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In 2018 we are taking the challenge to expand our reading and you are welcome to join us.


Romance Reading Challenge

Lyn is getting into all aspects of Romance with Romance Challenge which includes 2 differnt styles of romance books per month. 
Download your copy of the Romance Reading Challenege below. 
Sasha's Reading Challenge

Sasha is diving into the classics - ancient, modern, children's as well as biographies and non-fiction. This 50 book challenge is for the big readers or those who want to push their boundries. Sasha's list is made up of recommendations from friends and fellow book enthusisasts and was limited to books she had not read before. If you are joining her on the challenge but have read a book on the list feel free to substitute in a different book that fits the category. 
Junior Reading Challenge
We have also created a junior reading challenge for those children that would like to challenge their reading this year with some new books and genres. 

WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG by A.A. Milne ($29.99 - hardcover)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #27
I can see why this has remained a perpetual favourite for so many years. The simple but enchanting poems are chock-full of nostalgia and childhood innocence. There are little ditties of imagination and exploration - missing pets, and a teddy bear worried he might be a little tubby, attracting bears by stepping on pavement cracks, and explorations on the high seas. Milne captures childhood wonder with an expert eye and these little poems are accompanied by lovely little line drawings by E.H. Shepard.
It is amazing how nostalgia works: I have never worried about stepping on cracks or played with soldiers in redcoats yet I instantly felt a sense of connection. The poems about games of imagination hit a nerve even though they weren't the same sort of games I played (I was pretending to be a ghost-buster or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle or Little Mermaid not an Amazonian explorer or circus lion tamer) and that is the magic that has kept these books in print for decades. I did have moments when the wording or a phrase showed the book's age but they weren't really things that frustrated or annoyed me; but those moments did make me wonder how much a parent would have to explain to a young child when reading them today?

The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster ($12.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #26
This book is so much fun! Perfect for mid to late primary school readers who are reading independently and just starting to appreciate how much you can play with language. Young Milo is perpetually bored and unimpressed with everything so when a new game appears in his room he unenthusiastically puts it together and gets much more than he bargained for when he drives his little car through the tollbooth. 

The kingdom of Wisdom is located in the sea of knowledge, and is jam packed full of strange and unusual (yet strangely familiar) characters and places. Milo gets lost in the doldrums as he drives without thinking, he meets the Spelling Bee who happens to be a very nice, if large, bee. He gets to eat his words a a fantastic feast, and takes on an impossible quest to bring Rhyme and Reason back to the kingdom! With the help of Tick, a watchdog, Humbug, and various helpful advice from many strange and educating characters Milo is on his way! One thing is sure, Milo will never be bored again!

I can't believe I never encountered this as a kid! It is clever but still fun, and it will make anyone reading it look at common turns of phrase differently. It's as fun for adults as it is for kids and this would be a super book for a classroom reader. 

TALKING TO MY COUNTRY by Stan Grant ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK#25
Well, I am halfway through my challenge now and what a GREAT one to mark the occasion with! I'm not going to go into the details of this book for two reasons 1) I don't think I would do it justice and 2) I want you to read it!
How is this book not already on the Australian school curriculum? It is relevant, timely, necessary and interesting. Grant tells a massively personal story that is also the story of his people and this country.
If you are interested, even remotely, in understanding Australia's relationship with Indigenous Australians you need to read this.

I strongly suggest you pair it with "Terra Nullius" by Claire G. Coleman.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS by Charles Dickens ($9.99 - pictured edition)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK#24
I didn't hate this, but I also didn't love it. There was a lot more humour in it than I was expecting - most of that came through as word play in the narration which might be why I have felt the movie / television adaptions I have caught bits of over the years (I've never managed to sit through the whole thing at a go) seemed to be pretty bleak and dramatic - neither of which incline me to pay attention. 
I think Dickens loses a lot when taken off the page. 

I have to admit the first half of this book was not so much a struggle to read, but a struggle to get enthused about. I just didn't want to pick it up - once I did, the reading was fine. The second half as the narrative picks up pace was much more intriguing. 

The thing that bothers me most about this story (and many others of the era) is the number of coincidences between the characters; CAUTION Spoilers Ahead:

Jaggers isn't just the lawyer who distributes the trust, he the one who places Estella, defended both Magwich and her mother (separately) and is Havisham's Lawyer. It's like he's the only lawyer in all of London. The one that doesn't fit is him being Havisham's lawyer - why would a gently-raised woman from the country have a criminal defence lawyer to see to her affairs? Maybe lawyers were less specialised then, but still I can't see anyone of any consequence associating with someone who had a rep for defending convicts at the old bailey.
Magwich isn't just the prisoner who demands Pip's help, but later his benefactor (OK, so that is related) but also Estella's father, AND sometime companion / partner to the man who swindled Havisham. It's like there was a tax on characters so every author had to make every character do double or triple duty.

Essentially this is a coming-of-age story. We watch Pip go from young, carefree child, to snobbish and entitled young man, to an adult with knowledge of his own weaknesses, faults, and responsibilities. Along the way we get to know various colourful characters (my favourites were Joe and Wemmick) and descriptions of life in London. I have to admit I liked Pip a lot better at the end of the book than I did in the middle.

The Richest Man in Babylon by George S. Clason ($16.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #23
If you can get past the hokey story-telling there is some extremely sensible financial advice in this book. This has been around since the 1920's so clearly many people need basic financial advice, but if you are already fairly financially literate there won't be anything here you haven't heard before in less archaic language.

The principles can be summed up as follows:
1. Save 10% of everything you earn.
2. Once you have saved for 6 -12 months start investing.
3. Reinvest your earnings from your investments.
4. If it's too good a deal you are probably going to get ripped off.
5. Don't spend more than you earn.
6. Face your debts and put together a plan to deal with them.
All of which is sound advice and relevant to any time in history.

This would be a good book for younger readers or people who think best with a narrative rather than facts.
I found the Thee's, Thou's, maketh and desirest and other 'ye olde timey' words irritating but I imagine that the style might lend this book gravitas it otherwise would not have. By setting these homilies in an imaginary, long distant past Clason has managed to both make this book timeless (no-one can say that these are ideas that would only belong in the 1920's) and borrow a bit of biblical style (a style most of us are raised not to question).
This would be a great book for someone who has just gotten a first job, or is struggling with a  debt / spending spiral.

HOUSEKEEPING by Marilynne Robinson ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #22

The whole point of a reading challenge, for me, is to push the boundaries of comfort, to expand literary horizons and to possibly find new and exciting genres and authors. I try to go into each book of this challenge with an open mind. This was reccomended to me by a regular customer who has quite literary taste so I knew it would firmly fall into the "literary fiction" genre. That's the genre that supplies the majority of award winners and makes up most of those "greatest books of all time" lists. I've always felt that a lot of these books are all about form and lack function, but this is a challenge for a reason and it is time to test the boundaries!
 
