Deep Dive Book Club – Anna Karenina

I’ve finished it.

It’s long.

Very long.

This is probably the fourth time I’ve attempted to read it. I think having the audiobook helped somewhat as it meant I stayed with it on the drive to and fro work. But blimey Charlie it was hard work getting through it.

It doesn’t help that each character is called at least three different names, sometimes on the same page. From their full name, to nickname to another nickname. Which, as there are so many characters is confusing, and mostly listening to it, I also didn’t have the handy character list at the front to refer to. Yes it’s a quibble, but it is my quibble dammit.

With the audiobook, I don’t know when it was recorded, the blurb says “This is a vintage recording”. They’re not kidding, aside from the narrator often stumbling over her words, (forever known as Pismonounciations) and hearing pages being turned; the translation was from 1901 and included the N-word too.

In the paperback, translated a bit later in 1918, (in the same passage) Katavasov and Koznyshev are as dark as ‘Arabs’ with dust after riding in a horse and cart. Katavasov says ‘But I am not a negro! [marginally better] When I have had a wash I shall look like a human being!’ [Truly awful].

I know it’s of it’s time, and looking back even at Enid Blyton makes you wince now, but goodness me o.O

Konstantin Dmitrievich Levin is by far my favourite character; he’s sweet, humble and kind. I love how he felt so much for Kitty, he retreated away to the country; read philosophy trying to understand everything and where he fit in the world; how he shared his diaries to show Kitty he wasn’t ‘chaste’ before they got married, and also love that until Kitty got caught in the rainstorm with the baby in the pram, he wasn’t in love with Mitya his son.

I felt the same way about Archie, I loved him – but it was a few months before I was in love with him. I had this big natural birth thing going on in my head and his delivery was so far removed from what I wanted; the rite of love-warrior experience and feeling, it took a while for me to reconcile with the wee human.

I remember one night he was looking at me as he fell asleep, I was standing up, rocking him, he was tiny – he still fitted in one arm. His eyes grew heavy, but he kept looking at me. I told myself “You need to remember this.” And I have.

I’m enjoying the deep dive, if I can get hold of Maggie Gyllenhall’s version, I’ll give that a listen as her voice is like a warm bath.

Anyhoo, I can officially tick it off the classics list!

2018 reading review, including my book of the year

In 2018, I was aiming to read 52 books. I hit 80 this morning on 28 December, I’ll explain why I posted this early at the bottom of the post.

For one of my “19 in 2019” I want to get to 100 books, which means less time on social media (can only be a good thing) and broadening my reading repertoire (can only be a good thing). The hardest part of getting to 100 books will not be turning books I love around to promptly re-read them – I will be strong! This year has been a period of growth for me, mostly thanks to two women:

  • Mel Robbins, The 5 Second Rule I read this twice and listened to it twice this year.
  • Brené Brown, with Daring Greatly and Dare to Lead which I promptly brought for the Management Team at work. Yes, seven additional copies. Mine is already dog-eared, highlighted all the way through. Both of these got listened to and read at least twice as well.

As you will see from the list, I’m also addicted to Agatha Christie, with a penchant for audiobooks Joan Hickson reading Miss Marple and Hugh Fraser reading Poirot. Agatha Christie has been a companion for 30 years, I don’t see that changing any time soon. I also finally got round to reading His Dark Materials trilogy, Book Club gave me a couple of books I wouldn’t have picked up, and also one that I could not finish. My rule of thumb is 100 pages plus my age; if I’m not in it by then, I close the book and move on.

Stand out reads of the year include:

  • Uncommon Type, Tom Hanks – damnit, the man can do everything.
  • Night Circus, Erin Morgenstern – a book I hugged with joy when I finished it.
  • Promise Me Dad, Joe Biden – read with tissues, then tell everyone you love that you love them.
  • Not My Father’s Son, Alan Cumming – I listened to this, then went back and watched his Who Do You Think You Are episode, which prompted the book. Glorious but heartbreaking and his Scottish burr in your ears is really rather lovely.
  • Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, Samin Nosrat – I think I’ve watched the Netflix special eight times (see a pattern here when I get excited about something?) I ordered this for my Christmas present, to me!

