Harry Potter and the End of an Era

HP 5It was always going to happen.

Always.

Two nights ago, the girls and I had three chapters plus the epilogue of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows left to read. Last night, we simply couldn’t stop — could anyone have stopped, I ask you? — and I kept reading aloud, and drinking peppermint tea, and reading aloud some more until the book was finished.

And now, quite understandably, we are feeling a little bereft.

It seems like only a month or so ago that we started reading Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone, embarking on our J K Rowling odyssey. In reality, it was several years ago, and we even had a considerable hiatus between books four and five to allow our (very visual and emotionally sensitive) Miss Malaprop to be sufficiently old enough to cope with the content without having nightmares.

There have been so many laughs along the way, as well as tears, as Harry Potter and his friends have woven themselves in the fabric of our existence. Whenever any of us has to read something less interesting or onerous, we trick ourselves into persevering by inserting the words “Harry Potter and the… before the title. Recent examples of works made far more palatable by this process have been Harry Potter and the Land Tax Exemption for Land Used and Occupied Primarily for Low Cost Accommodation, and Harry Potter and the Effects of a One Year Development Programme for Recently Graduated Veterinary Professionals on Personal and Job Resources, and the truly inspiring Harry Potter and the Australian Privacy Principles.

See? Every so much more fascinating once you add in a dose of Harry. A little magic goes a long way in such cases.

But a little magic helps us get through life every day, doesn’t it?

HP2Both my children have the words Nox and Lumos on their bedroom light switches. Both have Hogwarts robes, Gryffindor for Marvel Girl and Slytherin for her sister, in their wardrobes. All three of us have our wands, which chose us (of course) at Ollivanders, and mine (since I am a Ravenclaw) sits beside my laptop, ready for use at any time. I even have my Hogwarts letter, apparently redirected many times over until it finally arrived, courtesy of a dear friend and a then much smaller “owl” who flew it to my doorstep on my 40th birthday.

All of these things are treasured.

The world is not a smaller place now that we have finished reading the books. Rather, each of our universes has expanded to include the realms of possibility, of imagination, and of magic. We are all more conscious, every day, of the saving power of love.

And it was hard last night, really hard, not to tear up when reading the final portion of the seventh and final book in the series to my children, particularly when I read these words:

Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.

How fortunate are we, to have the benefit of these so-called children’s tales, and to know their power really is beyond the reach of any magic.

HP1And so we will embark on new adventures, in search of new tales, perhaps with Sparrowhawk as he wends his way from the Isle of Gont towards becoming an Archmage, or with Zaphod Beeblebrox tripping through the galaxy, or perhaps we will stay closer to home, roaming the streets of colonial Sydneytown with Beattie Bow, or dancing in the Anzac Deli with Mareka Nikakis.

Yet I know, deep down, that in years to come my children will more than likely read the Harry Potter books to their children, and will love them just as much then as they do now.

After all this time?

Always.

 

2018: The Year in Books

OK folks…it’s that time of year when I present my top fives for 2018.

Today it’s books! So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are Blue Jai’s Top 5 Books for 2018:

1. Boy Swallows Universe (2018) by Trent Dalton

Boy swallows universeYour end is a dead blue wren…

For me, it’s as unforgettable a first line as any of the great first lines in literary history: Moby Dick, Anna Karenina, Pride and Prejudice, Lolita. I’ve already written a tiny bit about this book, which has become my new Favourite Book of All Time. Really. It’s a rollicking good read and exceptionally well written, with the added (and almost unbelievable) bonus of being based on real events from Trent Dalton’s childhood. There is something inherently Australian about this debut novel: Dalton captures the heat and humidity of living on the outskirts of Brisbane, and all that simmers beneath.

If you’ve read it already, I can highly recommend his Conversation with Richard Fidler about writing the novel. If you haven’t read it, I’m not going to say any more…other than to say I, quite obviously, recommend you get your hand on a copy of this and — hopefully — enjoy it as much as I did.

