Monday, 2 March 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ March 2015

I recently read the very touching note that Oliver Sacks wrote in The New York Times, announcing that he has liver cancer.

Remember his famous books? The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and The Mind's Eye - about how we experience the visual world - or Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain and Awakenings which was adapted into the film starring the late Robin Williams. Sacks has possibly been the most prominent of doctor-authors in recent decades.

Following in the footsteps of Sacks is another doctor-author who writes like a dream - Atul Gawande. Gawande is a Harvard-educated surgeon, Rhodes Scholar, New Yorker staff writer and as a young man was part of Bill Clinton's Health Care Task Force. He is the son of Indian migrants to America, both of whom are doctors. I want to recommend his wonderful new book called Being Mortal. Bearing in mind the increasing percentage of the population which is over sixty (and I'm in that group) this book is all about end-of-life care and end-of-life living and mostly refers to practice in America.

We've put this in Biography as he contrasts the life of his grandfather in an Indian village and the life of his grandmother-in-law in America who moved into assisted living. There are revealing anecdotes and case histories which will raise lots of thoughts. I think the book will be especially useful to anyone working in any of the health-care professions.

I really enjoyed reading The Torch by Peter TwohigThis is the sequel to The Cartographer and is again set in 1960's Melbourne where the surviving twelve-year old twin, Super Hero Detective, is on the edge of momentous goings-on. He is such a wonderful character it took me a while to realise he doesn't have a name. He is known as "the Blayney Kid" or, if Grandpa wants to give him some advice (such as "keep it to yourself"), Grandpa calls him Nipper.

Grandpa seems to be a sort of Godfather for petty criminals in Richmond, while Mr and Mrs Sanderson are involved with ASIO, and everyone is after a briefcase with documents and also a kid who likes starting fires. It is a sort of softer grade Underbelly and I smiled all the way through. The laconic Blayney Kid has an inexhaustible supply of expressions such as "I was already in as much hot water as you'd need to boil a bucket of yabbies" or "where we stuck out like a banjo at a funeral". Lots of fun. You don't need to read The Cartographer first but I recommend it also.

Thinking about expressions reminds me of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, one of my favourite books. It is neither a dictionary nor an encyclopaedia but is packed full of information about popular expressions which may have come from myth, legend, language or culture. We have several editions of this including the 19th edition (it was first published in 1870) and a special one which is Brewer's Dictionary of Irish Phrase and Fable.

Kel Richards, a local author and radio host, who has written both crime stories and children's stories has previously written a Dictionary of Australian Phrase and Fable and has now enlarged on this with The Story of Australian English which is a chatty, easily read sketch of the history and development of Aussie Lingo. He suggests a base of regional British dialects, Aboriginal words and convict words and develops this into an outline sketch of history and language. He quotes and recommends other Australian authors of books about language such as E. E. Morris' Austral English or Sydney Baker's Australian Language. Austral English was published even before the one and only Oxford English Dictionary was completed.

This is a very entertaining and useful book with numerous lists of interesting words, including the list of Flash Language compiled by James Hardy Vaux, an early convict (he arrived in 1801) who maintained his determination to lead a life of crime. I've always puzzled why the beautiful yellow-blossomed tree that I call a wattle is also called acacia. Kel proposes that this comes from the building technique known as wattle and daub (wattling is the verb to describe the action of threading the branches through the uprights which are then packed with mud).

While you are browsing in Abbey's excellent Linguistics section you could also look at Pam Peters' Cambridge Guide to Australian English Usage or Susan Butler's recent The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English. Some of Kel's contributions to Australian children's literature are Father Koala's Nursery Rhymes, Three Kangaroos Gruff and Big Book of Aussie Dinosaurs. Lindy will show you these in our children's book section.

Really nice is the news that Lily Brett has been awarded the Prix Medicis Etranger for her novel Lola Bensky. She is the first Australian and only the third woman to receive this famous prize. No money but lots of honour. Her latest book is a collection of anecdotes about the city she loves and now calls home. It is called Only In New York and is a delightful record of some of her walks and shopping around town. I am a big fan of all of Lily's books. She does show how very effective the light touch can be.

Lola Bensky is closest to her own life, as a rock journalist in the sixties. Her father is a large character in all her stories, including when she returned to Auschwitz with him. This story is called Too Many Men and appears to be out of print at the moment. Nonetheless my niece in New Zealand, who rescued a copy from the basement of Auckland Library, is reading this and says it is delightful despite the subject. She has been through all of Lily's books now. Another title used to be called You Gotta Have Balls but now it is called Uncomfortably Close. Lily is also a well-regarded poet and short story writer. Look for her books.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers