April location location location: Foreshadowing, Greek-Australian authors, and a rom-com delight! Observation Note 102, Reading Note 43 and Movie Note 1

In my continuing tale of pretending that I am not taking part in SuperWendy’s TBR challenge, I continue to (quasi) take part by riffing off her monthly themes, and this month is Location Location Location.

Observation 102: Foreshadowing the reading note 42. There is a long history in Australia of migrant Greeks opening milkbars in suburbs and country towns from the mid-twentieth century. Most of these have either closed down or morphed into cafes run by the original migrant owners’ children and grandchildren. Australian photographer and historian couple Effy Alexakis and Leonard Janiszewski have captured much of the history of this Greek migrant phenomenon in their non-fiction books.

For example, I remember in 1982 my family going for a holiday to Port Macquarie. My mother mentioned to my dad that she believed her cousin ran a milkbar in the small city but didn’t think it was possible to find her. My dad pulled his car over and called out to a pedestrian “excuse me – where is the best milk bar in town”. The man leant over and said “that would be the Greeks” and proceeded to give my father directions. Dad drove a few blocks. We all got out and it was my mum’s cousin behind the counter.

With stories like these, and experiences in Greek milkbars in Marrickville, Dulwich Hill and Summer Hill in the Inner West where I have spent my whole life, the milkbar is synonymous with family and friends and my experiences. There is even a small bar in Summer Hill called The Rio Bar which draws on its previous history as a Milk Bar which stood there for over 60 years and closed only when its elderly owner George Poulos passed away. The external signage being left intact.

Reading Note 43: Familiarity with a location in novels. Other than romance fiction, I have two other absolute go-to fiction reads – books set in the Inner West of Sydney, (Melina Marchetta, Marele Day) and books written by Greek Australians (Christos Tsiolkas, Peter Polites). So upon discovering that Greek-Australian author Andrew Pippos wrote a book about Greek milkbars in the Inner West of Sydney, it was an auto-read (though it sat on my TBR for over a year). So for my only leisure reading adventure in April, I read Andrew Pippos’s Lucky’s. The Goodreads blurb is as follows:

Blue white and red cover with an illustrated outline of a restaurant (including awning). A cartoon couple stand outside of the restaurant looking in.

Lucky’s is a story of family.
A story about migration.
It is also about a man called Lucky.
His restaurant chain.
A fire that changed everything.
A New Yorker article which might save a career.
The mystery of a missing father.
An impostor who got the girl.
An unthinkable tragedy.
A roll of the dice.
And a story of love – lost, sought and won again (at last).

Following a trail of cause and effect that spans decades, this unforgettable epic tells a story about lives bound together by the pursuit of love, family, and new beginnings.

I am not really sure where to start with this book. I was intrigued and excited to read it. The promise of a novel about Greek-Australian milkbars and coffee shops had high expectations for me. Sadly. Because high expectations just makes the disappointment that little bit more palpable.

The book is premised on recently made redundant editor Emily who travels from London to Sydney on a search for her (dead) biological father’s connection to a painting he had given to her of a restaurant called Lucky’s. Emily discovers the story behind Lucky (nicknamed as such because “Vasilios” was too hard) who with his wife Valia, built a franchise of restaurants across New South Wales, having first purchased the restaurant from Valia’s mean-assed father, Achilleas (I can’t remember if it is Achilleas or Achilleon. I have returned my library copy so I can’t check). But like many people who build fortunes, Lucky lost his, due to lives that were lost, his wife divorcing him, and his life opportunities being reversed.

As part of her own search for her father, Emily meets Lucky to interview him for a story she was writing in The New Yorker, an opportunity provided to her from a friend and old lover, a man who gave her the chance to rediscover herself after the revelation of her husband’s infidelity. Pippos’s characters are richly written and the one thing that did shine strongly was his ability to write well-defined female characters, something that his male Greek-Australian contemporaries Peter Polites and Christos Tsiolkas fail, their female characters often being reduced to stereotyped caricatures. Pippos is successful where they are not. I like Emily, Valia and the other women in this book. They are full characters, they are believable and complex throughout the story.

The novel moves back and forth through time, from 2002 to the 1940s, 1960s right through to the 1990s. I do enjoy a book that time jumps in its aim to unravel a story but it didn’t really work for me in Lucky’s. I found that there was too much of a disconnect between Lucky’s tragic story and Emily from England’s story, and the time jumping did it no favours. Unfortunately, this was not my only gripe.

I was annoyed by the idea that Lucky’s was a franchise. I get it. This book is fiction. You can write anything you want in fiction, it is poetic licence and writers can do whatever they like to embellish their stories but I was unconvinced and it annoyed me when it could have easily just carried me with the story.

This is not unusual for me. I’m all over the place with my opinion on anachronisms in fiction. In one book, I may be totally fine with an EJ Holden being driven during a Jazz era scene, and in another book I will be annoyed with go-go dancers in a WWII scene. I am totally at ease with wallpaper historical romances, yet easily annoyed by historical inaccuracies in the series The Tudors. And yet the mention of a 1990s trip to Tempe Tip annoyed me. Tempe Tip closed in the 1970s dammit! 

There was too much suspension of disbelief required for my reading of this novel. Lucky’s being a food franchise from the 40s and 50s annoyed me. Food franchises didn’t enter Australian until much later in the 1970s mostly through the American experience of McDonalds and Kentucky Fried Chicken. It certainly was not true to the Australian experience of Greek milk bars and cafes. These were single family business and it really bothered me that the set up for the whole novel challenged this knowledge. It even got me wondering if there was even a kernel of truth to it, making me question what I considered an absolute certainty, one validated by the Alexakis and Janiszewski photographic histories. That said, I am more than happy to be corrected on this point.

I also felt that the sense of place was lacking. Even though Pippos makes mention of all the suburbs that I live around, and towns that I have visited, there is a lack of description. I hate to draw comparisons (but I will still do it), but Peter Polites’s description of Sydney (both East and West) is visceral and truthful, as is Melina Marchetta whose description of the Inner West is like the places I frequent every day – though in Marchetta’s The Piper’s Son, there is a scene where the main characters drive to a Newtown pub from Maroubra Beach via the Anzac bridge which is the most ridiculous double distanced route possibly imaginable. Despite this, Marchetta’s Inner West is as strongly characterised as her protagonists. However, the issue with Lucky’s is that the roads and suburbs, the light, the air, the sounds, the sense of standing in the places that his book described to me was a feeling that I didn’t experience. Pippos doesn’t really describe the cafes in the story beyond names. The cafe itself is not a main character, and neither is the city a character. They remained names and any name, any location could have been used.