2. Pachinko (2017) by Min Jin Lee

PachinkoThis sprawling family saga had me captivated from the start. Set in Korea and Japan in the early decades of last century, Min Jin Lee’s Pachinko is packed full of detail and emotion. Depicting a way of life and period of history I knew little about, I was swept up in the story of Sunja and her descendants. I found Lee’s treatment of the strange limbo occupied by the Koreans who moved to Japan, even after several generations, interesting and moving.

If you’re after a read that will deposit you in a foreign land and make you feel like you can’t leave until you know what’s happened to all the main characters, this is the book for you.

3. Danger Music (2017) by Eddie Ayres

danger musicThis autobiographical tale of teaching cello to children in wartorn Afghanistan follows Ayres’ earlier book, Cadence, which was written while he was still known as Emma Ayres, the hugely popular host of ABC Classic FM’s Breakfast program (and a particular family favourite of ours).

Ayres’ story of self-discovery, set admist the chaos of Kabul and the challenges of teaching children who deal every day with the twin threats of violence and loss, is a painfully but beautifully honest account of his transition to becoming the man he always was inside. The playlist at the end of the book is an added bonus for any music lover, but this book has something for everyone.

4. Bridge of Clay (2018) by Markus Zusak

bridge of clayOh, how long we all have waited for this book?! Not nearly as long as Zusak himself who, after the phenomenal success of The Book Thief, wrote and rewrote Bridge of Clay for years until he finally reached a point where he could release into our hands.

I was conscious, at different points of reading this brilliant novel, that each and every word was precisely chosen and placed…but that in no way detracted from the tale and my emotional investment in it. This was a book I tried to read slowly, to savour the writing, the characters, the whole shebang — but partway through I gave in and finished the rest of the book in one go, unable to resist the pull of the plot. This is a superbly crafted novel that is well worth your time, and one I spent days thinking about after I’d finished it.

5. Becoming (2018) by Michelle Obama

becomingBecoming was always going to be a global blockbuster: Michelle Obama is someone many of us admire want to know more about. Here, in her own words, is Obama’s story of her upbringing, her education, her marriage, and her time in the public eye as First Lady of the United States.

It’s forthright. It’s interesting. It’s well-written. And as soon as I finished it, I was more than happy to pass it on to my elder daughter, who (despite being in primary school) devoured it as quickly as I did and enjoyed it just as much. If you’re after an autobiography to read this summer, not to mention a reminder of a time when the highest offices of one of our most powerful allies were not reduced to chaos and trivialising tweets, this is well worth a look.

Honourable mentions this year go to Ian’ McEwan’s Solar (2010), which may well be the most darkly humourous novel I have ever read, and Muhsin Al-Ramli’s haunting and heartbreaking book The President’s Gardens (originally published in Arabic in 2012) which, like Pachinko, took me to a place in time I have had little experience with but for which I now have a much deeper appreciation.

I also thorougly enjoyed Ailsa Piper’s travelogue Sinning Across Spain (2017), Helen Russell’s occasionally hilarious The Year of Living Danishly: Uncovering the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country (2016) and delighted in Stephen Fry’s Mythos (2018), his elegant and downright funny retelling of the Greek Myths.

So there you have it! Hopefully there is something for everyone here…I’d love to know what you think and what you’ve read this year, so get in touch via the comments if you think I’ve missed one of your standout books for 2018.

It’s summer here, and that means time for books!

2017 in Review: Closing the Book

As another year draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the things I’ve read, seen and heard this year that have affected me in some way — whether by inspiring me, giving me pause, prompting entirely unsolicited dance moves or in-shower solos, or making me think, laugh, cry or even cringe.

So with that in mind, I’ve come up with a bunch of personal Top Fives of 2017, with a few honourable mentions thrown in. Feel free to comment on them, or to share your own favourites — especially if you’d think I’d like them!

Today, I’m starting with books. I have decided that this category is open to any book written at any time, not just in 2017. I simply had to have read them during the past year. That said, I thought it was appropriate to include their year of publication, so I’ve arranged them chronologically. I’m not going to give away plot details or critique them fully — just know if they’ve made this list, I think they’re tops.

