Monday, 29 May 2017

Getting from A to B

In my previous post, Nancy asked me how long it takes to get from A to B, in reference to the lovely ferry trips I took into the Sydney Writer's Festival last week. I told her how long each ferry trip took and left it at that.

However as I was drifting off to sleep, exhausted after my big week, but finding it hard to switch my brain off, I thought about all the other factors that I had to take into account to actually get me from A to B on public transport. A being my front door and B being Walsh Bay.

If, on a Sunday evening, Mr Books and I suddenly get the cravings for dumplings, Lotus at Walsh Bay is our first choice. We can jump in our car and be there in under 10 mins (no peak hour traffic at that time of the day!) For a few dollars in parking, we can park right out the front of the restaurant, relax, eat, enjoy a glass of wine and be home again in about an hour and half. A lovely quick, easy evening out.

However, if we decided to do the same thing with public transport, it would probably take close to the hour and a half just to get there and back again...and cost a whole lot more!

This week it cost me well over $50 in public transport fares...and a whole lot more in time travelling.

As the crow flies, it's probably about 2 km's from my front door to Walsh Bay.

To catch the bus in, I have to walk 7 mins to the nearest bus stop and then travel about 10 mins to Sussex St. It is then about a 20 min walk to Walsh Bay (I walk pretty quickly, so a more leisurely stroll might take the average walker half an hour). Let's call that 45 mins.

I could also catch this bus up to the QVB (15 mins), walk into Town Hall train station and catch a train to Wynyard (probably 10-15 mins), then walk 10 mins to Walsh Bay (or for the SWF pay a gold coin donation to the driver of the shuttle bus that runs every 15 mins between Wynyard and the festival). Another 45 mins.

Or I can walk 7 mins to a different bus stop, catch a bus to Balmain East Ferry stop (5 mins) and take the ferry into Circular Quay (15 mins). Then walk about 15 - 20 mins up and over George St to Walsh Bay. Just over half an hour most days, assuming I was lucky enough to actually get a bus to the ferry in Balmain.
If there isn't a bus to the ferry at the right time, it's a fast 20 min walk from home to Balmain East with a couple of steep hills in between - good for my cardio-vascular, but god-awful on a hot, steamy day or a wet one! About 45 mins all up.

It's also possible to catch this ferry going in the opposite direction - to Darling Harbour and the new Barangaroo terminal. This would be a 10 min ferry ride and a good 20 min walk to Walsh Bay. An easy 45 mins.

Balmain is serviced by two ferry routes, so I can also catch a ferry from the Balmain wharf. It's a 15 min walk from home (no bus option for me for this one), a 10 min ferry trip (no stops along the way on this particular route into Circular Quay), then the 20 min walk up and over George St. 45 mins once again.

This doesn't factor in any of the waiting time between forms of transport, late arrivals or no-shows.

When the opposition groups for new road projects like Westconnex say 'spend more money on public transport', they don't factor in the time and cost it takes to get anywhere on public transport in Sydney...and I'm one of the lucky ones. I live in a very well connected (by public transport) suburb that is close to the city.

We are not London or New York City where a large city is built on a smallish amount of land. It is relatively easy to connect these densely populated areas with great public transport services.
However Sydney is a huge, sprawling city. Getting from one suburb to the next via public transport often involves two different buses, light rail or trains. And lots of time.

I'm a greenie by nature.

I have a coffee cup at work, so that I don't use the throw-away cups from the cafe every day. I mostly remember to take my green bags to the supermarket. I compost our food scraps at home, recycle paper, glass and plastics and avoid harsh cleaning products when a greener options (with elbow grease) will do the trick. I almost never drive around my suburb as I enjoy the invigorating walks up and down our hilly streets. And if I have the time and the weather is nice, I love catching the ferry into the city.

I think that good, efficient, cost-effective public transport has to be an option. But we also have to be realistic. In Sydney, public transport will not get us to all the football fields we travel to each weekend with the boys in a time efficient or cost effective manner. It will not allow me to visit my family and friends in Central West NSW or Victoria in a timely or cost effective way. Perhaps if we had fast trains (and tunnels through the mountains), that didn't stop at e v e r y  s i n g l e  s t o p along the way, then public transport could become a weekend away option.

However, if time or money or inclement weather (or lots of luggage) is a factor, then the car is the only way. Especially if Mr Books is joining me. For both of us to catch the bus and ferry in to see a play at the Opera House it would cost us together about $15 (and 45 mins in time) each way.
To park under the Opera House for a few hours is less than that and we can drive there in under 20 mins. For a few dollars more we could also get an Uber there and back, for quick, easy door to door service.

