Ten from Ten: favourite books

Last week my friend Sharn from Family History 4 U, issued a challenge on Facebook to list ten books which have affected my life. Others seemed to list their 10 easily while I was first presented with a blank mind, followed by puzzlement over which to choose.

In the end my solution was to think of books which take me back to the time or place where I read them, or which played an important role in a phase of my life. I’ve highlighted those that I think have played a truly critical role in my life or my understanding of it. Judy Webster talked about not over-thinking her list, something I surely haven’t managed. I could blame it on having time during a long flight but that wouldn’t really be true…I just hate being pinned down to a limited choice. I could equally well nominate dozens of others.

So here is my ten from ten list:

1: Childhood

The Heidi series (i) (Johanna Spyri). I loved being able to imagine life on the hills with grandfather, the simplicity and his gruffness.

The Girls’ Own annuals and similar that I got each Christmas, if I was lucky. Actually I was recently given two early-edition annuals by one of my mother’s friends.

Pestering Mum and Dad for the Reader’s Digest book on Animals which of course I got as a birthday gift, but for which I can’t find the title right now.

2: The teen years

The beautiful book I bought with my shell cataloguing prize money.

The beautiful book I bought with my shell cataloguing prize money.

Michel Quoist’s  Prayers of LifeThe Ugly American (Burdick & Lederer); The Last Blue Sea (ii) (David Forrest aka David Denholm); Animal Farm (George Orwell); For the Term of his Natural Life (Marcus Clarke).

Shells of the Western Pacific (iii) (Testuaki Kira) which I purchased with the prize I won in the Queensland Science Competition for my catalogued shell collection.

The summer of Dickens when I read all of Charles Dickens’ books. What do I remember? Not a lot.

3: Personal interests

My God, it’s a woman (Nancy Bird), a gift from a colleague who knew about my enthusiasm for, and interest in, flying.

The Right Stuff (Tom Wolfe): the story of the test pilots and astronauts.

Landscape Photography (Gene Thornton), Mountain Light (Galen Rowell) and anything by Ken Duncan (iv), an inspirational photographer.

ken duncan

4: Humour

Bill Bryson’s Neither here nor there. I vividly remember reading this book one Australia Day long weekend at Rainbow Beach and driving DD#3 crazy with my laughter as she tried to nap. His Down Under book is equally funny, especially on the topic of the Northern Territory and Darwin.

Dragged Screaming to Paradise (Suzanne Spunner) which I read soon after I arrived in Darwin and which echoed so many of my own experiences. I laughed and laughed.

5: Papua New Guinea

Territory Kids (Genevieve Rogers) about what it was like to grow up in the Territory of Papua New Guinea, giving me a better understanding of my husband’s early years.

A suite of photo books on PNG (v) which were gifts from my future husband as an introduction to my new life, and any of James Sinclair’s books on PNG.

6: Travel

many people comeMr Cassmob and I shared an obsession with Mount Everest for many years despite being totally unfit and also in my case, having a fear of heights. We had an extensive collection of books of which I’ve chosen Many people come looking, looking (Galen Rowell) for the story of the people, and an expedition. Everest the Hard Way (vi) and other books by Chris Bonnington.

84 Charing Cross Road (Helene Hanff) remains a favourite book, and movie, for the sheer pleasure of reading it and for the implicit warning to prioritise our bucket lists. I have re-read this book many times and enjoy it each and every time, and always want to shout at her “just go!!”

7: Writing: letters and books

Searching for The Secret River (vii) (Kate Grenville). I loved how she described hunting down her ancestor’s biographical information while denying she was a family historian of the stereotypical type. It also taught me just how much work goes into writing a book and the varied sources of inspiration.searching_for_the_secret_river

8: Social Issues

Jack London’s People of the Abyss (viii) pulled me up short when I read it in Denpasar airport one year. The effect of one group’s “wants” on the abilities of other’s survival. The perilousness of life for working-class people, a group to which many of our ancestors belonged.

9: Work/Life

Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits which made a huge impact on me.

Gifts Differing (ix) (Isabel Briggs Myers) which provides a framework for understanding different personality types and traits.

