The Book that Made Me edited by Judith Ridge

Published: 1st September 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Walker Books Australia
Pages: 256
Format: Paperback
Genre: Anthology/Non Fiction
★   ★ – 2 Stars

The Book That Made Me is a celebration of the books that influenced some of the most acclaimed authors from Australia and the world. Inspirational. Affecting.

A perfect collection of personal stories for book lovers!

Personal stories by fantastic authors such as Markus Zusak, Jaclyn Moriarty, Shaun Tan, Mal Peet, Ambelin Kwaymullina, Simon French, Fiona Wood, Simmone Howell, Bernard Beckett, Ursula Dubosarsky, Rachael Craw, Sue Lawson, Felicity Castagna, Benjamin Law, Cath Crowley, Kate Constable, James Roy, Alison Croggon, Will Kostakis and Randa Abdel-Fattah. Also features black and white cartoons by Shaun Tan!

I picked up this book because there were stories from authors that I love to read and the premise sounded really interesting. There’s always a risk with anthologies that a reader won’t enjoy all the stories equally and unfortunately this was the case for me. Sometimes it is only a few but I found with this collection I couldn’t engage with a lot of the stories. I wanted to enjoy them, I wanted to read about what books had an impact on these writers but I struggled to get through many of the stories. This may be my own personal issue and perhaps it was because they were personal essays and not fictional stories, but I kept putting the book down and finding reasons to skim.

I shouldn’t be too harsh, there are 32 stories in this anthology and some certainly were engaging; they were humorous and fascinating stories about how a single book, whether it was a massive dislike or a fascination with a concept, changed how the author saw the world and shaped who they wanted to be. Will Kostakis told how his hatred of a set book in primary school inspired him to write his own story, Benjamin Law wrote how he fell in love with Roald Dahl and reading things ten year olds probably shouldn’t be reading, while so many more mentioned that books were their treasures and offered them an escape. There were stories from indigenous authors and how their culture and stories impacted them, and there’s also voices from minorities in Australia who talk about never seeing themselves in books and how the culture of their parents affected the books they were exposed to.

These stories opened my eyes to how different people had access to different books, some read the same books I had read as a kid, and certainly the age ranges between these authors offered a wider range of books again. The reasons how and why these books made an impact were interesting in themselves. I’ve certainly felt this way about books I’ve read. My book was Checkers by John Marsden. I read that when I was in high school and it cemented my decision to want to write so I understand why these essays exist, I only wish I enjoyed more of them.

The format was not only essays, there were lists, comics, dot points, poems, and a few people had more than one book that shaped them. A nice surprise were the Shaun Taun illustrations sprinkled throughout. Tan asked random strangers why they read and seeing the responses sprinkled throughout with an accompanying sketch was an adorable and entertaining way to break up the stories.

Even though it wasn’t my favourite anthology, I still enjoyed seeing how so many books, especially ones I had read myself, had such an impact on these authors. Just shows you the true power of reading and how people can read the same book in so many different ways.

You can purchase The Book that Made Me via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | Angus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Billy Connolly by Pamela Stephenson

Published: 2002Goodreads badge
Publisher:
Harper Collins
Pages: 384
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non Fiction/Biography
★   ★   ★  ★  ★  – 5 Stars

1427408The inside story of the one of the most successful British stand-up comedians, as told by the person best qualified to reveal all about the man behind the comic, his wife of over 20 years – Pamela Stephenson. Once in a lifetime, there strides upon the stage someone who can truly be called a legend. Such a person is the inimitable, timeless genius who is Billy Connolly. His effortlessly wicked whimsy has entranced, enthralled – and split the sides of – thousands upon thousands of adoring audiences.

He’s the man who needs no introduction, and yet he is the ultimate enigma. From a troubled and desperately poor childhood in the docklands of Glasgow he is now the intimate of household names the world over. How did this happen, who is the real Billy Connolly? Only one person can answer that question: his wife, Pamela Stephenson. Pamela’s writing combines the very personal with a frank objectivity that makes for a compelling, moving and hugely entertaining biography. This is the real Billy Connolly.

This is a great biography of the best comedian by the most suitable person. Who better than Billy’s own wife to write a well deserved and respectful biography.

When I read this it was before I really got into Billy Connolly. I had seen a few bits and pieces and loved what I saw but I didn’t have access to see anything else. Reading this book gave me so many more insights into his life and work and made me respect him all the more.

