Why read? Why write? Why bother? On reclaiming our language and our lives and having a laugh

September 13, 2020 at 12:46 am | Posted in capitalism, Comedy writing, Democracy, humour as medicine, Living creatively, social capital, value of the arts | 2 Comments
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The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity

Because I’ve been writing a new novel (working title: Tumult) I’ve postponed writing a new blog post. Immersed in the world of the novel, it’s only when I feel super strongly about a book I’ve read that I’m desperate to tell people about it. Two small books stand out. Carlo M. Cipolla’s The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity and John Freeman’s Dictionary of the Undoing.

Even though The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity (Penguin, 2019) was first published in 1976, with its chapters such as ‘Stupidity and Power’, it has direct relevance to the Trump phenomenon. This international best-seller explains that ‘stupid people always underestimate the damaging power of stupid individuals’. Lest this sound like a depressing read, it is actually a very funny one, and Nassim Taleb in his Foreword to the latest edition writes that it’s not cynical or defeatist – no more than a book on microbiology is. Instead, it’s ‘a constructive effort to detect, know and thus possibly neutralize one of the most powerful, dark forces which hinder the growth of human welfare and happiness.’

‘Something is very wrong with the world.’

And when I began reading Dictionary of the Undoing (Corsair, 2019), I thought that John Freeman is our William Blake (see here) Dictionary of the Undoing is an arresting and profound book, simply and succinctly analysing how we arrived at our current mess. Continue Reading Why read? Why write? Why bother? On reclaiming our language and our lives and having a laugh…

What’s essential? Pandemic reading

July 20, 2020 at 12:27 pm | Posted in Blasket islands, Cli-fi novels, psychopaths | Leave a comment
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Three outstanding books

In the early days of the pandemic a contents box on the front page of a newspaper stated:

‘WHAT’S ESSENTIAL

In France, wine

In the US, guns.’

For me, it’s books. (Hmmmm, maybe the wine comes a close second.)

Some people want to read books like Camus’ The Plague during this pandemic. If you’re the erudite Simon Schama you’ll of course be reading Thucydides’ History of the Peloponnesian War with its evocative descriptions of plague and the detrimental effect on friendship.

Not me. I don’t want to re-visit those two fine works when it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the number of wonderful new books being published, specially when keeping up with them is done after small writing and editing jobs plus the big one of writing my next novel.

Three recent books, all very different from each other, stand out for me: Bradley J. Edwards’ Relentless Pursuit (co-written with Brittany Henderson), Colly Campbell’s The Capricorn Sky, and Cole Moreton’s The Lightkeeper. Continue Reading What’s essential? Pandemic reading…

Gently altering the world – the arts

March 30, 2020 at 11:24 pm | Posted in art, arts and health, Common Good, creativity, humour, humour as medicine, rural Ireland, Stand-up comedy - Australian, stress management, value of the arts, writers' health | 5 Comments
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Returning from a writing residency in Cill Rialaig, in Ireland’s County Kerry – https://cillrialaigartscentre.com/residencies/ – it was weird to be back yet not be able to hop on my bike and see friends, go to tango lessons, films, cafés and libraries or walk around the lake.

I watched that ingenious ABC program You Can’t Ask That and this time it was on nudists. I thought they would just answer the questions in their clothes.

But no – there they were, all shapes and sizes, in the nude. It reminded me of an unusual art exhibition I heard about in Cork.

Near Kilkenny I stayed a week at the fabulous Shankill Castle – https://shankillcastle.com – home of painter Elizabeth Cope and her husband Geoffrey. I have one of her beautiful paintings, pictured above. You can see her work here – she does landscapes, still lifes and portraits. She had an exhibition in Cork of only her nudes. A group of nudists asked if they could view the exhibition in the nude. The gallery said yes. I suppose it wasn’t winter. Continue Reading Gently altering the world – the arts…

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

February 23, 2020 at 4:04 pm | Posted in mental illness, miscarriage of justice, optimism, Simplifying, wild camping | 2 Comments
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Nothing left to lose

I’m travelling through Ireland, en route to a writing residency in County Kerry and the bookshops here are brilliant. A favourite one is Charlie Byrnes Bookshop in Galway. My favourite book from there is The Salt Path by Raynor Winn (Penguin, 2018).

Sitting before roaring log fires in Shankill Castle’s drawing room (my landlord Geoffrey calls it the withdrawing room), I couldn’t put this book down. But I didn’t want it to end.

The Salt Path was a Sunday Times Bestseller and it’s easy to see why. The author and her husband, called Moth, decide to walk from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall, a distance of 630 miles. They carry rucksacks and a small, lightweight tent, with no money to back them up except a minimal weekly pension and even that uncertain and diminishing for no reason they can fathom or do anything about.

It was an impulsive decision, made when the bailiffs were literally banging on the windows of their farmhouse. They’d lost their home of twenty years, their livelihood from it, and their animals. After three years of endless battle with the courts (using up all their savings), a clear miscarriage of justice had landed them in this position.

Continue Reading The Salt Path by Raynor Winn…

Drinking the days: biographies and oysters

January 28, 2020 at 10:36 am | Posted in Australian memoir, Christina Stead, Democracy, Dennis Glover, Kay Schubach, Living creatively, mental illness, optimism, value of the arts | Leave a comment
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‘Set wide the window. Let me drink the day.’ American writer Edith Wharton (1862-1937) wrote that. I love it and would often think of it after opening the curtains first thing.

But her words took on a tragic tone in the mornings after the bushfires began. We could no longer open windows. Canberra’s air quality suddenly became literally the worst city in the world.

