The link below is to an article that takes a look at the origin of Goodreads.
The link below is to an article that reports on the finalists of the 2018 Story Prize.
The link below is to an article that takes a look at the biggest nonfiction bestsellers of the last 100 years.
The love of reading is one of the greatest gifts an adult can give to a child. Pragmatically, reading proficiently helps with school work. But it also widens children’s horizons. It can help readers to understand their own world better, and to explore other worlds.
Parents often see reading as “school business” – something that teachers are responsible for. But there’s a lot of research that shows the value of reading at home and in the community. Children who read at home with parents or caregivers have an educational advantage that lasts their whole lives. In fact, reading to children helps them develop the language and literacy skills they need to begin formal literacy instruction.
Parents, as their children’s first and most important teachers, can make reading fun and inspire a lifelong love of reading. If parents themselves cannot read, others such as older siblings, friends and relatives can play this role.
Here, based on our own research studies about reading and drawing from the work being done by organisations dedicated to literacy, are some ideas to get kids reading for fun.
Reading as play
Children can have fun with reading even before they can read themselves. Reading feeds their fertile imaginations and they do the rest. In one of our research studies, pre-schooler Shafeek* spontaneously dressed up and acted out a story that his mother had read to him. Ashwariya* played “school” by “reading” a story to her toys. Again, she could not yet read but used the pictures and her memory for her game.
These examples show that reading can be made fun by linking it to play – through acting out, drawing pictures, dressing up, creating objects, or many other creative activities. Sometimes children do this on their own. But parents and teachers can also provide guided play activities.
Reading routines are important at home. This could take the form of “bedtime story”, reading prayers or verses from a sacred book, or regular weekend reading. Young children often love to hear the same story again and again. This is important for their emergent literacy as they learn how stories work, and how to “read” backwards and forwards.
Children enjoy singing songs and rhymes and this is a fun activity for reading development too. These allow children to play with words and sounds which is the first step in developing their phonological awareness, an integral skill to develop for reading.
Children can have fun by joining in family reading activities. This could mean looking at advertisements and, even if they cannot yet read, identifying pictures of items. It could mean turning the pages of newspapers or magazines for a parent and learning how to hold a book the right way up. Family photo albums are also great for learning to “read” pictures and hear family stories. Children learn to respect and handle books by seeing their caregivers do so.
Above all, caregivers should read to their children as an activity that’s designed to make meaning with a focus on understanding.
One of the weaknesses of teaching reading at South African schools, for instance, is that it often does not focus on comprehension. Parents can make reading meaningful getting children to preview a text (look at the title, cover and pictures before they read) and guess what it will be about.
They can also ask questions as they read (“Why did she/he do that? Do you think it was the right thing? What do you think will happen next?”), link the story to children’s lives and experiences, and get them to make up their own endings.
Some older children enjoy keeping a “reading diary” of books they have read with their impressions. Reading can also be a prompt for writing their own stories. Creating and writing for a school newspaper or magazine can be great fun and can be adapted to suit the technology available in the school.
Reading their own texts
Reading is difficult but it can be made more accessible if children are presented with opportunities to develop their own texts to read. An example of this could be to write a story with the child and have them read it themselves. Such a text would consist of vocabulary familiar to the child and it would scaffold comprehension of reading. If children are involved in developing their own texts for reading, it becomes a personal and authentic experience based on their own interests and needs. Producing their own texts also gives children a sense of ownership that helps them to take responsibility for the process.
Finding the right stuff
While there is no shortage of children’s books in English, finding suitable reading material in African languages and about African contexts can be a problem.
Many public libraries stock such books. Nalibali has a great range of stories in South African languages. The Family Literacy Project has developed many wonderful ideas for developing reading, including box libraries, reading clubs and Umzali Nengane (Parent and Child) journals.
Paulo Freire, the great Brazilian educator, talked about “reading the word in order to read the world”. He showed how reading critically and creatively can help people change their lives and create a better world. Something so important should not be left to teachers alone.
*Not their real names.
Each new year, people vow to put an end to self-destructive habits like smoking, overeating or overspending.
And how many times have we learned of someone – a celebrity, a friend or a loved one – who committed some self-destructive act that seemed to defy explanation? Think of the criminal who leaves a trail of evidence, perhaps with the hope of getting caught, or the politician who wins an election, only to start sexting someone likely to expose him.
