Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Gender Card

After finishing David Marr’s Quarterly Essay on George Pell (QE 51 - September 2013), I went searching for the previous edition. Titled Unfinished Business – Sex, Freedom and Misogyny, writer Anna Goldsworthy explores the modern world for women in Quarterly Essay (QE50, June 2013).

Starting with Prime Minister Gillard’s famous speech from October 2012, when she passionately exclaimed that “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man” in reference to then opposition leader Tony Abbott. The speech reverberated around the globe as she spelled out how she was offended by Abbott’s continual sexist attacks. With over 2 million views on YouTube, Gillard’s speech was spoken about in office corridors and homes, as she vocalised what many girls and women had felt but never voiced.

Goldsworthy uses Gillard’s speech as a springboard to talk about what it means to be a woman in modern Australia. At the time of publication, Gillard was Prime Minister, a female Governor General, a female Speaker in parliament, and a large number of talented women on the front bench. So it would seem that Australian women are in a remarkable position.  However, now a mere five months later, Abbott is in government with only one woman in his cabinet. It is small concession that he has appointed a woman as Speaker. Women have been back-benched and sidelined.

Over the course of the essay Goldsworthy issues four cautionary tales: the politician (Gillard), the miner (Gina Rinehart), the scholar (Mary Beard) and the novelist (Hilary Mantel). She then turns to popular culture (Mad Men, 59 Shades of Grey, Twilight, Girls, Lady Gaga) and what this tells us about women. She talks about shame and subjectivity, the narcissism of the Facebook age, and about the increasing violence in gonzo porn. Goldsworthy questions what world our daughters will grow up in, where they are subjectively judged and held up to unrealistic and unattainable standards of what it means to be a woman.

As a feminist keenly attuned to the issues in this essay, I found Goldsworthy’s article an interesting and important read. I had wanted and expected it to be more about politics, however, and the arguments she made would have benefited from contributions from some of the other women in Parliament – such as the so-called ‘handbag hit squad’ of women on Gillard’s front bench about allegations of 'playing the gender card'. This was a missed opportunity. While I didn’t agree with everything Goldsworthy had to say, I enjoyed her perspective and her contribution to this necessary discussion.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

A Year of Dangerous Reading

Each year one of the events I most look forward to is the Festival of Dangerous Ideas, put together by the Sydney Opera House and the St James Ethics Society. This year's Festival, held 2-4 November 2013, featured brave thinkers from around the world. I enjoy hearing them debate provocative ideas and pose alternative futures. While I may not always agree with them, they always get me thinking and keen to learn more. After each Festival, I tend to add to my ever growing To Be Read pile as I am keen to read their works.

One of the panels I attended was talking about crime and the problems of prisons. It was a fascinating discussion with Erwin James, convicted murderer turned Guardian journalist. James is the author of two books that seem quite intriguing: A Life Inside: A Prisoner’s Notebook (2003) and The Home Stretch: From Prison to Parole (2005) which I would like to read. He had an interesting view about 'rehabilitation' and the need to address the failings of those imprisoned to provide them with skills and therapy to assist them when they leave jail.

Former Victorian Police Commissioner Christine Nixon presented a really reasoned approach to policing. She made particular mention of the need to look differently at juvenile justice and aboriginal incarceration rates, as these are two areas we are failing in. Her autobiography Fair Cop (2011) highlights her interesting career. She has always been an interesting figure and I have a lot of admiration for her - particularly her support of the LGBT community, advocacy for victims of domestic violence.

Former Baltimore police officer, now professor of sociology, Peter Moskos was In Defense of Flogging (2011) discussing his controversial idea to reduce incarceration rates by giving the convicted a choice between corporal punishment and a jail sentence, the subject of his book.  While his thesis is intriguing, I don't have a real interest in reading this title. He is also the author of  Cop in the Hood: My year policing Baltimore’s Eastern District (2008).

