Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 10, 2017

A Year in First Lines (2017)

Jane at Beyond Eden Rock has reminded us to take part in the annual Year in First Lines meme!

These are the rules:

“Take the first line of each month’s post over the past year and see what it tells you about your blogging year.”

It’s an idea that started with The Indextrious Reader a few years ago, and I remember that that it really is an interesting way to look back at a year.

January

Change Is the Only Constant: Writing from Macedonia by Will Firth (with thanks to Words without Borders)

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while you might remember a guest post by Australian translator Will Firth who works these days in Europe.

February

Fables, Queer and Familiar, by Meg Merrilees

I discovered Margaret Merrilees, a writer from Adelaide, when Wakefield Press published her first novel, The First Week. 

March

Cry the Beloved Country, by Alan Paton, read by Michael York

Listening to an audio book is a good way to revisit a book read a long time ago.

April

Tomorrow, by Graham Swift

*pout* I’m not having much luck with my fiction reading at the moment.

May

2017 Australian Book Industry Awards shortlist & winners

I have no idea what the judging criteria might be for this book industry award, but IMO there is something deeply depressing about books titled The Bikini Body 28-Day Healthy Eating & Lifestyle. 

June

Sensational Snippets: Waiting, by Philip Salom

I am reading Philip Salom’s novel Waiting with my admiration increasing page by page, and I am starting to think that this is the one that ought to win the 2017 Miles Franklin.

July

2017 Rare Books Week

I’ve had a lovely day today, the first of many adventures with Rare Books Week for 2017.


August

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar, translated by Adrien Kijek

This novel is an exciting development in Australian publishing.

September

The Lady of the Realm, by Hoa Pham

This new title from Hoa Pham would make a great choice for Novellas in November*.

Wilde in the dock, from The Illustrated Police News, 4 May 1895 (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

October

The Ballad of Reading Gaol, by Oscar Wilde

As Australia trudges through the sordid process of conducting a government sponsored poll of popular opinion on gay marriage, I read a collection of Oscar Wilde’s poems in a collection titled after his most famous poem, ‘The Ballad of Reading Gaol’.

November

First Person, by Richard Flanagan

It has taken me ages to read Richard Flanagan’s new novel First Person because there is so much to think about within its pages.

December

The Passage of Love, by Alex Miller

I’m going to keep this short because Alex Miller is one of my favourite authors and it pains me to write that I am disappointed by his latest work.

Sooo…. what do these First Lines tell me about my year in blogging?

  • It’s been a big year in Australian literature, with new releases from Booker Prize winner Richard Flanagan and Miles Franklin winner Alex Miller.  And they weren’t the only Big Names to release a new novel – which is going to make the awards season a very interesting one indeed.  I’ve read 62 new releases from Australia this year, eleven of them debut novels, and some of them non-fiction.
  • My reading was influenced by the Marriage Equality debate.  That’s because I care about social issues.
  • I’m interested in diverse Australian voices: Hoa Pham is of Vietnamese descent and Shokoofah Azar is an Iranian author now living here in Australia, writing her first novel in Persian and having it locally translated for publication here in Australia.
  • I’ve been out and about a bit more than when my father was alive and I was visiting him in Aged Care every day.  As well as Rare Books Week, I went to the Bendigo Writers Festival, the Williamstown Literary Festival, the Woodend Winter Arts Festival and the Word for Word Non Fiction Festival in Geelong, and I’ve also been to some author events, book launches and a symposium on translation.
  • I am no good at picking Miles Franklin winners.  Still, I was pleased to see that Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions won the prize!
  • I’m intolerant of book titles that pander to a preoccupation with body image.
  • I will tell you if I didn’t like a book.  (And I don’t keep my promise to provide a positive review to balance my …um…unenthusiastic one, if a quick search doesn’t unearth one).
  • I’ve only listened to five audio books this year, and most of those were when I was having trouble with my eyes.  That’s because I do very little driving these days now that I’m retired #HappyDance, and I only ever listened to audio books on the daily commute.
  • Influenced by Stu at Winston’s Dad, I’m interested in translated books and translation issues. I’ve read 33 books in translation this year, ten of them by women.

But what these First Lines don’t show is my fascination with weird, strange, experimental and challenging books!  I started Finnegans Wake in March, and I’ve almost finished it.  It is definitely the hardest thing I’ve ever read, and – even with the help of my two trusty guides William York Tindall and Joseph Campbell – I don’t pretend for a millisecond that I have understood more than a fraction of it but it’s been incredibly good fun.  I think that’s because there’s no pressure to say anything wise and wonderful about this reading journey – nobody else really understands FW either.

