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Sunday Salon: the Dreamy Post

March 14, 2010

The Sunday Salon.comWhile writing this post, I’m re-watching one of my very favourite Russian movies: Russian Ark. It’s a modern film, and it’s all set in the Hermitage. The narrator is a modern-day Russian who wakes up from an accident disembodied and transported back in time to the eighteenth century (there’s a strong implication that he’s a ghost). There, he meets another mysterious figure (who acts like the Marquis de Custine, who visited Russia in the 1800s and wrote an unflattering book about their European pretensions) , and together they wander through the Hermitage, seeing scenes from three hundred years of Russian history and having discussions about art. It’s a gorgeous film, with thousands of actors, and perhaps even more incredibly, all ninety-six minutes was shot in a single take. It’s a visual feast, and if you’re at all curious about the Hermitage, you’ll get a wonderful idea of its appearance. Anyway, I’d encourage all of you to watch it, and it’s made me incredibly nostalgic for St. Petersburg. Good thing I was already planning to start Doctor Zhivago today!

But this is a book blog, not a film blog, and I have quite a few books to talk about today! I read 12 books this week and only reviewed 1, which is pretty bad arithmetic for a book blog. ;) This was also a high-quality reading week for me; with one exception, every book I read I really enjoyed: four and five star reads all over the place. So let’s get started!

I reread Jane Austen’s Persuasion for the discussion on Literary Transgressions. As if I ever need an excuse to reread her! ;) Two years ago, I wrote a long post about this novel, so this time I’m going to cheat and copy and paste a bit of what I said in the discussion! The fun thing about rereading a novel so much (this was my seventh or eighth reread) is that each time, something else jumps out at me. This time, I was simply enchanted with Admiral and Mrs. Croft’s happy, lovey-dovey marriage. It’s interesting, because Austen doesn’t usually portray actually-married couples in this happy of a light. The only possible equivalent I could think of was the Westons from Emma, but even then I don’t think it’s the same. The Crofts are shown as such equals, and perfect complements, and after so many years they still loving being in each other’s company so much, it was just lovely. :) They’re also childless, which is unusual for an Austen marriage. I wonder if those two things are at all related. Anyway, since Austen usually focuses on the unhappiness that results from an unequal marriage, it was nice to see such a change. I hope that if I ever get married, my marriage is like the Crofts. Even after decades, they still do everything together, and Mrs. Croft has accompanied the Admiral on many of his travels.

Now for the exception to my book gushing this week! I picked up In Search of King Solomon’s Mines by Tahir Shah as part of the Reading the World Challenge, for my nonfiction selection about Ethiopia. Shah has written several travel books that sound interesting to me, so I was hoping I’d enjoy this one and want to read the others. Not so much. You know the Great White Explorers who ‘discovered’ the heart of the Dark Continent, and all that tosh? Well, people like Stanley are heroes to Shah. That might give you an idea of how he writes about Ethiopia. I was disgusted by his attitude, his writing, his racism and sexism and class-ism. The further along in the book I got, the worse all of this became. Not to mention, travelogues need some type of narrative thread holding them together, and this one’s thread was tenuous at best, with an utterly unsatisfactory ending. Needless to say, I’ll be avoiding Shah in the future.

Fortunately, at the same time I was reading a wonderful nonfiction book: Microcosm by Carl Zimmer. I already wrote about why I loved it, so I’ll move right along to another travelogue: Kinky Gazpacho by Lori Tharps. Now, I originally had expected a travelogue, but this is much more a memoir of Tharps’ connection to Spain, and the world outside of the States. It begins when she’s in elementary school, covers her high school summer spent in Casablanca, then her college year abroad in Spain, and goes later than that. I’m very happy that I didn’t read the publisher’s blurb, since if you read it you’ll know something that doesn’t happen in the actual book until the last quarter and which took me by surprise! Anyway, I loved this memoir. :) Tharps brought me into her world, and it was so fun to see her experience things! She’s brutally honest about culture shock, which I liked, since I think it’s something anyone who studies abroad has to deal with, but it’s often glossed over in travelogues. I’ve never been to Spain, so it was fun to see it through Tharps’ eyes. I think the book was particularly effective since it began with a story from Tharps in elementary school; the large amount of time she covers made me feel as if I really got to know her and her motivation, well before the travelogue bits. Oh, and she’s really funny! So yeah, this book was everything I want from a memoir: smart, funny, and entertaining. :)

