Australian Classic Read-Along

There are just too many Australian classics I haven’t read and I’m sure I’m not alone on this one. I always have the intention of getting to them, but there are so many other great books and new releases clambering for attention on my TBR (to-be-read) pile, that it’s difficult to achieve.

Does anyone else in the Boomerang Books community feel the same way? If you do, would you like to participate in an Australian Classic Read-Along?

How would it work?
First we’d need some suggestions in order to come up with a range of Australian classics to choose from. Depending on your feedback and requests, we can then determine the most popular/requested novel. I’ll create a reading schedule for us and each week we can discuss our thoughts online here on the Boomerang Books Blog by leaving comments on the weekly posts.

Advantages of a read-alongBoomerang-Books Australian Classic Read along
A read-along can inspire you to read a book (in this case an Australian classic) you’ve always been meaning to read.  You’ll enjoy the bookish conversation and feel like you’re part of a reading club. You might even meet likeminded booklovers like yourself.

What should we read?
That’s up to you, what would you like to read? You can click here and browse books from some of these lists, but some suggestions to get us started could include: The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay, My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin, Picnic At Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay or The Harp In The South by Ruth Park.

We could also choose a contemporary Australian classic, such as: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas or The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. The possibilities and choices are endless.

Suggestions welcome
Now it’s over to you. Are you keen to read an Australian classic with likeminded readers or know someone who is?

Leave your novel suggestions below and we’ll see if we can drum up some interest. You can also make your request on Twitter, just use the hashtag #bbooksreadalong and don’t forget to tag us @boomerangbooks

According to Mark Twain, a classic is: a book which people praise and don’t read. Let’s see if we can change that!

Vale Bryce Courtenay

Photo: Andrew Zuckerman

Bestselling Australian novelist Bryce Courtenay passed away in Canberra last Thursday after a battle with cancer.  Rest in peace Bryce.

Media Statement
Issued by Penguin Group (Australia) on behalf of Christine Courtenay

It is with sadness Penguin Group (Australia) wish to advise that Bryce Courtenay AM passed away peacefully at 11:30pm on Thursday 22 November in Canberra with his wife Christine, son Adam and his beloved pets Tim, the dog, and Cardamon, the Burmese cat by his side. He was 79.

Christine Courtenay said this morning, “We’d like to thank all of Bryce’s family and friends and all of his fans around the world for their love and support for me and his family as he wrote the final chapter of his extraordinary life. And may we make a request for privacy as we cherish his memory.”

Gabrielle Coyne, Chief Executive Officer, Penguin Group (Australia) said, “It has been our great privilege to be Bryce’s publisher for the past 15 years. We, as well as his many fans will forever miss Bryce’s indomitable spirit, his energy and his commitment to storytelling.”

Bob Sessions, Bryce Courtenay’s long standing Publisher at Penguin said, “Bryce took up writing in his fifties, after a successful career in advertising. His output and his professionalism made him a pleasure to work with, and I’m happy to say he became a good friend, referring to me as ‘Uncle Bob’, even when we were robustly negotiating the next book contract. He was a born storyteller, and I would tell him he was a ‘latter-day Charles Dickens’, with his strong and complex plots, larger-than-life characters, and his ability to appeal to a large number of readers.

“Virtually each year for the last 15 years, I have worked with Bryce on a new novel. He would write a 600 page book in around six months, year in, year out. To achieve that feat he used what he called ‘bum glue’, sometimes writing for more than 12 hours a day. He brought to writing his books the same determination and dedication he showed in the more than 40 marathons he ran, most of them when he was well over 50. Not to have a new Bryce Courtenay novel to work on will leave a hole in my publishing life. Not to have Bryce Courtenay in my life, will be to miss the presence of a very special friend.”

The last word belongs to Bryce himself. In a moving epilogue in his final book, Bryce said to readers “It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives. Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.’

Bryce Courtenay’s new – and final – novel is released

The new – and final – novel, Jack of Diamonds, by Australia’s favourite storyteller, Bryce Courtenay, is now available. You can buy it here…

Celebrating the golden age of jazz, Jack of Diamonds is a true Bryce Courtenay classic spanning three continents and starring the irrepressible, quick-witted and big-hearted Jack Spayd.

Inspired by Bryce’s love of jazz and his own experiences working in the mines in Africa, Jack of Diamonds is a brilliantly entertaining story of chance, music, corruption and love.