Sadly, in Sydney, public transport is not quicker or cheaper.

The rumour is that next year the SWF will be held in the Carriageworks near Newtown/Redfern whilst the Walsh Bay area undergoes renovation (see my previous post about this).

To get there by public transport I will need to take at least 2 different bus, ferry or train routes and just under an hour in travel time (without factoring in any walking to and from bus stops).

Or I could drive there in 15-20 mins.

Rant over!

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Sydney Writer's Festival - Part 2

Thursday at the Sydney Writer's Festival was another glorious May day in the sunshine. Over breakfast I planned my session times. Two were pre-booked and paid, but I also hoped to fit in the free session called And the Award Goes To....

Setting out on the ferry in the morning was a tad crisp, but the view coming into Circular Quay is always worth any wind-chill factor that goes with sitting at the front.

My first session, Do We Turn Into Our Mothers? was at the end of Pier 4/5 which took me on a lovely long walk down the entire length of the pier.
The Theatre Bar at the End of the Wharf provided encouragement and inspiration along the way!

The double-decked finger wharves around Walsh Bay were built in the early part of the 1900's.
The old wool stores have now been converted into an arts precinct.
At the end of this year's festival, the area will be closed for 2 years while it undergoes refurbishment and rejuvenation. Apparently there will be a square erected over the water between the two wharves.

Watch this Arts Precinct space for more details.

I was curious to learn a little more about the history of the area, because even though these buildings are old and cold and draughty, I love the tall, dark spaces, the light through the high windows and their relationship to the harbour.
I hope the redevelopment maintains the feel and history of the place but with a few more mod cons, like proper toilets!

The Walsh Bay website tells me that,

At the end of the 19th century, without a seawall, the Walsh Bay foreshore was awash with rubbish and infested with rats. A major disaster changed everything in 1900 when Arthur Payne, a van driver, became the first person to contract the Bubonic Plague, which arrived in Sydney in January. 
The rats were brought under control and by August the outbreak was over. 
In October that year The Sydney Harbour Trust was established to rebuild the port of Sydney. Wharves were renewed and whole streets disappeared as the cliffs were cut down to form Hickson Road.

I arrived with enough time to enjoy a coffee in the sunshine whilst reading my book - Joan Lindsay's bio Time Without Clocks. I was very grateful for my view of clean, sparkling water and colourful flags - not a rat insight! 

Do We Turn Into Our Mothers? was led by Louise Asler, and the conversation included Caroline Baum (author of Only), Nadja Spiegelman (author of I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This) and Jessica Friedmann (author of Things That Helped).

All three have written books about their parents and parenthood although it was their relationship with their mothers that was the particular focus today.
Within that was the idea of narrative - how we constantly rewrite our own histories and the push/pull effect of differing memories within families.

Going into this session, I knew that I already loved Spiegelman's memoir. I realised very quickly it was because that Nadja herself, was a funny, warm, articulate, generous, thoughtful and entertaining person in the flesh.
Nadja explained that her book was 'a shaped telling not a tell-all'.
Her comment about how the process of writing this book allowed her to see the girl in her mother and for her mother to see the woman in her struck a chord.
But I'm sure I will have more to say about this by the end of her individual session on Saturday.

Baum discussed the difficulty of balancing ruthlessness and compassion when writing a memoir and I loved her descriptions of her family as being 'champion sulkers'. I suspect I will be reading her book, Only, now.

Friedmann was harder for me to define or discuss lightly.
She has been through some major periods of depression, including a traumatic post-natal depression time that informed her book of essays.
Body image and boundaries have been her life themes so far. There was an intensity about her presence and her comments that overwhelmed my senses. I felt challenged by her and uncomfortable. Jessica's intelligence shone through everything she said but it wasn't always easy to hear what she had to say. I'm not sure I can read her book.
Her journey has been very dark at times and I can only admire her courage and determination - from afar - a little at a time.

And the Award Goes To... featured three of the NSW Premier's Literary Award winners.
I was hoping that Heather Rose would be attendance as the winner of the Christina Stead Fiction Award, so imagine my delight when I walked in to see this!
My review for Museum of Modern Love is here.

Also in attendance were the co-authors for One Thousand Hills, James Roy and Noel Zihabamwe. They took out the Ethel Turner Award for Young People's Literature.

We spent the hour exploring friendship, their writing processes and the idea of hope and kindness in literature. 
Having researched both books and authors for the reviews I previously wrote, I didn't really learn anything new. But I was thoroughly entertained and heartened by the creative impulses that drive our talented authors.

