#157 2021 Reading List #win

Hello 2022, how are you? Well, time will tell on that one. My apologies for beginning the year of blog posts with such unfashionable rhyming.

As usual at this time of year, I run through the books I’ve read (or finished) in the past twelve months. Unusually, however, I actually cracked my #yearlyreadinggoal and read the equivalent of at least one book per month!

Media Tarts by Julia Baird I didn’t get to this one until 2021, despite my attempt in 2020. (For that matter, I’m not sure when I finished Meredith Lake’s book either… just read it, it’s good. That’s my review 🙂) According to Amazon, Baird’s book, originally published in 2004 has been updated. One of my reflections on the book was that she needed to update it, so I’m glad she has done so. This book is excellent for those wanting to think about the representation of women in politics in Australia. It’s well-researched and covers a significant amount of ground up until the early 2000s, in my edition. I think it also gives much food for thought about the representation of women generally and I blogged about some other ideas connected to it around the time that I finished the book. Worth the read.

A Coveted Possession: The rise and fall of the piano in Australia by Michael Atherton Being a pianist, I was gifted with this book a few years ago. I finally got to reading it this year (which is a definite motif in my 2021 reading list). It’s amazing what a lockdown combined with a school reading program can do for you. As a musician, I really enjoyed looking at the way in which the piano was once perceived as the height of sophistication, a “must have” in any respectable middle class home and a definite requirement for the proper upbringing of any young lady. How times have changed. With Atherton, I lament the replacement of the piano with digital entertainment, but neither of us is being a luddite or sentimentally nostalgic about it. It is very interesting to consider what symbolism and ideas we attach to the piano in our current society. That guy who keeps popping up on my instagram feed, kicking his piano stool away like a drunk donkey whilst offering me piano lessons (no thanks) doesn’t sit well with me. Yet, are the ideas of femininity that we so naturally attach to a recent piano performance from the Duchess of Cambridge, the sum total of the matter? (Not that I’ve heard it yet, but apparently she plays quite well). There’s a lot more than just notes, hammers and pedals to think about. I definitely enjoyed this book.

The Happiest Man on Earth: The beautiful life of an Auschwitz Suvivor by Eric Jaku I finished this book in September, only weeks before he died. It’s a wonderful read with a strong message of forgiveness. If you haven’t yet read it, you should. I blogged about it previously. If you are struggling to get the right perspective on life, reading a memoir from a man who survived Nazi concentration camps might be the best medicine for you. Help yourself and read Eddie’s book.

Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus: How a Jewish perspective can transform your understanding by Lois Tverberg Yes, that’s right; it took me until September to finish three books. Clearly the last four months of 2021 were a reading bonanza for yours truly. I think I actually started this one before Jaku’s but you can’t really read this one with Year 9 at a public school, can you? Tverberg has spent countless hours thinking about the original Jewish context of Jesus’ life on earth and The Bible itself. If you’re looking for somewhere to start exploring this context I recommend this book, or any written by Tverberg along these lines.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: an english professor’s journey into christian faith by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield Along with Jaku, I blogged about this book a few months ago. You can read my thoughts on it there. The book is well written, which is to be expected. Also, notice how her book’s title is the first one to correctly not have any capitals after the colon. I’ve felt so wrong with every capital that I’ve typed after the colon for the others. Sad, but true. Thank-you, former academic.

A brief theology of periods (yes, really) by Rachel Jones OK, that’s enough of the title… and yes, I just didn’t know what to do with the capitals on that one. What a minefield. When I first heard about this book in the first half of the year it was through someone (a Christian female) ridiculing the publishing of this book. What is wrong with thinking biblically about this? In my researching of Biblical Femininity, I didn’t think about this topic very much, and was so pleased someone else had written a book on it. On reading it though, I was decidedly disappointed. Brief is the word. I don’t think there was anywhere near the level of depth required. It mostly got better as it went along but was ultimately dissatisfying. I feel a future blog post coming on…

Shafana and Aunt Sarrinah by Alana Valentine And so the HSC* texts begin to appear as I readied myself for marking. This play follows conversations between a young Muslim woman, who has decided to wear the hijab, and her aunt, who disapproves of the decision. I think the play’s exploration of how women within religious communities are represented, potentially misunderstood and struggle to achieve a sense of belonging within wider society was very insightful. The play also explores additional barriers, including language learning and the refugee experience. I’m not sure that it offered any answers but I also don’t believe that was the writer’s aim. Much applause for a thoughtful exploration of how religion intersects with a woman’s daily life.

Beautifully Distinct: Conversations with Friends on faith, life and culture edited by Trisha Newbell It’s really hard to write about this book. If you’re looking for a short exploration into various issues within society from a Christian perspective, then I strongly recommend this book. However, for me there was a massive issue along the way and I know that were any well-intentioned Christian to put this book into the hands of HNAC Alison, it would completely backfire.

