Cread | books, reading, believing

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Book review: Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You, Celeste Ng, book review, fiction, literature, Asian American LiteratureThis is one of the saddest books I've read in a long time although most popular literary books I've read of late make a good effort at being reasonably depressing.

Which is not to say Everything I Never Told You is a poor read. On the whole it is eminently readable but I found myself constantly trying to peel back my own experience of family to see if secrets, silent shame and unspoken fear are as prevalent.

Perhaps I wouldn't know but I think not, hope not. But then I haven't experienced being in a multiracial family 40 years ago amidst the racial angst of the US.

With blue eyed Marilyn seeing her daughter Lydia through her missed opportunity for independence and career, and her black haired Chinese father James content with signs of her daughter's popular normality neither can see, or want to see, so much that is unspoken, or deliberately hidden abut Lydia, their middle child.

While we know the outcome from the start - the what - it is the gradual revealing of the how, why and who that makes this novel a powerfully compulsive read. It's a risky but successful device to give us the turning point of the novel in the opening line: 'Lydia is dead. But they don't know this yet.' It drives us to want to know what it is like to discover such a terrible fact and then to discover why. A family is dismembered (psychologically) in the process.

Tolstoy's famous opening sentence from Anna Karenina, 'All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way' seems a useful summary not only of Everything I Never Told You but of thousands of novels which fascinate by the unique unfolding of unhappiness in families. 

Any one will relate to the struggle - so poignantly told here - that we all endure to outlive those many things that contrive to drag us to the bottom and drown us. We may well know people who haven't survived for a variety of reasons so be mindful of stirred loss as you read... The Nile -Australia's Largest Online Bookstore, Everying I Never told You, Celeste Ng

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Book review: I'm not crazy I'm just a little unwell by Leigh Hatcher

Leigh Hatcher’s book about his years suffering with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome nearly had a completely different name.

But all along he’d felt the Matchbox 20 lyric I’m Not Crazy, I’m Just a Little Unwell seemed to resonate with his experience and so he went with his heart and it became the title of his best selling book.

And that’s something Leigh is good at, going with his heart, and he bares plenty of it in this riveting story of one man’s crash out of life and into a world of misunderstood and often mysterious sickness.

In his preface, Hatcher - one of Australia’s best known journalists, news presenters and authors - explains that ‘no two CFS stories will ever be the same’ and so it is fitting that he simply tells his story, with its backdrop of iconic political moments, Olympic excitement and the inner workings of television and radio.

In a tightly written book that moves along at a clipping pace but still manages to pack in plenty of detail, Hatcher describes his fascinating life before CFS and how he was poised to be the Seven Network’s chief Olympic reporter for the Sydney 2000 Games for which they had the television rights.

But in January 1998, with the Games now almost in sight, his body all but gave way on him, plunging him into pain, exhaustion and a powerfully toxic feeling that he mentions many times during the book.

Like many people with a less obvious illness, it took a long time for a clear diagnosis and so he simply hoped that with a brief period of rest he would be over whatever had struck him and back into his full and varied life. It didn’t happen and as he grew perplexed as to what was causing his debilitation, many of his friends and acquaintances simply lost patience, or perhaps interest (echoes of the Matchbox 20 song) and began hinting, or even saying directly, that he somehow must want to be sick, or that it was somehow all in his head.

Hatcher points out that it is this pain, the suffering caused by people’s doubts, desires to ‘fix and outright rejection, that hurts almost as much as the illness itself. He describes his ups and downs with CFS, his desperate search for answers, the many false trails, the suffering of his family and his own despair. His recounting of how his young daughter beat him in and arm wrestle is one especially poignant indication of how hopeless and sick he felt.

In the midst of that we see him fighting back by finding things he could do (such as learn ancient Greek), even with limits, and also see a resilient Christian faith that held him fast despite everything he was going through.