My final session for the day was in The Loft on Pier 2/3.
The views of the bridge through the high windows are gorgeous while the sounds of the trains going across it are occasionally distracting!

This session was with Kate Grenville discussing her book about The Case Against Fragrance with moderator Caroline Baum. The same Caroline Baum that I had seen earlier in the day talking about mothers, reminding me that the Australian arts scene is often very self-contained.

As I was walking back to the ferry in the fading afternoon light, I reflected on my day.
It had been thoroughly enjoyable and stimulating, but I'm not sure I learnt anything new. I didn't discover any new-to-me authors or feel compelled to add any more books to my wishlist.

Perhaps the weekend sessions will change my mind?

Thursday, 25 May 2017

My Week So Far...

This week is one of my favourite weeks in Sydney.

It's the Sydney Writer's Festival which means it's time for me to my get my #bookgeek on and revel in all things bookish, writing and words!

Things may be a bit quiet on here as a result.

Monday evening after work I went into the Sydney Theatre Company to watch a one woman play called Jane Eyre: An Autobiography. Dyad Productions seem to be a regular feature of the SWF now. Last year I thoroughly enjoyed their performance of Austen's Women.

This year's treat was a very personal look at one of my favourite classics. Viewed through a feminist lens we watch Jane grow into a determined, independent woman who knows her own mind and morals. Someone who is prepared to lose everything to stay true to herself, but who will also move heaven and earth to get what she wants.

We're enjoying a glorious autumn in Sydney this May, so my walk back to the ferry after the show was just lovely. The harbour was calm and balmy and the added bonus for me was the pre-Vivid preparations.

Seeing some of the lights without the crushing crowds suits me to a tee!

On Tuesday evening, after work, I headed into Walsh Bay again. This time it was for the Opening Party at Pier 2/3. I had lots of fun catching up with friends in the book industry and rubbing shoulders with authors and media personalities.

This time the pre-Vivid lights were playing on the MCA as well.

Thursday is my day off work and I'm about to head in for a few talks, including one with Kate Grenville and another with Nadja Speigleman. I also plan to go to the 'meet the winners' session for this year's NSW Premier's Literary Awards.

This week always over-stimulates me. I bubble along on a bookish high, my mind racing along at a thousand miles an hour...until i crash and burn on Sunday night!

I'm trying to pace myself better this year.

If you're coming to Sydney for any of the events this year, please PM on twitter if you'd like to meet up for a coffee between sessions.

Happy reading!

Sunday, 21 May 2017

What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt

So many various and varied roads led me to read What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt this week.

Firstly, she is one of my dear friend's favourite writers (along with Paul Auster). I have resisted for several years now for no particular reason. However, Hustvedt's books are always there, lurking in the back of my mind, waiting for me to pay them attention.

In the past few weeks I have read three truly amazing, but very different books that have a connection to either New York City, art, post-modernism, love or loss - The Museum of Modern Love, Exit West and Insomniac City.

Last week, as I was unpacking boxes at work, the red tinted edges of Sceptre's 30th anniversary special edition of What I Loved grabbed my attention. I flicked open the pages randomly and landed on the top of page 103 and read,
Not once in all my years of marriage had I asked myself whether I loved Erica. For about a year after we met, I had been thoroughly unhinged by her. My heart had pounded. My nerves had tensed with longing until I could almost here them buzz. My appetite had vanished, and I had withdrawal symptoms when I wasn't with her.

I was hooked.
This brief passage reached out to me and insisted I read the rest of it now. It felt real and it felt urgent. It was also set in NYC and featured an artist as one of the main characters.
I was in!

Hustvedt divided the book into three acts. The first act was the getting to know you section that occasionally dragged a little.
Leo is our narrator and protagonist. We become intimately connected to his wife Erica, their friends, Bill, Violet and Lucille and the children Matthew and Mark. Bill is an artist - his work fascinates Leo, which is what brings them altogether.

I found the descriptions of Bill's art work overly long and, well, tedious, at times, although I gradually realised that they gave us many psychological insights into Bill's character as well as allowing Hudsvedt many opportunities to explore her ideas about perception and seeing and interpretation.

Early on Leo remarks that one of Bill's paintings reminds him of Jan Steen's woman at her morning toilet which he saw at the Rijksmuseum. Bill acknowledges the connection and says,
I'm not interested in nudes. They're too arty, but I'm really interested in skin

They note how you can see the imprint in the woman's skin made by the string that keeps the top of the sock up. Hustvedt plays with the notion of what is skin deep and how what we do (and think) impacts on our bodies. Impressions, influences and surface details versus intent, consciousness and internal meaning also get explored throughout the book.