There are a number of female writers who contribute to this book, but I only know of Karen Swallow Prior in any real detail. Having read one of KSP’s books, I knew that she was a Professor of English and could completely understand why – with her significant degree of knowledge and authority – she had been selected to write the chapter on ‘The Value of Literature’. After that, there were perhaps 2 or 3 names that looked vaguely familiar, but as for the rest, I didn’t have a clue who they were or why they were writing about their chapter’s topic. The first chapter was about movies and I had no idea what qualifications the writer had: no writer’s bio with each chapter. I was wondering this the whole way through the chapter until near the end where it was revealed that her husband held movie nights in which he encouraged men to be thoughtful with movies. Now, perhaps the woman writing the chapter holds movies nights too and was being modest, but (sigh… yes, I’ll say it) it came across as pretty ditzy. At this point HNAC Alison would have thrown the book in the bin.

From this point on, actual Alison continued reading the book but was wondering every chapter who on earth the writer was and why they were qualified to write about the topic (whether formally or through work/life experience), bar the few who revealed that in their chapters. All the writers were ‘friends’ of the editor, but I don’t know them. I was left wondering whether they were writing about something their hubby helped them to think of and/or the editor had phoned a friend because they were in need of a chapter written. It was awful, because there were some great ideas in the book.

It was all ruined though, by the opening section which was ironically all about ‘being thoughtful’, yet made women look like they were unable to think of things for themselves without hubby’s help.

Academia is not the be all and end all; not by a long way. It is the Spirit of God that renews our minds. Regardless, please don’t represent women as unable to think for themselves.

Summer of the Seventeenth Doll by Ray Lawler I bought this play at a second hand book stall years ago… and then never read it. Being on the book list for HSC marking, I finally took it off my shelf. An iconic Australian play that explores ideas about gender, marriage, social class and the like. It’s not a happy play, ultimately – and certainly doesn’t conform to Christian ideals! – however, there’s plenty of food for thought in there.

Toyo: a memoir by Lily Chan Lily Chan also knows not to put a capital letter after the colon. I thought the beginning of the book was quite captivating. The middle of it was less so, but the writing at its close was worth the effort. Wait for it, it’s right towards the end. I agree with Alice Pung’s review with regards to the book’s conclusion: ‘beautifully lyrical’.

Where the Wild Ladies Are by Matsuda Aoko & translated by Polly Barton Continuing with the Japanese theme but no longer an HSC text, this was gifted to me by a friend. The book contains a selection of traditional Japanese ghost stories from rakugo, kabuki and folk legend and appropriates them into the modern day with a feminist twist. Some of them were quite witty. When I finally got to reading this one, I devoured it in about three days.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty Again, this is a book that had been on my shelf for several years and again, when I finally read it, managed to do so in about three days. For me, this book has a lot of positives and negatives simultaneously. As a teacher in Sydney, there’s a lot that is very relatable. I also enjoyed multiple laugh out loud moments. There is also a stack of expletives, blasphemy and some sexual content. I did also feel the use of double entendre was too heavily caked on in the latter half of the book and that the ‘big reveal’ had been a pretty obvious possibility if you’d been paying attention. This book made me feel a bit Janus-like: Moriarty’s social observations create very likeable and realistic characters, but at other times I thought the writing wasn’t as good as it should be for a book with as much hype as it has received. Were people just reading it for the sex scene? Yet, Moriarty knows how to spin a yarn (still, that double entendre usage…). A very beneficial message about domestic violence and yet the end was far more dissatisfying that I had hoped or expected when I was about halfway through.

Essays by George Orwell This is one of those books that you read on and off for a while. In my case, probably since late 2017, when I was gifted it by a friend. For those familiar with Orwell, the collection contains all the usual favourites: Shooting an Elephant, A Hanging, Politics and the English Language and so on. There’s so much gold in this collection that I may have to blog about it in future posts. Orwell is still truly relevant and thought provoking, but for now I’ll just leave you with my favourite simile from the book, as found in Some Thoughts on the Common Toad – “At this period [the start of spring], after his long fast, the toad has a very spiritual look, like a strict Anglo-Catholic towards the end of Lent.” An amusing visual image.

In her words by Patricia St John As a child I read a few of St John’s books, but knew very little about her. This book is mostly autobiographical content that was originally published in 1995, under the title of Patricia St John tells her own story. St John was a missionary nurse in Morocco and her life was one of unrelenting service. Her life is also a great testimony to the power of prayer in tandem with God ‘just showing up’ with exactly what was needed and exactly when it was needed. I was gifted this book for Christmas last year and finished it on the 27th with my afternoon cup of tea. I think Dick Lucas’ review on the front cover of my edition sums it up well: “A great story by a great writer. The most nourishing book I read last year.”

So, did you count and realise that was actually 14 books? 5 of them in December. I can’t believe it myself.

Yours in a #win,

Alison

*HSC = Higher School Certificate: NSW’s matriculation exams.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

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