Thursday, January 14, 2016

Book Reviews / January 2016

For the last few years I have relied mainly on Amazon via their Kindle Store for my reading matter although occasionally I have returned to hard copies, either bought (books are SO expensive in Australia!) or from the local library.
Recently I became aware that our library had given its members access to free down loadable audio books and e-books as well as magazines.
This is through a web site called OverDrive.
I believe it has been in many countries eg. USA, Canada, UK etc. for a few years.
They have a great range of titles covering many genres.
Seems like Amazon may be now given the 'flick' in this household in favour of this new (to us) service.
Now to some reviews:
At 15 years of age Bob Carr joined the Australian Labor Party. From 1983 to 2005 he represented a southern electorate of Sydney in the New South Wales state parliament, the last 10 years as Premier.
During his 'retirement' he was still politically active championing many causes.
Then in March 2012, Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced that Carr would be nominated to fill a casual vacancy in the Australian senate caused by the resignation of a sitting member. She also announced Carr would become the new Minister for Foreign Affairs.

Diary of a Foreign Minister
documents the day to day business and life of this position for the 18 months he held it before resigning on the demise of the Labor government in September 2013.
It may sound a glamours life style travelling the world on the public purse but it obviously takes a special person to keep up the pace and their wits about them in what seems a permanent jet lagged state.
His meetings with world leaders, search for decent food, exercise regime, the inevitable screw ups, furtive days off to pursue his love of the arts and history make interesting reading. His brief mention of the internal combustion of his government at home from time to time sheds new light on that saga. 
Carr's term coincided with the final stages of Australia's successful campaign for a UN Security Council seat.
He walked the tightrope of strengthening Australia's relationship with China while not upsetting the USA alliance. He participated in the ongoing peace process in the Middle East, particularly Palestine and Syria.
He was also very active in the Asia-Pacific region helping to bring Myanmar 'out of the cold', strengthen our ties with Indonesia and giving voice to the smaller Pacific Island nations particularly concerning climate change.
The book can be an insightful and amusing read but is more likely one for the political junkie.
Lex Marinos is an Australian actor probably best known for his part in the now probably politically incorrect TV show "Kingswood Country"(1980-84).
He grew up in a rural town of Wagga Wagga, a son of Greek immigrants who owned, as a lot of Greeks did at the time, a cafe'.
Moving to Sydney in a time of great social change (60s and 70s) he decided, after a university arts degree and much to his mother's anxiety (his brother was a doctor), to pursue a career in entertainment.
He was soon aware, despite parts in theatre, film and TV that his acting ability was limited. He turned to directing (film and stage), event and festival organization (a segment of the Sydney Olympic Games Opening Ceremony), radio comparing, sports commentating as a few diversions.

Rex grew up in the same era as I did and his story resonated somewhat. Of course our lives differed in the fact he was of 'foreign' immigrant stock not Anglo. He was 'a wog' and had to overcome all sorts of prejudice and stereotyping.
He experienced the Australianization (or rather the deBritishization) of the entertainment industry when having an Australian accent, putting on plays from places other than the UK or making Australian films was no longer frowned upon.
Blood and Circuses (An Irresponsible Memoir) is a warts and all tale. He wasn't always a good boy!
But for those of us who follow the Australian arts and entertainment scene it is a great story of what went on and still does. His anecdotes of the people we knew and loved are extremely entertaining.
Probably a book just for Australians but then again also maybe for those interested in other countries' social histories.
Right at the beginning, in the foreword, of Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory author Caitlan Doughty issues a warning. It says 'For those who do not wish to read realistic depictions of death and dead bodies you have stumbled on the wrong book.'
With the opening line 'A girl always remembers the first corpse she shaves.' I thought that may have been a warning warranted.
But a chapter or so in you begin to realize this is a serious book about death and the funeral industry and its manipulative ways. Caitlan became obsessed with death at the age of eight after seeing a child fall from an upper shopping mall floor. Having completed a major in medievil history with an emphasis on mortality, she was ready for the 'real thing'. She basically walks in off the streets of San Francisco to become a crematory operative removing, preparing and cremating bodies. This involves a very quick learning curve.
The mood of the book continually swings from morbid humour to sadness and, at times, to extremely confronting descriptions of what goes on behind the scenes. Some of it can be difficult to read.


The author also returns to her academic roots to describe other cultures' funeral practices and compares them with those of our current Western society. While we may cringe at what goes on in other parts of the world, they would probably think we are just as weird. She also traces a history of dealing with death through the ages which can be quite bizarre.
Not a book for everyone but, for me, a fascinating look into an industry that most people have had contact with at some time but obviously, from the information presented here, only on a very superficial level.
I have always wanted to travel to Japan. It would seem easy to get to from Australia but the airlines that fly there from Sydney seem to want a lot of money for the short 10 hour flight. But the destination is still on my bucket list.
In the meantime I had been looking for a short and concise history of Japan.

With A Short History of Japan that's exactly what I got.
This is political, social, religious and cultural resume' that ranges from the 'Divine Ages (Jindai)' pre 660BC to the end of the Meiji era in 1912
What I didn't notice before downloading the book was that it was originally published in 1915!
But in the end, that didn't matter as most of us know what went on in Japan after that date.
An interesting read but for someone who really only wants a bird's eye view of Japanese history.
And as a follow up to the above we purchased a hard copy of DK's Eyewitness Travel Japan.

DK Eyewitness travel guides are our travel bibles and we have never been disappointed.We find them an essential tool for planning and when we are under way.
Hopefully we will be able to use this one 'on the ground' one day.


The Daughter said...

Have you looked lately? They should only be around $1200 return w QF.

grapegrower said...

Thanks. Checked again. ANA have opened a new route from Sydney to Tokyo-Haneda rather than Tokyo-Narita. $900 return which is a little more like it!.