My Monday: Memoirs of a Survivor

I’ve got some pretty cool reviews lined up this week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to skip My Monday, especially since this week is a spooky pick.

I really like Halloween, and we’ve had a great time letting the kids pick out their costumes. We had a ball trick or treating this afternoon, and I had fun last night chatting to a friend about our favourite horror films of all time.

It got me thinking about some of the scarier books I’ve read over the years, and of course one of the first that came to mind was a novel that sits in my top five all-time favourites…Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor. 

It’s not a book of blood and gore, and it’s not horror in the same sense as the novels of, for instance, Stephen King or Clive Barker. It is, nonetheless terrifying in it’s confronting recollection of a dystopian society where:

“…reality is the everyday of a few years hence, when barbarism is what is normal, and each of us has to fight for survival – men, women, and even little children who are so brutalised by necessity they are more frightening than the ferocious adults. From her windows the narrator watches things fall apart, sees the migrating hordes seethe past in search of safety, the shelter, the good life that is always somewhere else.”

At the time, I wondered to myself, if this was how Londoners had felt during the recent London riots, as they watched news reports identifying disturbingly young looters committing theft and voilence.

As much as I like zombies, brains and gore (Dawn of the Dead, I am Legend, and 28 Days Later are amongst my favs) it is the horror of a post-apocolyptic world that gets under my skin the most. I recently worked out that this fascination started when I was a kid, when I read Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien.  It’s since gone on to mean that my collection includes charming tales such as The Road, I am Legend and movies like Children of Men, 12 Monkeys and so on.

There are a few elements that make The Memoirs of a Survivor so memorable for me. Firstly, it’s rare that the protagonist in these types of stories is a woman. The unnamed female narrator’s placement at the centre of this story lends a compassion, a reflectiveness and a sense of heartbreak not usually seen in these types of novels. Her care for Emily throughout the story makes this novel multidimensional, dealing not only with disaster, but equally with issues of responsibility, nurturing and loyalty.

Secondly, a complete picture of the disaster which has brought about this dystopia is left unclear, making this post-apocolyptic memoir all the more powerful. Lessing’s cautionary tale could easily be interpreted as a warning against scenarios of war, extreme civil unrest or environmental catastrophe. One thing that is certain is that the trauma and subsequent brutality is unavoidable:

“I shall begin this account at a time before we were talking about ‘it’. We were still in the stage of generalised unease. Things weren’t too good, they were even pretty bad. A great many things were bad, breaking down, giving up, or ‘giving cause for alarm’ as the newscasts might put it. But ‘it’, in the sense of something felt as an immediate threat which could be not be averted, no.”

Finally, Doris Lessing is an absolute master at the genre of magic realism. Her fantasy is so matter-of-fact, so seamlessly integrated with the everyday that the real and fantastic become one. The reader is expected to completely accept all that is put in front of them, as fact. This mastery of a very challenging genre is a delight.

This is a smart book, a sensitive treatment of a sorrowful theme. Lessing is an incredibly talented author, and unless the world comes to a horrible end, I’m sure I’ve not read this book for the last time.

Do you like scary books? What was the last scary novel you read?

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Reading in five different directions

I’m not entirely sure how it’s happened, but I’ve got five different books on the go at the moment and my mind is boggling a little bit. For that reason, I’m going to put some time aside this evening and try and put a fair dent in my reading pile.

As such, rather than a review this evening, I thought I’d give you a quick run down on the books I’m flicking between…

First up is Last Chance Cafe, by Liz Byrski. This is my ‘main book’ at the moment, and it was recommended to me by Linda at Kidna Books. I’m nearing the end of this book, and I’m finding it hard to put down (another reason to have a reading night tonight). It’s very nearly soap-opera-like, but much more skilfully put together than a simple melodrama. The characters are fallible but inherently likeable and I’m most definitely feeling the marked ups and downs of this close-knit group of family and friends. It brings to mind those times in life when one thing after another manages to go a bit pear-shaped. Stay tuned for a full review next week.