A page of text from Andrew Pippos's Lucky's. A character called Valia is actually Vassiliki

Another annoyance which is personal and just for me, was Valia’s name which is fine and good. However, it was revealed partway into the book that it was short for Vassiliki and though I can kind of imagine how this is a possible shortening of my name, it is one I have never come across. Name shortening isn’t letter potluck, right? There are naming rules like chopping out syllables, mostly about finding Anglo equivalents. The name “Valia” doesn’t do this and I remain unconvinced.

That being said, I was pleased to be able to add another book to my “Vassiliki/Vasiliki” Goodreads tag which is pathetically sitting on five books having a character with my name.

LOL.

Just a quick heads up that you may want to stop reading here because there are some spoilers ahead.

Movie Note 1: I masked up and went and saw a movie. So not even an hour ago, I walked out of the darkness of the movie house, and I had two things on my mind. Sandra Bullock and my ride home (cheeky wink for The Outsiders fans). I just watched The Lost City and I was so amused, so delighted, so so so happy that a light-hearted romance comedy had been made and it just slayed. It had everything – an adventure romp with witty repartee, love and snark and everything in-between. It had an enemies to lovers trope. It had cover model jokes. It had the sassy best friend trope (wellll….kinda with a twist – she was author Loretta Sage’s literary agent). It had the nasty (short) villain trope, it had purple sparkly prose metaphors (oh that onesie that Bullock wears for most of the film sublimely channels all the romance expectations), it had allusions and intertextuality, it had lush location location location Atlantic island setting,, it had folklore singing sages, it the dark moments, it had swoon, oh and it had….it had spark!

I have always loved Sandra Bullock romcoms (Miss Congeniality, While You Were Sleeping, The Proposal, Two Weeks Notice) and she just excelled in her role of a tad recalcitrant romance author Loretta who has given up on her dream of being an archaeologist due to her true love husband having died. I have never seen a Channing Tatum movie (that is correct – not even Magic Mike) so I was pleasantly surprised at how cheeky and cool and fantastic he was in this movie as the gormlessly sweet cover model Alan who like Fabio seems to have no surname.

For lots of fun convoluted reasons Loretta gets kidnapped from the launch of her book tour by evil (Murdoch-like) mogul Abigail Fairfax (like realllllly??? The scriptwriters must be keenly in tune with the former Australian mass media family moguls) played by Daniel Radcliffe. Fairfax needs Loretta to translate a dead language for him that only she knows so he can find lost archaelogical treasure. Alan along with Loretta’s literary agent, Beth Hatten (played by Da’Vine Joy Randolph) hire former Navy SEAL (lol – romantic suspense trope much) Jack Trainer to find Loretta. Jack Trainer is handsome, tough, a deft fighter, and all things OTT amazing including adding complete and utter validation as tough man Navy Seal, he is a hatchback hero who drives a tiny Bajaj Qute. To the scriptwriters – I feel heard! Trainer (Pitt) is a total hero who makes Alan look soft. But that is why Alan is so cool. I won’t go into what happens other than were being twists, turns, fights, blow-ups, burials, a swoon-worthy dance scene, and just a whole lot of fun.

The Lost City reminded me so much of Romancing the Stone (I do believe this is deliberate) yet it felt fresh and original. And isn’t that the thing about truly magical, truly fabulous movies. The storyline was similar, the locations were similar, as were the stars. But I suspect that The Lost City undoes the 1980s sexism, and instead injects a 21st century sensibility. I loved it.

Grumpy March: Time Poor, Graduation, Too Many Dates and Wham!: Observation notes 100-101 and Reading Notes 41-42

So I have already established that this is my year of pretending to not taking part in  Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge however I am still using her monthly themes to for my end of month blog post. And March has been a mean, moist, mlerhe of a month.

Observation Note 100: Time poor grumpy. Somehow, I have gone from languishing in lockdown to high speed pre-Covid busy in the space of a month. I was able to secure some sessional teaching at my university for a subject that I haven’t taught before (I have previously studied a very early iteration of it), I am continuing to run workshop on road safety for a not-for-profit organisation and of course there is the day-to-day running around for family and for my research project (see Observation Note 98). Just this week, I have been in contact with over 360 students in my classrooms and often I am the only person with a mask on (so I go full on with my n95). As my body is out of practice with the high pace, most days when I get home, I collapse on my sofa, too exhausted to do much other than groan. That said, I have managed to read a few books

Reading Note 41: Reading regrets, I’ve had a few grumpy. I tried and somehow managed to plod through Rebekah Campbells’ 138 Dates: The true story of one woman’s search for everything. I was so intrigued by Rebekah’s true story of needing for to find love for herself having spent 10 years alone, hardly ever dating. She had found love when she was younger, however she chose to explore life rather than commit herself to her boyfriend from when they were teens – this becomes a constant thread in her book because he truly symbolised lost love and lost chances for her, making it difficult for her to move on. I was really sympathetic to her decision at that young age, and as her story of finding love in her thirties unfolded, this decision impacted so much of her life trajectory. I really wanted to like this book, which is why I continued reading it where with other books I would have given up but sadly, it just didn’t work for me. I would argue that it was long, it was way too wordy, it brings up again my usual whine about traditionally published books which ramble to reach a certain page length. Perhaps it would have held my interest more if it had been 150 pages rather than over 400. And even the blurb felt too long and tiring. It wasn’t too bad a book, it just didn’t rock my boat. While I was reading this book a mosquito landed on the pages and I was about to squash it but remembered the book was a library loan so I stopped myself and the mozzie flew off. I turned off the lights and I tried to go to sleep with a mozzie buzzing in my room. I pulled my sheet over my head so I wouldn’t get bitten (if the pandemic wasn’t enough, and cataclysmic floods weren’t enough, we have a mosquito causing Japanese encephalitis crisis in Australia) but I felt the weird flutter of mozzie wings in my eyelashes. I flayed my arms and in a Ralph Macchio Danielson move, I caught the mosquito between my thumb and pointer finger…in the dark…and squashed it . This was the most interesting part of reading this book.

Observation 101: A graduation ceremony…at last not so grumpy. Having graduated a year ago, my university had not had any ceremonies over the last two years. They finally had a large ceremony for all the 2019, 2020 and 2021 graduates. I am surprised at how much I absolutely needed this ceremony to take place. The rituals and symbolism of hearing my name being called out was so important to me. I had a tinge of sadness at some parts of the rituals having been changed. There is no longer the handshake and the public handing over of your award. I understand why that physical touch needed to be removed so as to protect the health of the person giving the award to hundreds of students. You know, due to this scourge of a virus. Though all that needed to be removed was the handshake, they could have still handed the testamur to students without having any contact. However, the same concern was not extended for the health of the staff member who handed me my PhD in the gowning area. I guess some staff are more expendable than others. This made me grumpy.