I'll be honest with you, I'm beginning to dread the words "literary fiction". I think is some sort of code for 'this is a book about damaged people doing damaging things but told with really pretty language'. I always feel like I must be missing something that everyone else can clearly see - that I must lack the understanding or education to properly appreciate such a story. Its taken me years to get over this feeling of inadequacy but I got there. Housekeeping helped me do that. Now I can finally say 'it's not me, it's you, Literary Fiction: You are full of poetically told ugly stories and I don't like you." I don't. I work in a book story and I LOATH literary fiction.
There, I've said it.

This story is very prettily told. And it bored me and frustrated me in equal measure. 
Some time in the 1970's, two young girls are abandoned by their mother on their grandmother's doorstep. Their mother then commits suicide. The girls would probably still have ended up fairly balanced individuals but their (decent / kind / boring) grandmother dies and they come into the care of their spectacularly unbalanced (kind, but clearly not right in the head department) aunt, who has apparently spent the last 10-odd years as a hobo / drifter. Over time their Aunt unravels, the house deteriorates, hoarding happens and the younger girl finally snaps and goes to live with a teacher. The town then becomes aware of the situation and start questioning the aunt's fitness as a guardian (why it took that long is a mystery - the house sounds like a dump and neither of the kids has friends). The older girl (the story's narrator), clearly under the unstable influence of her aunt, becomes panicked at the idea of being separated from the one person who she feels understands her (she has no other friends and the sister has distanced herself) and together she and the aunt try to burn down the house and then run away to begin a new life as hobos. As you do... This is the story Robinson takes nearly 300 pages to tell. Can you see why I was bored?

The story itself meanders from long distant past to the girls' present. It is full of superlatives and adjectives. There are metaphors and long descriptive phrases galore. The style varies from pretentious to prosaic. It is full of words I had to look up in the dictionary. Clearly the author had a very good thesaurus in their possession and used it to the full. This is the kind of book that gets awards and is named a "great" novel - In 2003, the Guardian Unlimited named Housekeeping one of the 100 greatest novels of all time! And I don't know why! Are the judges so bamboozled by the big words they can't see what a shit story it actually is? Are they driven purely by character with no regard to plot or even readability? Seriously, there were times my eyes glazed over from the excess of adjectives. 

I'm sure there are people who will object to my opinion. All I can say is I am glad we live in a culturally diverse literary society and I am so happy that I have options other than Literary Fiction.

THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #21
An interesting tale of history, obsession, disappearance and death. Even today the Amazon is one of the last great unexplored wilderness areas. When gentleman explorer Colonel Percy Harrison Fawcett (PHF) began exploring it in the early 1900's it was referred as "the green hell" - if tropical diseases like malaria and yellow fever didn't kill you, then the piranhas, insects, starvation, dysentery, or the locals surely would. It was not uncommon to return with only half (or fewer) of the people who set out on an expedition.

PHF was an extraordinary figure even among the colourful crowd of explorers; tall and strong with an almost inhuman ability to avoid the diseases that afflicted most people, he was irascible, driven and determined. Mapping rivers and tributaries he became convinced that at some point the Amazon had supported not just the small tribes there now but a complex and numerous civilisation to rival anything in the world. This view went against the common (Europe-centric) view - most European explorers were convinced that even if the "savages" were capable of such intelligence it would be impossible to support any significant population in the Amazon with it's leached soils, dark canopy and high water table. 

There have been rumours of "El Doraro" in the Amazon since the Spanish first arrived. The large population and societies the very earliest explorers described were, over time, dismissed as fevered delusions and exaggerations. PHF was convinced that they were true descriptions, depicting a time before the area was devastated by European diseases. In 1925, affected by the war and paranoid that the new breed of university educated archaeologists would beat him to it, PHF managed to scrape together the funding for one final attempt to prove his theory right. Together with his son and his son's best friend, he set off into the Amazon in search of the city he had named "Z". And there they disappeared...

After months with no contact various search parties went after them - and a lot of those didn't come back either. For the next decade there were dozens of lives lost searching for the explorers and the city of Z. In 1996 James Lynch, a banker and keen adventure sportsman from Sao Paulo, became obsessed with the mystery and took his 16 year old son to retrace PHF's route. They were kidnapped by a hostile tribe and were only released after paying a ransom. In 2005 David Grann, a journalist and the author of this book, stumbled upon the legend of Z and the story of PHF and became determined to trace the story .

Honestly my only issue with this book is the stupidly small size of the font in the edition I read (and I have GREAT eyesight!) . This is a fascinating story of an extraordinary life and a very different time. Its a story of hardships, culture, obsession and loss. This book is extremely well researched (there are about 10 pages of references at the back of the book) and even handed in the treatment of PHF - he was by all accounts quite a polarizing figure. 
The descriptions of the diseases and hardships explorers endure was enough to make me squirm. The ecological and cultural damage done (and still being done) to this area of the world was enough to make me cringe. This book will challenge your sense of history.
I hope that Grann's research and book brought some sort of closure to PHF's descendants, and some comfort in the knowledge that modern archaeology has proved him right. There really was a City of Z.

Ragnarok by AS Byatt ($23.95)


SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #20
I can't remember who recommended Ragnarok for my 2018 reading challenge but it was a great pick and I'm happy they did.
This small book is quite a comprehensive look at the mythology of the Norse gods from beginning to end, framed within the story of a young girl experiencing the very real threat of war. While the book itself is quite small, the myths are well fleshed out with lots of descriptive detail. 

The stories within the unnamed girl's book of mythology contain both an escape from the realities around her, and acceptance of the realities that adults don't discuss - death happens and even the gods can't avoid it.

The girl is based on Byatt's own life as a young child living in the English countryside during WWII (though I'm struggling to believe such a young child (3 at the time war broke out) tackled Mythology and Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress - but maybe she was simply more literate than any kids I know - maybe she mixed those experiences with later reading?). Either way, the narrative framing certainly works well - the child's wonder at the stories and the mixing in of references to fairytales and christian mythology are bound to make you think about the parallels between the different story forms.

This is a great introduction to the Norse Myths if you have never read them before and it is suitable for younger readers too (mostly - there are mentions of sexual acts and some violence in the myths). I'd classify it as a YA title rather than adult. Anyone adult who has spent a bit of time reading mythology might find Ragnarok a bit dull as most of the stories mentioned are the better known ones. However, if you have only experienced the Marvel version of this mythology this one will be an eye-opener!

The Alchemist by Paulo Ceolho ($22.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #19
URK. After reading this one it amazes me that this book continues to sell the way it does.  I admit this is yet another challenge book that was just not my thing at all!
The overall message isn't bad: be true to yourself, don't let life stop you from discovering your destiny, god (what ever sort you choose to believe in) want you to succeed. The book has both Christian and Muslim characters and all are treated with respect so that's good but overall I just don't give a crap about any religion so....
It reads like a fable, with a whole heap of preachiness thrown in, some new age self-realisation, and some really long-winded christian moralising and all that jazz. If you are a believer than you'll probably love it. If you are not you will be bored out of your brain.