The other focus of this blog that doesn’t show up is my support for Indigenous writing.  I hosted Indigenous Literature Week for the sixth year this year, and I read nine books by Indigenous authors, including four new releases.  There were great contributions from other participants, making eighteen new reviews altogether of books by Indigenous authors on the 2017 Reviews page  and they were all added to the ANZ LitLovers Indigenous Reading List which is a permanent resource accessed by schools and universities, and archived by Pandora.

What do you think?  Are these first lines indicative of why you read my blog?

Update (the next day): I’m not fishing for compliments when I’m asking if you think these 2017 First Lines reflect the reasons why you read my blog. Let me explain:  I read Sue at Whispering Gums because I like her articles about aspects of Australian writing; I read Bill at The Australian Legend because I’m intrigued by his reviews of early Australian fiction.  I read heaps of other blogs as well, of course, but I’m just using these two as an example. Now, they both write about other topics as well, of course, and I read those too, but it’s that particular niche that brings me to their blogs whenever they post anything new.

So, to sample just one month from Bill’s blog, if I look at his First Lines for December, that’s exactly why I read his blog:

Some Everyday Folk and Dawn (1909) is Miles Franklin’s second published novel.

But if I sample just one from Sue’s (for December):

If you are a fan of professional tennis you will probably have heard of Jelena Dokic who hit the world stage during the 1999 Wimbledon Championships.

No, that’s a review, encompassing two of my pet hates, celebrity bios and sport!  Not indicative of why I read Sue’s blog at all!


Responses

  1. I was going to say that I this meme in mind – following your equivalent post last year – and try and vary my first lines as much as possible. But your last question threw me. I read your blog because you come across lots of stuff that I wouldn’t on my own and because I value your opinion. I guess there’s some of that in your first lines. Anyway, thanks for another thought provoking year.

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    • LOL Bill, I remember from last year that too many of mine began with “I”, and I was self-conscious about that for a while, and then I forgot about it. Result? 6 begin with “I”!

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  2. I echo that previous comment. I find the range of texts you discuss a stimulating mix, and your views are always worth taking account of. Keep up the good work, Lisa. As for FW – I don’t know if I’ll ever take on that one. Brave of you to do so.

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    • Thanks:) BTW the reason I read your fascinating blog is because I like the accessible way you write about complicated stuff like metaphysical poetry, and I love the quaint-in-a-god-way miscellany e.g. the one about the stained glass windows…

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  3. What a great idea – and what a lot of books you read. Did you just say 62 Australian books? And the rest! Amazing. To answer your question – I read your blog because it’s a breath of fresh air. 💐

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    • Thanks, Carmel, I’m going to treasure that comment:)
      Yes,, 62. You can always see what I’ve been up to using my categories: the number of books I’ve read is under the heading This Reading Life/read in 2017, and I count up which ones were Australian by looking under Category/Australian Fiction.

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  4. As you know, Lisa, I am in hibernation writing my fingers to the bone, but I simply had to unfurl myself to comment here. I follow your blog because you read so widely and review so thoughtfully, with honesty and integrity.

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    • Ah Karenlee, that is so kind! But I wasn’t fishing for compliments… I was curious about whether the first lines do reflect whatever it is people are looking for when they visit here:)

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      • I know Lisa but I couldn’t resist. How’s this … you know how much I love the Australian voice? Sooo… Jan: ‘Australian translator’, Feb: ‘writer from Adelaide’, May: ‘Australian book industry awards’, June: ‘ought to win the 2017 Miles Franklin’, Aug: ‘Australian publishing’, Nov: ‘Richard Flanagan’, Dec: ‘Alex Miller’. Boom!

        Liked by 1 person

        • You know, I was disappointed to see a recent post from an Australian author saying she had read ‘too much’ AustLit this year and would redress it next year. I am guessing that perhaps as a professional writer she feels she needs to broaden her horizons, but without some sort of explanation and no indication of which books she’s read, it looks like a put-down for her fellow authors. And there has been so much world-class writing this year!

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  5. So glad you do what you do and oh so well. What I really appreciate is the reviews and promotion of Australian writing which is too often neglected. Thanks so much for your generosity and long may you continue with your blog. Peace and joy too for the season.

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    • Thanks, Fay, can I ask: do you sometimes get hold of a book *because* you read about it here?