Book of the year though, has to be Osher Günsberg’s Back, After The Break. I cannot stress how well this book captures what it feels like to live with ‘a different brain’ as Osher puts it. The book also addresses via Audrey his wife, what it’s like to live with someone who lives with a different brain. I’m up to my fourth reading of it, it is now a permanent fixture on my bed side table.

Thanks to the book and subsequent media attention, Australia is now, (at last), catching up with those who’ve been listening to his podcast and had heard from the man behind the TV presenter persona. Sharp suits and counting roses is one thing, but Osher is also proud about sharing his mental health and sobriety journey. I really recommend his podcast; Osher is a skilled interviewer, not being afraid to go ‘there’ in conversations. Also as they are long-form interviews, the conversations are wide-ranging, intimate and every single one of them brings an “a-ha!” moment.

What I really love about the podcasts though is Osher still getting goofy talking about his family, Audrey and Georgia. Audrey recognised how scared he was in one of his fragile moments and told him “It’s ok, because I’ll be there with you” which started leading him towards the light again. Here’s Osher talking about that moment with Todd Sampson – when Todd interviewed him after the release of the book.

I’m so bluddy proud of him. It has been an extraordinary year, Men’s Health cover and all. Here’s me, bursting with joy to meet him back at the Melbourne Writer’s Festival.

Happy Second Anniversary to all of you. I was going to post this review on 31 December, with my final number but brought it forward to today after he popped a wedding photo up. There was no doubt what my book of the year was as soon as I’d finished reading it.

Osher

 

Father’s Day, weekend redux

Had an odd Saturday, on the one hand – excellent as I got to meet one of my favourite humans; on the other sh!t-house because of a poorly managed night out that left me in the middle of a room on my own staving off anxiety. C’est la vie.

On Friday night Osher Gunsberg shared on Instagram he was whizzing into the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, and was doing a signing in the Atrium at 12:30pm on Saturday. I told Hubs I wanted to head into the city to get my book (re) signed, as I’d brought a signed copy from Booktopia.

We headed into the city to watch Archie play hockey, his last session of the season, which means no more running by the Yarra for me on a Saturday for a few months. But I  spent a half an hour there doing the VA thing, supporting a project I’m passionate about. We drove into the CBD proper from South Yarra; driving past Melbourne Football Club training in a park, watched by fans from the sidelines. No extra security in sight, you can’t imagine any club in the Premiere League doing that.

We parked up, and went to get coffees from one of the coffee shops in the Atrium. I ordered a croissant for the boys to share, and a pear and almond friend for me. Both came out cold, which we weren’t expecting (#brrrr), but they were tasty. The boys headed off into the city to a model shop, I sat on a chair and started to read Osher’s book. I’d been saving it since I knew I’d inhale it, and I must say it’s been a PITA having to go to work and do stuff.

Then suddenly there he was. I’ve got an odd relationship with him, he’s a major party of my life, even if he has no idea who I am. I’ve been listening to his podcast since he was still living in the USA, so we worked it out that was five years. I think I was also the only person in the queue who doesn’t watch the Bachelor(ette), if anyone tries to get anything other than sport or cartoons on our TV at home – good luck.

Osher was as sweet and as gracious as he is to his guests on the podcast; he came round the other side of the table to meet us, when I got my phone out to take a photo, whoever was with him (his manager Lauren maybe?), offered to take a picture. For a nanosecond, I hesitated, then put my arms right round him and leant my head against his. We talked some more, he signed more in my book and after saying ‘Give my love to the girls’, I kissed him and left so other people could get a chance to spend some time with him.

I would so love to talk to him for hours though. It’s not like my schwarm for Tom Hardy or George Clooney; it’s more like how I feel about Stephen Fry, Oprah, Cmdr Hadfield, Brené Brown or Mel Robbins.