The story itself is simple to the point of childishness but technically well told. I have read some of Coelho's other work and I found those very readable and interesting so I feel it is the constant in your face with both fatalism and god are what really put me off this one. That and the story, for all it isn't even 200 pages, moves a quite a slow pace - action is glossed over while the character's internal debates go on and on and on...
At the core of the story is a shepherd named Santiago, who decides to persue a dream (literaly something he dreamed about while asleep) and attempt to find treasure near the pyramids of Egypt. To do so he has to sell his sheep and travel to Africa and then across it. Along the way he meets various "mystic" archetypes who each tell him that he needs to persue his "personal legend", learn to listen to "the language of the world" and if he doesn't he will never be completely happy - because anyone who gives up on their personal legend is at heart utterly miserable even if they are rich / successful / happily married on the outside. There are bits of this that read like Rhonda Bryne's "The Secret" - Santiago is constantly told that as long as he is living his "personal legend" the world will conspire to make things happen so he can achieve it.
Of course, this only applies if you are a man apparently - the only female character, Fatima, Santiago's love interest, apparently achieves her personal legend when she meets Santiago (because that as high as any woman could possibly aspire??).  Even elements have more interesting legends - lead wants to turn into gold - poor Fatima.

I found this book trite, preachy, sexist and just plain boring - if you are into spiritualism then it might appeal but frankly I'm certain that there are much better books out there. 

1Q84 by Haruki Murakami ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #18
At 1318 pages I'm pretty certain this will be the biggest book I will read this year (possibly this decade). It beats out Gone With the Wind by about 400 pages and that is the next biggest one on my 2018 reading challenge. I'm going on about the size because I was putting reading this off because of the sheer size of it but once I started I was surprised at how quickly I got through it - I easily devoured 100-200 pages at time. Any other book read at that rate would have lasted only a few days. This one took me closer to 3 weeks but I never looked at it with dread thinking I'll never get it finished. If the reason you haven't read this is the size do yourself a favour and pick it up now!

1Q84 is a totally strange book - set in Tokyo in 1984 it is the story of Tengo, a math tutor and aspiring novelist, and Aomame, a fitness instructor who moonlights as an assassin. While Tengo and Aomame went to primary school together they haven't seen each other for 20 years but neither one has forgotten the other. Through circumstances strange and fantastical they find themselves in opposition to a fanatical and mysterious religious organisation and at each turn of the page the long distance bond between them draws tighter and stranger.
1Q84 is actually a trilogy of books that were originally published separately and are now published as a complete bind-up. I have to admit that while interested, I'm not sure I would have gone onto book 2 if it hadn't been immediately available to me: at that point the strangeness of the story hadn't been taken over by fascination. When I got to the end of book 2 I couldn't wait to dive into book 3 and I was glad it was there so I didn't have to wait even a second!
Anyone who has read any of Murakami's stories (I've read a couple of his shorter ones) knows that there will be magical realism / fantastic elements mixed into a story about an ordinary life and this is no exception. 1Q84 is as much about the mystery of "little people" and their machinations as it is a character study of Tengo and Aomame and a look at modern isolation, loneliness and life in 1984 Japan. There are a lot of reminisces, introspectives and general description that will not be everyone's cup of tea. Personally, I liked the cultural insights so they didn't bother me. I have to say I usually hate a book with too much introspection but 1Q84 didn't bother me. I didn't find myself getting frustrated with the characters as I normally do so there was enough plot to keep everything moving.
The writing style is so timeless that I frequently forgot that it was 1984 and it was usually the technology (or lack thereof) that reminded me (things like Tengo's word processor and people constantly using telephone boxes).That and the smoking. 
It was originally written in Japanese and translated into English by two different translators (the first translator for books 1 & 2 the second for book 3) so while I feel they did a great job I noticed a distinct difference in style in the last book - Especially in the third book when Murakami breaks the third wall to tell us what might have happened in a particular scene. I really felt that it broke the spell. I'm pretty sure I can't put that on the translator though. I also felt that some of the nuances of Japanese culture probably went over my head.
If you are looking for super fast paced action this will not be the book for you but if you like to see your characters develop and don't care too much that the plot is sometimes more than a little strange then this is a must read.

The Invisible Man by H.G. Wells ($12.99 - Popular Penguins Edition)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #17
So 99% of Griffin's (the Invisible Man's) problems come from the fact he is a self-absorbed megalomaniac a-hole with massive delusions of importance. The only thing being invisible has really changed is that now people bump into him.
H G Well's tale of a scientist going against nature and paying the price reads more to my mind as a tale about ensuring the mental stability of anyone you give power to, rather than an allegory about pushing the extremes of scientific boundaries. Let's face it Griffin was off his rocker long before he experimented on himself!
Let's start at the beginning: A mysterious and arrogant stranger arrives at a country inn. Demanding private rooms he proceeds to put everyone's backs up by generally behaving like an entitled prick, but he has money so the Landlady tolerates him. He has mysterious "science" equipment and swears loudly when things don't go his way. But then his money runs out and a strange burglary points to the rude stranger. After a struggle the truth is revealed: The stranger is invisible!!
Taking off, the stranger runs into a drifter whom he threatens / bribes into helping to retrieve the stranger's journals from the Inn - resulting in another tussle and them both escaping by the skin of their teeth. The stranger's reluctant companion manages to escape him and in the struggle the invisible man is shot. He takes off and finds shelter at the (extremely coincidental) house of an old medical school chum, Kemp, to whom the whole story is finally told. We learn the invisible man is in fact, Griffin, a former medical student and chemistry student who dropped out to study the new field of physics. 
Griffin became obsessed (and paranoid) with the idea of invisibility, and after a little larceny from dear old dad (who later killed himself as a result of the loss - no regrets from Griffin) and some pretty sketchy science (really putting the 'fiction' into science fiction) managed to make invisibility a reality. Aaand immediately ran into issues... resulting in him justifying the fact he blew up the building he was living in and went on the run. I imagined that Kemp was slowly backing out of the room while this tale was told. When Griffin realises Kemp isn't going to fall in with his cunning plan of **dominating the world through the terror of being invisible** the excrement really hits the fan. 
Griffin loses what marbles he has left and decides to kill Kemp for "betraying" him. Helpfully Griffin announces all of his plans with a note (the guy is totally nutso at this point) so Kemp has time to plan and prepare. Things all end in tragedy when the invisible man finally realises that 'invisible terror' is no match for an angry mob.
Like a lot of early science fiction this doesn't really stand up well to contemporary education - I'm pretty sure anyone with a faintest grasp of high school physics will be able to pick this apart easily - and in a world filled with horror stories, movies, and well, the nightly news, having an invisible adversary just isn't that terrifying. I'm pretty sure I read scarier storylines in Round-the-Twist books as a kid.
Having said that I really enjoyed reading this, the story is told well. It sucks you in and keeps you glued. I found myself thinking about it whenever I put it down and I was eager to dive back in as soon as I could. Considering it was published in 1897 The Invisible Man manages to be easily readable in the 21st century and I am sure if you read it with others there would be a lot to discuss.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #16
This has been on my to-read list for ages so I'm glad it ended up on my 2018 reading challenge. This is a biography, a family history, a scientific history of genetics, a social commentary and most importantly the very real story of children who lost their mother.
The consequences of Henrietta's death and the effect her genetic legacy has had on her children, grandchildren and community is still profoundly felt.
Henrietta Lacks died of an extremely aggressive cervical cancer in 1951. While being treated a doctor took tissue samples of both the cancer and healthy tissues and grew them in culture. Like pretty much every cell culture at the time the healthy cells lasted a few days but the cells from Henrietta's cancer grew like nothing anyone had ever seen. As long as they had space and cell medium to "feed" on they doubled in size every 24 hours. Named after Henrietta the HeLa cells are effectively immortal.