Billy’s life was not perfect by any means and he had a rough upbringing. The stories and memories Stephenson explores break your heart, make you laugh and actually don’t make you close the book pitying Billy at all. You see where he has taken this pain and what he has done with it and you applaud him for pressing on and pushing through it.

There are so many sides of Billy explored in this, from his childhood to his music and comedian days as well as his life with Stephenson. This book is filled with jokes and humorous anecdotes that soften the darker aspects but a true biography is never all smiles and laughter. A brilliant book and an engaging, emotional and entertaining read.

What If? by Randall Munroe

Published: 24th September 2015Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 John Murray
Pages: 304
Format: Paperback
Genre: Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★ – 5 Stars

Randall Munroe left NASA in 2005 to start up his hugely popular site XKCD ‘a web comic of romance, sarcasm, math and language’ which offers a witty take on the world of science and geeks. It now has 600,000 to a million page hits daily. Every now and then, Munroe would get emails asking him to arbitrate a science debate. ‘My friend and I were arguing about what would happen if a bullet got struck by lightning, and we agreed that you should resolve it . . . ‘ He liked these questions so much that he started up What If. 

Far more than a book for geeks, WHAT IF: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions explains the laws of science in operation in a way that every intelligent reader will enjoy and feel much the smarter for having read.

When I saw this I picked it up straight away because I had to read it. I have been a massive fan of Munroe’s comic XKCD for years and now with a chance to read an entire book filled with the humour and science of the comics was hard to ignore.

The premise of the book is Munro answering What if? questions submitted by people through his website. As the tagline explains: Serious scientific answers to absurd hypothetical questions. Not all of the online submissions were answered and there are a few “Weird (and Worrying) Questions” highlighted to show some of the stranger ones which are a delight in themselves.

Munroe amazingly has a lot of maths and science to back up even the most absurd questions, and even when things aren’t logically or physically possible, he works around it with a slight bend of physics or realistic possibility and shows you how it would happen if all the cards fell perfectly.

What makes this even more fun is the book is filled with Munroe’s drawings, simple interactions between his stick figure characters and illustrations of how these various scenarios would play out. It’s not just comic conversations, there’s also drawings of explanations and Munroe adds tables and graphs, all in his recognisable style.

Some of the questions are common ones such as “What would happen if absolutely everyone jumped at the same time?” But along with actually answering the question (short answer: nothing) with clear and understandable science, Munroe takes it a step further and gives another fascinating yet horrifying answer which you don’t think about. This was when I first really truly realised how marvellous this book was because Munroe takes it a step further and looks at what happens after that when you have 7 billion people in one location having just jumped who now need to get back home. Short answer: chaos.

There are also some brilliantly absurd and strange questions that people have submitted and even though I had never thought about I’m really glad I now know what would happen if you set off a nuclear bomb in the eye of a hurricane or what would happen if suddenly one day all your DNA disappeared. Some are also genuinely fascinating to discover like “When (if ever) did the sun finally set on the British Empire?” and “How much Force can Yoda output?”

There is humour and excellent jokes and the footnotes peppered throughout are a delight in themselves to read, also a mixture of genuine sources and Munroe’s own thoughts. One of my favourite questions is “What would happen if you made a periodic table out of cube-shaped bricks, where each brick was made up of the corresponding element?” A question which is logical enough, but it is the drawings that go with it that add an extra layer of brilliance as Munroe tries to explain not only how some of them would just float away, but how each box would react differently with the others nearby.

If you like maths, science, XKCD or love knowing about things then this is the greatest book. If you aren’t into these things it is still readable because while it isn’t entirely dumbed down, Munroe explains it in a way that you can still understand, and with wonderful cartoons to accompany explanations you still have a lot of fun learning.

You can purchase What If? via the following

QBD | Booktopia | Book Depository

Dymocks | WorderyAngus and Robinson

 Fishpond | Amazon | Amazon Aust

Stories for Boys Who Dare to be Different by Ben Brooks

Published: 3rd April 2018Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Quercus
Illustrator: Quinton Winter
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Junior Non-Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★  – 4 Stars

Prince charming, dragon slayer, mischievous prankster… More often than not, these are the role-models boys encounter in the books they read at home and at school. As a boy, there is an assumption that you will conform to a stereotypical idea of masculinity. But what if you’re the introvert kind? What if you prefer to pick up a book rather than a sword? What if you want to cry when you’re feeling sad or angry? What if you like the idea of wearing a dress?