Naturally I had to source this painting to see it for myself.

Woman at her Toilet, Jan Havickszoon Steen, 1655 - 1660
Curiously Steen seems to have painted this idea twice. The painting above is the one that hangs in the Rijksmuseum. The one below is part of the Royal Collection Trust.

I now wonder if this example of duality was a deliberate choice by Hustvedt or merely happy coincidence.

A Woman at her Toilet 1663 Jan Steen

Act two reveals why the title is written in the past tense. The pace and tension within the story also picks up from here. If you have been struggling with the first chapter, I urge you to wait until the second to make up your mind about whether to continue or not.

I loved the vague sense of foreboding and dread that simmered under the surface during the final two acts. Love, grief, hope, disappointment, trust, despair, loyalty and forgiveness are just some of the heavy emotions that swirl around our characters. It was an emotional roller coaster ride that I couldn't, and didn't want to get off.

I'm always fascinated when an author writes in the voice of someone of the opposite sex. Colm Toibin has impressed me in the past with his ability to write from the female perspective and here, I feel that Hustvedt has captured the male voice so well.

She said in an interview with Bookslut in 2008,

Writing as a man is not an act of translation but means becoming a man while you are working, not unlike an actor becoming his role. I truly believe that most of us have men and women within us and can hear the voices of both sexes, as well as feel the nuanced and sometimes blatant differences between them. A male voice necessarily carries more authority that a woman’s simply because as a culture we give men that privilege. As a woman, I take pleasure in adopting the dominant male tone and assuming a central role, but I have also found that wrenching my perspective away from the feminine, I’ve been able to discover feelings, images, and thoughts I wouldn’t have had without the transformation.

The ageing Leo makes a cameo appearance in Hustvedt's later novel, The Sorrows of an American (2008) a story about immigration that follows the lives of siblings, Erik and Inga. Hustvedt said in the same interview that she 'missed Leo terribly and felt compelled to bring him back.'

I will now have to read The Sorrows of an American as I also miss Leo terribly now that I have finished What I Loved.

Hustvedt is an intelligent writer who embraces her intelligence. I never felt like she was showing off for the sake of being clever. She was writing about something that meant a lot to her, that stirred her passions - intellectually and emotionally.

Inga’s irritation with American culture borders on outrage and reflects my own criticisms of life in the United States today. I once considered writing a book called Culture Nausea (which I proceeded to give to Inga) in which I planned to rail against media cant, rampant anti-intellectualism, political verbiage, the revolting trampling over the rule of law, the wholesale adoption of received ideas without the slightest examination, the lust for the ugly confession, and innumerable other thorns in my side. (Bookslut 2008 interview)

I suspect most of her books reflect Inga's irritation and outrage, certainly What I Loved does and I, for one, thoroughly enjoyed reading a book that engaged my brain and my heart at the same time.

What I Loved was longlisted for the 2003 Orange Prize (now the Baileys Women's Prize)

Friday, 19 May 2017

10 Books I Have Read

#10books is a meme that has been going around Litsy.
How well do you know my reading habits?

1. Lord of the Flies
2. The Day of the Triffids
3. Fahrenheit 451
4. Of Mice and Men
5. Peyton Place
6. Fifty Shades of Grey
7. 1984
8. Gone Girl
9. Wuthering Heights
10. Lady Chatterley's Lover

Can you guess which book is the lie?

If you'd like to join in #10books please leave your link in the comments so that I can check out your list too.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

The Fall by Tristan Bancks

I read The Fall by Australian writer Tristan Bancks as one of my recent #readathon books.

Bancks has been very successful with his previous book, Two Wolves (titled On the Run in the US), winning the KOALA & YABBA Children's Choice Book Awards in 2015 as well as being shortlisted for the CBCA and Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards. I have been meaning to read it for two years now.

He also has a younger reader series called My Life about a boy called Tom Weekly who now has five books full of jokes, cartoons and 'other stuff he made up'.
I am not the target audience for these books, but the 9 year old boys in my life tell me that they are very funny and gross!

The Fall is aimed at a slightly older reader. It's a fast paced, easy to read thriller with gripping end of chapter cliffhangers. The prefect late in the day #readathon book!

I enjoyed the Alfred Hitchcock-esque Rear Window beginning, as young Sam overhears an argument, late one night, in the apartment above his dad's. Sam has had a recent knee operation and is still learning how to get around on his crutches. He hobbles over to the window to hear the argument better, when suddenly a body falls past his window.

