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Reading Challenge Reviews: Popularity, Politics and Pollyanna

This is the last set of reviews for 2019. As next year we'll have our hands full with the 50 Treasures project (50 treasures from Special Collections to celebrate JCU's 50th anniversary), we'll be taking a break from reading challenges.

But, if you feel lost and lonely and desperately want a reading challenge to get you through 2020, we can offer you the Amazing, Beautiful, Creative reading challenge (otherwise known as the alphabetical reading challenge). There are 26 letters in the alphabet, and 52 weeks in the year. Each week, you need to find a book with a title that begins with the next consecutive letter of the alphabet (discounting articles like a or the).

You can give yourself two weeks per book for a 26 book challenge or, for the extreme readers who want a 52 book challenge, you can read a book with a title that starts with the letter one week, and a book with a title that ends with the letter for the next week. For example, you might read The Apothecary for the first week and Animalia in the second week, followed by Beauty in the third week and Brother Jacob for the fourth.

We won't be playing along for the whole year, but we'll post some reviews as we have the time. We will, of course, happily provide books. You can always count on us for the books.

What do you think constitutes celebrity status? Achievement? Beauty? Inteligence? Inglis explores this question by first returning to the 18th century, in which “changing social forces turned life itself into a spectator sport … The most fashionable, glamorous or notorious emerged as celebrities, by virtue of being the most watched” (Feigel, 2010). Back then, the promenades, theatre and newspapers served this purpose; now, popular magazines, television and social media fuel the celebrity culture.

A Short History of Celebrity is more than just a catalogue of famous people. Inglis discusses the underlying reasons why we have an enduring interest in some people and not others, drawing parallels between celebrities from the past and present. While Hitler may be famous, does he qualify as a celebrity? Inglis believes “the character of the celebrity makes and is made by its audience; in the end, they will do with it what they will” (p. 118). Do we admire their character as well as achievements? Can we relate to them in some way? Could they, would they be interested in us if given the chance? When we consider modern-day celebrities such as Ash Barty, Johnathan Thurston or Princess Diana, what distinguishes them from Israel Folau, Karl Stevanovich or Mussolini?

The changing landscape of television is also discussed. Inglis suggests that shows like Friends and The Big Bang Theory made these stars into celebrities because we ‘know’ the characters; we have had a long-standing ‘relationship’ with them.  This contrasts with the revolving door experienced by thousands of ordinary people who now populate reality TV shows.  Celebrity status can be fickle and tends to last until we no longer see or ‘care’ about them.

A Short History of Celebrity is available as an ebook. If you have never borrowed a JCU ebook before, our ebook library guide has all the information you need to get started.

Non-fiction, An author I haven’t read before, ebook

Bethany Keats read Flying the Kite: Travels of an Australian Politician, by John Button.

The blurb promised me an amusing read, but it's about politics - how amusing could it be? Turns out, it was a thoroughly entertaining read.

How can you not love this priceless description of Bob Hawke? "[he] strode straight to the car waving his hand and saying 'Gday, Gday, G--day', the last word elongated into a noise like a cockatoo makes flying out of a gum tree."

Even though it's about trade, international relations, and politics of the 70s, 80s, and 90s, it's a history that sets the scene for the politics we have today. And as someone who was born in the latter part of the events it outlines, it was a very readable way to fill in some blanks that help me understand Australian political history.

It's also a nostalgic read because it draws on the laid-back Australia narrative we're fed, but a culture many would say we've lost. He writes of a time when public holidays were just seen as long weekends, "I wondered, for Australians, if any of these holidays amounted to anything more than that," while, perhaps unknowingly, foreseeing contemporary politics where public holidays have become divisive, "most commemorate sadness or absurdity, possible division rather than unity or remind us of the quirkiness of Australian history."

I understand it's Button (or his ghost writer?) controlling the way he is portrayed, but considering Townsville Bulletin columnist Shari Tagliabue said he "shares equal billing with John Hewson as nicest pollie of all time from my old flight attendant days", maybe he's not spinning too much of a story.

To whoever left this on the book table in Building 4: thank you.

Australian author, non-fiction, author I'd never read before, check your public library for copies

Sharon Bryan read Pollyanna, by Eleanor H. Porter.

Pollyanna was published in 1913, so as well as fitting into the "history" category by virtue of being "a bit old", it also fits into one of the book challenge categories from last year's challenge: A Book Published More Than 100 Years Ago. I hope you'll forgive me, but I'm struggling to write coherently about this book, so I'm going to write my "review" in more or less a stream of random thoughts.

  • Pollyanna was originally published in serial form in a magazine called Christian Herald, which explains a lot. It wasn't just written for children, it was written for the children of people who read a magazine called Christian Herald.
  • The character's name, "Pollyanna" is meant to be an amalgam of her mother's sisters' names, Polly and Anna. Which basically makes this 1913's answer to "Renesmee".
  • Pollyanna must surely be the most irritating character in the history of children's literature. Not because she's relentlessly optimistic (I don't mind that), but because she's completely obtuse. When she's talking, she doesn't even notice other people are trying to talk to her.
    Man Clearly in Pain With Broken Leg: "Can you go fetch help?"
    Pollyanna: Sits down and prepares to talk for all of eternity.
  • I lost all faith in this book during the last chapter. It's like Porter just gave up. Need to sum up months worth of story without writing more than a couple of pages? Have your character write a letter to someone in which she explains things the recipient of the letter would already know, having been there at the time the events happened.
  • The Glad Game is a gimmick, but I want to figure out how to trick the sad sacks I eat lunch with to play it. It would be nice to hear them find something good for a change, instead of always looking for something to complain about. Seriously, if it's sunny they complain it hasn't rained recently; if it's raining they complain that things will get wet. Just find something - anything - to be glad about, please!

Fiction, author I haven't read before, eBook (also, recording!)


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