When I discovered I couldn’t renew it at the library, I immediately picked up Carpentaria by Alexis Wright. This was my first read for the Aussie Authors Challenge, and what a way to start things off! Wright makes the reader work in this book, but there’s a great reward if you stick with it. She’s merged Western storytelling traditions (aka novels) with more Aboriginale ones, into a book that’s untraditional and difficult, but also fascinating and a peek into lives led very differently from my own. It’s set on an isolated stretch of Australian coast in the Australian outback (Shannon has helpfully told me it’s not possible to be in the Outback if you’re on a coast!) , in a small white town and the Aboriginale community that surrounds it. Most of the story focuses on a few Aboriginale leaders, mainly men (but one awesome woman!), their lives and the events that bring them into conflict with the white Australians. For me, I loved the mix of reality with mythology (Dream Time is invoked several times), I loved the way the narrative wasn’t told in linear time, and while I was definitely confused on occasion, when I kept reading Wright cleared things up. I wouldn’t recommend this to readers who have to be constantly in control of their reading…with a book like this, you have to just ‘go with it,’ if you know what I mean. But if you’re willing to invest in the novel, and to work through the not-so-great bits (for me, pages 50-150 were pretty dull, but the other 400 pages made up for it), this is the kind of fiction that repays a close reading. It’s definitely one that I’d like to reread one day!

The other novel I picked up due to not being able to renew as The Bostonians by Henry James. I got this from the library not knowing anything about it, except that James wrote it. That’s good enough for me, since I have loved most of his novels that I’ve read. This one is no exception, and imagine my delight when I discovered it was set during the Reconstruction and about the suffragette movement! Two of the main characters, distant cousins, represent the most extreme versions that the movement brought out…Olive Chancellor is a well-off, independent Bostonian young woman who has decided to devote her life to the suffragette cause and pretty much hates men. Basil Ransom used to be a part of the Southern gentility, but after the war he ended up penniless and is now in New York trying to make his fortune as a lawyer. He subscribes to all the most backward beliefs of a patriarchal society (for instance, that the source of women’s happiness is making men happy). Both Olive and Basil say stereotypical things on a regular basis, and are both amusing and horrifying all at once. Torn between them is Verena, a beautiful young woman raised in the Bohemian lifestyle, who is a talented public speaker and suffragette. While she firmly believes that women deserve all the same rights as men, she also enjoys talking with the men she meets, and she doesn’t think that their whole gender is pure evil. Olive takes her under her wing, and she wants her to renounce everything but the Cause. Basil, meanwhile, wants to marry her and make her into a good little housewife. That’s where all of the tension of the novel comes from, and I couldn’t read fast enough to see how things would turn out! This lived up to my expectations of James, with its psychological nuances and sharply drawn supporting characters. While Olive and Basil represent stereotypes, they still feel like real people, which is entirely due to James’ talents. If you’re a James fan, I think you’re in for a treat with The Bostonians. If you’re new to him, I’d suggest starting with The Portrait of a Lady.

I read A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami in one sitting, in order to participate in Tanabata’s discussion. This is my second Murakami novel, but my first was Norwegian Wood, which everyone always tells me is nothing like his usual stuff. If A Wild Sheep Chase is more typical of him, I understand now! :) I really enjoyed this novel; it was zany, but it had its own internal logic, and the writing kept me clipping along. The characters didn’t feel real, but I don’t think that that was the point. They did feel compelling, and I was curious to see what would happen to them. I was taken aback, and then delighted, to discover that there are real sheep in the story! Anyway, despite its po-mo plotline, this felt lighthearted to me, and it was a fun, easy read. Next up I’ll be reading Dance Dance Dance for the discussion at the end of the month, and I’m looking foward to it. (If you want to know more about my thoughts on the novel, feel free to scroll down and find my comment on the discussion post.)