BLUE JAI’S BEST BOOKS OF 2017

  1. 2017 Crossing to SafetyCrossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (1987).  This book was loaned to me by The Professor, and I’m still not certain whether that simple fact made reading it a more poignant experience — not least because the plot centres on the interactions between two academics and their wives. The writing is beautiful, evocative, and reminiscent without becoming nostalgic, and Stegner’s control of the narrative is masterful.  This book stayed with me for a long time after I’d read it, and made me feel like I’d spent a summer or two in Vermont.
  2. 2017 American GodsAmerican Gods by Neil Gaiman (2001). What a rollicking good read! Normally I read housebrick sized books on my Kindle, but this one I lugged to and from Fiji and am so glad I did. The story of Shadow and Gaiman’s depiction of the battle between Old Gods and New in America is (literally) fantastic, eccentric and kept this Thrifty Fictionista happily engrossed in my holiday read. I even came back and downoaded Norse Mythology, because I wanted more Gaiman goodness.
  3. 2017 H is for HawkH is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald (2014). I’m not sure I’ve read any other book quite like this one — and while the subject matter (the author’s way of dealing with her grief following the death of her father) is not easy, Macdonald’s brutally honest emotional journey aligns more perfectly that I ever expected with a wealth of arcane knowledge of falconry and the life of T H White. I never anticipated I would find such subjects remotely interesting, but this book proved me entirely wrong.
  4. 2017 Our soulsOur Souls at Night by Kent Haruf (2015). Oh…this story. Published posthumously, Haruf’s tale begins with an unusual proposition and ends up being an absolute joy to read. It’s bittersweet too, it’s true, but — in my view — ultimately uplifting. Like most purists, I suspect the book is better than the movie version, despite fact the film starred Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. Read the book first. Please. (You know it’s the right thing to do.)
  5. 2017 Life to ComeThe Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (2017). Winning this year’s Miles Franklin award, I can’t honestly say I enjoyed this book: the characters are eminently recognisable, particularly to Sydneysiders, but I did not warm to any of them. That said, there wasn’t a single other book I read all year that had my head wriggling like a tin of worms for so many weeks after I’d put it down. Oh — and the writing is seriously, utterly brilliant.

Honourable mentions go also to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which I agree remains as relevant today as it did when first published; Island Home, Tim Winton’s beautifully written (as always) love letter to the Australian landscape and his passionate call to arms to protect it; and finally, The Dry, by Jane Harper, which is one of the best and most atmospheric thrillers I have read in an age.

Coming soon: Blue Jai’s Best Viewing and Listening of 2017…

This Little Life

b-night-flight

Adam and Eve…back to the beginning…

Some days I find it hard to believe that it has been two years since I sat down on the sofa one night and started this blog. I can still remember the first time I hit the Publish button — holding my breath and then slowing exhaling as my words unfurled in cyberspace.

Since then I’ve used this space — usually aimlessly, occasionally deliberately — to make sense of it all: thoughts, feelings, marriage, kids, world events, minutiae, books, music, writing, life.

About a year ago, I wrote a post called The Wellspring, which was probably as close to a personal manifesto as I’ll ever get:

I believe there is a wellspring in each of us, the source of our creativity and our connection with humanity and the planet we are so lucky to live on.

I wrote about my First Principles and how I try to align myself with them. I wrote about living authentically and being true to myself. I wrote, also, of my gratitude for the encouragement I had received — and continue to receive — from the farflung readers of this blog.

b-adam-depression

In Adam I recognise my tendency to overthink…

Now, another twelve months on, I decided to go right back to the beginning. To get back to basics. So I went back and read that first post I wrote, Just Getting it Out There, and was thankful that I still recognised the person I found there — even though way back then I hadn’t even figured out how to add images to what I had written, and barely knew what a tag was.

Re-reading that post also made me want to go back and revisit the movie that had inspired it, Jim Jarmusch’s Only Lovers Left Alive. Having recently returned from a holiday to the US, I wanted to return to the film’s nocturnal landscape, the dispossessed industrial heartland of America — partly because I’m still trying to reconcile what I witnessed only a couple of weeks ago: the carefully constructed Disney dream with all its manicured artifice that I sought to share with my children, and the haphazard existence of the homeless people I saw living in squalor beside freeways or sleeping it off outside shopping centres.

b-eve-wisdom

Like The Bloke, Eve reminds me that there are so many ways to live and survive..