HeLa solved many problems for scientists - at last they had cells that survived more than a day or two in culture - the possibilities were endless! One of the biggest and most immediate uses for the cells was to test the efficacy of the newly developed Polio vaccine - a process that could have taken years could now be done in months with the endless supply of HeLa. After that HeLa spread to labs across the globe, it was used to help map the human genome, to test the effects of radiation, space, cancer treatments, drugs and more. Companies set up to grow and distribute HeLa.

Meanwhile, her family had no knowledge that any of this was happening: That is until a journalist contacted them to ask questions about Henrietta 20 years after she passed away. Her husband and children (most of whom hadn't finished high school, let alone any scientific education) got the garbled impression that Henrietta was somehow still "alive" and being kept in a lab. Form then on Henrietta's family had one long fight: for recognition, for understanding, and for clarity as to what had really happened to their mother.

This is a story about the black and white divide in America. It's a story about poverty and education. Its a story of scientific discovery and the ownership of genes. Who really has a right to genetic information? Should families receive a payment when the legacy of a loved one results in riches for doctors and companies? Who should have access to patient records? What rights do we have over our own genes? Would Henrietta's family have been treated so badly if they had of been educated and / or white? What becomes painfully apparent was that at no time anyone tried to reach out and offer to explain what and why HeLa was used. Partly because none of the doctors seemed to even think of it, and partly because the Lacks' didn't know what questions to ask - the gap in education between the two parties meant they were basically speaking different languages.

I had so many questions as I read this book and none of them have easy answers. There's a lot of history and much has changed, but the control of genetic information is something we should all be concerned about going into the future as genetic profiling becomes more prevalent.

Given how much angst and stress the whole situation has caused to the Lacks family they were understandably resistant to talking to yet another (white) reporter. When Rebecca Skloot came knocking it took her months to get anyone to talk to her (the community had closed ranks and wouldn't speak to anyone without permission from the family) and years to get the full story. This book manages to get the balance right between the story of Henrietta's family (Warning: you might cry. I did.) and the science HeLa has unlocked. Even if you don't like science books there is plenty of human interest here and this is one Popular Science book I'm going to be recommending to everyone!

-Sasha-


The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran (12.99 -Popular Penguin edition)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #15
This is book 15 in my 50 book reading challenge and the first I have totally hated!! The Prophet has been continually in print since 1923 and that is quite a feat for any book, so I thought there must be something that makes it so perennially popular I have to try this book...
I am the first to admit I am not a spiritual person - religion, horoscopes, numerology, spiritualism, fuzzy thinking, ghosts, afterlife, anything promoted by Dr Oz: it all goes into the same bullshit box for me. Maybe if I were inclined toward this kind of thing it wouldn't have been such a chore, but as things are I had to force myself to finish (I had assumed it would be a quick read as there is fewer than 100 pages of actual text. It took me 6 days to force my way through!).

I can see why it may appeal to some; like all good spiritual texts The Prophet is so open to interpretation that pretty much anyone will be able to find somethings they a) agree with; and b) don't understand and feel that if they think about it long enough meaning will come to them (why does it not occur to people that when B) happens maybe it’s just a sign the author was just full of shit??!)

Like all good religious texts there are parts that directly contradict other parts and some bits that have not aged well. If you, like me, love logic, reason, and like more of an explanation to this life than "god did it" or “do x because god will love you” then don't waste your time. If you like beating your head against opaque text and the musings of an average writer who is clearly seeped in the sociocultural bounds of his time and religion then go for your life...
Don't say I didn't warn you. 

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting (24.95 -pictured edition)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #14
I have a feeling I may have read this as a kid but it was long enough ago that I really have only the vaguest memories of the story and reading it as an adult is a different experience. There is still a lot to like here; Doctor Dolittle's attitude toward animals was massively progressive when it was published - the idea that animals had thoughts, feelings and might be worth learning from and about was pretty radical for 1922. It's just a pity that Hugh Lofting didn't extend the idea to other peoples (apparently the idea that black people might have something worth learning was a bridge too far).
Young Tommy Stubbins first hears about Doctor Dolittle when he discovers a squirrel with a broken leg. His enquiries as to how to help it lead him to the extraordinary house of the Doctor, who turns out to be much more than an ordinary veterinarian - Dolittle can actually talk to animals in their own languages. This opens a whole new world for Tommy whose parents cannot afford to send him to school. Tommy becomes the Doctor's assistant and student and before too long is speaking to animals himself. Soon the Doctor decides to go on another adventure in the hopes of meeting another famous naturalist, Long Arrow. Through various adventures they end up marooned on a floating island with hostile natives but through an unlikely set of events the Doctor not only finds Long Arrow and saves his life, but also ends a war between the tribes of the island, solves an environmental crisis, and ends up being crowned King of the people there!
And that is where I really struggled with this book: the white man as saviour trope. Race is an issue throughout the book: Bumpo, one of the doctor's friends, a prince from an African kingdom in England to study at Oxford, asks to come with them on the sea voyage, and the doctor claims he will be a valuable member of the crew - he is immediately put to work as the ship's cook ....
On the island the doctor teaches the natives how to make fire (literally bringing light to the darkness), ends a war by threatening the "bad" tribe with attack by parrot (actually organised by Polynesia, a bird who probably should be the actual hero of the story as she comes up with pretty much every plan), teaches the natives about sewers and art (cleanliness and enlightenment to a society that has clearly been functioning for hundreds of years but couldn't cope without him (that was sarcasm in case it wasn't obvious)). Even though he was crowned King very much against his will, he tells himself he can't leave because the natives are now "his children and he has so much to teach them still"(European paternalism).

It is really only the last quarter of this book that really bothered me but at the same time I don't think a young reader would notice these issues. I'm sure I didn't at the age of 9 or 10 when I first read this. But then again the world has changed a bit since the 80s, maybe kids today would notice.