I was also deeply disappointed that the PhD graduates were not given a seat with all the other academics which use to be the protocol that was followed. We were just led back to our seats amongst all the Bachelors. This was disappointing. I’m not angry or devastated or anything like that. I am fine with traditions changing. But it further dimmed my expectation for ritual on the day. Though I mention them, they are small grumps. There was still ceremony. My supervisor carried the mace into the great hall. There were majestic gowns and graduate colours. It was lovely to have my bright red gown – reserved only for PhDs. It was lovely to be sitting amongst the bachelors in their Uluru capes over their black gowns, just as I had worn exactly thirty years ago at my first graduation. These were my over-riding feelings on the day. I was happy and enjoyed myself. I was happy that my sons and my husband were all well enough to attend. One of my sisters came to the graduation too, however the other two are ill with Covid and my mother is in isolation due to living with one of my sisters. I wanted my mum to be there. But at least she could watch the livestream. I also managed to find a beautiful pink and floral dress. Over the past month I have bought five dresses, and returned three, in my obsessive search for the “perfect dress” for the “big event”. I felt like I was in a Betty Neels novel. LOL. It wasn’t until after the ceremony that I realised that I had chosen a dress worthy of Penelope Featherington from Bridgerton. It is indeed, very pretty. This historical romance moment was suited to the day, for as Kat from Bookthingo commented, the graduation event was the “PhD equivalent of an HEA with an epilogue”.

A lovely epilogue, at that.

Reading Note 42: Last Christmas. I received a copy of Andrew Ridgeley’s memoir Wham! George and Me from my son, last Christmas (LOL). There is so much going through my head having only finished reading this book a few hours ago. As a teenager, I liked Wham! for all their fun and happy songs, and of course their heartbreak songs. Though I desperately yearned for a “Choose Life” t-shirt (I never got one), I wasn’t a fangirl in the sense of buying all their albums (I bought none), or queuing for concert tickets (I attended none) though I did get to see Andrew Ridgeley spin some discs at The Polish Club in Sydney’s Inner West (back in the not-cool-to-live-here days) and to this day, I always get up and dance when Wham! or George Michael songs are being played. So reading this book was a given. An excellent and insightful present from my son (brownie points!).

This is a gorgeous, heartfelt story of Andrew and Georgios/Yog, two boys who became best friends at school and started a band together. I loved Ridgeley’s stories of how they would make up dance routines in their bedrooms, that they would skive off school to go to London clubs and record shops, that their aim was to have fun. I loved Ridgeley’s description of their songwriting, and I was so saddened that he took a back seat to George. I loved his description of their clubbing antics, their incredible fast rise to fame. But most of all, I love that this book is a love dedication to a deep friendship. Andrew Ridgeley writes “Undoubtedly, George was my best friend. And I’ve not had as strong a bond with any other chum since then….I’ve discovered that type of intensity is harder to rediscover as you get older”. This floored me. The loss of friendship and the inability to find new ones is something that thwarts many older people, and reading about it happening to Wham!, and having seen it unravel through the tabloids over the years, seemed to make it even more heartbreaking as there wasn’t even the privacy of being able to hide the pain.

I need to let you know that I cried so hard at the end of this book, that the top of my n95 mask got sopping wet as I was reading it on the bus home from work. This book had me sobbing in public and I didn’t care to stop reading so as to preserve my dignity. There is something so poignant about their early boyhood friendship and Andrew Ridgeley captures their youthfulness in this book. I love that he wrote that they wanted their band to symbolise fun and joy and happiness. I didn’t even realise how much Wham! captured and were successful in their aim. Wham! with its cheeky wink to pop culture comic book art, just made me feel happy. As they say in Wham Rap

Take pleasure in leisure, I believe in joy!

Do! you!

Enjoy what you do?

If not, just stop!

Don’t stay there and rot!

I think I just need to put Wham! music on high rotation so I can stop being grumpy and embrace joy again. Time to give up the rot.

Fairy tale February, Valentines, Reading and Reminiscing: Observation Note 98 and 99, Reading Notes 40 and 41

I’m once again riffing off Wendy the SuperLibrarian’s TBR Challenge themes to kick off my end of month blog post though I can’t really say that there is anything fairytale-ish about the month.

Observation Note 98: Research update. Having accidently (though probably fortuitously) taken a year off to recover from completing my studies, I finally made the decision to submit an abstract on some research I have been conducting since 2018. The CFP was from the University of New England’s Pop Culture Research Network on the subject of Valentine’s Day. This is the first research I am conducting with a co-researcher, Benjamin Hanckel from Western Sydney University. The abstract is as follows:

In her book ‘Guilty Pleasures’ Arielle Zibrak writes in the conclusion “To approach our cultural texts with love is, I think, a step toward approaching our world with love” (2021, p. 148). We start with this provocation as a call to use/explore love as a framework, and explore cultures of love. What does it mean to approach public cultural texts/artefacts like libraries and urban spaces with a framework of love? Focused on libraries, and public displays as cultural artefacts practiced and made for publics our analysis attends to and builds on our understanding of the cultural practices that generate displays of love. Our object of inquiry is the public library display – specifically the display at key moments of love (i.e. Valentine’s day, LGBT pride), and the practices that make (im)possible certain narratives and reproduced cultural understandings of love and romance. Through the use of duoethnography and the physical enactment of spatial research paired with digital discourses, we will present findings on the displays of public libraries over four years, across multiple sites in two cities – Sydney and London.

This research has really been a labour of love (pardon the pun) for Ben and me as we have conducted this research in the tiny pockets of spare time we find throughout the years as we haven’t applied for any funding (at this stage – anyone….anyone….). For the past 5 years, on each Valentine’s and Pride celebration, we both take to the road and visit as many libraries as possible in the one day, sometimes together but mostly separately. The rest of the year, between and around all our other pending commitments, we would discuss and analyse our findings. Of course, we have had disruptions to our research (pandemic anyone???) but overall, it has been such an enjoyable research project. Having presented at the PopCrn Symposium in February, we are now looking towards writing up our research for publication. An outcome of our fieldwork for this research is that I have spent an inordinate amount of travelling around Sydney which also has led me to reading other people’s reflections and research on walking the city, such as Rebecca Solnit, Fran Leibowitz, Vivian Gornick, as well as spending some time reading and thinking about cities as a key narrative tool in romance fiction, something that I think Kate Clayborn excels at. My favourite scholar on urban places is Shannon Mattern who researches cities and their public libraries.

