Tag Archives: reading

Rabbit, Run – John Updike

Rabbit, Run, by John Updike (not to be muddled with Upton Sinclair as I often do), has a simple enough plot. Rabbit leaves his alcoholic and pregnant wife Janice, and shacks up with a young woman Ruth for two months. A pastor Eccles befriends him in the hope of convincing him to do the ‘right’ thing. I won’t go into the ending, but in short, everyone is miserable and worse off than they were to begin with.

I disliked all the characters. I found Eccles the least awful. I admire his desire to have an amiable outcome, and his empathy, but I was frustrated by his fence sitting. I did not pity Janice, because she was an alcoholic. I did not empathise with Rabbit, because while I understand his wife was unbearable to live with, he was just as despicable by leaving his child with her. I hate Rabbit for his need for control and adoration. He often talks about how lovable he is, which is an arrogant delusion. He tried to control the women around him emotionally and physically. He did not have any respect for anyone, or the ability to empathise with others.

running rabbit

After I finished Rabbit, Run I Googled it so see if I was ‘supposed’ to hate everyone in it. According to Wikipedia, it was written in response to Kerouac’s On the Road “to depict ‘what happens when a young American family man goes on the road – the people left behind get hurt’” . I certainly think Updike made his point, and wins the debate in my mind. This is no surprise given by feelings for On The Road. I cannot understand what The Washington post was thinking: “…By his compassion, clarity of insight and crystal-bright prose, he makes Rabbit’s sorrow his and our own.” I do not believe Updike had any compassion for Rabbit, nor were Rabbit’s actions portrayed as understandable, relatable, or forgivable.

While I did not enjoy Rabbit, Run, I do think it was very powerful, and would recommend it. It seems many readers on Amazon feel the same. It makes me feel anger, which very few books have. This is not a side of my emotional repertoire I indulge in my personal life and so dislike experiencing recreationally, but certainly this does not discredit Updike’s skill as an author.

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Great Expectations

For some reason, I go into Charles Dickens thinking I dislike him and it will be a chore. This is not logical because A Christmas Carol is my most read book (every year). I quite enjoyed A Tale of Two Cities, despite early confusion. I think the ill-conceived notion was born of the fact that as a child I despised the movie Oliver Twist, and due to vivid history lessons in year 4, the Dickensian era evoked images of children having their fingers hacked off in machinery, and bitter cold.

I am glad I overcame this aversion, as Great Expectations is certainly worth it’s place on the shelf. I wasn’t sure that I would enjoy it, knowing the ending. However, there was a lot I didn’t know, and so there were several plot twists that caught me by surprise. (This might be because the renditions I recall seeing consisted of the Gwyneth Paltrow film, a South Park episode satirising of the story, and accumulated general knowledge from goodness knows where).

I love how multi-layered the characters are, and how they are allowed to stray from their original beliefs and behaviours in reaction to their experiences, like real people. I strongly disliked Pip, and thought him incredibly insolent, and was not convinced he  truely learned his lesson.

The scenery created in my mind was always terribly foggy (literal fog) and tinged with mossy green. While certain scenes were described this way, I think it was also quite symbolic of the mystery, and gradual emergence of truths throughout the novel. Overall, a good read, and I look forward to my next Dickens adventure.


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Beyond the Black Stump

 Beyond The Black Stump is by my sister’s favourite author, Nevil Shute. If you like Steinbeck, you’ll probably like Shute. He is best known for On The Beach and A Town Like Alice, which were both made into film, the former notably featuring with Gregory Peck and Ava Gardener.

This author, who started life out as an engineer, writes books about foreigners and their interactions with Australians and Australia around the 1950s. As a English immigrant to Australia at the time, he has a talent for capturing the sensibilities and curiosities of Australia of the time, and expresses a true fondness for his new country, often in comparison to an England he saw as deteriorating.

The Australia Shute writes about no longer exists in many parts, due to immigration, adoption of multiculturalism and globalisation, however the characters in Beyond the Black Stump are quite close to my ancestry. They are an assortment of people whose family arrived in Australia generations ago, who worked to overcome the hardships of the land, and pioneer a young nation. In better words, the second and third verses of “I Am Australian” (lyrics at the bottom of this post).

The arrival of American oil prospectors stirs up the small community, and is quite an imposition on the slow and simple way of life they are accustomed. The storyline centres around the American, but examines internal changes of those around him. There is a slight predictability to the end, is but it is enjoyable to see the characters get there. The last line is particularly beautiful.

extract from I Am Australian

Lyrics by Bruce Woodley and Dobe Newton

I came upon the prison ship, bowed down by iron chains.
I cleared the land, endured the lash and waited for the rains.
I’m a settler, I’m a farmer’s wife on a dry and barren run
A convict then a free man, I became Australian.

