Granny's Good Reads 

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

August 2019

 - Tuesday, July 30, 2019
The name Robyn Ravlich is well known to all lovers of ABC radio as a creative broadcaster for such productions as The Listening Room, Into the Music, Earshot, and her award-winning documentary on asylum seekers On the Raft, All at Sea. Now retired after 35 years with the ABC, she has written a delightful memoir which is part autobiographical, but mainly a description of the glory days of radio from the 70s to the present more straitened times. Her father Nick was a migrant from Dalmatia who married an Australian and settled in a Croatian enclave in Broken Hill where he worked as a miner. With a loving extended family and supportive teachers, Robyn did well at school and won a scholarship to Sydney University, where she flourished, writing poetry and giving poetry readings. It was then a natural progression to the ABC, where she was mentored by Allan Ashbolt and produced many innovative radio features and documentaries. I enjoyed her nostalgia trip through years of brilliant programs such as John Hinde’s The Week in Film, the early Boyer Lectures, and Chatwinesque, RN’s classic doco about Bruce Chatwin. There’s also a marvellous chapter on the making of her program on Halley’s Comet and Van Gogh’s Starry Night. With husband Mark Aarons she now lives on the NSW South Coast. Since retiring she’s produced for Earshot the touching 2018 program Robert Manne’s Voice. Her book is Skywriting: Making Radio Waves, a neat paperback with a good index, many photographs and audio links to selected programs. It’s a valuable resource and will surely become a classic. 

My second good read this month is Judith Brett’s From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage. Brett thinks we have a good electoral system, better in some respects than those of many other democracies. We have compulsory, preferential voting and independent electoral authorities administering it. This tends to make parties seek the middle ground, which seems better than having a bunch of crazies at either end of the spectrum playing to minority ‘bases’ (though some might doubt this post-2019). We’ve inherited paper ballots and pencils to write on them because pens and inkwells slowed things down, as well as divided booths to speed the process up a bit. In 1894 women in South Australia won the right to stand for parliament as well as the right to vote, a world first. The 1902 Electoral Act extended the vote to all Australian women, but denied it to Aboriginals. (It would take another 60 years before Aboriginal people had their vote restored.) In 1924 voting was made compulsory. Brett pays tribute to all the men and women who worked to bring about our exemplary voting system and her book is a must read.

Tikka Molloy is 11 when her friends Hannah, Cordelia and Ruth Van Apfel vanish from a school concert one hot night in 1992. Tikka is still haunted by their disappearance when she returns from Baltimore twenty years later, after her sister Laura phones to say she has just been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Felicity McClean’s novel The Van Apfel Girls are Gone has been described as Picnic at Hanging Rock for a new generation. It’s full of suspense and some genuinely creepy moments as McClean skilfully depicts the rituals of adolescent girls at school and at play. Young Tikka’s voice is completely authentic as she observes situations and overhears conversations that make more sense to the reader than to her, smart and precocious though she is. This novel is part thriller and part coming-of-age story and I greatly enjoyed it. 

Now for some hearty metaphysics, first with Scott G. Bruce’s The Penguin Book of Hell. Bruce, a professor at Fordham, was once a gravedigger, so comes to his task not wholly unprepared. The good old-fashioned hell was a place of punishment in the afterlife. Bruce begins with the Greek underworld, whose jailers were Tartarus (for baddies) and Hades (for mums and dads), which extra-special humans like Odysseus and Aeneas could visit in order to make small talk with the spectral dead. The Jews had their own version in Sheol, which Christ was said to have ‘harrowed’ after the Crucifixion. Hades and Sheol had been, at best, boring, but the Christians livened them up with fire, of which harrowing (no pun) accounts are given in the Gospel of Nicodemus, Dante’s Inferno and other graphic medieval narratives. But why obsess about the afterlife when we have hells right here in our Treblinkas, Guantanamos, death rows and even, as Sartre says, other people? A somewhat jollier read is God: A Human History by Reza Aslan, whose topics are old-time monotheism and polytheism. The God of Israel, says Aslan, is a by-product of El, the gentle Canaanite god, and Yahweh, the martial god of the Midianites. He goes on to illuminate the Christian doctrine of the Trinity and ends with Allah, the stern but merciful desert god of Islam. Aslan’s book is an international bestseller and deservedly so. Sonia