—o0o–

In the evening, I’d been invited to an 80s night at the RSL with some of the school mums. I brought my ticket from someone I’d never met and arranged to meet people in the foyer at 7:30pm. I arrived to find no-one waiting, and when I posted in the event on Facebook, I then found out that two separate dinners had been organised without anyone asking if I wanted to join either of them.

Okaaaay.

One school mum rescued me, introduced me to a friend of hers who arrived shortly after me and went back to finish her meal. We made small talk, two more people arrived that this lady knew, but I don’t follow the VFL so a lot of the conversation I watched. We went upstairs, I stood there while we tried to work out where to sit or stand, as there was nowhere free.

Texting my running buddy that as it was Father’s Day, I wouldn’t be able to meet with her as we normally do on Sunday mornings; having said that I then messaged ‘I’m not sure how long I’ll be out for. I’m standing here like a lemon with no one talking to me‘ As I typed it, my anxiety bubbled up and within three minutes over the text conversation, I was out the door and heading back to my car.

I wouldn’t mind, but I’d been updating Instagram stories with my exploits as I was so excited about going out with new people. Sigh. Bless her heart, she checked in on me first thing in the morning to make sure I was ok.

I was ok once I got home and talked it through with Hubs. We sat up in bed and read together like the old married couple that we are; I’m currently on American Wife, which is frickin amazing.

Sunday morning we were up and at ’em, outside of bacon and eggs and on the road to Werribee Zoo, we got there early, arriving in time to hop on the first bus heading off on the safari at 9:50. Archie wanted to show Hubs around as Hubs had never been there before. We got up close to the animals, walked round the African part, had a coffee and were out the door in two hours flat. Perfect timing as it was getting busy as we left, we had parts of the zoo to ourselves, talking the whole way round. We saw so many birds too it was wonderful. From Superb Fairy Wrens, to honeyeaters, eagles, kites and little Red-browed finches who look like they’re wearing superhero masks.

I also have perfected poached eggs, I think I’d done them once or twice before this weekend, but Archie and I did some serious YouTube research, cracking the eggs into a tea cup is the way to go folks. It’s amazing how you can learn stuff online so easily now.

A year of reading – February redux

Here was January‘s selection if you missed it, or are bothered *cough*

This has been a slow month, not sure for why, but I didn’t feel like I read much.

Deenie was a completely impulsive grab off a trolley in the library, read in one sitting and returned the next day. I loved Judy Blume growing up, I’ve still got Wifey and Smart Women on my shelves at home. However, after reading the exorable In The Unlikely Event last year, it’s fair to say her writing style is her writing style and has not changed in forty years. I will revisit Wifey and Smart Women again this year, and if I’ve grown out of them, I will pass them on to someone else who will enjoy them.

Gratitude, working my way through the Oliver Sacks back catalogue. This was one of the last books published, and is only four essays he wrote towards the end of his life. It’s slim enough to keep in my handbag, but at the moment it’s by my bed. Either way – I can’t bear to put it back in the bookshelf yet, as I keep re-reading them.

The House of Hidden Mothers by the gloriously talented Meera Syal. Although selected by BC, I would have read this anyway, as I love her writing. I love the seamless way she weaves India, India-UK, UK cultures, smells, foods, architecture, families – life. Since I read this, I’ve made no end of curries from scratch.

The Mysterious Affair At Styles, Agatha Christie. Introducing Hercule Poirot, not only through the first book with him in, but also to three Agatha Christie newbies. All of which liked it. Hurrah! We suggested they either read some of the short stories or a Miss Marple or even And Then There Were None next, as they all said keeping up with the characters was a bit hard work. This iconic book now re-set on Soldier Island (ahem) has only 10 characters and rattles along nicely. V said she wasn’t sure if she’d read Styles again, as she knew what happened. Both L and I said that re-reading them is half the fun, as the clues are (sometimes) there, and then the big reveal at the end is very much a part of the fun.

