Monthly Archives: January 2013

Book 6 – Thai-No-Mite

Thai-No-Mite by Oliver Phommavanh (Penguin, 2012)

When I read Phommavanh’s first book, Thai-riffic, I was really impressed. So impressed that I bought a class set of it to teach to year 7. It’s a great book about a boy in year 6 who wishes he was more ‘Aussie’ and struggles to deal with the reality of his life, living upstairs from his parents Thai restaurant.

Thai-No-Mite is the sequel and Lengy, our hero, has great friends, loves school, has a wonderful relationship with his parents, and is a good boy. He still wishes he could have pizza for dinner from time to time but other than that, he is just a boy living his life. And I guess that’s what I didn’t enjoy about Thai-No-Mite. There is no real conflict. Lots of little things happen throughout the book, but while Thai-riffic was a fresh idea full of genuine laughs, most of the time in this book Phommavanh has tried a little bit too hard. In fact, some of his similes are so forced that I’ll probably use an extract to show my students what not to do.

It’s a pity this book didn’t really work. One of Phommavanh’s other books, Con-Nerd is one of my top recommendations to students for reading for pleasure, and I still absolutely love Thai-riffic. So, my recommendation this time is – read his other books, but give this one a miss.

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Book 5 – Courting Samira

Courting Samira by Amal Awad (2011)

This year my blog has been all about recommendations, and this book is no different. One of my colleagues, Angie, mentioned this book as one she wants to use for a Multiculturalism unit she is currently reviewing. She asked me to check it out and let her know what I thought. Two or three clicks later and it was on my Kindle. Two or three days later and I had read it. And how glad I am! What a fantastic book! I am always so excited when I find or am directed towards books that, as I’m reading, I can see myself teaching. There is so much about this book that will work in the classroom, structurally and thematically. I can’t wait to buy a class set of this book!

Samira is a 27-year-old Australian-Muslim woman, living at home and dispassionately living through the traditional courtship rituals expected of her by her culture and her faith. From the beginning, you get the sense that Samira is watching her life happening, rather than living it. She dispassionately explains the ins and outs of the ritual behind the visits from the men who would like to court her – the Door Knockers – and their idiosyncrasies. In Samira’s eyes, men that call for her are not potential husbands, they are a chore to be lived through, like washing up or making the bed.

As I got to know Samira better, I also got to know her family – her parents, her cousins, her workmates. All really appealing characters – especially her colleague, Marcus, who is annoyingly nosy about Samira’s faith but also, I’m quite sure, an accurate reflection of the average Australian’s blunt curiosity about the Muslim faith. Another workmate, Cate, had a reaction the first time she saw Samira’s hair that seemed, to me as a reader, so poignant and powerful. It is Samira’s beautifully normal story, about family, friendship, work and love that makes this a joyous story.

I really like the way this book is written. Awad has written Samira’s story in first person, and Samira’s perspective is unashamedly biased. But this is far from off-putting, as Samira also reverts to second person, conversing directly with the reader in an endearing way that is effective in garnering reader sympathy and makes you feel like you have been let in on a special level, to gain a deeper understanding. You are taken carefully to a place of understanding in Samira’s life and you are left holding your breath, that it will all be alright in the end.

I was reminded, as I was reading, of Looking for Alibrandi, which is one of a few teacher-favourites that explore ideas of personal growth, change and inner journey. Courting Samira offers another great text to add to the collection. This book was great fun and ticked all the boxes – not just as a teaching text but as a lovely example of the courage we all need to look for within ourselves, when faced with the big decisions in our lives. Highly recommended.

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Book 4 – He’s An Arsehole Anyway

He’s An Arsehole Anyway by Elliot Capner and Misha Zelinsky & illustrated by Matt Knapp (self-published, 2012)

OK, here’s the thing… why would a ridiculously-happily-married, 46-year-old woman read an advice book for women about being dumped? The last time I got dumped they hadn’t even invented MyBebo and FaceSpace and only the birds in the trees Twittered and Tweeted. Not much these boys could tell me that I needed to know, surely?

Actually, the answer as to why I bought this book is simple – one of the authors is the older brother of a former student of mine. So, when this former student, Lewis (my favourite student ever, but don’t tell Mickey T, or Nathan), posted a link to the website (www.hesanarseholeanyway.com) on Facebook and suggested people might buy the book, I checked it out.

And this is the point in the story where I tell you that one-click Kindle book purchasing is an evil invention designed to rob me of the opportunity to buy gifts for my grandbabies because I spent all my spare cash on other eBooks (this one was cheap) (but that’s another story) (and when did this blog move so far away from book reviews?)

Oops, sorry, back to He’s An Arsehole Anyway… this quick and easy read is laugh-out-loud funny and very, very clever. Not just a plausible insight into what men think about the way women react to being dumped, this book is also a glimpse at noughties pop culture and the complexity of dating and dealing with the end of a relationship in the 21st century. I found myself reading bits to hubby:

…Sure, girls give great advice in terms of how a cake should be baked or what colour matches mauve, but in terms of relationships girls generally have little or no idea what or how guys are thinking or what should be inferred from their actions…

…That’s right, it’s time for you to start thinking outside the kitchen…

…Don’t become a hermit. We’re pretty sure that nobody wants to date a Crazy Cat Lady, again…

…If coping with a break up is the biggest of your problems you are doing quite well. There are bigger problems in the world than your failed relationship. Like the enduring popularity of One Direction…

With chapter headings like “Girls make dumb decisions”, “Beware the Pity Party”, “Stop annoying everyone” and “Stalking just isn’t cool”, the tone is pretty clear. There are diagrams, scenarios and cute pictures to help you along the way. There are plenty of examples of these guys genuinely trying to impart some wisdom. But mostly, it is all about the laughs. And this book offers plenty of laughs.