10: Family History

book cover scanAustralian Pioneer Women (Eve Pownall) and Nick Vine Hall’s Tracing your Family History in Australia, the first books I was given as I started my family history in 1986. Who would have known the journey that was ahead of me.

The Voyage of their Life (Diane Armstrong) because it confirmed for me that there was merit in tracing emigrants.

My book Grassroots Queenslanders: the Kunkel Family (x) for which I won a couple of prizes. Cheeky to include it here, but publishing this family history was a personal high and the feedback from family was precious.

You might be interested in a blog post I wrote some time ago about my lifelong addiction to books or my response to Geniaus’s Reader Geneame. My Bewitched by Books blog which has been languishing for some time but there are a few reviews on it. Not that I haven’t been reading plenty of books but unfortunately I’ve spread myself a bit thin on the ground with other activities.

What books have had a formative effect on your life? Or which books stand out in your memory for the time when you read them?

 

Sepia Saturday 210: Award-winning relatives

This week’s Sepia Saturday focuses on old books and the treasures (photographic or otherwise) found in them.Sepia Saturday 210

I don’t think I’ve ever found photos tucked away in old books but we did find a group photo behind another picture from my Grandparents’ house and I talked about that in my Moustaches and Mystery post recently.

Instead I thought I’d share a few book inscriptions with you. Over the past year I’ve acquired some of the family’s old books, including my childhood books, thanks to Mum’s move to an independent retirement unit.

Book inscriptions can be interesting I think as they reveal otherwise hidden parts of an ancestor’s or relative’s life. Back in the days when books were expensive and only rarely bought by families who weren’t affluent, they were often gifts or even school prizes.

Two of the books I have included prizes awarded to family members. One was for Mr Cassmob’s grandmother, Katie McKenna, for writing in 1901.

Katie McKenna

Another was for my grandmother’s brother, Duncan McCorkindale, who was awarded the prize for passing second stage physiology and physical geography in his Glasgow school.

Duncan McCorkindale

In fact it was something about Duncan that was one of the few things I found tucked away in a bible: the notice of his rather gruesome death in Sydney. Which makes me realise that I’ve never written about that story, or his role in the building of the nation’s capital, Canberra. I need to put that on my blog post list.Irish book

I’m curious who this book belonged to as there’s no inscription, and no publication date. My best guess is that it belonged to my Irish grandfather or one of his children.

A while ago I wrote about a prize that my grandfather’s young brother had won, but I’ve no idea what his prize was. I wonder if it too was a book.

Have you found prize inscriptions in books you’ve inherited, either from your family or a used-book store?

To read the stories other Sepians have submitted this week you can click here.

Running Writing Heirlooms

We all know the thrill of seeing an ancestor’s signature for the first time. Somehow it makes them seem that much closer to us.

P1190433In her Heirlooms podcast Maria (from Genies Down Under) suggests leaving a sample of your handwriting for descendants, perhaps even some of your family history. Quite honestly this would be a challenge beyond palaeography with some of my notes <smile>. In fact future readers may wonder if it was encrypted.

There’s increasing discussion that we are losing our familiarity with “running writing”, both reading and writing it, that we always type and never write. Is that true for you? Yes I certainly prefer to type stories or family history, not just for legibility but also so it can be stored digitally. Also because these days I think through my fingers, if that makes sense, and my writing can’t keep up. Perhaps we should also be storing a digital copy of something we’ve handwritten. And while we’re at it, why not save a voice recording?

Maybe it’s my career in administration but I have no problem recognising who wrote what annotation on a file (provided I’ve seen their writing before). I can almost always tell who a letter or card comes from without cheating and looking at the back, or opening it first.

How about you? Do you still send snail mail letters, cards or notes? Do you recognise your friends’ or family’s writing? If the answers are a resounding “no” perhaps it’s a resolution for 2013 to occasionally revert to the old ways and use non-digital social media. After all one day someone may think that card is an heirloom. What do you think?

By the way I’ve started another blog (yes, mad I know!) called Bewitched by Books. It’s not rocket science to figure out its content so if you’re interested why not pop over and have a look. Today’s post is a bit of 1950s fun which will be of interest to those with an interest in the more recent “olden days”, and life in our youth, well mine anyway.

