Charlotte’s Web

E.B. White
Publisher: Puffin
Star Rating: 4/5
Date Read: July 2nd, 2014
Read Count: 3
I have quite a few review books to read, but I didn’t have any of them with me when I finished my last book on the train home from the city yesterday. But I did have this beautiful hardcover edition of Charlotte’s Web I picked up in a secondhand book store. If you’ve never felt sentimental about a pig, a spider and a rat (yes, I had a soft spot for Templeton!), then you should probably read Charlotte’s Web, no matter whether you are an adult, child or somewhere in between.

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Far From The Madding Crowd

Author: Thomas Hardy
Publisher: Signet Classics
Star Rating: 4/5
Date Read: April 22nd to 30th, 2014
It’s been a few days since I finished Far From The Madding Crowd but life has been crazy so I haven’t had the time to write this review, which is unlike me because I usually make time. Oh well, here we go anyway…

My first experience with Hardy came from Tess of the d’Urbervilles, which completely surprised me. I loved it. But it had been a while since then so I opened this one without a great deal of expectation despite the ‘classic’ status. After finding the first couple of chapters a little slow, general setting the scene type chapters, by the time we met Bathsheba again on her own farm I was really enjoying it.

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For Whom The Bell Tolls

Author: Ernest Hemingway
Publisher: Vintage
Star Rating: 3/5
Date Read: April 6th to 16th, 2014
Oh, Hemingway. Is it you or is it me? I don’t know why but I can’t feel anything above mild acceptance that your novels are okay. Are you just not as good as you’re cracked up to be, or do I just not understand your genius? And do I keep reading until I work it out?

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War and Peace

Author: Leo Tolstoy
Publisher: Penguin
Star Rating: 4/5
Date Read: March 1st to 28th, 2014
I would have loved to give War and Peace a 5 star rating. I was so close, too. But then we reached the 100-page epilogue and it was all downhill from there. Granted, I made it through more than 1250 pages before I started to consider the possibility of a DNF, but I had gotten that far and with good reason, so I thought I would see it out.

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Moby Dick

Author: Herman Melville
Publisher: Readers Digest
Star Rating: 2/5
Date Read: September 2nd to 16th, 2013
What a crazy old bugger that Captain Ahab was!

It has taken me so long to finish this book that I’m glad I can slam it shut, put it on the shelf and write this review. But where to begin?

I don’t want to slam the whole thing. Really, I don’t. Because I was quite looking forward to reading it, and the first few chapters where we meet Ishmael and Queequeg got me quite interested in the story. The they got on the ship and it all kind of slowly went downhill from there.

Being on a whale ship, in between when you are actually chasing whales, must get pretty boring for the whalers. That’s how this part of the book seemed to me. A lot of philosophizing about … stuff? … and then scientifically inaccurate (they probably seemed right at the time) descriptions of the whale as a ‘big fish with lungs’. It floated in and out of the actual story (which I was more interested in) about the madman Ahab and his crazy quest to find and destroy Moby Dick (who does not appear until the 466th page, in my edition!) and the philosophy and musings and explanations from Ishmael. As the story went on I felt we lost Ishmael’s point of view and it became more of a third person narrative. That was too bad – I liked Ishmael and his story. But I get that his story is a mere part of the whole adventure.

I enjoyed some of this book, but mostly I was just glad to finish it!

A Little Bush Maid

Author: Mary Grant Bruce
Series: Billabong, Book 1
Publisher: Ward, Lock
Star Rating: 5/5
Date Read: September 20th to 22nd, 2013
Read Count: 1
I’d never heard of Mary Grant Bruce or the Billabong series until one day my grandmother started talking about the books she read as a child, some 70 years ago now. For all I knew she was making it all up because I had never heard or seen of it anywhere…until I stumbled across the first book A Little Bush Maid in a secondhand bookstore. I bought it immediately, and sat down to see what the fuss was about.

Of course, I loved it. How could I not? It’s Australia, it’s the bush, it’s history (though fiction I believe this portrays an accurate picture of rural Australia at the time), it’s a plucky little heroine who you can’t help but love and a whole other cast of characters. I can see why my grandmother loved this as a child and I only wish I, too, had discovered them at a younger age (being now about 10 years above the target age).

Many who read these books today may be shocked by some of the terms and behaviour used by even the children toward the Aboriginal stable boy. I think it is important to realise, while we should in no way encourage this behaviour, we also shouldn’t try to cover up that part of history. That was the way life was in the 1900s and is clearly very different to life in 2010s. Just to put my two cents in, I see no reason to politically correct any novels, including the Billabong series and also Enid Blyton books, which I believe have been ‘edited’. I think that adults shouldn’t be so shocked that those attitudes did once exist, and I also think that children who read the books should have an understanding of how life used to be different and why it’s not like that anymore.

But I digress! This book is wonderful and I look forward to scrounging around a few more secondhand bookstores to get my paws on the rest!

On The Beach

Author: Nevil Shute
Publisher: Pan
Star Rating: 5/5
Date Read: February 24th to 28th, 2014
When it comes to the end of the world books and movies, you don’t really hear a lot about Australia. Everyone’s so worried about the US and Europe that nobody thinks of us down here in little old Australia. On The Beach shows what happens to Australia when the rest of the world is dying out.

After radioactively bombing the hell out of each other, China, Russia, America and the rest of the northern hemisphere are no more. As the radioactive poisoning drifts southward, infecting the entire world, the last major city existing is Melbourne, Australia, where life is continuing as normal for its inhabitants who just can’t accept that the end of the world is coming to them. So they keep going to work and planting gardens and thinking about next month, next season, next year – even when, in their hearts, they know their time is limited, they just carry on. Captain Towers plans to go home to his wife and children in America when his deployment is up, the Holmes’ plan their garden they won’t be around to see, Moira Davidson takes a typing course she won’t use. No one wants to face what’s coming to them, so they just live their lives as normally as they can.

This is what got to me the most. There was no rioting, no stealing from each other, nothing untoward because there was just nothing the people could do but help each other through to the end. From the farmer who offered to take Mary Holmes milk while her husband Peter was at sea, to Moira Davidson who kept a lonely American sailor company through his last months when he was separated from his family – everyone did what they could to help their neighbour. And if we (I don’t mean ‘we’ the Australians but ‘we’ as the human race) were ever arrogant enough to get ourselves in a position that meant the extermination of life on Earth, I would hope that this is what would happen. That we wouldn’t turn against each other, or fight for the last of the supplies, but support each other through to the end.

There was something about the simple tone of this novel, and the quiet determination of the people to just live through one more day until they couldn’t anymore that was incredibly touching. It is a very bleak and worrying vision of the future. It wore something down in me just thinking of how it would be, knowing you and everyone else left on Earth had only a week or so to live. Feeling yourself getting sick, and knowing that you were the last of the human race. The novel is simply about the death of the human race and the T.S. Eliot quote in the front of the book is extremely fitting: This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang but a whimper.

This book is an Australian classic that we don’t talk about enough.