Reading Note 40. Judging a city by its libraries. Shannon Mattern writes in “The city is not a computer: other urban intelligences” that her home city of New York has “constructed the intellectual and aesthetic infrastructures” of how she sees the world, and in her book, she includes a chapter on Public Libraries as one of these infrastructures knowledge infrastructure, social infrastructure, ontological infrastructure. Mattern points out that computers are fetishized (p. 77) whereas libraries show how its community makes the library to be not only about the computer. The library is “ever-changing” (p. 73) in its roles in the community, it has symbolic and social roles, it has repository and knowledge roles, the library is an “otherworld” (p. 104) standing apart from retail and commercial ventures and providing a place where people can understand and engage with digital infrastructure and civic technologies (p. 103) as was seen during the pandemic with people sitting outside of libraries trying to access free wifi to support their work, study, life economy management. I read the whole book and every chapter is informative and interesting, to the point where I was reading so totally engaged that I forgot to take notes. I particularly love finding academic texts that are page turners and I highly recommend this one.

Reading Note 41. Time to read. I managed to read a few more books this month than I expected despite writing for the Valentine’s symposium, running workshops for a road safety education organisation (have I mentioned this? I’ve been doing this for nearly a year), visiting friends for my (our) 27th wedding anniversary (waves to Sandra Antonelli!!!) and preparing for my first uni teaching gig in a while. The three books I will briefly mention are:

The Dating Plan by Sara Desai. Hmmmm….wellllll….I really like the fake relationship trope so this was an easy pick to read. The heroine Daisy was stood up – thus humiliated – by her prom date (and brother’s best friend) Liam who chose her prom night to skip town for a decade. 10 years later, for the usual, weird, romance plot set-ups Liam appears out of nowhere, kisses her, proposes to her in front of her match-making aunt, and then they “pretend” to be engaged while he works through some difficult family dynamics of his own. The book could have been OK but there’s a punch up between Liam and his brother and I am not a fan of this type of machismo. I’m not a fan of the “hero” Liam having a punch up in the book as it hints at a personality capable of loss of control and a mercurial temper (a bit like my dislike of Helen Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient for the same reason) which kinda doesn’t bode well for HEAs. If this adult has the capacity to punch his brother, it is an assault. No thanks. Also, this guy is a 100% flight risk. He’ll one day tell Daisy he’s popping out to pick up some cigarettes and will never come back leaving Daisy to think “but he doesn’t even smoke”. This book is Yeah but Nah.

Imagine Wanting Only This by Kristen Radtke. This was Radtke’s first graphic novel memoir where she grapples with her uncle’s early death and what it means to a young person who might also have the same genetic disposition to heart disease that he had. A well-written, sombre read. Having read (and liked) her follow up Seek You, I look forward to her next graphic novel.

An Age of License: a travelogue by Lucy Knisley. I adore Lucy Knisley’s graphic novel memoirs and this is the last of all her books that I finally managed to get my hands on. In this one, Lucy travels around Europe on a book tour as well as meeting up with her lover, some other friends, and her mother. Her travels take her from Norway, Sweden, Germany and France. She teaches kids to draw (despite not knowing how to communicate in their language), she has an intense love affair, she laughs and is baffled by her mum and friends and their slowness to get travelling. Lucy Kinisley’s suggests journalling daily so that you can come to an understanding of yourself and your life when you look back through your journal, yet even she got caught up in life and occasionally forgot to take her own advice. I worked out that she was 26 years old on this journey, this “age of license” as she is told by someone in France; an age where you explore yourself through travel, discovering your interests and how you want to see your self in the world. Though I often think back to my own travels in my 20s, this book certainly opened up a different way of considering what those travels meant to me, especially as they took place before and after my father had died when I was 25.

Observation Note 99. Reminiscing. The last day of February always gives me pause. It is the day my father celebrated his birthday (he apparently was born a leap day – he didn’t have a birth certificate). Had my father not died of cancer in 1994, he would have been 94 today. I have spent some time reading from his writing. His command of the English language is beautiful and exacting, his spelling is precise, his punctuation and grammar exemplary and also reflective of his bilingual thinking. His turn of phrase and his expressions delight me and as I read his words, I can hear him again. English was his second language which he only learnt after migrating here at the age of 26, his own “age of license” but one very different to mine or Lucy Knisley’s – an immigrant, suffering war trauma, the murder of his mother, finding himself on the other side of the world. I read my father’s words and feel that his eloquence puts in the shade the writing of many of us who have had the privilege of uninterrupted education and the benefit of continuous peace in our country. I wish that I had the amazing ability to write in a second language like my father was able to do.

I thought I would share with you his reflections on migrating to Australia. These are copied directly and with the exception of a small omission (in ellipses), I have not corrected or edited any of his writing:

On arrival here I was not disappointed in my expectations. I found Australia as a sort of a utopia. Larger than I had envisaged it. The people, not as hospitable as we were back home, but in their own distinctive merits they appeared to be extremely fair, not snobbish at all, and very simple and trustworthy. Their simplicity would have amazed even the ancient Arcadians. Working people used to leave their money on the front verandah of their house for the milkman, the baker and the greengrocer to deliver their goods in accordance to the orders they had left for them and they were helping themselves to their pay without anyone of them helping himself to anything more than due to create any hassles.[…]On my arrival my English amounted to about twenty words and my spoken communication to almost nothing. In spite the display of good will by the people around me my life was depressive and unhappy as I was ill prepared to live and work in a country where the spoken language was English and not that of my own. This lack of communication coerced me to a constant isolation and silence. As I was not used to silence these were degrading and unhappy times. My work mates labored more in trying to teach me English than they labored in their working efforts for our employer. Putting the words together with the help of a dictionary they used to formulate sentences which often enough appeared to have been formulated back to front to make sense. All of them were emulating each other to help me find ways to enter in communication with them. My contribution to work was in no way counterbalancing in work progress the time my fellow workers were spending to help me learn their language. What an amazing lot of people! Their good will impressed me to the extend that I wanted to sing songs and write verses about them and their good will.

This kindness and willingness to help others is the Australia I wish would shine. I get despondent when I see and read about government structures that are put in place that do harm. But I have faith and believe that there are still many people in Australia who are inherently good. Look at the community support for Biloela Family, the hard work of Kon Karapanagiotidis and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, look at the large shift away from Australians celebrating “Australia Day” ahem Invasion Day to recognising it as a day of mourning, look at individuals such as footballer Craig Foster and his tireless advocacy for young refugees – many of whom should be experiencing their own age of license, who have been kept in Australian hotel gulags for 9, nearly 10 years – these horrific actions from our government only now barely gaining international attention since tennis player Djokovic was detained in the same hotel early in the year for only a few days.

Australia is hardly the country of fairy tales for many people but I am hopeful that there is a continuation of good people who push back against those who feel entitled to silence others.

 

Quickie January, the pox, libraries and faith: Observation Note 97, Reading Notes 38 and 39

So though I am trying to not do any competitive reading this year, at the very last-minute-dot-com I thought I would riff off SuperWendy’s monthly TBR challenge to discuss my own month’s reading (and possibly watching and listening). Last year, I kept a book thread going on Twitter, a practice which I found abhorrent but I might find it easier to have a monthly instalment going here on my blog.