Actually it wasn’t as sudden as it seemed. Canberra’s air quality has been gradually worsening in the past few years, along with the rest of the country’s, thanks to our Government doing less than nothing about vehicle and other emissions responsible for raising CO2 levels.[1]

But I was aiming at an uplifting, positive post, damn it! I normally slant towards the upbeat, the whacky, the whimsical, but before veering in that direction, a serious point needs to be acknowledged. Continue Reading Drinking the days: biographies and oysters…

Hectic Reading. Starting all over again (3)

January 16, 2020 at 12:14 am | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

via Hectic Reading. Starting all over again (3)

Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature

December 28, 2019 at 6:11 am | Posted in Andrea Goldsmith, Australia behind, Bookshops, capitalism, Charlotte Wood, creativity, depression, Inequality - Australia, mental illness, optimism, value of the arts, writers' health | Leave a comment
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When I was in Dublin in September I bought some wonderful books. A favourite is the intriguing, personal and beautifully written Hidden City: Adventures and explorations in Dublin by Karl Whitney (Penguin, 2014). (I’ve lent it and others to friends and can’t take a photo of its cover or some other favourites at the moment!)

Stitched Up: The anti-capitalist book of fashion (Pluto Press, London, 2014) is a compelling account of how the fashion industry exploits and damages both the environment and individuals. Tansy E. Hoskins’ exposé was an eye-watering shock to me on both counts.

I had no idea about the toxic chemicals involved in high-fashion clothes production, or how, for instance, models are sometimes treated as they are in the pornography industry – dispensable and beneath contempt.

Continue Reading Reinventing our lives: surviving with the help of literature…

John Clanchy’s brilliant new novel ‘In Whom We Trust’

December 12, 2019 at 7:22 am | Posted in Australian novels, Finlay Lloyd, Historical novels, John Clanchy | 1 Comment
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The best historical novels vividly evoke the past while illuminating the present. Award-winning writer John Clanchy’s new novel In Whom We Trust exemplifies this. Set in a country town in Victoria just before and during World War I, the plot is narrated through the viewpoints of Father James Pearse and two orphans who came to Australia from England, Thomas Stuart, formerly a London chimneysweep, and Molly Preston, at thirteen or fourteen, a few years older than Thomas.

Father Pearse’s housekeeper Mrs Reilly (who even irons his newspaper for him) tells him one evening that a mysterious visitor came while he was out walking. He is intrigued, and so are we, as Mrs Reilly in her infuriatingly vague way continues ‘ladling out this miserable stew of half-facts’ about the visitor.

Later that night Pearce discovers that it is Thomas Stuart, who lived at St Barnabas’ orphanage where Father Pierce was chaplain for a couple of years. Father Pearce recalls Brother Stanislaus ‘and his austere band of Brothers’ there. Thomas, who is now (just) old enough to enlist for the First World War, has something to tell Pearse. Continue Reading John Clanchy’s brilliant new novel ‘In Whom We Trust’…

Jules Clancy’s new e-book, Love Your Waistline and Your Food

October 19, 2019 at 5:43 am | Posted in Cook books, health, nutrition, recipes, writers' health | Leave a comment
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Jules Clancy (pictured) was living in Cooma when I first discovered her blog, https://thestonesoup.com and I was working at the National Rural Health Alliance. Jules was a good example of an enterprising rural woman and I shared much of her nutritional and culinary advice as well as her blogs and books with my readers.

She is a good writer and has a knack for making healthy cooking fun. At her blog and website you’ll find a goldmine of easily digested information and this book is the latest of a long series of excellent e-books. Love Your Waist Line and Your Food: A food lover’s guide to healthy cooking and eating habits in 28 days includes a low-carbohydrate eating plan, simple recipes for meals, snacks and sweet treats, and much more, all written in Jules Clancy’s accessible style.

Why low-carb?

Carbohydrates affect blood sugar levels, creating a roller-coaster of highs and lows that you’ll notice in big fluctuations in your energy. Carbs are addictive, they interfere with hormones such as the ones that regulate hunger and the feeling of fullness, they affect brain health, feed cancer cells and give you wrinkles. If these reasons are enough for you, read on.

Continue Reading Jules Clancy’s new e-book, Love Your Waistline and Your Food…

Savouring time – First Class train travel and first class reading

September 15, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Posted in Burgundy - description, Gail Honeyman, loneliness in literature, Sally Rooney | 1 Comment
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In the days when we had time for afternoon tea …

I used to go into the Co-op Bookshop at ANU in the 1990s, in those days when workers had time for afternoon tea and when the university bookshop used to sell a wide range of high quality books, not today’s electronic gadgets and toys and, apparently as an afterthought, some course handbooks. I used to go there with a friend at afternoon-tea sometimes and he’d say, ‘Prize and size, Penny. Find me a book that’s won something, and find me something brief. Life is short. I don’t have time for 300 page novels.’

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine is 383 pages but my old friend would be whipping through it in no time like I’ve just done. And what it might lose in size it makes up for in prize: many prizes. Gail Honeyman’s novel (HarperCollins, 2017) won the Costa First Novel Award for 2017, the British Book Awards Book of the Year for 2018 and several others, including the Specsavers National Book Award for Popular Fiction, as well as making it onto lots of award shortlists and longlists.

Eleanor Oliphant lives an ordered life in Glasgow with defined boundaries and carefully built up habits. She has her job in a Graphic Design office – but not, as she’s quick to point out, doing anything in the creative department. At lunch-time she eats her sandwich in the staff room and does the Telegraph cryptic crossword. That’s where her Classics degree comes in handy.

Outlining her weekend routine takes only a sentence or two and then what comes next tells us everything we need to know about her circumstances: ‘Monday takes a long time to come around.’

Continue Reading Savouring time – First Class train travel and first class reading…

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