I’ve seen Cold by Bill Streever reviewed on a couple blogs, and I’m happy that I read it for the Science Book Challenge. While it’s not ‘straight’ science, since it’s mixed with some personal observations and historical stories, I still think it’s a science book at heart. Within his theme of cold, Streever looks at everything from a horrible Midwest blizzard to the science of hibernation to various Arctic explorers to Snowball Earth and more. While his focus flits from topic to topic, the book’s held together by it’s chronological structure (each chapter in a new month, with the book starting in July, and Streever references what the weather’s doing in his home state of Alaska) and Streever’s tone. His writing is lyrical, and his enthusiasm for the cold really shines through. The book feels like a labour of love, and that certainly helps make it delightful to read. While at heart, my default is to warmer climates, I do love sitting outside when it’s in the 30s and 40s, bundled up in cashmere and silk, with a steaming thermos of hot chocolate and a good book to read. Cold is just that type of book!

I grabbed A Season in Mecca by Abdellah Hammoudi from the shelves on a whim for the World Religion Challenge, and I’m so glad that I did! It was a fascinating peek into the logistics of the haj* and Hammoudi’s writing veered from the intellectual to the everyday to the personal and back in a way I found very satisfactory. While I knew that the pilgrimage to Mecca and Medinawas one of the five pillars, I had no idea that the whole event was so orchestrated. I love that Hammoudi didn’t shy away from difficult issues, such as the treatment of women as the secondary gender, or the way that Saudi Arabia’s power has allowed the extreme sect of Wahhabism to dominate the Islamic world more than it perhaps ought to. I learned a lot by reading this book, and it’s one of those that makes me wish I was reading it with a book club, because there’s so much to discuss! It lived up to all my expectations and then some.

The Practical Nomad by Edward Hasbrouck is really a reference book for long-term, independent travel, but I’m sure those who know me well aren’t surprised that I ended up reading it cover to cover. ;) It’s packed full of helpful, practical information, which I really appreciated. Hasbrouk’s writing voice amused me; he reminded me of a kind of crotchety professor I had at college. He takes regular digs at the US (his native country), some warranted, some less so, and he sometimes seems to include things just to show off. But the book is a great resource, and I’m sure most people won’t read every page like me! lol When I have a job, I definitely want to buy a copy for myself. That being said, it’s not inspirational the way A Journey of One’s Own is. That’s not its purpose, so don’t pick it up expecting it to fire you up to go travel.

The movie’s almost over! Which means I need to get moving and wrap this post up. :) When I was a sophomore in high school, I had to read Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather for class, and I found the experience excruciating. All of these years, I’ve written Cather off as ‘not my style.’ But Allie has been mentioned her lately, and I decided it was about time I gave her another shot! So I downloaded the audio version of My Antonia and, with a bit of trepidation, began listening. You know what? I enjoyed it! The story’s told by a man looking back on his childhood in Nebraska, first on a farm and later in town, and Antonia, a girl who lived near him and had ‘that special something.’ Cather really brought pioneer Nebraska to life (of course, I’ve also driven across the state a few times and visited Omaha once, so I did have something to reference), and the stories of the farm days were so neat. Later, in town, the analysis of gender politics was fascinating, and gave me a lot to think about. So, my Cather experiment was a resounding success, and I’ll be trying out more of her work in the future!

I just finished Between the Acts by Virginia Woolf this morning, which I read not only because I love Woolf but also so I could read the nonfiction book about books The Things That Matter. This was Woolf’s last novel, and the preface by Leonard quietly broke my heart. It’s quite interesting; like Mrs. Dalloway it takes place over the course of a day, but it’s written in a different style. It starts out much more straightforward, about a family living on an estate in 1939, and then the focus moves to the village pagaent being held that day on their grounds. It’s a history of England, and the pagaent itself is full of pastiches that were fun to read and reminded me a bit of Orlando. There are several intermissions, during which we learn more about the characters as they wander about. While this isn’t my new favourite Woolf, I found it well worth a read and enjoyed every page of it. It’s full of quirky characters and unforgettable scenes, as well as meditations on the meaning of life and identity and history. What more could you ask for?

