The post title for this month’s round-up is a bit of a misnomer because – oh dear, and I blame myself as much as any of us – not one review of an Aussie woman’s classic was posted in February. I have a couple on my Kindle that I hope to get to in April but … if anyone out there is interested in improving their knowledge of our great classics, now’s your chance. If you do decide to read one, you’re very likely to get a mention in a round-up! Is that a bribe, or what?
Now, before I get to the real stuff, I thought I’d explain something about my reporting area – Classics and Literary – regarding our classification system and its implications for our round-ups. Classics has been defined as a Genre. That means this round-up is the main place where Classics are officially reported each month. However, Literary is a sub-category (defined by us as a sub-genre, form, or special interest area). That means that books categorised by their reviewers as being Literary must also be categorised as a Genre, which in turn means that all Literary-categorised books are eligible for other round-ups. They won’t all be mentioned of course as we can’t mention every book reviewed in our round-ups, but theoretically some could be mentioned in multiple round-ups. A novel like Alexis Wright’s The swan book, for example, could appear in a General Fiction round-up, a Diversity round-up, and a Classics and Literary round-up. Make sense? I hope so.
February’s progress, numerically speaking
There were 29 reviews posted this month, 6 more than last month, and these covered 28 authors. In other words, unusually for this round-up, only one author was reviewed more than once – Amanda Curtin and her book Elemental. Topping last month also with three reviews, Curtin is gaining some attention which is great to see.
As last month, I’ve chosen a couple of “facts” to highlight from this month’s stats:
- University presses accounted for 8 of the 29 books reviewed this month: UQP (5) and UWA (3). Don’t you love the fact that these presses are able and willing to support literary publishing?
- Five bloggers posted two reviews each this month, some being new names to me: Bookgirl76, Carpe Librum (great name, eh), Jane Rawson, Julie Proudfoot, and yours truly, Whispering Gums. Welcome particularly to Bookgirl76 and Carpe Librum who, I believe, have joined the challenge for the first time this year.
Oh but wait, there are none for this month. I think I’ll retain this heading, anyhow, as a (not so) subtle reminder to us all.
Stella Prize longlist
Seven of the 12 books longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize were reviewed this month (at least in this category):
- Moving among strangers, by Gabrielle Carey (mentioned below)
- Burial rites, by Hannah Kent (reviewed by Carpe Librum)
- Mullumbimby, by Melissa Lucashenko (reviewed by Sue Stevenson)
- The night guest, by Fiona McFarlane (mentioned below)
- Boy, lost, by Kristina Olsson (reviewed by Paula Grunseit)
- The swan book, by Alexis Wright (reviewed by Annette Hughes)
- All the birds, singing, by Evie Wyld (reviewed by moi)
The only one of these I know nothing about is Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest, so that seems like a good one to highlight in this round-up, says she self-centredly! It’s about “an elderly widow living alone in a beach house on the sand dunes of a NSW coastal town” – until, that is, Frida, “a carer claiming to be ‘sent by the government'” turns up. I wonder what’s behind that word “claiming” in Sonja Porter’s review? I guess we’ll have to read it to find out! Meanwhile, I can tell you that it’s a debut novel, and it sounds like McFarlane has produced a clever, moving story about ageing, trust and fear.
We’ll talk more about the Stella Prize next month …
As I’ve explained before, “literary” can be applied to any work reviewed for the challenge, not just fiction. This month I thought I’d highlight some of the non-fiction works deemed literary by their reviewers. There were five such books, three categorised as “History, Memoir or Biography” and two as “Nonfiction – other”. Three of them deal with literary subjects so let’s look at them.
Kylie Mason reviewed Australian author Mandy Sayer’s memoir, The Poet’s Wife, about her marriage to Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, an African-American who was nearly 20 years older than she. It was a destructive relationship, something that Sayer, in love with her husband, took some time to realise. Mason describes the book thus:
It is a compelling account of the kind of abusive relationship that leaves little physical evidence, but it is also a beacon of hope that shows escape and recovery is possible.
This book attracted my attention because of its literary subject matter, but it sounds like a book that would appeal to any who are interested in relationship dynamics.