Born into the slums of Toronto at the end of the roaring twenties, Jack Spayd grows up with a set of rules for home, school and the street where the strong rule the weak. But guided by a teacher who believes in him, a mother who protects him from his father’s drunken rages, and a friend, Mac, who introduces him to jazz, Jack discovers a life beyond Cabbagetown.

‘I’d discovered what was to become my first true obsession. I was completely obsessed, bowled over, struck by jazz lightning, whatever you want to name it.’

Turning his back on a promising classical career, Jack pursues his dream of becoming a professional jazz pianist, and rides the rails out West until he lands a job scuffing – playing everything from Rachmaninoff to ragtime. But in the dark gambling dens and honky-tonk bars of the devil’s playground that is Moose Jaw, Saskatchen, Jack receives more than a musical baptism of fire and makes a name for himself as a seriously smart poker player.

Soon the bright lights of Las Vegas beckon with the promise of legal gambling and a chance for Jack to see if he is good enough to make it as a jazz piano player in America. Caught up in the world of elite poker Jack falls under the spell of his boss, the enigmatic Bridgett Fuller, who has connections to the brutal Chicago Mob running Las Vegas. When someone gets badly hurt, Jack Spayd, also known as Jack McCrae, or Jack Reed, ex-piano player, now jazz harmonica player and sometime medic, is forced to flee for his life.

Leaving behind the one woman he adores, Jack sets sail for Africa where he begins work at the Luswishi River Copper Mine deep in the Belgian Congo. Soon his life-saving adventures lead to even more intrigue when he is given a rare African Grey parrot with a valuable secret, and before long Jack is drawn into a gambling ring run by ex-SS Germans.

‘It’s been a privilege to write for you and to have you accept me as a storyteller in your lives.

Now, as my story draws to an end, may I say only, ‘Thank you. You have been simply wonderful.’

With love and admiration,

 

I Do Like Mondays (Well, This One Monday At Least)

April Fool's DayMondays aren’t normally days one celebrates, but I’m prepared to make an exception in this case. Monday 1 August marks the release of 26 brand-spanking-new Popular Penguins. You know, the cute-as-a-button, budget-priced, iconic-orange titles? Yeah, those ones (I’ve helpfully copied and pasted the list of newbies for you below).

  1. Accidental by Ali Smith
  2. Another Country by James Baldwin
  3. April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay
  4. Autograph Man by Zadie Smith
  5. Boy by Roald Dahl
  6. Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
  7. Eye in the Door by Pat Barker
  8. Falconer by John Cheever
  9. Fight by Norman Mailer
  10. Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
  11. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
  12. High Window by Raymond Chandler
  13. I, Claudius by Robert Graves
  14. Kestrel for a Knave by Barry Hines
  15. Labyrinths by Jorge Luis Borges
  16. Meditations by Aurelius Marcus
  17. Nineteen Eighty-four by George Orwell
  18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf
  19. Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen
  20. Passage to India by E.M. Forster
  21. Pearl by John Steinbeck
  22. Prince by Machiavelli
  23. Ragtime by E.L. Doctrow
  24. Spy In The House Of Love by Anais Nin
  25. Time Machine by H.G. Wells
  26. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

A quick skim of the list reveals that I:

  • have read three
  • have sitting on my bookshelf (in non-Popular Penguins formats, of course) but haven’t read two
  • want to read 13
  • want to re-read (and re-buy, because my copies have gone AWOL) two
  • haven’t heard of (but in my defence, have heard of their authors) 11.

BoyHmmm, those aren’t exactly impressive figures given the popularity of these titles and well read-ness with which I like to consider myself. Still, it resolves the issue of my previous blog, which was that I was drawing a blank on which books to buy with my $120 Boomerang Books voucher (Sorry Clayton, you’re going to have to keep writing out the cheques).

First on my list of buying (technically re-buying) will be Bryce Courtenay’s April Fool’s Day and Roald Dahl’s Boy (yes, I’m aware that’s not an orange cover to the left, but I had trouble locating that one, so colourful cover it is).

Both were deeply influential reading during my childhood, and after finishing each, I quickly devoured both authors’ oeuvres (that’s a fancy word for ‘back catalogue’ and some of you reading this blog will get the in joke).

On some level, both books set me on the course of being a writer, and in particular a creative non-fiction writer interested in tackling the issues of the world. So yeah, they’re kind of big on my list of books to read before you die.

Coincidentally, I had been thinking how I’d like to revisit April Fool’s Day after hearing a Conversations with Richard Fidler interview with a woman who comes from the largest haemophiliac family in the world.