Finally, I finished Meet Me Under the Ceiba by Silvio Sirias, which I read to visit Nicaragua with the Reading the World Challenge. Now, Mr. Sirias was gracious enough to write a wonderful guest post on my blog, so I will admit that I began the book hoping I would like it. But I’m always honest in my reviews, so the fact that I’ve e-mailed the author a few times has no relation to what I’m writing about his novel. I say that because, this novel was incredibly good! It’s written in one of my favourite styles, wherein a main narrator has to piece together a story from talking to various characters and reading various documents. In this case, the story is the murder of Adela, a lesbian in a small Nicaraguan town. This book is full of life: each of the characters jumps off the page, Nicaragua itself seems to rise up around me (and I want to visit even more than I did before), and while it’s not a mystery, the book has enough urgency to keep you turning the pages. That being said, there are some hard things in this book. The prejudice Adela faces is hard. Even harder is the life story of her true love, Ixelia, whose body has been sold to any willing man by her own mother since she was 11. While the narrator is obviously repulsed, some of the people he’s interviewing (like her mother and the old man who eventually buys sole power over Ixelia) treat it matter-of-factly. There were moments when I was truly angry at Sirias for making me read these things; why did there have to be sexual abuse of children?! But then, I read the afterword, and discovered that the novel is based on a real case in Nicaragua, and that the real victim’s lover had the same history of sexual abuse. This didn’t in any way mitigate the horrible things, but it made me understand why they were in the novel and that they weren’t gratuitous. Sirias never plays things up to try to manipulate the reader’s emotions, which I think made the story even stronger. The sad things are told in a straightforward manner and calm voice, which allows the reader to be genuinely outraged. And there are happy moments too, and funny ones; I don’t want to imply that the book is unrelentingly sad. I’d highly recommend it to anyone who loves reading international fiction that really brings you to another place, or to anyone interested in LGBT issues, or to anyone who just enjoys a good story.

Whew! Perfect timing: I finished that paragraph just as the credits started rolling for Russian Ark! So, I’m off to get ready for the day, probably curl up outside and read for awhile, and later my mom and I will be watching The Motorcycle Diaries, which she’s never seen! I hope y’all have a great Sunday. :)

*For instance…women can’t approach the holy objects when they’re menstruating, but they’re allowed to take pills to ensure their periods don’t arrive while they’re on pilgrimage.

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78 Comments leave one →
  1. March 14, 2010 6:19 am

    I’ve always wanted to see Russian Ark! It looks so good. I’m glad that you enjoyed Meet Me Under the Ceiba! I really loved it too and that was before I ever talked to Silvio Sirias, of course knowing him made me love it even more. I’m also glad you liked A Wild Sheep Chase, because it’s not even close to being the best Murakami! I personally love after the quake, but it’s not “typical” either.

    • March 15, 2010 7:00 am

      Definitely see Russian Ark! :D And knowing Sirias made me EXTRA happy that I loved Ceiba. :) Sounds like I need to read a lot more Murakami in the future, lol.

  2. March 14, 2010 6:39 am

    Oh, I had to read My Antonia for my senior year of high school. I liked it just fine, but I was very befuddled by the cover we had- that pale little redhead couldn’t have been Antonia! I also read Henry James for the first time in that same class- we read Daisy Miller. (Class conclusion: Daisy deserved it, which scandalized my teacher.) But The Bostonians sounds wonderful, and I need to read more classics. I’m adding it to my reading list. I hope you have a wonderful Sunday, too!

    • March 15, 2010 7:01 am

      I hate it when classics covers don’t match. I think classics usually get shortshrift in the cover department, unless they’re super popular. LOL @ your class’s opinions on Daisy. Daisy Miller is the only James I’ve read that I didn’t love-I think I prefer his longer stuff to his shorter bit.

  3. March 14, 2010 6:40 am

    So many books and so many good ones! I’m glad you ended up liking My Antonia. As I mentioned it wasn’t my favorite book, so it’s good that you got more enjoyment out of it than I did. =)

    I know I’ve read Henry James before, but I can’t really remember what I thought. I’ll have to try Portrait of a Lady. I hope my new library has it!

    • March 15, 2010 7:02 am

      I’m glad I enjoyed it more than you too! ;) Ohhh-I want to see your thoughts on Portrait of a Lady. I really loved it; it was easy to connect w/ the characters, and I kept yelling at Isabel, or complaining to my mom about what was happening. lol

  4. March 14, 2010 7:01 am

    Look at you with all those books! I particularly like the look of A Season in Mecca. I’ve been wanting to know more about the haj for ages, since pretty much all I knew was that it’s a pillar of Islam and the thing about menstruating not being allowed near the holy objects. (Ugh.) I think it’s interesting to see how religious practices develop and crystallize over time.

    • March 15, 2010 7:02 am

      Yeah-Season in Mecca is super interesting! It’s not written in a straight forward style, but I think that’s part of the charm.

