On Primary School Confidential by Mrs Woog

I feel guilty admitting this, but I actually hadn’t heard of Mrs Woog until I listened to a podcast where she was being interviewed. I don’t have any children so I guess that’s as good an excuse as any! Still, I’m glad I listened, and I’m glad I made a quick reservation for her book at the library because I can happily say that now I’m a bit of a fan-girl.

Right from the first page of Private School Confidential, I knew it was going to be a romping great read. For starters it has a down-right Aussie accent. That’s a weird thing to write I know, and it’s not really something I have paid much attention to before. Maybe because I don’t read huge amounts of non-fiction. It was just so clear. It was like talking to a girlfriend on a Friday night at the local pub. I guess it’s that satirical, self-deprecating writing style that immediately makes you sit up and listen:

On the P&C:

The ideal P&C president should have a resume that includes the following; time spent working as a hostage negotiator for the federal police, experience in dealing with trolls on Facebook, previous dealings with the United Nations, at LEAST a brown belt in karate, superior finger-pointing skills… 

On the Kiss and Drop:

The ‘kiss and drop’ – boy that is a game-changer. Once you go there, you will never go back.

On extracurricular activities:

Think back to your own childhood. What did you do after school? I’ll bet it didn’t involve being ferried from pillar to post. Modern parents need to collectively calm the f**k down.

On Public vs. Private School:

None of the extracurricular activities and nice lawns provided by private schools will matter if your kid turns into an entitled pain in the whatsit.

The book is roughly in three parts; Mrs Woog’s experience at primary school growing up in a small town in New South Wales, her later experience as a primary school teacher, particularly in London, and then as a parent of primary school children. She details the ups and downs of school life hilariously, the kids, the mums, the food, the must-have toys. So much so that I found myself reading chapters aloud to my husband, and laughing out loud at the stories that took me back to my own school days, and the realities of working with children every day. There is a bit of a sad irony to much of the humour though, and it does make you reflect on the difficulties our educators must suffer. More respect to them, I say.

The book is a quick read, and broken into nifty little chapters that help you speed through, each anecdote entertaining and revealing. Definitely a must-read for those who work with children, those who have children and those who want them.

Amanda

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On Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson

Copy of Copy of PERFECT

Every so often you’re lucky enough to pick up a book that you know will always be among your favourite books. The ones that you will go back to and re-read again and again.

I have a few on that list already; two that I read this year and quite a few which I’m happy to say are written by Australian authors. I promise you’ll read about these in a future post on Simply Reading. But for now I’m going to tell you about the latest addition to the list: Where the Trees Were by Inga Simpson.

Where the Trees Were isn’t the first Inga Simpson book I’ve read. In 2015 I read Nest when it was long-listed for The Stella Prize, and really enjoyed the story and the lovely writing. Knowing this, Amanda kindly lent me her copy of Where the Trees Were, which her mum recently bought her. Amanda’s mum is a great supporter of our blog and an avid reader. She loves to buy books for Amanda to read and review. Thanks Jackie, we really appreciate your support! Anyway, I’m grateful Amanda lent me this book (and that Jackie bought it for her) because it’s so beautiful and memorable!

Where the Trees Were is a story of growing up and the friends you make. It also makes clear how some of the choices you make in your childhood impact your life as an adult.

Jay and her friends Ian, Josh and Kieran share a special bond growing up in a small Australian country town. When the group finds a grove of carved trees on Jay’s farm, they make a promise to each other to protect the grove and keep it a secret. This changes their lives forever.

The story is told from Jay’s perspective as she is growing up, and 17 years later when she’s trying to make up for past wrongs. I loved this about the book! Both stories were equally enjoyable. Reading about Jay’s feelings and experiences as a child then switching to her adult life helped build a complete picture and made the character more real. In fact almost a week after finishing, I can still picture the book so easily and I’m tempted to start reading it again.

There were so many aspects to this book that Inga Simpson brought to life beautifully, including Aboriginal culture and beliefs. I shared Jay’s feelings of frustration, the importance of respecting the art world and understanding how the choices governments make affect the industry. Not to mention life in a small country town and in Australia’s capital, Canberra, which I now  desperately want to visit.

Where the Trees Were (all 296 pages of it) is a delight to read. It’s just such a passionate book. If you want to sit back, relax and enjoy a beautiful story about friendship, love and life, then Where the Trees Were is the perfect book! I hope you enjoy it.

Happy Reading!