Next is The Slap, by Christos Tsiolkas and I’ve got to have this read by mid November. My book club and I agreed to jump on the bandwagon and read this book while the tele-series is on the ABC. I’m pretty sure a synopsis is unnecessary, but you can find out more about this book here if you’ve not heard about it. I am fairly sure I’m not exactly going to enjoy this story but I’m looking forward to experiencing first hand the obvious talent of Tsiolkas. Also, I’ll be pleased to be able to say when asked, that I’ve read it. I’m going to hold off on watching the series until I’ve read the book, so I’d better get a move on I suppose…

I’ve got a couple of books loaded up on the Kindle at the moment, the first of which is Die Yummy Mummy Die, by Allison Rushby. This compilation of columns, largely about the ‘joys’ of motherhood were originally published in the Courier-Mail, and have been an interesting little discovery, humorous and insightful. I’m half-way through, it has been great to read while waiting to pick-up kids, at doctors appointments and other idol moments. If you enjoy mummy-bloggers, this book will be right up your ally. I’ll review in November, and you’ll have a chance to win a copy next month.

The second book ready and waiting on my ipad is Defender of the Faith, by Chris Allen. A old-school action novel, this’ll be something a bit different for me (once again). I’m quite excited about starting on this one, I’m hoping that I’ll enjoy it as much as I did The Siren’s Sting, which has quite nicely put me in the mood for intrigue and espionage. It’ll be great to read something from an exciting new Australian author. If you’re curious, you can actually get a copy of the first twelve chapters of the novel for FREE! Check it out here.

Last, but not least, in my physical (and frighteningly tall) reading pile is Foal’s Bread, by Gillian Mears. This has been recommended to me by Allen and Unwin, and it promises to be quite moving. I don’t know a lot about the novel at this stage, but it sounds beautifully Australian and a nice piece of literature, with Gillian Mears’ work having been likened to that of Garner and Grenville. I’ve given myself until the end of November to get to this book, so keep an eye out later next month if you like the sound of Mears’ long awaited novel.

So there is it, now you all know what I’ll be doing with the next month and a half of train trips, waiting rooms and kid-free evenings. No shortage of words to enjoy and I hope you’ll all stay tuned for my take on these many and varied titles.

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My Monday: Pink Ribbon Day!

Today is Breast Cancer Day, and as such I thought it would be fitting to make My Monday a little bit pink ribbony!

Over recent years, my family has been affected repeatedly by cancer, in particular breast cancer.

Facing cancer involves a series of challenges you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. The medical, cosmetic and emotional ramifications of both the illness and the treatments are distressing (to say the least), and the ‘journey’ is a long and at times, lonely one.

It is for this reason that I’m so grateful to the organisations that dedicate themselves to the support of breast cancer survivors and their families. These organisations support and inform, as well as provide the financial means for continuing research in to cancer, its causes and its treatments.

Could I please encourage you to check out the wonderful work of:

Breast Cancer Network Australia
The Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is a national organisation that offers information, treatment, support and care to people affected by breast cancer. They provide opportunities for networking with others going through similar situations, and their newsletters and publications are a great way to stay in touch and up-to-date with what is going on in the world of breast cancer research.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) funds all forms of research into the prevention and cure of breast cancer. They run lots of fun and informative events which work incredibly well to raise both funds and the profile of breast cancer in our community.

These organisations need your support, and seeing as this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month it seemed like a good time to give them a plug. Please consider donating, if you can, as every dollar helps them continue their important work.

If you’re facing breast cancer, or know someone that is, please don’t overlook the BCNA’s My Journey Kit, and their other resources such as the Hope and Hurdles, for those facing secondary breast cancer. I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t emphasise enough how helpful and reassuring I found the My Journey Kit.

So on this My Monday, I send my love and strength to my darling Mum and big thanks to my family and friends. I look forward to working on the Pink Lady Art Exhibition 2012 next year, to help give a little back, and I hope you might find a little way to get involved in supporting organisations like BCNA and NBCF.

Happy Pink Ribbon Day!

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I’m still awake, still!

You might remember that during the school holidays I took the boys to see the musical and fabulously quirky Still, Awake Still!  The show was largely drawn from the songs that accompany the delightful picture book I’m Still Awake, Still! by Elizabeth Honey and Sue Johnson.

To follow-up on our junior theatrical experience, I borrowed a copy of I’m Still Awake, Still! from the library and it’s been on high rotation ever since!

Oscar read it on the way home, when we got home (twice), before bed, in bed, and again when he woke up. He’s had the CD on repeat, and it’s moved from his bedroom to the lounge room, and back to his room again.

The story is about little Fiddy, who is having terrible trouble getting to sleep…

“Fiddy is small and busy and quick. And at bedtime he’s still wide awake.”