Her family’s tale is as tragic as Courtenay’s family’s own, with almost 10 of her uncles first being debilitated by haemophilia and second contracting and dying of AIDS (or AIDS-related illnesses, for those of you semantics out there) after being infected by contaminated blood transfusions. Like Courtenay’s son, they had to deal with not only the ravages of the illness, but of the stigma, assumptions of homosexuality, and subsequent homophobia that accompanied it.

Not perhaps the most uplifting of tales, I know, and this hooray-for-new-books blog has taken a turn for the serious. But these books importantly highlight the injustices of the world and the danger of ignorance and, with the same themes popping up in over and over in our lives in various forms, it’s clear we’re not really learning the lessons.

So, hooray for the release of 26 new Popular Penguin titles that I may or may not yet know but hope to tackle. And hooray for releasing two incredible and seminal books, in particular, that, at this budget price, might find and inspire a whole new readership.

No. 2 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Novels of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Novels between now and Christmas Eve…

At #2 – The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

46.5% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

The Power of One is a novel by Bryce Courtenay, first published in 1989. Set in South Africa during the 1930s and 1940s, it tells the story of an Anglo-African boy who, through the course of the story, acquires the nickname of Peekay.

It is written from the first person perspective, with Peekay narrating (as an adult, looking back) and trusting the reader with his thoughts and feelings, as opposed to a detailed description of places and account of actions.

When his mother suffers from a nervous breakdown, five-year-old Peekay is sent to a tiny rural Afrikaans boarding school. He is severely bullied and teased for being English (anti-English sentiment was widespread amongst Afrikaners following their defeat in the Boer war). Peekay is especially bullied by “the Judge”, a cruel, avid Nazi supporter and the oldest student.

At the end of the year, traumatized from his experiences, Peekay is informed that he will not be returning to the farm, rather, he will be going to the East Transvaal town of Barberton, where his grandfather lives after the outbreak of Newcastle disease on his previous home.

On the train to Barberton, Peekay befriends Hoppie Groenewald, a guard. Groenewald shares his love of boxing with Peekay. After seeing him win a boxing match, Peekay is mesmerised with the sport and vows to become the welterweight champion of the world. However, the next day Hoppie departs to fight in a war, and Hoppie’s friend Hetty dies on the train Peekay is travelling on.

When Peekay arrives in Barberton, he realises both his academic and physical potential. He excels in his grades and fights the children of the school. He becomes a frequent winner, never having lost a match.

Peekay encounters numerous friends in Barberton, including a professor of music, Prof. Karl von Vollesteen, and a coloured prisoner, Geel Piet, who coaches him in boxing. They form alliances, and each believe that all humans have equal rights. Along with the librarian, Mrs. Boxall, they establish the ‘Sandwich Fund’, which helps to supply the families of people in the Barberton prison.

Over the course of his childhood and young adulthood, Peekay builds confidence in his boxing. He also learns that racism is the primary force of evil and builds compassion and empathy for the mistreated blacks and coloureds of apartheid South Africa. Geel Piet, who has a white parent and a black parent, is constantly the target of racism and has perfected taking more than he is entitled to from the prison system.

Source: Wikipedia

About Bryce Courtenay (Books by Bryce Courtenay…)

Arthur Bryce Courtenay AM (born 14 August 1933) is a South-African-born naturalised Australian novelist and one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors.

Born in Johannesburg, Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in South Africa’s Limpopo province. In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita, and eventually emigrated to Australia. They married in 1959 and had three sons, Brett, Adam and Damon.

Courtenay now lives in Bowral, New South Wales, with his partner, Christine Gee.

His novels are primarily set in either Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay’s fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling books by any living author. The story has since been made into a film—as well as being re-released in an edition for children.

Courtenay is one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors. He has built up this success over the long-term by promoting himself and developing a relationship with readers as much as marketing his books; for instance, he gives away up to 2,500 books free each year to readers he meets in the street.

Despite his success in Australia, only The Power of One has been published in the United States. Courtenay claims that this is because “American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost”.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#2 – The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay

#3 – Storm Boy by Colin Thiele

#4 – Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

#5 – The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough

#6 – Looking for Alibrandi by Melina Marchetta

#7 – Tomorrow, When the War Began by John Marsden

#8 – I Can Jump Puddles by Alan Marshall

#9 – Playing Beatie Bow by Ruth Park

#10 – A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute

#11 – Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey

#12 – A Fortunate Life by A.B. Facey

#13 – Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

#14 – Seven Little Australians by Ethel Turner

#15 – April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

#16 – The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

#17 – My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

#18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan

#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton

#23 – Breath by Tim Winton

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

No. 15 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Novels of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Novels between now and Christmas Eve…

At #15 – April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

27.0% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

April Fool’s Day is a 1993 novel by Bryce Courtenay. The book describes the author’s son, Damon, a haemophiliac who contracted HIV/AIDS through a blood transfusion. The title refers to the date of Damon’s death, April 1 1991 (April Fools’ Day).

