Granny's Good Reads 

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

May 2019

 - Thursday, May 09, 2019
The Aunts’ House by Elizabeth Stead is set in Sydney in 1942. Angel Martin, just 11 years old and recently orphaned, moves into a boarding house run by dour Missus Potts, who makes Angel do chores before and after school, when she bothers to go to school. Angel prefers to go to the Art Gallery but is told that she has to wear shoes—for her a seeming impossibility. By running errands for the other boarders she earns the few pennies she needs to pay for her tram fare to the Aunts’ house at the Bay every Sunday. She and her mother were rejected by Grandfather, but now that he has died she hopes to win her way into her aunts’ affection and even perhaps into their home. She isn’t entirely friendless: at the boarding house she has allies in Barnaby Grange, who does his thinking in numbers, and larger-than-life Winifred Varnham. She also makes friends with the tram driver and a fisherman at the Bay, as well as the owner of the baby shop, who used to sell baby jackets knitted by her mother and comes up with a second-hand pair of sandals and a dress for Art Gallery visits. Things change when Uncle George appears on the scene, but with Stead you must expect the unexpected. Angel is quite captivating, as indeed are the other colourful characters in this very rewarding novel. 

Jacqueline Kent has written a memoir of her brief marriage to Kenneth Cook, well known as the author of the classic Wake in Fright. In 1985 she was a happy freelance editor for whom it would have been out of the question to team up with a man almost twenty years older—with four children almost her own age—and a life which couldn’t have been more different from his. However, when she began editing The Killer Koala, his most recent book of short stories, an attraction developed between them which led to the marriage that she describes in Beyond Words: A Year with Kenneth Cook. Attraction was one thing, but their union was far from easy. He was a chauvinist, drank and smoked too much and was being pursued by creditors after a bankruptcy. Not long after their marriage Cook said he had to ‘get on the road’ again. Somewhere west of Dubbo he suddenly turned into a ‘grim-faced stranger’. Unable to find a hotel room, they camped by the Macquarie river, where he had a fatal heart attack. Widowed at thirty-nine, Jacqueline had to cope with her grief while on tour to promote Cook’s final volume of bush stories, Frill-Necked Frenzy. Adrift for a time, she eventually found love again, and was able to set out on a new path, becoming an award-winning biographer. Gripping. 

Hugh Stretton is one of my heroes, and historian Graeme Davison has now published Hugh Stretton: Selected Writings as a tribute to this great Australian public intellectual—whose opinions on urban planning and a great many other social and economic issues have been so influential. Stretton warned us about the drawbacks of economic rationalism decades before many of his colleagues woke up. Davison rightly praises him for the power of his words, the freshness of his thoughts and his lapidary style. Stretton always believed in civilized discussion. ‘In the era of shock-jocks and spin doctors, as reasoned debate gives way to naked partisanship and unsupported opinion, he shows us how citizens may productively disagree.’ So says Davison, and politicians of all stripes would do well to keep a copy of this book in their knapsacks. 

Professor of Global History at Oxford, Peter Frankopan’s 2015 book The Silk Roads became a surprising bestseller. He has now written a sequel, The New Silk Roads, in which he says that, though we may now be obsessed with Brexit and Trump, the stuff that really matters is taking place in the East. While we wonder whether it will be a hard Brexit or whether Mr Trump will build his Great Wall, Frankopan asks rather different questions. How, he wants to know, is Russia engaging with Iran, central Asia and China? What will be the medium to long term results of China’s Belt and Road initiative? How are Turkey’s relationships shaping up with Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia? Even as the West seems to become more fractious and polarised, the New Silk Road countries seem to be working more harmoniously together. 
Frankopan is, for instance, particularly interested in India’s future relations with China. As in his first book, he depicts the ‘new’ post-USSR Central-Asian republics as economically vibrant after the discovery of their gas fields and other mineral resources like copper and mercury. They are, he suggests, also likely to reap an impressive dividend from Belt and Road infrastructure spending. The 21st Century is, he believes, likely to be the Asian Century and the sooner we come to terms with this the better. Sonia