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Byron Shire
March 2, 2021

Book reviews

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Game-of-knownsGAME OF KNOWNS

by Dr Karl Kruszelnicki, Pan Macmillan Australia, rrp $32.99

One of Australia’s beloved geeks, Dr Karl (drkarl.com), or some marketing wiz, has come up with a clever idea to promote a science book: just borrow from popular culture. Call it Game Of Knowns after Game of Thrones, parody the recurring warning ‘Winter is coming’ (‘Science is coming’) and have Karl sit on an Iron Throne, this one made from sharpened pencils rather than uncomfortable swords. I explain all this for the few who have not encountered HBO’s hit fantasy series.

While Game Of Thrones rests on solid writing, it would not exist without science, which gave us the cameras, the special-effects computer software, the microphones to record the characters in stern orations. This is part of Kruszelnicki’s mission: to explain how important science is to everyday life, and to entertain and amaze us on the way there.

This Dr K does in short chapters, cleverly illustrated by Douglas Holgate, covering 32 topics from 3D Printing to Wrinkled Skin in the Bath. There are many asides and corny jokes and plenty of fodder for pub-quiz fiends.

The mind boggling begins with 3D Printing: ‘Imagine if you could use individual atoms as your raw materials. Further down the line, a 3D printer might have as its starting materials just the 92-or-so naturally occurring elements… If you had the right “fusing” or “fixing” technology, you could potentially make anything.’ Science prompts the big philosophical questions even without trying.

Dr Karl also debunks a few myths, such as the ‘mathematical’ basis for Biorhythm Theory, and reinforces the need for education in order to understand science and its consequences, and to function better as a human being. He helps us understand how much we don’t know and how much scientists have yet to discover – which includes a fair bit of the universe. And don’t get him started on Dark Energy.

Fascinating stuff, and it can be taken in small doses chapter by chapter, which may be necessary if you are to absorb it all.

– Michael McDonald



by Jen Storer, HarperCollins,
rrp $16.99

Moving towns is never easy. Especially when you move to the middle of nowhere. First of all, you have to leave the comfort of your home town that you’ve lived in your whole life. There’s the massive hassle of packing all your precious belongings into the removalist’s truck. Not to mention the fact that the drivers are very suspicious-looking people. Worst of all you have to leave your one and only best friend behind at your old town.

Meet Tan! Her mum, Coral, was born in ‘Lala Land’ so when her daughters were born they had dreamy names: Rose, Amber and Emerald or, as Tan prefers to call them, the Lollipops. However, when Tan came along her mum allowed her dad to choose her name on one condition: her name was the name of a colour like her sisters and her mum. Her family consists of the Lollipops, Tan’s parents, Amber’s ditsy dog Doodad, Tan herself, Tan’s awesome dog Awesome, E, the ratty three-legged cat, Queen Victoria the tortoise and finally Babbles the bird (although sometimes we find her a lot like a microwave).

Things are very different in the country. First of all, teachers here do not appreciate bringing in a cat skeleton for show-and-tell. (Who would’ve known?) Another ‘unnormal’ thing is The Dead Fox. With the help of Rose’s Box Brownie (whatever that could be) the girls discover something very peculiar indeed. What exactly is the mysterious haunting at Purple Haunt? Who is this spooky Wandering Wanda and will we ever see her?

Truly Tan may not appeal to boys; however, I would recommend it to girls aged 8–12 who enjoy a book filled with mystique and ‘unnormalness’ crammed into one humorous package. I enjoyed this book and hope that you will too!.

– Josie Huntsman, Byron Bay Public School


ham-on-rye-.jpgHAM ON RYE

by Charles Bukowski, Canongate Books,
rrp pb $20.95

Independent Edinburgh publishers Canongate Books (canongate.tv) has put out an edition of Charles Bukowski’s semi-autobiographical novel Ham On Rye, first published in 1982. It’s worth checking out their website for obscure favourites or new finds.

Ham On Rye gives us clues to the forces, most notably his abusive father, that shaped Bukowski’s dissolute character. Not to mention the Great Depression and an awful case of acne. No wonder Bukowski took to drink and poetry.

Ham On Rye ’s protagonist, Henry Chinaski, is a loner who is made even more estranged by random beatings from his dad and his inability to fit in at school. Bukowski describes a small dysfunctional family ‘unit’, the only saving grace of which is mother Katherine’s love for her tortured boy.

Bukowski’s style is clean and lean, entirely without pathos, tough like the city of Los Angeles in which he grew up, part of a literary movement that came to be described as ‘dirty realism’ and ‘transgressive fiction’. He may not have become an easy human being to appreciate but Bukowski’s writing is a treat: ‘Gathered around me were the weak instead of the strong, the ugly instead of the beautiful, the losers instead of the winners. It looked like it was my destiny to travel in their company through life. That didn’t bother me so much as the fact that I seemed irresistible to these dull idiot fellows. I was like a turd that drew flies instead of like a flower that butterflies and bees desired.’

Bukowski.net gives him his due in Bukowski style and you can see facsimiles of his original poem manuscripts hacked out on an Underwood Standard. (If you want to know which typewriters many old-school authors used, visit mytypewriter.com.)

– Michael McDonald

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