Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Everything is F*cked: A Book About Hope by Mark Manson

Last year I read The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck out of curiosity. Everyone seemed to be talking about the book and it was one of our bestsellers at work but I was convinced that it was just another self-help book...with swear words.

I was right; and I was wrong.

It does have loads of swear words and it is a kind of self-help book, but it turned out to be more than that. It was actually useful and practical advice on how to become a fully functioning adult. It was a personal journal by one man that also gave the reader permission to reflect on their own personal journey in a constructive way. It was mostly done by looking through the lens of Buddhism.

Then along comes book 2 - Everything Is F*cked: A Book About Hope

It is and isn't about hope.

Mostly it's about how to become the best adult you can be. How to give up our childish and adolescent thinking and move towards maturity, virtue and humanity. 

This time the lens is philosophy. 

Manson distils the essence of Plato, Newton, Einstein, Kant, Nietzsche and Freud into easy to read, modern day language with contemporary examples. Anyone who has ever tried to read these guys in the original, knows that unless you have the time, energy, interest or motivation, that they present as being pretty dense, of-their-time, academic writing not easily accessible to the lay person.

Manson takes all that academic research and thought and not only tweaks it for a young, modern audience, but also makes it relevant to our present day lives. He talks about the Thinking Brain and Feeling Brain, our sense of control and purpose, our beliefs and values and happiness. But like the first book, it is mostly about becoming an adult. And not just any adult, but the best adult you can be.

He covers off childish thinking and adolescent thinking and shows up what adult thinking actually looks. 

I think these books are great. Despite the swearing. Perhaps I'm getting used to Manson's style but I didn't notice as many F-bombs in this book as the first.

Adulting seems to be a real thing at the moment and books like these remind us that becoming an adult is a lifelong journey, with specific cultural signposts to mark the way. Manson also tells us that humankind has been literally pondering this issue ever since time began. It is not a new thing. It mostly boils down to the way we think and feel and choose to act that defines us as adults. And it's never too late to start.

I noted lots of passages throughout the book on my Goodreads page - so I've transferred them here to have them all in one spot.

Don't be put off by the title. If you have a Gen Z, young adult or millennial or two in your life, then these two books would be perfect gifts for them...and for you too.

Photo by Joshua Newton on Unsplash
  • Because, in the infinite expanse of space/time, the universe does not care whether you mother's hip replacement goes well, or your kids attend college, or your boss thinks you made a bitching spreadsheet. It doesn't care if the Democrats or the Republicans win the presidential election. You care. You care, & you desperately convince yourself that because you care, it all must have some great cosmic meaning behind it.
  • The opposite of happiness is not anger or sadness. If you're angry or sad, that means you still give a f*ck about something.
  • The opposite of happiness is hopelessness, an endless grey horizon of resignation and indifference.
  • Hopelessness is the root of anxiety, mental illness and depression. It is the source of all misery & the cause of all addiction. 
  • Hope narratives are what give our lives a sense of purpose. 
  • An irrational sense of hopelessness is spreading across the rich, developed world. It's a paradox of progress: the better things get, the more anxious and desperate we all seem to feel.
  • To build and maintain hope, we need three things: a sense of control, a belief in the value of something and a community. 
  • The overindulgence of emotion leads to a crisis of hope, but so does the repression of emotion. 
  • You don't get to control your feelings, Thinking Brain. Self-control is an illusion....
    But here's what you do have, Thinking Brain. You may not have self-control, but you do have meaning control. This is your superpower....You get to decipher them however you see's the meaning that we ascribe our feelings that can often alter how the Feeling Brain reacts to them.
    And this is how you produce hope. 
  • People are liars, all of us. We lie constantly & habitually. We lie about important things and trifling things. And we usually don't lie out of malice - rather, we lie to others because we're in such a habit of lying to ourselves. 
  • When we stop valuing something, it ceases to be fun or interesting to us. Therefore, there is no sense of loss, no sense of missing out when we stop doing it. On the contrary, we look back and wonder how we spent so much time caring about such a silly, trivial thing....These pangs of regret or embarrassment are good: they signify growth. 
  • We all possess some degree of narcissism...
    We all overestimate our skills and intentions and underestimate the skills and intentions of others...
    We all tend to believe that we are honest and ethical than we actually are...
  • The only thing that can ever truly destroy a dream is to have it come true.
  • Each religion is a faith-based attempt to explain reality in such a way that it gives people a steady stream of hope...
    Every religion runs into the sticky problem of evidence. 
  • The scientific revolution eroded the dominance of spiritual religions and made way for the dominance of ideological religions. 
  • Hope for nothing. Hope for what already is - because hope is ultimately empty...
    Hope for this. Hope for the opportunity and oppression present in every single moment. Hope for the suffering that comes with freedom. For the pain that comes from happiness. For the wisdom that comes from ignorance. For the power that comes from surrender.
    And then act despite it.
  • This is our act without hope. To not hope for better. To BE better. In this moment and the next. And the next. And the next.
    Everything is fucked. And hope is both the cause and the effect of the fuckedness.
  • In the same way that the adolescent realises that there's more to the world than the child's pleasure or pain, the adult realises that there's more to the world than the adolescent's constant bargaining for validation, approval and satisfaction. Becoming an adult is therefore developing the ability to what is right for the simple reason that it is right. 
  • The difference between a child, an adolescent and an adult is not how old they are or what they do, but WHY they do something. 
  • Essentially what good parenting boils down helping them to understand that life is far more complicated than their own impulses or desires...children who are abused and children who are coddled often end up with the same issues when they become adults: they remain stuck in their childhood value system.
  • The pursuit of happiness is not only self-defeating but also pursuing happiness, you paradoxically make it less attainable.
  • While pain is inevitable, suffering is always a choice.
    That there is always a separation between what we experience and how we interpret that experience.
  • The pursuit of happiness is, then, an avoidance of growth, an avoidance of maturity, an avoidance of virtue. 
  • The quality of our lives is determined by the quality of our character, and the quality of our character is determined by our relationship to our pain. 
  • The only true form of freedom, the only ethical form of not the privilege of choosing everything you want in your life, but rather, choosing what you will give up in your life...
    Diversions come and go. Pleasure never lasts. Variety loses its meaning.
  • Don't hope for better. Just BE better.
    Be something better. Be more compassionate, more resilient, more humble, more a better human.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Stories and Shout Outs

I Am Reading:

  • The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (readalong)
  • Blakwork by Alison Whittaker (poetry)
  • Circe by Madeline Miller (20booksofsummerwinter)
  • Strong in the Rain: Surviving Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Disaster By Lucy Birmingham & David McNeill (drop in)

Read But Not Reviewed:

  • Mika & Max by Laura Bloom

Goodreads Reviews of Kids Books:

My Week:

Despite the shorter long weekend Monday week, this week still felt like a full working week (i.e. trying to squeeze too many things into too short a time!)
However one of the nice things that got squeezed in on Wednesday night was a harbour cruise around the Vivid Sydney lights.