I’m the daughter of a digger who sought the mother lode
The girl became a woman on the long and dusty road
I’m a child of the depression, I saw the good times come
I’m a bushy, I’m a battler, I am Australian


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Out of Africa

I’ve been reading Out of Africa by Karen Blixen for about a month now. It’s only 350 pages, so why’s it taking my so long?

 1. I keep forgetting to get a book mark so re-read entire chapters at a time.

2. I’ve only been reading it on the train to work, and with all the public holidays, that hasn’t been often

3. It’s not a story-plot book. It’s just 350 pages of description, so I’m not in a rush to get to the next pages. Its flow is that of someone passing time on an isolated homestead, and I believe that’s how it should be read: in a relaxed and haphazard fashion.

 Having said all that, I am loving it! I am a sucker for books with little to no plot that are just about the way things are everyday. I find her descriptions of characters that step in and out of her world incredibly moving and interesting.

 As I travelled to Africa (albeit the West, not East) in 2009, I am enjoying reminiscing about the landscapes, and the sense of space and isolation which in many countries exists as much now with super highways, as it did earlier in the century with dirt roads.


 Most Australians, I think, can relate to the African landscape when vistiting, or reading about it. The main difference is all the imposing, powerful animals, which are a far cry from ours which are either tiny and deadly, or larger and fragile.

 Her descriptions of the various nationalities present in her region at the time is fascinating. Her descriptions of their cultures, mannerisms and idiosyncrasies are observant and capture a sense of the respect she seemed to have for even those behaviours she did not understand. It is not wonder she seems to melancholic at the loss of this great land.

 I am glad this book was originally written in English, and not a translation, as I can now give full compliments to Blixen for her beautiful grasp of the language. Many an Englishman cannot write so creatively.

Once I have finished this book I’ll put in another post of my favourite quotes, if I can find them again! This book is way up there with another new favourite of mine, A Passage to India.

Victory! I have found a female author I enjoy!

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Picnic at Hanging Rock

Feeling guilty about not reading enough Australia or female authors, I picked up Picnic at Hanging Rock, by Joan Lindsay. My only knowledge of this book is the shrill screaming of “Miranda!” from poor renditions and drama eisteddfods.

Picnic at Hanging Rock, William Ford 1875

I didn’t like this book. The descriptions of the landscape didn’t arouse any sense of pride in my country. There we many unnecessary details of characters that I didn’t need to know. The plot was strong to begin with but then had unnecessary twists and turns added in; a short love story, a random fire, marriages, a growing mateship. It was as though the author was so set on not writing a short story that she filled it up with a lot of nonsense.

 This book epitomised why I don’t enjoy female authors. Too much predictable and excessive emotion, too complex a story, too many themes, just too complicated.

 I watched the film (circa 1970) afterwards. It was far better. It cut out all the surplus events, and just focused on the simple mystery, which is why this book is famous (in Australia). This is one of the few times I will recommend a film over a book.


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The Moon Is Down

Cat Stevens

This book has caused ‘Moonshadow’ by Cat Stevens to be stuck in my head for 4 days. Luckily I love Cat Stevens (saw him live last year. Best. Concert. Ever). Moving on…

Physcially, this book was very pleasant. It’s soft and light, like the story itself. As another second hand eddition from Archives book store , the pages were darkened at the edges, which had the effect of lighting up the words in the centre. Who needs a digital book? It was also the perfect example of what book lovers are talking about when they refer to the smell of a real book. It was musty, distinct and comforting.

I had forgotten why Steinbeck was my favourite author. This reminded me. Like many of Steinbeck’s works, this book is short, simply written, with interesting characters, and no messing about. Like A Passage To India , The Moon is Down drew me in from the first page. Basically, a group invades a small town, tension ensues.


John Steinbeck

One of the nicest things about this little novella is it’s wit. The clever characters’ sharp retorts had me chuckling on more than one occasion. Furthermore, while a line was drawn easily between invaders and invadees, one could sympathise with individuals on both sides.

Anyone who is interested in war or political strategy, or what’s going on with Western invasion anywhere, should enjoy this. Anyone like me, who is peaceful and generally light-hearted, will also love it.

Unsurprisingly, Steinbeck also adapted this to a play. It should be a movie. I could picture it on screen frame by frame. The ending is to die for.

Best quote: The flies have captured the fly paper.