What follows is pure Hitchcock - a missing body, break ins and a mysterious girl next door. Add in a dodgy dad, a suspicious police chief and oodles of near misses for non-stop thrills and spills.

A terrific action-packed crime story for mature 10+ readers.

The Fall is a June release for Penguin Random House Australia.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Iwasa

One of my recent #readathon reads was the delightfully eccentric Yours Sincerely, Giraffe by Megumi Isawa. When my eyes started to get tired and words began to blur on the page, the simple but fun illustrations from Jun Takabatake were just the eye candy I needed.

The premise of the story is simple - Giraffe is bored. Until, that is, he spots a sign on a tree from an equally bored pelican who has decided to start up a postal service, 'willing to deliver anything anywhere'!

Giraffe decides to write a letter. He gives it to pelican with the instruction 'give it to the first animal you meet on the other side of the horizon.'

What follows is a rather absurd, but oh so charming tale of mistaken identity and misunderstanding as giraffe and his new penpal, penguin, try to imagine what each other look like and what it would be like to live on the other side of the horizon.

For teachers and parents, the added bonus with Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is the chance to discuss letter writing, difference and perception with your emerging reader. It's also a fabulous book to read aloud together.

New Zealand based Gecko Press have become renown for their promotion of unconventional, diverse and humorous books for children. These include Rose Lagercrantz's My Happy Life books and Ulf Nilsson's Detective Gordon series. Yours Sincerely, Giraffe is another quirky addition.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes was my third bloody brilliant book in a row.

I went from the stunning award winning Museum of Modern Love by Australian author Heather Rose to the thought-provoking Exit West by Moshin Hamid to Bill Hayes' beautiful, heart-felt love story about his partner Oliver Sacks and New York City.

The three books felt interconnected by theme (love, loss and belonging), creativity & art and by my response. All three books stimulated and enticed me to read deeply and thoughtfully.

New York City also played a part in both The Museum of Modern Love and this book, as well as helping me choose my next (and current) read, What I Loved by Siri Hustvedt.

These four books will now be forever linked together in my mind.

My copy of Insomniac City is the rather lush hardback edition with deckled edges. The cover has one of Bill's photographs of the cross street near his home across it, while the dark blue jacket has little windows cut out to see through to the colours underneath.

Insomniac City is part memoir, part observation and part journal. Hayes' writing is poetic and mesmerising. His kindness and generosity shines through on every page. I felt inspired by how he could find beauty in everyday life and his power to create a meaningful connection with those around him.

Bill has also littered the pages with many of his New York photographs featured on his Instagram page (found here).

The only problem, however, that I soon discovered with deckled edges, is how hard it is to flick though the pages. I had marked, in pencil, several significant passages and possibilities to include in this post.

The only one I could easily find again was this remark of Oliver's to Bill,
The most we can do is to write - intelligently, creatively, critically, evocatively- about what it is like living in this world at this time.

This is something they both excelled at and something that I aim to do (however imperfectly) here at Brona's Books.

My reading doesn't occur in a vacuum.
It's influenced by what is going on around me as well as inside of me. Sometimes I want an emotional reading experience (happy, sad or anywhere in between) and sometimes I want to be engaged on an intellectual level.

The very best of books do both at the same time.

I have now read three books in a row that do just that.

Spring Shadows in New York - Bill Hayes
Bill Hayes is one of the many authors appearing at this year's Sydney Writer's Festival - another reason why I was moved to read this book.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid has divided many readers and reviewers. (For an interesting cross section of responses try My Booking Great Read, Michael @Knowledge Lost, Rachel @Pace Amore, Libri, and Kate @Books are my Favourite and Best).

I was therefore prepared for the pared back, deceptively simple writing style that has kept many reviewers at an emotional distance.

Curiously I embraced it - I never felt distanced or detached at all. Every word and phrase popped with restrained emotion and hidden depths.

I am not an effusive, flowery kind of person.
I consider myself to be discreet and reticent in person. But I'm often a seething, swirling mess of contradictory feelings underneath.

Nadia and Saeed felt like versions of me. Cautious, quiet, thoughtful, understated, but with a lot going on inside.

Hamid's writing style suited my temperament to a tee.

Exit West also came into my life at the right time.

I began reading Exit West immediately after I finished the wonderful award winning The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose and straight after seeing the ABC's Book Club episode that featured the book.

