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.

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.

Readers and Languishing: Reading notes: 17 and 18

Earlier today, I saw long-time Twitter friend Flexnib post that she is going to try to do BlogJune just like in the olden blog days. I have decided to try to post every June day too and I thought I would start simply, resurrecting my Reading and Observation notes, a style of writing which I have previously used and I find particularly enjoyable.

Reading Note 17: Other readers. I’ve just finished reading Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business: Notes of a chronic rereader. I first heard about Gornick pre-pandemic, 18 months ago on Miss Bates Reads Romance where Kay reviewed Fierce Attachments, a book that continues to sit unopened on my bedside bookshelf. I managed to borrow three of Gornick’s books from the library and I wanted to start with her book on rereading so that I can get an insight into who she was and what her book choices mean to her. I enjoyed Unfinished Business, this collection of essays has her rereading and reconnecting to books that she has loved many years ago. Her revisiting of each text finds her either loving or rejecting the book as she delves deeply into the characters driving each novel. Gornick is not writing an analysis of these books, but instead, she is relating her own life through her reflections of her rereads. Each essay was detailed and interesting but I was increasingly annoyed that her choices were all tragedies – stories where everyone grapples with life’s difficulties and love is attained and lost. I kept wanting Gornick to choose something more edifying, something with happier outcomes, something that could mix up her reading choices rather the the predictable stalwart classics. Right at the end though, she has a short essay on about a “cheap 1970s paperback” that falls apart when she takes it into her hand. Gornick relishes in her material experience of the pages falling out one-by-one and how she salvages this unnamed book by slowly reading through it again, marking the pages as she ordered them, and bounding the book with a rubber-band. Gornick doesn’t name the books and I am so curious. I would love to know the name of the one book that she doesn’t name. My guess is that it is something along the line of Kathleen E. Woodiwiss’s The Flame and the Flower.

Reading Note 18: Languishing. Vivian Gornick discusses being “unreceptive” to a book, just not in the right mood to read it; not “in a a state of readiness”. Well that is how I have been feeling lately about all fiction reading. I pick up a novel and I either give up just a few chapters in, turned off the book for something as trivial as the name of a character, the description of a sofa, or an internal thought that I am just not interested in reading. This sense of fiction ennui is not what I want to be feeling and I hope it doesn’t last for too much longer. Meanwhile, I will continue reading memoirs and I will post about my thoughts on them here.

Vivian Gornick’s Unfinished Business, Fierce Attachments and The Odd Woman and the City have all been borrowed from a NSW public library.

The fairytale, marriage and another fun read

I’m over 10 days late for this month’s TBR challenge having completely missed posting for March and April’s TBR. The May topic being Fairytale/Folktale and my connection to the theme is a bit of a tenuous stretch and only mentioned briefly towards the end of this post. As for how long this book has been on my TBR, I’m just going to say that I have borrowed it three times, with a three month loan period (inclusive of renewals), and I only managed to read it at the tail end of this latest loan.

A lilac shadow shaped like skyscrapers in a city as a backdrop, with a cartoon bride holding open a yellow taxi door which just doesn't make sense because there was no taxi in the wedding scene.

Book: Marriage on Madison Avenue by Lauren Layne  (the third in the ˆ series) 

The Blurb: Can guys and girls ever be just friends? According to Audrey Tate and Clarke West, absolutely. After all, they’ve been best friends since childhood without a single romantic entanglement. Clarke is the charming playboy Audrey can always count on, and he knows that the ever-loyal Audrey will never not play along with his strategy for dodging his matchmaking mother—announcing he’s already engaged…to Audrey.

But what starts out as a playful game between two best friends turns into something infinitely more complicated, as just-for-show kisses begin to stir up forbidden feelings. As the faux wedding date looms closer, Audrey and Clarke realise that they can never go back to the way things were, but deep down, do they really want to?

This is the final instalment to the Central Park Pact series.

How did I find this book: Lauren Layne has become an auto-read author for me since Dr Jayashree Kamblé recommended her novel Walk of Shame to me several years ago.

