Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Ros and Moy filled me in on a very stimulating book group meeting, which I'm really sorry I missed,  at Margaret's lovely home at McMahon's Point. The meeting welcomed our former book group member Bette Beresford with her friend Suzanne.

Ros wrote: 'Bette and her friend Suzanne seemed to enjoy the idyllic venue. Neither had read the books.

All sun and blue skies and water. And sumptuous food.

Your report (see below) was highly valued and most agreed with your judgments.

Margaret's renovations provide even more space and utility.

The issues raised by the novel were discussed more than the way of writing. The legal issue seemed to be generally accepted - although some of the 10 were quiet. Reserve, perhaps or sensitivity to the subject? Those who supported the view felt the novel explored it very well through the case studies which showed different aspects and through the humour which made the serious contemporary issue digestible.

The sex scenes did prove divisive.

Ros finished - The May meeting will be at Jane's - 'The underground railroad'.

I've sent the the next 2 books round electronically. I have the monthly diary - sorry, I forgot all about it. I'll pop it over to Ros.

And there was the shocking news from Maggie that the symptoms she experienced while reading a book group email last Friday afternoon has led to a diagnosis of cancer. Early days, and she's hoping for a confirmation that these tumours are indeed secondaries from a melanoma 5 years ago - because a new treatment for melanoma is producing encouraging recovery rates. A ray of hope. Maggie wants a local book group to sustain her and fortuitously, Bette may be able to help - she's talking to her group. And of course, Maggie you are still a long-distance member of ours!

I'll miss the April meeting too - An Unfortunate Incident. 

To finish off -here is the quick note I wrote about my reading of the book, which Ros refers to above. if you had other ideas - we can talk about them later. It's an ongoing conversation.

Re Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out.

There is no Easy Way Out. That's the message I got.

I found the book fascinating and truthful, the work of a writer who knew what he was talking about. And the acknowledgement at the end confirms that Steven Amsterdam works as a palliative care nurse. I assume he's also gay, as his writing about Evan's sexual experiences as the third in a semi permanent loving gay threesome is just as enlightening, even shocking, as the exploration of ways of dying. It's sympathetic too. His sex writing is never cringe making, and believable. Interesting mechanics. Quite sexy even to me. Though I'm glad it's not my life. I'm interested to see what our book group people make of it.

I love speculative social fiction, where a fictional change in technology or the law, like measure 491 or whatever, is teased out. (Black Mirror on Netflix does this for technology.) I had the book from the library via Ros, but started reading it without enough time to finish it. A lesser book I would have scanned. I bought an online copy and finished it. I'm glad I did. I'm only sad I can't share it.

As a character, Evan is well-rounded. I recognise Viv too,and her sharp wit is sustaining, and it underpins their close relationship. Nettie is a touchstone for Evan. Evan might be seen as a loser, with his odd relationships, loved third to 2 loving couples, though sexually expressive with only one the male couple. His relationship with Viv might be too close, dependent. We see him in the end curled up in bed with his mother, perhaps where he's always wanted to be. Amsterdam doesn't make Evan a wuss, he's in charge of his life, choosing to care, choosing to kill .. or not. A grown man lying in bed with his dying Mum might be primal, certainly babyish, but in this book, it's a loving, mature, admirable action. Whatever he does, it's done with love. It's a hard option sitting with someone while they slowly die, as Lon says. It's no easy assisting them to die either. 

It's great that the options are explored: a legal assist for the terminally ill, an illegal assist for anyone in sane mind who has considered their options and wants to die (but very tricky, that sane mind thing, as we see), and the possibility of under the blanket assisted death as part of regular aged care treatment. Then there's old fashioned suicide, like his father's, which wasn't officially suicide anyway. It's great to explore through the nurse practitioner who is also a family member confronting the dilemma, and to see the effect on the assistant, in whatever circumstances. 

I went into the book with reservations about assisted dying, under the law. I still have reservations. I think it has a place, but I still don't know when it's the best thing, and without those guidelines, my support is useless. The decision is final, no possibility of retreat.

I read the Memoir too about Dying. I don't like to speak I'll of the dying but it was boring. I read it a few weeks ago and I can't think of a thing to say about it.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

February meeting - Dark Emu and April book - Emily Maguire - An Isolated Incident

Home again from a wonderful afternoon spent with friends, talking about the book Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe, drinking champagne and eating cakes. Thanks Sue E for hosting us. There was plenty of discussion about the book - some varied viewpoints, which always makes for a lively afternoon. No one faulted the passion with which Pascoe approached his argument and all believed that what he was saying was important. But some found the book boring to read, and felt he was cherrypicking his evidence to support his thesis, with too much reliance on secondary sources. Others disagreed, finding it opened a new vision of Australian history, a cathartic truth telling that they would want to share, a starting point for other researchers. Some of us will be passing the book on to family and friends - but some were pleased to finish it. Gave us fuel for hours of robust discussion.

Agreed quickly on the April book - An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, a writer we have ignored for a long time! In April we will meet at Ros's place. The March meeting will be at Margaret's home at McMahons Point, when we will be discussing Steven Amsterdam's The Easy Way Out and (Optional) Cary Taylor's Dying: a Memoir.

Monday, January 30, 2017

January 2017 Hot Milk and new book(s) for March

Thanks to Pat Rayner for hosting us at her new home in Potts Point. The view from the roof was amazing so please share pictures. Our very first book group meeting was at Pat's place at Dundas, and the book was Elizabeth Jolly's Milk and Honey. Pat placed a carton of milk and a jar of honey on the letterbox that time, but I didn't think to look out for a cup of hot milk on the doorstep of number 17 yesterday. We were too busy with the mechanics of our journey and the newness of an inner-city post-car location. All worked well. We met our newest member too, Cathy Forster (I'm not sure if I've spelt her name right!) who established herself as a confident and positive contributor right from the start.