Jody

Dear Author: A letter to Helen Garner

Dear Ms Garner,

I write this knowing that, given the overwhelming confluence of content on the internet, you will likely never read it. That’s the great paradox of this thing we call the information age, don’t you think? Despite the freedom of information online, so much remains largely invisible. Or visible, but lost. Perhaps that is a metaphor for our times. Nevertheless, I have no influence here. And so I remain.

Many years ago, when I was just a quiet, quietly ambitious journalism student, I picked up Joe Cinque’s Consolation, like so many others. I read it at a time when I was conflicted about my journalism studies. I felt like we were being taught to create the story, not seek it. We were being taught to invent the drama, not observe it. It was a formula, and to get great marks, we had to follow it. I needed a role model and I hadn’t found it in any of my lecturers, tutors or the books they prescribed.

Joe Cinque’s Consolation made me realise there was a different way of looking at journalism. That it could tell the whole story, from the beginning. You made me realise it’s possible to portray the emotions of the subjects involved, purely through the gentleness of the writing. Through considered concern for the characters. Where the writer is a soft presence. But present. So different to my lecturers’ mantra to lay out the facts with cold clarity. Make sure everything’s in the first paragraph, because readers won’t be bothered to commit beyond that. Time is precious.

Time is precious. And I recently committed a little of it to reading your new book. Everywhere I Look. The collection of stories, many of which have already been published, together form a beautiful snapshot of this world we live in. I was filled with envy when you wrote of Mrs Dunkley, your stern fifth grade teacher. When I went to school, anything more than the definitions of a noun, verb and adjective was considered superfluous to my early education.

I laughed a little at Red Dog’s Mutiny (I imagine the incident wasn’t funny at all though!), and at Tim Winton’s stout, “Thanks mate” to the priest’s offering. My eyes welled at your anecdotes about your grandson, penned with such love. But it is those beautifully crafted in-between moments that brought me the greatest joy. Have you thought about Twitter? Because your ability to craft a 140-character sentence would put many to shame.

You write:

A dark sky, striped low down with bands of translucent pearly grey and the faintest, driest yellow. Bare plane tree branches disposed against it, as in a painting.

And:

Peter Porter on The Book Show: ‘The purpose of form is to prevent you from putting down on the paper the first thing that comes into your head.’

So I apologise because that is entirely what I have done here, with my limited knowledge of form. I won’t pretend to do your writing justice. However, I am so glad that I spent a little of my time reading your book. Not one second I spent reading it was wasted.

I never did end up a journalist, but you were and still are a role model to me and to many others. You write on subjects we struggle to comprehend, on the complexity of the human condition. You do it with grace. With care and careful consideration. So thank you.

Amanda.

On holiday reading and suitcase book-squishing

I am lucky enough to be leaving this morning for a little holiday. We’re heading to Western Australia for few days, to see the beaches, rest, relax and explore the other side of this country. I am excited, more than anything, to have some time for some dedicated reading! I do always find it difficult to relax when I’m in a new place though and not rush off exploring every corner and jam-packing our days full of tours, walks and drives to little towns. There’s just so much to see!

Anyway, my husband’s incredulous look when I was squishing books into our suitcase was met with a bit of a hopeful shrug. We can only hope right? Hope that we don’t go over the luggage weight limit at least!

I thought you might be interested in the books I’m taking with me, so here you go:

Pax by Sara Pennypacker: This is a beautiful-looking book for children aged nine and over, with illustrations by Jon Klassen. I picked it up at the Sydney Writers Festival local schools day, where I was lucky to hear Jon talk about his experiences as an illustrator. I read the first chapter and was completely hooked!

Kakadu Sunset by Annie Seaton: I’ve been wanting to read this book since we interviewed Annie Seaton recently. It’s a bit outside my comfort zone, but my mum read and loved it and we have pretty similar reading tastes, so it’s definitely getting squished in there! It should be a nice, light, holiday read.

Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave: A few years ago I read Gold by Chris Cleave and despite it being about sport (which isn’t entirely my thing), I loved it. The competition between the two female cyclists was a glimpse into a world that was completely foreign to me. I haven’t read too much about this new title, but I have to give it a go after that!

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon: This book won the Australian Vogel Literary Award for 2016. The blurb indicates a fascinating story as well, about Gorbachev and Russian history which, to be honest, I haven’t read a great deal about. This is going straight to the top of the pile.

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch: I really enjoyed the first book in this series – you can see my review here – and I have a feeling the second will be the perfect holiday read!

Do you think that is enough? I’m thinking maybe I can just squeeze in one more…maybe the next Elena Ferrante, or one of the others piled up next to my bed that I haven’t quite got to yet. I suppose they have bookshops in WA though; does anyone know any great ones?

Amanda x