Observation Note 97: ‘Tis the pox! To begin with, this has been a rather flat start to the year, as my still-at-home 20 year old son and my elderly mother tested positive to Covid on the 3rd of January. My usually cautious, (no longer a) child who had cancelled on all his other parties and nightclubbing when the Omicron spread took off, decided it was safe (it wasn’t!) to go an outdoor music festival on New Year’s Eve, and my mum attended a New Year’s Day church service. For nearly a fortnight, my husband and I were also in isolation as close contacts, and had to negotiate caring for our son’s (not so) “mild” illness while also protecting ourselves from illness. I teetered between anxious worried parent and hag crone refusing to breathe the same air as my coughspring (excuse the pun – I couldn’t help myself). I also spent a couple of days caring for my mum who did have a mild case (yay for her Christmas third vaccine dose) but her case lingered and lingered for many weeks (she is finally testing negative). I am incredibly grateful for my younger Covid-nurse sister who cared for Mum during the majority of her illness. So let’s just say that very little reading took place. However, I managed to read two books:

Continue reading

My 2021 Year of Reading

Happy New Year to you all. Just like 2020, my year of reading for 2021 continued to be fractured and interrupted by life, relationships and of course, the pandemic. For the blog record, I read:

72 Books

Fiction: 18

DNFd but counted: 2

Audiobooks: 0

Picture books: 25

Graphic novels: 7 – 3 fiction and 4 non-fiction

Non-fiction: 23 – Memoir and long narrative: 15 ; Design and Travel: 6 ; Scholarly: 2. 

Essays and articles: lots upon lots

Though my year kicked off with the successful completion of my thesis, I had a number of struggles to overcome, not in the least, needing to finally grapple with my inability to return to working in libraries due to the severity of my asthma. Unfortunately, this is not going to reverse itself but at least I am no longer crumpling into a heap, beating my chest, voicing my mourning when I speak about it. I know this sounds so very dramatic, but it honestly is how devastated I feel. Along with the asthma, I also had a stupid fall (I think I have mentioned this elsewhere), face planting into a gutter while I was crossing the road on my way to pick up my library reservations (I blame avid reading). I ended up with a black eye, scrapes and bruises, and a “mild” head injury which took me close to 6-8 weeks to recover from the headaches and some brain fog. And then came the lockdown. So much time for reading, so little concentration to actually read. Just like last year, I spent more time reading articles, essays, doom scrolling and staring at walls than engaging with books. I am not sure if this is an indication of my attention span or an indication that I am not finding anything interesting enough to read. It’s probably a mix of both. 

Fiction:

Unlike 2020, the year I read only 2 mediocre fiction novels, in 2021 I read 18. Of the 18, only five were not romance, of those five, I read my first science fiction novel in more than 15 years. Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries series: All Systems Red was a fun read. The book appeal for me was its brevity which, unfortunately, continues to be rare amongst published fiction novels. I was deeply saddened to see that Wells has caved to the market and is now writing lengthier novels for the series with Book 5 clocking in at 350 pages – nearly double the length of the first four fabulous novels. Another loss for tightly plotted and written books.

The cover of The Prenup includes a byline "Love wasn't part of the deal"

Romance:  Most of the romances I read this year ranged from mediocre to lovely, though none were awful. I did have two standouts Lauren Layne’s The Prenup and Kate Clayborn’s Love at First.

Layne’s The Prenup is one of friction and surprise and fun and depths unexpected in a green card romance spanning ten years. I was delighted by Layne’s writing which always seem to have these socialites who hold zero interest for me, and yet, the beauty of Layne’s writing makes me forget my disinterest and plummets me into some excellent fun storytelling. The best thing about this book is that I had a momentary forgetfulness. I read as though it was 2011 – the year before I returned to study. I have linked to my earlier blog post for The Prenup above so I won’t write more here but if you are searching for a fun read, I do recommend Lauren Layne’s books – I read three of her novels in the past year and all were good.

Purple cover, stars and hearts, silhouette of an older style apartment with the title in cursive letters

As for Kate Clayborn’s Love at First  – this was such a gentle story. Mercurial in its pacing. Vivid in its setting. Nuanced emotions in its telling. I was charmed and so deeply taken by this book which barely has grand tensions or big misunderstandings or tempestuous feelings. The feelings are on the surface, even keeled. Still waters however, run deep and the issues that mire the two main characters are resolved slowly but not completely.

I loved this book for its softness. It’s soft hero. It’s soft heroine. Yet even with such kind and giving hearts, they both show their inner resolve for overcoming their personal and interpersonal problems which is what makes this book such a gem of a story.

Blue head being held by a pink body hanging from above

Graphic Novels 

Fiction: I really enjoyed Rachel Smythe’s Lore Olympus. First published as episodes on Webtoons, it is now published as a book. I read it on the app where it was infinitely superior than to the codex. Scrolling through each episode allowed for a flow of story, and a flow of emotions through illustrations continuing down the screen. The screen design builds tension and pace into a new imagining of age old stories of Greek gods Hades and Persephone and their often overlooked relationship. The scrolling down the screen also allows for such a visceral experience of Hades as the god of the underworld. I really feel strongly that this story should be read in the app or the website as I am unsure whether the book could elicit the same emotional reading. I look forward to reading through the new season of this story.

Green apartment building with silhouettes in the windows. Title spans the top of the cover with a background of orange sky

Non-fiction: Seek You: A Journey through American Loneliness by Kristen Radtke was a sombre read during an already sombre time. Having spent much of the year in lockdown or isolating from others, Seek You speaks to our disconnection from each other and how being lonely has deep impacts in the way we socialise with others. Radtke explores loneliness in its various manifestations, from radio, suburban sprawl, the sitcom laugh track and its insidious guidance as to what is and isn’t funny, the importance of connection with others, the physical pain we feel when we are rejected by others, disturbing research on the social deprivation in monkeys and the deep affects of loneliness. Radtke speaks of our need for the human touch, for connection with others, and the way that touch brings us to love. This book just made me sadder than I really wanted to be. It barely gave me hope but it did give me a way of seeing how I live now. And I really don’t like the way my world is unravelling into deeper loneliness. 

Non-fiction essays and articles

I read Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Notes on Grief as a long essay in the New Yorker, and it has since been expanded upon and published in book form. From the beginning, this essay captured me through its form, her use of Notes felt similar to my use of notes for writing many of my blog posts. Adichie writes of the shock of her father’s death and the ensuing events, from remembering her life and relationship with her father as a young child and into adulthood,  to her struggle to return to Nigeria for his funeral during the peak Covid lockdowns. Adichie explores her love of her father, their ancestral home, her life as an immigrant, and the difficulties of being a cosmopolitan citizen in a world that has shut its borders. This essay was filled with sadness – a core theme in my 2021 reading choices.

