I tried to write this post in the depths of Autumn semester, when I rarely have time to spend time reading for pleasure nor much time to blog. I failed. Instead, I have finished it after the last week of classes.
Observation Note 117: Pain.I unwisely took on an overwhelmingly large teaching load in February. I had nothing offered to me in Spring semester last year, leaving me stuck doing some contract work in road safety education which is totally fine but not what I want to be doing. So when I found myself drowning in offers in February, I decided a heavy teaching load was fine as I was feeling strong and healthy in February (despite the plague having finally befallen me). I was fine until I literally fell off the end of my bed injuring my back. I lay on the floor for half an hour, unable to get up, with hubs away on a work trip and my son taking a long hot shower. I was calm but winded. I couldn’t call out and my phone was nowhere near me. When my son finally came through he freaked out, helped me into my bed, checked me for breaks, concussion etc. But in the end, we decided I was just winded. I limped and was bruised, I saw my doctor who agreed with me. I felt mostly fine until a fortnight later when I started the gargantuan task of marking 170 student essays and then my whole body went to pot. Sciatic pain I had never experienced on my right hand side took hold of my life and pierced me with spasms and continues to do so. Weeks later I injured my ribs while I was doing some gentle gardening, giving me more grief and the inability to breathe deeply. And then last week I injured my ankle just by standing up. No rolls, no trip over, nothing. Once again, I am off my feet, because of pain, but I can’t lie down because of my ribs, and I can’t sit because of the sciatic pain. Because life needs to come in threes when it hurts. I found that I could not sleep, mark, function, at all. So, with all that, there is little surprise that I only read two novels in April, and one text book on web usability which is set reading for my students. No surprises, I won’t be discussing the text book.
Along with being late posting my April books, I also have spoilers because when I am in pain, I have not filters. At all. You are warned. Look away. Especially for the schmoushy fab Harlequin I discuss in Reading Note 65 (I wanted to end on a happy note).
Reading Note 64: Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path. Let’s start with the blurb: Just days after Raynor learns that Moth, her husband of 32 years, is terminally ill, their home and livelihood is taken away. With nothing left and little time, they make the brave and impulsive decision to walk the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. They have almost no money for food or shelter and must carry only the essentials for survival on their backs as they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. Yet through every step, every encounter, and every test along the way, their walk becomes a remarkable journey.
The Salt Path is an honest and life-affirming true story of coming to terms with grief and the healing power of the natural world. Ultimately, it is a portrayal of home, and how it can be lost, rebuilt, and rediscovered in the most unexpected ways.
For many of you who have been reading my blog for a long time, you will know how much I hate camping and the fact that Raynor Winn and her husband choose to camp wild while they walk the UK’s South West Coast Path when they were rendered bankrupt and homeless was nearly the worst nightmare possible for me (pipped to the post by the thought of plummeting to my fiery death on a plane though that would be quicker torture than camping, right?).
Being in the thick of Autumn Semester plummeted my recreational reading to a dismally low seven books (though during lockdown years, this would have been quite the achievement) across the month of March. This thick of it includes making time today to write this post despite having nearly 200 assessment submissions waiting for me to mark. So I will be quick!
Observation note 115:Moral to the story is “do not read books when you are overwhelmingly busy”. Of the seven books, I rated none of them above a 3.5/5 stars. At best, I was only partially engaged, and at worst, I was bored and annoyed. So why did I even bother to read the books? Well…they were all library reservations which I had waited for months upon months for them to arrive. They had all been on my TBR for a long time, and some of them I had deferred from borrowing several times, so I gave up and just borrowed them at a bad time instead. I realise this is due to my own reading baggage*. Despite knowing I was strapped for time, I persisted where I probably should not have. I think that I did most of the books a disservice. I hope to post about some of them in the next week or so (after marking has been completed). I have drafted notes for the other books I read in March but I will only discuss one in this post.
Reading Note 62: Richard Fidler’s The Book of Roads and Kingdoms.
The blurb: A lost imperial city, full of wonder and marvels. An empire that was the largest the world had ever seen, established with astonishing speed. A people obsessed with travel, knowledge and adventure.
When Richard Fidler came across the account of Ibn Fadlan – a tenth-century Arab diplomat who travelled all the way from Baghdad to the cold riverlands of modern-day Russia – he was struck by how modern his voice was, like that of a twenty-first century time-traveller dropped into a medieval wilderness. On further investigation, Fidler discovered this was just one of countless reports from Arab and Persian travellers of their adventures in medieval China, India, Africa and Byzantium. Put together, he saw these stories formed a crazy quilt picture of a lost world.