Genre Favourites Blogfest

The other day I read about the Genre Favourites (and Guilty Pleasures) Blogfest on the L’Aussie Writer Blog. It sounded like a bit of fun so I thought, why not join in? So here are my responses.

MOVIES

One of my favourite movies ever is Out of Africa: the costuming, the scenery, the interaction with the Africans. The landscape is so theatrical and a character in the story. I would love to soar above the landscape in a hot air balloon, perhaps the closest to what they saw in the old bi-plane. A dream for 2013.

Hot air balloons over the Masai Mara, Kenya. Image Wikipedia commons.

For me it’s not the love interest that is the tear-jerker element in Out of Africa. In the Ladies’ Room afterwards, all the women were crying over Robert Redford’s death and talking about it. I was crying for the servant, who loyally and futilely waited for her to send for him. It’s always seemed to me like a betrayal of sorts.

My guilty pleasure is rom-coms among which You’ve Got Mail stands out. At the time I harboured a secret ambition to own a bookstore: the movie convinced me that wasn’t such a great idea, and given the virtual world of bookshops these days that was probably no bad thing. Dream bombed!

BOOKS

Setting aside my devotion to historical books (not fiction), I’m a big crime novel reader, a habit that goes way back into childhood with the Trixie Belden books.

I suffer from author-addiction: devouring each book my favourite authors publish and  waiting anxiously for their next story. Don’t you hate it when a favourite author is inconsiderate enough to die on you leaving you with no hope of further entertainment….inconvenient for them too of course!

Perhaps my favourite crime author is Michael Connelly and his Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch character. Bosch, the LA homicide detective, has such commitment and grittiness which make the stories realistic as do his human weaknesses.

My weakness for crime pours over into TV as well where there’s nothing better than a good crime series on a Friday night, especially in those weeks when work’s been a bit of a pain. Again the grittier the better and so Taggart has to be a favourite with its Glaswegian accents and attitudes.

MUSIC

Bagpipes in my blood. Celtic music (Scottish or Irish) is my fave.

It’s a toss up this one but since I have to choose I’ll go with Celtic music, and I’m a big fan of Mary Black. If you’re interested in more of my music habits you can check out the Merry Month of May Music Meme we had earlier this year.

Guilty pleasure in music is probably country music which we mostly listen to while driving long distances –it seems to fit with the locale.

Thanks to Ninja Captain Alex for inventing this blogfest.

 

Library Loot: Migration experiences and learning Gaelic

Once again I’m following in the footsteps of Julie from Angler’s Rest and reporting in on my recent Library Loot.

When I pick books up from the library I’m less selective than when I’m splashing my own cash: I figure that I can try something new and even if I’m not rapt in it, then it doesn’t really matter. On the other hand sometimes I get lucky and discover something that really appeals to me.

Two books from the Palmerston Library which I’ve read recently  might be of some interest to my readers and fellow family history junkies.

Titanic Lives

Titanic Lives may seem like it will be yet another beat-up about the well-known sinking of the Titanic, but it actually offers a much deeper perspective.  The author, Richard Davenport-Hines, is an historian and biographer and his skills shine through as he writes about how the passengers on Titanic, and their lives, were a microcosm of, and reflection of, life in the era. He also documents the sources behind his story. What I most liked about the book is that it personalises the saved and the lost: they become real people not just “steerage” or “rich”. I wasn’t especially interested in the wealthy Astors, Wideners or Guggenheims but there were riches indeed in the stories of those in 2nd class or steerage/3rd class passengers.

If your ancestors emigrated in this time frame (early 20th century) there is much in this book to illuminate your ancestor’s travel and migration experience as well as the challenges of gaining entry to the USA through Ellis Island. The author also devotes a chapter to the crew of the Titanic, providing great insights into the working lives, and safety hazards, of the merchant seaman. As I have several of these in my family this chapter was very interesting on the responsibilities of stewards and firemen. Admittedly my ancestors were working on rather less glamorous ships than the Titanic but nonetheless there’s useful information there.  I found this book very interesting and learnt a good deal from it. This is not just another reiteration of the story of a major tragedy.

Home with Alice: A Journey in Gaelic Ireland

This book might be of interest to my readers who are keen Irish researchers with its exploration of Gaelic-speaking Ireland and the role, and threats to long-term survival, of the language.