Marlo, Parlo and Nonno all try and help Fiddy out, as do a cast of favourite Australia creatures. It takes a big old bear, a few sweet lullabies and a quick trip through space to finely wear this bouncy little boy out.

I can’t decide what I love more, the story, the illustrations or the music…

The story is cosy from start to finish, and Fiddy is the cutest little protagonist on page. I’m on the look-out for a pair of rainbow pyjamas for Oscar and listening to Elizabeth narrate the story (on the CD) is very special.

The illustrations are gorgeous, made all the better for having seem a few of the originals at the Art Centre last month. You can see a small sample here at A&U’s website. I was quite amazed at how Elizabeth has managed to maintain a cheer and brightness on the page, even in the dark of night.

And then of course there is the music. The first time I listened to Goodnight My Little Darling with Oscar he went quiet and still. Even in the middle of the afternoon, Oscar seemed to respond to the lullaby. I’ll admit that it gave me goosebumps, at the sweetness of this lovely song. The tracks go on to be a mixture of calmness and funkiness. As is the case with most really enjoyable kids music, Sue’s compositions don’t ‘talk down’ to the kids. They’re jazzy and funky in their own right, not overly silly and performed with great talent.

The combination of a clever, super-cute story, fun and colourful illustrations and wonderful musical accompaniment, I’m Still Awake, Still! is the whole package. So very worth a look, particularly if you’ve got a little one who struggles a bit at bedtime.

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So much vomit, so little time…

Well, I can’t say I wasn’t warned. What a wild ride Tim Winton’s The Riders ended up being.

Gritty, gut-wrenching and stomach-turning, this novel is a heartbreaking account of love-inspired blindness that sees Scully barrelling frantically forward, dragging his daughter dangerously with him, fuelled by heartbreak and cheap booze.

“Fred Scully can’t wait to see his wife and daughter.He’s got a new life for them all worked out.

He’s sweated on this reunion.

The doors of the airport hiss open.

Scully’s life falls apart.”

I’d heard such varied things about this book that by the time I started reading I really didn’t know what to expect. The bookseller at Federation Square tried to warn me off: “It’s not one of his best you know, why don’t you try Dirt Music instead?” Another friend intrigued me by offering an ambiguous and open-ended: “Oh, really, you’re reading that? I can’t wait to hear what you think about it…”

And when I got to book club last week, this mixed sentiment was plain to see here too. Half the group hated this book, and the other half loved the experience of it. Many were looking for more, some were just happy to take what was offered.

I myself was pretty happy to go along for the ride.

There were, no doubt, times where I was left wondering a great big ‘why?’ – Why would he do that? Why would she put them through this? Why did Winton include that in the story? The character of Irma was one big ‘why’, from start to finish. There were definitely moments when I just wanted to slap the poor sod Scully, to try and snap him out of his stupor.

But in other ways, this novel is a beautiful tale of wanderlust. The story has so much of the gypsy in it, and Scully, Billie and Jennifer seem the perfect nomads. The recount of their bohemian life in Paris, London and Greece is enviable. Equally, it’s fascinating to read a novel by an Australian author, remembering and describing Australia from the outside…the romatisied recall of an Aussie abroad.

Whilst many in the book club found Scully horribly frustrating, in a strange way I actually found his impulsiveness liberating. As someone who has a tendency to over-think things and to make decisions slowly, I found Scully’s pursuit, his absolute abandon an incredible journey to share. The idea of just doing, with little analysis or reflection was completely compelling.

The element of The Riders that I did find difficult was the clear and sharp damage being done to Scully and Jennifer’s daughter, Billie. As is so often the case for child-characters who find themselves swept up in adult turmoil, Billie is abandoned and neglected. The reader is made acutely aware of the child’s emotional and physical distress and it’s horrible. It is only once this stoic seven year old finds in herself an adult strength and takes responsibility for her broken father and their splintered life that the discomfort I felt about her treatment eased somewhat.

At the end of the day, I would hazard a guess that it is mainly how the story ends that polarises readers so much. I won’t spoil it of course, you’ll have to see for yourself, but in short, I liked it, many didn’t.

This is an earthy and very masculine novel, full of sea and hard-work, dirt, piss and vomit. It is at times hyper-realistic, and it is because of this that the reader is caught quite off-guard when Winton introduces the fantastic and the ridiculous (which is often).