Why do they do it?
Edgar Allan Poe, one of America’s greatest – and most self-destructive – writers, had some thoughts on the subject. He even had a name for the phenomenon: “perverseness.” Psychologists would later take the baton from Poe and attempt to decipher this enigma of the human psyche.
In one of his lesser-known works, “The Imp of the Perverse,” Poe argues that knowing something is wrong can be “the one unconquerable force” that makes us do it.
It seems that the source of this psychological insight was Poe’s own life experience. Orphaned before he was three years old, he had few advantages. But despite his considerable literary talents, he consistently managed to make his lot even worse.
He frequently alienated editors and other writers, even accusing poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow of plagiarism in what has come to be known as the “Longfellow war.” During important moments, he seemed to implode: On a trip to Washington, D.C. to secure support for a proposed magazine and perhaps a government job, he apparently drank too much and made a fool of himself.
After nearly two decades of scraping out a living as an editor and earning little income from his poetry and fiction, Poe finally achieved a breakthrough with “The Raven,” which became an international sensation after its publication in 1845.
But when given the opportunity to give a reading in Boston and capitalize on this newfound fame, Poe didn’t read a new poem, as requested.
Instead, he reprised a poem from his youth: the long-winded, esoteric and dreadfully boring “Al Aaraaf,” renamed “The Messenger Star.”
As one newspaper reported, “it was not appreciated by the audience,” evidenced by “their uneasiness and continual exits in numbers at a time.”
Poe’s literary career stalled for the remaining four years of his short life.
Freud’s ‘death drive’
While “perverseness” wrecked Poe’s life and career, it nonetheless inspired his literature.
It figures prominently in “The Black Cat,” in which the narrator executes his beloved cat, explaining, “I…hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart…hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin – a deadly sin that would so jeopardise my immortal soul as to place it – if such a thing were possible – even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.”
Why would a character knowingly commit “a deadly sin”? Why would someone destroy something that he loved?
Was Poe onto something? Did he possess a penetrating insight into the counterintuitive nature of human psychology?
A half-century after Poe’s death, Sigmund Freud wrote of a universal and innate “death drive” in humans, which he called “Thanatos” and first introduced in his landmark 1919 essay “Beyond the Pleasure Principle.”
Many believe Thanatos refers to unconscious psychological urges toward self-destruction, manifested in the kinds of inexplicable behavior shown by Poe and – in extreme cases – in suicidal thinking.
In the early 1930s, physicist Albert Einstein wrote to Freud to ask his thoughts on how further war might be prevented. In his response, Freud wrote that Thanatos “is at work in every living creature and is striving to bring it to ruin and to reduce life to its original condition of inanimate matter” and referred to it as a “death instinct.”
To Freud, Thanatos was an innate biological process with significant mental and emotional consequences – a response to, and a way to relieve, unconscious psychological pressure.
Toward a modern understanding
In the 1950s, the psychology field underwent the “cognitive revolution,” in which researchers started exploring, in experimental settings, how the mind operates, from decision-making to conceptualization to deductive reasoning.
Self-defeating behavior came to be considered less a cathartic response to unconscious drives and more the unintended result of deliberate calculus.
In 1988, psychologists Roy Baumeister and Steven Scher identified three main types of self-defeating behavior: primary self-destruction, or behavior designed to harm the self; counterproductive behavior, which has good intentions but ends up being accidentally ineffective and self-destructive; and trade-off behavior, which is known to carry risk to the self but is judged to carry potential benefits that outweigh those risks.
Think of drunk driving. If you knowingly consume too much alcohol and get behind the wheel with the intent to get arrested, that’s primary self-destruction. If you drive drunk because you believe you’re less intoxicated than your friend, and – to your surprise – get arrested, that’s counterproductive. And if you know you’re too drunk to drive, but you drive anyway because the alternatives seem too burdensome, that’s a trade-off.
Baumeister and Scher’s review concluded that primary self-destruction has actually rarely been demonstrated in scientific studies.
Rather, the self-defeating behavior observed in such research is better categorized, in most cases, as trade-off behavior or counterproductive behavior. Freud’s “death drive” would actually correspond most closely to counterproductive behavior: The “urge” toward destruction isn’t consciously experienced.
Finally, as psychologist Todd Heatherton has shown, the modern neuroscientific literature on self-destructive behavior most frequently focuses on the functioning of the prefrontal cortex, which is associated with planning, problem solving, self-regulation and judgment.