The final panelist was David Simon, journalist and TV producer, who is the creator of my all-time favourite show The Wire. Simon spoke passionately about the failings of the war on drugs, the ridiculousness of mandatory sentencing, three-strikes-your-out policies, and the outsourcing of prisons to the private sector. I am keen to read Simon's book Homicide: A year on the killing streets (1991) and The Corner: A year in the life of an inner-city neighborhood (1997). Simon spoke about the many costs of incarceration and the futility of 'life' sentences.

Another speaker I enjoyed at the Festival was Evgeny Morozov, a Belarusian writer and researcher about the implications of technology. I am keen to read some of his books, in particular: The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom (2011) and To Save Everything, click here: The folly of technological solutionism (2013). He has some interesting views on society's over-reliance on mobile phones and other devices. He made it very clear that we cannot rely on apps for everything.

I also attended a panel with the subject The World is Not Ready for Women in Power. Hosted by journalist Julia Baird, the panel featured four dynamic women with different views on this subject. 

Hanna Rosin, author of The End of Men: and the rise of women (2010) stated that it doesn't matter if anyone is ready. She said that ten years ago America wasn't ready for an African-American President but then along came Obama. She reckons Hillary Clinton has a pretty good shot. I have read some of Rosin's magazine articles but have not yet read her book, but it sounds really interesting.

Environmental activist and anti-globalisation author Vandana Shiva was a delight. The author of Ecofeminism (1993), Stolen Harvest (2000), Making Peace with the Earth (2013) and many more titles, she had a lot to say about the rise of corporations. Shiva said one of the best things women can do to make the world ready for women in power is to raise their sons well. 

Australian feminist Anne Summers spoke about Julia Gillard and noted that many countries have had a woman leader, but very few countries have done it more than once - viewing the female leader as an experiment that didn't work. She spoke about misogyny and the difficulty women have in Australian politics. Summers is the author of feminist classic Damned Whores and God's Police (1975), The End of Equality (2003) and most recently The Misogyny Factor (2013). I have never read Damned Whores and will seek it out. 

The final member of the panel was American sociologist Arlie Hochschild. She has written a number of books that I am keen to read. In particular The Outsourced Self: What happens when we pay others to live our lives for us (2012), The Managed Heart: Commercialization of human feeling (1983) and The Second Shift: Working families and the revolution at home (1989). Hochschild spoke about the second wave of feminism and the need for a new grassroots campaign. I am looking forward to The Outsourced Self

Another festival speaker with a book I want to read is Australian John Safran. His latest publication is Murder in Mississippi (2013), about the killing of a white supremacist in the Deep South by an African-American. Safran spent time unravelling this case and documenting it in this true crime book. Sounds a bit like one of my favourite books, Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Those who know me well know that I am a huge fan of the late Christopher Hitchens. His brother, journalist Peter Hitchens,  was at the Festival discussing his book, The War We Never Fought: The British Establishment’s Surrender to Drugs (2013). He discusses how drugs have become increasingly socially acceptable and governments have done little to stop it. Peter Hitchens is a far too conservative for my liking, so despite the interesting topic, I am unlikely to read this book. After seeing Hitchens on Q&A, it has become very clear his views on the world don't interest me.

The other person I was fortunate to see was Dan Savage, American gay activist. Savage writes a lot from personal experience, and his books look at his life with partner, now husband, and the adoption of their son. He is a passionate advocate, and spoke well about the fallacy of conservative notions of love, marriage, sex and intimacy. His books, like American Savage (2013) don't really appeal to me, but I am glad to have heard him speak on Q&A.

So that was my Festival for 2013 and I have plenty of good reading to do which will keep me busy until next year!

Saturday, 2 November 2013

Between the lines

Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader (1995) is a bestselling novel made even more popular by the award winning film adaptation in 2008. The story is now largely familiar, but I will recap below with a warning of spoilers.

Narrated by Michael Berg, a lawyer recollecting on his past, the story is told in three parts. The first features a 15-year-old Michael as he began a relationship with Hanna Schmidt in post-WWII Germany. Hanna is a much older woman who reveals very little of herself to Michael. There is tenderness in their relationship, and the two spend much of their time together with Michael reading classic novels aloud to her. Then, Hanna suddenly leaves and Michael is left wondering what happened to her. All his subsequent relationships are tarnished by the memory of Hanna.

