roundups. I’m sorry though that I missed it … there’s an issue with the algorithm that required classics to be also flagged as “literary” for them to appear in my particular spreadsheet. I try to check the main sheet regularly to catch these and add the necessary codes but I missed it. I will do it now so that it will be considered in the full year report.

      Reply
      • Sounds like quite a lot of work behind these round-ups, gosh. They’re great posts though, I’ve picked up so many books because of them, so I’m really glad you do them!

        Labelling/categorising books is always a part that I hate – how do you decide, where do you “shelve” it, so on. I always feel bad, like a parent who’s pigeon-holing her own child! (We need a word for anthropomorphising books, don’t we? ;) )

      • Thanks Shannon … Yes there us … We all I think check on our areas for all sorts of things but that means having to check all the entries to try to catch things you think should be in your area. Mine is probably the trickiest … Classics and literary can be pretty nebulous. All the genres though have some grey areas don’t they?

        I love that you feel badly about pigeonholing your books! Just as well you’re not a librarian? Or, are you?!

      • Oh I guess we have one: subjectifying. Oh crap that’s not a word? Subjectify? What word am I thinking of then? (too early in the morning for me!)

      • There’s nothing wrong with the odd neologism, Shannon.

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