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My most recent excursion to Archives bookstore on Charlotte Street, Brisbane, was delightful. It was pouring today, and as I jumped onto the front stoop, I could feel the warmth emanating from the store. They are the only retailer in Brisbane that realises that we are having an unseasonably cold Summer and do not need the air-conditioning cranked up. I first visited this store 10 years ago, and still love visiting, as they have the right balance between mustiness and organisation. Located in what used to be a publishing house, it has lovely high shelves, a huge variety, and clunky wooden floors. Picked up and am now reading A Passage to India.


 I have also attempted the book covering that was featured here. It was such a brilliant, simple idea, but one which I have only ever used on notebooks. I do have an issue with larger books as the scrap-booking paper won’t cover it, but I suppose I could find a nice wrapping paper or some old wallpaper.This has added to the consistent aesthetics of my bookshelf immensely, as I like to organise my books by colour and size, rather than alphabetically. I also arrange my wardrobe by colour. Is that bizarre? Fear not, my kitchen is by logical category.


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A Tale of Two Cities

I must look like a blundering fool, as the majority of books I have reviewed, have befuddled me. Do not expect this review to be any different. I like a challenge.

I was glad to find another Dickens novel which matched my ancient copy of A Christmas Carol. Both are leather-bound, with gold embossing, which is very fitting for an author whose name has become an adjective. I also picked up Great Expectations and a Kipling novel in this series.

I had first attempted A Tale of Two Cities when I was 12. It didn’t work out well. This was attempt number two. I dislike emphatic repetition. Needles to say, the first page of this novel was painful. ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’ is a very famous line. What they don’t tell you is the whole page goes on with juxtapositions to the point where I screamed, “I get it, it was a very confusing and conflicted time!” If I hadn’t been so frustrated, I might have been more prepared for the rest of the novel.

In an attempt to create and dark sense of mystery, Dickens bombarded me with a flurry of characters, innuendo and scenic changes. Spoiler alert: There are more than two.

A Tale of Two Cities

I try to avoid any educated critiques of books before I read them so I can have a genuine response to the words. However, after struggling through half this novel, I went to wikipedia to figure out what I had just read. The second half of the novel was much easier to follow. Having said that, I find Dickens’ style of prose enjoyable for the most part. Much like attending your first ballet, I would recommend having a skeleton idea of the plot before embarking on this venture. The story is fantastic, once you catch on. I can understand why this book is a classic and would recommend it.

I still stand by my position not to read analyses before commencing a book. My favourite quote captures this idea: “If everybody is thinking alike, then somebody isn’t thinking”, George S Patton.


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Treasure Island

My reading repertoire consists predominantly of books published by Penguin, with the few odd Wordsworth thrown in there. This is partly because I love orange and partly because if I don’t enjoy it, which is rare, at least I know it will make me smarter in an academic sense. This week I read Treasure Island. It was my sisters copy; a recently released, pretty cloth hardcover. Very lovely to look at.


Treasure Island was written for adventurous boys of a century past. I did very much enjoy the first part of the book before they got to the Island. The characters were well developed, the descriptions of the settings were vivid, and the atmosphere was very well established. The fact that the book was not written with me in mind means they lost me somewhere around the middle with the fighting and action sequences.

 I get a bit lost when there are battles and fights in books. I can’t keep track of who is doing what, who has an advantage, or who is winning. It’s a shame because there is a lot of mystery, intrigue and strategy but I struggled to find it between all the sinking, shooting and swimming.

 If you are like me, you probably won’t get through the whole book easily (not that it is very long, but there is a lot of re-reading involved), but I do think it’s worth the struggle.

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An Amorous Visitor

This week I read Fanny Hill.  The forward says that by today’s standards the novel is not shocking. The reviewer’s usual occupations must be risqué indeed, as I found the novel quite scandelous and certain scenes very disconcerting.

The language of this particular novel was poetic, and paints a more interesting picture beyond just stating the acts and emotions of the characters, (I found Sade quite cold and mechanical). The metaphors and imagery are creative and not too repetative (as I found in Lady Chatterly’s Lover).

Cleland sheds equal light on both male and female forms and behaviours which is a welcome change to modern pop culture. While many have taken the novel as hinting that Cleland was a homosexual, I found that it seemed quite the opposite. Not that it matters, just interesting how people read into things.

There is a simple, strong plot and lovely ending. The short homosexual encounter I could easily tell wasn’t in the original; it is theorised this was a later addition by someone other than Cleland. I also found the recurring theme of virginity quite tiring by the end.

I love the cover of my Wordsworth edition; an oil painting by Hans Zatzka (who does not have a Wikipedia page that I could find), ‘The Amorous Visitor’ (which isn’t on Google). The beautiful colours, the play between foreground and background, the way the artist capture expression of the faces of the subjects, and the innocent playfulness of it. The creator in me also loves all the lace, the paint-work, and decorative arrangements.

Currently reading: Treasure Island

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