When I picked the book up at the library I thought it might be another version of Brigid by Australian author, Jill Blee, which I had enjoyed for its focus on Co Clare. In fact this story had little in common with Brigid, despite the nominal role of the author’s aunt Alice in his journeying to Ireland’s Gaeltacht districts. I personally found Alice’s interventions contrived and unnecessary other than to explain the author’s initial decision to learn Irish.

Author Steve Fallon is a journalist and, inter alia, a travel writer for Lonely Planet, and at times the book takes on the tenor of a guide book. However I enjoyed learning more about the challenges of Irish as a language, especially as at one point I’d thought of learning it myself.  If anything the book convinced me this was a delusional aspiration due to the language’s complexity. I learnt that there were differences between the various dialects within the Gaeltacht regions, the new acceptance of Irish as a fashionable language with the rise of the Celtic Tiger, and the invasiveness of English into the Gaelic expressions.

It’s always a pleasure, too, reading a book which describes places you may have visited so that you can visualise where he’s talking about, whether Connemara, Kerry or Donegal. The impact of Gaelic television and radio also reminded me of the significance of Australia’s own ethnic broadcaster, SBS.

I do find the Irish-American tendency to identify as “Irish” a bit strange. While I too have an Irish passport like the author, and have many branches of Irish ancestry as well as a love of Ireland, my mongrel Australian ancestry means I feel it would be inaccurate and presumptuous to call myself Irish. Apart from the significance of the Catholic church to Irish emigrants in both countries, the experience of being a descendant of Irish emigrants in Australia seems to me to be quite different from that in “America”.

Paris in July 2012 and French-themed novels

It’s ironic that July is a Francophile’s delight with the Paris in July 2012 series hosted by Karen from BookBath and Tamara from Thyme for Tea. Entirely coincidentally I’ve been reading books with French themes this month. It all started with in-flight reading on the 3 ½ hour flight from Brisbane to Darwin in early July.  I’d downloaded the new book by Joanne Harris, Peaches for Monsieur Le Curé as it caught my eye in a bookshop. I hadn’t read Chocolat (or seen the movie) which perhaps would have added to the back story in some of the book but nonetheless I thoroughly enjoyed reading about the challenges of life as a small French village comes to term with its immigrant Muslim neighbours.

Taken with the writing style I looked in the local library for Chocolat but it was already out on loan so I settled for two other Joanne Harris books: Five Quarters of the Orange and Coastliners.  After devouring these I borrowed Holy Fools which hasn’t engaged me as yet.

The three books I’ve read had some commonalities:

  • Life in small communities and the tensions and long-standing personal histories and feuds (intriguing but it did make me glad I hadn’t lived in a small community).
  • A central heroine whose central role has a significant impact on the community.
  • Hidden stories and inter-linkages that became clearer throughout the books or in the dénouement.
  • The impact of parenting, good or poor.

While some of the story lines might stretch credibility the books were very readable and I enjoyed them a lot, though I was aghast at how Framboise, an elderly widow when we first meet her in Five Quarters, determinedly abused her mother’s illness and headaches for her own interests as a young girl in the same village.

Perhaps not the most profound books I’ve read, but enjoyable reading just the same, and nicely fitting this month’s emphasis on any/all things French.

Beyond the Internet: Week 30 Books

Beyond the Internet

This is Week 30 in my Beyond the Internet series in which I explore the sources of information beyond our computer screens and the topic is BOOKS. Please do join in and write comments or posts on special discoveries you’ve made with books.

After talking about specialised libraries like the government or university special collections, perhaps it seems self-evident to talk about books.

Books are not only an absolute joy to me, but a total necessity to my family history. Like most of us I started out with the “How to” books about family history. The first Xmas after I started my research my gifts included Nick Vine Hall’s then-benchmark book Tracing your family history in Australia and Australian Pioneer Women by Eve Pownall. Perhaps the most crucial how-to book I acquired, in 1992, was a little volume entitled the Irish Roots Guideby Tony McCarthy, with its tip-off regarding Griffith Valuation revisions/cancellations.

The (mostly) Irish migration corner of my library.