On My Radar:

  • Paris in July (yippee! I have a couple of Maigret's, some more Guy de Maupassant short stories & a memoir by Herve le Tellier called All Happy Families to look forward to this July).
  • Summer Winter Reverse Readathon (8pm Friday 2nd August to 3rd August at 8pm, Eastern Standard Time - which means I will be reading in Sydney from 10am Saturday 3rd August until 10am Sunday 4th August)
  • Moby Dick Readalong (August+)

Keeping An Eye On:

  • Chernobyl - we've started recording it as our next series to get into now that Game of Thrones is done and dusted. The hard part will be making time to, you know, actually watch it!
  • The weather - we have a lunchtime beachside wedding to attend tomorrow - how many layers will I need to feel warm enough and still look glamorous!?

Strange, But True:

  • In Sydney people think it's a grand idea to have a beachside wedding in winter!

New To The Pile:

  • Figuring by Maria Popova
  • Ordinary People by Diana Evans
  • Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson
  • The Heavens by Sandra Newman
  • The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
  • We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet
  • No Friend But the Mountain by Behrouz Boochani
  • Gun Island by Amitav Ghosh
  • Imperium by Robert Harris
  • The Widows of Malabar Hill by Sujata Massey

Shout Outs:

  • FanFiction has taken a wander around her TBR pile and created a post that is inspiring other bloggers to do the same (I suspect I will soon join the ranks!)
  • The copycats so far:
  • Books Please 
  • Booker Talk
  • NancyElin

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

A Cat, A Man And Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki

The Japanese have a curious relationship with cats in their literature. It's intense, tender, humane, faithful and compassionate.

Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna or A Cat, A Man and Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki is a short novel that is a prime example of this feline devotion.

There are oodles of gorgeous descriptions of cats being cats, that any cat lover will know and love intimately - from cats snuggling up with you under the covers on a cold night, to stretching up to put their front paws on your thighs, begging for a tempting morsel of your dinner.

But this particular cat, Lily, becomes a bone of contention, a tug-o-war between the two women and the man in the title. Lily's fine cat behaviours are only appreciated by her male owner, Shozo. His two wives are jealous of his dedication and love for Lily.

First wife, Shinako is banished in favour of the new wife, Fukuko, who cleverly professes her love for cats...that lasts as long as it takes her to realise how much time and how much attention Shozo actually showers on Lily.

Shinako decides to get back at Shozo by requesting Lily as part of her divorce settlement. Fukuko agrees to the arrangement, although she is then concerned that Shinako is only doing so to get Shozo to visit her, to see Lily, in the hope she can win him back. Such dastardly, manipulative actions by everyone concerned litter the entire story. And don't get me started on Shozo's ghastly mother trying to orchestrate herself into a financially comfortable retirement by bringing in a wealthier daughter-in-law.

All this is done so subtly and gently by Tanizaki, though, that you barely realise how awful they are until the very end. Lily is the shining star of this story - the only one with any integrity, who remained true to her own nature the entire time.

I suspect there are also some subtle conventions about Japanese society that Tanizaki was exploring here as well - Shinako's mention of her lack of education. The specific locales that each woman was raised in. Lily's status as a Western breed, "with soft, silky fur: a pretty female, unusually elegant in form and features". These are all typical Tanizaki themes according to Tony Malone, who says in WHO IS JUNICHIRO TANIZAKI? Quarterly Conversation published on March 12, 2018,

One of these is Tanizaki’s interest in the world outside Japan and his examination of the effect that foreign culture was having on the Japanese way of life at the time of writing...
Tanizaki was also an astute observer of differences within his country...
Tanizaki has one other recurring focus; even a cursory glance at his work will reveal an obsession with the erotic and the female form...
He is clearly a man of many faces: a serious writer with a fascination for tradition and the past; an observer of cultural differences, both internal and external; a man obsessed with women, at times denigrating them, but at others acknowledging their mastery over men; a writer always looking to experiment with a variety of styles and genres. Above all, though, Tanizaki is a man we may be unable to measure by means of his writing, as what we see is what he wants us to see.

Favourite Character: Lily of course

Favourite Quote:
A soft, velvety, furry thing began silently working its way under the top quilt. Lily pushed with her head, burrowing down to the foot of the bed where she roamed about for a while before climbing back up. Putting her head inside the breast of Shinako's nightgown, she stopped moving, and after a while began to purr, very loudly and happily.

My cat Maisie, used to do exactly the same thing.

Favourite of Forget: The adult characters were less than admirable, but Tanizaki's descriptions of Lily's behaviour were so delightful that any cat lover will be won over.

  • Tanizaki was born 24th July 1886 and died 30th July 1965.
  • He was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964.
  • He translated The Tale of Genji from old Japanese into the modern language.
  • A Cat, A Man And Two Women was translated by Paul McCarthy
  • The Tanizaki Prize was established in 1965 by the publishing company Chūō Kōronsha. It is awarded annually to a work of fiction or drama of the highest literary merit by a professional writer.

