Saturday, October 8, 2011

Reading Progress 2011.

October and so far I’ve completed 33 books for the year. I look at last year’s final total and see I read 63 books in 2010. I seem to be a long way behind at this stage of 2011.

But then I look where I was up to in October last year and see I was at the same place as now, in the mid-thirties, so my progress is not as different as I thought.

Time will tell whether I’ll match the 30 books read in the last 2-3 months of last year.

Only 3 or 4 weeks before this blog's second anniversary. Like last year I'll create a list of my year's favourites.

Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady by Carol Baxter

Frederick Ward is perhaps better known as Captain Thunderbolt, one time convicted and imprisoned horse thief, escapee and most famously bushranger. A contemporary of Ben Hall whose NSW territory stretched from the central west to the Riverina; Thunderbolt based himself around the Hunter Valley and northwards.

Carol Baxter’s book Captain Thunderbolt and His Lady is a detailed and enthralling biography of Thunderbolt and his “wife” Mary Ann Bugg. Baxter takes what is known of the two from historical sources and gives her account the pace and intimacy of a novel.

Baxter starts with family histories of both Ward and Bugg, exploring the cultural background of their path to crime. The story is one of both racial and class prejudice. Being native born (whether black or white, to aboriginal or convict parents) was a distinct disadvantage in a society ruled from the motherland by British born aristocracy and law enforcers.

Harsh and inflexible punishments, rather than deter crime could ironically entrench it, making capture and imprisonment a less desired outcome than death. Giving wanted men the incentive to resist arrest at all costs, even their own lives and the lives of others.

Ward experienced this harshness, but by accounts didn’t allow himself to turn to outright brutality and ruthlessness, despite resorting to crime. Instead he tried to foster an impression of himself as a gentleman; as far as that would be possible while threatening victims with guns.

Baxter describes her writing style as “allow[ing] the participants to live their own stories, wherever possible, by having the narrator step into their shoes and experience what they experienced as recounted in their own statements. This offers the immediacy of fiction without fictionalising the narrative”.

It is a very effective way of keeping the reader’s involvement but could have the disadvantage of being suspected of being fictional. To counteract this suspicion Baxter provides her research details on a website cited in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. The notes were considered too extensive to include as end notes in the book.

I love history but find many history texts fail to keep my interest. I had no trouble with this one. Baxter has written a lively and compelling combination of biography and social history.

Thanks to Allen and Unwin for providing a review copy of thebook.

Friday, October 7, 2011

The Bushrangers: Australia's Greatest Self-made Heroes by Evan McHugh

Probably the best overview of Australia's relationship with the Bushranger I've read.

While the more well-known and better documented Bushrangers are given a little more coverage than others in this book, they don't necessarily dominate. Instead they are placed within the greater historical context of the bushranger phenonomenon.

From escaped convicts through to the Kelly Gang, this book gives the topic far more than the "boys own adventure" depiction so common in other treatments of the topic.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Thyla by Kate Gordon

Tessa, an injured amnesiac teenage girl, is found in the bush near Hobart and Thyla is the story of the difficulties she experiences as she slowly discovers the truth of her background and identity.

Overall the book is more an introduction to a larger story. As a stand alone book it disappointed me. Parts showed a lot of promise and kept me wanting to know what happened next - but in the end I was left with the anouncement that another book is coming soon. Thyla was clearly setting the reader up for what is coming next rather than giving us a self contained story. It finished with a lot of loose ends awaiting resolution in the promised sequel. Hopefully that sequel will fulfil what is only promised in this first book.