The Thrifty Fictionista Is Cranky

Readers, the Thrifty Fictionista is cranky.

Seriously cranky.

Not with herself, nor with anyone else currently living, but with Thomas Hardy — who died almost 100 years ago.

Why? I hear you ask.

The answer is simple: I have just finished reading Hardy’s Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and the whole book made me fed up and furious.

I never even planned to read Tess of the D’Urbervilles, but it turned up in one of those brilliant bargain boxes of books the Thrifty Ficionista falls prey to every now and then, this time a Young Adult collection purchased for my elder daughter. I nabbed Tess before she got hold of it, thinking it would be an entertaining read — which, for the most part, it was — but I was not prepared for how angry the novel would make me.

Especially the ending.

Without spoiling the story (or its ending) for anyone who has not yet read it, Tess of the D’Urbervilles is a novel exposing the sexual hypocrisy, entrenched misogyny, and overbearing patriarchy of the period in which it was written. Even though the book was first published in 1891, many of the themes and abhorrent behaviours depicted in it remain all too relevant today — and this realisation was a substantial contributor to the Thrifty Fictionista’s current crankiness.

I’m now faced with a dilemma: do I give the book back to my (early teenaged) daughter to read or not? Would she find some of the characters’ conduct as offensive as I did? Would she dismiss the behaviour I found so repellent as simply being fusty and of its time, or would she also recognise it — repackaged and more than likely digitised and/or broadcast — in her own experiences of the current century?

I can only imagine, given she has been raised by me, that my daughter would respond to Tess of the D’Urbervilles in a similar fashion to the Thrifty Fictionista. But does she really need to read a fictional account of how lousy things were for women back in the day? Or am I better off giving her books like Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own or Glennon Doyle’s Untamed, which may give her the headspace and the tools to forge her own way as a woman in the world?

You see, getting cranky is a good thing.

It might make the Thrifty Fictionista uncomfortable, but it also makes her think.

Hard.

About what’s important. About what influences — fictional, historical or otherwise — I want my daughters to be exposed to. Even about the possible effects of reading the works of a novelist whose female characters generally appear to be subject to fates they can neither change nor challenge.

Honestly, I want my kids to get cranky if they read books like Tess of the D’Urbervilles.

But — more significantly — I want them to focus on becoming the incredible human beings, and not being circumscribed by history or sex or gender or labels of any kind.

Most importantly, I want my daughters to understand life as Glennon Doyle describes it:

I am a human being, meant to be in perpetual becoming. If I am living bravely, my entire life will become a million deaths and rebirths. My goal is not to remain the same but to live in such a way that each day, year, moment, relationship, conversation and crisis is the material I use to become a truer, more beautiful version of myself.

So: thank you, Thomas Hardy.

The Thrifty Fictionista read your book and is cranky.

But she’s also a whole lot clearer on what she wants for herself and for her children.

2018: The Year in Books

OK folks…it’s that time of year when I present my top fives for 2018.

Today it’s books! So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are Blue Jai’s Top 5 Books for 2018:

1. Boy Swallows Universe (2018) by Trent Dalton

Boy swallows universeYour end is a dead blue wren…

For me, it’s as unforgettable a first line as any of the great first lines in literary history: Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita. I’ve already written a tiny bit about this book, which has become my new Favourite Book of All Time. Really. It’s a rollicking good read and exceptionally well written, with the added (and almost unbelievable) bonus of being based on real events from Trent Dalton’s childhood. There is something inherently Australian about this debut novel: Dalton captures the heat and humidity of living on the outskirts of Brisbane, and all that simmers beneath.

If you’ve read it already, I can highly recommend his Conversation with Richard Fidler about writing the novel. If you haven’t read it, I’m not going to say any more…other than to say I, quite obviously, recommend you get your hand on a copy of this and — hopefully — enjoy it as much as I did.

2. Pachinko (2017) by Min Jin Lee

PachinkoThis sprawling family saga had me captivated from the start. Set in Korea and Japan in the early decades of last century, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is packed full of detail and emotion. Depicting a way of life and period of history I knew little about, I was swept up in the story of Sunja and her descendants. I found Lee’s treatment of the strange limbo occupied by the Koreans who moved to Japan, even after several generations, interesting and moving.

If you’re after a read that will deposit you in a foreign land and make you feel like you can’t leave until you know what’s happened to all the main characters, this is the book for you.

3. Danger Music (2017) by Eddie Ayres

danger musicThis autobiographical tale of teaching cello to children in wartorn Afghanistan follows Ayres’ earlier book, Cadence, which was written while he was still known as Emma Ayres, the hugely popular host of ABC Classic FM’s Breakfast program (and a particular family favourite of ours).

Ayres’ story of self-discovery, set admist the chaos of Kabul and the challenges of teaching children who deal every day with the twin threats of violence and loss, is a painfully but beautifully honest account of his transition to becoming the man he always was inside. The playlist at the end of the book is an added bonus for any music lover, but this book has something for everyone.

4. Bridge of Clay (2018) by Markus Zusak

bridge of clayOh, how long we all have waited for this book?! Not nearly as long as Zusak himself who, after the phenomenal success of The Book Thief, wrote and rewrote Bridge of Clay for years until he finally reached a point where he could release into our hands.

I was conscious, at different points of reading this brilliant novel, that each and every word was precisely chosen and placed…but that in no way detracted from the tale and my emotional investment in it. This was a book I tried to read slowly, to savour the writing, the characters, the whole shebang — but partway through I gave in and finished the rest of the book in one go, unable to resist the pull of the plot. This is a superbly crafted novel that is well worth your time, and one I spent days thinking about after I’d finished it.

5. Becoming (2018) by Michelle Obama

becomingBecoming was always going to be a global blockbuster: Michelle Obama is someone many of us admire want to know more about. Here, in her own words, is Obama’s story of her upbringing, her education, her marriage, and her time in the public eye as First Lady of the United States.

It’s forthright. It’s interesting. It’s well-written. And as soon as I finished it, I was more than happy to pass it on to my elder daughter, who (despite being in primary school) devoured it as quickly as I did and enjoyed it just as much. If you’re after an autobiography to read this summer, not to mention a reminder of a time when the highest offices of one of our most powerful allies were not reduced to chaos and trivialising tweets, this is well worth a look.

Honourable mentions this year go to Ian’ McEwan’s Solar (2010), which may well be the most darkly humourous novel I have ever read, and Muhsin Al-Ramli’s haunting and heartbreaking book The President’s Gardens (originally published in Arabic in 2012) which, like Pachinko, took me to a place in time I have had little experience with but for which I now have a much deeper appreciation.

I also thorougly enjoyed Ailsa Piper’s travelogue Sinning Across Spain (2017), Helen Russell’s occasionally hilarious The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (2016) and delighted in Stephen Fry’s Mythos (2018), his elegant and downright funny retelling of the Greek Myths.

So there you have it! Hopefully there is something for everyone here…I’d love to know what you think and what you’ve read this year, so get in touch via the comments if you think I’ve missed one of your standout books for 2018.

It’s summer here, and that means time for books!