This is a cheap eBook… and it’s self-published… so do the authors a favour and go and buy it (it’s worth it for their hilarious rants about 50 Shades of Grey and The Notebook). Seriously, if you have an eReader, after you type in the web address it can be yours in two easy clicks. Everyone will love it, and if you’re a girl who has recently been dumped, you might even also find it useful. Potentially.

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Book 3 – Interferon Psalms

Interferon Psalms by Luke Davies (Allen & Unwin, 2011)

As usual, there is a story about why I read this, before I can offer you my discussion of its contents…

I used to ‘give’ my parents a day of shopping at Borders near my home for Christmas each year. They’d come from their home on the NSW South Coast (where there was no good book shop) and I’d set them free to find books they wanted. Then I would buy the books for them and afterwards, we would have a lovely lunch somewhere, and we all felt richer for the fun of it all. Now, there is no Borders near my home. There is no book shop for miles around. The last couple of Christmases we’ve sort of muddled through, but this year was different. My parents have recently moved house, and Jill wanted vouchers for the nursery so that she could weave her usual magic and create a visual and vegetable miracle on her little plot of dirt. Easy. Maurice wanted books. He had a list. And this year that was fine, because it turns out that Booktopia (booktopia.com.au) is the best bookshop in the universe (no, I don’t get a special rate or anything) (yet). I got Maurice’s list, I sat at my computer, I clicked a few clicks… a few days later a big parcel of books arrived and I was all set. Now, the truth is, I didn’t even read the blurbs of the books. I wrapped them all up in a bundle of wrapping and ribbons and I presented them with much joy on Christmas Day. Then, on New Years Eve, while visiting and admiring the aforementioned magical garden, Maurice gave me back Interferon Psalms. “Do you read much poetry?” he asked me. “Oh,”I said, “is it poetry! I thought it was a medical book!” Of course, I do read quite a lot of poetry, being an English teacher, but I can’t say I’ve ever gone out of my way just to read some, just because. But that was what Maurice had done. He had read a review and he had put this book on his list and I had bought it and he had read it. And now he was asking me to read it. So it came home with me.

Interferon Psalms is a book about death. It is the reality of one man’s journey towards death. But it is a celebration of life as well. And tucked in within the lines, it is a story of love lost and the celebration of love as well. It is a collection of verses, a group of chapters, but a whole tale. I’m not sure I can offer you extracts that are logical, but there are three lines that really spoke to me, and so here they are…

Such moments of rupture. I cried that I had never seen the snow, having seen it now.

The world will be silent for thousands of years. Today, that made the loneliness even worse.

My pain was compulsory, but with the right saddle, the suffering was optional. Then I hocked my saddle, because when I was young, I was often foolish.

The real joy of poetry is that every person who reads this book will find three different lines that speak to them. Or ten. Or fifty. Reading this book was a real joy for me. Since becoming a teacher, my poetry reading has been completely isolated to that which ‘needed’ to be read. Thanks to Maurice, I will go looking now, for poetry for pleasure. I will start with the other books by this author. But perhaps you can recommend other Australian poets for me to read?

And if you don’t read poetry … make this the year you try it.

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Book 2 – The Laughing Clowns

The Laughing Clowns by William McInnes (Hachette, 2012)

For the regular readers of this blog, it will come as no surprise that I absolutely loved this book. McInnes is an astonishing writer. He writes beautifully ordinary books about exceptionally ordinary people, and isn’t that the exact thing I’m looking for in a novel!

The protagonist, Peter Kennedy is every middle-aged man I know. He is kind and gentle and eats badly and means well and is almost never paying any more than the bare minimum of attention to anything that is going on around him.

I remember asking my true love once what he was thinking about and he was quite astonished… “Oh,” he said, “I’m not usually thinking about anything much.” It was a revelation – to him and to me. I couldn’t believe anyone could just NOT think and he couldn’t believe anyone would be always thinking about something! It seems we may have that in common with Peter and Kate Kennedy.

The Laughing Clowns is a simple narrative about a man who bumbles and blusters through his life, trying to avoid any unnecessary conflict. When Peter heads to his home town for a quick assignment, he finds himself unable to avoid things any more. As the reader discovers the truths at Peter’s pace, a beautifully believable story is revealed about a family with unconditional love at its core.

Whether it’s McInnes or his Dad in A Man’s Got to Have a Hobby and That’d be Right or fictitious blokes like the leads in Cricket Kings and The Laughing Clowns, McInnes writes men that I know, men that I understand, men that I love. I suspect he writes men the way he is, simple, honest and appealing.

This is another laconic Aussie yarn that was a delightful read and I thoroughly recommend this book, just as I have previously recommended every other book McInnes has written. He is certainly one of my top five, favourite Australian authors, and this book is a fine example of why.

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Book 1 – Art & Lies

Art & Lies by Jeanette Winterson (1994)

I don’t think I am clever enough to have loved this book. I’m not sure I even liked it. I made a promise, more than a year ago, to read it… and read it I have.
The plot (if you can call it that) is an encounter on a train and the intersecting experiences and shared moments of the three main characters. For the first 99 pages I didn’t understand, and I certainly didn’t care… but exactly on page 100, the place where I stop if a book has not grabbed me, the page told me that Winterson had something to say about women and liberation and beauty. But then she digressed, and digressed, and digressed.
Reading this book was like reading an art gallery. Sometimes I merely glanced, sometimes I rushed by, sometimes I stood and stared, jaw dropped, breath chasing breath. It was a collection of paintings I read, and some of them were beautiful. But most of them I didn’t understand. But there are many times I have waited, patiently, while someone else enjoyed what I couldn’t see in a painting.
And so, Brett, my friend, it is read.

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