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!

If you have enjoyed this post from Blue Jai Creative and would like every new musing from the Daydream Believer delieved straight to your inbox, feel free to click on the Follow button at the top right of the page. Thanks for reading! BJx

 

 

 

2019 on Screen

Here comes the second instalment of my Top Five’s for 2019 — movies and television. I should probably preface this by saying that for me, any time I’m sitting in front of a screen without a keyboard is a form of escapism, so I’m not too likely to be using much grey matter when I’m watching. It’s all about being entertained!

So, without further ado, here (in no particular order) are my Top Five great escapes on screen for the 2019.

1. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

SWix

Now, this one was always going to be on here. It seems like only yesterday that I was wondering whether my kids might be ready to watch the Star Wars movies, and since then they have devoured everything in the universe currently available (though they might not be quite up to date with the most recent episodes of The Mandalorian).

We saw this movie as a family (which always makes it more special) and we all, unequivocally, loved it. After all, outer space could possibly be the greatest escape of all. On a side note, Miss Malaprop was also properly impressed I accurately picked Rey’s parentage within the first ten minutes…

2. Captain Marvel

CapAs a mother of two girls, strong female role models are always high on my lookout list when it comes to movies — Rey in The Rise of Skywalker being a case in point. And while it might seem like completely hyperbolic overload to include two massive blockbusters in this year’s Top Five, I simply could not relegate Captain Marvel to the Highly Commended section.

Ironically, part of what made this movie special for me was that I saw it in Hobart with The Bloke when we’d absconded from Sydney without our two (mostly) cherubic offspring for a long weekend in Tasmania. I will always love the Marvel Universe, and I thoroughly enjoyed Captain Marvel from start to finish — and I was, of course, totally entertained by Goose the Cat/Flerken. Winning.

3. Patrick Melrose

Thought you might need a change of pace…

PMThis TV series was one I would describe as an emotional onslaught of epic proportions. How Benedict Cumberbatch pulled off playing the titualr role so brilliantly — being, as he is, in virtually every scene of the entire production — I will never know. Hugo Weaving’s performance as Patrick’s father is also devastatingly good.

It was difficult to watch Patrick’s life unravel, particularly as the audience is given increasing insight into the unmitigating awfulness of his childhood. What makes it even harder to watch is knowing that the series is based on the semi-autobiograpical novels of Edward St Aubyn. That Patrick persists (for the most part) and attempts to overcome the trauma of his past and the addictions of his present transforms Patrick Melrose into compelling viewing.

The final episode also delivered one of my favourite exchanges of dialogue for the year:

Patrick Melrose:  I’ve decided I’m bored of ghosts. I want to see people instead.

Mary Melrose: Oh, I see. OK.

Patrick Melrose: Or is it too late to change my mind?

Mary Melrose: Not at all. After all, that’s what it’s for. 

It’s not always comfortable viewing, but well worth the effort.

4. The Crown, Series 3

tc3I, like many others, was loathe to see Claire Foy, Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby relinquish their roles in the newest series of The Crown, but my fears were unfounded. Olivia Colman is brilliant as Her Maj, and Tobias Menzies (once I had got past seeing him as Black Jack Randall) was equally good as Prince Philip. I was less sure about Helena Bonham Carter as Princess Margaret, but she does cut a suitably tragic figure.

The inclusion of Charles Dance as Lord Mountbatten was a stroke of genius (though it could reasonably be said that the inclusion of Charles Dance in just about anything amounts to a stroke of genius), and I was delighted by the performance of Erin Doherty as Princess Anne — particularly the scene where she sings along to David Bowie’s Starman without losing a modicum of her stiff upper lip.

We all know what’s going to happen in The Crown — let’s face it, it’s recent modern history, so you’d have to have been living under a rock not to — but I was drawn to the way certain key events were portrayed, humanising both the happenings and the Royal Family themselves. I can’t wait for the next series. Not to mention the costumes…

5. Killing Eve, Series 1 and 2

OK, OK…so I was late to the party on this one — but how good is Killing Eve?!

