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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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The Short Reign of Pippin IV

It’s no secret I love Steinbeck. I regularly visit Archives in the hope they have a book of his amongst the ample Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men. Last month I found The Short Reign of Pippin IV. Besides telling a story, the pages had the lovely benefit of each falling out as I read them in turn. Who needs a book mark? I will have to use the binding technique utilised by my mother on her copy of 1984; the ancient art of rubber band binding. An no, I am still not any closer to desiring any sort of ebook. My books have personality. This book’s personality just happens to be that of an unstable person. But every village needs the village fool.

This short story I found is in the same vein as The Moon is Down. It is a satirical look at politics and society, acted out by idiosyncratic eccentrics. The Short Reign of Pippin IV is purported as some of Steinbeck’s funniest novellas, however I found The Moon is Down to be much wittier. Having said that, Pippin is full of very clever descriptions and imagery of caucuses, it’s only that the humour is a bit more literal than that found in The Moon Is Down (at least to my mind).

If you’re feeling a bit lazy or can’t get your hands on a copy, the concept (minus the political insights) of the story have been put into a few terrible films, such as King Ralph.

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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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On The Road

On The Road, by Jack Kerouac, is infamous for causing a stir in the 1950s. It follows the philandering of a young man into the underground of America. I loved Catcher In The Rye and the in-depth insights it gave into the main character’s psyche, while he broke away from the expectations of his conservative society. On The Road doesn’t linger long enough to even express whether the narrator was happy or sad. It’s made up of one page events filled with a cacophony of interchangeable characters, each less developed and less memorable than the next. You don’t know their motivation for anything, only that they “go with it” and like to “dig” things. Now I am from a notoriously apathetic generation, but even I can’t relate to these layabouts; even the dullest adolescents have reasons for sitting around in car parks and lacking drive. There is no sense of the atmosphere of the American highway, or the cultural idiosyncrasies of the Hispanic neighborhoods. There’s little insight into the characters’ interaction with, or opinion of, the society in which they exist, beyond a superficial level. Kerouac’s language can only be described as jazz, in that it is unstructured, goes in all directions, runs on and on without form or adequate punctuation, jumps backwards and forwards with no reference point, uses unnecessarily obscure and inconsistent language – at times you need the Oxford dictionary, at others urbandictionary.com – and if you think this has been a long sentence and bulky paragraph, just wait until you read the book, because this collection of the meaningless gibberish drugged beatniks say goes on for 300 pages. I think there is a particular breed of Hipster that would enjoy this book, however, I did not.


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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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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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Old Faithful

Whilst baking some cookies today, I stopped for a moment to admire the baking powder. I couldn’t tell you the brand name, only that it hadn’t changed it’s label since I was a kid. It was the brand my mother used, and so it is the brand I use. The more I looked around the pantry, the more I found these gems.

The right stuff

 The curry powder that looks like it came from the East India Trading company. The soy sauce that might have arrived on our shores in the gold rush. The spread and biscuits that have since been bought by American conglomerates, but occasionally retain a hint of their origin.

They are the nameless products who lack swish marketing departments (or have intelligent ones). When sending someone to do the shopping, I can’t communicate what I want. It comes out something like “Not those dates you got last time, the ones in the normal packet from the good place”. I have lost ‘my brand’ when they have changed packing before. 

In addition, quite frankly and superficially, I just love the old packaging. I dislike slogans, and captions telling me the benefits of this, or the new efficiency of that. Call it nostalgia, call it vintage tastes, but the simple lettering advising what’s inside is a relief from the information advertising overload of today’s stores.

This is flour. This is butter. This is milk. If you don’t know what to do with it, have baked beans. No, not that one, the one in the normal tin.

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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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Scouting for Books

Being in between my post-grad semesters, I am able to read without the guilt that I should be reading a text book. I calculated that in order to read the recommended 1001 books to read before you die, I will have to read a book every 3 weeks between now and when I am eighty. Of course, the book I am reading when making this discovery is not on this list. Though it probably should be considering it inspired a movement of which millions of people around the world are members.


I am reading ‘Scouting for Boys’. It’s not so ‘outdoorsy’ as I expected, and not irrelevant to modern Scouting or Guiding either. I enjoy the emphasis on service for one’s community and country, bravery and kind-heartedness.

Yes, he uses several un-PC terms to describe the many cultures he encountered across the globe, but his admiration for their skills and honour outweigh any negative associations his language may conger from modern readers.

In addition, while this is clearly aimed at turning boys into men, he does make mention of women and their ability to better themselves and serve their country in the same way (think Girl Guides). Any tenderfoot, girl or boy, can work to become an independent and valuable citizen. As my plans for camping this January have been drowned in the Queensland floods, I will have to pioneer from the couch this week, and this guide will certainly take me on another adventure or two.

Also worth a note is a current Vanity Fair article on Prince Charles – I’d rather he be my leader over any of those larrikins in Canberra.

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