Having said all of the above I still think this is a book well worth reading for any kid that loves animals or is interested in nature - as much as it is a fantasy, it is enjoyable and will encourage a curiosity about the marvelous things out in the big, wide world. A parent or teacher who talks about the issues I've mentioned would make this a great teaching moment about how attitudes have changed and why it's important to read about the past as it was - I am not someone who thinks books should be edited - they represent the attitudes at the time they were written and it's important to understand how far we have come (or haven't as the case may be). This particular edition has illustrations, footnotes explaining certain concepts and words that time has changed or removed from the lexicon. It also has questions for young readers compiled by an educator - although they don't touch on the Doctor's paternalistic attitude to the islanders there is nothing to stop a parent or teacher adding their own questions to get young readers thinking.
-Sasha-

Steal Like an Artist ($24.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #13
After reading this book I will happily highly recommend Steal Like an Artist to anyone, not just artists - anyone who needs to build a business profile online, or feels stuck in a rut, would be able to pull some real and meaningful advice from this little and easy-to-read book. Adults and especially teens who are interested in an artistic career would really benefit.

Kleon's advice of borrowing ideas from your heroes and making them your own; of slogging away at your work; of enjoying anonymity while it lasts because that gives you freedom without judgement; about putting your ideas into the world and ignoring the trolls, listening to criticism, and enjoying praise (in moderation); of staying focused but having hobbies and other interests to balance your life are all things, I think, everyone needs to hear - not just creatives.

A big part of Kleon's ethos is to build your tribe and your space both in person and online - surround yourself only with those who inspire you and demand the best of you. Find the most interesting person in the room (digitally or physically) and stand next to them, learn and engage. If the most interesting person happens to be you then you need to find another room. There is always someone to learn from no matter how good you become at what you do.

-Sasha-

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw ($12.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #12
I have to admit I do like the movie My Fair Lady. The songs always get stuck in my head, the clothes are pretty, and it's fun. But this is one of those times when the movie has missed the point of the book. Shaw was a socialist, he believed in social equality and women's rights. This play was a go at everything he was against - the attitudes of the privileged against the lower classes. 
Shaw, as a Irishman living in London, was well aware of the effect that an accent had upon people's perception of him and the prejudices an accent would bring out in others.

If you have never read Pygmalion or seen My Fair Lady the plot is this: An arrogant professor (voice-coach) Higgins and his friend Pickering make a bet that Higgins can turn the most ignorant and badly-accented cockney flowergirl into someone who could pass for royalty in six months. Enter Eliza, the flowergirl in question, who, of course, takes to her lessons like a duck to water and turns out to be stunningly beautiful to boot (starvation and poverty being good for the complexion I guess?). But while Higgins is thrilled about winning his bet he is less thrilled that his compliant student finds a voice of her own: refusing to fit into the mould he has made for her. In the movie they changed the ending: a compliant Eliza comes back to Higgins.

The character of Higgins is both forward thinking - he thinks that with the right education and money anyone could be mistaken for Upper-class - but at the same time he has no consideration for the fallout from his "experiment" - Eliza no longer belongs in her former life but hasn't the funds to maintain her new one. Higgins is a bit of a d*&k to be perfectly honest. He has the unthinking arrogance of someone who has never experienced poverty or desperation. 
Pickering's role in the play is partly for exposition and partly to move the plot along. He, in spite of the fact that he didn't think Higgins would succeed, treats Eliza as he would any lady. Higgins meanwhile treats her the whole way through as a lowly flowergirl - someone to be used and discarded. Higgins claims that that is the way he treats everyone; the fact is he never looks at Eliza as a being worthy of notice. 
Eliza is almost a non-person. At the beginning of the play she is almost comically idiotic - bursting into tears over every little thing. It seemed to me that someone who is on the mean streets of London scraping a living everyday wouldn't be quite so thin-skinned. By the end of the play she has somehow become a poised, articulate, beautiful young woman, but still lacking in personality. Higgins' mother refers to her very accurately as a "living doll". At the beginning of the play she irritated me. It is one thing to have a limited vocabulary and an atrocious accent but that doesn't automatically make a person stupid. Nor does a nice voice make someone smart. Shaw may have been quite a forward thinking person but he clearly didn't write women well.
Overall, I enjoyed the play but having a better understanding of Shaw's life gave it more layers than I had been aware of previously. Knowing now where Shaw was coming from I am angry at the Hollywood ending of My Fair Lady. This is still a play with a lot so say: prejudice and class still effect the way we treat people, even now when the class system isn't as visible as it was when Shaw wrote Pygmalion. Well worth reading and I'm glad it was on my 2018 reading challenge, but make sure you read an edition that includes notes about Shaw's life (like this one) because that will make it so much better.

A TOWN LIKE ALICE $19.99

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #11
"Jean Paget, a young Englishwoman living in Malaya, is captured by the invading Japanese and forced on a brutal seven-month death march with dozens of other women and children. A few years after the war, Jean is back in England, the nightmare behind her. However, an unexpected inheritance inspires her to return to Malaya to give something back to the villagers who saved her life."

This was unexpected on so many levels: The structure; the hero getting crucified in the first act; the fact it has very little to do with Alice Springs; a heroine that both breaks and conforms to stereotypes; the way the story is narrated.
It feels both dated (the racism is the major factor in that but also the sexist attitudes) and very modern (mainly due to the heroine's attitude to every challenge). The racism might cause some to dismiss this book but if anything it is a true and accurate reflection of the attitudes of the time and I don't think we should be allowed to forget it.
Having said that I really enjoyed it. A Town Like Alice is a total page turner - just the right level of description to create an evocative landscape and characters without getting bogged in detail. A plot that moves at just the right pace and characters you can (mostly) respect.
This is an Australian classic and I think it deserves to be on everyone's reading list.

Holding the Man by Timothy Conigrave ($12.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #10
Book 10 of 50 in my 2018 reading challenge and this is the second one I have done with book club. It certainly made for an interesting discussion as some readers found the graphic sex a bit of a challenge (not necessarily the guy on guy action but the very physical descriptions) I have to admit there was way more than I was expecting - but then the person who recommended it to me called it "a lovely romance". Having read it this is not the description I'd use. Romance? Kinda... Romantic? No. It's too graphic for that. Conigrave's work is almost brutalist in it's plainness but I found I respected him for it. And Lovely isn't really a word I'd apply at all - More like a Shakespearean tragedy!

This book was a landmark in publishing in 1995 and it is still very relevant today. Conigrave's story of growing up gay in 1970's-80's Melbourne and Sydney, social change, HIV/AIDS still has so many relevant points - sexual education, gay rights, social acceptance and awareness of STDs and HIV in particular. It is a book I feel everyone should read - particularly teens - for all of the above reasons but also because HIV has slipped from the public consciousness over the last few years as people forget what a devastating disease it is. Conigrave does not pull any punches with the many medical interventions both he and John go through. The other reason I feel it should be read is Tim's honesty about awkward teen sex and sexuality. Whether gay or straight everyone can relate to that. 