He describes many of the tests and treatments he encountered and this will resonate with many other CFS sufferers but may also provide some informal, non-medical insights into things to consider for those new to the illness. Finally he describes the exhaustive insulin and blood sugar tests, the findings (not diabetic but other irregularities) and the diet and exercise plan that helped him turn the corner after two dark years.

The latter part of the book describes him re-entering his life and finding his way back into Olympic coverage, although not in front of the camera, but as a senior producer on one of the main shows each day during the Games.

As we see the incredible pace he picks up, all the while following his new health regime, it is as if Hatcher is thumbing his nose at the naysayers who had previously implied he was just wanting to opt out of the responsibilities of life. Not exactly the picture we are left with.

Anyone who knows Leigh Hatcher, and his career before and after these missing years, knows there is barely anyone anywhere with as much zeal, passion and energy for life. The fact this is the case after what he has been through is a testament to the treatment breakthrough, his faith and the prayers of many, and his own indomitable spirit.

Unfortunately Hatcher knows that what was an answer for him, is not necessarily for everyone but at least it provides hope for the many who continue to battle this disease. And, as he says in his preface, ‘All of this drives my passionate hope for the book – that in some small way it can give CFS sufferers both a voice and validity. I want to show them that they are not alone in their struggles.’

Let’s hope many people with CFS continue to read this book for its timeless encouragement and that many of their family, friends and acquaintances will take the time to learn more by delving into its pages.

I'm Not Crazy, I'm Just a Little Unwell, RRP $19.95, 120 pages paperback, published by Strand. Available from www.notcrazy.net, www.hammondcaremedia.com.au and Amazon.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Book review: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins

The comparisons for The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl are coming thick and fast and will do sales of the former no harm as it is published in Australia this month.

Click to purchase
And there are plenty of similarities - the gradual denuding of all of the main characters in The Girl on the Train, so that their worst (and perhaps for some, their best) is gradually and in some cases terrifyingly revealed recalls the gradual descent into evil and despair so evident in the main relationships of Gone Girl.

The psychological double and triple plays ensure that even with the rapid fire chapters, the (slightly generous) reader will find themselves well and truly hooked. I read it in a day or two, for example.

The Girl on the Train plays on the fears and curiosity many of us would find familiar from modern life where we are thrust together randomly with people - often in close quarters - in trains, traffic, buses and housing, affording us the opportunity to be mutual voyeurs and wondering what night happen if someone took and unexpected interest in our life.

Rachel Watson is he girl on the the train and someone for whom the journey is definitely more important than the destination as she draws more from the daily train commute to and from London than she does from her depressing daily arrival.

She fantasises about a couple she often sees in a terrace along the tracks and also obssesses about the nearby terrace where her ex-husband and his new wife and daughter live.

Paula Hawkins cleverly weaves together the imperfect, often courageous and too often sordid experiences of three women - including Rachel - whose lives ebb and flow around this rail-side block, intersecting with three or four superficially attractive, deeply flawed and possibly dangerous men.

Rachel is deeply entrenched in the practice of using alcohol to manage her despair, and when we first find her this is mainly to do with the loss of her marriage and subsequent related losses. She believes the worst about herself and anyone addicted to anything will recognise the many futile promises to change she makes to herself.

Her fantasy about the life of the couple she has named Jess and Jason leads her into a surreal world of violence, deception and danger when she witnesses an act that she believes is important in a subsequent murder investigation.

This certainty is muted by her own instability, her history of alcholism and the regular experiences she has under the influence of drink of 'losing' blocks of time where her memories are fleeting at best and rarely correspond with what she believes to be reality.

And so the answer to a terrible and mysterious death and even the origins of Rachel's own misery remain just out of reach until the very last moment of the novel.

The storyline depends on this believable portrayal of a life unravelling and even disappearing into the abyss of lost memories and Paula Hawkins achieves this almost without fault.

Likewise the building of tension is powerfully achieved as we are taunted by the possibility of one character after another being not just feeble in their failings, but fatal.

