The Book Q & A

After seeing several responses to this Q & A about reading habits and bookish likes and dislikes – including Angela’s and Margot’s – I couldn’t help but start answering the questions myself. I suspect it’s a moment in time kind of thing, at least some of my answers would be very different if I answered again in 6 months but for the moment, without putting too much angst into each answer, these are my thoughts.

What are you reading right now?
I’m about half-way through Amy Espeseth’s SUFFICIENT GRACE. The author was born in the US but has lived in Australia for a decade or so. The book is set in America and is narrated by a young girl who is growing up in rural Wisconsin as part of a fairly isolated, Pentecostal community. I am a sucker for books featuring religion and the hardship it brings to many. I don’t know where the book is going – which is fine as I am enjoying the ride (though I have learned more about hunting than I probably ever wanted to know). I love the language of it though.

Do you have any idea what you’ll read when you’re done with that?
I recently discussed the fact I tend not to read many American male crime writers. Among the suggestions given to me more than once was Daniel Woodrell’s WINTER’S BONE and the inclusion of it as a much loved crime novel at Petrona Remembered this week sealed the deal. It’s next up.

What 5 books have you always wanted to read but haven’t got round to?

  • Wilkie Collins’ THE MOONSTONE
  • something by Jonathan Franzen
  • John Irving’s A PRAYER FOR OWEN MEANY (I’ve read lots of his others but have owned a copy of this for at least 20 years and never read it)
  • Ulysses by James Joyce’s ULYSSES (actually I don’t really want to, I think I ought to which is why I haven’t gotten around to it and in all likelihood never will)

What magazines do you have in your bathroom/lounge right now?
I haven’t subscribed to a magazine since THE BULLETIN went bust but there’s usually a copy of The Big Issue floating around

What’s the worst book you’ve ever read?
Gabriel Marcia Marquez’ LOVE IN THE TIME OF CHOLERA. I guess it proves me to be the intellectual lightweight I surely am but I didn’t understand most of it. My then new sister-in-law gave me the book and I worried for months how to tell her I didn’t like it. Happily book disagreements (of which there have been many since) have not prevented us from becoming firm friends.

What book seemed really popular but you didn’t like?
Tim Winton’s CLOUDSTREET. It is officially Australia’s favourite novel but I am at best ambivalent about it.

What’s the one book you always recommend to just about everyone?
There are so few books I think perfect for everyone, but the closest would probably be Geraldine Brooks’ YEAR OF WONDERS. That said I’ve bought 5 copies of Favel Parrett’s PAST THE SHALLOWS as gifts since reading it last year so that might come close.

I can’t think of a crime novel I would recommend universally – so many people are genre snobs it’s not worth the hassle.

What are your three favourite poems?

  • Halfway Down, A.A. Milne
  • Anthem For Doomed Youth, Wilfred Owen
  • The Waiting Life, Dorothea Mackellar

Where do you usually get your books?
This year one of my goals has been to only buy books in Australia (rather than from overseas suppliers which are much, much cheaper but which, of course, contribute zip to our local economy and community). But buying in Australia is expensive so I’ve used the library a lot more this year and have made my few purchases from Dillons (a fabulous local inde book seller which is literally around the corner from my house) and Booktopia (an Australian online store that sells physical books and eBooks for everything but kindle). My only concession to buying books overseas is that I get my audio books from Audible in the US. There’s no Australian equivalent.

Where do you usually read your books?
Anywhere. Everywhere. To borrow a term from my day job I have in-built redundancy for when I leave the house – always take my iPod nano with a few audio books on it, a physical book and at least one of my eReader, smart phone or iPad for accessing eBooks. I read or listen while walking, on the bus, in waiting lounges, on long queues, in café’s and occasionally while in totally pointless meetings (the iPad is great for this – you look like you are really paying attention)…At home I have a particularly comfy reading chair.

When you were little, did you have any particular reading habits?
Our family trips to the local library each Saturday morning were a highlight of my childhood. I was the youngest person ever to have my own library card there and I doubt I ever borrowed less than the maximum number of books allowed.

What’s the last thing you stayed up half the night reading because it was so good you couldn’t put it down?
Just after I learned he had died I picked up Leighton Gage’s DYING GASP one weekend morning and allowed myself an hour’s reading before chores and some work. I didn’t move until I finished the book early that same evening

Have you ever ‘faked’ reading a book?
Thomas Hardy’s TESS OF THE D’URBEVILLES. It was sooooooooooooo dreary, and it came just after I plodded through THE GRAPES OF WRATH for year 12 English (did they want us to commit suicide en masse?). I read the cliff notes and bullshited well enough to get a pass mark on the essay (of course it’s just possible my teacher knew and forgave me – she was pretty smart).