The Book of Roads & Kingdoms is the story of the medieval wanderers who travelled out to the edges of the known world during Islam’s fabled Golden Age; an era when the caliphs of Baghdad presided over a dominion greater than the Roman Empire at its peak, stretching from North Africa to India. Imperial Baghdad, founded as the ‘City of Peace’, quickly became the biggest and richest metropolis in the world. Standing atop one of the city’s four gates, its founder proclaimed: Here is the Tigris River, and nothing stands between it and China.
In a flourishing culture of science, literature and philosophy, the citizens of Baghdad were fascinated by the world and everything in it. Inspired by their Prophet’s commandment to seek knowledge all over the world, these traders, diplomats, soldiers and scientists left behind the cosmopolitan pleasures of Baghdad to venture by camel, horse and boat into the unknown. Those who returned from these distant foreign lands wrote accounts of their adventures, both realistic and fantastical – tales of wonder and horror and delight.
Fidler expertly weaves together these beautiful and thrilling pictures of a dazzling lost world with the story of an empire’s rise and utterly devastating fall.
Way back in the Before Times, I named Fidler’s Ghost Empire (Reading Note 10) not only as my favourite book of 2019 but in my Top 10 books of all time. Richard Fidler is a radio presenter on the Australian public broadcaster ABC where he conducts these sublime hour-long interviews with relatively unknown but incredible people (on the rare occasion he will interview someone famous but only if they are amazing like his interview with Angela Lansbury). A few weeks earlier, a friend of mine asked me who would I invite to my ideal dinner party and Fidler was on my very short list. So when I heard that he would be the first author at my local (and reknowned) bowling club’s new monthly book group (interview with an author), I grabbed my friend Monica and I was there with bells on!
Unlike the last three months, my reading has slowed down as I am back at work and prepping for the teaching semester. However, I still managed to read (nearly) 18 books, including two books which I DNF’d – I am going to argue that reading more than 25% of a super long book counts, especially as I had to tolerate reading a book that already is boring or annoying me. Notable books which I won’t go into detail include Lea Ypi’s Free: A Child and a Country at the End of the World on living through the Albanian shift from socialism to the “free market”, David Sedaris’s Happy-Go-Lucky with a fresh series of essays including the essays on his difficult father’s death, and only one reread – Lauren Layne’s Walk of Shame which continues to be delightful and flighty reading fun. So here are my favourite five starred books for this month:
Reading Note 58: Emily Henry’s Book Lovers. I didn’t know what to expect from this book. I hadn’t read the blurb before I picked it up, and I usually avoid books with bookaholic characters (LOL – so much for readers wanting to see themselves represented in books). Nora Stephens is an urbanite. She loves her city, she loves her job, and she is not one to go on holidays. She has this small problem with (ex)boyfriends who all seem toleave her for women who live in small-towns and she is not a fan of small-town romances. However, her pregnant, younger sister Libby (named for the library app perhaps?) coerces her to spend a month in a small-town which is where her sister’s favourite book was set. Annoyed but loyal to a T, Nora agrees and joins her sister. The irony is that she keeps bumping into Charlie Lastra, an editor she knows from New York City. The story unfolds beautifully. Nora is revealed as being still-waters-run-deep, and has so many levels of worries and anxieties. I love the way that she and Charlie found commonalities in their life aims but also stuck to their own convictions, until the end moment (no spoilers but I did like the ending).
This book does get a bit meta with its mentioning of popular culture and book trope, yet it is done comfortably and the mentions fit the narrative well. Far from being clever add ins, they moved the story forward, and gave it richness. I would definitely reread this book and I certainly recommend it.
I’ve had a busy month of reading – 30 books – a book a day except for the book I was reading on 31st – I was at the 60% mark but the working year has finally kicked in and I was too busy writing workerly things to be able to finish. It has been an odd two months, as I have had no work yet I have been negotiating new teaching contracts in the in-between times. In the next few weeks, I will be going from relax-á-vous to hectic again. I will cherish the past few months of reading constantly. An opportunity I doubt I will re-experience for a long time. Meanwhile, here are my favourites from January:
Reading Note 52: Jeremiah Moss’s Feral City: On Finding Liberation in Lockdown New York. A memoir and observation of New York City once the privileged and rich fled, leaving behind those who couldn’t and those who didn’t want to leave their home. Moss explores his city in 2020 on his bike, through protests marches, with shared music and community, as the hidden and marginalised emerge from their homes to fill the void left by the “hyper-normals”. He writes about the symbolic violence “that moves through normativity, deployed through sudden movements, a certain walk, a flick of the eyes, a smirk”. He describes the smirk as a splinter biting skin, one of those invisible filament you feel but can’t quite see, a fibre of glass. The smirk is contempt, the hallmark micro-expression of hyper-normativity, it is a doing, and we are the done to”. Though Moss is discussing the contempt of a “normal” passing him by, his words cut deep into my thoughts as they clearly explain my own dislike of the “smirk” which I had not been able to articulate as clearly as Moss does. This was a striking book examining power and queerness and community in the face of pandemics and oppression. It certainly makes you question the “return to normal” push.