When this part of the brain is underdeveloped or damaged, it can result in behavior that appears irrational and self-defeating. There are more subtle differences in the development of this part of the brain: Some people simply find it easier than others to engage consistently in positive goal-directed behavior.
Poe certainly didn’t understand self-destructive behavior the way we do today.
But he seems to have recognized something perverse in his own nature. Before his untimely death in 1849, he reportedly chose an enemy, the editor Rufus Griswold, as his literary executor.
True to form, Griswold wrote a damning obituary and “Memoir,” in which he alludes to madness, blackmail and more, helping to formulate an image of Poe that has tainted his reputation to this day.
Then again, maybe that’s exactly what Poe – driven by his own personal imp – wanted.
In this confusing and often conflicted world, children’s author Gillian Cross has summed up what it is about reading fiction that is so important: “Good stories help us make sense of the world. They invite us to discover what it’s like being someone completely different.”
As the author of a children’s novel myself, I’m going to double down on this and say that if this is important for adults, it’s 100 times more important for children.
Children passionately want to understand what’s going on – and fiction is a potent way for them to do this. A study by education professor Maria Nikolajeva found that “reading fiction provides an excellent training for young people in developing and practising empathy and theory of mind, that is, understanding of how other people feel and think”.
In the wealth of recent fiction for children and young adults, here are ten powerful stories for young people, addressing some of the most important, and troubling, questions we face today.
1. The Bone Sparrow by Zana Fraillon (Orion)
Imagine being imprisoned for your whole life. Imagine growing up like Subhi.
The nine-year-old’s world ends at the diamond-shaped fence – the outer edge of the detention centre he is detained in with his Rohingya family in Australia.
Fraillon draws a vivid picture of life inside the fence – vulnerable people fleeing persecution, only to find – instead of the peace and sanctuary they so desperately need – indifference and hostility.
But Subhi finds hope in his friendship with an Australian girl from outside the fence. (Age: 11+)
2. The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (Red Ink)
What if Germany had won World War II and the UK was now part of a Third German Reich? This is a coming-of-age story with a difference – 16-year-old Jessika is a talented ice-skater in a high-ranking REICH?family.
But her friendship with subversive, courageous and desirable Clem threatens everything: her family, her future, and her very life. This is a story that paints the dangers of totalitarianism in vivid language. (Age: 12+)
3. Boy 87 by Ele Fountain (Pushkin Press)
Fourteen-year-old Shif lives in a country that conscripts its children into the army. The country isn’t named, but may be in Africa. He wants to play chess with his best friend Bini and race him home from school. But the army comes calling and the two must flee.
Shif experiences at first hand the brutality of a totalitarian government, then the trauma of migration and trafficking. Despite this, the story manages to be hopeful. (Age: 12 +)
4. The Jungle by Pooja Puri (Ink Road)
Sixteen-year-old Mico is surviving his life in the Jungle refugee camp in Calais. Without anyone to look out for him, he must look out for himself, living on his wits and his luck. Using careful research, Puri shows us what life is like as a refugee, owning nothing, not even the clothes on your back or the blanket you sleep beneath.
She shows us the desperation and terrible lengths refugees will go to, to try to find a home. But when Mico meets Leila, we see, too, the hope – and the risk – that friendship brings. (Age: 12+)
5. After the Fire by Will Hill (Usborne)
Moonbeam has lost her mother and she only knows life inside The Fence – it’s a life controlled by cult leader Father John.
But one night a devastating fire burns that life to the ground – the buildings, the people, the leader are all gone and only Moonbeam and a handful of children survive. Moonbeam and the others must now discover the world beyond the fence.
Can she do this when Father John has told her to trust no one outside? Using the WACO siege as his source material, Hill explores the power of brainwashing and cult identity.
Moonbeam’s search is for a truth she can stand by now, and for the mother she thinks must be dead. (Age: 12+)
6. I Am Thunder by Muhammad Khan (Macmillan)
Written in the voice of its smart and self-deprecating heroine, British Muslim Pakistani teenager Muzna, this is both a coming-of-age novel and a thriller. Muzna navigates her life at home and at school, working out how to have her own identity and her own ambitions, not those imposed by her parents, religion, school or friends.