The book, Hot Milk by Deborah Levy, had its fans and its detractors. But the detractors read it to the end and also had plenty to say about the characters, the themes and the language. A voice from a younger generation, a 25 year old daughter, negotiating her identity, her 'archaeological study' of her own relationships. All up it was a successful book group book, which stimulated lots of discussion, probably because some people didn't like it, but they cared.

We settled down to tea and coffee with lamingtons and biscuits, to decide on the March book, which was decided very quickly. We will consider end of life issues, with the main book a fiction: The easy way out, by Steven Amsterdam, and if people have time for another, to round out the view, they can also read: Dying: a memoir by Corey Taylor.

We also voted for the best book of 2016 by show of hands. Clear winner was The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

We have had a change of venue in the following months. The February meeting (Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe) will now be held at Sue Ellyard's place with the March meeting at Margaret's newly renovated Kirribilli home. Thanks to everyone for their contribution to another year of book group. Welcome to our new member!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

October meeting (Black Rock, White City) January Book (Hot milk, by Deborah Levy)

Thanks to all those who were able to make it to my place today to talk about the Miles Franklin prize winner, Black Rock, White City. Lots of us hadn't finished it, and those who did had reservations, but it proved to generate a lively discussion. Interesting characters living through the aftermath of war in Bosnia, rebuilding their new world in Australia. Graffiti a gripping device which wasn't fully realised.
Would repay rereading, but still, we thought we wouldn't be recommending it to all our friends and family. Johan a godlike heroic figure, his relationship with Susannah at the centre of the book.

Looked to the Booker Prize shortlist for our January book and decided on Deborah Levy's book, Hot Milk'. Look for it in libraries or buy the book! We will be discussing it at Pat Rs new home at Potts Point.

November meeting is at Stella's when we look at the Helen Garner short stories.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Thanks Sue W. for hosting us - the famous Papa's ricotta cake starred again. We missed Pat R who is in Tassie, and Jane and Liz. Even Maggie H was able to come this time, as she's in Sydney with family. Great to see her again at book group, looking tanned and bright after her sea change.

And yes, after 45 minutes we did talk about the book, The Turner House by Angela Flournoy. Overall, it was well-liked and stimulated lots of discussion.  We learnt about the politics of housing and poverty in Detroit - and good to hear it from a black family. The family dynamics were interesting, in the current generation and previous ones - the 'haint' intrigued us. This book was compared, favourably,  with Anne Tyler's A Spool of Blue Thread, which we read last year.

Next book is AS Patric's Black Rock, White City at my place (Pat S) in October. The November book will be Helen Garner's short stories, Everywhere I look, at Stella's. Then we break until January when we are invited to Pat Rayner's new place at Pott's Point.

Happy reading until we next meet on 30th October.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

August meeting - October book - AS Patric Black Rock White City

Thanks Ros for hosting the spirited discussion about Portnoy's Complaint, by Philip Roth. No trouble getting started on the book, in spite of 2 new grandchildren in the group. Book was thoroughly enjoyed by several of us, who found it funny and satirical, while others got annoyed by the sustained rant  - the complaint. We all found lots to talk about, plenty of quotable quotes. An interesting riff on the times, and a reflection on Masculinity and Jewish families. That doesn't do it justice - some of us were rereading after 50 years and finding that we had changed, finding it funnier, but not as sexy as before! Thanks to Liz for selecting it.

We decided pretty quickly on the Miles Franklin Award winner, AS Patric's Black Rock White City.
I'll be hosting the reading group in October, and Pat R will open her new Potts Point residence to us in January. November party venue to be confirmed.

We discussed our other reading - Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies, Chris Cleave's Everyone Brave is Forgiven, Our Souls At Night (not sure of author) and Fredrik Backman's A Man Called Ove, were recommended - for private reading!

July Meeting - September book - The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy

I didn't attend the July meeting at Sue E's place as Liz and I were at a quilting workshop.

I hear it went well, with mixed reviews for Jeanette Winterson's The Gap of Time, a reworking of the story of The Winter's Tale to celebrate the 400th Anniversary of Shakespeare's death (I think).

Tales of the cake spread throughout the land.

The meeting agreed on the September book, The Turner House, by Angela Flournoy. Sue W will host this meeting.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June meeting - (30th Anniversary) and August book details

Well, it was a great day for the 30th anniversary celebration.  Perfect weather for a trip to Avoca Beach. Thanks to Margaret for hosting us beautifully and providing a super lunch. Thanks to Moy for the picture book cake, decorated as only Moy can do it. Thanks to all those who could come and those who couldn't but have enlivened our group through the last 30 years. Pat R in particular, foundation member, sorry you had family business to attend to on the day - you were missed. Maggie sent a message which we read and enjoyed. Clare sent a message too as we revisited notes we had written 5 years ago, saying what book group means to us. We read these out, with a particular pang when we came to Clare's contribution. We each wrote a note about a special moment we remember from book group. These are also stored in the time capsule. Additions from absent friends are welcome.

Yes, we did talk about the book My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. Again Ferrante provided plenty of discussion, with everyone getting something out of the book, but some wondering what all the fuss is about. There are the true believers who have gone on to read more and more of her work and we thought that this is what is intended. The book doesn't entirely stand alone. Talk about autobiography, about the identity of the writer, about the translation, about the nature of brilliant friends. I left you all talking after hours, so I have to end the report there.

And the next book. Well, the Jeanette Winterson book, The Gap in Time is our July book and our August book will be a classic - Portnoy's Complaint by Phillip Roth.

Photos of the day from Sue E.

 And a collage from Liz.