Books in Publication Order:
  • 1910 刺青 Shisei "The Tattooer"
  • 1913 恐怖 Kyōfu "Terror" 
  • 1918 金と銀 Kin to Gin "Gold and Silver"
  • 1919 富美子の足 Fumiko no ashi "Fumiko's Legs"
  • 1921 私 Watakushi "The Thief"
  • 1922 青い花 Aoi hana "Aguri"
  • 1924 痴人の愛 Chijin no Ai Naomi a.k.a. A Fool's Love
  • 1926 友田と松永の話 Tomoda to Matsunaga no hanashi "The Strange Case of Tomoda and Matsunaga"
  • 1926 青塚氏の話 Aotsukashi no hanashi "Mr. Bluemound"
  • 1928–1930 卍 Manji Quicksand
  • 1929 蓼喰う蟲 Tade kuu mushi Some Prefer Nettles
  • 1931 吉野葛 Yoshino kuzu Arrowroot
  • 1932 蘆刈 Ashikari The Reed Cutter
  • 1933 春琴抄 Shunkinshō "A Portrait of Shunkin"
  • 1933 陰翳礼讃 In'ei Raisan In Praise of Shadows
  • 1935 武州公秘話 Bushukō Hiwa The Secret History of the Lord of Musashi
  • 1936 猫と庄造と二人の女 Neko to Shōzō to Futari no Onna A Cat, A Man, and Two Women
  • 1943–1948 細雪 Sasameyuki The Makioka Sisters
  • 1949 少将滋幹の母 Shōshō Shigemoto no haha Captain Shigemoto's Mother
  • 1956 鍵 Kagi The Key
  • 1957 幼少時代 Yōshō Jidai Childhood Years: A Memoir
  • 1961 瘋癲老人日記 Fūten Rōjin Nikki Diary of a Mad Old Man
Book 3 of #20BooksofSummer (winter)
I finished this book on the Monday of our Queens birthday long weekend, where Sydney enjoyed a glorious 22℃ winter's day.
Summer in Dublin reached 15℃!

Sunday, 9 June 2019

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

What a hoot!

I wasn't expecting a neo-noir comedy from such a grim title, but I had some genuine laugh out loud moments throughout My Sister, the Serial Killer. Oyinkan Braithwaite has written a punchy, sharp, witty story that blew in like a breath of fresh air in this year's Women's Prize shortlist.

One of the reasons why I love to read the various shortlists and longlists is for the surprises they throw up - for the books I would probably never read otherwise. Not because I have anything in particular against said books, but simply because there are so many books out there and I can only read so many. We all make decisions about what books we usually choose to read. We have preferred genres, topics, writing styles, We have pet interests and passions that guide our choices. We're influenced by book clubs, pretty covers, word of mouth, bookseller recommendations and publicity blurbs. Our mood, phase of life and even the weather all impact on our reading habits. Every good book that crosses our path, feels like a little miracle of good luck and serendipity.

So many good books (or otherwise) slip under our radars. But getting a major book award nomination suddenly elevates a book into the wider public gaze. Bloggers blog about them, papers publish interviews and reviews and the authors suddenly appear on podcasts, morning TV programs and get invited to writer's festivals.

The cover and title of My Sister, the Serial Killer caught my eye when it first appeared on our shelves at work. It sounded intriguing, but contemporary noir thrillers are not my usually high on my reading agenda. It took being shortlisted for it to actually make it's way onto my TBR pile. And it took just finishing a rather intense, lengthy book and feeling in the need for a shorter, lighter, palate cleansing read for me to pick it up this week.

It was an utter delight from start to finish.

I loved the rhythmic, snappy language. I loved both sisters, despite their obvious flaws (they reminded me of Elinor and Marianne Dashwood with one being the reserved, careful, responsible sister and the other being carefree, careless and impulsive). I loved the humour that hid much darker secrets and disturbing childhoods. I also really enjoyed the glimpses into daily life in Lagos and the customs and traditions of modern life in Nigeria.

What appeared to be a light, easy read actually concealed much tougher issues behind it's shiny exterior. The effects of domestic childhood abuse on subsequent generations and the serious psychological pain it leaves were addressed subtly as too were the specific issues that women face in Nigeria (including child brides).

Favourite Quote:
I know better than to take life directions from someone without a moral compass.

Favourite Character: The eldest sister, Korede. I love her assessment of the situation. She describes, her younger, killer sister, Ayoola as being "completely oblivious to all but her own needs" and "she is incapable of practical underwear". Her obsessive cleaning habit and precise organisational skills tell their own story,
The things that will go into my handbag are laid out on my dressing table.
Two packets of pocket tissues, on 30-centiliter bottle of water, one first aid kit, one packet of wipes, one wallet, one tube of hand cream, one lip balm, one phone, one tampon, one rape whistle.
Basically the essentials for every woman

Favourite or Forget: No need to reread this one, but thoroughly enjoyed it and will look out for whatever Braithwaite does next.

Fascinating Facts:  I first came across the tradition of ten year anniversaries to commemorate the passing of loved ones in Amor Towles' A Gentleman of Moscow. I was surprised/curious to see that it was also a part of Nigerian life. I hadn't heard about this custom before but it sounds like such a healthy thing to do.

It has been ten years now (since our father died) and we are expected to celebrate him, to throw an anniversary party in honour of his life.

Even if your relationship with the dead person in question was problematic!

Book 2/20 Books of Summer (winter)
I finished this book on Tuesday when it only reached 14℃ in Sydney. We had wind coming off snow in the mountains and rainy, grey skies. It was a miserable day perfect for curling up with a good book. On Tuesday Dublin reached a balmy, summery 12℃!

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

The Overstory by Richard Powers

I do love to theme my holiday reads where possible. A recent week long Far North Queensland break in beautiful, sunny Port Douglas on the edge of the Daintree Rainforest, gave me a chance to finally read this year's Pulitzer Prize winning book by Richard Power's The Overstory. (I also packed a book of essays called City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham as a companion read - to be reviewed soon).

The Australian cover of The Overstory has been one of my favourite designs throughout 2018 and it is now one of my favourite reads of 2019. In trying to work though my feelings about this book though, it's hard to go past Benjamin Markovits' Guardian review of The Overstory, where he said,
It’s an extraordinary novel, which doesn’t mean that I always liked it. Martin Amis’s brilliant description of what it’s like to admire a book – the stages you go through, from resistance to reluctance, until you finally reach acceptance in the end – is probably more linear than what usually happens. Because reluctance and acceptance can go hand in hand...

It’s an astonishing performance. Without the steadily cumulative effect of a linear story, Powers has to conjure narrative momentum out of thin air, again and again. And mostly he succeeds. Partly because he’s incredibly good at describing trees, at turning the science into poetry...

There is something exhilarating, too, in reading a novel whose context is wider than human life. Like
Moby-Dick, The Overstory leaves you with a slightly adjusted frame of reference. Time matters differently; you look at the trees outside your window more curiously. Suspiciously, even.

Yes, yes, yes! It really is extraordinary and astonishing and exhilarating, with some qualifications.