Reading Note 53: Mark Mazower’s Salonica, City of Ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews: 1430-1950. A long history of the multicultural, polylinguistic and polyethnic city and its changes over the centuries to a city that is unrecognisable from even a century earlier. Maxower writes in his introduction that “Change is, of course, the essence of urban life and no successful city remains a museum to its own past”. The homogenisation of this cosmopolitan city is slowly unravelled by a compelling narrative. A week later, I am still smarting and feeling the grief of the Great Catastrophe, with the awful consequences of the population swap of Turkish and Greek people, forced from their ancestral land, It doesn’t escape me that today is the 100 year commemoration of this devastating period in history which continues to have reverberations across the world. Following this was the devastation resulting from the German occupation in World War II and their eradication of the Jewish citizens of Salonica. This was a sombre read, and I will definitely be seeking out more books to read by Mark Mazower.
Reading Note 54: Sabina Hahn’s Pineapple Princess is a funny, glamorous, tasty, bug-filled picture-book with sass and delight. I love this story. Buy it for your kids, your friends’ kids, your libraries and your storytimes.
Reading Note 56: Amanda Montell’s Cultish: The Language of Fanaticism explores the language that is used by cults – from fringe religious sects to yoga and exercise crazes and the cult of retail. Montell focuses upon the power of language used to entice and compel people into cults. Montell also provides the tools of understanding the difference between a fad, a religious groups and the cray-cray. I listened to this on audiobook with my husband and we were constantly stopping it to examine our own response to charismatic people, as well as thinking about the people we know who sadly have been consumed by organisations and movements that mimic cults, causing them harm and by default, causing harm to their loved ones.
Reading Note 57: Lana del Rey’s Violet Bent Backwards Over the Grass is a beautifully produced audiobook of del Rey narrating her poetry. Just play it on auto-loop. It is wonderful.
A belated Happy New Year to you all. My plan had been to post this list early in January, but the weather was lovely and we were on summer holidays and frankly swimming and visiting came ahead of writing. And then, a week ago, after three years of hiding, lockdowns, isolations, vaccinations, masking up and going out, I was finally felled by the plague. Covid hit me early on Tuesday morning and it was painful and sudden, with all the expectant symptoms. Due to having been hospitalised in August of last year with RSV (ambulance dash to the resuscitation unit at my local hospital and an ensuing protracted illness and recovery) meant I was on the high risk list and I received antivirals within a few hours of testing positive and I have been bed bound and isolating ever since. The meds have worked, I am still isolating so I have turned my time into writing for the blog, and gratefully I tested negative just yesterday.
Up until late October of 2022, my reading continued to be fractured and interrupted by life and all its oddities, however, in late October, I felt like my pre-PhD, pre-uni reading mojo was back, having read 70 books from November onwards – over double for the rest of the year. And that reading mojo also had me giving 5 stars to 25 books – a quarter of all I read! I think it is a bit much to go into depth with all 25 books (though 11 of those were picture books), I will have a brief description of my absolute favourites and only list the rest.
This was such a deep, slow burn of a romance. A flirty, confident heroine, with an awkward foot-in-mouth nerdy hero (who doesn’t turn into a swan). I loved who thoughtfully the main protagonists in this story grew and developed throughout this story. The hero John Modesto-Whitford is a serious man not taken to having fun, serious about his public defender job, serious about not allowing his rich father contribute to his life. He presents as boring but still-waters-run-deep and this man… ““John was being active. Inside the walls of this crumbling but noble building, he was never passive. He was doing something about that complicated world. Each hour of concentration he lent to his cases he was making the world a more just, fair place.” ….this man is a fair man. Just swoon.
Love and Other Puzzles by Kimberley Allsopp.