Curtain and Cat Among The Pigeons, Agatha Christie. Closing the loop, Curtain is the last Poirot. Both audiobooks, really well read by Hugh Fraser, I listened to these while pottering about the house.

Secret History, Donna Tartt. Reviewed on A Good Read last week, I ordered it from the library, but it had another back order behind mine so I would have to read it earlier than some of the other library books I’ve got waiting. It got bumped up the list, it’s one I read back in 2002(?), and loved it. It is so dark, so claustrophobic, probably better read in the winter, not in the summer, but I still love it.

Upcoming, is a revisit of The Rosie Project for BC2, Uncle Tungsten and Hallucinations from Oliver Sacks and I’ve got 6 hours left of Neverwhere to go, which I’m heartily enjoying Neil Gaiman reading to me.

A year of reading, January redux

Four days into our second month of 2016 and I’ve read eight books already, go me!

After such a dismal selection towards the back end of last year of over-long, clunky, badly edited books; to start off this year with four out of the eight as new reads, all of which I’d read again, that’s not a bad start. Here are some random thoughts on the books, only by order of reading:

Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning was truly life-changing, I still am thinking about it over a month after finishing it. It’s visiting a friend from work who was looking forward to reading it, I don’t usually lend books. I’ve had too many not come home, but I know L will take good care of Magda and return her when she’s done.

Ghost River split our Book Club, some have really struggled to finish it, I think only two of us have completed it. I quite enjoyed it – although not being Australian, I didn’t pick up some of the cultural nuances through the story line. On Monday we spent more time discussing where along the Yarra it was set than the story.

The Little Paris Bookshop was glorious. It was a book I didn’t want to finish. A mixture of The Collected Works of AJ Fikry and The Elegance Of The Hedgehog as well written as All The Light We Cannot See; I am going to be making room for this on my annual re-reading list. A lot of books can lose something in translation from their native tongue to English, I’m glad to say this book was divinely French throughout.

On The Move was ordered not long after the death of Oliver Sacks was announced, along with Gratitude which is waiting patiently to be read too. Dr Sacks was a hero of mine; the way he writes is so intimate, but at the same time explicitly clear and scientific. He never dumbed-down for us layman types, Dr Sacks wrote to share his knowledge and findings with us, lifting our understanding in the process.

I absolutely inhaled Brooklyn yesterday. I wanted to turn it around and re-read it straight away as well, which for me is always a good sign. I think like Snow Falling on Cedars, now I know the story, the next time I read it, I will get more out of and marvel at the language Colm Tóibín has used.

What is coming up?

I’ve collected our next Book Club selection of The House of Hidden Mothers, by Meera Syal at the library on Tuesday, which is a book I’m looking forward to reading. At the same library visit, I also checked out the only Oliver Sacks book on their shelves, Hallucinations. I finally succumbed to Paulo Coelho and checked out The Alchemist and a Neil Gaiman audiobook, Neverwhere.

Our other Book Club selection was The Mysterious Affair At Styles, introducing several book club members to Mr Hercule Poirot, I have him on my bookshelf. I adore Agatha Christie, the ridiculous plots, the overwrought emotions, the ‘of an age’ language, they’re great fun. Next week I’m meeting with Book Club 2, where we are provided with a pack from our library, so I never know what we will be reading (Brooklyn was for that group).

Happy reading!

 

 

On an unnatural high

After a lovely Monday off to myself, and a relaxing lunch with relatives on Tuesday, Wednesday was busy at work. BossMan had received more emails over three days than in the previous three weeks; we’re blaming the full moon.

Thursday dawned bright and early with a croak from the croup chorus. Once heard, never forgotten. Hubs was only just back at work after a week off, so I sent off text messages and emails to the Managers in the office and stayed home with the wee man.