It was The Bloke, my steady and steadfast husband, who reminded me that there are many ways to live this life, and that not everyone finds living in a house in the suburbs (or anywhere, for that matter) fits in with them or with their preferred lifestyle. That freedom can be defined in as many ways as there are human beings. That every single one of us has a story — and that each of those tales matters, and is worth no more or less than the next person’s.

And since then I have been reminding myself, as I reminded my children countless times during that vacation, of that old adage:

It’s not wrong, it’s just different.

b-adam-eve

Unlike vampires, we get just one, short life…

We are all the product of our choices, of the decisions we make. Some are so small we don’t even register them for what they are or for the cumulative impact they have. Others are so big they are completely and mindblowingly life-altering. And yet, regardless of their size or consequence, whether we overthink them or dwell on them in bed at night or dismiss them or even put them into the fabled ‘too hard basket’, we make them. Each and every day.

And so, ultimately, I remain convinced of the importance of knowing and aligning yourself with your First Principles, whatever they might be. I still believe in that Wellspring and of the incalculable value of connecting with it regularly and deliberately. I continue to contend that it is worth doing your best in everything you do, and in each and every decision you make, and that it is essential to be grateful — oh, so grateful — for this little life.

 

If you enjoyed this post and would like musings from the Daydream Believer to be delivered to your inbox whenever they appear, feel free to click the follow button at the top right of this page…Blue Jai 

 

Dirt Music

 

Dirt Music 3

Dancing spotlit in a bodystocking? Not me…I’ll leave that to the likes of Misty Copeland.

So the other night, after a few “light beers” (which may or may not have been entire bottles of wine), a mate of mine asked me whether I had a Favourite Book.

As in, a Favourite Book OF ALL TIME.

And I said…Yes.

Or perhaps I just whispered it.

I definitely held my breath for a split second before I answered, not sure of how my response would be received, or whether it would be treated with the reverence I reserve for Favourite Books.

Because let’s face it — owning up to having a Favourite Book (of All Time, no less) is to to reveal your self, to expose your self as completely and unapologetically as a dancer in a flesh-coloured bodysuit on a spotlit stage.  Which is fine, completely fine, if you’ve spent the requisite years honing your body and your skills to the point that a body-stocking, or a distinct lack of on-stage hiding places, or (God forbid) an audience no longer fazes you, but…clearly, that’s not me.

I write. I read.

I cook. I most definitely eat. And while my kitchen is well-known as a place where dancing is heartily encouraged, I would sooner eat a body-stocking rather than wear one.

Even so, despite my many misgivings (or maybe because I, too, had consumed several glasses of wine), the other night I actually confessed to loving one book above all others.

Now, any literature lover will tell you that the idea of narrowing down the books you couldn’t bear to part with to a Top Ten is an utterly absurd exercise. If you truly love books, whittling down your list to a Top Fifty is a difficult proposition.

But if you have a Favourite Book, you know what it is. If, unlike me, you’re the sort of person who likes to proclaim your Favourite Book far and wide and to encourage every last being in the known universe to read it, you know what it is. If, like me, you’re a little more circumspect about revealing the identity of your Favourite Book, you know what it is. Even if you have trouble admitting to yourself that one particular volume is your Favourite Book, you still know what it is.

And mine is Tim Winton’s Dirt Music.

Dirt Music

So here it is — my Favourite Book. OF ALL TIME.

(Oh dear Lord! Did I just type that for the world to see?!)

Yep, Dirt Music is my Favourite Book of All Time.

And I have decided that I will own up to it, and expose myself to whatever judgements you may make about me as a result of that admission, because it is my Favourite Book.

I could have dodged the issue entirely, perhaps, and said it was impossible to decide between Dirt Music and any number of other books, such as Pride and Prejudice or Anna Karenina or The Lord of the Rings or The Great Gatsby or Hamlet, to name just a handful of others.  No authors’ names necessary, of course — they’re all tomes that are regularly cited as being Favourite Books. I could even have wrong-footed my friend by pointing him in the direction of Ursula Le Guin’s Earthsea books, or Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, or Vikram Seth’s A Suitable Boy or  Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close.

