Monthly Archives: August 2015

Book 30 – What I Talk About When I Talk About Running

“What I talk about when I talk about running” by Haruki Murakami (2008)

Audio book narrated by Ray Porter

It seemed appropriate, in the week leading up to my first run all year, to listen to Murakami’s ponderings on running. The book was recommended to me (as so many are) by Damian, my running mentor, and so I was keen to receive some inspiration and motivation from the book.

My expectations were met, although the book was nothing like I expected it to be. When I started listening to it I hadn’t even made the connection that Murakami is an author. I have his book, 1Q84, sitting on my waiting-to-be-read shelf, but it wasn’t until the Foreword that I realised whose writing I was listening to.

Early on, Murakami wrote that he had no intention of writing a philosophical treatise. This book was a memoir, if anything, a pondering on what running meant to him. No one had asked him to write it and he didn’t know if anyone would read it, but he wanted to put down on paper what he loved about running, why he did it, what it had meant to him during his life.

I must say that it was a challenging book to listen to, as opposed to reading. Murakami is a well known Japanese author and he wrote quite a lot in this book about translating things into Japanese and how stilted his own use of English is. In that context, I did find it quite anachronistic to be listening to a really drawly, arrogant sounding American reading it to me. No offence, Mr Porter, you’re probably lovely, but your voice was annoying.

At the core of this book is Murakami’s insistence that runners are all different and only a runner knows what running means to them and a runner is never going to convince a non-runner to become a runner. So, there’s no point in me recommending this book to you if you’re not a runner. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. And it certainly got me in the right frame of mind for Sunday’s event. I think it’s fair to say that I think of running as one of the great achievements of my 40s. Like Murakami, I do my best thinking when I’m moving. He taught me, in this book, to stay focused on my own achievements, and compete against myself. This was advice I needed to hear. Read it if it’s your thing.


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Book 29 – Ready Player One

“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline (2011)

Audio book narrated by Wil Wheaton

This all started when Damian recommended the book to Luke. So Luke bought it. And then he left it lying around. And then I read a bit. And then I downloaded the audio book. And this is, hands down, no contest, the best book I have read in years. I love, love, loved it.

Set in 2044, the novel follows the story of Wade Watts, a suburban kid who spends all of his time online, attending virtual school, hanging out with his best friend in his virtual basement and accessing every book, film, song, anything, ever created in the endless archives within the Oasis, a virtual utopia. The creator of the Oasis, James Halliday, died 5 years before the story begins, and upon his death, left an Easter Egg in the Oasis and instructions that the person who found it would win ownership of his entire fortune. Like millions of people around the world, Wade is hunting for the Egg. He is a Gunter, working solo, competing against other solo players, clans and a huge corporation called IOI whose only business is winning control of the Oasis.

Doesn’t really sound like my kind of book, does it! The thing is, while the publicity for this book will tell you that all the pop culture references are from the late twentieth century, the truth is they’re all pretty much from the 1980s, and there isn’t really a single reference that I don’t get. When Wade is trying to win the first of three keys needed to unlock the egg, his opponent advises him that they will need to joust and Wade asks, “Won’t we need horses?” When his nemesis responds, “No, we will need birds…” I screamed out loud in my car, “OH MY GOD! THEY’RE GOING TO PLAY JOUST!!!” In 1982, when I worked night shifts at St Leonards Bowling Centre, I worked the shift that Joust was installed in an upright at the centre. My great friend and work colleague, Scott, and I played Joust every night after work for months. I am honestly a bit of a gun at Joust. Or at least I was, 33 years ago.

All of the characters, competing against all the odds in this book, are appealing and the plot keeps you engaged throughout. A really well written, highly entertaining book that I thoroughly recommend. I gave a copy to my brother, Patrick, for his 50th birthday a couple of weeks ago. I hope he loves it as much as I did.

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Filed under YA fiction

Book 28 – Loyal Creatures

“Loyal Creatures” by Morris Gleitzman (2014)

I’m a big Gleitzman fan and I see his books on students’ desks in wide reading lessons all the time. He has a natural flair for engaging writing and kids love him.

I saw “Loyal Creatures” in the book shop in Huskisson last time we were there and read the blurb. I don’t usually buy his books because mostly they are better being left to be loved in their own right than to be ruined by a rotten English teacher. But something about “Loyal Creatures” suggested a good teaching text, so I picked it up.

The book is about Frank and his Dad. And their horses. And World War I. And the Australian bush. And the Light Horse. And Egypt. It’s got sad bits and happy bits and bits that make you laugh out loud.