  5. March 14, 2010 7:33 am

    You always amaze me with your reading, both quantity and quality. I don’t know how you do it!

  6. March 14, 2010 7:57 am

    Great reading week for you! Followed the conversation about A Wild Sheep Chase this week and am curious about the surreal aspects hinted at. Still have not read any Murakami even as the titles sit on my shelves staring at me. Don’t know what holds me back.

    My Antonia has a poignancy about it that I have always found touching. And that I share your Woolf love is known. And the Henry James love as well. Recently told someone looking for a first James read to pick up The Portable Henry James from Penguin. Short and long contained within. Allows for a good dip in his writing before picking up the “big books.” Happy reading!

    • March 15, 2010 7:12 am

      Oh yes-there are definitely some surreal bits to Wild Sheep Chase. But they totally work! :D

      That’s a good idea re: Portable Henry James. Those types of books have always freaked me out for some reason, but I bet they’re great introductions to classic authors.

  7. March 14, 2010 8:10 am

    What a wonderful week of reading for you. I will have to read the the Sirias book. Yes, any book by Henry James is sure to be a treat. I love his work but have not read all of his books. I highly recommend “The Master”, Colm Toibin’s fictional study of Henry James.

    • March 15, 2010 7:13 am

      I read The Master years ago and very much enjoyed it! :D

  8. March 14, 2010 8:12 am

    I’m glad you enjoyed MyÁntonia. I too found the discussion on gender politics interesting. I also liked the discussions on friendships in it.

    I’ve put A Season in Mecca on my TBR list as I want more books on Islam for the World Religions Challenge and also for my own self-education. It sounds like a great read. Thank you!

    • March 15, 2010 7:14 am

      I loved the friendship bits too. Especially how so many of the ‘girls’ were very supportive of each other. :)

  9. March 14, 2010 8:21 am

    So glad to hear that you enjoyed A Season in Mecca – after seeing it on your Library Loot, I put it on my hold list at the library and am really looking forward to it! Can’t bring myself to read Cold though – I’m cold enough most of the time already! I don’t like heat particularly, but, having been in -40 and -50, the allure of winter is completely gone.

    • March 15, 2010 7:15 am

      LOL re: Cold! I’ve never had to deal with that level of cold, and I’m very thankful. :) I hope you enjoy A Season in Mecca…the writing is a bit convoluted at times, but I think it works for the way he’s presenting his info.

  10. March 14, 2010 8:22 am

    Great reading week! I want to read more Haruki Murakami and The Bostonians by Henry James sounds really good.

    • March 15, 2010 7:16 am

      Thanks Tricia! Do you know Tanabata’s hosting a Murakami Month? Good reason to pick him up. ;)

  11. March 14, 2010 8:24 am

    Isn’t it interesting how one can enjoy a book many years after not liking it the first time around. I do believe that certain books are meant for certain points in life. While My Antonia is about young people it’s told from a perspective of many years. Being in a position to look back on part of one’s own life, can help when looking back on the lives of fictional characters.

    Anyway, I’m glad you liked it and I’m in awe of how much you’ve read once again. I’m still plodding my way through The Savage Detectives myself. I hope to finish it by Tuesday or Wednesday.

    • March 15, 2010 7:17 am

      Yep-I wonder what I’d think of Death Comes for the Archbishop if I reread it now. :)

      Good luck w/ Savage Detectives! I’ve already decided my first Bolaño is going to be the much shorter Skating Rink!

  12. March 14, 2010 8:56 am

    Wow, so many good books! I’ve always wanted to read My Antonia, though for some reason I felt intimidated by it as a teen, so never picked it up. You’ve added a few others here to my TBR as well.

    • March 15, 2010 7:29 am

      It was much more readable than I expected!

  13. March 14, 2010 9:19 am

    Persuasion was the only Austen novel I hadn’t read until last summer and I was struck by how happy Admiral and Mrs Croft’s marriage was; Austen was not renowned for her happy marriages as she was for her happy endings with weddings.

    I found Between the Acts interesting in its focus on impending war (between the “acts” of WWI and WWII) considering Virginia Woolf’s terror of the war at hand that ultimately drove her to suicide. The framing of the novel with the village pageant and play was a nice touch and I thought that the treatment of masculinity and machoism in the surrounds of war intriguing.