Tim himself doesn't always come across as a great person - he cheats on John a lot - and seems to be a bit of a jerk. I sometimes had to remind myself that he wrote it, as he is so harsh. But then again he wrote this between John's death and his own - maybe it was in some ways an act of confession. Or maybe, knowing he had nothing left to lose he didn't feel obligated to 'make nice'. Apparently the manuscript was completed 10 days before he died.

Some of the (very 80's Aussie) slang used might confuse non-Australian readers (or younger readers). Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to go perve on some spunks down by the tuck shop. 

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben ($29.99-Paperback / $49.99 - Audio)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE BOOK #9

If you can read this book (or listen to is as I did) you will change the way you look at trees, forests and the whole ecosystem. Peter Wohlleben is a forest manager in Germany and over his decades of work his view of how forests should be managed and what is healthy for them has changed dramatically. 
He has discovered that trees are not the isolated, competitive pants we think of them as, always fighting off others for food and light; rather they are remarkably social - sharing resources and predator warnings with their neighbours through a system of airborne chemicals and underground through their symbiotic fungal partners. A tree in isolation is a lonely one indeed. 

This brings up many questions of how trees receive and remember this information - if an airborne scent is released that other trees react to does this mean trees have a sense of smell? How does it know to feed a neighbour sugar through its roots to help that neighbour fight off a pest attack? How do trees know when it is spring? We are told that it is about temperature but it is actually about day length - this implies that trees have some sort of memory and sense of time - where are their brains??
This book poses as many questions as it answers and reveals that while plants are a resource we have used since Homo Sapiens developed tools there is so much about them of which we are completely unaware.
Trees play a much larger role in the ecosystem than we are aware of - for example acid from fallen leaves leaches into waterways and eventually the ocean and kick starts food for plankton: the most vital block in the global food chain. Large stands of forest can alter weather patterns and increase rainfall. The health of the forest impacts the health of the fauna in it and changes can skew populations for better or worse.

This book is a must read for anyone interested in gardening, environment or agriculture.

The Invention of Hugo Cabret ($29.99 - hardcover)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #8
Young Hugo is an orphan taken in by his uncle, a drunk and a clock repairer at a big train station in central Paris. When his uncle disappears Hugo continues to take care of the clocks and hopes that no-one realises that his uncle is gone. Missing his father, and terribly lonely, Hugo discovers and repairs and old automaton - a clockwork man - that his father had been working on when he was killed. Hugo steals the parts he needs from a toy shop in the station, until the day the toy-maker catches him and takes his father's note book. Suddenly life gets a lot more complicated for Hugo as he makes new friends, solves an old mystery and finally gets the Automaton working.
Hugo is a chunky book with more than 500 pages and weighing in at over a kilogram. It would be a brilliant one to get young readers (9+) over a reluctance to read large books, because in spite of it's size, it is extremely easy to read. Some chapters are almost entirely illustrated while others are almost entirely print. It is also great to read an illustrated Young Adult book that isn't in the comic book / graphic novel style format.
This year I'm really enjoying discovering books that are 'told' differently - in this case part of the narrative is told entirely through the illustrations and that is what makes this book magic. It is an indication of the quality of the imagery that the book won the 2008 Caldecott Medal, the first novel to do so, as the Caldecott Medal is for picture story books. The gray-scale illustrations give the story a sense of time and place that the narrative alone does not. The imagery lifted from early films add a touch of eeriness without being creepy.
I learned a lot about early film making and the life of the book's primary inspiration; turn-of-the-century French pioneer filmmaker Georges Méliès reading Hugo cabret. At the end of his life, Méliès was destitute, and he sold toys from a booth in a Paris railway station, which provides the setting of the story. While Hugo and the events in the story are fictional, the films mentioned are all real, as are their creators.
The mysteries that surround Hugo pull you into the story until you cannot wait to see where it goes and I can only recommend this book for both kids and adults alike. I am very happy it ended up on my reading challenge for 2018.
-Sasha-


REBECCA by Daphne du Maurier $19.99

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #7
The 7th book on my personal reading challenge for 2018 and the first I've done at book club. I am so glad this was one I could discuss with people because there is certainly much to unpack: Characters, motivations, themes, social commentary and gender politics to name a few.
The narrator is a young woman, of no particular family or influence, who is working in Monte Carlo for an overbearing woman as a paid companion - low self-esteem is written all over her. She meets the well-to-do Maxim de Winter, a widower and owner of an estate called Manderlay.
After a whirlwind romance the narrator becomes Mrs de Winter and after a honeymoon in Italy they return home to England and Manderlay.
At home, the past closes in on the new Mrs de Winter as she finds herself slipping into the enormous shadow of Rebecca, the previous Mrs de Winter. Rebecca was by all accounts, beautiful, vivacious, elegant and social. She decorated, gardened, threw parties, rode, sailed and was the complete opposite of the unworldly and awkward new Mrs de Winter. The new Mrs de Winter finds herself embarrassed and undermined by the housekeeper Mrs Danvers, who is clearly obsessed with Rebecca, on every occasion. Just as things are looking pretty bleak for the new Mrs de Winter, a shipwreck in the harbour brings an unexpected confession from her husband and changes everything for both of them.

Rebecca is an attack on social norms, the two Mrs de Winter are complete opposites: Rebecca is a strong, wilful character who couldn't care less for societal expectations - she wants to live and die on her own terms and damn the consequences for anyone else. The narrator on the other hand is everything society expected for a woman in her position - bashful, chaste, ruled by her husband to the point where she has no identity without him (we never even learn her first name). The mirroring of their personalities is one of the most powerful themes of the book. 
Mrs Danvers is also a complex character - her devotion to Rebecca is clear but the motivations for it are murky: Did she idolise Rebecca? Lust after her? Consider her a daughter? All we truly know is that her obsession is more than a little unhinged.

I loved the female dynamic in the story - this is not a tale a man could have written in my opinion - it is certainly unlike anything else I've read from the period. The three female leads, the narrator, Rebecca, and Mrs Danvers, create a tangle of emotions between them that builds the suspense and the dark undercurrent of the story - all without any overt violence.
There is no clear-cut villain here; every character has faults and you can imagine them as real people, living real lives whether you like them or not.

If you have never considered reading Rebecca please go out and get yourself a copy - you won't regret it!


A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeleine L'Engle ($14.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #6
Things are about to get controversial people! Do you love this book? Can you tell me why you love it? I know there are people out there who do and they're about to hate me. Here goes:
Did people in the 60's have lower expectations? Why has this lasted as long as it has? It's this weird combination of fantasy, pseudo-science, Americana, preachiness (I may have just made up that word but you know what I mean), and love-is-what-you-all-need-to-fix-everything (I mean; WTF?)
My current theory is Americans love it because it makes them feel all smug and superior about FREEDOMMMMMMMM! (Imagine a GIF of a bald Eagle and an american flag right here).
Why anyone else might like it I do not know... Although it does get points for representing a mum who is also a scientist and a girl who is good at maths but those are pretty much the only redeeming qualities I can find.