Years go by and the second part shows Michael at university studying law. The Nazi war crimes trials are being held and Michael discovers that Hanna is on trial for her role as a concentration camp guard.  Michael realises that he never really knew Hanna.  Is she guilty or was she too a victim? Did she really understand what she was part of it? Can she atone for crimes? Michael grapples with these questions and struggles with his feelings.

The third part is much later with Michael corresponding to an imprisoned, older Hanna. He is trying to reconcile the love he had for her in his youth and his hatred of the evils she committed.

Schlink has an easy style, gently unfolding the tale in layers.  The story is complex, raising deeply moral questions, and yet is a quick, accessible read. It is effectively a study in guilt and atonement, using the Holocaust as the catalyst to reflect on generational responsibility and the legacy of what came before. Innocence is lost, secrets are revealed and judgments are made.

The character of Hanna is difficult to reconcile. She used a young man, committed horrible atrocities so the reader can see her as a war criminal and a paedophile. And yet the reader can feel empathy for her tragic life. Faced with the dilemma of self-preservation or resistance, Hanna made a fateful choice. As she asks the judge in her trial “What would you have done?” This question leaves readers wondering what they would have done in her shoes.

The film version of this novel was directed by Stephen Daldry and starred Ralph Fiennes as the adult Michael and Kate Winslet as Hanna. Winslet was excellent in the role, winning the Academy Award for Best Actress.  I thought the film was very good but lacked the punch of the novel, in some ways glossing over the complexities I found in the book. It is still very much worth watching, but I would encourage reading the book first.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Blind Faith

David Marr is an exceptional journalist, a compelling writer and a man of conviction. His previous submissions to the Quarterly Essay have focussed on Kevin Rudd (QE 38) and Tony Abbott (QE 47). Now, with the latest Quarterly Essay (QE 51 - September 2013), Marr turns his sights on Cardinal George Pell and the role he has played in the Australian Catholic Church's response to child sexual abuse in The Prince - Faith, Abuse and George Pell.

Marr traces the life of George Pell from his early days in Ballarat as the son of a publican raised to be devout by his Catholic mother and his early religious instruction. It shows Pell's climb through the church ranks from parish priest to bishop to archbishop to cardinal, achieved largely through his connection to Rome and his deep conviction in Catholic doctrine. Also evident is how Pell did not have universal support from Australian Catholics in the church hierarchy - many of whom thought this uncharismatic man was unable to manage contemporary issues.

At all points in his career the scandal of sexual abuse was never far away, but Pell was seemingly blind to it. It beggars belief that Pell could have lived and worked alongside predatory clergy, often grooming their victims in packs, and he somehow knew nothing of what was going on.  Worse than this though was his response once abuse was identified - as the Church moved to protect the perpetrator and silence the victims. The Church's Towards Healing protocol would ultimately cause more victimisation but save the Church a fortune in legal costs and payouts to victims. 

There were several points during reading this essay where my blood boiled with anger: the way in which paedophile priests were moved from parish to parish, the way victims were bullied into silence and the way some police and politicians maintained a stance that the Catholic Church should handle these matters with prayer rather than prosecution. What is clear is the devastating impact the acts and omissions by Pell and his Church have had on victims: drug abuse, alcoholism, criminal activity, self harm, broken relationships, mental illness, suicide. This tragedy affects individuals, families, communities and generations. 

Across Australia there are currently several investigations into child sexual abuse. In 2012 the NSW government announced a Special Commission of Inquiry into police handling of abuse by the Catholic Church in the Hunter region. At the same time the federal government created the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses into Child Sexual Abuse which has been hearing evidence from victims and alleged perpetrators, institutions and experts with the goal of providing an initial report in June 2014. Each evening on the nightly news we get snippets from revelations of the devastation caused by the church and other institutions. There is no way to repair this damage.