Meet Cute: A bit of series backgrounding first: this is a trilogy with the protagonists of each book, Audrey, Claire and Naomi having dubiously met at the funeral of their (yes – plural THEIR) dead boyfriend a couple of years earlier, having discovered that they had all been duped (ahem sleeping with) the same man. On the day of his funeral (no – they didn’t kill him), the three discover that they weren’t his only girlfriend/wife. Though horrified by their own role in being “the other woman”, they forge an unlikely friendship where they look after each other – especially when it comes to finding their true love as they all now, understandably, have trust issues. Claire and Naomi in this book are already paired up which leaves Audrey to find her love match. 

Continue reading

New to me author and getting a life

I have surprised myself in that I have managed to read yet another novel! What is this new life of mine? I’m liking how being liberated from being a student feels. Unemployed for the while, I am listening to podcasts, reading, watching TV and attempting to clean the house. Reading is still super-slow as I had a whole lot of administrative things to do around the thesis as well as finally sinking my teeth into some research that I have had on hold for a while (now to get some funding!). Meanwhile, it’s SuperWendy’s TBR challenge once again and this month’s theme is a new-to-me author and as is my usual way – there are some vague spoilers.

Book: Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

Blurb: Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. The next items?

• Enjoy a drunken night out.
• Ride a motorcycle.
• Go camping.
• Have meaningless but thoroughly enjoyable sex.
• Travel the world with nothing but hand luggage.
• And… do something bad.

But it’s not easy being bad, even when you’ve written step-by-step guidelines on how to do it correctly. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Continue reading

The Prenup: a happy read

It has been several years since I have felt motivated to read novels back to back. Yet here I am, finally with two books in one week! Time for cake! I want to point out before I go any further that 1. I absolutely loved reading this book and 2. SPOILERS ABOUND. If you hate spoilers (’cause these ones are not subtle), maybe just bookmark this post and come back once you too have read the book.

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

Book: The Prenup by Lauren Layne

Blurb: My name is Charlotte Spencer and, ten years ago, I married my brother’s best friend. I haven’t seen him since. Charlotte Spencer grew up on the blue-blooded Upper East Side of Manhattan but she never wanted the sit-still-look-pretty future her parents dictated for her.

Enter Colin Walsh, her brother’s quiet, brooding, man-bun-sporting best friend, and with him a chance to escape. He’s far from Charlotte’s dream guy as but they need each other for one thing: marriage. One courthouse wedding later, Charlotte’s inheritance is hers to start a business in San Francisco and Irish-born Colin has a Green Card.

Ten years later, Colin drops a bombshell: the terms of their prenup state that before either can file for divorce, they have to live under the same roof for three months. Suddenly this match made in practicality is about to take on whole new meaning…

How did I find this book: I loved Lauren Layne’s The Walk of Shame so I went searching for her and borrowed her only two books my library held.

Continue reading

Love Lettering and Comfort Reading

Having barely read for pleasure in 2020, I wanted to start 2021 by reading in my favourite genre as well as take part in SuperWendy’s TBR challenge with this month’s theme being Comfort Reads. New Year reverting to old readerly me! I do want to point out that this review has a MAJOR SPOILER ALERT!

Book: Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

Book cover for Love Lettering

Blurb: Meg Mackworth’s hand-lettering skill has made her famous as the Planner of Park Slope, designing beautiful custom journals for New York City’s elite. She has another skill too: reading signs that other people miss. Like the time she sat across from Reid Sutherland and his gorgeous fiancée, and knew their upcoming marriage was doomed to fail. Weaving a secret word into their wedding program was a little unprofessional, but she was sure no one else would spot it. She hadn’t counted on sharp-eyed, pattern-obsessed Reid . .. A year later, Reid has tracked Meg down to find out—before he leaves New York for good—how she knew that his meticulously planned future was about to implode. But with a looming deadline, a fractured friendship, and a bad case of creative block, Meg doesn’t have time for Reid’s questions—unless he can help her find her missing inspiration. As they gradually open up to each other about their lives, work, and regrets, both try to ignore the fact that their unlikely connection is growing deeper. But the signs are there—irresistible, indisputable, urging Meg to heed the messages Reid is sending her, before it’s too late …

How did I find this book: Twitter conversations

Meet Cute: Meg did the calligraphy for Reid and his former fiancee’s wedding invitations. They met when he turned up to approve the design. Their own story starts a year after this event, with Reid approaching Meg to ask why she encrypted the message “Mistake” into the invite. Meg doesn’t really have an answer to this but when Reid tells her that he is leaving New York City because he hates it, she feels that she needs to show him the New York she loves so he can understand the city better.