An extraordinary compilation of 100 stories of famous and not-so-famous men from the past to the present day, every single one of them a rule-breaker and innovator in his own way, and all going on to achieve amazing things. Entries include Frank Ocean, Salvador Dalí, Rimbaud, Beethoven, Barack Obama, Stormzy, Ai Weiwei and Jesse Owens – different sorts of heroes from all walks of life and from all over the world.

This is not connected to Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls, which is misleading given the cover, format, title, and style. But Brooks has nevertheless made a great book about boys who dared to be different. Alongside Winter’s illustrations the lives of boys and men from around the world and through time are celebrated.

I was surprised by some of the men who were included in this. But I guess the point of it was to tell boys that there is more than one way to be a man, and men are made up of a variety of different types. From Galileo to Louis Armstrong, John Green and Jorge Munoz, Brooks tells the story of men who did it their way and changed the world for the better.

I wasn’t as inspired by it as I was Rebel Girls, fully aware that my own gender is going to inspire me more than another one. But I was still proud of these men, and I was intrigued by their stories that I had not known or knew little about. There were a lot more men I knew, because they’re men, so we know their stories. But their one page bios also provided a few new details about their lives, outside their famous discoveries or achievements. There are also a lot of unsung heroes which is why this book is so wonderful, it shows the men who are out there changing the world and doing things their own way, no matter what people expect of them or tell them they can’t do.

As Brooks writes, “it takes a true hero to go against the grain, to show kindness where others won’t, and to stand up for what’s right when others can’t.”

You can purchase Stories for Boys via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

 Wordery | Audible | Dymocks

Angus & Robertson | Fishpond

QBD | Amazon Aust | Amazon

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo

Published: 1st December 2016Goodreads badge
Publisher:
 Timbuktu Labs
Pages: 212
Format: Hardcover
Genre: Non Fiction
★   ★   ★   ★   ★  – 5 Stars

Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls is a children’s book packed with 100 bedtime stories about the life of 100 extraordinary women from the past and the present, illustrated by 60 female artists from all over the world. This book inspires girls with the stories of great women, from Elizabeth I to Serena Williams.

This is a brilliant book. It is a precursor to other great books like She Persisted which tell the stories of history’s most famous and often forgotten women whose achievements have changed the world and inspired those around them.

I loved the format of these stories. The one page biographies for each of these amazing women is a wonderful experience to read. They are told in the same vein of fairytales with the “There once there was a…” style introductions, but these stories are far from fairytales. Each of these incredible women have defied the odds and succeeded in their chosen fields, often when many, including many men, told them they couldn’t or shouldn’t.

It is truly an inspiring read to see what these women have gone through and how they have overcome various obstacles and become stronger for it and achieved their dreams and their goals. Favilli and Cavallo have brought together 100 of history’s greatest women from around the globe, across fields, and throughout history and shared their stories with the world. The list of rebel girls include an A-Z of pioneers from Ada Lovelace all the way down to Zaha Hadid. You can’t help but get a bit emotional as you read these stories, strength and resilience of these women and girls don’t define them, but their passion and determination is admirable and empowering.

“When a woman decides to change, everything changes around her” – Eufrosina Cruz

“We will no longer negotiate for our existence” – Fadumo Dayib

These biographies are told simply but with power. From the very first page the preface lets us know that this is an important book, one that has brought understanding, hope and inspiration to many of the readers. It is a book filled with so many inspirational messages from a variety of fields and backgrounds. Each accompanied by a beautiful illustration by a range of female artists that capture who these fabulous women are and were.

These are the kinds of books we need to keep creating. History has forgotten and pushed aside so many amazing women and their achievements, and there are enough of them throughout history to fill many more books to come. Something I can only hope continues to happen.

“It is important that girls understand the obstacles that lie in front of them. It is just as important that they know these obstacles are not insurmountable. That not only can they find a way to overcome them, but that they can remove those obstacles for those who will come after them, just like these great women did.”

You can purchase Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls via the following

Booktopia | Book Depository

Amazon | Amazon Aust | Wordery

Angus & Robertson | Dymocks

Audible | Fishpond

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