This is a tragic yet uplifting story. April Fool’s Day is controversial, painful and heartbreaking, yet has a gentle humour. It is also life-affirming, and, above all, a testimony to the incredible regenerative strength of love – how when we confront our worst, we can become our best. April Fool’s Day will change the way you think.

Source: Wikipedia

About Bryce Courtenay (Books by Bryce Courtenay…)

Arthur Bryce Courtenay AM (born 14 August 1933) is a South-African-born naturalised Australian novelist and one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors.

Born in Johannesburg, Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in South Africa’s Limpopo province. In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita, and eventually emigrated to Australia. They married in 1959 and had three sons, Brett, Adam and Damon.

Courtenay now lives in Bowral, New South Wales, with his partner, Christine Gee.

His novels are primarily set in either Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay’s fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling books by any living author. The story has since been made into a film—as well as being re-released in an edition for children.

Courtenay is one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors. He has built up this success over the long-term by promoting himself and developing a relationship with readers as much as marketing his books; for instance, he gives away up to 2,500 books free each year to readers he meets in the street.

Despite his success in Australia, only The Power of One has been published in the United States. Courtenay claims that this is because “American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost”.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#15 – April Fool’s Day by Bryce Courtenay

#16 – The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

#17 – My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

#18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan

#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton

#23 – Breath by Tim Winton

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden

No. 18 – Most Popular Aussie Novels of All Time

We surveyed our customers to discover the Most Popular Aussie Novels of all time – we’re counting down the Top 24 Novels between now and Christmas Eve…

At #18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

25.1% of all respondents have read this book

Synopsis for Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

Jessica is a historical novel based on fact by Bryce Courtenay. It was published in 1998 and like other works from this author covers several years in the life of the main character: Jessica Burgman. It was adapted into a mini-series starring Leeanna Walsman and Sam Neill which aired on Australian television in 2004.

Jessica is based on the inspiring true story of a young girl’s fight for justice against tremendous odds. A tomboy, Jessica is the pride of her father, as they work together on the struggling family farm. One quiet day, the peace of the bush is devastated by a terrible murder. Only Jessica is able to save the killer from the lynch mob – but will justice prevail in the courts? Nine months later, a baby is born…with Jessica determined to guard the secret of the father’s identity. The rivalry of Jessica and her beautiful sister for the love of the same man will echo throughout their lives – until finally the truth must be told. Set in the harsh Australian bush against the outbreak of World War I, this novel is heartbreaking in its innocence, and shattering in its brutality.

Source: Wikipedia

About Bryce Courtenay (Books by Bryce Courtenay…)

Arthur Bryce Courtenay AM (born 14 August 1933) is a South-African-born naturalised Australian novelist and one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors.

Born in Johannesburg, Courtenay spent most of his early years in a small village in the Lebombo Mountains in South Africa’s Limpopo province. In 1955, while studying journalism in London, Courtenay met his future wife, Benita, and eventually emigrated to Australia. They married in 1959 and had three sons, Brett, Adam and Damon.

Courtenay now lives in Bowral, New South Wales, with his partner, Christine Gee.

His novels are primarily set in either Australia, his adopted country, or South Africa, the country of his birth. His first book, The Power of One, was published in 1989 and, despite Courtenay’s fears that it would never sell, quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling books by any living author. The story has since been made into a film—as well as being re-released in an edition for children.

Courtenay is one of Australia’s most commercially successful authors. He has built up this success over the long-term by promoting himself and developing a relationship with readers as much as marketing his books; for instance, he gives away up to 2,500 books free each year to readers he meets in the street.

Despite his success in Australia, only The Power of One has been published in the United States. Courtenay claims that this is because “American publishers for the most part have difficulties about Australia, they are interested in books in their own country first and foremost”.

Source: Wikipedia

The List so far…

#18 – Jessica by Bryce Courtenay

#19 – My Place by Sally Morgan

#20 – For the Term of His Natural Life by Marcus Clarke

#21 – The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

#22 – Dirt Music by Tim Winton

#23 – Breath by Tim Winton

#24 – So Much to Tell You by John Marsden