Thursday, 22 November 2012

Bryce Courtenay 1933-2012

Rest in peace, Bryce Courtenay. May your memory be for a blessing.

I remember when The Power of One was published. My mother bought it and read it. She loaned it to her best friend. He passed it on, and before too much time had passed Mum's entire circle of friends were reading and talking about this book. She gave it to me to read but, typically, I didn't just then - reacting to what felt like hype, and being told I 'should' read something... I came to it later, and while I could see why they'd all loved it, and I enjoyed the great saga of the story telling, it didn't consume me in the way I felt it had the grown ups around me. Perhaps I was just too young at the time to appreciate the journey of young Peekay the way they could. The sequel left me for dead. I read Tandia, enjoyed that more, but after that I didn't read any of his books until I was given a copy of April Fool's Day, Courtenay's exquisite book about his middle son, Damon, who was one of the earliest Australians to contract medically acquired AIDS, via a tainted blood transfusion.

April Fool's Day, in my humble opinion, is Courtenay's greatest work as a writer. In telling Damon's story - and there are chapters in the book written by Damon himself as well as chapters where Courtenay recounts Damon's instructions as to what the book should be - he comes back to something simpler and more elemental than his other work. What characterises much of his writing, for me, is the highly successful formula he applied to crafting his tales. He was a great storyteller, yes. Not all great storytellers are successful authors, however. To be a successful author - a commercially successful author - one has to be able to analyse the market and create a product that that market wants and will buy consistently. Courtenay's background in advertising gave him that ability, and he crafted his stories accordingly. I have no issue with that at all. I have immense respect for someone who can identify a niche and work to fill it as he did. I just didn't enjoy the product as much as other people evidently did.

In April Fool's Day, there is no formula. There is the simultaneously joyful and tragic story of a bright and engaging young man who was a haemophiliac, and in the early days of AIDS, before the medical profession knew what it knows now about the disease, caught it from, ironically, a life-saving transfusion after a bleed. Courtenay documents the struggle Damon and the whole family had dealing with not only the disease, but also the fear and prejudice that existed for AIDS sufferers and their families. It is a book that I re-read annually. I laugh often, because there is much humour in it, and I weep too, because there is great poignancy and, ultimately, tragedy when Damon dies.

It is a raw and honest book. I suspect that Damon kept Courtenay accountable, and there is none of the exaggeration as there is in the autobiographical The Power of One. April Fool's Day made me like Courtenay much more than I had after reading what I had of his other books, and it is the courage shown by all the family in making the story public that means it lives on my shelves.

Courtenay faced death, if his interviews are anything to go by, with the same courage and matter of factness as Damon did. He said it was time. Hopefully he and Damon are catching up on many years of missed conversations.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Reading in bed

A colleague at work - I'll call him The Benedictine - tagged me in a post on Facebook yesterday that was a link to a blog post that puts a whole new spin on reading in bed. Here's the pic:
And you can go HERE to read the whole post.... I have to say, while I love the finished effect, there's one pic in the line up on the post that did make me cringe - secondhand books chosen for shape and size rather than content or not!

Saturday, 17 November 2012

Bookcase porn...

Yes I did. I did put 'porn' in the heading of my post. junkies have one great thing in common... There is never enough room in the bookcases for all the books we have/want. That should really be one word, methinks. Havewant. Wanthave. Don't know which way around is better, but in book terms, I do believe they're almost one and the same.

So, anyway, the reason for the dodgy title is that, while surfing the net - as you do - looking for a particular image, I found all sorts of mad things that weren't precisely what I was hunting. However, they were excellent fodder to feed the craving for the perfect bookcase set up - whatever that may be.

Are they not just awesome??? I particularly love the first one. A bookcase door hiding a secret place with MORE bookcases.... Excellent!

If all else fails, it appear there may be a solution. This, from The Librarian's Facebook post. It appears that there are many means of building a bookcase, and this one comes complete with a librarian...
Is there anything that Lego doesn't do any more?

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Gertrude and Alice Cafe Bookstore

This post is inspired by Peter's post today over at Kyusireader. It's a very typically Peter-type post that asks a question that many book junkies I know have probably thought, but possibly haven't voiced - why do restaurants not have bookcases and books as part of their decor? Go read the post - he raises some very good reasons as to why this lack should be rectified.

I'm being a wee bit deliberately provocative with this post...there have been a number of posts I've written that have generated comments from Peter about getting on a plane and making his way to Sydney - to steal my vintage Wyndhams, or stock up on the new Penguin release of Aussie celebrity cookbooks in vintage orange bindings, and the like. So, when you read this, my bibliophile blogger friend, you might just have all the confirmation you need to go book that ticket...

Aaah...reading carefully now?

One of my favourite haunts in Bondi is Gertrude and Alice Cafe Bookstore. This is a bookstore - secondhand - and cafe combined. Everything from excellent coffee, lovely scented teas and cold drinks, to a glass of wine if you're so disposed. And if you're hungry; salads, cakes, cookies and all sorts of other goodies. And...books. Oodles and oodles of books. I've found some marvelous treasures there over the time I've been back in town.

The place is a bit mad - it's a regular shopfront on a busy street leading to one of the country's most iconic beaches. Inside, it's crammed with bookcases - the cafe staff have a small but efficient corner right at the front. When you place your order, you're given a table number, and then it's a matter of wending your way around the spaces created by the bookcases to find a share table surrounded by an eclectic mix of benches and chairs, or perhaps a cosy couch with a coffee table. Shopping/dining solo? Hunt out one of the many armchairs tucked away in corners with little side tables...

Clicking on the name of the shop a couple of paragraphs up will take you to their website, but here are a few photos to whet the appetite for all they have to offer, culinarily and literarily!

Just let me know when I can expect you Peter...seems like a good place to meet face to face, nu? Any other book junkies coming to Sydney or living here already, please take that as an extended invitation!

Places to read

As any card-carrying book junkie will tell you, you don't need special, designated reading spaces. You can read anywhere. On the bus, on the train, in the bath, in bed, at a cafe, and the list goes on...

However, having said that, I have to say that the idea of specially created spaces just for reading are one of those concepts that my book junkie friends and I lust after. DB must be catching on, because we've been browsing properties - it's part of the motivational plan for keeping on keeping on at what we're doing so that, ultimately, we can actually go and buy one of them! We saw a simply gorgeous, perfect property the other night. Not least among its many attractions was the nook off the kitchen area - it was about three-quarters the size of a double bed, it popped out from the main wall line so it had windows with deep sills on three sides (wide enough for a mug of tea or glass of wine) and was piled with cushions. DB's first comment on seeing it was that he knew where he'd find me... And, it wasn't the only space like that in the house.

And then, serendipitously, I realised I had a little collection of images I've found since I've been blogging of different reading spaces. It's also, sort of, a follow on from my previous post...

What do you think? Any favourites from these? I do rather like the idea of the wander through the garden to that rather choice separate building... The ultimate book junkie folly - a library at the bottom of the garden - it tickles! I don't think the one at the top is terribly practical, but I was reminded of the Mitford books with all the girls retreating to the airing cupboard. Tucking away into the bookcase itself isn't unappealing!

I will get back to specifically book-related posts - right now, the books that are dominating my life are the liturgical books for Advent and Christmas, and the January Orchestral Masses at St James'. Not something that will appear here on the blog - but, time consuming and draining, requiring much screen time so that when I get home with time to blog, the last thing I want to do is look at another computer screen.

Wednesday, 7 November 2012