Initially I thought that following the narratives of nine individuals would be hard to track and I made a few character notes on each one, during their origin chapters, but I didn't really need to in the end. Most of the characters was so fully realised which such rich backstories, that they were all clearly delineated in my mind.

I found the story mesmerising and haunting. Trees crept into my dreams and I found myself touching trees and smelling them on my morning walks, more so than usual. Our day trip into the Daintree even gave me a chance to hug an old, old tree with gratitude.

I also learnt so much. About the catastrophic chestnut blight and the so-called nature strips left by the logging companies on the side of the road, so that from the car you cannot see that entire mountainsides of forest have been logged behind them. About how trees migrate and communicate with each other. How they protect themselves and those around them from infestations. How intricate a forest system really is. And about how quickly we're losing the old forests of the world.

My qualifications?

At times I was concerned the story might tip over into earnestness or become too worthy for it's own good, but Powers reined it in each time.

I experienced resistance a few times - especially during the activism phase of the novel. Adam, the reluctant activist character was the one who helped me through.

At times it felt a bit too easy or convenient to create a divide between those who wanted to save the old growth forests and those nasty, greedy capitalists, who didn't. We all know it's not as black and white as that and that there's a lot of nuance and complexity in between.

The really hard part, though, is coming away from this story, wanting to help, wanting to make a difference, wanting for everyone to see how important it is for all of us to maintain diversity of species, but coming up with no real solution. The activism section of the book showed how futile it is in the face of rampant materialism and capitalism. Those advocating jobs and usefulness (in the name of making more money for themselves) will never see the point of long-haired layabouts, sponging off government handouts. And any scientific study is dismissed, ridiculed or declared 'unclear' - needing more time and more study before any action can possibly be considered - as another forest is cleared.

The only option Power leaves us with, in the end, is,

The best arguments in the world won't change a person's mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.

The Overstory is a good story. It's poetic, urgent, timely, rich in detail, epic in nature and wears it's heart on it's sleeve. It is meaningful and satisfying.

I'm not sure we can say that this leaves us with a particularly optimist view of the human race, although, we can feel pretty sure that the trees will survive, somehow, somewhere, no matter what.

My copy of The Overstory in the Daintree Rainforest
Favourite Quote:
My simple rule of thumb, then, is this: when you cut down a tree, what you make from it should be at least as miraculous as what you cut down.

Favourite Character: The entire Hoel family who start this novel off with such a powerful generational story.

Favourite of Forget: Unforgettable


  • Shortlisted 2018 Man Booker Prize
  • Winner 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction
  • Winner 2019 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award
1/20 Books of Winter
The Overstory was read during my week in Far North Queensland - where the average daytime temperature was a glorious 27℃. The same week in Dublin had a chillier average of 17℃.

Monday, 3 June 2019

The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch

The hardest part about writing a review more than a week after finishing the book is trying to make sense of my notes and markings and trying not to get my current reads mixed up with the old book. So to help me get everything straight in my head, I'll start with the housekeeping.

The Sea, The Sea was my fifth book in Liz @Adventures in Reading great Iris Murdoch Readalong, where she is reading (or more accurately rereading) ALL 26 of Murdoch's books in chronological order over a 2 year period. There are now only seven more books to go - of which I have only one on my TBR pile - The Book and the Brotherhood. Although I'm tempted to source Jackson's Dilemma before December so that I can be in at the end.

My edition of The Sea, The Sea was the 1999 Vintage one with an Introduction by John Burnside. He focused on the seventies provenance of this book and the 'spiritual awakening' happening at that time in the Western world - the interest in Eastern philosophies and ideas about 'mercy, compassion and right action'. He also alerted me to the fact that Charles Arrowby, our flawed protagonist, had bought into the whole 'Romantic, theatrical myths' idea of retreating, hermit-like to the coast to ponder his life, to get back to nature and surrender his 'worldly powers'.

Burnside warned me about the negative view of marriage that permeated the entire book before going off on an excursion into Milarepa country at the end. Who, I hear you ask?

Milarepa was a Tibetan poet mystic who managed to achievement Enlightenment in one lifetime. The two things I took out of Burnside's discussion of Milarepa - to be kept in mind as I read - was that the spiritual life led 'not to transcendence, but to a fuller expression of one's true nature' and 'we cannot change ourselves utterly; we can only change how we are in the world: how we see, how we act, how we tell our stories.'

I give you all this research because I have discovered over this past year that Murdoch's books not only improve when read in company, but furthermore they improve with knowledge. Murdoch wrote intelligently, coolly passionate and intense, with literary and philosophical references throughout her work. Watching her subtle clever ways at work as you read, is one of the pleasures of her work. There are times when she falls short, comes up clunky or heavy-handed, but then there are times when she soars. Despite liking very few of her characters (and actively disliking an even larger number) her books have insinuated themselves into my psyche, I suspect forever.

Murdoch gets inside the heads and hearts of her main characters. Since I tend to read for character development more so than an action-packed plot, it's understandable why she affects me so deeply. Whether you like them or not, Murdoch's characters go on a journey, both internal and external. I'm still not sure Charles Arrowby's journey resulted in him learning anything or changing anything though. I suspect he will always be a pompous, self-righteous, arrogant, control freak. Which is why the end annoyed me.

Liz loved the ending, claiming it was one of the best Murdoch endings ever. But it left me scratching my head as it seemed to take off in a new direction entirely. Any future drama that Arrowby inflicted on himself and others could now be blamed on the demons set loose - just another cop out for a man unable to face his own demons and accept responsibility for his own actions!

Arrowby is the classic Peter Pan figure - a man who never grew up, constantly searching for an all-forgiving, unconditional loving mother and stunted by a failed teen romance. He idealised women, pursued them relentlessly, before withdrawing his love and affection when he discovered they were not perfect. He lived his life in a heightened state of absurd melodrama and self-made confusion. As the narrator of his story, he is highly unreliable. The reader doubts his motivations, questions his hold on reality and suspects his memories have been twisted to fit his preferred version of events.

I couldn't understand why this master manipulator had so many friends who wanted to stay in touch with him, even when he moved off to the ends of the world, and why on earth all those ridiculous women kept coming back for more. There must have been an hypnotic charm to his personality that he was unable to reveal in his writing.

As with most of Murdoch's books, inanimate objects become personalities in their own right. In this case, the sea and the house, Scruff End, that Arrowby moved into take on a life of their own, full of unknown, possibly monstrous or magical beings. There was a constant threat implied - mother nature was not to be the solace or calm retreat that Arrowby was seeking.

