It’s been a slow start to the new year.
The crows are creaking outside against a background chorus of buzzing insects.
I’m watching tennis with the sound muted because the tv antenna needs fixing and hearing the pop and crackle as the picture fades in and out is way too annoying.
I’ll start reading a new book soon, my kindle is waiting for me on the coffee table. The fan is keeping things cool, but there’s also a nice breeze flowing through the house.
Even though I haven’t been writing much lately, I had two articles published in December.
There’s also another little snippet of mine here.
I’ve been reading hungrily and have worked my way through lots of great books.
I’ve just finished up a course with the Australian Writer’s Centre (highly recommended).
My pursuit of new writing work will begin in earnest again very soon, but for now it’s enough to surround myself with words, even if they’re by other people.
Hopefully my return to the day job for another year won’t be too much of a shock.
Happy new year.
Lazy, long breakfasts filled with lots of coffee, chat and catching up on long overdue magazine reading…
Of course breakfast can’t last all day, perhaps much later on there will be a little of the other as well… a perfect book-end to a weekend day. I hope your weekend is just as enjoyable!!
Presented in no particular order of significance or importance, here are books sixteen to twenty on my bookshelf of inspiration:
- Pleasure by Nikki Gemmell - This is a beautiful book with a gorgeous layout, containing thought-provoking words and stories which are from the heart and yet bluntly delivered. There is much loveliness to enjoy here, and like a very close friend it is able to deliver that which you most need to hear, whether that is what you wanted to hear or not.
- Familiar Studies by RL Stevenson - I love the small presentation of this book, the fact that it is second-hand and holds such appeal in its knocked about hard cover and age-stained pages. Collections of essays take up quite a lot of space on my bookshelves as I find them the most interesting way to learn more about admired authors or to think more on a particular topic. Here Stevenson speaks of Victor Hugo’s romances, discusses Robert Burns and shares thoughts on Thoreau’s character and opinions.
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote - Probably the most recent addition to my ‘books of inspiration’, this was the first Truman Capote book I’ve read and it really opened my eyes to his talent (and has since led me to open more of his books). I love how he creates flawed characters which you can’t help but love, or at the very least, characters you want to know more of. Without this book I would not know of ‘the mean reds’ as opposed to suffering from ‘the blues’ and that would be a very great shame indeed.
- How To Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson - Contrary to the thoughts of many, being idle does not necessarily mean being lazy. This book describes itself as being a ‘manifesto for living’, and I wholeheartedly concur. Hodgkinson presents the ways in which we can reclaim our right to take control of our lives against the demands and busyness of modern society. While this is at times a funny book, I resent the fact that it is often presented for sale in the ‘humour’ section of bookstores as it actually presents serious ideas and philosophies.
- Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard - This was the first Elmore Leonard book that I read and I have to say that I’ve been hooked ever since. His writing is clipped and succinct and yet he still manages to say so much. This is the story of Deputy US Marshal Karen Sisco and her relationship with bank robber Jack Foley, and was later adapted for the screen in a film featuring Jennifer Lopez and George Clooney. Set against disturbing insights to the seedier, crime-filled side of the streets, I am in complete awe of Leonard’s ability to build chemistry between unlikely characters. Sexy, fascinating and completely absorbing, there is little more to ask for in a really great story.
Presented in no particular order of significance or importance, here are books eleven to fifteen on my bookshelf of inspiration:
- The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald - I first encountered this book at high school for an English assignment, and have pretty much loved it and Fitzgerald ever since. Gatsby, Daisy and Nick illuminated the world of the ‘roaring twenties’ for me. Fitzgerald presents these characters in an ultimately tragic story which lurks beneath the surface of all the glitz and glamour. Forever more I have found myself believing in the green light.
- The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton - Again this is another that I haven’t read through in completeness (yet), but it’s one that I read from on the odd occasion. I am a very big reader of Alain de Botton and I absolutely adore his friendly, conversational writing tone and the way he cleverly delivers philosophical ideas in an entertaining (and pop culture friendly) way. This book contains input from a range of famous ‘travellers’ such as Flaubert, Wordsworth, Van Gogh and Ruskin who were inspired by travel. While I haven’t travelled too much yet, I hope to soon and I find this book inspires just for being what it is.