But I didn’t.

Because, deep down, I know that Dirt Music is my Favourite Book.

I’m not saying that it’s best book in the universe — that’s a whole other discussion. And I’m definitely not going to weigh into the whole debate about the Great Australian Novel, either, and whether that accolade goes to Winton’s Cloudstreet or not.  I’m not even saying that you should rush out, buy Dirt Music, and devour it cover to cover — it may not be your thing at all. (I mean, if you want to, of course — go ahead; it might end up being your Favourite Book too).

Nup. I’m not doing any of that.

But what I am saying is pretty simple, really.

For me, Dirt Music, Winton’s tale of Georgie Jutland losing and finding herself in the wilds and waters of Western Australia is special. In the true blue, Bruce McAvaney sense of the word.

I love — no, I utterly adore — Tim Winton’s prose.  I love the tangible physicality of his descriptions of people and place. I love the accuracy with which he captures his characters’ vernacular. I love the overarching presence of the Australian landscape, particularly of the ocean and the coast. I love the way he describes Georgie’s father as Himself, QC — and I love the sheer volume of information and resonance and impact those two words impart.

Dirt Music 2

My super-power: escaping into books…

Reading is such a great privilige, and literacy such an inordinately important gift. And, as Alain de Botton points out, “Of all the addictions, bibliophilia is the noblest and most dangerous.” Where else, but between the pages of books, can we embark on great quests, fight revolutions, ride dragons, or sail further west than west?

I will, I know, continue to read, and always — always — to write. Like Rudyard Kipling, “I am by nature a dealer in words, and words are the most powerful drug known to humanity.”

And it is beyond comforting to know that I can return time and again to the happy places that lie between the dog-eared volumes that line my shelves, to wend my way along hidden paths towards Rivendell, to walk with Elizabeth from Netherfield back to Longbourn, even to hold my breath as Anna waits for the oncoming train…

But I will always come back, time and again, to Dirt Music, if only to discover, like Luther Fox, just one last time:

She’s real…she’s real…

The Literary Apothecary

Heart bookNot so long ago, I bared my evidently somewhat miserly soul and wrote the Confession of the Thrifty Fictionista. Those of you who have read it will know that allowing myself to wander into a bookstore is a dangerous business, particularly if I am in possession of a credit card (not necessarily mine), cash (even the most trifling amount), or anything that could be used (appropriately or otherwise) to barter for new books.

Even to say that I “wander” in bookstores is not entirely accurate. In truth, it’s a lot more like stalking. I don’t prowl around suburban bookstores disguised in a ghillie suit fashioned from torn out pages of old paperbacks and the occasionally well-placed bookmark, but I do take the mission of tracking down exactly the right book very seriously. It requires rigorous discipline, a keen eye and excellent aim to capture such a book, and this pursuit gives me nearly as much pleasure as devouring the whole volume when I return to my lair…er…my home.

But every now and then, a book creeps up on me, instead — in the best possible way.

Such books do not stalk me the way I stalk them. No. they’re far more flirtatious. Enticing. Alluring. They call me with their covers and beckon with their blurbs until I am sufficiently charmed to forget my usual thrift and self-restraint, and submit to purchasing them, no matter the price. Paris Bookshop

The most recent tome whose wiles proved utterly irresistible to me was Nina George’s beautiful novel The Little Paris Bookshop, the tale of a man named Jean Perdu who runs a bookshop from a barge on the River Seine. Instead of being just a bookseller, however, the main character is a “literary apothecary” whose gift is matching his customers with books that ease their minds and soothe their souls. Rather than allowing them to purchase the books they want, he sells them the books they need. As it says in the novel:

Whenever Monsieur Perdu looked at a book, he did not see it purely in terms of a story, retail price and an essential balm for the soul; he saw freedom on wings of paper.

But Jean Perdu — his name, of course, translates as John Lost — is unable to heal his own wounds, inflicted more than two decades before, until he has the courage to cast off the book barge, Lulu, from the Champs-Élysées harbour and journey south towards Avignon and beyond in search of his long lost Provençal love.

