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Reading Challenge (21 in 2021) - some reviews

Well, 2021 is halfway through - have you read any books as part of our Read 21 in 2021 Reading Challenge?

There's plenty of time to get stuck into it (you only need to read 21 books, after all - and it's highly likely some of the books you've already read this year count towards the challenge).

As you may recall, the challenge was to read a book from each of the following categories (you can read them in any order, and you get to decide how a book meets that category):

  1. A book with a colour in the title
  2. A book with a place in the title
  3. A book by an Indigenous/First Nations author from the country of your birth
  4. A book by an Indigenous/First Nations author from a country you'd like to visit
  5. A book in a genre you don’t normally read
  6. A book that is less than 100 pages
  7. A book that is more than 300 pages
  8. A book from a country in the Commonwealth that isn’t Australia or the UK.
  9. A book featuring an LGBTQ+ character
  10. A book set in a time from before you were born
  11. A book about a book
  12. A book you read more than 10 years ago
  13. A book recommended by a friend
  14. A book recommended by a stranger
  15. A published play
  16. A collection of poems
  17. A collection of essays
  18. A collection of short stories
  19. A biography or autobiography
  20. A self-help book
  21.  A book that tells you how to do or make something

Here are some reviews from books read by us (and a visiting practicum student) as part of the challenge:

Christia Heath read The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

(A book with a colour in the title)

There’s something about FNQ on an overcast day with its densely jungled mountains shrouded in low lying cloud that makes me want to curl up with a nice bit of turn-of-the-century Gothic horror. The Yellow Wallpaper, by Charlotte Perkins Gilman fits the bill perfectly. It’s an 1892 novella that follows a woman’s slow descent into madness as she endures a period of confinement to treat her anxiety and depression soon after the birth of her child.

Gilman was among the first to call for a reallocation of domestic and child rearing responsibilities, arguing that contemporary ideas of womanhood and motherhood were over-romanticised and confining.  The novella, in part, reflects her lived experience. Gilman suffered from both postpartum depression on the birth of her first child and the rest cure prescribed thereafter.

This book is a short bite of deliciously grotesque imagery derived mostly from the garish yellow wallpaper that dominates the prison-like room of the narrator. The pattern “lolls like a broken neck” with “strangled heads and bulbous eyes” staring out at you. The evocations of strangulation and suffocation resonate in the #metoo era, when we are again calling into question societies’ tendencies to trivialise or suppress female voices and their lived experiences.  

Most of all though, it’s a good, mildly creepy, one cuppa read that leaves you wanting to cancel your evening plans and settle in a comfy chair with a stack of similar books for as long as the skies stay grey.

Samantha Baxter read One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey. 

(A book recommended by a friend)

This is one of those books I’ve heard about a million time but have never read, I’ve never even seen the movie! I am glad I finally picked it up, after a conversation about various classic titles with a friend. 

The setting is a mental asylum – a modern one of the time – where the male patients are held under the thumb of Nurse Ratched, who has apparently unlimited power and control over her ward and the hospital in general. The strict routine is broken with the arrival of the larger than life con-man Randle McMurphy, who inspires the patients to stand up for themselves, although his intentions are anything but altruistic, he represents possibilities that the worn down men of the ward had forgotten. 

It is the timeless struggle of the individual against the organisation. With greater themes around human dignity, agency, and power.

It is a fairly straight forward read, the story is simple, but it is also a difficult read when you keep in mind the truth it represents. 

The narrator is ‘Chief’ Bromden, and the story is told from his point of view, which includes moments of delusion wherein the reader must decide what is really happening and what is a product of his paranoia. But throughout there are strong moments of lucidity, and it is clear that chief is an astute individual despite his illness. 

I really felt for the characters and their stories. Every one of the patients felt like a real fleshed out person, however the staff sometimes felt like caricatures – which makes sense given Chief's view of them as cogs in a machine (the Combine).

The story is dark in places, but there is an underlying hopefulness which gave the ending a bitter sweet flair.  I think I will take a look at the movie next (which we also have on DVD)

Sharon Bryan read Close Range: Wyoming Stories, by Annie Proulx.

(A book featuring an LGBTQ+ character)

You may have heard of the short story "Brokeback Mountain". Actually, you're probably more likely to have heard of the movie Brokeback Mountain, starring Heath Leger (which we also have). Well, that was based on the short story (originally appearing in The New Yorker) by Annie Proulx. The story and the movie are among the seminal texts in bringing LGBTQ+ stories into the mainstream and, when the movie came out in 1997, for many people it was their first encounter with a "gay love story". I finally got around to watching the movie about a year ago, and I was interested to read the original story. 

The version of the story published in Close Range isn't quite the original (apparently it was expanded after the New Yorker version). I was really struck with how close the movie stayed to the story. Everything that is in the story made it to the movie, and only a few extra scenes were added to the film. However, I have to say I'm glad that I had seen the movie first. The story was written with a particular voice and turn of phrase that I couldn't quite sink into, and there were a number of passages I would have found hard going if I hadn't already seen those scenes.

The other stories in the book didn't have that advantage - and I struggled with them. I pushed my way through a few before deciding that life was too short for this. I'm not the kind of reader who likes to wrestle with a book when I have so many other things on my TBR pile.

It may be your cup of tea. Perhaps, in another time, it would be mine. The stories are very well crafted and, if you catch the fire Proulx is stoking, I expect you'll find yourself thoroughly immersed in this nook of the world. Plenty of other people have been, which is why Proulx wrote another volume of Wyoming stories.


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