Monday, May 20, 2013

Can You See the 'End' in 'Friend'?

Just between us, I loved Just Between Us in that want-to-stroke-the-book-when-not-reading-it kind of a way. It is a collection of essays and short stories on the nature of female friendship, and how and why it can go wrong. So many of the pieces resonated with me and mirrored my own experiences that I felt hungry to keep reading more.

I love the idea of a book that is written completely by women about something very important to women, but repeatedly dismissed and belittled in mainstream culture. I suppose it validated my feelings and experiences in a way that nothing else has. I have been in agonies of guilt about what to do when I felt a friendship was no longer nourishing or fun, and have struggled to figure out what the best course of action to take might be. It's a massive comfort to know I'm not the only one.

Of all the chapters in the book, Liz Byrski's essay was the most illuminating. I suspect I am going to turn her words over in my mind for some time to come. I examined all my previous friendship breakups through this new prism of knowledge and everything made a whole lot more sense. It was what Oprah calls "an Aha moment". It was like that time I replaced parsley with dill in my favourite mushroom and leek risotto (thanks for the recipe Brona) and realised how much more harmonious the flavours could be. It was, simply put, brilliant.

Friday, May 10, 2013

My Book Love

Simple but complicated question: what makes you love a book?

@randomhouse recently posed this question on twitter and I realised that there was no way I could answer it in one or even two or three tweets. In a way, this entire blog has been my attempt to answer that question, and I don't think I will ever finish answering it, as long as there are more books to be read. Nevertheless, I thought it was worth a crack here, where I have more room for verbal gesticulation.


I love a book that makes me cry, that makes me remember something I once felt just as strongly as if it were happening again. A book where I can completely and utterly feel myself in a character's shoes, and experience their emotions as my own.

I love a book where the words are so beautiful I want to pluck them off the page, turn them into a brooch, and wear them on my chest. A book where the words sound like a delicately tinkling piano, a cup of tea after a storm of tears, or the water sparkling on Sydney Harbour on a Saturday morning.

I love a book that makes me rethink the world.

I love a book that is so full of ideas I can spent hours discussing them with people.

And that doesn't even begin to cover cookbooks, which I love for the promise they hold of experiences to come. The delicious tastes to be created, the happiness and contentment that will come from sharing food with people dear to me, and the wonderful evenings of talk and good times and laughter that will be held together with food cooked from the pages of such books.

I took a break from writing this post to visit our local farmers market and discussed some of these ideas with Tallboy over coffee and croissants on the grass*. I asked him the same question and found it fascinating that his answer was quite different from mine, bringing home the point that there are almost as many reasons to read as there are people. Here is an edited version of what makes him love a book:

"The riches and the originality of the lived experience that's displayed on the page; whether fiction or non-fiction ... and it's a bonus if the book smells nice too".






*Yes, I am showing off. It was idyllic. And also I am bending the truth a little; I had an almond croissant but Tallboy had a slice of rhubarb crumble.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Star Light, Star Bright

"He owned solid things: houses, ship-loads of half-spoiled fruit, dilapidated little shops, collections of other people's battered and abandoned possessions. He could never wring from them enough money to buy the laughter and the security his mother had denied him when he was a child".

If you like that sentence then you really should take yourself off and get your hands on some Stella Gibbons to read. She has such a subtle, cheeky, cut-through way with words that are often lovely and lilting at the same time. After having read Starlight (quoted above) I can understand both why Gibbons had so many novels published, and also why all of her books apart from Cold Comfort Farm went out of print for several decades. I loved reading Starlight , and it was full of little gems where the words are put together so beautifully you stop reading to bask in them for a moment. But I found the ending deeply unsatisfying. Some of the characters had very neat and tidy endings, while for others there was no ending at all, and it felt too uneven. In trying to puzzle out the ending I realised other holes in the story-telling that just did not hold up to scrutiny.

I have now read a few of Gibbons' novels and they are a mixed bag. I am going to read as many of them as I can get my hands on because I love her approach to words, and because Cold Comfort Farm and Westwood are two supremely wonderful books. I wouldn't tell people not to read Starlight, but to be aware of what to expect. I would give the first three quarters of the book 4.5 stars, and the final quarter 3 stars. In conclusion: not too shabby, 3 and a bit stars.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Bodices and Bonnets

I seem (even to myself)like just the sort of person who would have read lots, if not all, of Jane Austen's work. In actual fact, until the other day I had not read a single one of her novels from start to finish.

I am really not sure why I never read any Austen. All I can think is that once I discovered Edith Wharton I tended to hang about the back shelves of the library, and my browsing wanders never made it up to 'A'.It does seem an odd fluke that I made it all the way through an English degree without having read any (And yet I somehow managed to be twice-assigned Gulliver's Travels; the reading of which, in my opinion, is best described as the literary equivalent of extended teeth grinding).

It will come as less of a surprise than fries on a McDonald's menu for you all to learn that I loved Persuasion. I cried. Readers of this blog know that many, many books make me cry, but Persuasion made me cry at least three times. It also made me sigh wistfully on numerous occasions. There doesn't seem a lot of point in writing much about a book that is 200 years old and has already been read by basically everyone except me, so all I will add is how much I enjoyed the experience of being able to read something so old with completely fresh eyes.