- Walden by Henry David Thoreau - I have spoken on the site about my love of this book, time and time again and probably at much length, but I really can’t help myself. This is a soulmate book. I connect with this book in so many different ways, and often reflect on Thoreau’s thoughtful words. If there was one book to carry with me always, this would be it. I love it so, and as we know, ‘true love lasts a lifetime’.
- The Music of Chance by Paul Auster - This is a strange, wonderful, completely fantastic book which I’m still thinking about a couple of years after I first read it. The characters are slightly ‘off’ and the situations they find themselves in are almost unbelievable, and yet Auster’s words make anything possible.
- Footsteps: Adventures of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes - As mentioned earlier in my book listing, I love a good outdoorsy walking adventure with a literary cast, and this book is no exception. Holmes retraces the steps of Robert Louis Stevenson’s journey through the Cevennes. Holmes is a wonderful biographer, he has an ear for an entertaining story and is adept at connecting the present with the past, bringing a cast of real-life characters expertly to life. This is wonderful, wonderful stuff and inspires as much with its words as with its content.
Presented in no particular order of significance or importance, here are books six to ten on my bookshelf of inspiration:
- Page after Page by Heather Sellers - There are countless writing guides available, but often they leave me feeling a little flat and more likely not to write than before I started reading them. Not this book though. I recognised much of myself amongst these pages and more importantly feel like I have actually gained something from reading it. A book to turn to from time to time for some positive feedback or a gentle push.
- Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes - This is a multi-layered book which has it turning from a literary biography, to an analysis of language, to a story of obsession, to a thrilling mystery and a thoughtful examination of the meaning of fiction. This is a real adventure of a read which had me moving from here to there, before I even had a chance to think about where I was going. A legendary storyteller.
- Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf - This is a day-in-the-life-of tale to end all day-in-the-life-of tales. Woolf is elegant and perfectly balanced in her use of stream-of-consciousness storytelling technique. This story is warm and real. It feels like it was ever so simple to put down on paper the thoughts which run through a person’s head on any given day … when of course it is anything but.
- After Dark by Haruki Murakami - This book drifts between and across reality and through to another dream world. I love the use of a ‘real-time’ timeline, with events unfolding from late one evening. As ever with any Murakami tale, there is an eclectic mix of strange and wonderful characters who each have a direct or indirect role to play in eachother’s lives. Like Auster, Murakami messes up my brain in a really, really good way. I never know whether I ever really understand where he’s taken me in his stories, but that seems strangely less important than going on the journey.
- The Princess Bride by William Goldman - Who can go past the tale of Buttercup and Westley? Well certainly not me. A classic book which is often described as having everything (and it’s probably true). Where else will you find fencing, fighting, kidnapping, romance, true love, giants, beautiful women, beautiful men, pain, death, resurrection, passion and revenge (to mention just a few of the themes)? Wonderfully funny and charming writing combined with an irresistible tale.
Presented in no particular order of significance or importance, here are books one to five on my bookshelf of inspiration:
- Possession by AS Byatt - I love the blending, contrast and overlap between historical and modern fiction. The story moves quickly and as it does the two main characters unravel clues and embark on a great literary adventure to unlock the mysteries of the past. The romance between the two modern characters grows, as the secret relationship between the two lovers of the past is brought to light. This book is a great demonstration of the successful intersection of plotlines across time. A lot of people hated the film adaptation of this book, but I thought it had its charms.
- The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion - Death and the nature of grief are topics that I often reflect on. We all love and unfortunately we all have to face the loss of those we love. Too often grief is treated as something people are expected to just ‘deal with’ and that they should ‘move on’ with their life. This is a powerful book which deals with the reality of life and the tragedy which is found within it.
- A Scandalous Life by Mary S Lovell - The story of Jane Digby in the hands of Mary Lovell had me completely absorbed and utterly enchanted. The book leaves me satisfied and yet hungry to know more of Jane and her entirely extraordinary and wondrous life. A heartbreaking, inspiring, romantic and fascinating tale.
- The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster - A master of building worlds within worlds and stories within stories, this volume clearly demonstrates his incredible talent. The stories collected here springboard from traditional detective stories into something more wonderful and more indefinable. He creates linkages and connections to people, places and plots which in theory should not be possible. What can I say? Paul Auster messes with my head and I love it.