Non-fiction books

Cover has an out of focus family photograph that looks like it is from the 1970s.

The Lost Family: How DNA Testing Is Uncovering Secrets, Reuniting Relatives, and Upending Who We Are by Libby Copeland was a fascinating read. As I have gone out of my way to leave as small as possible biometric trail of my life (no thumbprint or facial recognition to unlock my phone, no fitbit linked to an app, no entering nightclubs/bars that scan your eyes etc), doing a DNA test has zero interest for me. However, many of my friends and family are spitting into jars (so much for not sharing my biometrics!) and doing these tests to discover who they are, who their (biological) parents are etc. This book takes a deep look into the world of DNA testing, the ethical conundrums of the secrets that are revealed, as well as delightful news too. This book was wonderful, with many personal stories to accompany the more technical and scientific explanations of how DNA does and does not reveal our lives and our ancestors lives. I probably think about this book more than any other that I have read in 2021.

Shared reading

One of the unexpected joys that this miserable year provided me is a different way of reading. I started doing buddy reading with Kay from Miss Bates Reads Romance, and with my goddaughter. 

Miss Bates Reads Romance. Miss Bates and I chose to buddy read Vivian Gornick’s The Odd Woman and the City. I was introduced to Gornick by Miss Bates and I was enamoured by her writing style. Having already read The Odd Woman and the City, Kay and I chose to reread it together. 30 pages at a time. Meeting weekly. It was a joyous way to read. Sometimes our conversation took us on tangents, other times it took us a while to get to our book choice, and we always always swapped favourite quotes and delighted in shared highlighted passages. We didn’t necessarily deconstruct the text as much as complain/enjoy/laugh at the text. I deliberately have not reviewed, or written further about this book which is my only reread of 2021. I just want to remember how much it resonated with me. How much my body – shoulders, neck, hips – relaxed as I read this book, and relaxed as I chatted with a dear friend about this book. I feel so fortunate to have had this experience as it led me to doing some buddy reading with my goddaughter.

A yellow sky, light blue buildings silhouetted, with dark blue cyclists riding up a hill.

Lots of silhouette covers!

Fancy fairy reading godmother fancy reading fun. So at the end of June, Sydney went into hard lockdown. With an abysmally low vaccination rate (not through hesitancy but through the continued application of dirty design by our despised Prime Minister who did not procure enough vaccines for the population), everyone other than essential workers stayed at home, schools shut their doors and silent chaos ensued. Sadly, this is not unique to most people across the world. One day, I called my goddaughter’s mum to see how she was coping, and drawing from my Miss Bates fun, offered to do reading after school with my goddaughter. At first I thought it would be a weekly meet up, but we had so much fun that it immediately became a daily Zoom call. In the 2 months of our reading fun, we read 26 books – 24 picture books and 2 novels. We used a variety of methods from physical books which had to be held to the computer’s camera so we can see images, buying duplicate books so we can read in turn, to ebooks where I could share my screen and we would read in sync with each other. My favourite of the buddy reads with my goddaughter was Steven Herrick’s Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus. Written in prose, we read a chapter each until we found ourselves singing the story (out of tune) while using the Zoom tools to draw the characters. I honestly don’t think I would have considered this style of shared reading in the before times. Lockdown sapped me of energy and but it did give me a stronger connection with my goddaughter and a completely different way of reading. However, no pandemic would have been better for both of us.

A shared page from Zoe, Max and the Bicycle Bus with red writing over it saying "we can do it!" and a screen capture of the two Zoom participants at the bottom of the page.

Reading in 2022

Last year, I kept my reading goals low by setting myself 21 books. This year, I have decided to not take part in any competition. I have set my Goodreads challenge to 1 book only because I enjoy the “My year of reading” wrap up that they post in early January. I also get to show off this wrap up to my sons in comparison to their annual Spotify stats and I force them to feign interest (LOL). I haven’t made plans for reading this year. 2020 left me exhausted. 2021 has left me with depression and heightened anxiety. I have secured some sessional teaching/facilitating with two organisations and I have a paper to present at a Valentine’s Day symposium. Tiny steps in the work prospects which, for now, is all I want as I still haven’t decided what I want to do for the next 20 years. Long term goals will have to wait. With the pandemic still going strong, I am settling for short goals and maximising rest time for now. 

Happy reading year to you all. 

A photograph of myself wearing a white top with blue flowers. Backdrop of green plants and a small demitasse of coffee by my arm.

Best laid plans…..

My December plan was to blog every day. What I didn’t consider was that I would have a number of emergencies overwhelm my intentions. So rather than write about the reading I managed at the boundaries of my chaotic life, here is a photograph of just another botched meal. This one was accompanied with a Greek salad. Because yes, we ate it all. Even the burnt tiropita can be eaten.

Καί η καμένη τιρόπιτα τρώγεται.

Burnt pie accompanied with tomatoes, cucumbers and a measly olive. Fork in plate. No tablecloth over my table protector. 

I think I need a protector too.

Graced with books: Observation notes 95-96

Observation Note 95: Collecting the books of others. In May of this year, I responded to an FB notice from romance researcher Donna Maree Hanson offering her romance collection to interested romance researchers. I was fortunate enough for Donna to have said Yes to my response. However, due to the 3 month long Sydney lockdown, as well as some other logistical issues, it took many months to finally get the books to my home this weekend thanks to my lovely husband who was working interstate and was able to pick the books up on his way back home.

Donna refers to these books as The Grace Collection which I think is so apt and lovely as I feel that I have been graced with the care of over one thousand romance novels. Donna too had received many of these books from someone else, a reader who had been collecting them for many years. Donna has also added many of her own books to this collection and as the new owner, I am not able to differentiate between readers and owners. At least not yet. But there are lovely markings on these books that are so familiar to me; the books with second hand books shop price tags, with library discard stamps, with spots and dots and lines and circled page numbers, broken spines and unbroken spines signifying books bought and read, as well as books bought and left unread, a readerly quirk so many of us know deeply. I have already seen books from the early 1970s and a few from the late 2010s. I am interested to see if the collection is overwhelmingly 20th or 21st century category romance publications – Mills & Boon, Harlequins of all lines, Loveswept, Silhouettes and Candlelight Ecstasy. All up, the Grace Collection had 7 plastic crates/containers, 3 archive boxes and two plastic bags of books. From what I can see, there is no other paperwork that accompanies the books. I have already gone through every container. Storing these books will be another blog post altogether!

