Granny's Good Reads 

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

November 2019

Gleebooks Bookshop - Friday, October 25, 2019
If you want a book to give to a dear friend, don’t look any further than The Grass Library by David Brooks—except that once you hold the book in your hands you’ll probably want to keep it. When I saw the cover and read the first page, I was hooked. Having decided that they can’t eat animals ever again, David and his partner become vegans, going the full monty and giving up fish, eggs and cheese as well. Finally, they quit the city and go with dog Charlie to live on a small farm in the Blue Mountains—with bush on one side, a nice neighbour on the other and a swamp at the bottom. There’s also a small log cabin where David, who’s a novelist and essayist, can do his writing. The couple are soon joined by two sheep, Jonathan and Henry-Lee, who make themselves at home, even joining David when he plays music in his cabin. The menagerie is complete when two more sheep join them, Jason and a lamb called Orpheus. The sheep do everything but talk and I don’t completely dismiss even that, because when Henry strays over the swamp and gets into strife with a ram, David is alerted by Jonathan that something is wrong. The couple’s benevolence to animals includes the possum who eats their tomatoes, various snakes, cicadas, ducks and ducklings and even the rat living behind the kitchen cupboard. This is a delightful book which will certainly make you think about animals and the way we treat them. There are photos of all the animals, except the rat, scattered through the text (They don’t specify which sheep it is on the cover but I like to think it’s Jonathan telling David Brooks that Henry is chasing the girls again.)

I became a Peter Hessler fan when I read River Town, which he wrote after teaching English in China in the 1990s. In 2011 he went to Egypt as New Yorker correspondent, intending to become better acquainted with both past and present Egyptian culture. In The Buried he gives us, first, a picture of life in today’s Egypt, beginning with the replacement of Mubarak by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, the latter then being given the heave-ho by Sisi, each change being attended by considerable unrest and bloodshed. Having looked at the realm of the living Hessler spends some time with the eminent and less eminent dead buried around Abydos, where there’s a stretch of desert used for burials over five millennia. The corpses recently studied there by a group of American archaeologists include some of children and adolescents, which suggests that in those fabled times not many people lived to full adulthood, malnutrition being rife. Indeed, near one of the ancient limestone quarries more than half of the bodies were of children between seven and fifteen, all of them showing the wear and tear of extra-hard labour. Just as the pharaonic class of ancient Egypt seems to have been indifferent to its young subjects, so too, says Hessler, modern Egypt is in the hands of old men who seem to show little regard for the well-being of the burgeoning young population.

Hessler writes movingly about friendships he’s made with ordinary folk such as Sayyid, the building’s illiterate garbage collector, and Manu, whose life as a gay man makes him subject to threats, arrests and beatings. Before Hessler returns to the United States he takes Sayyid, his wife Wahiba and two of their sons to the Cairo Museum, a place they’ve never visited. This is one of the highlights of the book. Another highlight is Hessler’s description of the beautiful spiderweb iron decorations in his family’s apartment, and his being pleasantly surprised when the original owner of the building writes to thank him for mentioning it in a New Yorker article. He meets also some successful Chinese small-town merchants, who diagnose the reason for the lacklustre Egyptian economy as the subjection of women, who mostly quit their jobs on marrying. He’s appropriately horrified when Sayyid tells him that female genital mutilation is still the custom in much of Egypt and asks if he’s going to have his twin daughters ‘done’, to which Hessler replies that such ‘surgery’ is illegal in the United States. Well, says Sayyid, it’s illegal in Egypt too but very necessary, ‘to stop the  women getting out of control’.  I give this book five stars.

And finally, how refreshing it was to read Jane Goodall’s The Politics of the Common Good: Dispossession in Australia after having been dominated by neo-liberals with hearts of stone for so many years. In the Great Depression our country built the Sydney Harbour Bridge as well as elegant municipal buildings, court houses, museums and post offices, while now, a far wealthier country, we can’t afford to fund services like Medicare or the NDIS, let alone build necessary infrastructure. Goodall praises the Voices for Indi group and stresses that in the age of climate change we need more of the old communitarian spirit. Definitely worth a read.     Sonia

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