Corinna Chapman

Have you ever bought a book just because you liked the cover?
Not that I can remember. A cover will make me pick a book up but I have to know more about it before laying out hard cash. I love the way the set of Kerry Greenwood’s Corinna Chapman novels looks all together…the bold colours and single images (which are relevant to each tale) are terrific. And they don’t look like anything else on my shelves

What was your favourite book when you were a child?
Enid Blyton’s THE NAUGHTIEST GIRL IS A MONITOR. About a girl who gets into lots of trouble without really meaning to and went to midnight feasts at her boarding school. My mother would say the first part of that was uncannily biographical whereas I wanted the boarding school midnight feasts to become so.

What book changed your life?
Agatha Christie’s DEATH ON THE NILE gave me the yearning for travel that prompted me to get a swag of crappy part time jobs as soon as i was old enough so I could save up for my first overseas trip. Travel wasn’t something people in my family ever did before.

What is your favourite passage from a book?
I love this passage from the opening chapter of Adrian Hyland’s GUNSHOT ROAD. The main character of the novel is attending an Aboriginal initiation ceremony

The town mob: fractured and deracinated they might have been, torn apart by idleness and violence, by Hollywood and booze. But moments like these, when people come together, when they try to recover the core, they gave you hope.


It was the songs that did it: the women didn’t so much sing them as pick them up like radio receivers. You could imagine those great song cycles rolling across the country, taking their shape from what they encountered: scraps of language, minerals and dreams, a hawk’s flight, a feather’s fall, the flash of a meteorite.


The resonance of that music is everywhere, even here, on the outskirts of the whitefeller town, out among the rubbish dumps and truck yards. It sings along the wires, it rings off bitumen and steel.

Who are your top five favourite authors?
I’ll list five of the many, in alphabetical not preference order

  • Douglas Adams
  • Geraldine Brooks
  • Adrian Hyland
  • Colleen McCullough
  • Johan Theorin

What book has no one heard about but should read?
EMERGENCY SEX AND OTHER DESPERATE MEASURES by Kenneth Cain, Heidi Postlewaite and Andrew Thomson. It’s a non-fictional account of how broken the United Nations is. Thinking about it still makes me feel angry, impotent and guilty all at once. Especially as, essentially, nothing’s changed. We’re still sitting idly by why thousands die needlessly and painfully.

What 3 books are you an ‘evangelist’ for?

(yes, I know I can’t count)

What are your favourite books by a first-time author?

  • Y.A. Erskine’s THE BROTHERHOOD
  • Domingo Villar’s WATER-BLUE EYES

What is your favourite classic book?

Other Notable Mentions?

  • Jane Austen’s everything else
  • Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s collected works
  • Stephen King’s THE STAND (not a classic in terms of age I know…but in all other senses)

I haven’t been officially tagged for this meme so don’t feel in any way obliged to tag anyone else. But feel free to respond in your own way either in the comments or at your own space.


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15 Responses to The Book Q & A

  1. angelasavage says:

    I’m so glad you weighed in, Bernadette. It was remiss of me not to have tagged you. Put it down to a head stuffed full of book memories by the time I finished The Book Q&A.

    Your comment about Ulysses brought a smile to my face. When my mother was diagnosed with a nasty form of cancer a few years back, I asked her if there was anything she wanted to do before she died and she mentioned reading Ulysses. Three years later, still in remission, Ulysses remains unread!

    I also love Wilfred Owen’s poems and nearly included ‘Dulce et decorum est’ in my top three, before decided one war poet (John C Magee Jnr) was enough.

    I beg to differ with you about Love in the Time of Cholera. I love this novel more than Garcia Marquez’s more popular One Hundred Years of Solitude. But I do agree that Emergency Sex and Other Desperate Measures is a terrific read.


    • I wonder if anyone has actually read Ulysses 🙂

      I know that Cholera is a much-loved book – just not for me. I think I’m too literal for the South Americans – my loss.

      I think I’m getting too old for non-fiction like Emergency Sex … and the People Smuggler which you mention – I get really depressed at the slowness of change – but that book is on my radar.


  2. MarinaSofia says:

    Very, very interesting. I love reading about other’s book tastes. Are you sure Dillons is an indie bookstore – there used to be a chain called Dillons in the UK (started off with one single bookshop near UCL in Bloomsbury), but it was then acquired by HMV and Waterstone’s. I think it is defunct now, but maybe it survived in Australia?


