Midwinter Delights

Weatherwise, it’s a miserable day here in Sydneytown. Southerly squalls started gusting before dawn, and when the rain hasn’t been slamming us sideways, the sun has straggled out to show ragged strips of grey cloud racing their way north.

After hearing the mere mention of the words “East Coast Low”, I am glad that I officially proclaimed today “Trackie Dack Tuesday” — we have dressed accordingly and hunkered down indoors for the day, listening to Sigur Rós, playing Scrabble, baking cookies and cutting out sewing patterns. We are all a little sad plans for netball training this evening have been ditched, but at least the cancellation means we don’t have to change out of our aforementioned (super daggy) attire. Besides, being at home for the day has given me the opportunity to reflect on what has been happening lately and pinpoint the moments of delight that have captured me since winter began.

Without further ado, here are four highlights from our winter (such as it usually is) so far:

Apricity

winter 1Ahh…what a wonderful word: precise, perfect, and something I cherish. Apricity means “the warmth of the sun in winter”, and I am particularly fond of seeking it out — especially on days when the blue sky stretches high but the temperature drops deceptively low. Recently I have been struck by my appreciation of apricity when chatting with my elderly neighbour over the back fence, shooting goals with my family down at the local neball courts, and curling up with a good book on the lounge beside my beloved cat. Apricity is a true winter delight (and one most felines can point you in the direction of, if you care to follow their lead…which in my view constitutes another reason to join the Cat Race). Besides, in winter a decent dose of Vitamin D is good for you.

Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

winter 2The good book I was curled up in the sun with? Well, when I wasn’t on a fiction bender reading all eight of Sarah J Maas’ Throne of Glass books (because it’s school holidays and who actually needs an excuse to escape into a book anyway), I was completely and utterly caught up in Julia Baird’s latest offering.  It’s full title is Phosphorescence: On awe, wonder and the things that sustain you when the world goes dark, and it is absolutely worth getting your hands on a copy — not just because the cover is truly a thing of beauty. While I was reading it, this book made me think deeply about Baird’s many and varied insights, and after finishing it several weeks ago I am still pondering her observations, recalling certain turns of phrase, and picking up the book to delve into certain sections again.

Winter 3Chocolate Croissants

Is there anything more satisfying than biting into a freshly made chocolate croissant? Particularly when in it is a perfect ensemble of crisp, flaky, buttery pastry and decadently high quality dark chocolate? Do I even need to begin justifying including this as a delight? I think not…and I am abundantly grateful to have a magical patisserie not far from home where these masterpieces are made every single day. Nom.

Hamilton

What a wonderful coincidence, that Disney Plus released the film version of Hamilton the very same evening the NSW winter school holidays began! For me, the fact that this already marvellous confluence of events also happened to line up with Marvel Girl receiving news that she had been accepted into the high school she was aiming for made it all the more magical. Marvel Girl and I are big Hamilton fans and even bigger devotees of the insanely talented Lin-Manuel Miranda, so settling in to watch this massively ambitious piece of musical theatre was an absolute, unmitigated delight. We relished and rejoiced in every rhyme, and since then even Miss Malaprop has been known to sing out a line or two…especially if it allows her render a completely lifelike Jonathan Groff impression to send a fully armed battalion to remind [us] of [her] love!

There’s no better way to end this post than that.

winter 5

 

 

2019 in Books

At last…the third and final instalment in my Top Five’s for 2019 has arrived — books, beautiful books!

2019 was always going to be a tough year in books for me, because 2018 was the year when Boy Swallows Universe usurped Dirt Music as my favourite book of all time.

So this year, instead of seeking out works of fiction that might make me change my mind yet again (because — as we now know Patrick Melrose would say — that’s what a mind is for, after all), I opted for to throw some non-fiction in with my usual reading escapes…and was more than pleasantly surprised.

I also read a few classics of English literature, one of which begins this, my humble list:

1. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925)

Mrs DMrs Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself.

It’s one the great opening lines in literature, and somehow evokes the quiet control Virginia Woolf exercises over each and every character in this slim and beautiful novel. I’ve long been interested in Woolf, and am so pleased I found time to read this novel this year.

Taking place over the course of a single day, Woolf takes the reader back and forward in time, from one character’s perspective to another, making us privy to their innermost thoughts about that day and its events, and of the other characters. Only in books do we have this power: to know the internal dialogue and register the emotional barometer of another (albeit fictional) person.

It is staggering to me that Woolf managed to deal with themes such as religion and secularism, mental health, sexuality and feminism in the space of so few pages. This is stream of consciousness writing at its finest, and is as relevant today as it would have been on the June day in 1923 it describes.