The mundane domestic setting for the story makes us feel that we might just stumble upon similar mystery and intrigue by watching our neighbours through our living room window. Fortunately fiction takes the rare and brings it front and centre so we all have the opportunity to experience (safely) what it might be like to be caught unwittingly in the web of dangerously evil people.

This is a successful thriller and may yet match the status of Gone Girl as one of the most disturbing psychological autopsies of current fiction. I gave it four stars on NetGalley and Goodreads.

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, published by Double Day, 320 pages, RRP $32.99 (paperback).









Monday, October 27, 2014

Book review: Misfits Welcome by Matthew Barnett


When Matthew and Caroline Barnetts' story first broke into Christian consciousness across the globe, it inspired many pastors and leaders to finally acknowledge the part of themselves they had been often taught to ignore.
It was unusual to hear of a large, popular, American, Pentecostal church that centralised radical engagement with the poor.

Most church experts would teach us that you can't build a church with 'people like that' but maybe, when your church was big enough and had a great building and shiny brochures then, perhaps, it could have such a ministry, in a small corner some where.

In his first book, The Church that Never Sleeps, a young Barnett turned that idea on its head and breathed life into many pastors and churches that had always struggled to justify their seeming indifference to the disadvantaged.
For a while he was the flavour of the month, speaking at pastors conferences around the world and even now, many years later, there is increased intentionality for community engagement in many Pentecostal and Evangelical churches - thanks in part to his and his wife's example.
My wife, son and I visited the Dream Centre LA in 2006 inspired by his first book and its message and the experience changed us, our church and community.

Compassion that is fad-free and inconvenient

Now eight years later, reading Barnett's new book, Misfits Welcome: Find yourself in Jesus and bring the world along for the ride, is like a reviving balm as much because it shows the call to engage the poor is alive an well, much more than a fad, and still deeply inconvenient in a life-giving way.

It's a simple book, filled with the stories of the Barnetts' journey that continues in many ways to be counter-cultural, as the Gospel has always been. He shares many of his insecurities, doubts and perceived failings almost as an encouragement, as if to say, 'I'm nothing special and see what God has done'.

It's not easy to swim against the overwhelming tide of comfortable, consumer Christianity and there are little hints of this challenge in the book. But true to his philosophy of hope and of not seeing yourself as a martyr just because you serve on the streets, these glimpses are swallowed up by stories of risky, spontaneous compassion and strong  encouragement to do the same.

It is true that many issues such as drug use, sexual abuse, violence, crime, mental illness, and poverty can seem intractable problems in people's lives who often live in constant chaos, shame and disturbance. But Barnett champions the cause of believing anyone can find wholeness and live out their dream. The challenge for churches is to be both spontaneous and serious in responding to these needs and not precious about seeming 'nice'.

Speak to people's potential, not just their need is one gem from the book that could revolutionise our care for thoes in need. His line that his church is full of pimps, prostitutes and prisoners, and that's just the staff, is born out by the telling of many of their stories.

In Misfits Welcome we also see something of the social action faith of Caroline Barnett who was a volunteer at the Dream Centre before the couple got together and were married, witnessed by a crowd of LA's homeless and celebrities.

Misfits Welcome presents a welcome face for Western Christianity and may energise those who find their faith jaded and listless. And for all of us that secretly feel like misfits, it is encouragement that we are valued and can make a difference, even with our brokenness and crazy ideas.

booktopia.com.au, bookstore, Misfits Welcome, Matthew Barnett, Dream Center

We hope you enjoyed Cread's book review of Misfits Welcome. Please share with others and leave a comment.

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Book review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Theo Decker, a 'god of layers' perhaps, and that is what he is, surviving a bomb blast that kills his mother, comforting a dying antique trader and following his delirious urging to take hold of a treasure that takes hold of him in so many layered ways.

There are times this book infuriates when characters fail to do what 99 per cent of people would do - what you the reader are urging them to do - and so end up in several long chapters of chaos.