As our research progresses though, we need to learn more about the community, national or international contexts within which our ancestors lived. Where better to turn than the diverse collections in libraries? The rarer books may be tucked away in the special collections and increasingly the older books may be available online through Google Booksbut there’s a wealth of resources on the shelves as well, though you may need to read them in the library rather than borrow them. If you’re as addicted as I am, your own collection may keep growing invasively until your normal reading books have to give way to provide space.

Not to forget the Scots!

At this point of your learning you’re not really looking for your family names (though finding them is always fun!). What you’re doing is building up your understanding of what was happening when and where they lived.

Your local reference library (or even just your local borrowing library) may have some great resources for this but don’t forget that within Australia you can order a book (or indeed a microfilm) into your local library on an inter-library loan from another library or the National Library of Australia.  This really is a great opportunity and well worth taking advantage of …if only we could have a coffee while we read J You can also sign up for a library card with the National Library of Australia and gain access to the electronic collections –but more on that next week.

There are a number of ways to find books that might be useful to your research:

  • Search the online catalogue by keyword (pubs, mariners, Germans, Irish migration, emigration, specific places) to see what comes up.
  • As you read, keep an eye out for the references other researchers use: these will give you further clues to follow up.
  • Check out the bibliographies in relevant books for new reading material or even reference to  primary records previously unknown to you.
  • Buddy up with other geneamates via LibraryThing and see what their reading lists include.
  • Have a look at their blogs to see if they have a books reference tab (mine’s there but the list is the tip of the iceberg.
  • Keep an eye out on blogs for genealogy book reviews.
  • Don’t forget that historical fiction might also give you a feel for the life and times of your ancestors.

Books really are golden treasure for our research and family stories. Have you struck gold in your reading?

Insights into Australia: a book list

An American genea-mate asked me for recommendations of fictional books set in Australia as a way of getting to know a bit more about Australia, and I guess her people. This is my list of possible options though of course one could go on adding books indefinitely. Also a lot depends on whether the focus is to be modern life, or a story in an historical setting, as well as personal style preferences.

Mary Durack: Kings in Grass Castles (An older story, largely fact, though not entirely accurate in places due to family bias. A good yarn telling the story of an Irish family in the 1850s+. They became a family dynasty in Queensland, Northern Territory and Western Australia.)

Bill Bryson: Down Under (may be called In a Sunburned Country , or possibly Walkabout, in the US). Hilarious essays on Australia. I could really relate to some of his comments on Darwin.

Alex Miller: Journey to the Stone Country or Landscape of Farewell (I particularly liked the latter of these two books.)

Kate Grenville: The Secret River (a fictional story, based on some historical fact, about life north of Sydney in the early days). Issues of convicts, colonisation, and relationships with Indigenous people.

Ruth Park: A Poor Man’s Orange and Harp in the South (oldies but goodies)

Sally Morgan: My Place  (an indigenous life story)

Sally Dingo: Dingo, the Story of our Mob (a biography of Ernie Dingo, a well-known Indigenous actor.

Tom (Thomas) Keneally: A River Town (long time since I’ve read this one but I enjoyed it enough to keep on my shelves. Set in New South Wales.)

Henry Lawson:  various short stories and poetry, about the old days in Australia

Hilary Lindsay: The Washerwoman’s Dream (set in Queensland late 1880s+)

Tim Winton: Dirt Music (a modern story set in Western Australia). Not one of my favourite books, didn’t like the ending, but I admired the fact that he started again from scratch with hundreds of pages written.

Neville Shute: A Town like Alice (includes WW2 theme and Northern Territory).

Addendum: David Forrest’s The Last Blue Sea (about the Australians’ war in Papua New Guinea, WWII)

David Malouf, Peter Carey, Thea Astley, Janette Turner Hospital (short stories) are all other authors who would provide a more modern insight into Australia today.

I have used LibraryThing to link these book titles to reviews which may help find out more about each book, and see which appeals. Everyone’s taste is quite different in books. I’m not sure how difficult these books will be to access from bookshops or libraries in the States, but at a quick glance many are available as Kindle e-books.

What recommendations would other Australian geneabloggers want to add to this list? Please do add suggestions in the comments. I’m looking forward to seeing some different perspectives and reminders of ones I’m bound to have forgotten.