What an absolute delightful book. I loved the way it was written, the protagonist’s cheeky, clear eyed voice, it was just fun. It was more chick-lit than romance, Rory is devoted to her rigid routines, judges life by the rom-com openings they reflect, and how well they reflect them, and doesn’t really cope when things are out of place. Until she decides that she needs to break her routine so she allows the clues in the New York Times crossword puzzles dictate her life decisions. In the space of a week, her life is changed. I loved it.
Inheritance: A Memoir of Genealogy, Paternity, and Love – Dani Shapiro
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez
Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Julia Baird
Fierce Attachments by Vivian Gornick
A City is Not a Computer by Shannon Mattern
The Crane Wife: A Memoir in Essays by C.J. Hauser
Best of the Non-fiction Best:
Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things That Sustain You When the World Goes Dark by Julia Baird. An Australian author, journalist exploring the world of phosphorescence and how to find our own internal light. This book worked for me but I think it did this because I was in an unusual headspace even for myself. I read it only a few weeks after my hospitalisation and it spoke to that darkest part of ourselves, especially as I had stopped breathing on two occasions and it was difficult to comprehend the severity of what I was experiencing. This book made me consider how I think about things that give me awe.
Some of quotes that I felt deeply included “Keep in mind that the most important quality in a person is goodness” and “Don’t make the mistake of dismissing decency as dullness” (p. 139) Especially that last one, oh the amount of women I have known who craved the “bad boy” for romance and mistreated the decent man as dull. It always angered me.
“It might take you decades to speak up about things that matter to you, but, being able to speak your truth is a vital part of being human, of walking with certainty and openness on the earth, and refusing to be afraid. Once you have found your voice, you must resist every person who will tell you to bury or bottle it.” (p. 151). This quote stung me. I felt much more outspoken prior to my PhD and somehow, I find that 2 years later, I still haven’t got my voice back. I have stopped trying to get it back too. I hope with time it will come back.
Stacey’s Remearkable books by Stacey Abrams
When Molly Ate the Stars Joyce Hesselberth
The Octopus Escapes by Maile Meloy
Blankie by Ben Clanton
Julián is a Mermaid by Jessica Love
I love you like by Lisa Swerling
Moonlight by Stephen Savage
The Perfect Tree by Corinne Demas
If You Were A City by Kyo Maclear
It Had To Be You by Loryn Brantz
Prince & Knight by Daniel Haack
Best of the Picture book Best:
When Molly Ate The Stars by Joyce Hesselberth was slow, bright, starry, delightful and light. It had an ethereal sense to it that just made me happy.
Blankie by Ben Clanton is a board book with rhythms and humour. It would just be delightful fun to read to a toddler.
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
in a futuristic dystopian American West.
Like, I really don’t think I need to describe it any further.
This is a must read.
Just for the cray-cray.
The Best What-the-fuck-did-I-just-read book of the year
And just because I feel I need to make a comment…I did read a Lynne Graham novel this year and yes it made me happy and made me laugh.But I have comments!
Promoted to the Greek’s Wife: An Uplifting International Romance by Lynne Graham
Let’s start with the novel. It was the usual angsty Graham novel which engages in love, romance, rich entitled men and poor waifish women who get the hots with each other while they jetset around the world while navigating the difficulties of unconventional families. Heroine Cleo, billionaire hero Ari, work romance (though they call it before it gets unethical – Lynne’s gone woke!). Lots of tension. Lots of foster kids, lots of social issues and lots of love. This book was fun and I really enjoyed it.
However, there is a particularly large elephant in the room. That large elephant is the subtitle.
An uplifting International Romance.
AN UPLIFTING INTERNATIONAL ROMANCE!
AN UPLIFTING INTERNATIONAL ROMANCE?????
I had to check my book cover. Had I accidently picked up an Inspirational romance? Has Lynne Graham stopped writing Sexy’s?
What is happening?
This is not my Mills & Boon and I really don’t like it.
Inspirational kiss my big fat Greek-Australian arse!
This book was many things but it was not uplifting and it certainly wasn’t inspirational. But it definitely was fun.
