Monday, December 10, 2012

Moving time!

by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

Well, it's officially moving time and for the second time in two years the Langley-Hawthorne's are moving continents. This time we're headed from Melbourne, Australia to Denver, Colorado and I can tell you that moving (especially when combined with the end of the school year, my twins' 8th birthday as well as Christmas) can be rather stressful! But as we hang on in there, I've been enjoying seeing all the 'top 10 lists' that inevitably emerge at this time of year.

It felt strange, however, watching a recent countdown of the 'Top 10 Australian books to read before you die', not because I hadn't read most of them (I had - forced to at school!) but because I realized how disconnected I feel to many of these so called 'classics'. Even the more recent books, like top-ranked Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, failed to resonate with me and I had to wonder why. Was it because I was just too dim-witted to 'get' these books or did it run deeper than that? Am I just not Australian enough to appreciate them?

So have any of you felt the same level of disconnection from your own country's 'must read' lists? If you had a 'top 10 books to read before you die', what book would be at the top? Do you feel a level of kinship to your own country's writers and books or does that rarely enter into the equation for you?

19 comments:

  1. Welcome to Colorado,Clare. Hopefully we'll have a little snow and white capped mountains to greet you. I moved out of Denver years ago and prefer the mountain life, but Denver has great advantages too.

    I feel a disconnect from many books that make the "Top 10" regardless of country affiliation. Many of them, in the name of literary greatness,seem more concerned with unique style than with solid story.

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    1. Thanks Julie - looking forward to a white Christmas:) (hopefully).

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  2. I feel a disconnect with a lot of books not because of country of origin but because most writers tend to feel a novel must have a romance to be interesting. I don't agree. But I'm waaaaaaay outnumbered.

    That aside, I probably lean toward books of my own countrymen, but that's not necessarily because they are from here but writing about places and times that I love in my country (since historical is my first choice for reading). In any case, what I choose as my top 10 would be a far cry from others anyway. I've read things like War & Peace etc, and I appreciate them for what they are, but that doesn't make them a top 10.

    I'll still take Zane Grey or Nancy Turner over anyone else.

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    1. At least you've read War and Peace... (I haven't!)

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  3. I think Americans tend to be ethnocentric in many ways (sports and movies come to mind), but not so much perhaps when it comes to literature. Most of the "great works" we're assigned to read in school come from other cultures (and eras). When it comes to popular fiction, I think we've also learned to jump borders without thinking twice. Stieg Larsson, anyone?

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    1. I am one of the three people on earth who didn't like the Stieg books. Altho it was kinda fun to go to Sweden. Hadn't been there since Smilla's Sense of Snow.

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    2. Interestingly for many years Australians were very 'anti' their own literature (many books are still largely ignored) so it's great that this appears to be changing. One surprise for me on the top 10 list was The Book Thief - I didn't realize it was written by an Australian and given the subject matter it had only a tenuous link to Australia anyway.

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  4. "Ethnocentric!" Us? Are you kidding? I thought we invented it, along with recycling, apple pie and everything else.

    Let us know how Denver works out for you, given the altitude and the cold. Welcome to the Rocky Mountain High - ess legal now. Wish I could see your face, when you drink your first Coors beer.

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    1. My husband did an assignment in Denver a few years ago so I had my first Coors after the tour:)!

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  5. I don't envy anyone moving. Moving a book collection sucks boulders.

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    1. Yes, my books will take up half the shipping container I fear!

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  6. I tend to read a lot of different countries books. I use a place's fiction as a guide book to get to know the area while I'm there. In this regard, I've found some truly wonderful books that I've never seen on any top ten lists but are worthy of a look.

    Some of my favorites...

    The Storyteller of Marrakesh - Joydeep Roy-Bhattacharya
    Kingdom of Strangers - Zoe Ferraris
    Pomegranate Soup - Marsha Mehran
    The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon
    Frangipani - CĂ©lestine Hitiura Vaite
    Rose en Marche - Jamie Ivey

    Out of curiosity, what was on the Top Ten in Australia?