    It’s been several years since I read My Antonia at uni but I remember enjoying it.

    • March 15, 2010 7:30 am

      Persuasion’s one of my very favourite Austens…I’m glad I didn’t save it until last, lol. I thought the martial focus was really interesting in Between the Acts as well; I could have easily spent a whole post rambling on about it. But I thought some readers might be tired of me slavering over her by now! lol

  14. March 14, 2010 9:35 am

    Please tell me how you manage to read so many books in one week? How and when do you read? How does life fit in around you? I want to be able to read as many as you!!!!!

    • March 15, 2010 7:31 am

      I answered this on my About page. ;) The short answer is, right now I’m too sick to work, I don’t have kids or a boyfriend, and I have limited household chores (I keep my room & bathroom clean and cook). So, I have a lot of free time! I can’t always read, though, because sometimes I’m too sick. Still, that’s how I do it. ;)

  15. March 14, 2010 9:38 am

    What a great collection of books this week! I keep trying to make time to reread books…especially those I read umpteen years ago!

    So many books…alas!

    My Salon:

    http://laurel-rainsnowsaccidentallife.blogspot.com/2010/03/sunday-salon_14.html

    • March 15, 2010 7:32 am

      I love rereading, and I wish I did it more often too!

  16. March 14, 2010 10:04 am

    If you enjoyed My Antonia, you must read O Pioneeers! It’s about time for me to reread them both…

  17. March 14, 2010 10:05 am

    Willa Cather is definitely an author who needs to be on the Classics Challenge list for April! I’m loving the sound of the Henry James, too, though I might go with The Turn of the Screw (which I was supposed to read for school and never finished, ugh).

    Kinky Gazpacho is definitely going on my to-read list as well!

    • March 15, 2010 7:33 am

      I’ll join you w/ Cather then! I didn’t like Turn of the Screw that much the first time I read it, but upon rereading it, I suddenly loved it. I think it’s easier for me to immediately love James in his longer work.

  18. March 14, 2010 10:27 am

    I remember liking My Antonia quite a lot in high school. Recently I’ve been wanting to read Death Comes for the Archbishop I hope it’s not an excruciating experience! :)

    • March 15, 2010 7:33 am

      lol-I bet since you’re not 14 and having to analyse every drop of symbolism in it, it won’t be excruciating! ;)

  19. March 14, 2010 10:48 am

    I’ve ordered Kinky Gazpacho from The Book Depository – I don’t read much travel fiction so this will kinda be a new thing for me!

    I’ve wanted to read Orlando since I first saw the movie when I was a teenager (and watched it many times since) but it’s been sitting on my shelf, unread and unloved, for years now. I’m too easily daunted by Woolf. I hated Mrs Dalloway. How can such a short, uneventful book be so excruciating to read?! I’m probably being unfair I know, but I’m intimidated by her.

    I really want to read Carpentaria – I’m dithering over whether to buy the hardcover or wait for the paperback. As a nit-picky aside, it’s a contradiction in terms to say “coastal outback” – the coast is never the Outback! Picture someone in Melbourne or Sydney saying “she lives on a sheep station in the Outback” and throwing their thumb over their shoulder to point inland. It’s that zone between the more lush regions and the desert, where the big cattle and sheep stations are. It sometimes refers to the outskirts of the desert too. Probably comes from saying “out back of the… [house]” meaning “behind”.

    • March 15, 2010 7:34 am

      Yay-I hope you enjoy Kinky Gazpacho! :) Orlando is one of the easiest Woolf novels to read, imo. It’s VERY different from Mrs. Dalloway!

      Thanks for letting me know there’s no such thing as the coastal Outback. ;)

      • March 15, 2010 7:57 am

        Orlando is the easiest? Even if you’re just saying that to ease my fears, that’s good to hear!!

        I also wanted to say – that’s a very lovely cover for Persuasion!

    • March 18, 2010 4:55 am

      Here here, Shannon! As a resident of Alice Springs, it irks me when someone tries to pass off somewhere in New South Wales or rural Victoria as ‘the Outback’.

      Personally, I would define the Outback as being where the sheep grazing stops, the arid rangelands begin (i.e. you predominantly have acacia shrublands and native grasslands) and the rainfall is less than 300mm per year. But then… I’m an anthropologist specializing in conservation and ecology in the Outback so… umm… perhaps I’m being too precise.