Observation Note 112: Starting over. As I do every January, I start out with a post of my favourite books. But this year, that post is running late so instead, I’m going to mess with the natural order of things and do my first post on SuperWendy’s TBR reading challenge. Last year, I only managed to post in the first half of the year. However, let’s just say I was busier reading than writing. I did manage to read through a big chunk of my TBR which is my ass-backwards way of kicking off on the theme of Starting Over. Well….let me tell you how I took charge of my 220 TBR waiting-to-read books that had accumulated on my Goodreads over the 10 years I have been documenting my reading habits…
Observation Note 113: Looking back. So let’s start in November, I was heading to the Blue Mountains a few hours west of Sydney for an academic writer’s retreat where I was going to try to be scholarly and thinkerly (true word). I was being driven by a friend in what I would call a white-knuckle drive on a Friday afternoon crazy Sydney motorway weekend exit frenzy, when I saw a friend contacted me via Twitter (yes – I am still there and happy to accept the side-eyes) to tell me that Queens Public Library in New York City had an overseas non-US citizens membership availability. For US$50, I got to subscribe to the most incredible elibrary. So I paid and added that sweet library to my Libby app for I now had some procrastinating reading to do rather than writing.
Have I been reading a book a day for the past three months. I sure have! Have I been reading in bed? Yes I have. Have I been reading instead of watching TV. Damn yes! Have I been reading instead of swimming. Ummm….no. Even I have reading boundaries. I can’t read when the harbour view is astounding!
Well…my list has gone from 221 books to 121. 100 books are off my TBR. Of those 100, I have read 44, I have another 12 on hold, and another 44 which were reassessed off the TBR list – some due to sampling the first few chapters and finding I was no longer interested, and others just deleting as I couldn’t work out why or when I had added them. Of course, in the last week, I accidentally added another 10 to my TBR want-to-read list but I am not counting them here. Also, no book cover pics – I hate this wordpress layout. It makes adding images a nightmare.
So now for some of the more notable books I read:
Reading note 47: The Longest Wait
The Trouble with Joe by Emilie Richards.
I added this book, published in 1994, on the 29th of September, 2012 and read it on the 17th of November, 2022. A 10 year, 2 month wait. I have read and kept several Emilie Richards category romances from the 1990s so I was familiar with the calibre of the authors writing. She usually grapples with issues of the self, overcoming problems not necessarily of love, but of pressures that society can bring to a couple. The love between the protagonists is undeniable, however they are grappling with Joe’s infertility problems. Joe’s wife Samantha is a teacher and she has a neglected child, Corey, in her class. Over the summer holidays, the two of them find themselves as foster carers for Corey, unravelling a lot of emotions around what it means to be parents, have family, responsibility, love and neglect. This is the only romance I recall reading which also gives the child’s point of view and it adds such depth to the story. It was well worth the 10 year wait to read it.
Reading Note 48: The Best Wait.
Cara Bastone. About two years ago, in a catch-up conversation with Jayashree Kamblé, she recommended to me to try and find some Cara Bastone books to read. There were none in any of Sydney’s library systems so I left the recommendation hanging in the TBR. So I was delighted to find 3 of Bastone’s books at Queens Library: When We First Met, Can’t Help Falling and Flirting with Forever. All three novels had these fully fleshed, deeply understandable characters – not only the main protagonists but all their neighbours and friends and colleagues. The setting felt known and lived in, well understood, I felt like I could smell the air of the city through her writing. And the relationships, well they too were these nuanced courtship tales, thoughtful of differences and the tensions that can bring people together. I particularly loved the hero from Flirting with Forever. In the opening scene of the book, he comes across as awkward and thoughtless but as the book unfolds, you discover a deeply thoughtful, principled man with grace and reason. I highly recommend you seek out Cara Baston’s books.
Reading Note 49: Most Annoying Wait.
To Sir With Love by Lauren Lane – I cannot tell you how frustrated I’ve been with my public library where I had a long-standing purchase request with them for this book in 2021. It was finally satisfied 14 months after I placed the request, so my reserve on the request expired and it got borrowed by other people and I had another 3 month wait and I was just furious and annoyed and I just didn’t bother going and it was so much more pleasurable reading it online. 14 months wait and a shitty reservations system – just do better, Sydney.
Reading Note 50: Yeah books from the TBR.
Some of my reading highlights from the last three months.
Blended by Sharon Draper. This was on my TBR since 2018. A children’s novel about mixed race young girl dealing with her divorced parents and her difficult experience. This is a book about seeking your belonging, grappling with your parents custody issues, the concept of home, and how race and identity can differ depending upon which parent you are with. A good read.
Accidentally Engaged by Farah Heron. This is one my favourite books for this year so I won’t write too much about it on this post as I still plan to do a 2022 post in the next few days. Basically, this is fun, family dynamics, Tanzanian-Gujurati-British-Canadian migrant story, lots of food, lots of cultural expectations and cultural pushback all set in lovely Canada. A great read.
