Posted by: Lisa Hill | September 25, 2009

Two reading challenges finished this month!

As regular readers of this blog know, I am a sucker for reading challenges.  It’s a common affliction which seems to have accompanied the rise of the bookblog.

This month I completed two:

Now the race is on to finish three books for the Classics challenge by the end of October.  I’ve chosen to do this using all-Austalian titles – as I do with most challenges (if I can) in a shameless promotion of Australlian literature.  I’ve nearly finished Patrick White’s The Twyborn Affair…and thanks to some review copies of the new Australian Classics Library (the link is a pdf. so scroll down to p12) from Sydney University I’ve got some very interesting short titles to choose from for my last two. 

(I’ll confess now: my original selection for this all-Australian Classics challenge includedFrank Hardy’s Power without Glory and Christina Stead’s  The Man Who Loved Children, but Power without Glory is too long now to finish in time, and I’d rather buddy read The Man Who Loved Children in the summer holidays.)

The titles sent to me for review are:

  • Tales of the Austral Tropics, by Ernest Favenc
  • Joe Wilson and his mates, by Henry Lawson
  • Oh lucky country, by Rosa Cappiello
  • Inland, by Gerald Murnane
  • Bush studies, by Barbara Baynton, and
  • Maurice Guest, by Henry Handel Richardson (which I really would like to at least start before the Henry Handel Richardson weekend in Maldon in October, but it’s 627 pages long so I can’t hope to finish the Classics challenge in time with that one!)

The remaining titles in this Australian Classics Library release (below) are being reviewed by my good friend Sue Terry at Whispering Gums.

  • The Commandant, by Jessica Anderson
  • A Difficult Young Man, by Arthur Boyd
  • The Moods of Ginger Mick, by CJ Dennis
  • The Workingman’s Paradise, by William Lane
  • The Man from Snowy River and Other Verses, by AB (Banjo) Paterson
  • Tales of the Early Days, by Price Warung
  • See the Challenges page in the top menu for more info about reading challenges.


    1. How can you work and read 75 books by September. No way can I do that. I think I’ve read about 40. Well done.


      • I don’t know…you’d be amazed how much reading you can fit if you don’t do the ironing, the weeding, the housework LOL


    2. Ironing. Who does ironing? My ironing board is my gift wrapping and book covering board. Housework is very minimal here too and weeding very sporadic. No, I think you must be a very efficient reader.


      • I think I might be rather quick. When I was at teachers’ college they tested us and I went off the scale at 600+ words per minute with a 95% comprehension rate, but I have learned to slow down and savour the written word, the more so with writers like Jane Austen and Patrick White. I can knock off something like a Dan Brown or a Christopher Paolini where you just want to know what happens in no time, but real lit is more about enjoying the writing and it takes longer. But I think the real reason is that I really don’t do much else besides reading. I haven’t done any proper writing for ages, and the Great Australian Novel (GAN) remains in draft form, in my head! Lisa


    3. Many congrats. Gosh! – I aim to read eight books a month. You far exceed that.

      Evidently Austarlia has a far more vibrant literary scene than I imagined. Well done


      • Tom, if my little blog persuades you that the Australian literary scene is vibrant and exciting then I’m delighted! Your comment has made my day:)


    4. Well done on your challenges. I haven’t signed up for either of them, but, looking back over the books I’ve read this year, I think I’ve finished the 75-Books one. Now let me try the What’s In A Name —

      1. A book with a “profession” in its title.
      The Concubine by Elechi Amadi

      2. A book with a “time of day” in its title.
      Eventide by Kent Haruf

      3. A book with a “relative” in its title.
      The Aunt’s Story by Patrick White

      4. A book with a “body part” in its title.
      The Bone People by Keri Hulme

      5. A book with a “building” in its title.
      House of All Nations by Christina Stead

      6. A book with a “medical condition” in its title.
      On the Psychology of Military Incompetence by Norman Dixon

      Have fun with the Stead, when you get to it. House of All Nations had me in awe. I’m reading Finnegan’s Wake at the moment and it’s hit me all over again, how much of her style she owes to Rabelais. (It’s there in the Joyce as well, I’m seeing similar rhythms in the sentences, and that habit all three of them have, of list-making.)