This inexplicable and kinda weird insistence for Reid to see the beauty of New York City left me feeling confused and I kept reading back over her proposal to find hand written signs across the city to try to understand 1) what’s in it for her and 2) what’s in it for him. I just couldn’t work it out or why he would agree to take part. But this doesn’t really matter because what happens next were these lovely walks through New York City, part game and part tour, where Meg and Reid searching for hand-drawn signs and colours and letters. These regular rendezvous allowed them to build a relationship where they talked and had fun searching for the textual rhythms of the city. These walks were incredibly endearing and were instrumental in revealing Meg and Reid’s selves to each other. These walks become the backdrop to Meg’s relationships with her friends,  employers and clients, and Meg hopes that they help her to resolve her artistic block that was keeping her from meeting her work commitments. I liked the way their walking builds up to Meg and Reid’s friendship, and then builds up to Meg and Reid’s intimacy where they both revealed their vulnerabilities. I especially like that when they realised that they were going to be having sex, their is a long break involving walking and catching transport with “no self-respecting New Yorker PDAs on the subway” intimating their restraint until they reached his apartment. The walking allowing them space for reflection and thought, a way for consent to be reached through the clarity that time and thinking while walking can give you, and the loveliness of walking through their city to their amatory destiny.

Meg’s problem however is that she is a not a confrontationist. She would rather friendships and relationships peter out than confront problems and grapple with possible arguments or fights that need to be resolved. Throughout the book, this becomes a major issue which she needs to overcome with her best-friend Sibby and then with Reid too. She slowly builds up to being able to argue with them and resolving these arguments. Which was fine. It was lovely. It showed care. But it made me a tad bored. Not bored enough to stop reading, but still, bored.

And then the very odd end of the book happened when all of a sudden, instead of reading a romance (THIS PART IS THE SPOILER)…. I’m reading a fraud case, and Reid is an informant (still waters run deep!) and is now in witness protection, and Meg has to decode coordinates??? Just. Really? Why did this just happen? I feel confused again. I feel cheated. I know that I was bored in parts but this wasn’t a change of pace as much as a change of book. So this was a romantic suspense novel and I didn’t even realise it. Switch and bait. I grumbled, I did. This ending really annoyed the shit out of me because of this. It felt fabricated and orchestrated due to not enough tensions being available in the relationship. I don’t mind a story that goes from no drama to high drama in a flash but it felt out of kilter with this particular story and its conciliatory strengths.

I do want to point out one that I stuck with the book because it was beautifully written. The turn of phrase, the loveliness of the narrative. The lettering and planner details gave a rich experience of the text, and though I personally don’t pay lots of attention to details (I just buy whatever is on offer), their description in this book kept me engaged. I also absolutely adored the city walking. I am an urban bunny, I cannot bear bushwalking as I find nature rather boring (oh look – there’s a tree. And just beyond it another tree just like it). I’m glad nature exists and all, but I’m happy to protect it by not going to it. In the city though, the thrill of noises and sirens, the smells, and the crowds (this books is written in a pre-Covid world). Ah! I just loved the city as character in this book and it worked its magic on me.

Will they last: I’m undecided on this one. Do I think that Meg and Reid have a relationship that they can sustain for all their lives – Yes. Do I think that Reid can live 25/40/60 years in a city he once hated? I’m unsure. Which is the whole crux of their relationship. Meg loves the city and somehow Reid claims that he now loves it too because he saw it through her eyes but I remain unconvinced. No doubt they love each other. But I doubt Reid loves NYC. They’re really going to have to think carefully about which neighbourhood they choose to live in if they want to ensure that city living doesn’t become their insurmountable problem.

Feelings: Overwhelmingly though, this book was heavy with sadness. Both Reid and Meg carry their worries on the page. From Meg’s inability to vocalise her problems to Reid’s skin flares making it impossible to hide the stress he wished he could internalise. Though there are some funny exchanges and witty repartee, sadness was stronger in this book as an emotion. And perhaps this is why I did not enjoy the book as much as I would have wanted. With the sadness of living in plague times, with the political zeitgeist being one of oppression and obfuscation across the world, and all the other usual personal problems I carry in my soul, I was really wanting a lighter book to read. I needed a light breeze and Love Lettering was certainly not that for me. Would I recommend it to others? Yes. But it definitely was not the right book for me. I sought a comfort read but I didn’t find comfort.