Anne of Manhattan by Brina Staler. Thoroughly Modern 21st century fanfiction of Anne of Green Gables as young adults living in Manhattan. It’s well-written and I really liked the book. The author definitely captured the (kindred) spirit of of Anne and Gilbert and their connection though it had quite a different plot trajectory. Well worth the two year wait to read it.
Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Pérez. I wrote about this book in my previous post (Reading Note 46).
Tweet Cute by Emma Lord. A YA/teenage romance conducted across several social media platforms as well as being set in a New York high school. The usual teen coming of age issues compounded by pressures from parents especially around insisting their older teens making corporate social media decisions. It was complex, it was good, I really liked it. Well worth waiting to read it since 2019.
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing. A memoir reflecting on the loneliness of the city, seeking connections and not finding them, the impact of the AIDS crisis, and how artists such as Andy Warhol and Edward Hopper grappled with their own loneliness. Impactful and wonderful. Another well worth waiting for since 2019.
Reading Note 51: Meh books from the TBR.
I am so far from the zeitgeist on these ones. Many of them are lauded as “hits” and “must-read” stars of booktok and romancetok. If this is the future of romance fiction, I will cry.
The Roommate by Rosie Danan. Bleh. Call me a prude. Porn hero was boring. The plot was inane (seriously – the heroine leaves her city to keep a low profile and then hooks up with a high profile porn star just doesn’t make sense) and there was zero tension. Just. waffle.
Below Zero by Ali Hazelwood. Double Bleh. I totally cannot stand the “smart” heroine romance trend. Let’s face it. All these STEM heroines are just another iteration of targeted career-girl romance novels. And this one – well the heroine may have had a high IQ but she was definitely lacking in emotional intelligence. Imagine cracking onto your research project’s interviewee IN HIS WORKPLACE! That’s is serious misconduct. Not sexy. A breach of work health and safety too. Just no.
Corner Office Confessions by Cynthia St. Aubin. Great title. The story didn’t grab me.
Dial A for Aunties by Jesse Sutanto. SPOILER ALERT FOR THIS ONE. Everyone raves about this book as being hilarious and great and I will admit that it started out that way – just super super funny and cheeky. But then the main character Meddelin accidently kills her date (who was catfished by her mother!) and rather than call emergency services, get him to a hospital, go to the police, etc., like a normal person would, she shoves him in the boot, takes him to her aunts where they hide him in a freezer and all of a sudden I am reading horror murder meets Weekend at Bernies. I know that I should be able to overlook all the problems in this book and haha have a laugh but IT WAS GHOULISH! A (fictional) person died. Someone has to care. Someone has to pay. And they didn’t. And I just couldn’t. Just say no!
The Wedding Party by Jasmine Guillory. Look, the premise was great – I do love a hook-up becomes lurvvve story and Guillory writes some lovely witty repartee but she substitutes way too much food in her novels for her lack of sexy times. Unlike Farah Heron’s book, the food is a prop in this novel, it beefs up the novel (sorry, not sorry) but it doesn’t further the plot. Not that books need detailed sex, but good god – that constant eating annoyed me. Waiting since February 2019.
The Two Lives of Lydia Bird by Josie Silver. A sliding doors story. Great premise, ho-hum delivery. It didn’t do it for me. Waiting since January 2020.
Time is a Mother by Ocean Vuoung. Listening to the audio narration also by Vuong was the wrong thing for me. Whispered wistful poetry is totally not my thing. I couldn’t bear it but I persisted to the end. Perhaps I would have liked the poetry better if I had just read the text, but now the poet’s voice is in my head and it won’t work for me. Suited to a whole different type of person. Frustrated at the anticipation of waiting since 2019 for On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous but opting for the 2022 publication instead due to availability.
Moral to the story is: stick with the book you have already listed on the TBR
Observation Note 114: In conclusion.
I feel so pleased with my overhaul of my TBR. I am so happy that Queens library membership has slayed my seven year reading slump, and I will definitely be renewing it for as long as it is offered to non-US citizens.
As for my procrastination during my writing retreat…it was a successful enough attempt at being “scholarly” that it kickstarted my re-engagement with a journal article which had been accepted pending revisions which I hadn’t completed for many different reasons. I managed to finish it and submit it a month later. I think the deep diving into the TBR reading probably energised me as much as the retreat, if not more so. Thanks, Super Wendy!
Occasionally I write not-so-shallow articles. This week my essay The Library Agrafa was published in The Aleph Review a Pakistani journal for creative expression. Here is an excerpt:
This story was anathema to me. It lacked the necessary romance and love that I would read about in the novels that I would buy from the newsagency on my way home from the one-room children’s library, arms laden with books borrowed and books bought. Romance to me was a meeting of two people who share a feeling of intimacy, desire, a visceral connection. Marrying for a business transaction, the joining of two large herds, lacked spark, lacked the necessary frisson of a dramatic coming together.