It is not the first time that I have taken on another person’s romance novel collection. Many years ago, Merrian Weymouth graced me with a large part of her collection, the majority of which still sits on my romance shelves. They are literally romance shelves as I bought them from the now long-gone Burwood Book Exchange. This fabulous second hand bookshop on the Burwood Road was nine parts romance fiction and one part all the other fictions – a cornucopia of romance fiction closing in on you as you walked down their aisles. I would travel there multiple times a year to swap out my books while searching for new ones. Like so many romance bookstores, Burwood Book Exchange closed down early in the 2010s. I didn’t know the owners well so I never found out if it was due to the massive shift in romance readers moving from print to ebooks or something else but their closure impacted my own access to new-to-me books. I returned nearly weekly in those closing weeks, buying books and books and more books, hoarding for those desolate years ahead of me (LOL I’m so dramatic) with a dearth of access points for second hand print books (a dearth that continues – woe is me). In the last days before the shop closed I asked about their shelves and I managed to secure two shelves which are in my study/sunroom and house a third of my romance collection. I merged Merrian’s collection with my own sizeable one, sending any doubles I found to other reader/collectors, paying Merrian’s kindness forward which is what I hope to do with doubles from The Grace collection. My long term goal is to find an academic library that wants this collection for their own repository and book researchers – lofty dreams as I aim high, an unemployed ideologist in this awful era of higher education decimation and the freefall of humanities and sociology faculties in universities across Australia. With over 40, 000 university staff having been stood down or made redundant since 2020, my aim is like a smidgeon of hope. A way to keep going forward. In the meantime, I am going to sort through the books that I do have and hopefully make sense of all my holdings.

Observation Note 96: Work should stay at work unless you aren’t working and you are keeping a pandemic at bay. I have always resisted the urge to catalogue my own books. There is embracing your profession, being a boffin to its practices or just letting every aspect of your work permeate you every hour. I chose to leave my work at work (something that some people no longer can do). As I don’t consider reading for pleasure to be a core skill for being a librarian (shock! horror! let’s discuss this later!), I happily keep a list of all my reading over at Goodreads (included as a widget on this blog) as I choose to not consider it to be work (bear with me as I have many contradictions). I’ve often balked at the thought of keeping records of what I own, wanting it to be my reading that is my focus rather than an inventory of materials to which I can apply my professional cataloguing skills. I like having a separation from my work practices, and I kinda like sorting my books by colour as it is such an amusing anathema to so many people, as though aesthetics are not part of book production and the reading experience.

So, in embracing my inner (former? out of work? not even looking for this type of work? call it what you will?) librarian and finally documenting my own books, I have also decided to not use any apps or library specific websites to store this information. I looked up some suggestions and just got too tired of reading all the T&Cs, and all the ways that my data was going to be mined as business intelligence. I feel all data-mined out. Instead I am going to use a simple spreadsheet saved on my computer not on any cloud and I will see how I go from there.

Meanwhile, enjoy some photos of The Grace Collection from when it arrived at my home.

Tubs and boxes of category romances in the boot of the car.
Boxes in the boot of the car
The tubs and boxes of books placed on my verandah, the verdant greenery of my front yard framing the photograph.
The Grace collection on my front veranda/h

Good Month!

It’s December! Καλό μήνα (Good Month) greetings to you all.

The last six months have been challenging for me in weird but safe ways. So I thought I would end the year trying to post every day for this month. Instead of launching into writing though, I am posting a few photographs from my first swims of the Summer from a few weeks ago.

Deep blue ocean with a vibrant blue sky. Sailing boats and swimmers with a rocky foreshore.
Walking to Fairy Bower in Manly
Harbour swimming at Fairlight. Sydney North and South Heads in the distance. Swimmers. Sand. Super yacht.
Harbour swimming at Fairlight Beach
Bright blue sky, bright blue harbour.
Entering the water at Dellwood Beach in Sydney Harbour
Narrow entrance to the beach through the rocks.
Dellwood Beach has a narrow entry through the rocks

I hope you all have a good month and a peaceful countdown to the end of the year.

Finally! A Romance: Observation Note 94 and Reading Notes 37-38

Observation Note 94: Finally! I didn’t feel that I could go a whole month of blogging daily and not have read a romance in that time. It took me eight whole days to finish reading a novel which twenty, ten, eight, and even five years ago would have taken maybe two days to fly through. I don’t know if it was the book (doubtful), the person I now am (probably), or the anxiety brought on by the current Sydney lockdown (most likely) but I could not bring myself to read more than a chapter at a time. My attention was scattered, and the story didn’t resonate with me. In actual fact, there were elements that I quite disliked. I realise that I am an outlier on this.

Reading Note 37: A Romance – likes. So first I will touch on the parts of Talia Hibbert’s Take a hint, Dani Brown that were good. Those parts that made me persist in my reading of the book. Firstly, I really liked the characters. Zafir, the ex-rugby player turned security guard moonlighting as a coach for a youth team while giving them mental health support was a stellar character. He read romance, he was quiet and contemplative, that he was a Muslim man that embraced the tenets of his faith (lying is haram), that he understood himself, and he had experienced deep grief which had changed the person he was.

I liked Danika, her self confidence, her strength of convictions and her need to control her own narrative. I like that she was a witch, drawing on the tendrils of knowledge passed down to her from her grandmother. Her PhD life was ideal and her own anxieties over conferences and symposiums was relatable (anyone else curl up in a ball screaming with a panic attack a day before a presentation??? Yeah. Not doing that again).

Like the emotional grappling that both Zafir and Danika have to go through to reach an understanding of their own self and the way they wanted to lead their lives. I loved the way that they each were able to connect through laughter and through desire. Their compatibility and connection was palpable. Electric even. But this was not enough to make me like this story.

Now I have left for last my liking of the premise, I guess you could say the romance trope, that underpins this romance. I adore a fake relationship turned real. It usually buzzes with fun. As this one should have but sadly, it didn’t.

Reading Note 38: A romance – dislikes. I feel like I am the only person who became totally squicked out with the execution of fake relationship plot premise? The thing is that Zafir and Danika pretend to be in their fake relationship so that they can entice people to donate money to his mental health for kids organisation “Tackle it”. Part of the fake relationship include becoming fuck buddies for the duration of the public social media fundraiser and I did not feel comfortable with this at all. For two people who are so in touch with their emotions, especially Zafir and his aim for honesty and truth, falsifying his relationship with Danika for public consumption and monetary gain was never resolved for me. There was no remorse or even conscientious grappling with the ethical issues that it raised (I mean – there was a bit of a tussle that was glossed over with a “the end justifies the means” thought.

Then there was the constant mention of dick and cock and pussy and vagina in contexts which jarred the flow of the story. It felt overused and just threw me out of story, wondering why it was even mentioned (this is the point that I am annoyed with myself for not keeping notes while I read just so I can show examples but I can’t even bring myself to browse through the book to find one). The thing is, that a metaphor (bleh!) would not be good either. In the sex scenes, in the build up to intimacy, sure. There is a time and place. I just think that there were too many in this story. I am more than happy to be accused of being puritanical and uptight and that it is my prissy-ness that makes me feel this way but I personally don’t think I am any of these.