Subversive Reader reviewed Gabrielle Carey’s (she of Puberty Blues fame) Moving among strangers which is about her family’s relationship with the late Australian writer, Randolph Stow. Longlisted for the Stella Prize, this was on my priority list. Subversive Reader has just firmed my resolve. She liked it, describing it as immensely readable, “a wonderful, moving, whimsical and real story of Stow and his connection to the Carey family”.
The third book is Ramona Koval’s cleverly titled Speaking volumes: Conversations with remarkable writers. It was reviewed by Carpe Librum. The writers interviewed come from around the English-speaking world, and include such luminaries as Les Murray, Martin Amis, and Toni Morrison. While Carpe (to be familiar!) was disappointed that some of the interviews are 10 years or so old, she still found it a good read, and recommends it
to readers looking to discover new authors, book-lovers who enjoy author interviews or the aspiring writer looking for pearls of wisdom or the inspiration behind some great authors.
These are only a few of the works reviewed for the challenge this month. If you want to see the lot, perhaps look for something to read, check out full list here.
I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading 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 with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. 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 been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.
I am glad you mentioned about the crossing over as I often find that you and I are talking about some of the same books when I do my historical fiction wrapup.
Thanks Marg … Yes, it came up in a discussion about poetry and short stories recently so I thought it would be good to remind us all of how it works. It’s all to the good if a book gets more than one mention, isn’t it.
Yes I think it is fine if a book is mentioned in more than one roundup. It demonstrates that genres and categories are fluid. I like the idea of books being difficult to pigeon hole!
Oh, moi aussi, Yvonne … thanks for sharing your view.
OK, OK: I’ve just started ‘The getting of wisdom’, thanks to this lovely article in The Conversation https://theconversation.com/the-case-for-henry-handel-richardsons-the-getting-of-wisdom-23697
(One could also argue The Swan Book could show up in the Speculative Fiction wrap-up…)
Thanks Jane … yes, it crossed my mind that The swan book could go there. One of the challenges for the team is how reviewers categorise genres, and this is a good example where different reviewers have indeed categorised it differently.
And, woo hop, for The getting of wisdom. I look forward to seeing your review pop up. (And I will go read that article. It’s hard to keep up with The conversation. So many good articles.)
And I forgot to put my February read in! It’s poetry and I’m adding it now
Good, thanks Debbie. It’s hard to remember all the places to record stuff! At least I find it so …
I must admit, I neglect the classics quite shockingly. I’m always saying I want to read more but the contemporary books always call louder to me.
On a different note, I’m very pleased to see Elemental gaining some attention in the challenge, it’s such a wonderful book and has been sadly overlooked in all the prize lists.
Great also to see new reviewers getting on board and the challenge continuing to grow. The Stella longlist is always a good motivator, I think.
Thanks Annabel … I sure do understand the tension between classics and contemporary. It really is worth knowing who went before, though, I think! And, yes, it’s encouraging to see new reviewers joining the challenge isn’t it.
Hello there, love your sum ups. I was just wondering how it all works? I have a novel just_a_girl that has been reviewed twice in Feb and twice in Jan (at least) but it doesn’t seem to be coming up at all in your summaries? Anyway, if you could fill me in, that would be great! I might be missing something here…
Hi Kirsten, it will come up I’m sure. It’s just a matter of choosing a couple of areas to feature each month as we can’t write about every book reviewed every month unfortunately. I try to spread the mentions around. According to my records, it was reviewed twice in January, once in February and once in early March.
OK, it’s just confusing when it is mentioned that ‘X is the only author reviewed twice’ etc. Perhaps it’s not being considered as ‘literary’ when that is where I’d love it to be! Anyway, thanks for letting me know.
Oh Kirsten … I do have your book flagged as “literary” and I have over the last few months added the “literary” subcategory to it on a couple of occasions when the reviewer hasn’t. I hope I’ve caught all the reviews. According to me there was only one review for it in February. However, as you may have noticed, I did pick it out to highlight in my January round-up.
It was also mentioned in the YA round up for February
Thanks Marg, I hadn’t noticed that!