This book was borrowed from a NSW public library.

My 2020 Year of Reading

Happy New Year to you all. Unlike 2019, yet like so many others, my year of reading in 2020 was fractured and fraught. The year started with several issues both personal and environmental. Bushfire smoke having enveloped Sydney for many months in 2019 continued to pollute our air with many people wearing masks in Sydney months before the pandemic. For a variety of reasons, with the main one being the immediate need to complete my thesis, I resigned from my librarian position. Unexpectedly, this left me out of paid employment for the first time since I was 22 which was unnerving. My year was spent hiding in my bedroom, writing up my thesis and panicking about the pandemic emerged. Instead of taking 5 months to finish, it took me 11 excruciating months where I found it difficult to do anything other than eat, breathe, sleep my thesis. Reading for pleasure was near impossible though I read 44 books but even those were primarily university text books. Between global dread and thesis dread, I barely managed to read. Here are my rather sad statistics:

Books: 44

Fiction: 2

Books DNFd but counted: I borrowed over 40 books and returned as many unread and unopened. It wasn’t them, it was me.

Audiobooks:  2

Picture Books: 0

Graphic Novel memoir: 8

Non-fiction including Memoir/Narrative: 6; Design and Travel: 16;  Thesis theory texts: 12

Essays and articles: lots and lots and lots

Romance

Both the novels I read this year were (kinda) romance. One was Young Adult fiction that agitated me, and the other a tepid category romance.

Graphic Novel Memoir

One of the most striking books I read this year was Vannak Anan Prum’s The Dead Eye and the Deep Blue Sea, a deeply upsetting story of the author’s years trafficked as a slave. He spent 3 years at sea on a Thai fishing trawler as indentured labour where he witnessed murders and torture on his “floating prison”. He managed to escape just to find himself sold as a plantation slave in Malaysia before finally getting home many months later. Vannak writes that “my physical injuries hurt less, but my memory is a wound that will never heal”. His graphic novel style is strikingly unlike other graphic novel memoirs I’ve read. Vannak has an image per page with rich narrative though sparse on dialogue. His artistry depicting the torture on the boats is startling and it now makes me deeply consider the source of my fish. With 40 million people in slavery today, this memoir was a sombre reminder of the difficult lives that people lead and our personal responsibility to not support this industry and to demand our retailers have ethical supply chains. 😕

Non-fiction essays and articles

My year has been full of reading essays and news articles. My oldest son gifted me a New Yorker subscription which has been quite interesting. However, my two favourite essays this year were published elsewhere. Briallen Hopper’s Sirenland moved me to my core as did Hannah Davis writing about her long haul Covid experience. Both essays have hovered in my mind, with an ambulance siren, the sound of coughing, or the notification from family of their suffering and loss, bringing back to my mind the strength of Hopper and Davis’s unique pieces of writing.

I continue to adore Humans of New York stories whose human element is so touching that it is a reminder that kindness amongst people continues to exist even in the most violent of days. My eldest bought me the Humans book for Christmas and I look forward to reading it. I also derived a lot of happiness from watching Schitt’s Creek which filled me with joy and tears and warm, fuzzy feels which sent me to reading fanfiction for the first time in years.

I took deep comfort from my friend, Dr. Tilly Hinton’s sublime storytelling platform where I was fortunate to read at two of her thirteen Storytime for the Apocalypse events. I was even more fortunate to listen to some incredible selections from all the other readers, and to meet so many people in the informal chat after the readings – I feel as though Tilly has an innate ability to draw from her participants fluid and casual conversations in the digital sphere which felt natural and comfortable.

I felt relieved seeing people around the world unify in the Black Lives Matter marches, in celebrating Biden’s electoral win. But overall, I feel the weight of worries from all the overwhelming clusterfuck of political arsehole bigots in this world who kept me from deep, immersive reading. And yes, I do blame them all, every fucking single one of them.