I had also been reading the book for a few days before I noticed the discreet green detail in the wave design on the cover of the book, that was not a wave. Jo Walker had carefully, gracefully inserted a tendril - Arrowby's unknown, dream-like sea creature's tentacle - lurking amongst the waves. Nice!

Other Murdoch tropes popped up including caves, caverns, towers, magnifying glass, pools, bogs, moss, fog, windows, stones, rocks, pebbles, shells, vase, monsters, faces, letters, rope and field glasses, just to name a few.

Many of the themes were pure Murdoch too - goodness, obsession, limitations of the human soul, success, rational thought, truth and imperfection.

A number of quotes about marriage bear repeating for how disturbing they truly were. Is this Murdoch's view I wonder, or just Arrowby's?

Marriage is a sort of brainwashing which breaks the mind into the acceptance of so many horrors.
Every persisting marriage is based on fear.
People simply settle into positions of dominion and submission. Of course they sometimes "grow together" or "achieve a harmony", since you have to deal rationally with a source of terror in your life. I suspect there are awfully few happy marriages really, only people conceal their misery and their disappointment.
I had to struggle here with my own superstitious horror of the married state, that unimaginable condition of intimacy and mutual bondage.

I finished the book not only doubting Arrowby's chances of enlightenment but also his ability to self-reflect or change. He claimed that the least he could do was, 'live quietly and try to do my tiny good things and harm no one.' I seriously doubted his ability to harm no one and any good he attempted was designed to help himself first and foremost. As for living quietly, the entire story is about Arrowby's complete inability to live a calm, quiet life.

Photo by Sketch the Sun on Unsplash

Favourite Character: The sea, the sea! So many glorious Murdochian descriptions of the sea during all weathers, seasons and times of the day.

Favourite Quote: I had three.

  • one of the secrets of a happy life is continuous small treats
  • if there is art enough a lie can enlighten us as well as the truth
  • they yearn to believe, and they believe, because believing is easier than disbelieving

  • Winner of the 1978 Man Booker Prize.
  • The title could be a reference to Xenophon's Anabasis - where 10 000 Greeks, after marching and fighting in a foreign skirmish, called "thalatta, thallata" (the sea, the sea) when they realise they'd been saved from certain death and had made it home to safety (this phrase was also referenced by Jules Verne in Journey to the Centre of the Earth and James Joyce in Ulysses).
  • or more likely it was a nod to Paul Valery's poem, La Cimetiere Marin and the lines "la mer, la mer, toujour recommence" (the sea, the sea, forever restarting) which Murdoch also referenced in The Unicorn chapter 4.
  • The Sea, The Sea was a modern homage to Shakespeare's The Tempest (theatrical illusions, magic, betrayal, revenge, family, morally ambiguous, power, obedience, monstrosity, cruelty).

Books in Books:

  • Odyssey
  • Lord Jim
  • Wings of the Dove
  • Hamlet

Previous IM Posts:

Saturday, 1 June 2019

The A-Z of my TBR

Despite some solid efforts in the past couple of years to lower Mount TBR, the pile still looks as high and as wide and as deep as it did in 2017.

To help me remember what treats I have lurking on the bottom of the pile, I try to regularly join in memes like this.

A - And Quiet Flows the Don by Mikhail Sholokhov
B - Beggar Maid by Alice Munro
C - City of Djinns by William Dalrymple
D - Dancing With Strangers by Inga Clendinnen
E - England and Other Stories by Graham Swift
F - The Flaneur by Edmund White
G - The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson
H - A History of Books by Gerard Murnane
I - Island Home by Tim Winton
J - Juggling by Barbara Trapido
K - The Key by Junichiro Tanizaki
L - Les Parisiennes by Anne Sebba
M - The Moor's Account by Laila Lalami
N - Notebooks by Betty Churcher
O - Origins by Amin Maalouf
P - The Peacock Spring by Rumer Godden
Q - Quartet in Autumn by Barbara Pym
R - Resilience by Anne Deveson
S - Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harari
T - The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
U - The Unknown Judith Wright by Georgina Arnott
V - The Virgin in the Garden by A.S. Byatt
W - Warlight by Michael Ondaatje
X - Xtabentum: A Novel of Yucatan by Rosy Hugener
Y - You Daughters of Freedom by Claire Wright
Z - The Zigzag Way by Anita Desai

Which A-Z's are hiding on your TBR pile?
Have you read of the books on my list?
Which ones should I prioritise?

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

20 Books of Winter

Cathy @746 Books is once again hosting her marvellous 20 Books of Summer Winter challenge. 

Every year I almost never read the 20 books I set out to read, but I do read 20 books, so that is something. However I do love the chance to wander through my TBR stacks, piles and shelves to search for my 20 possibilities.

This year, I'm dead keen to read as many of the Women's Prize shortlist as possible.
I have five of them on my TBR pile:

1. Circe by Madeline Miller

2. The Silence of the Lambs by Pat Barker

3. My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

4. Ordinary People by Diana Evans

5. Milkman by Anna Burns

I've also learnt to be realistic and opportunistic.
I factor in reading challenges like Paris in July and Austen in August as well as listing my current pile of unfinished books.

6. A Maigret (or 2) by Georges Simenon

7. Why Read Moby Dick? by Nathaniel Philbrick

8. The Real Jane Austen by Paula Byrne

9. The Best Short Stories of Guy de Maupassant

10. Becoming by Michelle Obama

11. Jokes For the Gunman by Mazen Maarouf

12. Mirka and Georges by Lesley Harding & Kendrah Morgan

I will be starting this year's challenge with a brief holiday in northern Queensland, chasing the sun!
I've already planned my (themed) holiday reads.

13. The Overstory by Richard Powers

14. City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

The rest of the list will be all the slimmest books on my TBR pile that I can find!

15. Strange Weather in Tokyo by Hiromi Kawakami

16. All Happy Families by Herve le Tellier

17. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie

18. If Cats Disappeared From the World by Genki Kawamura

19. At Dusk by Hwang Sok-yong

20. A Cat,  A Man, And Two Women by Junichiro Tanizaki

How about you?

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Moby Dick Readalong

Call me Brona!

Yes, I know, I've been promising this post for quite some time now. 

