Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

November 2018

 - Thursday, November 15, 2018

Harry Saddler is the author of The Eastern Curlew, in which he lovingly describes the extraordinary life of a migratory bird which spends half its life in Australia eating and growing fat in preparation for a 10,000 km journey to its breeding grounds in the Kamchatka Peninsula. There it hatches out its chicks before beginning the return journey across the Pacific Ocean. Being a shorebird, indeed the largest shorebird in the world, it has a perilous journey and if overcome by exhaustion or bad weather it drowns. It is the survival of the fittest. For thousands of years migratory birds have used the Saemangeum Estuary in the Yellow Sea as a stopover but in 2010 a South Korean seawall denied them access. (Michael McCarthy’s The Moth Snowstorm devotes a chapter to the controversy surrounding the building of this seawall.) Apart from this setback, the curlew’s feeding grounds in Australia are far from secure. Saddler first encountered the curlew on French Island near Melbourne, a protected area, but another favoured feeding place in Moreton Bay is scheduled for commercial development. Though Saddler managed in 2016 to track the Eastern Curlew to Donggang, China, and thence to the Yellow Sea and Kamchatka, he fears that by 2050 a combination of habitat loss and global warming will have pushed it, like the Eskimo Curlew, to extinction. The picture on the cover of this beautifully produced book shows a handsome bird with a long, curved beak suitable for digging out crabs. I sincerely hope that we can allow the Eastern Curlew to survive.

I never thought I would become excited by dinosaurs but after hearing Steve Brusatte enthuse about them to Robyn Williams on the ABC Science Show and devouring Brusatte’s book The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs, I quite understand how this book has been one of the Sunday Times’s top 10 for so long. Brusatte is a palaeontologist, originally from Illinois and now at Edinburgh University. He spends his time visiting sites of dinosaur fossils. Dinosaurs appeared in the Triassic period after a catastrophic extinction of almost every other creature, and for millions of years inhabited all parts of the world: small ones, great lumbering ones as big as a 737, tall ones which had a permanent buffet in the tops of trees, Tyrannosaurus Rex, and some smaller ones with feathers. He takes us first to the north-east of China, where a perfect feathered specimen has turned up. The scientists think that this animal was one of a group killed suddenly by a volcanic eruption, and that its feathers were for insulation rather than flight. The world of these creatures was a single land mass with a hot, humid climate and mega-monsoons which washed herds of its inhabitants into ravines, leaving rich pickings for today’s palaeontologists. Brusatte has attended excavations in Portugal, Argentina’s Valley of the Moon, Poland, the Isle of Skye and many places in the United States. He and his colleagues call this a golden age of dinosaur research, leading to remarkable findings such as primitive human-sized tyrannosaurs, monstrous carnivores even bigger than T Rex, and winged dinosaurs that are the ancestors of our birds. Their reign suddenly ended when, at the peak of the Cretaceous period, a giant asteroid slammed into the earth, wiping out nearly every dinosaur species. Recommended for curious readers of all ages.

In Dictator Literature Daniel Kalder, brave man, surveys the dictators of the 20th century through their published writings. He’s read everything by Lenin and Stalin and by many of those who influenced them. While Lenin kept his eye on the main game of the proletarian revolution, the youthful Stalin read Shakespeare and wrote passable lyric verse which is still recited in Georgia today. Kalder calls Hitler’s Mein Kampf ungrammatical drivel that did incalculable harm and still sells by the shed-load. Benito Mussolini, who invented fascism and fatally teamed up with Hitler, also wrote a novel titled The Cardinal’s Mistress, which still has its readers.Saddam Hussein also wrote a novel—Zabiba and the King—which Kalder says is interesting, but of no literary merit. While Mao Zedong outsourced most of his literary labours to loyal henchmen, António Salazar was a prolific stylist dedicated to keeping crucifixes in schools, women in the home, bread on the table and everyone in church on Sundays. Among many others, Kalder discusses Franco and Kim Jong-il. A timely book, if only because of the dictatorial inclinations of so many world leaders today, even when their medium is the tweet rather than the printed word.

Finally, everyone’s Christmas stocking should contain a copy of Scrublands by Chris Hammer—a superior crime novel set in the Riverina. It has everything: a drought-stricken outback town, well-rounded characters, and a plot which had me hooked until the very last page. Sonia