      • Oh gosh, Finnegan’s Wake, I’ve never been brave enough to tackle that one. Now that reminds me, I have to read the next chapter of Ulysses for Team Ulysses next month! Lisa PS I think Christina Stead is going to be another writer whose books I want to collect. I read (and blogged) The Little Hotel (the only one I’ve read so far) and thought it very clever indeed. I don’t know how it has happened that we have let these great writers slip off out of our cultural landscape but I am very glad to know I am not alone in enjoying them in the 21st century!


    5. FW seemed daunting to me too until I took it off the shelf a few days ago to move it to another part of the room. I read the first few lines while it was in my hand and hey ho, boom, bang, there was one of those moments when the feel of a thing clicks in the brain, and it’s as if an invisible fairy has lit on your shoulder, saying, “Now is the time to read this book.” Once I’d managed to lodge the Joyce-voice in my head it wasn’t a problem. The problem was getting it there in the first place.

      Writing this, I think of the point at the end of Conference of the Birds, when all the birds reach the palace of the legendary Simorgh, only to discover that the Simorgh is them and they are it — the journey they’ve just undergone was not a physical journey to find a physical god, it was a spiritual journey that they needed to undergo before they could see the truth. The Simorgh was with them all along. FW was the same: it was there all along, making its own kind of sense, the key was to reach a frame of mind that would let me read it.

      A piece of trivia for any Potter fans reading this. FW contains the word ‘hogwarts.’

      “Ay, I’m right here, Nickel, and I’ll write. Singing the top line why it suits me mikey fine. But, yaghags hogwarts and arrahquinonthiance, it’s the muddest thick that was ever heard dump since Eggsmather got smothered in the plap of the pfan.”

      Stead is one of my favourites. Someone, it might have been Hazel Rowley, suggested that mobility could have been one of her problems re. fame. She lived in Australia, the US, and Europe and her subject matter never settled down in one place, she never built a national audience. Her tone was an obstacle as well. After reading a few reviews of her work I’d suggest that reviewers, and probably general readers too, often found her cold and puzzling. “By ruthlessly eliminating any suggestion of decency or honor in her money-crazed and lecherous characters, Miss Stead deprives herself of all possibilities for moral contrasts and dramatic conflicts,” wrote a journalist in Time magazine, commenting on A Little Tea, a Little Chat. (,9171,888517,00.html ) One of the Guardian journalists wrote about Letty Fox for their book blog a while back, and her response was similar. The characters were amoral, cruel, and the book harped on them too much.

      I look at it like this. Stead father was a naturalist, and she treats her characters as a naturalist treats wildlife. She observes their behaviour, sees that they are competing for resources, admires the tenacity with which they fight and strive, congratulates them on their adaptations, etc. This is why I think the reviewers who go into her books expecting “moral contrasts” or warm, co-operative characters, or a clear line of “dramatic conflict” come away disappointed. She writes terrariums.


      • Terrariums! What a splendid metaphor! I’ve got that Hazel Rowley bio on the TBR somewhere, though there’s another one around, recently released, isn’t there? Lisa


    6. Is there? I’m not sure but if there is I’ll look out for it. I know they recently published a book of her letters to her husband, Dearest Munx, but I didn’t know a biography …

      … I’ve gone away and checked Wikipedia. According to her page there, a writer called Teresa Peterson released, in 2001, something called The Enigmatic Christina Stead: A Provocative Re-Reading. That seems to be the most recent piece of Steadania, but from the title I’m guessing it’s not a biography.

      Still, I’ll keep my fingers crossed.


    7. Maybe I’m mixing her up with somebody else…


    8. I am so impressed by all your reading for the classics challenge! And I loved learning about all the Australian Classics, which sadly I knew little about.

      Hope you’ll join again next year! :)


      • Thank you Trish, and thank you so much for organising it. I certainly will be joining in next year, because I usually enjoy reading the classics more than anything else:) Lisa


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