Sandra Oh excels as Eve Polastri, and Jodie Comer turns being the villanous Villanelle into a fine art. Never has being a psychopathic assassin looked so good — or so fashionable — not to mention sounded so incredible (thanks to Comer’s brilliant range of accents).

That this show also features Danish actor Kim Bodnia (who I first encountered in The Bridge) as Villanelle’s handler was an extra treat for me. Bring on Season Three — waiting is so boring!

Bored Killing Eve GIF by BBC America

I watched a bunch of other stuff during the year, including a French show called Chefs which kept me entertained, and (thanks to my kids) more episodes of Nailed It than I would care to recall, and fell asleep during almost every instalment I tried to watch of The Witcher — which probably had more to do with the time of year than with Henry Cavill, and I am resolving to do better in the future.

witcherBut I can’t think of anything else that really stood out for me in 2019. No doubt I will as soon as I hit the publish button…but no matter.

Don’t change the channel — next up I’m talking best books of the year.

2019 in Song

OK folks…strap yourselves in — it’s time for my Top 5 in music for 2019!

Only rule that applies to this list is that the song had to be released in 2019. No more mucking around — let’s jump straight in.

1. Harmony Hall Vampire Weekend

Who can fail to be happy when one of their favourite bands releases their first single in aaaaaages on your actual birthday? This was a present I didn’t expect and one that kept giving the whole year long. I love everything about this song, from the catchy beat to the genre-jumping progression of muscial styles — especially when they go from what sounds like a classical piano solo into sliding country guitar. For what it’s worth, the snake in the video is super cute, too.

2. The Barrel Aldous Harding

I’m not going to lie — I have no idea what the lyrics to the song are about, but this was one of the tunes I found myself listening to over and again in 2019. It’s whimsical and somehow magical and proves you don’t have to be playing klezmer to include a clarinet on a track. Aldous Harding is a Kiwi folk singer-songwriter whose work I will definitely be checking out more regularly — though the video does prompt ever so many questions…not least of which is do I need to wear platforms to dance like that?

3. Firesmoke Kate Tempest

I read Kate Tempest’s book The Bricks That Built the Houses a few years ago and it remains one of my favourite reads of the past decade. I suspect this song will also be one of my favourites of the decade. It is an incredible, personal love song, a raw and searing portrait of intimacy. It’s Firesmoke.

4. All I Want Broken Social Scene

This one needs to be listened to up loud! It’s as bold and brash as Firesmoke is quiet and contained, but the sentiment remains the same. Canada’s indie rock darlings delivered this around the same time Vampire Weekend released Harmony Hall — it must have been quite a week for great tunes, because this one rocks and I love it.

5. Summer Girl HAIM

There is not, in my humble opinion, enough saxophone being played in songs these days (or clarinet…as The Barrel proved at No. 2 above). This song from HAIM is a poppy classic with a sax riff that gets stuck in your head in all the best ways. I love the video too: the idea of stripping off all we no longer need as we head into summer — not to mention the next decade — it one I can get behind.

Honourable Mentions this year go to James Blake for Don’t Miss It, and also to a few tracks released in 2018 than didn’t really make it onto my radar until 2019: Fireworks by First Aid Kit and No Roots by Joshua Hyslop.

And my Top 5 Throwbacks for the year (other than anything by the inimitable and still very much missed David Bowie) are, in no particular order:

  1. Love and Peace — Quincy Jones (1969)
  2. Heads Will Roll — Yeah Yeah Yeahs (2009)
  3. Kiss Them For Me — Siouxsie and the Banshees (1991)
  4. Where Is My Mind? — The Pixies (1988)
  5. Grateful Song — Villagers (2013)

Stay tuned for my best of 2019 in Movies/TV and books!

 

 

2017 in Review: The Final Countdown

OK folks, here it is: the last of my Top Fives for 2017.

Today I’m shining a light on the five songs that made an impression on me this year, but unlike the Reading and Viewing lists, the songs that made the grade here HAD to have been released this year.