      • March 18, 2010 10:51 am

        I think that’s exactly it Amanda. I sometimes get a little confused because I’ve heard some people refer to the sheep and cattle stations in those outlying areas as “the outback” and I’m never sure if they’re just using the term because it’s an easy way to give a sense of where they are, geographically, or if it really is that stretch of hot dry arid land that’s still “farmable” (which is debatable!)

        You’re more knowledgable than I am, but I think most of our fellow Aussies would have trouble explaining it too – it’s not something that gets clearly defined is it? It’s more a sort of vague knowledge we grow up with. I’ll keep in mind your clearer definition – but I’m glad I wasn’t completely wrong! (Well I was close enough? “Just think, past the sheep stations, before you hit the barren sand…”!)

  20. March 14, 2010 11:05 am

    Wow, what a cavalcade of diverse and interesting books ! Great reviews, too ! Well done !
    After reading your reviews I will be putting A Season in Mecca on my TBR list and perhaps Cold as well.
    I also enjoyed your review of the film Russian Ark. One of the film critics for our local newspaper hated the film and considered it to have been one of the WORST films of that particular year ! But one of my buddies saw the movie and liked it. So, based on your review, I think I will rent it.
    By the way, if you haven’t yet, rent Burnt by the Sun. Superb Russian film !

    • March 15, 2010 7:44 am

      Thank you! :) Your film critic sounds like a stick in the mud. lol Burnt by the Sun is a great movie, I agree!

  21. March 14, 2010 11:07 am

    I need to spend a little more time with Jane Austen….. i should make that a goal. :)

  22. March 14, 2010 12:01 pm

    I love Willa Cather! I’m glad you liked My Antonia. You should try O Pioneers! next. It is only of the few books I allowed myself to underline things and mark up a lot. That means it is one of my favorites :)

    • March 15, 2010 7:44 am

      That’s two votes for O Pioneers! I’ll try to get to it sooner rather than later. :)

  23. March 14, 2010 12:17 pm

    Awesome list of books! There are quite a few out there that caught my eye, and look forward to checking them out. Also, The Motorcycle Diaries is Awesome!! Enjoy!

  24. March 14, 2010 12:55 pm

    The Russian Ark sounds really wonderful! I’m going to add it to our Netflix queue pronto!

    Also, I would really like to read more James, because although I think his style can sometimes be challenging, I always find his writing really rewarding. I’ve read Portrait and also Turn of the Screw and enjoyed both, so I’m going to keep an eye out for The Bostonians.

    And thanks for covering that Murakami novel! I hear so little about him, and I’ve never heard of that book at all! I think I’m going to read Kafka on the Shore pretty soon…

    • March 15, 2010 7:46 am

      Yay-I hope you enjoy Russian Ark! It’s funny…I don’t find James’s style challenging. I think this says bad things about the tone of my internal monologue. hehe I find plenty of other authors challenging, though, so it’s not like I’m bragging or anything!

      Tanabata’s hosting a Murakami Month, so that’ll be a great resource about him.

  25. March 14, 2010 1:33 pm

    I really liked My Antonia – it reminded me of my childhood – growing up on the Canadian prairies. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

  26. March 14, 2010 2:49 pm

    I love Russian Ark. It’s so hard, too, because to describe as a “visual feast” sounds like just the kind of thing you would hear in a review, but it’s TRUE! One of the most beautiful movies I’ve ever watched, and one I’ve been thinking about again lately since I’ve been reading so much Russian lit.

    • March 15, 2010 7:46 am

      lol-it is true! And yay for Russian lit! :D

  27. March 14, 2010 3:05 pm

    Persuasion is the only Austen I haven’t read. And considering how much I LOVE her work, this surprises even me! Perhaps I need to bump it up…

    I’m glad you gave Cather another shot and liked her! I have been discovering that sometimes a second shot is merited. I think many of the books I “didn’t like” at a younger ago just weren’t appreciated by my younger self. Now that I am a little older, I can actually appreciate them as literature and not just some book my teacher made me read.

    I added Carpentaria and Meet Me Under the Ceiba to my TBR list.