And, as her relationship with Arif develops, the story becomes a thriller, and the stakes become very high. (Age: 13+)
7. The Territory trilogy by Sarah Govett (Firefly Press)
What happens when the sea levels rise? Govett imagines a flooded world with dwindling resources and not enough dry land for everyone. Choices have to be made, about who stays on the dry territory, and who is banished beyond the fence, to the dreaded Wetlands. But when 15-year-old Noa finds herself beyond the fence, she discovers that not everything the adults have been telling her is true. (Age: 13+)
8. Night of the Party by Tracey Mathias (Scholastic)
Following Britain’s withdrawal from Europe, a far-right Nationalist party has come to power.
Only those born in Britain (or BB as they are known) are allowed to live legally – everyone born outside the country is subject to immediate arrest and deportation and failing to report illegals is a crime.
Mathias has set her thriller in a British dystopia that is more scarily plausible than ever.
The young protagonist Zara is an illegal living in this scary new Britain – and falling in love with Ash might be the most dangerous thing she could do. (Age: 13+)
9. Moonrise by Sarah Crossan (Bloomsbury)
It’s ten years since Joe saw his brother Ed – and now Ed is on death row, facing execution for the murder of a police officer. What do they know of each other now? Ed says he’s innocent of the murder, but everyone else believes he’s guilty.
Crossan’s verse novel explores a single summer, perhaps Ed’s last, as 17-year-old Joe struggles to understand what has been done to his brother – and to himself. (Age: 13+)
10. The New Neighbours by Sarah McIntyre (David Fickling Books)
The only picture book in the list, McIntyre’s delightfully illustrated story explores how intolerance and scaremongering can run like a mad fever through a community. When new neighbours move in to the tower block, hysteria builds quickly, until finally the other animals discover the truth about their newest neighbours. (Age: 2+)
As a rare books curator, I get to interact with first editions of novels I love, illustrated versions of my favorite poets’ works, and lavish editions of historical engravings.
In 2015, I started using the University of South Carolina’s first edition of “Lyrical Ballads” in my survey of British literature courses. Written by William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, this collection of poems is commonly thought to have launched British Romanticism.
I would bring the volume to class to discuss its visual appearance as a printed text. But each time I shared the volume with a new group of students, we found ourselves drawn to the comments written in the book’s margins by its early owner, John Peace.
Peace was, I learned, an acquaintance of Wordsworth. And some of his comments in the margins of one of the volume’s most well-known poems, “Tintern Abbey,” explore the poem’s themes of memory, place and return.
In this poem, Wordsworth describes his return to the Wye River valley after an absence of five years. He also recalls his memories of his first visit to the valley and looks forward to the memories this second visit will create.
“In this moment,” he writes, “there is life and food / For future years.”
When Peace responds to these lines, he describes a different kind of experience – visiting the poet in his home – in a similar way: “So thought I when my foot first step’t upon his threshold, and so have I found.”
It is a singular piece of literary history, and it’s one example of how the study of words written in the margins of historic texts – called “marginalia” – can illuminate the history of reading in new ways.
As prominent book historian Roger Chartier has noted, marginalia can reconstruct past reading experiences through the “sparse and multiple traces” ordinary readers left behind.
One particularly vivid example that is far from ordinary is Sylvia Plath’s copy of “The Great Gatsby.”
Reading ‘Gatsby’ with Sylvia Plath
Acquired by the University of South Carolina in 1994 from a former professor, the Matthew J. & Arlyn Bruccoli Collection of F. Scott Fitzgerald includes Fitzgerald’s personal ledger, a flask from his wife Zelda, and early drafts of his works.
It also includes an inexpensive 1949 edition of “The Great Gatsby.” Compared to other items in this collection, it might not seem like anything special.
But the book’s owner – and the words she wrote in its margins – are quite noteworthy.
The bookplate identifies Sylvia Plath as the owner of this copy, which she most likely read as an undergraduate at Smith College. Some marginal comments were probably notes she took during lectures about the novel. But others show the way Fitzgerald’s novel sparked her imagination and inspired her own work.
She wrote on almost every page, underlining passages in black and blue ink, drawing stars beside her favorites and occasionally writing notes – some quite arresting – in the margins.
Plath wrote “L’Ennui” – a French word that describes a feeling of listlessness and boredom – next to a description of the character Daisy’s world-weary view of life: “I’ve been everywhere and seen everything and done everything.” “L’Ennui” would become the title of a poem Plath is thought to have written shortly after reading this novel.