If you’re keen on a linear narrative, sensible cause and effect and clear resolutions, this is NOT the book for you.

On the other hand, if you want to get a little drunk on words and reel along with Scully and Billie, go for it – it’s worth the ride!

Have you read The Riders? What did you think? Did you love it or hate it?

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How very random…

The lovely Jess from Whoa, Mamma! has tiggy-tagged me and challenged me to reveal 10 random facts about myself. I don’t usually go in for this sort of thing, but lucky for you I’m feeling all ‘over-sharey’! So Jess, here goes…

1. I love lists, but do tend to over think the mechanics of them a bit. For instance, I just spent five minutes wondering what I should put at number one on this list…

2. I played bass guitar in a high school rock band.

3. I love cooking, but hate deciding what to cook.

4. I grew up in Tasmania. I was born in Hobart, but spent most of my childhood on a farm. Explain a few things?

5. When I’m not writing, I quite like building websites. It’s creative and techy all at once and I get to learn something new pretty much every day.

6. I was treated for breast cancer this year and last. Part of this treatment was a bilateral mastectomy. Fortunately they were able to do a reconstruction straight away, and I’ve now perky little gals (for the first time in my life, I might say). I sleep better at night knowing that I’ve done all I can to minimise the risk, and so far, so good…

7. I’ve always been a bit of a nerd, and it only seems to be getting worse with age.

8. I love getting flowers.

9. I once lost 25 kg in 12 months. I hope to do it again one day.

10. If I won the lottery, I’d hire someone to wash my hair for me every day.

So there you go, ten things you probably didn’t really need to know about me.

 

Can you share one random thing about yourself?

My Monday: True Adventures

You probably wouldn’t really pick it, but I was a huge Rolling Stones fan when I was a teenager. Throughout high school I worked hard to commit to memory as many Rolling Stones lyrics as I could, trivia on mass, and the bass riff to Sympathy for the Devil.

Today’s My Monday pick is a book I found in a secondhand bookstore in Camberwell when I was about fifteen, and have since studied as true history. And although my obsession for the Stones has cooled somewhat with age and experience, I most fondly remember Stanley Booth’s The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. 

I considered myself quite rock ‘n’ roll when I was growing up and took this rock journalist’s tome on as a bit of a manual. Not that I was even close to this debauch, but it was certainly fun to imagine getting up to even a tenth of this crazy.

In True Adventures… Booth documents one of the most revolutionary, awe-inspiring and horrifying years in rock history – 1969. Enviably, he is entrenched within the Stones camp at an incredibly pivotal time, witnessing the loss of Brian Jones, the non-stop scandal that surrounded Mike and Keith and rock’s call to arms:

“We will play your music in rock ‘n’ roll marching bands as we tear down the jails and free the prisoners, as we tear down the state schools and free the students, as we tear down the military bases and arm the poor, as we tattoo BURN BABY BURN! on the bellies of the wardens and generals and create a new society from the ashes of our fires…Broadsheet distributed at the Rolling Stones’ concert in Oakland”

Booth’s descriptions are graphic, romantic and gritty. As is necessary to truely, authentically tell as story like this, Stanley not only tells the story, but is himself part of the adventure. He’s up his neck in booze, drugs and groupies…and in gonzo-esque form still manages to surface with a story.

The book, and the year 1969 climaxes in the alcohol and acid fuelled mayhem that was Altamont. Booth’s recount of this infamous open-air concert is terrifying…it’s dark, and bloody and chaotic. The Hell’s Angels, in charge of ‘security’ struck fear into the heart of many a Stone’s fan, and the event itself saw the sorrowful end of Meredith Hunter. Airlifted out by helicopter, the escape of the band and their entourage at the end of the gig felt like an emergency evacuation from a war-torn field. Surprisingly, they all made it out in one piece and went on the be one of our favourite, oldest rock bands.

I’m going to treat myself to a chapter before I put The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones back on the bookshelf. I’ll turn the pages carefully as they’re very ragged, the cover is hanging by a thread. I’ll nostalgically enjoy the fact that the book is covered in dry pastel, as a result of being stuffed into art bags with life drawings and high school art projects, carried to and from school for weeks at a time.

If you’re up for a bit of rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t get any better than this. Check it out.

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Beautifully bloomy

I’ve run out of big words today and so I’ve just a quick little post today.

I wanted to share with you, a gorgeous little Esty shop that my friend put me onto yesterday.