Non-fiction books

Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu: Black Seeds – Agriculture or Accident reframed everything I thoughtI knew and have been trying to learn about our continent’s First Nation people. A rethinking of precolonial Australia challenging their perception as hunter-gatherers. Pascoe shows this continent’s people’s sophisticated agricultural and sustainable land & water practices which included tilling of the land, fire farming, fisheries and aquaculture – which in 2019 received a UNESCO heritage listing as Budj Bim is older than the Egyptian pyramids – as well as their architecture, landscaping and engineering knowledge. He does this through the use of the diaries & journals of early white settlers for his evidence.

The point that had never occurred to me and fills me with awe, is when Pascoe highlights that the over 200 nations that made up pre-colonial Australia, were the longest peaceful pan-Continental society in the history of the world and that finding a way to understand how this peace was maintained for so many milleniums is imperative for finding a way forward in a world that seems to be constantly at war. I listened intently to Pascoe’s self-narration of his book, often doing loops and loops around my neighbourhood so that I didn’t need to stop half way through a chapter. This book was beyond anything I have read before. It is an outstanding book that should be compulsory reading in Australia.

Swimming

As a swimming obsessive, not in a competitive way at all but in a human lilo floating over the gleaming blue, I am always seeking calm water to immerse myself in. I read several books on swimming pools this year, and I found myself enchanted by Caroline Clements and Dillon Seitchik-Reardon’s Places We Swim in Sydney. My youngest son bought me this gorgeous coffee table book for Christmas because he knows me well enough to not even attempt to give me fiction. Many of my favourite swimming spots appear in this book and I have decided to try to visit most of the pools – some natural and some purpose designed – throughout 2021. However, I will taking a pass on the 11km return trip to Tahmoor Canyon especially Mermaid Pool with its “no safe entry or exit” requiring a rock jump to get in and a rope climb to get out. Just no! I like my swims to be effortless and free from exertion.

This book is beautifully presented though the matt paper stock and muted colours don’t do justice to the brilliant blues of Sydney’s sky and water. The access information is very useful but some of the suggested food pitstops suggest the authors lack true local knowledge especially in Western Sydney with the ridiculous suggestion that a visit to Cabarita Swimming Centre can be combined with a lunch at Pyrmont fish markets 13 kilometres/ 8 miles away. This rankled when most of the pools in Sydney’s East had swim/food suggestions in the same suburb. Apart from these minor irritations, this book is wonderful and gave me a lot of happiness reading in the last week of the year.

Reading in 2021

I make no plans for reading this year. This past year has left me feeling exhausted. Though I submitted my thesis 4 weeks ago, I have yet to be able to pick up a novel. I don’t have any reading plans at this point. The horror that is the US coup, and the accelerated speed that Covid is spreading in Europe and the Americas has left me doomscrolling. I have listed my goal as 21 books only in reflection of the year. Hopefully, there will be moments of global peace allowing me some quiet to lose myself in a book. And if that fails, I will just go for a swim instead.

Homes, Sunday Librarian and More: Reading Notes: 13-16 and Observation Note 53

I am going to combine SuperWendy’s TBR topic with my Reading Notes this month. Hopefully this works well enough that I can repeat it through the year. The topic is Short Shorts here are some are various books I have been reading including one romance novel.

Reading Note 13: Home inspiration. I read through two interior decorating books in succession that had been languishing in the library TBR for only a month. Both heavy, hard back books printed on substantial paper stock. The sort of design books that costs a lot and you are loathe to put in any discard pile for years to come.

The first I looked at was The Kinfolk Home – an offshoot from the magazine by the same name, it purports to support the “Slow” movement. It was definitely slow. So slow that I got bored of both the pictures and the stories of the families that lived in these homes. I am Marie Kondo’s nightmare, I am not a minimalist. I believe that design lovers are now referring to people like myself as being “maximalists”.  I love vibrant colour and a home filled with books and curios, art and bibelots reflecting the life adventures of the occupants. Which is the opposite of what this book contains. All beige, grey, linen and black. Perhaps the slow movement requires homes to be uncluttered so as to encourage contemplation. I found no joy in the sleek interiors but I certainly can understand that someone who has the opposite approach to my own desire for home aesthetics would love this book.