Other notes are, in the context of Plath’s painful life and tragic suicide, haunting.
She writes that Daisy shows a “desire for a secure future” – a longing that seems to have struck a chord for Plath.
On another page, she hints at masculine aggression when she comments, as Gatsby watches the Buchanans from outside their home, “knight waiting outside – dragon goes to bed with the princess.” This was a motif that would reappear in her own life: In her recently published letters, Plath details the physical and emotional abuse her husband, the poet Ted Hughes, inflicted upon her in the months before her death.
Sylvia Plath’s copy of “The Great Gatsby” speaks to the value of marginalia. As Makenzie Logue, a student of mine who is currently studying the volume, put it, preserving these notes means that you can “read The Great Gatsby with Sylvia Plath.”
Making marginalia accessible
In recent years, marginalia left by ordinary readers has become a subject of large-scale data collection efforts.
At the University of Virginia, English professor Andrew Stauffer leads a team that has made a book’s annotations, inscriptions and insertions discoverable as part of UVA’s online library catalog. Any user will be able to find such markings through a simple online search.
At the University of California, Los Angeles, librarians are developing ways to discover marginalia digitally – and quickly – across large digital collections.
Using the methods developed at the University of Virginia, my colleague Michael Weisenburg and I have organized searches for historical markings in library books at the University of South Carolina. Student workers and library staff have enhanced records for annotated volumes in the school’s online catalog.
While digital technology has made marginalia more accessible, digital reading has made the actual habit of writing in books much less common.
What would Sylvia Plath and John Peace have done if they had a Kindle? Would they have still left traces of their reactions to the texts – so valuable to scholars today – behind?
In one Harry Potter fan fiction story, Hermione Granger anxiously awaits the results from a recent test.
It isn’t her performance on an exam in a potions course that she’s concerned about. Instead, the higher-ups at Hogwarts had ordered she undergo some psychological tests. They had noticed how quickly she talked, along with her nervous tics.
Hermione eventually sees the results: “I stared at my parents, blinking my eyes. I knew the results would be here today, but I didn’t think the outcome would be like this. Asperger, the paper said.”
In this piece of fan fiction, Hermione Granger has been diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
As scholars of fan fiction and young adult literature, we started noticing how some fan fiction authors were incorporating autism into their stories – sometimes through new characters and other times by rewriting existing ones.
Since then we’ve been collecting and analyzing fan fictions in which young writers have created characters with autism.
These amateur writers seem to be eager to create the kinds of characters they aren’t regularly seeing in the media. The Harry Potter universe, in particular, has emerged as a popular setting.
The importance of autistic characters
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 1 in 59 children is diagnosed with autism, a word that covers a spectrum of conditions that psychologists refer to as autism spectrum disorder.
How autism manifests can vary greatly from person to person. Some experience significant disability, while others experience milder forms of cognitive difference and social discomfort.
But one thing is clear: Diagnoses have increased in the past 20 years, with the National Autism Association identifying autism as the “fastest growing development disorder.”
At the same time – outside of a couple of notable examples, like Dustin Hoffman’s character in “Rain Man” and Julia from “Sesame Street” – there continues to be a dearth of autistic characters in books, television shows and films.
Yet these media portrayals are extremely important: Accurate portrayals of autism can help people understand the complexities of this condition. Nonexistent depictions – not to mention misleading ones – foster misinformation and bias.
In 2015, Sonya Freeman Loftis, an assistant professor of English at Morehouse College, published “Imagining Autism: Fiction and Stereotypes on the Spectrum,” one of the few academic studies to take up the representation of autism in fiction.
Loftis critiques stereotypical depictions of autism in a range of fictional narratives, such as the character of Lennie in Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” a figure whose disability is linked to sexual violence.
But she also points out that positive representations of autism spectrum disorder can actually highlight some of the strengths that those with autism possess: attention to detail, high levels of concentration, forthrightness, dedication and strong memory skills.
Activists and scholars like Loftis have argued that people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder should be more justly and accurately understood as “neurodiverse”: If neurological faculties exist on a continuum, theirs could simply be thought of as “different” from the statistical norm.
Young writers take the lead
If major studios and publishing companies express little interest in telling stories about people with autism, who can fill the void?
Fan fictions and other forms of do-it-yourself media-making are an outlet for people to explore issues that are often missing from mass market and popular entertainment.
