Solving problems and uplifting the heart – Mary Quant and Sand Talk

January 31, 2022 at 7:19 am | Posted in Indigenous knowledge, slow blogging | 2 Comments
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Slow blogging and fast tango

Have I put new meaning into the concept of Slow Blogging? It’s been quite a gap. In it I finished another novel and settled into a new house in a new town – a small town bristling with fascinating, friendly people and plenty of things to do (between bouts of Covid lockdowns). I can even dance tango, to some extent. (Between lockdowns and no partner-swapping, given that it’s palm pressed to palm and us breathing in each other’s faces.)

Haven’t written a blog for so long because they take a day or two to write, days in which I could finish or rewrite a chapter of my new novel, A Late Flowering, or read a whole book. And so many wonderful books to read! Most blogs are brief and not the book reviews mine essentially are, which I used to write for The Canberra Times and a few journals. Over the years I’d written about 100. Remember what George Orwell said about it? ‘Book reviewing is like pouring your immortal soul down the drain, one pint at a time.’

But writing them taught me much about the writing of books and gave me a chance to air my preoccupations publicly and engage in a dialogue with readers, which I enjoyed. And I was paid plus got to keep the books, which isn’t necessarily the case with blogging. The truth is, much motivation for taking this up again is so I can tell potential publishers I have one – they take a dim view of writers with not enough online presence. And the publisher’s publicist won’t read this – she’ll just want to know that I’ve got one. So there you are, dear reader, I’ve let you in on a secret but I do still appreciate you. I know how many other claims there are on your time.

Tim Ferriss (another tango dancer)

Should I take a leaf out of the blog format of Tim Ferriss, that entertaining young lad I’ve done blogs on before? (Interesting how some whizz kids retain that early prodigy ‘flavour’ into middle age!) He fills in a sentence or two under these headings:

‘What I’m Reading

Most Popular Post on Instagram

What I’m Using for Sleep’

and ‘Quotations I’m Pondering.’

I’ll take the last first, ignore the middle two and share what I’m reading last.

Favourite quotation

My absolute favourite quotation of last year was by Mary Quant. I went to the Bendigo Writers Festival,, which was brilliant in every way, and the Art Gallery had a Mary Quant exhibition from my favourite museum, the V & A. It was stunning. An old black-and-white TV set had 1960s interviews with the rising young dress-designing star, and she answers a question by saying earnestly:

You see, fabric is flat. And women are round. So I wanted to solve this terrible problem.

Sand Talk

Easily the most outstanding book I read over the past year was Sand Talk: How Indigenous thinking can save the world (Text, 2019) by Tyson Yunkaporta. I felt as if I’d made a new friend was sitting in my kitchen telling me the most amazing story. His book is erudite yet laid-back, profound yet funny and when I’d finished I wanted to go right back to the beginning and start it again.

I’ve never seen anything like this beautiful creation. Hold the book in your hand and it’s irresistibly tactile. So even the cover tells a different story than we’re used to. The author said in a radio interview that the words are a delivery system for the pictures. In this intriguing and riveting book he applies an Indigenous lens to our history and culture. It’s an invitation to another way of thinking. I loved it. This is a uniquely important book from a generous, talented writer. Just rush out and buy it (or sit at your desk and buy it) and let its gentle, humane wisdom gladden your heart.

What broke my heart was Maggie O’Farrell’s novel Hamnet (Knopff, 2020) but it was also uplifting. She tells the story of Shakespeare’s young son who died, a boy I’d often pondered but about whom almost nothing is known. I’ve loved the other O’Farrell novels I’ve read but this latest is a sustained stroke of genius with lyrical beauty and intrigue on every page. A multi-award-winner and Waterstone’s Book of the Year, a bookseller there said that its message of hope through the darkest of times was ‘especially prescient for this turbulent year.’ A plague then and a plague now.

Another book dealing with the death of someone much loved was Vanessa Moore’s A Thousand Days and One Cup of Tea (Kyle Books, 2021). It’s a readable, forensically honest account of an English psychologist grieving after her husband suddenly died. We warm to the author with her account of some dysfunctional family dynamics and her comically awful attempts at dating.

Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk to Someone (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2019) is about an American therapist whose boyfriend leaves her and this account is also very funny and painfully honest. As the author says in a TED talk: ‘The thing about stories is that no matter how meticulously we plan our lives, there are always plot twists – and it’s often in uncertainty that the seeds of growth are planted.’ If this sounds a bit earnest, don’t be put off – Gottlieb’s book is hilarious.

Back to novels, I loved The Lightkeepers by Emma Stonex (Picador, 2021) for the poetry on every page and also a lifetime’s curiosity about the historical incident explored. Stonex was inspired by the mysterious disappearance of three lighthouse keepers in 1900 from a lighthouse in the Outer Hebrides. She uses the incident as a departure point for an imagined solution to this puzzle we’ll never know the actual answer to.

So are five favourite books enough for one blog? What would Tim Ferriss do? He’d stop at five. So I will too.


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  1. Always a pleasure reading your work Pender!

  2. Thank you so much, Dr Mazur!

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