Okay, to summarise: Girl named Meg who doesn't fit in at school is all mad because her dad has disappeared. Not unreasonable. Her little brother, Charles, is freakishly smart and seems to know things that he really shouldn't. No-one ever explains why this is. AT ALL. They meet a boy named Calvin. They become instant best mates. They meet these three weird ladies named Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who & Mrs Which. These ladies take Meg, Calvin and Charles without so much as an explanation (though Charles seems to know) on a journey to find their dad. 
Turns out dear old dad has been mucking around with things he doesn't understand and got trapped on a world run by "IT" (every time the name came up I had a clip from 'The I.T. crowd' in my head "Have you turned it off and on again?"). IT is both a giant brain that wants to make everyone identical and a dark cloud of bad stuff that is perpetually trying to engulf everything(?????). Anyhoo, these ladies know where he is but can't get him so of course they recruit small children. As you do. Leaving the children with zero instructions and some cryptic remarks the kids are abandoned on a new world where everything is the same and deviation is 'corrected' (giant unsubtle go at totalitarianism / marxism / communism - it was written in the 60's after all).
Things happen, Meg manages to find her dad but loses Charles along the way. We are now 3/4 of the way through the book. Finally there are some explanations (turns out it is all possible because of "particle physics" - please imagine jazz hands and wobbly music as you read that). Meg realises the only person who can free her little bro is herself. She goes back to the scary planet and uses "love" to get him free. YAY! They all go home. Everyone is happy. Except me, because I'm still sitting here wondering WHAT THE FREAK JUST HAPPENED!?!

I know I am an adult and this is a children's book but seriously can we get a plot that makes sense? Please! I read heaps of kids books and this was just crap. Seriously kids, stand up and demand better! I was kinda looking forward to this book. I was going to read it and then see the new movie, now I'm not sure I want to spend the dosh on what, given the source material, is likely to be quasi-scientific American drivel. First book on my list to truly disappoint me.

ART AS THERAPY by Alain de Botton & John Armstrong ($24.95)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #5
This is the first non-fiction book I've finished from my challenge list and one that has been on my radar for years so I'm really glad I finnaly got around to it.
The basic premise of this book is that in art we seek what is missing from our lives. Not just in what we might traditionally think of as "art" - paintings, sculpture, etc - but the wider range of aesthetics - architecture, design, furniture, music, clothing. We use art to fill voids of which we might not even be aware. "The notion that art has a role in rebalancing us emotionally promises to answer the vexed question of why people differ so much in their aesthetic tastes"(p30). For example someone who spends all day in a bland grey office might be drawn to colourful pictures of wilderness as an antidote to the rigid uniformity of their working life. 
Not only can art help us find what we are missing but it can also show us other ways of acting, and the role of the artist should be to help everyone build better lives. It can bring to light needs that we find hard to express; "In other words, a fugitive and elusive part of our own thinking, our own experience, is taken up, edited, and returned to us better than it was before, so that we feel, at last, that we know ourselves more clearly."(p39)
But can we trust artists to lead us to what we need without guidance - in the past most artists created their best works under the guidance of a paying patron, now most artists are self directed and we, the patron, are told what is good or great by tastemakers who are often not part of our world (the super rich and / or the specially educated). How then should we respond to art? Is it time to take back the direction of art? The authors argue that it is: "We should become as demanding about what we consume in terms of food, media, architecture or leisure as we are about the cars we drive. We should accept the legitimacy of the project or raising taste across the board. To this end we should make ourselves at home with the role of the figure present at key junctures in the history of art: the critic."(p159).
A well spoken and researched critic can change the way art is viewed by not only in the art world but also by the general public. They also demand from the artist their best possible work.
If you have any interest in art then this book is a must read: it is fascinating, controversial, occasionally contradictory and always insightful. The authors consider art as a practical object with a purpose (when we are often taught that art is simply for art's sake), and by treating art as an ordinary object with a purpose, they bring it into everyday life, within reach of every person.

Having said all of the above I have to admit it took me some time to get through this book - I found the authors occasionally belaboured a point enough to make my brain switch off. Not that it wasn't an interesting idea, they just went on far too long about some topics for my taste. I found that more than about 20 pages at a time would result in me realising I had skim read the last few pages and not actually absorbed anything. I noticed this when I read Alain de Botton's Architecture of Happiness too so maybe it's just his style. As I've said before there are many great ideas here and I will definitely be thinking about them for a long time to come. I honestly think this should be a mandatory book for anyone in the art world.

THE GRAVEYARD BOOK by Neil Gaiman ($19.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK#4
Book 4 of my 2018 reading challenge was suggested to me by a regular customer at the store. It turns out I wrongly placed it on my list (not that it really matters) as contemporary fiction, it should have been listed as Young Adult: I'd suggest an age range of 9+ for kids that like Goosebumps / Five Nights at Freddy's or similar. Several times while reading it reminded me of Terry Pratchett's Johnny Maxwell series, particularly Johnny and the dead, which I loved as a kid (I admit it has been at least 20 years since I've read them though so I might just be jumping to that conclusion from the graveyard setting). Typical of Gaiman this is just the right blend of horror, intriguing characters, action and humour.
An entire family is murdered, well almost... A little boy toddles away and ends up at a graveyard, disturbing the ghosts there. Now usually ghosts don't interfere with matters of the living but when the ghosts of the boy's parents beg the other ghosts to keep him safe from the man who murdered them, a man who was, even now, climbing the fence, well, what could they do? 
So the little boy became Nobody Owens (he looks like nobody but himself), adopted by Mister and Mistress Owens who had always wanted a child, and granted the Freedom of the Graveyard. Between the numerous ghosts and his more corporeal guardian Silas, who was not dead but not alive either, Bod grows and is educated in all the things that matter; letters, history, fading, ghoul gates, the hounds of God, you know, the usual. But little boys grow up and if Bod is ever to live beyond the wall of the graveyard the men who killed his family have to be stopped: Every man Jack of them.
In spite of the murderous beginnings this book is never gory or overly horrifying - its one I will happily recommend to young readers - if they have read Harry Potter or Ranger's Apprentice they would be well able to handle it. Ultimately this is a coming -of-age story. Bod learns and grows in the safety of the graveyard but there comes a time when he has to fight for his life and freedom. As any child does he has miss-steps along the way but he has a whole graveyard full of unique people who want to help, all he has to do is ask. There are lots of layers to the themes of this book which I don't intend to get into here (I'm sure others can do it better) but the overall message is that life is short and precious and you should live it to the fullest while you can.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Graveyard Book and I'll happily tell both adults and kids to do themselves a favour and read it.