Some of the most famous examples from fan fiction take place in the Star Trek universe, particularly those that imagine a gay relationship between Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock. In doing so, fans were able to integrate queer plots and themes into Gene Roddenberry’s science fiction universe at a time when few gay relationships were appearing on TV.
Given the paucity of mass media representation of autism, we wondered if young people might be using fan fiction to explore this complex topic.
Beginning in 2016 – and working with University of California, Irvine graduate student Vicky Chen – we started analyzing the writings that have appeared on a hugely popular fan fiction clearinghouse.
After selecting for categories such as “neurodiverse” and “differabilities,” we noticed that a number of stories set in the Harry Potter universe seemed to have autistic or neurodiverse characters. We collected and coded these stories, and are set to publish our findings in a forthcoming essay in the Journal of Literacy Research.
Most of the stories were written by young people who have siblings, relatives or friends with autism spectrum disorder. We concluded that, while some of these characters occasionally slip into stereotypes, most of them affirm the ability of people with autism spectrum disorder to confront bigotry and speak about their own conditions.
By extension, the stories promote an understanding of autism as something that isn’t scary or horrific.
In one story, for instance, the writer creates a new character, Albus Potter, the son of Harry Potter, who is autistic and newly enrolled in Hogwarts. In the story, Albus initially has difficulty forming relationships. But he ultimately finds friends in houses as diverse as Gryffindor and Slytherin.
His overprotective mother tries to shield him from ridicule by students and even some biased faculty. But she’s challenged by others, including her husband, who suggests that “Albus can do a great many things that people have said he couldn’t.”
The ‘magic’ of autism
Why the Harry Potter universe?
We reasoned that many of these young writers are still in school and likely huge fans of Harry Potter, so the choice of Hogwarts as a common setting isn’t surprising.
But many of the young authors also linked autism to a kind of “magic” or ability that could be understood at Hogwarts as special – even advantageous – in ways that “muggles,” or normal people, wouldn’t see. In all of the stories we analyzed, everyone with autism also has magical abilities.
In other cases, autism isn’t depicted as an impairment or a challenge to overcome. Instead, it simply appears as a “difference” – a portrayal that’s aligned with the goals of those who argue that autism should be thought of as a form of neurodiversity, not as an illness or disability.
Perhaps most significantly, this research points to the ways in which young people can craft complex representations of autism that the media shies away from.
We can’t say when positive representations of autism will move from fandom to the mainstream.
But until then, these young writers are quietly doing the work to help dispel stereotypes and generate understanding – perhaps even appreciation.
Jonathan Alexander, Chancellor’s Professor of English and Gender & Sexuality Studies, University of California, Irvine and Rebecca Black, Associate Professor of Education, University of California, Irvine
Australians flock to the beach over the summer holidays: Bondi alone had 2.9 million visitors in 2017 – 2018. But while tourism campaigns often portray the beach as an idyllic, isolated haven, many of our beach stories depict it as a darker, more crowded and complex place.
Here are ten Australian beach stories (in no particular order) worth reading this summer.
Floundering by Romy Ash
Romy Ash’s debut novel Floundering, shortlisted for the 2013 Miles Franklin award, is a captivating, sometimes chilling story of two young boys who are taken, without warning, by their mother to a beachside caravan park.
Left to their own devices, the boys must make the most of their time by the beach without anything but their school bags and uniforms.
The un-named regional beach in this novel is uncomfortable, “a location of risk and danger” as author Robert Drewe once described it, and sometimes reveals the worst ways in which nature and humanity meet. It’s a refuge for people looking to escape from city life, a stark comparison to more urbanised beaches.
Puberty Blues by Kathy Lette and Gabrielle Carey
When I tell people that I research the Australian beach, often their first response is to ask if I’ve watched Puberty Blues. Perhaps Australia’s most iconic beach text, the book (first published in 1979) is the story of two friends growing up in beachside suburbs of Sydney. It was adapted for film by Bruce Beresford in 1981.
Both the book and film, with their characteristic colloquialisms and Australian slang, capture a sense of Australian coastal identity while revealing uncomfortable truths about gender, sex, and drugs for the teenagers they depict.
Australian stories about the beach are often male-centred and written by men. Puberty Blues is an important contribution to beach literature because of Debbie and Sue, its female protagonists, and their perspectives on a blokey world.