Generally speaking, if Marieke Hardy likes a book, I do too (one obvious exception being her love affair with Amis which I simply do not share). It felt like the book gods (or at least Marieke) were telling me that this book had to be next. I was ready and receptive and the book was on hand.

The Museum of Modern Love contained themes of silence, connection, time, loss and love.
So did Exit West.

As I began reading, it felt in a weird way that is hard to adequately explain, that the love and connection I had for the language, art & ideas in Rose's book flowed straight into what I was experiencing in Exit West.
So much so that Hamid's startling (but sparing) use of magic realism ended up being an added bonus for me, not a distraction or in the least off-putting.

From the rather terrifying appearance of the very first door, I was intrigued...and hooked.

In an interview with Cressida Leyshon in The New Yorker last year, Hamid discussed the use of the magical doors that transported refugees from a place of danger to a place of greater safety in an instant.
I don’t entirely believe in the reality of realism. Lived human experience is too weird. Neuroscientists tell us that our brains are constantly constructing a representation of the world that is useful but is also inaccurate, invented. Mystics tell us much the same. I’ve always had an element of the unreal in my books. A little bit of the unreal can heighten our sense of reality by allowing us to experience something that knows it is a fiction but feels at the same time true. In the past, the strand of unreality I’ve explored has mostly been a formal strand, one rooted in the form a novel takes, the way it sets up the story it is telling. This time, the strand of unreality is in the plot, in the physics of the world, with the existence of these doors. The doors felt quite real to me when I was writing them. I could imagine them existing. And they allowed me to compress the next century or two of human migration on our planet into the space of a single year, and to explore what might happen after

Once I got over the unexpected shock of the first door, I liked this device a lot. It took the journey out of the story and made it instead, a story about the gradual disintegration into chaos and war of a once civilised society. And a story about adjusting to a new place - a new place that may not be exactly welcoming.

The new refuges also became Hamid's point of hope for the reader.
In some near distant future these purpose built cities could give us all a way out of our current world-wide refugee crisis (Hamid discusses this further in The New Yorker article linked above).

A colleague felt that the end left too many things unsaid or unexplored in Nadia and Saeed's relationship, the two young lovers at the heart of this story. I've been trying to work out why this didn't concern me and I think it was simply because the ending felt real to me. It wasn't resolved or tied up in a neat bow. I appreciated the layers, the nuance and the messiness of their love. None of the changes or choices that Saeed or Nadia made surprised me - they felt consistent with my perception of them.

Another link between Exit West and The Museum of Modern Love was the occasional reference to art and artists. In this instant, Saeed and Nadia are discussing and sharing images by the photographer, Thierry Cohen.
Nadia thought about this. They were achingly beautiful, these ghostly cities - New York, Rio, Shanghai, Paris - under their stains of stars, images as though from an epoch before electricity, but with the buildings of today. Whether they looked like the past, or the present, or the future, she couldn't decide.
French photographer, Thierry Cohen, Darkened Cities series - Shanghai
The past, the present and the future all played their part in this beautiful story which has become one of my favourite reads for 2017 (and a potential reread as soon as possible).

N.B. One of the other panellist's on The Book Club, Omar Musa, also thought very highly of the book, but his praise was qualified as he felt that Hamid's previous works were stronger and better. Needless to say, I'm now on the lookout for a copy of The Reluctant Fundamentalist, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia and Moth Smoke.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Usually I prefer to start a book knowing as little about it as possible, especially contemporary fiction. I like to come at it without any prejudices or preconceived ideas so that I can make up my own mind.

However that was not the case with the Stella Prize winning book The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.

Based on nothing but the cover and it's shortlisting for the Stella, I had decided that I would probably give this book a go one day when I felt like a bit of love mixed with art. The tag 'a novel inspired by Marina Abramović' rang no bells at the time except to tell me that this story would be based on someone's real life.

But then I read Kim @readingmatters review, which lead me to Lisa @ANZlitlovers and Kate @booksaremyfavouriteandbest and I realised very quickly that I did indeed know who Marina Abramović was. 
And knowing that moved The Museum of Modern Love straight to the top of my TBR pile.

A while back I had seen Ulay's video (below) as it made it's rounds on social media. Ulay was Abramović's former partner.
I have been haunted by the old lover's reuniting scenario in this video ever since - the look in Marina's eyes and the whole concept behind the staging of the Artist is Present (2010) exhibition fascinated me. 

Having watched this (and several others about Marina's show since) I do now wonder about Ulay's song that plays over this video. It feels a little like Marina's performance has been usurped by his agenda (there is another youtube video of this meeting available that Abramović's team produced as well). But that's an another story....