FUN HOME by Alison Bechdel ($24.99)

SASHA'S READING CHALLENGE - BOOK #3
Theis is the third book I have finished and the second memoir. It was brought to my attention a couple of years ago when a customer special ordered it and was telling me all about it. 
I was intrigued by the format of this unusual biography - it is not often that a personal memoir aimed at an adult audience is made as a graphic novel (not just made into one but conceived and written as a graphic novel from the outset). Bechdel's drawings are stark black and white, but filled with so much detail colour becomes unnecessary.
Bechdel's father died when she was in college, just a few months after Bechdel had come out to her parents as lesbian, and shortly after her mother had revealed that her father had multiple affairs with men throughout their marriage. 
Looking back on her childhood Bechdel seeks answers to her father's life, death and their strained relationship.
This is a fast book to read but I feel more was packed in than I was expecting: childhood memories move seamlessly into adult life as Bechdel describes the good and bad of her life. Helping with the restoration of the family home or helping out in the family's funeral home (the Fun Home of the title) was all overshadowed by her father's occasionally explosive personality. 
Looking back, Beshdel can see the parallels between her father's repressed sexuality and her own - he strove for the feminine while she wanted to be masculine. He was obsessive about furnishings and architecture while Bechdel herself developed OCD. Their shared love of literature, music and theatre gave them moments of closeness. Reconciling the man she knew and the person she discovered him to have been made her analyse her own life and personality.

I wasn't expecting to have to pull out the dictionary for this book (come on, it's a comic book!) but I did, several times in fact, starting on page 5 (Legerdemain: skilful use of one's hands when performing conjuring tricks /deception; trickery.).There are also a massive number of literary allusions (more than a few of which I had to look up as I clearly don't read enough ancient Greek / Roman mythology) - Bechdel's father was an English literature teacher so I imagine it was drilled into her and her brothers. There were a few books mentioned that now have to go onto my "I should read that" list. 
Sometimes comic, and ocasionally tradgic, Fun Home is a fascinating read and very different sort of memoir.
-Sasha-

SASHA'S READING CHALLANGE - BOOK#2

KIM by Rudyard Kipling ($18.99 - Macmillan Collector's Library edition)


Kim is an orphan, his mother died when he was a baby and his father was a drunk, so he pretty much raised himself on the streets. Curious, brave and impudent, Kim runs errands, begs or cons his way through life with wit and humour.
Kim's life is changed forever when he meets a travelling Tibetan Lama - The old man is seeking out a fabled river which will free him from sin and the wheel of death and re-birth - the promise of new horizons appeals to Kim and he becomes the monk's "Chela" - a helper and apprentice. At the same time Kim falls into a bit of intrigue when an old friend, horse trader Mahbub Ali, asks Kim to deliver a mysterious letter to a soldier. Letter delivered, Kim continues on his way and we are treated to descriptions of the landscapes and peoples of India, the many castes and tribes, religions and superstitions that make India such a melting pot. When Kim's parentage is realised after an encounter with his father's old battalion, Kim is sent to school - though it is through the actions of the Lama that this is private school not a military one.
Due to Kim's quick thinking he is also trained as a spy to take his place in "the great game" between Russia and England for the control of India. After 3 years of school Kim and his trainers feel he is more than ready to enter the game but Kim's first duty is always to the Lama and his search for the sacred river.

This is a coming of age story mixed with spy adventure and travelogue of India. While Kim's adventures drive the plot forward, the many descriptions of the land and peoples are what made this book most interesting for me. India comes to life in all it's chaotic, impoverished, beautiful glory. It is clear that this is a land that Kipling loved.
It is a book that is a reflection of the time - it was written at the height of English imperialism. (First published 1901 but set in the late 19th century). I was expecting it to be a bit racist (as most English written stories of the time are) but if anything the white characters Kim encounters tend to be rude, ignorant and boorish compared to the Indian. The 'native' characters tend to be easy-going, accepting and friendly. While the Europeans for the most part are portrayed as helpless, unbending and arrogant. 

This is a complex book. There are layers to this book that I KNOW went over my head - the time and culture are just too far removed from my own to grasp it all. But it is one that I think I will read again at some later point because I know that every time I read this book I will find something new in it.

HOW TO BE A MEDIEVAL WOMAN by Margery Kempe ($4.99 - Little Black Classics edition)

SASHA'S READING CHALLANGE - BOOK #1
This is the first book I have completed as part of my personal book challenge. I put it on my list because I was intrigued by the synopsis:
"Advice on marriage, foreign travel and much more from the irrepressible Margery Kempe: medieval pilgrim, visionary and creator of the first autobiography."
Margery was born in Norfolk, England, in 1373 and died in 1438. As she was illiterate her story was written by two different men over several years. Her book was lost for centuries until it was discovered in a family library in 1934. This little black classics edition is an abbreviated version of the full story. 

It all sounds fascinating, right? A first hand female account of life in the late 1300's and early 1400's? Awesome!
But it wasn't quite what I was expecting...
A more accurate title would be "How to be a medieval religious fanatic" because Margery is definitely a little unhinged in the religion department and possibly schizophrenic or at least delusional.
Referring to herself throughout the book as "this creature" Margery tells of her many religious experiences, visions and conversations with God, Jesus, Mary and various other Catholic figures, as she journeys to various pilgrim sites including Jerusalem, Rome, and many more.
She is by turns consumed in raptures and in anguish as Margery believes, doubts, and punishes herself for 'lustful' feelings. 
Her raptures often lead loud weeping: "And she had such great compassion and such great pain to see our Lord's pain, that she could not keep herself from crying and roaring though she should have died for it"...."And this kind of crying lasted for many years after this time, despite anything that anyone might do, and she suffered much contempt and much reproof for it." She no doubt left quite an impression on her contemporaries.
During her travels her companions seemed to frequently want to abandon her (can't say I really blame them - Margery sounds pretty taxing on the nerves) "Another time this creature's companions wanted to go to the River Jordan and would not let her go with them. Then this creature prayed to our Lord that she might go with them, and he bade that she should go with them whether they wanted her or not. And then she set forth by the grace of God and didn't ask their permission." I imagine that the modern equivalent of travelling with Margery would be being seated next to an overly excited hipster vegan determined to tell you all about the lifestyle on a 36 hour plane flight.
Her travels were interesting but are focused only on her religious experiences not on the everyday (which to my modern mind would be far more fascinating). Margery recounts full conversations with Jesus, God, and Mary at various Holy sites and her encounters with priests and other "holy" individuals. Descriptions of places only occur when they relate to her religious experiences.
Margery's advice on marriage mostly consists of how she decided to be chaste (because liking sex is sinful, and she did like sex) but her husband didn't want to be so she tolerated sex until she guilts him into also taking a vow of chastity. And how God told her to give up eating meat and wine so she guilted her husband into doing that as well. And as for being a visionary? That is quite literal: Margery experienced many "visions" throughout her life: She describes witnessing the entirety of Jesus's crucifixion in all it's gory detail among other things.
It makes sense that Margery's "autobiography" would be focused only on religion. After all there were few literate people and most were priests or religious scholars. They would never have written the biography of anyone, let alone a mere woman, without it. 
If Margery were alive today I imagine she'd thrive in this self-aggrandising, social media world. She confronts everything head on and managed to carve a space for herself in a man's world. But at the same time I'm pretty sure she'd do my head in if I had to spend any amount of time with her.