    • March 15, 2010 7:53 am

      OMG, go read it! OR, save it for a rainy day when you need something to lift your spirits. :)

      I try to always give authors a second chance, even if it takes me a few years. hehe

  28. March 14, 2010 3:11 pm

    Persuasion is my favorite Austen and I plan to reread it for Flashback this year. I agree about the Colonel and his wife- it’s such a lovely relationship. I feel that Anne and Wentworth will hopefully have that kind of marriage, too. And you and me, ideally! (Not together, but separately with different men.)

    • March 15, 2010 7:54 am

      It’s one of my very favourites too! :D LOL at your parenthetical clarification. Here I thought you were suggesting we join together and become a harem.

  29. March 14, 2010 3:50 pm

    So I just added Russian Ark to our netflix list. Sounds awesome!

  30. March 14, 2010 5:54 pm

    Oh, I want to read Meet Me Under the Ceiba by Silvio Sirias. I am reading for Amanda’s LBGT challenge. Thanks, Eva.

  31. March 14, 2010 7:05 pm

    I’ve read Washington Square and Turn of the Screw by Henry James. He always intimidates me a little, but I do want to read more. I have The Bostonians on my pile but also Portrait of a Lady, which I’ve really been looking forward to reading.

    • March 15, 2010 7:54 am

      I think you’ll love Portrait Danielle. :)

  32. March 14, 2010 10:19 pm

    I have an award for you on my blog :)

  33. March 15, 2010 3:26 am

    I’m always impressed by the bredth of your reading. I’m really glad you liked Carpentaria, so looking forward to it and I am a reader who likes to think she goes with the writing so it souns like I’ll enjoy it. Now what do I want to pluck form this for my own TBR list? Definately the Willa Carther on your rec and ‘Meet me Under the Ceiba’.

    • March 15, 2010 7:55 am

      Thanks Jodie! Can’t wait to see your thoughts on Carpentaria. :)

  34. March 15, 2010 8:19 pm

    So many great books here, Eva, but I’ll keep my comment shortish. :)

    I’m SOOO glad you liked your Cather excursion. I hope you enjoy many more of her works. The most recent I read was O Pioneers! which I adored.

    I had no idea what The Bostonians was about either, but that’s another one I think I’d enjoy.

    You’re tempting me with all the luscious non-fiction. I just finished Confections of a Closet Master Baker, so it’ll probably be a few books from now before I undertake another non-fic title, but I have some new ones to add to my list.

  35. March 15, 2010 9:48 pm

    I read My Antonia so long ago that I don’t remember anything except that one of the characters recounts a splendidly horrifying tale set in Russia about a wedding party in sleighs and there are wolves.

  36. March 16, 2010 6:23 pm

    Glad to hear you enjoyed the Bostonians! It is one of my favourite James works. Don’t you love the last line?? I really enjoyed it & think it may be time for a reread, you have me thinking about all my favourite bits now… :)

  37. March 16, 2010 6:33 pm

    I STILL haven’t read any James. I’m so glad you enjoy his novels so much.

    I got Norwegian Wood from the library, so I’ll be trying my first Murakami soon!

  38. March 19, 2010 8:17 pm

    Wow, there’s so much excellent stuff in this post….Now I want to see that movie and read four of the books you talked about!

    I’m glad you liked the Murakami. I think another great great book to try and learn about his style is The Elephant Vanishes. The style is sort of in-between the two you’ve read. (I’m reading Sheep right now, and it’s a lot zanier than what I think of as classic Murakami.) Anyways, Elephant is a collection of stories, and it’s excellent. Why do I feel like I’m always recommending short stories in your blog comments? :)

  39. April 2, 2010 7:00 pm

    I’m so glad you liked A Wild Sheep Chase. Zany is a good way to describe most of Murakami’s books. :)
    I hope you enjoy Dance Dance Dance too when you get to it. It was fun to see a couple of characters from Sheep Chase again.

    I saw Russian Ark a few years ago, thanks for reminding me of it. It certainly made me wish to see the Hermitage in person someday.

  40. April 29, 2010 6:21 am

    For some reason,when I first read this and your previous link up to the Reading the World Challenge, my connection was playing up and would let me leave comments properly… then time has run away with me. But I just wanted to commiserate that you didn’t enjoy either of your reads from Ethiopia – and I hope the rest of the Challenge goes swimmingly!

Trackbacks

  1. Reading the World Challenge – Update #2
  2. Travel Book Suggestions? | A Striped Armchair

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