So without any further mucking around, and in totally random order, here’s the list — with some favourite lines thrown in for good measure:

BLUE JAI’S TOP FIVE SONGS FOR 2017

1.  Your Time by Nick Murphy.

2017 Your Time

Nick Murphy

You know that your time is something that I need to have…

This is one dark, edgy track from Murphy’s Missing Link EP — and it hooks you right from the opening line. If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere for the past few years and haven’t already encountered Nick Murphy in his former guise, Chet Faker, you’re in for a treat with this one. And if you’re not dancing (or obsessing over someone) by the end of this song, I’m not sure we can be friends. Really. Nothing personal, it’s just that kind of music.

2. Private by Vera Blue.

2017 Private

Vera Blue

Subjects in my mind, running wild, images of a parallel life…

Vera Blue’s Perennial was nominated for Album of the Year at the 2017 J Awards — and rightly so, in my opinion. She’s a powerful and interesting vocalist (I loved her work on Slumberjack’s track Fracture as well), and this song taps right into the fantastically frustrating vibe of wanting someone you can’t have, no matter how vividly you imagine it. Totally worth a listen.

 

3. Everything Now by Arcade Fire.

2017 Everything now

Arcade Fire

Every song that I’ve ever heard
Is playing at the same time, it’s absurd
And it reminds me, we’ve got everything now…

I’ll be honest — Arcade Fire are one of my favourite bands. Ever. And this song has been the soundtrack to many a morning walk along the beachfront near my home this year. The lyrics are, admittedly, bleak, but the overall sound of the piece is overwhelmingly joyful — particularly towards the end, when there’s a real festival vibe going on. In an era of information overload and fake news, I’m grateful Arcade Fire is there to critique it and turn it into something uplifting and beautiful.

4. Cloud 9 and Marryuna by Baker Boy.

2017 Baker Boy

Baker Boy

You want to be as good as me boy you better practice: step back in the power of my blackness…

So this one is a tie — I couldn’t bring myself to choose between these two Baker Boy tracks, because they’re both absolutely brilliant. These raps are a blend of English and Yolngu Matha language, and Baker Boy does Arnhem Land more than proud representing his people. He’s as good live as he is in the recording studio, and at just 20 years of age I’m looking forward to hearing a whole lot more from this supremely talented rising star.

5. The Deepest Sighs, The Frankest Shadows by Gang of Youths

2017 GOYouths

Gang of Youths

In a crowd unfamiliar, I just wanna touch a familiar face
And make friends at the parties I’ve feared the likes of an age
To be wanted with truth and make formidable love
See light in myself that I see inside everyone else I know…

How good is this band? It was no surprise to me that they absolutely cleaned up at the ARIAs this year. Go Farther in Lightness is an album packed with David Le’aupepe’s mindbendingly well-written lyrics accompanied by the driving rhythms and soaring melodies all Gang of Youths fans have come to know and love. This is my favourite track from a great album. Check it out.

2017 The Man

See? He really is The Man.

Honourable mentions go to The Killers for The Man — a song I half expect to turn up on a Peaky Blinders episode in the future because it seems (to me, anyway) to capture Tommy Shelby’s strut and sass, not to mention his complete self-assuredness. And that’s not just because I’m a huge fan of anything Cillian Murhpy does…it’s a great song. This year I also think Nick Mulvey’s Myela deserves a mention, not least because it highlights the plight of refugees in a world prone to forgetting some of the planet’s most desperate people, and — on a much lighter note — Lorde’s Homemade Dynamite is also top flight listening.

So there we have it: the last of my Top Five’s for the year. Given that I’m a veritable magpie when it comes to music and that I listen to a wide range of stuff from all over the world, I was somewhat surprised that the majority of the artists I’ve highlighted here are Australian — but that’s where I’m from, and I believe in supporting the local music scene, so perhaps it’s logical even if it does reflect a certain Antipodean bias.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what your Top Five songs were this year. Feel free to use the Comments to let me know, and I’ll be sure to give them a spin.

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…