- An Inland Voyage by RL Stevenson - I haven’t actually read this book through in completeness (yet), but I often flick through the pages and read a passage here and there. Stevenson has a wonderfully ‘real’ way of writing that puts you in the moment along with him. I’m also a complete sucker for walking adventures with a literary bent, so this tale has me donning my metaphorical hiking shoes. Also something tickles me about the idea of undertaking ‘an inland voyage’ … going on a voyage of one’s self.
So I have a lot of books, probably too many. I’m currently in the process of trying to cull the collection of any unnecessary, never-turned-to books … a process which has been an interesting experience to say the least. As part of all this book sorting, I’ve been moving books around between bookcases and re-connecting with books which have some sort of significance.
In an effort to gain daily inspiration, I’ve cleaned off the shelf above my computer and put together a gathering of special books which I could never, would never … ever … ever, get rid of.
So here they are (in no particular order of relevance) … Over the coming days I’ll discuss the reasons why these particular books are important to me and why they have earned their place in my bookshelf ‘hall of fame’.
On a trip to Melbourne last year, I spent some time at MagNation, a heaven (and haven) for magazine lovers. I came away from there with a couple of purchases, which of course made me very happy indeed. As I was leaving though I spied an interesting looking magazine which caught my eye with it’s interesting design and beckoned with the hints of what lay within.
Being an import magazine it was a little more expensive than most magazines I buy, and while I was taken with the content, I decided that I had spent quite enough on that trip to Melbourne thank you very much!
Pretty much ever since that day I’ve regretted putting that magazine back on the rack. For some reason the glimpse I had been given stayed with me, but on my return to Brisbane I wasn’t able to find it in the local newsagents…no great surprise there.
And so eventually I pushed thoughts of the magazine to the back of my mind, especially when I had other great titles like Frankie to distract me. After a while I’d forgotten the name of the magazine and just had the description of that one issue to go on.
It was not until last week (some 10 months after that trip to Melbourne) that I was finally reunited with that magazine. I’ve been doing a lot of shopping around online to find the cheapest subscriptions for a few of my favourite magazines, when I found myself at the MagNation online store. They have this really cool feature on their website called a Magdentifier which is pretty much exactly what it’s name suggests – it identifies a range of magazine titles for you based on a short quiz. After going through this process one magazine which was suggested for me was Lula.
After doing a bit more research on this title I found that one of the back issues was that very issue I regretted placing back on the rack last year in Melbourne. I’m so happy to be reunited once more…my subscription was processed about one minute after discovering this.
Like many people who love to read, I have a backlog of ‘classic’ books that are on my must-read list, which I hope to get through ‘one of these days’. While this list has never been formally recorded on paper, I tend to be reminded of it from time to time when life nudges me in the ribs. And then I’ll find myself at the bookstore or searching online for whatever book title it is which the universe has called to mind. It was in such a way that I remembered Hemingway.
Some time ago I was reading a book which featured quotations on life, love and travel. Amongst those passages quoted was one from Hemingway’s famed book, A Farewell To Arms. I was struck by the passion of his prose and the intensity of feeling he was able to capture within so few words…the man makes writing seem deceivingly simple and so very human, so very real.
I sensed that from the way he speaks with the written word, that here is a writer in the true sense of the word, one that has truly lived and not just imagined.
‘I’ve always been afraid of the rain.’
‘I like it.’
‘I like to walk in it, but it’s very hard on loving.’
‘I’ll love you always.’
‘I’ll love you in the rain and in the snow and in the hail and – what else is there?’
With a book voucher in hand that I had been saving up for ‘just the right book’, I figured that A Farewell to Arms was just that book. It did not disappoint. It is a book which takes you on a complete journey of life experiences – those we hope to know well such as friendship and love, and those experiences we’d rather avoid like war, grief and death.
‘Oh darling, I want you so much I want to be you too.’
‘You are. We’re the same one.’
‘I know it. At night we are.’
‘The nights are grand.’
If you haven’t already read it, this is one book that you should definitely consider adding to your own ‘must-read’ list of books. It is full of gritty texture, is completely absorbing and one of the most moving books which have graced the bookshelves.