Our GP the last time Peanut had croup had given us a prescription for prednisolone, telling us to keep it in the fridge just in case. Getting 4ml of the medicine into him used all my UN Peace Keeping negotiation standards I can tell you. He had a mouthful of breakfast, a bit of medicine, covered his mouth, complained vociferously that it was “dis-gust-ing” – obviously enunciating every syllable makes it get through to your Mama. I got the rest in, and some nurofen (which my phone constantly wants to correct to nitrogen *boom*), he then finished breakfast muttering about the indignity of it all.

He’s definitely my son.

We spent the morning on the couch, me reading the remnants of the papers, him watching DVDs. I’d an osteopath appointment at noon, so he came with me to that and chatted happily to Jo. We then headed to the plaza for some lunch and also to get him out the house, we ran some errands, ate some sushi and I let him lead me around to the shops he wanted to visit. The party shop, toy shop (unsurprisingly) and then the homewares section of K-Mart and Target.

He’s definitely my son.

Anyhoo, at the party shop I brought some Reese’s Pieces and a can of Dr Pepper. I’ve not had caffeine for most of this year, not had a soft drink either (tonic water in gin does not count) so the effects on my system were quick and long lasting.

In the afternoon I was ratty and irritable. It took forever for me to get to sleep, then I was restless all night. I had a headache this morning, despite drinking gallons of water all afternoon. Twenty four hours later, my skin still feels dry and itchy. I also weighed myself this morning. I’m puffy and bloated, my body is really not happy; even so to say ‘one was not amused’ at the figure on the scale is an understatement.

Listening to Late Night Woman’s Hour podcast while pottering around the house this morning, (Late Night so they can discuss slightly more risqué topics), they were covering purity. It’s well worth a listen, not least for the wide ranging definitions of purity, but about how women use terminology about being ‘good and bad’ so easily around food. I am fully aware that the drink did me no favours at all, even if the first mouthful was quite tasty. The film on my teeth and aftereffects are a clear signal that for all that the first mouthful was nice, the past day has been less so on my system as a whole.

On the podcast they discussed how “clean eating” is popular buzz words amongst smug middle-classes who have to Instagram their food to prove how well they’re doing. Not photographing the Reese’s Pieces and Dr Peppers, as they don’t happen *snort* We’re human, punishing ourselves doesn’t help anyone. Rubbing other’s noses in about how well we’re doing compared to them doesn’t help either. That middle road is such a fine line to dance, is it any wonder us mere mortals have a wobble and fall off every so often?

It’s been a funny week, I’ve not been sleeping well anyway, maybe that’s why I reached for the can? Who knows. I do know I’m not going to beat myself up over it, it’s done. I ran on Monday, but not since, so my weight fluctuation may be more than just the empty calories. It’s ParkRun tomorrow morning, I’m going to potter round the route and feel all the better for it.

Standing under the shower after running on Monday, I felt great. I’m also three quarters through Oliver Sacks memoir; at the point of finding sheer joy in a well-written, funny, lovely book, but I don’t want it to end. I had that with the Little Paris Bookshop when I was at 80% and forced myself to put the book (kindle) down, make a cuppa and go back to it. I knew I’d finish the book that night, but the world I was in was so lovely, I didn’t want to leave. To have found two books like that in a week is remarkable, it’s a much rarer and nicer feeling than a caffeine fix.

Lesson learned universe, lesson learned.

 

Ten on Tuesday – Community edition

Carole has a corker of a list this week, what makes your community interesting? I wasn’t sure how to approach this, then had a flash of inspiration in the shower. Libraries these are the very symbolism of ‘Community’ for me. Before I’d even moved to Australia, (Hubs had left the UK before me and found a house for us), I looked at what was going to be our local library and enrolled online, collecting my ticket and first books two days after I arrived.

Libraries a hub for people for a variety of reasons, and it is maddening to me that governments think they’re only about books and rental figures. Here are some arguments about why they’re so important to me.