There was a library scene that just got my librarian (well former librarian) back up. Zafir finds Danika in the library and they get all hot and heavy and he gets an erection and they are performing for their social media fake relationship and I just wanted to shout at them to stop and that their PDA was not acceptable. Having had to interrupt many a young couple being WAY TOO AMOROUS in public libraries, being WAY TOO HORIZONTAL, being WAY TOO HEAVY BREATHING, I wanted to tear this scene up and scream NOOOOOOOOO! Be adults! Have some respect for the poor library staff.

And then there was the length. This is an old bug bear of mine. At 9pm tonight I still had 50 pages to go. 50! And they had only just had their big break up. My eyes feel like they are bleeding. 50 pages of black moment and make up/love/self realisation to sit through. Ugh. Too long. And then there were about 10 pages of fricken epilogue. Noooo! I mean, I finished the book by 10:30ish. But the length is my perennial complaint with most fiction. TOO LONG! Make it shorter. This is not about my focus or my attention span. I have plenty of that. This is about the propensity for navel gazing, copious amounts of backstory, and excuciatingly detailed filler angst in just about all fiction. YA fiction – too fucking long. Literary fiction – too fucking long. Fantasy fiction – too fucking long. Let me be clear here – my only ONLY reason for not reading 50 Shades of Grey has nothing to do with the story, the public perception, the kink, or any other alarmist shit. It has everything to do with 500 page doorstoppers per volume. *deep breath*

So yes. I felt Take a Hint, Dani Brown was too too long. I got bored when I should have just loved the whole story.

Desire, choosing your panels, and hinting (again): Observation Note 92-93 and Reading Note 36

Observation Note 92: Desire. When I woke up this morning, I propped myself up in bed with my computer and watched a New Yorker live event called Words of Desire with Alexandra Schwartz interviewing Emma Cline, Garth Greenwell and Ottessa Moshfegh. From the outset I want to point out that I have never read any of these writers’ books or essays so I cannot make any comment about their own work. I was however curious as to what these four literary writers could bring to the discussion of desire. Unsurprisingly, The New Yorker didn’t include any romance writers or romance scholars into their panel so I didn’t expect the discussion to be deeply nuanced on the subject of desire or even sex. I also want to point out that I still was groggy from sleep, and my coffee was brought to me a good ten minutes into the discussion (thanks wonderful Husband!), so my notes and my memory may be rather dodgy. All mistakes and misunderstandings are the fault of my morning brain.

The panel started out being asked about what they read – who were the masters of writing sex. Of course, none named romance writers, however Cline did point to Scott Spencer’s Endless Love and I was all “A-ha! Didn’t all teen girls read Endless Love like I did, hiding in the bathroom so that my older sister didn’t discover that I had stolen her copy that she had claimed I was much too young to read”. It made Cline feel that tad relatable to me (and then I realised that she was born nearly a decade after I read it as a new release, and seriously, she would have read it in the ‘noughts and it just made me furrow my brow that it was even still available then – but I digress). Greenwell pointed to poets Dickinson and Whitman as well as queer writers (whose names I missed – one might have been Carl Philips???). However, it was Moshfegh that was the least surprising who said (and I am paraphrasing here) that she had never read a successful sex scene and that she considered their plot use as failure or revulsion. *sigh* … *double sigh*.

I can’t fault Moshfegh for how she described the use of sex in plots or even the role of sex and desire in both her books as well as the books she had read. I am not at all interested in attacking or criticising these ideas. I completely understand their importance in the way that fiction is written and felt by reader/writers. I was totally on board with her description of her fiction writing approach. But I did feel sad that she had never read a good sex scene. But, damn!

The questions moved on to discuss different ideas around sex, deviance (huh??? was this a hint to 50 Shades and the changes it has brought in reading???) and its new space in society – Greenwell points out that there will always be forbidden topics to write about, as well as the challenge of writing happiness. The two women seem constrained in their answers on happiness as that they can only get themselves to write comedy or dogs. They only notice “the moments that aren’t happy”. But once again Greenwell answered eloquently saying that any human emotion can reveal insights (I especially liked Garth Greenwell as a panelist though all were very good. He’s now on my TBR). I found that the panelists kept slipping and calling it “sex writing” not “desire” and I personally think these are both quite different writing styles with possible overlaps.

What I did find interesting, and I can’t remember who on the panel said it, was the idea that in literary fiction, the sex scene was where the tension between two characters was created – it was the point that caused problems. This is so different to romance fiction where quite often, it is in the sex scene that the characters find congruence, where they find compatibility, love and connection.

Reading Note 36. Hinting again. So despite not really feeling warmly towards Talia Hibbert’ Take A Hint, Dani Brown, (Reading Note 35) I decided that I would continue to read the novel to completion. The chapter I am up to has the protagonists Zafir and Danika finally in her apartment with the agreement that they were to become “fuck buddies”. They quite clinically laid down their ground rules of how long their arrangement will last, how they will negotiate any affection between the two of them, and some other minutiae. From their, their sex (not love at all) scene just went off. A whole detailed chapter that sizzled with desire and sex. I wouldn’t call it beautiful but it certainly was emotional and carnal, suited to the story’s trajectory. And it certainly was not a failure.

Observation Note 93: Choosing your panel accordingly. Actually, having such low expectations for this panel meant I was pleasantly surprised that it was thoughtful even though the conversation lacked the depth of the dialogues I have become accustomed to when I attend romance writer panels or author talks, whether they are at writer’s festivals or scholars presenting on romance fiction at conferences. The one viewer question did address the topic of romance fiction but I got a phone call from my doctor right at that point so I didn’t hear the answer (seriously! how inopportune!!!).

The thing about this New Yorker panel was that it felt like a missed opportunity. I felt disappointed. Though there was an unspoken sense of romance fiction’s presence. From Endless Love, deviance in writing, the really uncomfortable suggestion that perhaps the writing was autobiographical which was diplomatically dismissed by Greenwell (but yeah – why does that stupid question always come up when sex is discussed? Isn’t that the deviant idea? As romance authors are always pointing out, would you ask a crime author if they are writing from an autobiographical lens? And there was of course the question on writing happiness – perhaps even for The New Yorker, it is too scandalous to ask literary authors about writing Happily Ever Afters.

This event was good but not great. Its promotion was very romance fiction-ish with all those red and black hearts and lips flowing out of an open book but that was just cosmetic. The panel could have benefitted from the richness of ideas that, say Beverly Jenkins or Jennifer Crusie or so many other erudite romance writers could have contributed. Unfortunately, this lack of at least one romance fiction panelist diminished the contribution of this event.

PS: I deeply appreciate that I can now attend so many wonderful events all over the world. A major shout out to my son who bought me my subscription to The New Yorker and is happy to keep giving me the same gift every year.