After reading Kim. Kate & Lisa's reviews I found an archival documentary by Nicola Flint (below) and read this article in The Guardian about Abramović's 2014 exhibition at The Serpentine Gallery in London.

As you can see I became fascinated (okay obsessed) very quickly...and I hadn't even opened the book at this point!

I had very high expectations for this book and it didn't disappoint, although it wasn't exactly what I thought it would be either. By the end though, I had no idea how I could possibly review it any better or more succinctly than Kim, Lisa & Kate had done before me.

It was the art that stood out for me though.

There were so many discussions by the characters about various exhibitions and modern artists that I had no idea about. With each one, I felt the need to google and find out more. This on-the-side research added a great deal of aesthetic and intellectual pleasure to my reading experience.

Reading and researching The Museum of Modern Love became my very own personal art therapy session.

Early on in the novel, Jane Miller (a visitor to New York) on her way to MoMA to see Abramovic's performance, looked up and caught 
sight of the silhouette of a man standing high on the edge of a nearby building. She had squinted, puzzled, ready to be alarmed. But then with a thrill she recognised it as one of the Antony Gormley sculptures dotting New York's skyline through spring.

Rather spooky isn't it?
Antony Gormley has now (re)created several Event Horizon shows around the world including the original in London in 2007, New York in 2010 and Hongkong in 2015/6.

Jane Miller again:  'I think art saves people all the time.'

Yes, Jane, I think so too.
I know that it saves me on a regular, almost, daily basis.

(She) thought instead of Gustav Metzger. Metzger liked to drape cloths over things. He had draped cloth over images of the Holocaust. He might drop a cloth right over Marina Abramović
Historic Photographs: To Crawl Into - Anschluss, Vienna, March 1938 (1996/2011)

Sadly, when I googled Metzer for this post, I discovered that he had died just last month at the age of 90. The idea of what can be seen, what is hidden, who is doing the looking and who is hiding were themes that Rose played with throughout the story.

Jane, again (she was an art teacher which explains her interest and knowledge. Rose used her very effectively to provide the reader with relevant information and as a gentle provocateur):
Brancusi, the sculptor, for thirty years or more, worked exclusively with two forms - the circle and the square. Every sculpture was a marriage of the egg and the cube....I think Abramović probably has the same thing in mind. She's asking us to look at things differently. Maybe to feel something invisible....she's always been exploring either intense movement or utter stillness.
Constatin Brancusi - The Kiss 1916

Keeble (a TV art critic, and a not so gentle provocateur):
'For several centuries now art has sat beside religion,' he said. "When we get overlap we get outrage. Take The Black Madonna. Piss Christ. Wim Delvoye tattooing the Madonna onto a pig's back. I'm uncomfortable with how religious it feels to walk into MoMA right now and see all those people literally kneeling or sitting about and staring at Abramović  as if she was a saint.'

Jesus (2005)

The novelist, Colm Toibin sat with Marina in real life and in the book. He wrote about it in The New York Review of Books. Rose's ability to weave together the real and the fictional was flawless.

Books also got mentioned by our characters - Muriel Barbery's, The Elegance of the Hedgehog and 1Q84 by Murakami. One I've read and one I haven't - but it is on my TBR pile. I love books that lead me to other books.

There were so many rich layers and ideas about art, life and love interwoven throughout this gorgeous story that, when I finished, it moved straight onto my To Be ReRead Pile.

Connection and convergence were major themes that resonated strongly with me...not only within the book, but with other real life stuff as well.

It felt like The Museum of Modern Love has now led me naturally, like stepping stones named art, New York and love straight into the arms of Mohsin Hamid's Exit West, Bill Hayes' Insomniac City and now Siri Hustvedt's What I Loved.

Synchronicity and convergence and connection at work on my bookshelves!

I have also been thinking (a lot) about how these things also play out it in our day to day lives.

Perhaps some of the highest praise I can give Rose's book is that it has not only opened up my mind, heart and world to modern art and the idea of art as therapy, but it has also inspired and informed my subsequent reading.

The other review for The Museum of Modern Love that I wanted to highlight was Heather's @Bits and Books.

Sadly, Heather Croxon died after being involved in an accident in early March.
I only knew Heather via her blog, Bits and Books and her instagram, litzy & twitter feeds, but the news gutted me when I first heard about it.

Her enthusiasm for books, the reading community and her budgie knew no bounds. I loved the time and effort she took to create beautifully styled book pics and I always enjoyed seeing her latest book recommendations and links for #6degrees and #TopTenTuesday.