Time’s Long Ruin by Stephen Orr
In 1966, the three Beaumont children disappeared from Glenelg Beach near Adelaide. They were last seen in the company of a tall, blond man. Despite continued searching, even earlier this year, they have never been found.
Time’s Long Ruin (2010) is a fictionalised account of the disappearance of three children as told through the eyes of their young neighbour. Loosely based on the Beaumont story, Orr captures the dread of the aftermath for those left behind who knew and loved the children, the challenge of dealing with false leads and unreliable information, and the growing realisation that they will likely never be found.
The case of the Beaumont children had an enormous impact on Australian culture. My mother, who was a young girl when they disappeared, still recalls how her parents would worry about her momentarily being out of sight at the beach at this time.
Breath by Tim Winton
On the surface, this novel is about surfing. But it asks deep questions about masculinity, and boys’ attitudes towards sex, while capturing the feel of Australian coastal life in the 1970s.
Winton’s writings often engage with the ocean, the coast, and the beach – usually in West Australia, where he lives. His memoirs have revealed his love for the coastal landscape. As he writes in Land’s Edge (1993): “There is nowhere else I’d rather be, nothing else I’d rather be doing. I am at the beach looking west with the continent behind me as the sun tracks down to the sea. I have my bearings”.
The Empty Beach by Peter Corris
Peter Corris died in August, after publishing 102 novels. The Empty Beach (1983) was released early in his career and is the fourth novel featuring the private investigator Cliff Hardy – a homegrown, hard-boiled detective, firmly located in Sydney. It was adapted for film in 1985.
In this book, Hardy is investigating the disappearance of John Singer, missing and presumed dead. He begins his probe in the rough, working class Bondi of the early 1980s. Corris captures Bondi Beach through the eyes of his protagonist, depicting it as a seedy extension of the city.
Hassled by junkies, threatened by mobsters; Hardy spends much of the novel embroiled in the corrupt underbelly of Sydney’s criminal kingpins, never far from the now infamous shoreline.
The True Colour of the Sea, by Robert Drewe
Having lived in many coastal spots across the country, including Perth, Sydney, and Byron Bay, Robert Drewe’s stories regularly capture that very familiar, domestic sense of a beachside life.
Drewe’s The Bodysurfers (1987), a collection of short stories, became a bestseller.
His memoirs and short stories are all infused by the beach landscape, and this latest collection is no different.
As the narrator writes in Dr Pacific, the opening story in his new collection:
“One thing’s for sure – it’s my love of the ocean that keeps me going. You know what I call the ocean? Dr Pacific. All I need to keep me fit and healthy is my daily consultation with Dr Pacific.”
Atomic City by Sally Breen
Sally Breen lives and works on the Gold Coast, and that strip of high density development on the beach works its way into much of her writing.
With its high rise skyline under a big sky, Surfers Paradise has been called a “pleasure dome” by Frank Moorhouse. But Atomic City (published in 2013), set largely in the lofty apartment buildings and businesses that abut, and look out on, the beach, captures perfectly the grift and graft of this place.
Jade arrives on the Gold Coast to make herself over and get rich. Together with shady croupier “The Dealer” this is a beach tale of cons, scams and identity theft.
Not Meeting Mr Right by Anita Heiss
Prominent Australian Indigenous author Anita Heiss straddles both fiction and non-fiction, with her work often grounded in ideas around Indigenous identity. Her series of “chick lit” novels includes Not Meeting Mr Right (first published in 2007).
In the novel, Alice lives beachside in Coogee and regularly walks the coastal path between it and Bondi. A proudly single, Indigenous woman, Alice has a change of heart about marriage and decides to get serious about settling down – which means embarking on the rocky road towards finding love. In contrast to the challenges – including racism – she encounters along the way, the beach is a comfortably ordinary presence in this novel. However, Heiss also parodied the white Australian beach experience in an earlier book Sacred Cows (1996).
After January by Nick Earls
If you grew up in Brisbane when I did, there was a high chance you were reading a Nick Earls novel or seeing one adapted into a play. After January (first published in 1996) is one of Earls’ first works for young adult readers, and is set in the long break after finishing high school.
Alex is on holidays at Caloundra in his family’s beach house, a teenage boy uncomfortable in his skin but comfortable in the ocean. Although now more than 20 years old, this story still captures the uncertainty of burgeoning adulthood and the comfort the ocean can bring.