George’s novel is, quite simply, a lovely read: amusing, heartfelt, and poignant.  Rather than being nosebleeingly highbrow literature, it is what I think of as the best sort of book — the kind that you can’t wait to keep reading, but that you don’t want to finish either. It’s well written but eminently accessible, and Simon Pare’s translation from George’s original German is so elegant and lyrical that I was completely unaware that I was not reading the book in its original form.

I was, and remain, grateful that The Little Paris Bookshop crept up on me, and I’m looking forward to the next book that tempts me and works its wondrous magic.  Because reading, as Jean Perdu says, is “an endless journey; a long, indeed never-ending journey that [makes] one more temperate as well as more loving and kind.”

Ahhh….books.  Long may they seduce us.

Confession of a Thrifty Fictionista

SolaceI allowed myself a guilty pleasure yesterday afternoon.

That said, ‘guilty pleasure’ is a complete misnomer because I don’t feel a shred of remorse about it.  Rather, I felt an overwhelming sense of adulation: roaming around a bookshop, on my own, having given myself permission to leave the shop with one — just one — newly purchased tome.

I have said before that music is as necessary as oxygen to me.  Similarly, on my list of life’s necessities, books are akin to food: they are my nourishment and my sustenance. Even The Bloke often refers to me as the hungriest bookworm he has ever met.  And, as with what I eat, there are times when I am not at all fussy about what I am reading, times when I am very strict with myself about what I may or may not read, and times when only a certain book will do.

So, as you may well imagine, my trip to the bookshop yesterday was like visiting a literary smoragasbord: picking up a book here and a book there, flicking through the first couple of pages, sampling this author’s words and that publisher’s blurb, feasting on the myriad covers, on the handwritten staff recommendations, on the glory of the printed word.  And it was there, standing among all those shelves of shining volumes, my nostrils full of the unmistakable scent of new books, that I realised something.  Yes — here it is, the confession of a Thrifty Fictionista: I want as much book for my buck as possible.

Banal as it is, it’s true.  Even when I’m in the process of being swept up and away by the sight and smell of so many glorious books, I’ve got one eye firmly fixed on the price tag.  If I’m going to buy a book — one that will hold its own on my already overloaded shelves — it needs to be worth it.  In a world where my library space is also being inexorably usurped by my children’s expanding collection of Lego bricks and other toys, I need to feel confident that I will be willing to defend my literary purchase against the onslaught of small plastic figures, minuscule puzzle pieces and apparently self-multiplying coloured pencils and pens.  It doesn’t need to be a book that has won a major award, topped the best-seller lists or even received critical acclaim, but it does need to be a work of quality.  Perhaps it’s a snippet of dialogue that attracts me, or an impression of a particular place or historical time, or a particularly well-crafted description or turn of phrase.  But it does need to get me in.

And my book of choice not only has to be a quality tome, it has to last.  It needs to keep me occupied for days, not hours — and being a notoriously fast reader, this sometimes poses a problem for me.  That said, yesterday it proved to be instructive: I seriously considered purchasing a riot of a read by an Australian author whose work I love, but whose trademark fast-paced narratives and twisting plots take me only a few hours to devour.  They’re fantastic escapes, but ones that I am far more likely to borrow from the library.  Let’s face it, you can only be surprised by an ending once, and quite apart from that, this Thrifty Fictionista had a reasonably good inkling that she could pick up a brand new copy far cheaper online than she could in store…

Dec 2014 Jan 2015 021So just what did I emerge from the bookstore with?  Which volume managed to reel me in, and satisfy both the frugal and decadent sides of my nature — the one that doesn’t want to pay too much as well as the one that wants to wallow in a good book for hours?  Well, I ended up with three books in one: Haruki Murakam’s 1Q84 trilogy.  I’m 250 pages into it already and it has me hooked, and I went to bed feeling almost smug last night, knowing that I still have over 1,000 pages and many happy hours reading ahead of me.  And, if you must know, the Murakami omnibus was five dollars cheaper than the other book I was tempted by, so this Thrifty Fictionista is counting that as a win!