Ultimately, this essay reveals Pell as an ambitious man of blind faith who put the Catholic Church ahead of the children and families in their care. Despite his apologies and claims of cooperation, Pell has done serious damage. If only he had been a better man - one who saw that the best interests of the Church would have been served by rooting out evil, punishing perpetrators, protecting victims and thereby restoring the faith.  

Sunday, 6 October 2013

Stormy Weather

Forecast: Turbulence (2012) is a collection of nine short stories by Janette Turner Hospital. Set in Australia, Canada and the US, these stories are strongly linked together by themes of disquiet and unrest.

The weather is ever present in these tales, looming overhead, threatening. From torrential rain and hurricanes on the Carolina coast to the red dust storms of drought plagued outback, the rough weather blows ominously through each tale.

The stories are meant to be uncomfortable focussing on themes of domestic violence, self-harm, child abuse, kidnapping and the like. Each unsettling tale reveals characters with lives as turbulent as the weather around them. In "Blind Date" a young boy awaits the arrival of his long-absent father. In outback Queensland a teenage girl escapes from her secessionist father and his "Republic of Outer Barcoo". While in "Weather Maps" two girls, forced to visit their abusive stepfathers in prison, compare their wounds.

Janette Turner Hospital uses language masterfully. For example, in a story about a whale-watching boat skipper, "Salvage", she refers to rumours that "multiply like krill". Hospital also knows how to craft short stories as contained vignettes, leaving the reader with food for thought which will linger long after the storm passes.

Forecast: Turbulence was shortlisted for the 2012 Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

Sunday, 29 September 2013

Have a Nice Day!

American writer Barbara Ehrenreich wrote Smile of Die: How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World (2009) in response to the multi-billion dollar industry promoting the notion that positive thinking can cure what ails you.

When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Ehrenreich became frustrated by continually being told during her treatment and recovery that attitude was the key to her survival. From the pink products and positive affirmations, to putting on a brave face for loved ones and survivor stories, there was an expectation that patients must see illness as an opportunity and have the right attitude to get well.

Sceptical of the guff surrounding thinking your way to wellness, Ehrenreich set out to explore the origins of this new thinking from the 19th century response to Calvinism though to motivational speakers, self-help gurus, spiritual advisers, and get-rich-quick schemes. She discovered that Americans have whole-heartedly bought in to the belief that you can visualise health, wealth and happiness. All it takes to attain your desires is thinking yourself in a new situation.

While on the surface this seems like a great idea - an easy way to imagine success without putting in much effort - what happens when things go wrong? Clearly, you must have attracted the bad things that happened to you and therefore deserved them. The cult of positive thinking would have you believing that it is your fault because you didn't pray enough or failed to be sufficiently optimistic.

Smile or Die is a well-researched, though-provoking and powerful critique. Ehrenreich's humour balances her skepticism. Ultimately I found it a refreshing alternative to the fortune cookie wisdom and empty platitudes spruiked by so many business books and self-improvement tomes.

In America Ehrenreich's book was published as Bright-Sided: How Positive thinking is Undermining America (2009). Sounds like a more positive title for the American market!

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

In Cold Blood

I have spent the last few days in Iceland.  Australian author Hannah Kent transported me there with her deliciously descriptive debut novel, Burial Rites (2013).  So engrossing was this book that I could hear the wind rattle the windows in my claustrophobic turf croft and feel the chill in my bones as the snow piled high outside my door.

Kent tells the story of Agnes Magnusdottir, a woman in her thirties who was sentenced to death for her role in the violent murder of two men on a remote farm in Northern Iceland. As there was no prison to hold her, Agnes was sent to a farm in Kornsa to live with a Christian family while special equipment was being created for her execution. Assistant Reverend Toti is appointed to administer to her spiritual needs and prepare her for her death.

Told from alternating perspectives as the seasons pass, Agnes’ childhood and the events leading up to the murders gradually unfold. The whole community is impacted by the arrival of Agnes, especially the family with whom she is billeted. The relationship between Margret and Agnes is particularly interesting, commencing with fear and disdain and evolving into empathy and even admiration. 