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  6. Enjoyed this Lisa. I remember your comment about “I” last year too and thought about it for myself but then decided what the heck. It’s my personal litblog! So, in this meme, is it the first line of the first post of each month, not just any post? I think I might give it a go too.

    Anyhow, I enjoyed your reflections of course, and love the variety of your reading.

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  7. Oh and I hit post comment too quickly … Haha, re my blog! I knew when I wrote that post that it wouldn’t be up your alley, but I love that you mention it here!!

    And of course, I meant that the (though not the only) reason I come to your blog is for the variety of your reading – I never know what I’ll find!

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    • *snap* Sometimes when I’m writing something, I think (because I know my most loyal commenters so well) oh, Bill’s not going to like this, or Sue won’t agree with me about this. I think it makes me write better when I have a sense that I still want to capture your interest even if the book is not your sort of book.
      I think that consciousness of our readers is a very interesting phenomenon, which can only have come about because of the interactive nature of book reviewing online.
      (I know, some journals (e.g. QE and the ABR) attempt it, by publishing letters to the editor, but they lack the spontaneity of online interaction. Almost by definition, they tend to be axe-to-grind responses, IMO.)
      I hope you do give it a go, I’d be fascinated to see what you come up with. (Yes, I think it’s meant to be the first line of the first post of the month, because that allows for more people to join in, even if they post infrequently.)

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      • Yes, exactly Lisa. We know each others’ interests so well now. It’s lovely really but it does play a role in my writing too. I like your point re blogging and commenting versus letters to the editor.

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        • It reminds me of a lovely time in my life when a friend and I took turns to host dinner once a week, and as well as trying out beaut new vegetarian recipes, we would share our books. We didn’t always like each other’s taste, but the conversation was always great:) It left a real gap in my life when she took a sea-change…

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          • That sounds like a lovely friendship Lisa – changes like that are hard but you have to let people follow their hearts don’t you.

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            • Yup, but you know, it must be 15 years and I still miss her. We tried visiting but it was just too far and too hard.

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  8. I read your blog because you are a thoughtful and entertaining reviewer, and you review books I’ve never heard of (ie not the ones every other blog is reviewing) Keep it up!

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    • Thank you, Laura, I will do my best! #NoteToSelf Keep reading obscure books that no one else has reviewed…

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  9. […] but I think it happens when the meme encourages me to think about my reading or blogging. So, when Lisa (ANZLitLovers) reminded me of this end-of-year meme, that she was reminded of by Jane at Beyond Eden Rock, I decided to give […]

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  10. What an interesting snapshot, suggesting a fine year in books. So many books from other English speaking countries aren’t published in the UK – even those I spot when they are listed for awards – and so it’s lovely to be able to keep an eye on you and others who are reading them.

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    • Hi Jane, thank you for triggering this meme:)
      Re the translated books: they’re not easy to get hold of here either. Bricks and mortar bookshops tend to have the big names like Orhan Pamuk but not much else. I source them from Fishpond, from the Book Depository and sometimes when all else fails for the Kindle from Amazon. And I wouldn’t know about them at all if not for Stu at Winston’s Dad…

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s not such much the translated books I’m thinking of as books by Australian authors that don’t get published over here. So many times I’ve looked at award shortlists and found that the book doesn’t have a UK publisher. It’s the same with Canadian books, and it seems mad in this day and age.

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        • My guess is that it would happen more often with the micro publishers. Here in Melbourne (A UNESCO City of Literature), for example, we have a thriving small publishing industry as well as the big global companies (Penguin Random House et al). For them, the challenge is get publicity for their 10-12 books per year (if that) and my guess is that LOL thoughts of world rights and global domination don’t enter their heads.
          Now what’s interesting is that the lit community has realised that the most interesting, innovative books are coming from the small publishers, (while the conglomerates play safe with commercial fiction) but the prizes have tended to elude them because it’s too expensive for these small publishers to enter their books for the awards. The emerging awareness of this phenomenon means that some (but by no means all) awards are making it easier for the smalls to enter and thus we see books make a longlist when their publisher is utterly unprepared for worldwide fame.
          If the Federal government had any nous, they would dart after these sudden celebrities and help them get into an export market that the publisher had barely dreamed of…

          Liked by 1 person

  11. […] back over the last 12 months. I’ve not done this before but some recent posts from Lisa at ANZLitLovers and Sue at WhisperingGums alerted me to an interesting variation on the end-of-year […]

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  12. […] my favourite book bloggers have posted about a year in first lines (including Whispering Gums and Lisa Hill) which makes me think about the year in […]

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