Pocket Bookclub votes again

Unable to break with tradition, the Pocket Bookclub had our end-of-year do at Cormorant Bay Cafe Sadly, the cafe will be closing next month. SEQ Water will not renew the lease. I can’t begin to explain what this means to our local community. But this is a post about books, not meeting places.

As usual, each member was given 5 silver/gold stars to vote for most liked book of the year and 3 red stars to vote for their least liked book. This is how it came out.

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One person hated Lincoln in the Bardo with great passion. Almost as much passion as I love it. It did win the vote with 10 stars. I may or may not have skewed that outcome by giving the book several of my stars.

Why so good? Lincoln in the Bardo is a dialogue between a number of spirits or ghosts. The dead must retell their stories to get well and out of their sick boxes. They do not know they are dead. Amongst the dead is Lincoln’s son and the book is set alongside Lincoln’s grieving graveside visits and the civil war he is fighting. To read this book, you must give way to it. Let it sweep you along and forget trying to remember who is who. There are 166 characters.

After the winning book, we had an unprecedented tie. Four books received 6 stars to tie in second place.

Anything is Possible by Elizabeth Strout is a series of interconnected stories, a structure I love and I can tell you from experience it is difficult to do. Strout’s characters are so ordinary and their lives so every day but all the more beautiful for it. This book sits alongside My Name is Lucy Barton as Lucy is one of the characters in the stories and some of us read both books. Strout is the author of Olive Kitteridge, one of my favourite books of all time.

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman  The book club had complaints about his book. We got them over and done with early in our conversation so we could talk about how much we liked Eleanor. This is no literary masterpiece but it is good fun.

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak  Many people have The Book Theif on their favourite book list so Zusak had a lot to live up to. Clearly, many of us liked this book enough to vote for it, however, we also struggled with it. I think his choice of narrator made the book difficult to read. It took me a long time to even figure out who the narrator was. It is also a brick of a book. Sometimes less is more.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton  Brisbane is my home city.  This book gets points for that reason alone. This is a book about a young boy growing up in a criminal world but it is not dark. It is crazy.

I wrote a blog post about this book and Tim Winton’s, The Sheperd’s Hut which came in third place with 5 stars. I found the books had much in common. They are both about boys who witness awful violence but the covers alone are enough to see they approach the similar subject matter differently. Personally, I like Winton’s book better. I like the love and empathy Winton has for his difficult boy.

The voting also shows some dissatisfaction with Terra Nullius and The Transit of Venus.  Personally, I think the first book would have been better served by a slow reveal rather than a big reveal. As for the Transit of Venus it is beautifully written but obscure.

There were also mixed feelings about Inga Clendinnen’s Dancing with Strangers.  This book made me feel deeply uncomfortable. This book purports to use historical sources to piece together the first contacts between colonists and aboriginal people. She describes aboriginal men’s excessive violence toward aboriginal women. She sees a dysfunctional society. I don’t think she has questioned her sources well enough. I don’t think she has considered the disruption to society caused by the smallpox epidemic which killed up to 70% of the aboriginal population within two years of the colonists’ arrival. I think she affirms stereotypes about aboriginal people. I don’t think she saw past her own assumptions. I think we should all move on from this book. I think we are better to read Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe

We should also move on from Clive James and his Unreliable Memoir, the least liked book of the year. It is a dinosaur written by a dinosaur.  I am not sure about Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein  Read it if you will. Her life interesting.  I can recommend In Search of Mary Shelley by Fiona Sampson.

Phew, what a year.

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