Reminiscent of Margaret Atwood’s brilliant Alias Grace (1996), this historical fiction is based on real events and Kent has done tremendous research to embed this fictional account with such rich detail. Readers are left to contemplate broad issues of justice, guilt/innocence, capital punishment, poverty, family, faith, freedom and love.

I did not anticipate how much of page-turner this novel would be, and once I started I could not stop. I highly recommend this novel and cannot wait to see what Kent writes next.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Gone Baby Gone

Gillian Flynn's Girl Gone (2012) is a thrilling story of a marriage between two people who are not what they appear. Nick and Amy are a glittering, gorgeous couple living an envied life in New York. Nick is a pop culture journalist known for his quick wit and film trivia. A generation of young people have grown up knowing Amy as the perfect heroine of the “Amazing Amy” books, authored by Amy’s parents.

Their perfect life changes when they lose their jobs and their financial reserves begin to dry up.  Nick decides they should leave life in Manhattan to return to his hometown of Carthage, a small town on the Mississippi River, to care for his ailing mother. Amy reluctantly travels with him and tries to adjust to her new life. On the morning of their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick comes home to find his front door open and the scenes of a struggle. With his wife missing, Nick quickly finds himself the prime suspect in her disappearance and presumed death. What happens next is an intriguing tale of love and lies.

Told in alternating narratives from Nick in the present day and Amy’s voice echoing from her diary entries, author Gillian Flynn builds the story in such a way as to make you think you know what is going to happen. Suddenly there is a twist and another and another until it is clear that you have no idea how the story will end. The change in points of view with each chapter has the reader changing sides as well – yes, he must have done it/no, he couldn’t have – perhaps their “perfect” marriage wasn’t so perfect after all.

I really relished this novel. It held my interest from the beginning, and I couldn’t wait to read what happened next. Part of the reason I enjoyed it was that Flynn has created love-to-hate, seriously damaged characters that manipulate the reader with their version of events. Flynn’s depiction of the media circus following this case critiques our lust for true crime; where guilt is assumed before the facts are known. The ending left me a bit flat, however, as I felt the tension and build up would have a more dramatic conclusion.

Gone Girl is an enjoyable page-turner that is a perfect holiday read. But… it deserves a much better title!

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Weddings and Funerals

I have no will power! I couldn’t resist. I needed to know what would happen to everyone in Westeros, so I plunged myself back into the series with A Storm of Swords – Part 2: Blood and Gold (2000) moments after finishing my review of Part 1.

It has been hard to write about this book without revealing spoilers. Martin’s books are full of shocking events, including the deaths of major characters. So if you haven’t read the books and plan to, read no further…  But chances are you will know some of what happened already. As I write, season 3 of the Game of Thrones television series has just ended and the Internet is alive with commentary about the dramatic finale. So if you have seen the show or use social media, you know about the Red Wedding.

The Red Wedding would have come as a shock to television viewers but in the books there was such a build up that it was evident that something would happen at the marriage of Edmure Tully. Martin lead up to the event with a deep sense of foreboding – the quick alternating chapters of Catelyn and Arya, Robb leaving his wife behind and naming Jon as his heir, the strange behaviour of Walder Frey and his family, the people who should have been but were not at the wedding. It was clear that someone would die before the night was out, but who and how was absolutely shocking. It was a devastating read which left me reeling at the consequences.

Meanwhile in Kings Landing, preparations are underway for the marriage of King Joffrey and Margaery Tyrell. This wedding is not free of death either and the victim was most deserving of a painful demise. Tyrion is arrested for murder and chooses trial by battle for his defence.  Jaime Lannister arrives back in Kings Landing and into the arms of Queen Cersei. He is appointed Lord Commander of the Kingsguard. Cersei is to be married off to a Tyrell in order to secure an alliance.  Evil Lord Tywin continues to show a complete lack of empathy for his children.

Littlefinger takes Sansa to the Eyrie to her strange aunt Lysa. While free of the torments of the Lannisters, Sansa soon finds that Lysa is threatened by her niece and seeks to harms her. Littlefinger reveals his true self.

