It concerns the lives of a group of young people in the Seventies attending a new university just built in York, in England. A friend asked me what I meant by a “red brick university”. Has that term gone out of use? Not everyone will recognise the significance of a new shop opening selling sprouts and lentils! She goes on to describe how their lives were changed by this new-found opportunity to attend University. Linda Grant is an especially entertaining writer who has an ability to evoke a time and place while describing the clothes people wore at that time. Her book The Clothes on Their Backs, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a favourite of mine and she has also written The Thoughtful Dresser which examines fashion, from a social aspect not from design. How our clothes reflect who we are. You might have to special order this. It came out in 2009. Linda Grant was born in Liverpool with Russian-Polish refugee parents and she says much of this book if autobiographical. If you like Margaret Drabble’s stories you’ll enjoy this although she is a bit tougher.
The mass market edition of Jung Chang’s terrific book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China is now out. This is a huge turnaround – Jung Chang has been able to read the originals of historical documents recently released and shows Cixi to be the driving force opening Ancient China to the west – to railways, telegraph, electricity and an army and navy with modern weapons, not the cruel despot we imagined as we looked at the Summer Palace and the giant floating marble boat in Beijing. It is very readable. I’m going to give a copy to grandson Will who studies Chinese at High School.
There is a good Chinese History section at Abbey’s but I also want to recommend a book in biography about an Australian who was important in Chinese history at the end of Cixi’s reign. It is about Morrison of Peking as he became known, the Australian journalist for The Times of London, whose life is truly fascinating. I think the latest edition of this book by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin is called The Life and Adventures of Morrison of China. It seems to have a lot less pages so perhaps it doesn’t talk about his adventure as a young man walking from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne only twenty one years after Burke and Wills perished trying to do the same thing. It was first called The Man Who Died Twice.
Son Donald, now working in Perth for Woodside, is a mentor for several young men in the company. When asked by them if he was a mentor what were they? He hesitated. I think it should be mentoree but apparently it is mentee! When told this the young men protested that they were not lollies! Mentees not Minties says Donald. We looked it up on Google and apparently mentee is the word although certain bloggers say it is an ugly little word in danger of being misunderstood. Rush to your dictionaries now. I’ve discovered Abbey’s doesn’t have a Dictionary of New Words now. No doubt people look words up on Google but still word addicts like a printed copy and Abbeys does always have a decent Linguistics section. Susan Butler, Editor of Macquarie Dictionary has a book coming out this month. It is called The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English. I haven’t seen it yet but I shall certainly have a copy.
As a previous Judge I was invited to the Miles Franklin Award announcement held in a beautiful room upstairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and like many people there I was surprised at winning choice, although now that I am reading it I do approve. All the Birds, Singing is a pretty tough book. An awful lot about sheep so there’s no doubt about it being Australian.