    Victoria Allman
    author of: SEAsoned: A Chef's Journey with Her Captain

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    1. I loved The Shadow of the Wind! The top 10 included Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (a book I do love), A Fortunate Life by Albert Facey (dull...), The Magic Pudding by Norman Lindsay (not one I loved as a child), The Harp in the South by Ruth Park (a forced school read for me), The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (a controversial book I loathed) and Cloudstreet by Tim Winton. Also on list was The Power of One which always struck me as a book about South Africa but Bryce Courtenay did live in Australia (he died very recently). Two books that I haven't read on the top 10 list were the Secret River by Kate Grenville and Jasper Jones (I forget author of this, sorry).

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  7. I feel neither connected nor disconnected to novels based on national origin. I like to read books by authors from all over. This year alone I've read books from Japan, Norway, Scotand, Ireland, France and probably a few places I'm not thinking of off the top of my head as well as plenty of books by Americans. I like to get into the heads, so to speak, of other cultures.

    I think KL is onto something about Americans not being ethnocentric re: books because so many works assigned in school were from elsewhere. Indeed, the way I recall it was as if the only great literature produced came from Europe, especially England and France. Twain, Hemingway and Fizgerald might be ok, but only because they were dead, and anyway they still couldn't compete with the dead Brits.

    I don't buy into that belief, but that was the impression I got in school.

    PJ - I am one of the other two people on the planet who couldn't stand Stief Larso. I loved the original Swedish movie of TGWTDT, but the book was unbearable. I never attempted to read books 2 and 3.

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    1. Yes, at school we got a similar impression re: great literature coming from Europe and I have to admit the Australian books that were often allocated were very dull in comparison. I hope that's changed! I love reading books about all sorts of different cultures, but I've always found Australia a hard culture to connect to in literature. Not sure why.

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  8. I tend to connect with a lot of books from a lot of backgrounds and nationalities. But seldom are they the books that critics rave about or the ones that are assigned in schools.

    More often than not I find a deeper connection with historical fiction from the UK than most US writers. I just last week finished narrating "The Winter Prince" by Elizabeth Wein and myself more immersed in the story and setting in the setting of the Mercian plane with Artos and Medraut than in many of the American books I've narrated. I get a similar feeling of familiarity when reading works by Bernard Cornwell. I think it may have to do with the processes of one's mind.

    Also when the stories are plot driven action stories it is easy to connect, but when they are of a too literary bent with little focus on plot and little action occurring I drift and lose interest quickly.

    hrm....now that I've stated it I see that I may look like just another hairy chested knuckle dragger when it comes to my reading choices.

    well that's fine with me, as I am indeed a hairy chested knuckle dragger and am happy to continue to be so.

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  9. Basil - the Winter Prince sounds great. I love Bernard Cornwall - I might have to check this out. I'm also a closet Brit Lit lover so maybe that's part of my problem:)

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  10. Wow, then I am the third person who would rather take a beating than read a Stieg book!

    I don't feel so much of a disconnect with the so-called classics as I really just don't care for them. They don't mean anything to me.

    However, when they connect, they connect deep. I've road-tripped Route 66 twice, both times accompanied by my trusty copy of "The Grapes of Wrath." I read "The Jungle" when I lived just south of Chicago. "The Wizard of Oz" is easy. I live in Kansas and have a small black dog.

    However, as well read as I am, I greatly and deeply thank Peter Jackson for the Lord of the Rings trilogy, so I didn't have to read Tolkien.

    Welcome (back) to the US! Terri

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  11. Likely too late to be read but perhaps my subsequent confession might go by unnoticed.

    I'm American but author's country of origin is meaningless to me. I've recently been enjoying Nesbo (? Swede)- I really like Indriadson (Iceland) - There is a New Zealand dude who is freaky good (and freaky amazing in how he gets into the psychotic mind - blocking on his name - do you know the Kiwi i'm referencing?), I am a huge fan of Deon Meyers (S. African - try him if you have not) - the brilliant new Canadian Chevy Stevens and many more. Good is good wherever it comes from!
    My secret confession - I read him when he first came out many years ago - got through a few with +/- interest then quit. Recently have tried him again a couple of times due to the incredible success of his series. Wanting otherwise I could not help but find the credibility of character and plot lines beyond acceptance. I know there must be something wrong with me (and I'm sure he's very concerned about my impression). And i feel shame but I will publicly admit that I do not enjoy the Lee Child Jack Reacher series!
    if anyone has a cure please let me know. I feel that I may be the only person on the planet that feels as I do.

    Good luck in Denver - the Rockies are another of the miracles that we are blessed with in the USA.

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