2. The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein (2017)

TCThe subtitle of this brilliant piece of non-fiction is “One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay and disaster”, but not even these words begin to sum up Sandra Pankhurst and her astonishing progression from abused child, to husband and father, to drag queen and sex reassignment patient, to sex worker, businesswoman, trophy wife…the list goes on.

I had heard rumours and rumblings about this book for a couple of years. Not surprisingly, given the quality of Krasnostein’s writing, it has won a whole swag of awards, but I was honestly unprepared for the impact it would have on me. It was not that I was reading about someone who cleans up crime scenes, horders’ houses, and squalor so sordid it is almost possible to smell it coming off the page, it was the emotional wallop of Pankhurst’s own life story, interleaved with chapters about her clients and the tenderness — yes, tenderness — with which she deals with them.

Her work, in short, is a catalogue of the ways we die physically and emotionally, and the strength and delicacy needed to lift the things we leave behind.

SARAH KRASNOSTEIN

Krasonstein’s treatment of the slippery nature of memory and truth is masterful, and her frank admissions about the issues and memories her interactions with Pankhurst and her clients raise for her are, to my mind, courageous. It is impossible to read this book — and I could not put it down once I began — without having your breath taken away.

This is also a book that will  leave you thinking, hard, about things you never expected to, for a very long time.

3. Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid (2019)

DJ6Whoa…we need to head back to Fictionland after that one, hey?

Well, what better way to do that than with Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones and the Six? Weirdly, upon reflection, this book also deals with memory and truth as much as The Trauma Cleaner does, though in a fictional setting. Set in Los Angeles in the 1960s and 1970s, the book poses as an oral history trying to get to the bottom of a rock’n’roll puzzle — what made Daisy Jones and the Six, one of the decade’s most successful bands, split up straight after playing the final concert of their tour in 1979?

The writing style reminded me of Lizzy Goodman’s brilliant non-fiction work Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock and Roll in New York City 2001-2011, a huge tome chronicling the rise of bands like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Vampire Weekend, LCD Soundsystem and The National. Being fiction, however, Daisy Jones and the Six lets you invest yourself in the characters, allows the reader to take sides without fear of any recrimination, and to enjoy the twist that comes towards the end. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

4. City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (2019)

CofGI was not expecting to include this book in my Top Five for the year, but have done so because it proved to be a rollicking good read and, in my opinion, the best piece of fiction Elizabeth Gilbert has produced in years. Unlike The Signature of All Things, which I found to be overwhelmingly populated by caricatures, City of Girls bursts at the seams with the colourful characters encountered by Vivian Morris from the time she moves to Manhattan as a nineteen year old after being kicked out of college.

Gilbert vividly recreates the theare and showgirl scene in New York City in the 1940s, and the novel is as much a love story to the city as it is the story of Vivian navigating her way through life and love, to recount it as a ninety-five year old narrator. This book is a great escape, not to mention a fascinating examination of how important it is to be free to be yourself.

5. How To Raise Successful People by Esther Wojcicki (2019)

SPI bought this book after hearing Esther Wojcicki interviewed on a podcast and read it cover to cover in an afternoon. Wojcicki draws on her experiences raising three highly successful children (all women who have risen to the top of typically male-dominated professions) and teaching generations of Media Arts students at Palo Alto High School, and also reflects on how her childhood informed the choices she made as a parent.

It’s partly a parenting manifesto, partly a practical advice manual, and a lot of what Wojcicki has to say makes a great deal of sense to me. It might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but this was definitely a book that gave me much to think about — not to mention implement in my life — this year.

Honourable Mentions this year go two other non-fiction titles, Drusilla Modjeska’s beautiful and evocative memoir Second Half First and to Melinda Gates’ highly thought-provoking book about empowering women, The Moment of Lift.

On the fiction front, Max Porter’s novella Grief is a Thing With Feathers very nearly made my Top Five for its emotional bravery and poetic brilliance. I am yet to read Lanny but hope to get my hands on a copy in 2020. I also thoroughly enjoyed Sally Rooney’s Normal People, and will admit to spending a week devouring the entire Cormoran Strike series, penned by Robert Galbraith (aka J K Rowling), with something akin to glee. I was a late-comer to Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus and loved it, and am looking forward to reading her next book, The Starless Sea, this year.

So that’s all folks! I read a whole lot of other books during the year that were also noteworthy and interesting, but these were the ones that made the cut for 2019.

That said, I have just trawled my local library for a substantial summer reading stash and have kicked off with the Julia Baird’s so-far brilliant biography of Queen Victoria…it may well make my 2020 list!

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