I really want to tackle Moby Dick with a group of friends as I feel that this particular book could be a challenge to get through on my own. But my life is still in a very hectic stage and I keep pushing it back. 

However, I know from other recent readalongs, is that if I just commit to it, I will somehow make the time to fit it into my life.

So, this is it!

Thank you all for sticking by me and for encouraging me quietly from the sidelines to get my act together.

My plan is to read a chapter of the book then listen to the matching podcast episode from the Moby Dick Big Read.

Initially I had thought to do a chapter a week, but quickly realised that with 136 chapters it would take way too long. Trying to fit Moby Dick into just one month felt too ambitious as well. A chapter a day is too much (for me right now) so I will simply set a start date and end date with the idea of reading and listening to 3-4 chapters a week.

The 1st August 2019 is Melville's 200th birthday, so that feels like an auspicious start date. 

He started writing Moby Dick in February 1850, so I thought that would make a good finish line for us, 170 years later.

So, the 1st August 2019 - 29th February 2020 - that's 30 weeks of Moby Dick with 4 and half chapters a week to read and listen to. I should be able to do that (& still read other stuff as well). What about you?

I will put up a monthly post to see how everyone is going and provide encouragement. I will attempt to tweet quotes from each chapter and share images of my copy of Moby Dick in the wild.

For further inspiration, I plan to read Nathaniel Philbrick's Why Read Moby-Dick? before the 1st August and will share any insights with you.

If you're keen to join in, let me know below and please share my button on all the social media platforms you like to use.

I played around with a few hashtag possibilities, but my ideas became rude, crude and undesirable very quickly!! So I have decided to keep it simple #MobyDickReadalong.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

A Love Like Dorothea's by Alison Whittaker

I've recently been dipping in and out of Alison Whittaker's book of 'poetry, memoir, reportage, fiction, satire and critique', Blakwork. It's beautiful, confronting and unflinching.

But I keep returning to one poem, perhaps because of the link to an older poem that is part of my white heritage. The comparison and contrast between the two ideas and images challenges many of my preconceived beliefs. I'm trying to understand; I want to understand, but sometimes the gulf still feels too huge. A Love Like Dorothea's helps to narrow that gulf a little for me.

I found Whittaker's reading below on the Melbourne Visiting Poets Program, at The Wheeler Centre in August 2018. They tell us that,

Alison Whittaker is a Gomeroi poet, life writer and essayist from Gunnedah and Tamworth, north-western New South Wales. She now lives in Sydney on Wangal land, and is recently returned from the US, where she received a 2017 Fulbright Indigenous Postgraduate Scholarship to complete a Master of Laws (LLM) at Harvard. Her poem MANY GIRLS WHITE LINEN received the Judith Wright Poetry Prize in 2017. She is the author of Lemons in the Chicken Wire (Magabala Books), the debut collection that established her as a powerful new voice in poetry.

For more information about Whittaker and her poems I suggest you read Jeanine Leane's Ultima Thume article in The Sydney Review of Books from February 2019 and Laniyuk's March 2019 review in The Lifted Brow.

Jennifer @Holds Upon Happiness posts a lovely Poem for a Thursday each week. I'm enjoying sourcing poems from my recent reads to join in with her as I can.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

How It Feels To Float by Helena Fox

In recent times I have been mostly writing quick reviews for the kids books I read on Goodreads, but every now and again I read one that I feel is worthy of a bigger post here. A book that I want to spend more time with, thinking about it - it's impact on me, the writing, the story, the characters.

This is one of those books.

How It Feels to Float came to me highly recommended - not only by my rep, but also by the mother of the author, Helena Fox.

The Pan Macmillan blurb says,

Biz knows how to float. She has her people, posse, her mum and the twins. She has Grace. And she has her dad, who tells her about the little kid she was, and who shouldn't be here but is. So Biz doesn't tell anyone anything. Not about her dark, runaway thoughts, not about kissing Grace or noticing Jasper, the new boy. And she doesn't tell anyone about her dad. Because her dad died when she was seven. And Biz knows how to float, right there on the surface - normal okay regular fine.

Dark, runaway thoughts and floating are all clues that this seemingly regular teen story about not fitting in, feeling awkward about one's body, one's sexuality, social gaffs, drinking, kissing the wrong people and kissing the right people at the wrong time is going to move into heavier territory at some point.

Fairly soon we realise that Biz, our extraordinary protagonist, is clearly experiencing life a little differently to everyone around her. She floats, or dissociates out of her body when things get too stressful, too awkward or too weird to cope with. She has visits from her dead dad, a man who was obviously struggling with his own major mental health issues in the lead up to his death.

Mental health, illness, sexual confusion, grief and loss are all big topics in young people's fiction right now, and a part of me nearly groaned out loud when I realised where this book was heading. But within a few chapters, I was hooked by Fox's poetic language and Biz's moving, authentic story.

I also loved the locations - all around the Illawarra region plus the train trip out west to Cootamundra, Temora and Wagga that were woven naturally into the story. I feel it is so important for us to have stories that reflect our own lives, in places we know intimately, so that we can own the messages they have to tell us and not just push them away as things that happen to other people, over there somewhere far away from us.

Without reading the author's acknowledgements at the end, you could still fairly safely assume that the author has had first hand experience with mental health issues. Her descriptions of Biz's thinking and reactions are so heartfelt, instinctive and genuine that they can only come from personal knowledge.

Biz's descent and torment are sympathetically drawn as is her search for a safe emotional harbour. Eventually this becomes a story about how to be anchored, or grounded and how be present, instead of floating away, perhaps permanently.

How it Feels to Float was an intense read, that drew me in, gradually, compulsively, urgently until I was left feeling like I had just read one of the best YA's I've read in a very long time.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future by Siri Husvedt has lived with me for a few months now. The slowness of my reading is in no way indicative of any lack of enjoyment on my behalf. It is, however a thoughtful, intelligent read, that requires some active participation. Something I could only do when not completely exhausted after work or double-booked, triple-booked on the weekends.

My early feelings and thoughts about the book were contained in this post from last month - Starting a New Book... I won't repeat myself, so if you'd like a brief synopsis of the story, and a poem by Elsa, I'll wait here for you to catch up.
In this particular book, the book you are reading now, the young person and the old person live side by side in the precarious truths of memory

What the 23 yr old SH wrote and what the 61 yr old SH remembers are often two very different things. Hindsight gives a shape to what is shapeless as you live it.
The things that have stayed with her as important are not always the things she recorded in her journal. I am interested in understanding how she and I are relatives.
The story changes, adjusts to new experiences. Memory is not only unreliable; it is porous.
And sometimes there are shocks waiting in the wings to floor you. Sometimes memory is a knife.