And then there are the thousands of sweeping words that carry you forward, heart racing. Or the long ragings at the world or detailed vivisections of meaning that cut so close to the doubts of your own heart.

As a title, The Goldfinch suggests a stuffy but polite story of manners and it is a story of manners but never stuffy or polite and not what you would think at all.

It tells of the world we all might nearly belong to if our deceptions were allowed to fester a little longer. A world just beyond ours, that world we wonder about when we hear of bomb blasts or art heists or overdoses or murders. A world we are all a part of but just not looking.

At the end there is Tolstoyian reflection, a moment of clarity and perception, but sadly not quite a coming of faith. That would be too simple, too hopeful. But that is a world that also exists, one we might nearly belong to if our faith was allowed to flourish a little longer, and we chose to look.

If that had been the case, Theo may have found his namesake, and the author would have had a different tail, not just Paradise Lose but Paradise Regained.

While you are sorting this out for yourself,  you could do worse than to be ground down relentlessly by Donna Tartt's Pulitzer winning prose. So, read The Goldfinch.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Book review: The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project, book review, fiction, Asperger's, autism spectrum The Rosie Project's lead character, Don Tillman, would be satisfied that I read on the Kindle platform of his project to find a wife. While reading I was informed of what percentage of the book had been completed and also was given the estimated time in the current chapter so I could adjust my optimal reading speed.

Despite these and other efficiencies I found my reading broke into my sleep allocation such that I finished the book at 4.13am. I determined not to adjust my daytime schedule but to increase by 29.7 per cent my intake of caffeine.

But seriously... it is perhaps a tribute to the steadiness of voice and rhythm of author Graeme Simsion and the sympathetic, human and lifelike characters that he has written, that I now find myself thinking and talking like Don, who is apparently non-the-wiser of being well and truly on the autism spectrum.

A professor of genetics, he undertakes to find a wife through the mechanism of a fool-proof 16 page questionnaire and as a result is certain that Rosie could not possibly be a successful candidate, while at the same time, Rosie is not even aware she is one. Rather, she is trying to find her biological father with rather less scientific composure. They are both successful, but it's the journey as well as the destination that provides the genius for this novel.

Oh, and going back to discovering my inner DonTillman, my enjoyment of the novel was diminished by a negligible 2.57 per cent because I guessed early on the outcome of the main suspense plot line. But perhaps that was intended by the writer to make readers feel smarter than they are?

Whoops, there I go again....

The Rosie Project has now been joined by Simsion's second novel, The Rosie Effect.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion was published January 2013 by Simon and Schuster and retails from about $18.80. Choose your online retailer - Amazon (cover image above) or Booktopia (banner below) or walk into your awesome local bookstore.

 booktopia.com.au - Australia's #1 online bookstore

We hope you enjoyed Cread's book review of The Rosie Project

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Novelist Liam Davison among Australians killed on MH17

The devastation of a disaster like the shooting down of MH17 is indiscriminate and ruthless - with people of all walks of life cut off in an instance in the most horrific of circumstances.

Liam Davison, novelist, Soundings, MH17
Australia's literary community is particular mindful of the loss of novelist Liam Davison, who with his his wife Frankie, a much-loved teacher, were passengers on the doomed flight.

Mr Davison published eight books and was awarded the National Book Council's Banjo Award for Fiction in 1993 for Soundings, as well as being shortlisted for several literary prizes such as The Age Book of the Year Award and the Victorian Premier's Literary Award.

Reviewer Perry Middlemiss said of Soundings:
'This is an impressive novel, short, and beautifully paced. Its concept of landscape lingers long in the mind, clinging on like the mud of the bay.'
He is known for his 'sharp and perceptive insights into Australian history and landscape' and also taught writing for many years at the Chisholm Institute where he was 'universally liked'.

Other publications include he Velodrome (1988) The Shipwreck Party (Short stories) (1988) Soundings (1993) The White Woman (1994) The Betrayal (2001) Collected Stories (2001) The Spirit of Australia (with Jim Conquest)

Twenty eight Australians were among the 298 people killed when Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 was shot down by Ukrainian rebels on July 17, 2014.