Bluebottle by Belinda Castles
For many Australians, the beach can be wrapped up in childhood memory. These memories can blend and blur. In my mind, my summers spent at the beach with my grandparents were never-ending, from the moment school finished until the day before I was set to return. In reality, we spent some time there, often weekends, and certainly never the entire school holidays.
Belinda Castles’ Bluebottle tells the story of the Bright family, and is filled with that uncomfortable tension that arises when we realise memory is fallible. Siblings Jack and Lou recount key moments from their childhood, starting with the disappearance of a local school girl and their father’s unpredictable purchase of a beachside property in Bilgola, Sydney. However, they learn that growing older can change perspectives on the past and, like the beach, it can be hard to tell what’s under the surface while the waves distort our view.
For countless generations, meat has been considered the single most important component of any meal. But meat is more than just a form of sustenance, it is the very king of all foods. It’s a source of societal power.
Historically, the resources required to obtain meat meant it was mainly the preserve of the upper classes, while the peasantry subsisted on a mostly vegetarian diet. As a result, the consumption of meat was associated with dominant power structures in society, its absence from the plate indicating disadvantaged groups, such as women and the poor. To control the supply of meat was to control the people.
In fiction, meat has long had a powerful role, too. As Jeanette Winterson, food writer and author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit and Sexing the Cherry, says, “Food, like language, is a basic everyday necessity. We need to communicate. We need to eat.”
It is not surprising that food metaphors, often meat-based, infuse our daily speech. There is invariably a gastronomically themed way of expressing almost any situation. Having money troubles? Then your goose is cooked if you don’t bring home the bacon.
Winterson – who sparked internet outrage a few years ago by catching and cooking a rabbit – is noted for her meaty metaphors. She uses meat as an important and recurring presence in her fiction. In her novel The Passion, the production, distribution, and consumption of meat symbolises the unequal forces at large in the Napoleonic era. The main female character, Villanelle, sells herself to Russian soldiers in order to have some of their scarce and valuable supply of meat. The female body is just another type of meat for these men and carnivorous desire leads to carnal pleasure. In contrast, Napoleon’s obsession with devouring meat symbolises his desire to conquer the world.
Of course, Winterson is not the only writer who has shown in fiction that meat has meaning beyond its nutritional value. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf describes a beef stew that takes three days to make. This meal dominates the domestic setting and requires much effort from the cook, Matilda. When it is finally ready for the table, the hostess Mrs Ramsay’s first thought is she “must take great care … to choose a specially tender piece for William Bankes.” Despite all the female labour poured into the dish, the patriarchal mindset of the early 20th century is so powerfully ingrained that a man’s right to eat the best meat is unquestioned. Woolf may not be writing about an emperor conquering most of Europe, but the message is the same as Winterson’s: meat is power, meat is for men.
Out of the frying pan
In today’s reality, meat is repeatedly the subject of much socially and politically charged discussion, including about how the demand for meat is contributing to climate change and environmental degradation. Studies have indicated the negative effects of meat-eating on the human body. When concerns about animal welfare are added to the broth, the growth of vegetarianism and veganism threatens to dethrone meat from its position at the top of the food hierarchy.
Given that fiction often reflects on real world events and societal issues, it may very well be that down the line powerful meat metaphors are eschewed. While its unlikely we’ll start saying that someone has been overlooked like “chopped cabbage”, some shift in language is inevitable.
The increased awareness of vegan issues will filter through our consciousness to produce new modes of expression – after all, there’s more than one way to peel a potato. At the same time, metaphors involving meat could gain an increased intensity if the killing of animals for food becomes less socially acceptable. The image of “killing two birds with one stone” is, if anything, made more powerful by the animal-friendly alternative of “feeding two birds with one scone”. If veganism forces us to confront the realities of food’s origins, then this increased awareness will undoubtedly be reflected in our language and our literature.
However, that is not to say that meaty descriptions will be done away with immediately – after all, it can take language a long time to change. And who is to say that even those who choose a vegan or vegetarian diet even want to do away with the meaty descriptions? It is interesting to note that a range of vegetarian burgers have been made to “bleed” like real meat. Although the animal components of such foods are substituted, attempts are made to replicate the carnivorous experience. Beetroot blood suggests the symbolic power of meat may well carry into the age of veganism, in which case the idea of meat as power will also remain in literature for some time to come.