This is the stuff I love. I even did a similar thing myself in my thirties when I read through my old travel journal from 1991. Even after a decade, the things I remembered were different to what I recorded at the time. I wrote another journal comparing my record with my memories. As I wrote, I was also being written.
I should hunt it out to see what it looks like twenty years later again.

We are all wishful creatures, and we wish backwards too, not only forward, and thereby rebuild the curious, crumbling architecture of memory into structures that are more habitable.

Sadly, though, somewhere after the halfway mark of Memories of the Future I lost my way. All the sideline stories (the crazy neighbour Lucy Brite, the story within the story that she wrote in her twenties...) stopped being interesting to me, even as they began to take up more and more of the story telling space. Every story carries inside itself multitudes of other stories.

It all got too much in the end - too rambling, too meta and curiously, not enough Elsa.

There was one brief passage towards the end about the Marcel Duchamp porcelain urinal debate, where ID, the Introspective Detective says,
The preponderance of scholarly evidence has long been on the side of the Baroness, you know. One, we have the letter Duchamp wrote to his sister, Susanne, two days after the urinal was rejected. It was discovered until 1982. In it he wrote. 'One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.' Two we know that a newspaper reported at the time that the artist Richard Mutt was from Philadelphia. The Baroness was living in Philadelphia at the time. Three, we know that it wasn't until after the Baroness and Stieglitz were both dead that Duchamp assumed full credit for the urinal.... 
Duchamp stole it, all right. It doesn't even resemble the rest of his work.... 
Fountain doesn't fit in. But the museums haven't changed the attribution.

Marcel Duchamp, 'Fountain', 1950 (replica of 1917 original), porcelain urinal, 30.5 x 38.1 x 45.7 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art 125th Anniversary Acquisition, gift (by exchange) of Mrs Herbert Cameron Morris,
1998-74-1 © Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP. Copyright Agency, 2019

Marcel Duchamp
Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original)
porcelain urinal
© Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP. Copyright Agency, 2019

And as luck would have it, from the 27th April until 11th August my local Art Gallery of NSW is hosting The Essential Duchamp exhibition, with the urinal in question on full display. I wonder if the 'replica of 1917 original' is enough to cover his bases?

Favourite or Forget: Not a favourite in the end, but still keen to read more by Hustvedt.

Favourite Characters: IF IS and ID

Favourite Quote:
My first moments in my apartment have a radiant quality in memory that have nothing to do with sunlight. They are illuminated by an idea....I was twenty-three years old...
This took me straight back to my own 23 yr old self, living alone for the first time in a new town, starting my career, on the brink of my adult life, excited, full of anticipation and hope and plans and the love, the 'radiant quality' I felt for my first, slightly dingy, older style townhouse on the wrong side of the tracks.

Books in Books:

  • Don Quixote 
  • Balzac
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Proust
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Gogol - Dead Souls
  • Baudelaire - The Flowers of Evil
  • Laurence Sterne - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
  • Plato - Apology
  • Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
  • Socrates
  • Smolett - The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Chaucer
  • Milton - Paradise Lost
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Finnegan's Wake
  • Simone Weil "imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life."
  • Great Expectations
  • John Ashbery
  • Michael Lally
  • Thomas Wyatt
  • Shakespeare
  • John Donne
  • John Clare
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Thomas Moore
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Alan Turing
  • Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
  • etc - there were many more but you get the jist!

Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Jamaica Inn by Daphne Du Maurier

Jamaica Inn was my latest CC spin choice. I also realised recently that I would be able to join in Heavenali's Daphne Du Maurier reading week too, provided I got my review done on time. So here we go!

My Du Maurier journey began many, many years ago when I read Rebecca, undoubtedly her most famous novel. I was left feeling rather underwhelmed. It was okay but not amazing or even particularly memorable, in my opinion. I thought that would be that regards DDM.

About a decade later, in 2007, I was travelling around England, with Mr Books for the World Cup, when in a gorgeous B and B near Hadrian's Wall, I discovered a copy of Mary Anne. The first pages had me hooked. This story - part family history, part fiction was just the right thing at the right time. I left behind my just-finished (and unloved) copy of Chesil Beach (that's another story entirely) and invited Mary Anne to join me for the rest of our trip.

A few years back a CCSspin gave me My Cousin Rachel. I was a little cautious in my approach but ended up loving the psychological tension that oozed off every page. DDM was definitely back in my good books.

Which brings us to Jamaica Inn. I found it to be a very light, easy gothic mystery romance. It was enjoyable, although predictable. The romance was less gushing, soft romance and more realistic, making-the-best-of-a-(possible)-bad situation, while the mystery was carefully plotted tension rather than seat-of-your-pants terror.

Joss Merlyn was a tough man with a weak character. Aunt Patience was just weak. Jem Merlyn was enigmatic and painted as the 'bad boy rebel'. Vicar Francis Davey was enigmatic and painted as the 'knight in shining armour'. Mary was our spunky, sassy heroine. As independent and in control as a woman of her age was allowed to be (some time in the 1820's I believe).

On reflection, Jamaica Inn was less gothic and more an interesting dip into the mind of an alcoholic. His psychological pain was sympathetically drawn by Du Maurier, curiously more so than the obvious and devastating pain suffered by Aunt Patience at his hands.

The pretty, pretty VMC cover (designed by Neisha Crosland) added to my pleasure.

Du Maurier tells us in a note at the start, that Jamaica Inn is a real place, while Annabel @Shiny New Books fills in some of the blanks:
Jamaica Inn, the setting for her famous novel of 1936, sits high on Bodmin Moor in Cornwall. It was built in 1750 as a coaching inn and was a stopping-off place for many a smuggler. Du Maurier stayed there in 1930, and when out riding with her friend Foy Quiller-Couch got lost in the fog – but their horses returned them safely. This experience and hearing the tales of smuggling and ghosts associated with the inn inspired Daphne. These days, the lively inn is a famous tourist destination.

Favourite Character: Bad boy Jem of course!

Favourite or Forget: Enjoyable but forgettable.