Jon, Ygritte and the band of wildings climb the Wall and are heading for battle at Castle Black. Jon flees to warn his brothers of the Night’s Watch. Jon leads the defence against Mance Rayder’s army. But soon the Others are pushing South and threatening the wall. Stannis Baratheon arrives with his forces determined to forge a new kingdom in the north.

Meanwhile Daenerys has freed the slaves of Astapor, Yunkai and Meereen but soon learns that she has left behind a power vacuum in which dictators have taken over. She decides to stay in Meereen and learn how to be Queen by caring for the people she has freed.

I think it was wise for Martin to split the book into two sections – even if I read them in rapid succession – as it allowed for a pause in this dense epic novel.  The second part was better than the first, as this is where all the action was. This is my favourite in the series so far and I look forward to A Feast for Crows (2005). But first… I definitely need to read something other than George RR Martin!!!

My reviews of the previous instalments - A Game of Thrones (1996), A Clash of Kings (1999) and A Storm of Swords Part 1: Steel and Snow (2000) - are also available on this blog.

Friday, 10 May 2013

Valar Morghulis

Despite promising in January that I would leave Westeros behind and tackle my growing To-Be-Read pile, as soon as I finished George RR Martin’s A Clash of Kings (1999) I found myself pining for the characters who have become so much a part of my reading life. Sure I dabbled in other books, but it wasn’t too long before I cracked the spine on Book 3 of the Song of Ice and Fire series and commenced A Storm of Swords - Part 1: Steel and Snow (2000).

**Caution  - Spoilers Ahead**

The novel begins just after the Battle of Blackwater and what remains of Stannis Barratheon’s army has retreated. In Kings Landing Twyin Lannister is puppet master as Hand to King Joffrey. Lady Margaery Tyrell, now a widow, is betrothed to the young King. Sansa Stark has been relieved of her engagement to the tyrannical brat, and has become fast friends with Margaery. Sansa is hopeful of marrying handsome Loras Tyrell, unaware he has no interest in women.  

Wicked Tywin Lannister is keen to forge alliances and so quickly organises marriages for his children: Tyrion to Sansa Stark, and Cersai to Loras Tyrell. Neither is delighted by the betrothals yet they are powerless against their dispassionate father. But Tywin may have met his match with Margaery’s grandmother Oleana Redwyne, who is razor sharp and possesses a wicked wit.

Meanwhile King in the North, Robb Stark, is winning many battles but losing allies by marrying for love not duty. He is trying to be Kingly but in doing so has to make difficult choices. His youngest sister Arya, still trying to get home to Winterfell, has been handed over to the Brotherhood without Banners, and comes face to face with Sandor Clegane.  Bran, Rickon and their entourage continue their journey North to the Wall.

Beyond the Wall, Jon Snow has fallen in with the Wildings and must convince them that he is loyal despite his desire to return to the North Watch. His intimacy with Ygritte only complicates matters for him. Elsewhere Mormont’s Watch crew is falling apart and Samwell Tarly has fled from Caster’s Keep with Gilly and her newborn son. 

Across the sea in the east Daenerys Targareyen buys a slave army, the Unsullied, and proves herself a brave warrior. With her dragons growing, Dany is gearing up for her journey across the sea to reclaim her throne. 

Martin has managed to change my feelings about some of the characters with this installment. Spending more time with Daenerys has made me admire her more. Samwell has his own chapters, as does Jamie Lannister. The Kingslayer has been drawn as a complex, interesting man and I loved how Martin revealed Jamie’s backstory. I must say though, I did miss Theon Greyjoy who has not been seen since he burned Winterfell to the ground at the end of the pervious book.

The first part of this novel ends with guests arriving for King Joffrey’s lavish wedding, including visitors from Dorne who seem intent on vengeance for past wrongs. The next part of A Storm of Swords – Part 2: Blood and Gold (2000) has been set up perfectly and it will take all my willpower to turn my attention to other books before finishing this compelling saga.

This is the first Fire and Ice book I have read at the same time as the HBO Game of Thrones series airs.  While I love the book and the series, reading them in parallel has not been a great idea for me. I feel it would have been far better to allow a gap between so I could have enjoyed the show fully without direct comparisons to the book.