More on Australians who were killed

Soundings (Uqp Fiction)

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Watch: Bill Gates includes The Rosie Project in his annual summer reading list

American billionaire and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has included an Australian novel by a debut author in his annual list of six books for summer reading.

Reading on the beach seems a billion dollars away in chilly Sydney but in the summery northern hemisphere, sales of The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion are expected to turn white hot after the Gates' recommendation.

Here's what Gates had to say about The Rosie Project on his blog, gatesnotes.com:
'The Rosie Project: A Novel, by Graeme Simsion. Melinda picked up this novel earlier this year, and she loved it so much that she kept stopping to read passages to me. I started it myself at 11 p.m. one Saturday and stayed up with it until 3 the next morning. Anyone who occasionally gets overly logical will identify with the hero, a genetics professor with Asperger’s Syndrome who goes looking for a wife. (Melinda thought I would appreciate the parts where he’s a little too obsessed with optimizing his schedule. She was right.) It’s a funny and profound book about being comfortable with who you are and what you’re good at. I’m sending copies to several friends and hope to re-read it later this year. It is one of the most enjoyable novels I’ve read in a long time.'
Gates says The Rosie Project is the only book on his list of six that qualifies as a 'typical beach read' but that 'all six are deeply informative and beautifully written.

The complete list is Business Adventures by John Brooks, Stress Test by Timothy F Giethner, The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin, The Rosie Project: A Novel by Graeme Simsion,The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert, and Reinventing American Health Care: How the Affordable Care Act Will Improve Our Terribly Complex, Blatantly Unjust, Outrageously Expensive, Grossly Inefficient, Error Prone System by Ezekiel J. Emanuel.

Here's how Bill Gates reviews each book:

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Book review in brief: The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

For an Australian author like Richard Flanagan, there is material enough for a great novel just telling of the lives and suffering of Australian prisoners of war during World War 2.  Even more so considering his father was just such a prisoner on the Burma railway, something Flanagan speaks of 'imbibing' while growing up.

Instead he settles for a broader and more difficult panorama. Alongside the adept before and after descriptions of Australian soldiers - of love affairs and guilty confusion - we are also taken into the minds of Japanese officers and Korean soldiers and dystopian post-nuclear Japan.

Somehow it all rings as true as his depictions of Melbourne society and Tasmanian poverty. The heat of Adelaide is pitched against the humidity of Siam and the unresolved heroics of an Australian surgeon against the inconclusive brutality of Japanese prison commander.

It is not a triumphant book or a cheery one, and it offers little hope except that sometimes people survive, despite all that they go through, and some don't.

One or two sections lift above this determined (and understandable) nihilism - a scene of diggers repentantly dining on fish and chips with a grieving but generous Italian immigrant. A father setting aside his ambivalence for heroism, as he had done previously in the jungle, and rescuing his wife and children from the madness of a bushfire.

But an easy hope is a fake one and that is far away from what Flanagan seeks to achieve in The Narrow Road to the Deep North. There are no living gods in Flanagan's war and post-war and that must have been the feeling of many, but not all, who lived and died or lived and lived.

For an extended interview with Richard Flanagan about The Narrow Road to the Deep North, visit The Monthly.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Real time 'FingerReader' assists the visually impaired to read

Reading is as easy as pointing your finger at the text with the prototype FingerReader being developed by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Unlike other readers available for visually impaired people, which first need to process and translate text, the MIT finger reader reads in real time, and uses remarkable technology to assist the reader follow line after line.

MIT's Professor Pattie Maes, who founded and leads the Fluid Interfaces research group developing the prototype, says the FingerReader is like "reading with the tip of your finger and it's a lot more flexible, a lot more immediate than any solution that they have right now."


Books, magazines, newspapers, computer screens and other devices can all be read comfottably with the FingerReader but a solution for touch screens is still being developed because of the disruption to text that occurs when the finger touches the screen.