It’s called Bloomy Handmade, and if you’re on the look-out for a uniquely beautiful bag – tote, bucket or clutch – please take a moment to check it out.

You can find Bloomy Handmade on Esty, and it wont be hard to see why I’m a bit smitten with these super-cute bags.

I’ve it on good authority that the workmanship on these items is top-class, an eye for detail is obvious in every piece.

Treat yourself?!

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Get your dancing shoes on, winner!

I’m pleased to announce, that Rachel Griffith is the winner of That Book You Like’s October give-away.  Rachel, I’m sure you and the kids will have an absolute ball! I’d love to hear how you find it.

Just email me your details (name and email address) to info@thatbookyoulike.com.au by end Sunday, 17.10.11 and arrangements will be made! If the prize isn’t claimed, I will redraw on 18.10.11

Again, thanks so much to everyone for joining in the fun, I hope you’ll make it to the festival for a groove! And don’t forget to follow my blog around on Facebook  and  Twitter.

This month’s give-away is made possible by the organisers of the Rhymes Festival. For full details about the event, and to buy tickets, visit their website here.

Modern learnings

A week or so ago, I was lucky enough to get to check out the Art Gallery of Ballarat’s upcoming exhibition, Australian Modern Masterpieces from the Art Gallery of New South Wales.


The exhibition has since opened, and so I thought it would be timely to let you know about the other great complimentary events that are going on at the gallery as part of this exhibit. These film screenings and lunchtime recitals will help you to really get into spirit of this impressive stage of Australian art, to learn a bit more about the colourful characters who were working in the art world at this time.

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Film screenings
Celebrate Australian cultural expression with special movie screenings on the wall of the gallery Function Hall. Bring a beanbag and enjoy a glass of wine as you experience some Australian classics. Free screenings – donation requested for supper. Presented by the Art Gallery of Ballarat in partnership with Ballarat Film Society.

A Son is Born and The Picture Show Man
Saturday, 22 October at 8pm
This double feature brings together a 1946 family melodrama featuring Peter Finch and John McCallum with the nostalgic 1977 nostalgia piece The Picture Show Man, starring John Meillon.

Between Wars
Thursday, 27 October at 8pm
This 1974 feature is one of the few Australian features to range over the socio-political landscape. It stars Corin Redgrave and Judy Morris. It will be proceded by shorts including the 1985 The Drover’s Wife.

Heritage and Squizzy Taylor
Tuesday, 22 November at 8pm
A homegrown gangster classic, this Simpson Le Mesurier film starring Jackie Weaver was released in 1982. It pairs up with Charles Chauvel’s second sound feature from 1935.

Lunchtime recitals
Explore different aspects of 20th century Australia with these special lunchtime events. Entry by donation. Presented by the Art Gallery of Ballarat in partnership with Bronwyn Blaiklock, Ballarat Writers Inc and the University of Ballarat.

Eric Christopher Perry and Bronwyn Blaiklock
Friday, 18 November at 12.30pm
Join tenor Eric Christopher Perry and pianist Bronwyn Blkaiklock as they explore a diverse range of Australian song and piano music, reflecting the cultural movements in the Australian Modern masteprieces exhibition. They present sample elements borrowed, adapted and created in a unique soundscape.

Nathan Curnow – The Angry Penguins
Friday, 25 November at 12.30pm
Join award-winning poet Nathan Curnow for readings from the 1940s ‘Angry Penguins’ era, including the notorious Ern Malley poems -the literary hoax that aimed to discredit the Australian avant-garde.

Sheridan Palmer on Bernard Smith and Modernism’s Tradition
Wednesday, 9 November at 12.15pm
Dr Sheridan Palmer, who is writing a biography of the notable Australian art critic Bernard Smith who is known as the father of Australian art history. In this talk she discusses the importance of Bernard Smith as a major player in defining the history of Modernism, that extraordinary cycle of stylistic changes and ideologies in which new codes of behaviour, dress, architecture and politics redefined culture and ostensibly freed modern life from its traditions. This talk will be repeated at 6pm, when wine and cheese will be available.

Text taken from Art Gallery of Ballarat promotional brochure. Full details of all upcoming events can be found on the gallery’s website.

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I’m hoping to get to the Nathan Curnow – Angry Penguins session myself. Well worth a day trip, as is the exhibition itself. Please treat yourself!

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