My reviews of the previous instalments - A Game of Thrones (1996) and A Clash of Kings (1999) - are also available on this blog.

Friday, 19 April 2013

Dreams from my Father

It was 20 years ago today that my father passed away. I think about my dad often, particularly on birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions. Books, movies, news events and politics often trigger thoughts of him. I think of how dad would have enjoyed a film like Argo, or I read a passage by Hitchens that reminds me of my dad’s clever turn of phrase. I would have loved to dissect and debate current events with him – to hear his thoughts on Syria, Thatcher’s death, gun control, same sex marriage, the carbon tax and the recent attacks in Boston. He was always so knowledgeable and as a journalist had a deep interest in the world – and I will always be grateful that he passed on this curiosity and inquisitiveness to me.

The lead up to the anniversary of his death is a time of great reflection for me, and so it is perhaps timely to use this book blog to thank my Dad for the books and authors he introduced me to.

As a young child, my parents read to me and taught me to love books at an early age. Dog-eared books by Richard Scarry and Dr Seuss were constants, as were the Berenstain Bears. Fairy tales by Hans Christian Andersen and the Brothers Grimm were also often read with Dad acting out parts and putting on voices as he read. Roald Dahl was a regular bedtime read.

A A Milne was a favorite and I remember Dad reading When we were Very Young (1924) with me. I could recite “Disobedience” by heart (and still can – “James James Morrison Morrison Weatherby George Dupree…”) and still think of “Half-way Down” every time I go up or down my stairs. We moved on to Winnie-the-Pooh (1926), The House at Pooh Corner (1928) and Now we are Six (1927). Dad loved poetry and we both loved the rhythm of Milne's verse.
Dad loved books that were a bit subversive, and so Hilaire Belloc’s Cautionary Tales for Children (1907) was a delightful bedtime read and was used to remind me of appropriate behavior (Don't tell lies, lest you end up burned to death like Matilda!). Also beloved were Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865), JM Barrie’s Peter Pan (1911) and JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit (1937).
As I grew older and read on my own, we would read in tandem and continue to discuss books. I remember a deep-and-meaningful late night chat about religion when I was a pre-teen reading Judy Blume’s Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. (1970). This continued when I read Anne Frank's Diary and Dad and I would discuss at length the atrocities of the holocaust.  

Dad was delighted when I started reading George Orwell. He was a huge Orwell fan and Dad read my book reports on Animal Farm (1945) and Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) with interest.  We read Ray Bradbury’s Farhenheit 451 together and discussed it at length - in fact I think the book report I submitted on this book was largely written by my father!

As I entered high school, Dad would review my reading lists and make recommendations to push me to expand my horizons. He would read my papers on Catcher in the Rye, Mice and Men, The Great Gatsby, and countless Shakespeare plays. If I enjoyed a novel, Dad would recommend other authors on a similar theme or presenting an opposing point of view.  I find myself playing this role with friends now - getting excited about introducing others to new books and authors. 

Dad introduced me to so many great writers like Truman Capote, Tennessee Williams, Albert Camus, Joseph Conrad, F Scott Fitzgerald, Graham Greene, Ernest Hemingway, Franz Kafka, Somerset Maugham, Victor Hugo, Tom Wolfe, Henry Miller and Philip Roth. In turn, as I became more feminist, I introduced many great women writers to my father and sparked many of his "Devil’s Advocate" debates designed to sharpen my wits and dig in my heels.  I only wish he had been here long enough so we could discuss Phillip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, GRR Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series, not to mention the non-fiction works of Christopher Hitchens and so many others.

Dad left us far too soon and we all feel the void left by his absence. I wish he were here and could see my brother and I become adults and meet the family we have created. But he passed on a great gift to me in encouraging my imagination through a love of literature. 

I think of him as I read and thank him for sharing this part of himself with me. Now as I read to the children in my life, I like to think that I am sharing a piece of my Dad with his grandchildren and all the wonder and imagination that he gave me.