In contrast, Little Big Rooms: New Nurseries and Rooms to Play In was delightful and full of colour and deep understanding of how a home works when young children need to feel that they are completely in the home, and not an adjunct design that could at any time disrupt an adult space. Even though my own children are now (young – ahem) adults, there were elements of young children’s play design that reflected how I used our own home space when they were little, albeit with a much tinier budget. I loved this book.

Reading Note 14: Quasi rural romance. I praised Penelope Janu quite a lot last year. In December I read On The Right Track which has the hero from In at the Deep End’s hero’s twin brother.. I enjoyed this book espite my deep dislike of horse racing. The book isn’t as rural as the book cover lets on. I liked the movement between the Southern Highlands and the Eastern suburbs of Sydney. But I do like my story telling a bit tighter than most standard novels, and though it was well done, I found that the storyline on the 25 year old crime that may have been committed that the international-man-of-mystery-spy hero was investigating through the whole book dragged on just a tad. And there was just such overriding sadness in this book especially with the complex (and thankfully unresolved and unapologetic) mother who had rejected the heroine Golden at birth with her grandfather raising her. I also liked heroine Golden’s lovely relationship with her sister.

Observation 53: Sunday Librarian no more. I have resigned from my library job. This took months (and could I say years) of contemplation. 2019 had sickness find both my husband and me this year. Tiredness, illness and the need to complete studying have led my decision. Having worked 11 of the last 18 years as a regular (weekly with the exception of annual and sick leave) Sunday Librarian across 3 different employers, I am now looking for a Monday – Friday job. I have paid my dues in LibraryLand and no longer can bear sacrificing every weekend. I don’t mind if I am asked to do a rotation of one in four, or one in three but I cannot take on weekend work as my standard weekly contracted hours again. In light of the work that women do, I have willingly taken on these roles because it helped facilitate my family’s decision to do tag-team parenting as well as supporting my study regime. But it is now time for future thinking and my future involves weekends not working. Considering that the majority of public library work that is advertised these days have a Monday-Sunday clause, I am not sure if my future includes public libraries. Watch this space.

Reading Note 15: David Sedaris. Last night I saw David Sedaris do a reading of his essays and diary entries at the Enmore Theatre in Sydney. I am long a fangirl of both Sedaris, and the theatre which holds such special memories for me as it was one of Sydney’s two Greek cinemas back in the 1970s and 1980s. Sedaris was, as ever, funny and erudite – his observances so sharp, his loyalty to his family, his wry love of his boyfriend Hugh, his love of jokes – I just lapped it all up. I especially love that he does book signings where he sits for hours talking to people. Two hours of waiting in line, John and I were 4th from the end, when we finally got to speak with him. He signed our books, I gave him my Greek cinema trivia (to which he was surprised) and then he offered me the remnants of his T-bone steak for my dogs. I hesitated for a moment before turning him down. I may be a fangirl, but I draw the line at taking an author’s food remnants home with me.

Reading Note 16: Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu. I will do this book a disservice and just describe it as incredible and seminal writing that is necessary reading for all Australians and anyone who is interested in the colonial systems of displacing and misrepresenting the knowledge practices of first nations people. I am only half way through the audiobook for now, but I also mean to return to the print version which also has illustrations and photographs. Hopefully, I will write more about it next month.

I still have a way-high TBR. However, I don’t believe that the reading pile can every be completely read.

My 2019 Year of Reading

Happy New Year to you all. Unlike 2018 where my most memorable reads were the ones that annoyed me, 2019 was a wonderful reading year full of excellent books – 44 which I rated with five stars! 2019 gave me a number of new autobuy authors, new insights and several books that are now on my all-time favourite books list as well as being the first year to crack 100 books since 2012. A stellar year indeed! But first to my statistics:

Books: 119

Fiction: 40  including Romance fiction: 33

Books DNFd but counted: 3 (this means I threw in the towel after tolerating 100 pages of shite)

Audiobooks:  12

Picture Books: 8

Graphic Novels: 17

Non-fiction: 71  including Memoir/Narrative: 23; Design: 17;  Library/Reading Theory: 14

These are not a total with a fair amount of overlap, for instance 10 of my fiction books were audiobooks. I have listed below my favourites, I will link back to those of which I have discussed in previous posts. Continue reading