Vibrations help guide the reader's finger to minimise line jumping and a digital voice reads directly to the reader.

Scientists are not sure when they will be able to make the product affordably available, but are confident this will occur.

See more at Techzulla.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Book review: I am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

The obvious attraction of I Am Malala is the inside story of this young women's violent struggle with the Taliban but there are even greater, quieter wonders on offer for the patient reader.

Malala Yousafzai tells her story with a refreshing lack of self-consciousness so that we are given not only a deeply personal insight into her own soul, but into the intricacies of her family and her troubled Swat homelands in Pakistan's northwestern Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province.

The entire world focused on one day of her life, Tuesday, October 9, 2012 when the high school student and campaigner for girls education, was shot by a member of the Taliban who also wounded two of her fellow students.

The entire world has again focused on Malala with the announcement she is to jointly receive the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize.*

Although the book takes its time to provide satisfying detail as to the events of the day she was shot, there is no sense of frustrating delay as the reader is first introduced to her family, her beloved Swat, the culture of her people and her own development as competitive student who quietly and respectfully questions some of the more restrictive aspects of her religion and culture.

The maturity of character development and the sustaining of themes over the breadth of what is longish book, would seem to be skills beyond anyone as young as Yousafzai. While not doubting that she is a remarkably gifted person, it would seem we can look to the measured touch of co-writer Christina Lamb for ensuring that this is not just a one-moment book.

In a day when cross cultural awareness and appreciation is vital if we are to find a peaceful way forward in the world, I Am Malala offers both hope and concern. Any non-Muslim who reads it will find a strong and loving family with some of the traits common to families of all cultures and backgrounds.

Sitting in class with her friends she could be a school student in any nation of the world. Idealising her father, in awe of her mother, loyal to her sometimes annoying younger brothers is nothing different to what might be written by a girl in Sydney or London or Los Angeles.

But there are distinctions too. Her love for her town, province, the Pashtun people, and her nation of Pakistan is more stringently and stridently held than might be the case for a young person in more secure and settled surrounds who, while loving where they live, would not have had to think about (or hold on to) their allegiances quite so much.

Her cultural, religious and national pride is held in tension with her abhorrence at some of the much too common beliefs and behaviours that, among other horrors, led to the attempt on her life.

Still I found her tolerance of violence and repression disturbing. Not that she intended this but, as we all have blindspots, this was one of Malala's. That the relentless public beating of a girl with canes might be treated with some indifference could only come from a person who has seen - and lived with endlessly - even worse acts.

It is not a tolerance of her making, and maybe with time, a truer sensitivity born of safety will be restored so that she is able to give not even grudging ground to any cause that relies on violence and oppression.

It was heartening to see how the British were able to come alongside the Pakistanis and find a way to ensure not only did Malala receive the life-saving medical treatment she needed after being shot, but that she could have a safe-haven into the future.

And it was endearing to read of the family's adjustment to life in a Western country where their concerns may not be that much different to anyone else. Her mother's shock at the short-short's of English girls in winter leaving her wondering if they had legs of marble, is something a billion mothers might have said.

So we are not all that different, and many will say, why are you making such a point of the obvious? Because I think we are largely unaware of our common humanity and I would have been less aware than I am without reading this book.

I and many others probably would never had read it and Malala may never have written it, if some thug had not tried to kill her. So it is often with tragedy, goodness finds a place to grow all the same.

*Updated October 11, 2014.

We hope you enjoyed Cread's book review of I Am Malala

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Cread back with book reviews and news

After writing a book and editing and publishing another, it's time for Cread to poke its bookish head up again.

So dust off our URL and get ready for some deeply opinionated reviews - we've not only been writing and editing, but reading as well!

Eyrie, The Goldfinch, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Driven by purpose, Questions of Travel, Burial Rites, The Yellow Birds, I Am Malala... yes insomnia is a great aid to reading. 

Check back soon for these reviews and more.