What I loved about this book was the easy authenticity of the voices. I think it would be a really successful text in a voices of war unit or any close study focusing on the concept of voice. It is an easy read and would make a great text for lower ability year 7 or 8.

I’m definitely adding this one to my book room wish list.

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Book 27 – The Lieutenant

“The Lieutenant” by Kate Grenville (2008)

Audio book narrated by Nicholas Bell

I read “The Secret River” several years ago and “Sarah Thornhill” earlier this year. They are clearly a story and its sequel. Interestingly, this book is considered part of a trilogy – but it has no connection to the story of the Thornhills featured in the other two books. The common theme across the three books is that they are all based on historically accurate events from Australia’s colonial past.

The story is based on a real life friendship between Lieutenant William Dawes, a soldier with the First Fleet, and  a young Aboriginal girl, Patyegarang. Dawes set out to learn the language of the people of Sydney Cove, the Gadigal. His notebooks begin with lists of nouns and verbs and grammatical forms, but gradually abandon that approach for a more human one: Dawes recorded entire conversations that took place between him and Patyagarang.  Between the lines of the converstations it’s clear that they developed a relationship that was mutually respectful, that they were friends. The friendship, sadly, brought Dawes on a collision course with the authorities and eventually he had to choose between his relationship with Patyegarang and her people, and the military reality of his life.

This book is a fictional drawing out of this story. Grenville goes to great lengths to ensure that her readers understand that she made lots of this up… but it is as close to historically accurate as the records will allow.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend all of Grenville’s work. She has a lyrical quality to her writing, especially with regards to the Australian landscape and a deeply moving engagement with the atrocities committed against the first people of Australia.

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Filed under Adult fiction

Book 26 – We Were Liars

“We Were Liars” by E Lockhart (2014)

I hadn’t heard of this book until it was reviewed by someone in a book review group I’m in and then my colleague, Amy, asked if we could buy a class set, so I thought I should give it a read.

The premise of the story is a rich family on a private island and a group of cousins (and one ring in) who spend every summer together. Everything is too perfect for words, so of course something goes wrong.

The success and popularity of this book relies on the shock twist being a really significant shock twist. Unfortunately, for me, it was the most ridiculously obvious ‘shock twist’ that I was convinced it wasn’t what it was. Add to this the cloyingly angst-ridden yawn fest of a putridly rich, whinger protagonist and a whole lot of thoroughly unlikable characters and you get the picture of my response.

However, to be fair, I didn’t chuck it in, and I did look forward to getting back to it. But that was because I was so thoroughly convinced that some awesome shock was coming. But. Nope.


Filed under YA fiction

Book 25 – A Game of Thrones

“A Game of Thrones (A Song of Ice and Fire – Book 1) by George R R Martin (1996)

Audio book narrated by Roy Dotrice

For a long time, I avoided the Game of Thrones phenomenon altogether. Fantasy really isn’t my thing. Luke received Season 1 on DVD as a Christmas gift (in, I think, 2011). We discussed whether or not I would be interested in watching it and I thought probably not. After he had watched the first episode he said “It’s violent, bloody and there’s sex.” I decided to give it a miss.

In November last year, we went to a burlesque show called Dames of Thrones. It was very tongue in cheek and a fun night and, to be honest, it piqued my interest in the series. So, Luke happily agreed to start again from the start and over the first few months of this year we watched seasons 1-4. We haven’t watched season 5 yet as we had issues with Foxtel during our house move.

Speaking of the house move, in recognition of my increased commute, I decided to download the audio book of Book One largely because I knew it would be really, really, really long and I was worried I might have to wait for the internet to get connected at home so I wanted to be covered for a few weeks. Lucky, as it turns out, since Telstra messed us around for almost 9 weeks.

So, what did I think of the book, which took just under 40 hours of listening time? To be perfectly honest, the narrator irritated the crap out of me. He had a repertoire of voices but would frequently keep using the voice for the ‘he said’ or ‘she said’, etc bits, which drove me nuts. He also kept mispronouncing names. So Joffrey was often Jeffrey and Arya was pronounced 3 different ways, depending on the moment. As for the story, fans all over the world really need to be honest and admit that they are just watching Days of Our Lives in fancy dress. This is soap opera at its finest, but literature it aint. And if I hadn’t already watched the television series, I’m pretty sure I would have almost constantly been saying, “Wait, what? Who is that? Where do they fit in?”

The audio book served its purpose, it lasted just long enough to tide me over until we had the internet connected. For one of the first times in my life, I’m going to have to admit that the show is better than the book…

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Filed under Adult fiction