Facts: Made into a movie by Alfred Hitchcock in 1939, an ITV series in 1983, adapted for the stage by David Horlock in 1990 and a BBC adaptation in 2014.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan

Ahhh Ian McEwan!

My love affair with McEwan and his books is such a seesaw of anticipation, hope, expectation and oh so often disappointment. Atonement is the only book that has lasted the distance for me, although I'm willing to give Chesil Beach another shot, as in hindsight, I read it for the first time at completely the wrong time in my life to appreciate it properly. 

Machines Like Me sounded very promising and I'm probably one of the few people that didn't get totally creeped out by the front cover. Alternate histories, artificial intelligence (aka science run-amok) and profound moral dilemma's are all my literary cups of tea.

I've been holding off writing this review as I waited for Mr Books to finish it too. I wanted to discuss it with him and combine our thoughts for this post. Because, love it or hate it, Machines Like Us is the perfect book group book - oozing with thought provoking ideas and many points to mull over and debate.

The trouble for me in the end, was that I didn't buy the moral dilemma and was frustrated by the alternate history storyline that felt unresolved and unexplained - a gimmick rather than a fully fleshed discussion point. Which isn't to say that Mr Books and I didn't have a healthy discussion about consciousness, mind versus brain, emotional nuances, black and white thinking and how we develop shades of grey thinking. We did. But neither of us ever believe that robot Adam was anything more than a robot. 

He and the other 20-odd Adam and Eve robots were unable to cope with the 'real' world of human chaos and complexity. Their logically processes and programmed responses were not enough. Perhaps if they had been created as children and allowed to learn gradually the responses appropriate for the society they were living in about how to exist in this particular world of adults before moving on to older bodies, they may have not have freaked out so much.

What makes us human? Is it our brains, our feelings, our sense of consciousness? Is it soul or spirit or some other undefined, unseen element that makes us, dare I say, unique?

Mr Books threw the 1999 Robin Williams movie, Bicentennial Man into the mix. It had similar themes - robots as household help/slaves and where, exactly, is the line between human and non-human. 

The human characters were less than impressive - flawed, messy, chaotic individuals. They were insipid, jealous, vengeful, judgemental and lacking in dignity with imperfect moral compasses. No wonder the Adams and Eves struggled to fit in.

In this version of 1980's England, Alan Turing is still alive an inventing.
I was fascinated by how one person's life (or death) could change the course of history and wanted more of this. Turing, alive and well and fully embracing his sexuality changed the course of the Falklands War for example in McEwan's world. Turing's insistence on open source for all his inventions, meant that everyone had the ability to create technology, including, or more to the point, especially military equipment, which allowed Argentina to acquire the capacity to blow England out of the water in 1982.
But he didn't explain how or why JFK survived that shooting incident in Dallas - it was just a mention in passing. Maybe the advanced technology allowed for better surveillance and faster response times, so that there was no second bullet. Or maybe bullet-proof cars were invented by then in this alternate universe. We don't know. It is all pure speculation. Or as McEwan said,  "What might have happened was lost to us."

Favourite Character: none

Favourite Quote:
The present is the frailest of improbable constructs. It could have been different. Any part of it, or all of it, could be otherwise.
Favourite or Forget: It's not easy to forget a McEwan read. They usually make for a good book group discussion with their contentious issues, moral ambiguity and loose ends. But this one is not a favourite of mine.

Former Posts:

Thursday, 9 May 2019

Stories and Shout Outs

I knew that May was going to be a busy reading month, so I tried to prepare myself as much as possible in April.
  • I read my May book club choice in April (Bel Canto). 
  • I read my CC Spin book straight away (Jamaica Inn which I finished last weekend. It will also allow me to join in Heavenali's #DDMreadingweek from the 13th - 19th May, as long as I make the time to write my review!)
  • I finished two non-fiction titles that had been lingering on my table for a couple of months (A Vindication/Accidental Feminists).
  • I looked at my Moby Dick stuff again & created a timeline for the August readalong.

I've also been busy with other bookish stuff:

Reading Kids Books:

Trying to Find Some Calm:
  • Create Calm by Kate James
  • First week of alcohol and chocolate free month was rough, especially on Friday night, when we really wanted a beer with our pizza. We resisted, and felt better for it. 
  • This week has been harder with the chocolate part, but I've had a few sweet biscuit treats instead. 
  • A 3 hr walk (& coffee stop) on Saturday.
  • A 2 hr walk (& coffee stop) on Wednesday.
  • Eva Cassidy CD on high rotation.
  • 2 bubble baths.
  • And a new pair of shoes.

Strange, But True:

Yesterday, I had cause to google my blog name.
I discovered that many of my book reviews and catchy quotes therein have been added to a surprisingly large number of author websites. All Australian that I can see so far  - from Kate Forsyth, Matt Ottley, Sandy Fussel, Sulari Gentil, Judy Horacek to Aaron Blabey. I feel honoured and rather chuffed.

May Readalongs:

Nick @One Catholic Life is about to start off a new chapter-a-day adventure with The Count of Monte Cristo. This will be my third chapter-a-day readalong with Nick. Les Mis last year was hugely successful (for me) while my more recent foray into Don Quixote was less so.

I've had The Count on my TBR pile for 5-6 years now. It's another one of my lovely Coralie Bickford-Smith designed hardback Penguin editions.

Translated by Robin Buss, it is 117 chapters long.
The readalong starts Thursday 9th May and finishes on the 2nd September. It's not too late to join in.
Nick plans to post a quote a day on twitter and facebook using #montecristoreadalong
I hope to post most days :-)

May is also my next Iris Murdoch book, The Sea, The Sea with Liz @Adventures in Reading.

I've been very nervous about reading this book. It has been on my TBR pile for a number of years as a part of my plan to read as many Booker Prize books as possible, but I've been told by several people that it is a difficult read. I joined in Liz's readalong in the hope that reading some of Murdoch's earlier books, in the company of someone who so obviously loves and appreciates her work, would help me achieve success with The Sea, The Sea. I've now just been waiting to get the first few chapters of The Count under my belt before starting The Sea this weekend.

New To The Pile:
  • Woman Rowing North by Mary Piper
  • A Room Of One's Own by Virginia Woolf (I first read this years ago but lost/gave away my copy during one of my moves. Keen for a reread given my recent reading).
  • Waverley by Walter Scott
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Australia Day by Stan Grant
  • Croatia - Lonely Planet (fingers crossed)