Seaside Library

  1. Free or heavily discounted activities for all ages. From baby sing-alongs and story sessions, to showing how use tablets and computers, to language classes, to keeping chickens and researching your family history, there is something to do for everyone. If a session isn’t being run, have a look at the notice board, there will probably be something advertising a group or meeting you may be interested in. Sometimes, getting out the house with Peanut and going to a reading session was all that I achieved that day, but it meant a walk there and back, a reason to shower and some adult conversation, with the possibility of a coffee afterwards!
  2. A place to study. Even before I got to high-school, there were reference books that were permanently onsite that I used to refer to complete homework at the Seaside Library in my hometown, see above picture. I can still smell the room now, parquet floors and wooden floor to picture rail shelving, with moveable shelves, tables and desks in the middle of the room, the librarians had a central desk towards the front of the room, where your books were stamped in and out. I could probably still direct you to my favourite books in my mind.
  3. Access to more books than I could ever afford. Books are not cheap. When you devour them as quickly as I do and with a birthday not long after Christmas, my main book buying binge was usually in the sales in January with book tokens (remember them) and gift cards to WH Smith. I can remember carrying a stack of a mixture of Arthur Ransome and Sweet Valley High (oh my) to the counter, for the lady on the till to say “I think you like reading!” My mum fell about laughing.  Through the library, I was able to borrow books, read them, try them on, if I loved them, I could renew them, then put them on a ‘to-buy’ list. It also widened my sphere of reading, (way over and above Sweet Valley High), I’m still an eclectic reader now.
  4. A thirst for knowledge. If I want to learn about something, I read about it. Despite it being a digital age, (and loving my kindle), I love the tactile feel of paper. Most of my books have pen or pencil marks and notes in the margins. I love following the breadcrumbs of a subject, when a book point to another title or topic for me to lose myself in.
  5. Knowledge of how to research properly. Long before Google, there were microfiche readers and images of newspapers on reels. Standing up in front of a bank of cards, rifling through, taking the number of the tape or sleeve you needed to the librarian, waiting while they dug it out. Hoping a machine would be free. Another smell that is still there as I type this: the hot, dusty, celluloid, chemical tang. Going back and forwards over your tracks, making notes of where you were so your references were complete and correct at the end of your assignment. Kids these days…
  6. A place of refuge. In Eastbourne we also the ‘Central Library’, a concrete and glass monstrosity, but right by the train station. So if it was piddling it down with rain, you could make a made dash across the road and wait for the rain to stop. It also was a place I could spend hours in when my mind was struggling. Finding solace in Dewey, the smells of the books and stacks, people watching, writing endlessly, throwing the notes away and starting again.
  7. Librarians. A font of knowledge, support when you’re struggling to make a decision if you’ve accidently chosen too many books. I heartily miss the clunk-clunk of the stamp and my own little cardboard wallet with the tickets from the books I’d taken out in it. While Peanut loves scanning his books to take them out, it ain’t the same. Plus, we can take out 30 items at a time, so no quandary over what book to leave behind, wondering if I’d left the wrong one there.
  8. Meeting place. I cannot stress this point enough. Libraries are not just about books, they provide a safe, clean and welcoming place to meet. For mother’s groups, for play-dates, for friends, study-groups, you name it, you can meet there. You can also hire rooms out for meetings proper if your group needs somewhere, or for a change of scenery if you need an off-site work meeting.
  9. Resources for use/hire. I saw a picture of a bake pan library yesterday! See, I told you it is more than books. Catalogues now include DVDs, CDs, audiobooks, magazines, reference and text books, knitting patterns, board games. Our library is a networked group across different municipalities, there are nine sites in total. You can browse across the entire catalogue, ask for what you want to be sent to your local site. This arrangement is fantastic as the Councils can pool resources, to provide a truly excellent service.
  10. They help give back to the community. This leads off all the previous points, when you’re new in town, head to your local library. They will be able to help you get settled with lists of activities, doctor and dentist surgeries, more local historic information than you can shake a stick at.

I don’t think I will ever get off my soap-box about libraries. They are a necessity. They are precious and should be cherished, with funding secure. They’re a lifeline for many people, including me. I take Peanut to one of our local three every month, we check out a bag full (or two) of books, each time. He loves it as much as I do.