I cannot imagine what Heather's family must be going through now, but if they somehow wander onto this post, I would like them to know how much fun and creativity Heather added to the book blogging world. She will be missed.
Heather was only 31.

Thank you also to Julianne and Andi @Dewey's 24hr Readathon for honouring Heather's memory in their recent post.

Monday, 8 May 2017

Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

I started the Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson as part of my #readathon session. I had a lovely 15th anniversary edition of this modern day classic, complete with gorgeous blue butterfly. The following day I woke up with a terrible head cold and struggled to work, before realising that I was going to need a couple of days at home in bed to actually get better.

Journey to the River Sea became the perfect easy, delightful read to see me through my first day of feeling miserable at home.

This book was a pleasure in and of itself, but it also brought back so many lovely memories of other favourite childhood characters. Our orphaned heroine, Maia upon hearing that she was being sent to the Amazon to live with cousins she had never met, channelled her inner Jane Eyre, when she gave herself this stern talking to,
Fear is the cause of all evil, she told herself but she was afraid. Afraid of the future...afraid of the unknown. Afraid in the way of someone who is alone in the world.

Followed up quickly by an Anne Shirley-esque remark, 'And after that I don't know, but it's going to be all right.' Maia is courageous, funny and intelligent - the kind of child, we all wish we had been more like (well, at least, the kind of child, I wish I had been like).

There's the forbidding but ultimately lovable governess who provides Maia with thoughtful care, fun and inspiring life advice just like Mary Poppins or Professor McGonagall. The Little Lord Fauntleroy aspect is explored via Clovis, the very homesick and unwilling theatrical orphan boy. The mean twins are Nellie Olsen, John Reed and Veruca Salt all rolled into one (well, actually two, but you know what I mean!) And the lost boy, living with the Indians, has a touch of the Huck Finn's or Peter Pan about him.

Journey to the River Sea is historical fiction with heart. Set in 1910 England and Manaus on the banks of the Negro River in Brazil, Ibbotson gives us a tale of belonging, bravery and being true to yourself. There's also a treasure trove of gorgeous geography and anthropological treats along the way, with references to Humboldt, sloths and butterflies, just to name a few.

Highly recommended for mature 10+ readers and all lovers of fine children's literature.

My post for One Dog and His Boy from 2011 - when my reviews were short, sweet & simple.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

#6Degrees May 2017

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review link, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

I have tried to read The Slap several times, but simply cannot get past the first page.
Lots of people have highly recommended this book to me, but I just can't do it.
I couldn't even watch the TV series.

I have the same problem with The Light Between Oceans.
I can't get past the first page and I have no intention of seeing the movie.

I could probably fill a whole #6degrees with books that I can't read past the first page, however, that would be a tad boring. So, instead I will link to a lighthouse.

One of my favourite children's picture books is The Lighthouse Keeper's Lunch by Ronda & David Armitage. Ronda was born and raised in New Zealand while David grew up in Tasmania. However, the were living in the UK when they wrote/illustrated the book together.
Debate still rages over which lighthouse they were referencing!

There are cheeky, talking seagulls, a hungry lighthouse keeper and a scaredy cat, called Hamish.
Which leads me beautifully to my favourite and best (see what I did there?) Hamish of all time.

Hamish Macbeth *big sigh & girly swoon*

I was a huge and avid fan of the BBC TV series set in the fictional town of Lochdubh.
But I had no idea at the time, that it was based on a series of books by M C Beaton.
I read the first book (in a series of 29!) called Death of a Gossip a few years ago.

Another Scottish gem with a bit more literary cred (shortlisted for last year's Man Booker) was His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet.

Set in the Scottish Highlands, this psychological thriller claimed to be a true story about Burnet's ancestor, Roderick Macrae. But it wasn't.
It was highly entertaining and fiendishly good fiction dressed up as fact.

Which leads me back to Australia and our famous 'is this true or not?' story, Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay. I was devastated when I discovered that the story was pure fiction.

Joan Lindsay was an interesting character - she believed that clocks and other machinery would stop in her presence & she apparently dreamt most of the story about Picnic at Hanging Rock. Her parents were friends with Martin Boyd, she studied painting under Frederick McCubbin and married Norman Lindsay's brother, Daryl.

I hope to find out lots more when I dive into Beyond the Rock by Janelle McCulloch.

My chain went from a modern Aussie backyard BBQ, to lighthouses, the Scottish Highlands and back to the Australia bush circa 1900.

Where did your chain take you?

Next month (June 3, 2017), the chain will begin with Steve Martin’s Shopgirl.