May has been a challenging month with very little pleasure reading. Once again, I am using SuperWendy’s TBR challenge theme for May “Tales of Old” to guide my post.
Observation 103: Same old same old back to being busy busy. Between running workshops for the road safety organisation that I work for (hmmmm – did I mention this weird and out-of-the-ordinary new career move???? I don’t teach driving LOL I instruct on the affect of emotions/moods on driving decisions), I have been teaching a citizenship and communications subject at the university, and I was a tad preoccupied with the Federal election (well….how could I not be happy with the new Prime Minister Anthony Albanese – he is my local member, he is not a right-wing misogynistic theocratic liar, and his first visit as the new PM was to Marrickville Library, the cultural heart of the community. He did not go to the pub or to a church but instead went to the most inclusive public space dedicated to keeping people informed. I think this speaks volumes as to the evolved role of 21st century libraries as secular, participatory and social meeting places for the exchange of public knowledge but it also speaks volumes to the new approach our change of government is heralding). All this busy-ness has meant that I have not read any books or magazines or anything at all close to pleasure reading. Even my viewing is nearly at zero – a bit of Mike Myers’ The Pentavarate (meh), a couple of Season 2 episodes of Bridgerton (hooked but waiting to binge-watch the rest), and I could only get through 20 minutes of Senior Year (Rebel Wilson can only play one character, right?).
Observation 104: Tales of Mould. Sydney (and much of the East coast of Australia) has been deluged in a La Nina. There have been devastating floods across the state, especially in the north at Lismore, and on the outskirts of Sydney. I don’t know anyone who has not had some sort of water damage, either from leaks, mud, but mostly the mould that is growing everywhere. As I am allergic to mould, I am knocking myself out with fans and heaters trying to keep the house dry, but it has been hopeless. Clothes have mould, shoes have mould, couches have mould everywhere. Some I have washed and treated, others I have happily discarded. It doesn’t help that my kitchen has had water leaks. Every time it rains, I put out towels and blankets to soak up the water. On the worst day we had over 20 leaks. The walls are stained and so is my ceiling. I can’t fault our insurance company who ensured we weren’t in danger but any repairs understandably have to wait while more urgent cases are dealt with. But the absolutely worst discovery of all, was finding my books in the sunroom/study have mould shot throughout them. Devastatingly, I threw out over 400 books. I may have cried.
Reading Note 44: My Book Grief. Like so many avid readers, I tend to keep my books, especially those which hold meaning and significance for me. Shelved throughout my home, they give me comfort. Many were gifts. Many I have read and reread and rereread and travelled with and slept with and swatted with and marked with and just relished in the memories they gave me. Some were gifts and others were inherited, inscribed by myself, by friends, by my parents-in-law. Many were read to my sons who pawed over them, sucked on them, chewed on them, drew on them, read on them. Hours and hours, days, months, years and decades of my reading life – novels, true stories, comics, travel guides. All marked with mould. They were too far damaged to keep especially with the impact they could have on my asthma. They are all now in the recycling bin. Here are just some photos to memorialise my book grief:
A Truman Capote Reader: I remember my older sister buying this book. We shared a bedroom at the time and we kept our books in this large white bookcase with glass sliding doors one of which was broken. In the same week she bought this book, she was given a second copy which she told me I could have. I remember starting with Breakfast at Tiffany’s as I had seen the movie. I then read through all the rest of the short stories, I have only vague recollections of them, with the exception of Capote writing about Marilyn Monroe
Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Hot Chocolate: I can’t recall who recommended I read this book but I know that it was well before the 1992 movie was released. Take note that the book has its original title, its later editions (and the movie) being called Like Water for Chocolate. I always was annoyed at this change in the title. The recipe in the book is all about using water rather than milk for hot chocolate. This recipe intrigued me as my Θείο Νικολάκη (Uncle Nikolaki) made hot chocolate in his coffee house in my mum’s village in this way.
A.C. Weisbecker’s Cosmic Banditos: This was a library discovery. The collection librarian where I worked was a total book snob and would snort if I suggested he purchase any romances but he was 100% on board for buying kitsch, weird, absurdist novels for me when I would find them reviewed in the international trade publications. I was deeply amused by Cosmic Banditos and its premise of a band of drug runners in Columbia having stolen a physics professor’s suitcase. They discover his textbook manuscript which they proceed to read and then debate over quantum physics and the meaning of life. I bought this copy for myself, and years later found out that the book had a cult readership having failed in bookshops but having taken off in US army barracks once Weisbecker sent his remainder copies to troops. At least, this is what I recall – it has been thirty years so I am happy to be corrected.
Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveller’s Wife: I’m quite sure that I first saw this book being reserved, borrowed, returned at the library where I worked on the circulation desk every Sunday while I wrote HTML code for the district “virtual library” website in 2002-2005. These were pre-web2.0 days and I was writing and coordinating content for this site, an early iteration of work-from-home with the first manager of the project which was slammed by the manager who took over. She was infuriated that I coded at home and insisted I sat in a library office to do the exact same thing. Sound familiar??? Anyway, these were book-slump, reading desert years when I had babies and I read nothing at all. Between running from this job to my TAFE library educator job (community college for the non-Australian readers), and taking care of my sons, reading was a past pleasure until, one day, I have no idea what compelled me, I sat down and read The Time Traveller’s Wife in the one sitting. I started some time after lunch and I finished it at 3am. It was the first novel I read in 7 years and it was enough to fire me up again, starting me on a book binge that propelled me into further study.
Gary Larson’s The Far Side: These Far Side anthologies belong to my husband who is forever amused by Gary Larson especially the cow comics. Absurd and anthropomorphised animals going about having human lives, Larson’s quirky and gentle humour held such an appeal for both of us, and both these books were early dip-in-and-out reads for us, though I don’t think we had done so for over a decade.
Spalding Gray’s Monster in a Box: As a young uni student in the late 1980s and early 1990s, I depended on cheap and free movies for much of my entertainment. One place I would frequent was the long ago shut down Valhalla movie theatre, halfway down Glebe Point Road in Glebe. I would go and watch cheap pics there all the time, often on my own, and often with no knowledge of what I was going to watch. On such a day, I sat down in the Valhalla, and on the screen came a talking head, ruminating on love, life and himself. A one-and-a-half hour documentary that sent me into indie bookshops in search of Gray’s books.
Tama Janowitz’s American Dad: I loved Janowitz’s books. I know I had read all of them, but I only own one. The pity is, that as much as I recall loving her books, I do not recall anything about them. The sense of the book is greater than the story it told.
Hugh Lunn’s Over the Top With Jim: An Australian journalists childhood memoir, I remember loving Lunn’s writing style. At a time when Australia was venerating Clive James’s childhood memoirs (which were ok but a tad boring in comparison to his TV show at that time), Lunn shined gently for those who wanted someone who actually liked and lived in Australia rather than Clive’s Aussie who has escaped Australia reflections. I also threw out Clive James’s books but I didn’t take photos of them.
Amanda Filipacci’s Nude Men: Though I enjoyed it at the time, I think that this book can’t have aged well. I recall a messed up sex scene and I am too scared to revisit the book for a reread. Not all favourites need to be reread, right?
Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary: No, I will never reread this book. But I wanted the symbolism of it on my shelf. The book that shifted so much understanding of women back in the nineties.
Various classics: I threw out many tattered, moist classics. I guess I should be upset but knowing that I can download digital copies free from Project Gutenberg or buy cheap new copies, I wasn’t really fussed. I’m much more upset about the out-of-print books I had to throw out.
Reading Note 45: Four decades of reading life. There were so many other books that I didn’t photograph that have now been sent for pulping. Children’s books, with Where’s Wally being thrown away alongside Babette Cole, Roald Dahl, Nick Sharrat, fairy tale retellings and so many others. All my travel guides from my carefree intrepid years. Those tomes with dog-eared and tattered pages. Some water stains. Some oily stains. The occasional food and coffee stains. Pen marks and highlighters, some sticky post-it notes, my trips around Europe, the shops I chose, the accomodation I chose. These books showed my reading life trajectory, my fleeting interests, my impulse buys, my keeper buys with their marginalia, these books showing my life route, my travel maps. It saddens me that I had to throw them out. I did not feel the same grief when I discarded my old e-reader.
Oddly enough, though all these mould ridden books sat side-by-side with my Mills-&-Boon collection, it was the other books that were affected. Fortuitously, all but 5 of the romances were fine. Not even a spot of mould. A lot to be said for good paper stock.
My shelves are now bare. I’ve cleaned them with vinegar and detergent as I have not been able to find oil of cloves anywhere. Now to decide what I can risk putting on these shelves.
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!
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.
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.