    • I’m pretty sure our Dillons is not related to the UK one Marina. The owner’s surname is Dillon and it’s the only shop in the state with the name so it’s just one of those strange coincidences that life throws up I think.


  3. Margot Kinberg says:

    Bernadette – Oh, I loved your answers! It’s funny you would mention Tess…. That was one of the ones I didn’t exactly read while I was in school myself. Just not my thing.

    As to your poetry, I like Halfway Down very much, too. I’d forgotten about it until I read your list. It’s a great one.

    I hope that if you read Cain’s The Postman…, you’ll enjoy it. In my opinion it’s a great example of noir.. Oh, and I see that we feel the same way about Catherine O’Flynn’s What Was Lost. A book among books, in my opinion. And that passage from Gunshot Road is an excellent choice. I am very much looking forward to the next Emily Tempest novel; I hope we won’t have to wait long.


  4. Barbara says:

    That passage you quote from Adrian Hyland is a favorite of mine, too – sends chills up my spine its so lovely and true.


  5. Rebecca says:

    Bernadette, I can’t wait to see what you think of Jonathan Franzen. While I really liked The Corrections (some great characters, very moving sections about the dad with Alzheimer’s), Freedom infuriated me but I still felt compelled to finish it.

    On a more positive note, I loved Owen Meany when I read it in high school, but I have no idea if it stands up after so much time. Also, I’m in the I’ve-completed-Ulysses camp because I read it in undergrad, but I don’t feel compelled to reread it or, for that matter, try tackling Finnegan’s Wake next! By the way, did you like the ending of Year of Wonders?

    And now to answer these questions in a post of my own.


    • Rebecca I hate the ending of YEAR OF WONDERS – I’ve re-read the book and I choose not to read the last chapter.

      Glad to know there are real people who have completed Ulysses 🙂


  6. Col says:

    Bernadette, I’m half tempted to answer and post these for myself. I have to say if you can get to Irving’s Owen Meany do so. One of my favourite books of all time, enjoyed it more than Garp which was excellent.


  7. Kathy D. says:

    I am fascinated by these questions, and I answered many at someone’s blog. However, I will say that you should read A Conspiracy of Faith (U.S. title), the third Department Q book by Jussi Adler-Olsen if you are interested in how religion affects people and contributes to serious crimes.
    And I’ll say that the last book which kept me up all night was Paddy Richardson’s Hunting Blind. I didn’t go outside until I finished that compelling page-turner.
    I, too, liked the language of Adrian Hyland’s Gunshot Road (Where are more books about Emily Tempest?). I enjoyed Gwenni Morgan’s voice in The Earth Hums in B Flat. And, although we differ, I loved Fred Vargas’ The Ghost Riders of Ordebec. And though not a mystery, I liked Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior, her novel about Appalachia and global warming. Norwegian by Night was unique and for a Jewish tragi-comedy, a good one.
    I can’t pick favorite books or writers, too many to do that, and I don’t want to choose worst books. One reason is that I don’t finish bad books. I stay away from the “new fiction” at the library; nearly all of it is trite and boring, and I stay away from most books on the New York Times’ best-seller list. I don’t know who is buying these books or reading them. I’m in a daze about how the Times comes up with the lists.
    I read your blog and some others and get book ideas.
    And I use the library, sometimes purchase books from the Book Depository (although they never have anything any more), occasionally from Amazon or Abe Books (owned by Amazon now) and borrow books.


  8. Sarah says:

    Thanks for this Bernadette. I always find these questions fascinating. And I can’t do magic realism either. I just don’t get it.


  9. TracyK says:

    Some great answers here, Bernadette. And some great suggestions for books for me to try. I have read some non-mystery books in my life, especially when I was younger, but not a lot that I can remember. It was interesting to see Douglas Adams on your list of favorite authors, I have read some of his books and want to reread them.


  10. I really enjoyed reading this, and have taken notes to look up a lot of books. Like Col, I highly recommend Owen Meany, and actually also Ulysses: I have read it several times and love it. But I do recommend reading it with a guide, that really helps, even if it feels a bit like being back in school….


  11. Kathy D. says:

    Winter’s Bone — the movie — was a tough, hard-boiled slice of life set among a poor, tough community where drugs are dealt and lives not worth much. If the book is hard to read, I’d believe it as the movie was hard to watch, although the protagonist, a young woman, was terrific.


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