Monday, 18 June 2018

Reading Challenge Week 24 - A Book Set Somewhere You’ll Visit This Year

Oooh! A Special Guest Reviewer! Kimberley Blyth has been doing a library placement with us in Cairns*, and she has chipped in this week with a review for the Reading Challenge.

This week's challenge involves finding a book set somewhere you'll be visiting this year. Did you find a book set in your chosen destination? Did it make you more or less keen to visit?

Kimberley Blyth read Gap Year in Ghost Town by Michael Pryor.

Somewhere I hope to visit this year is Melbourne. According to the Global Liveability Report for 2017, it’s one of the world’s most liveable cities, vibrant and full of culture, so I’d love to experience it for myself. Michael Pryor’s Gap Year in Ghost Town (820.94 PRY in the Curriculum Collection) showcases inner city Melbourne through the eyes of the narrator, Anton Marin. From the first scene, the reader is transported to the lively back alleys and attractions of Melbourne, and you can tell it's the author's hometown because the little details made the setting more realistic, and therefore, believable.

Anton is experimenting with the family business for his gap year, which, as the title suggests, is ghost hunting. Ghost stories and paranormal literature are not my favourite genres, but this book surprised me. Anton can see ghosts, making him a perfect fit for the family business, but he isn’t so sure he wants to spend his life chasing down ghosts. However, as a surge in ghost sightings and crime hits the streets of Melbourne, Anton meets Rani, a visiting hunter from England, who disagrees with Anton’s peaceful methods of ghost hunting. Despite their differences, the two must work together to keep supernatural forces at bay.

Full of witty and sarcastic banter, the story is complemented by undertones of strong friendships and violence versus compassion. While the stakes never really rise to an alarming level, the story itself flows well, with a great mix of characters and a setting that adds to the lively atmosphere of the story.

I hope to get to Japan this year. It’s really easy to get to from Cairns and I used to live there so I’m always interested in catching up with friends. This week I’ve been reading another author who was was Japanese born and received the Nobel Prize for Literature (see last week’s blog to for a review on Kazuo Ishiguro).

This is a collection of stories that say a lot in a small space. Each story is small enough to fit into the palm of your hand. Yes, yes, I know. Most stories can fit into the palm of our hands these days, regardless of how many pages they have (you could probably read something terribly long like Don Quixote on your phone these days if you were brave/silly enough). But then, with our modern ways of being quick to click and fast to scroll and swipe, these palm of the hand stories might be the perfect form of literature for today.

While perhaps better known for his novels, Kawabata always returned to this unique form of storytelling, the Palm-of-the-Hand-Stories (895.6 KAW 2B TEN). If we use the obvious comparison and say that these stories are to the novel what the haiku is to the longer form of the poem, we are probably just being lazy. Although, like haiku, these stories do give us a strong sense of season. We know that the action is taking place on a warm summer evening, a rainy autumn day, or a snow covered night.

These stories take you to what feels like very regular, everyday places. It's like going on a holiday to Japan and avoiding the tourist haunts. Whether they are set on a bridge over a stream, in a bath house, a mountain town, or by the sea, the stories have a way of transporting you to that place. For all their brevity, these stories are unhurried and offer glimpses of ordinary life in Japan across many decades before and after the Second World War. 

Back in the days before the internet, computers and blogs, I used to go on annual holidays with my family to the Blue Mountains in NSW. The Blue Mountains have remained a favourite haunt of mine and I will be enjoying its icy delights again this year.  Given that you may short of time for reading for pleasure at the moment, The Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves: A Camera Study by Frank Hurley could be just the thing. This gem was published in Sydney in 1952 (“Also Obtainable Overseas”). Although originally a guide for tourists, it is now a fascinating historical record with over 60 full-page prints by Hurley and articles written by Frank Walford, Paddy Pallin (of the adventure store fame) and Andrew Mayne.

In his Foreword, Hurley writes:

For those lusty of limb who have a yearning for distant horizons, there are hundreds of miles of bushwalks and tracks…Unless you are an experienced bushwalker don’t wander off the tracks. If you do, don’t panic; stay where you are and wait for the rescue party, which will turn up sooner or later…
I have done my best with my camera to give you some glimpses of Blue Mountains grandeur and Jenolan’s wonders. My colleagues with their pens have joined me, in the hope that…you may be one who,
      exempt from public haunt,
     Finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks,
     Sermons in stones, and good in everything.

The Blue Mountains and Jenolan Caves: A Camera Study is a literary and historical treat, whether you have visited the Blue Mountains or not. You can find it on the shelves at 919.44500222 HUR C. A.

*Yes, librarians have to do placements as part of their degrees. Yes, librarians have degrees in library sciences. Yes, "library sciences" is a real thing.

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