Saturday, December 27, 2014

My Year of Reading 2014 #52books52weeks

Fiction
Samantha Shannon, The Bone Season
Amy Tan, The Valley of Amazement
Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being
Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers
Nathan Filer, Where the Moon Isn't
Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
Carol Anshaw, Carry the One
Helen Oyeyemi, Boy, Snow, Bird
Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman
Sarah McCoy, The Baker's Daughter
Emer Martin, Baby Zero
Maggie Shipstead, Astonish Me
Anton Disclafani, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls
Francine Prose, Blue Angel
Gillian Flynn, Gone Girl
Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You
Joel Dicker, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
Jonathan Lethem, Dissident Gardens
Bret Anthony Johnston, Remember Me Like This
J. M. Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus
Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall
Anthony Doer, All the Light We Cannot See
Yiyun Li, Kinder Than Solitude
Jennifer Egan, A Visit From the Good Squad
Nell Zink, The Wallcreeper
Lily King, Euphoria
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests
Lydia Millet, Mermaids in Paradise
Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White
Jenny Offill, Dept. of Speculation
John Darnielle, Wolf in the White Van
Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase

Australian Fiction
Ashley Hay, The Railway Man's Wife
Evie Wyld, All the Birds Singing
Favel Parrett, Past the Shallows

Short stories and Novellas
Jamie Quatro, I want to show you more
Karen Russell, Sleep Donation
Francesca Marciano, The Other Language
George Saunders, Tenth of December
Alan Gurganus, Local Souls
Aimee Bender, The Colour Master
Amy Bloom, Where the God of Love Hangs Out
Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans
Edan Lepecki, If You're Not Yet Like Me
Lorie Moore, Bark

Classics
George Eliot, Middlemarch
Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

Non-fiction
Jill Lepore, Book of Ages: The Life and Opinions of Jane Franklin
Benison O'Reilly and Kathryn Wicks, The Australian Autism Handbook
Eula Biss, On Immunity: An Innoculation
Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams

Memoir
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Rebecca Mead, My Life in Middlemarch

2014 was a great year for books. I discovered new writers - or at least writers who are new to me - that I plan to return to via their backlists and future releases (Amy Bloom, Molly Antopol, Edan Lepecki, Francesca Marciano, Michal Faber) and caught up on two brilliant books that have been sitting on my shelf for more than a few years (Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Good Squad and Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall). I refused to read Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch until I had actually read George Eliot's Middlemarch even though Mead kindly reassured me (and no doubt countless others) on Twitter that familiarity with the classic was not a prerequisite.

I started the year with a rare detour into the world of sci-fi/fantasy with Samantha Shannon's The Bone Season and will be following up with the sequel in 2015; read my first ever graphic memoir,  Alison Bechdel's (creator of The Bechdel Test) Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic; and ended the year with a completely addictive work of Danish crime fiction by Lene Kaaberbol and Agnete Friis, The Boy in the Suitcase.

I love author talks and was lucky enough to attend quite a few in 2014: Amy Bloom, Molly Antopol, Rabih Alameddine, Francine Prose, Ruth Ozeki and Amy Tan.

My reading this year was pretty much evenly split between paper and e-books. I have a large pile of both awaiting me in 2015, including books I did not quite manage to finish in 2014. I am on a mission to start Margaret Atwood's Mad Adam trilogy, to complete at least two classics and to reach more often for books I already own.

Wishing you all a happy and fulfilling 2016,

Michelle x


Best Books 2014 #52books52weeks

I love reading the Best Books Lists that come out at the end of each year. Putting my own together is always difficult, and this year I made it that little bit harder by restricting myself to 10 works of fiction. All the books on this list are 2014 releases except Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, although I note (with excitement) he has a new book out now and a big back list.  See the sidebar or this post for a complete summary of my reading in 2014.

Fiction

Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests

Lily King, Euphoria

Anthony Marra, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Rabih Alameddine, An Unecessary Woman

Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

Jenny Offill, The Dept. of Speculation

Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing

Michel Faber, The Crimson Petal and the White

Short stories:

Francesca Marciano, The Other Language

Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans


Non-Fiction

Eula Biss, On Immunity

Leslie Jamison, The Empathy Exams






Monday, August 4, 2014

29/52 Evie Wyld, All the Birds, Singing

It is no surprise that Evie Wyld's All the Birds, Singing won Australia's biggest literary prize, the 2014 Miles Franklin Award.

This is a novel with a distinctly Australian voice and feel,  reminding me in parts of another wonderful Australian novel, Romy Ash's Floundering.  

It is beautifully structured and plotted,  moving back and forth in time and place, leaving  the reader guessing until the very end. And that ending takes us all the way back to the beginning, revealing what exactly Jake has been running from.

It is a book that manages to be both brutal and beautiful, retaining an air of mystery and suspense while at the same time refusing to protect the reader for even a moment from the ugliness (and terror) that the protagonist lives through. 





Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BlogHer14: An Unapologetically Feminist Conference

In the same week that the hashtag #womenagainstfeminism was trending on Twitter, I attended the 10th annual BlogHer conference in San Jose, California. An unapologetically feminist affair attended by thousands of women and a handful of men, it is a conference that puts women's voices front and centre.


BlogHer co-founder, Elisa Camahort Page @ElisaC

A conference does not grow this large without sponsors and swag. For some (probably many) an event like this is primarily about building relationships with brands and learning how to best monetise online spaces. And for their part, companies are more than happy to co-opt the language of female empowerment to better sell their products.

Yet for all the fluff and commercialism - including a surprise appearance by a Kardashian at the HairFinity stand - the heart of this conference lay elsewhere.

One Kardashian does not erase a mainstage that included keynotes by author and blogging superstar Jenny Lawson (@TheBloggess), comedian Tig Notaro (who many of us discovered via her memorable appearances on NPR’s This American Life), HuffPo founder, author and in the words of her interviewer Guy Kawasaki “quote machine” Arianna Huffington, and the politically outspoken star of Scandal Kerry Washington.


Comedian Tig Notaro


Kerry Washington (left) being interviewed by Demetria Lucas @abelleinbk

One Kardashian does not erase the appearance of feared and revered Silicon Valley journalist Kara Swisher (@karaswisher) - whose line "Bossy has worked for me, Sheryl Sandberg" drew huge laughs and applause from the audience - interviewing Twitter's Melissa Barnes, that rarest of species, the female high tech executive.

Arianna Huffington being interviewed by Guy Kawasaki


And one Kardashian does not erase the importance of the decision to make the intersection of race, gender, feminism and the internet the focus of the closing keynote , a panel discussion led by and  featuring no less than six women of colour.


The closing keynote Intersectionality panel 

Intersectionality panellist @FeministaJones

Away from the mainstage, the breakout sessions on Digital Activism (led by fellow expat Australian Jo White @MediaMum) and the Future of Mom Blogging, were exceptional. To see the phenomenon of "Mom Blogging" discussed as a serious and potentially radical enterprise was a revelation and a relief. And the diversity of this panel - which saw a self-described white Jewish lesbian Dana Rudolph (@mombian) seated beside Natasha Taylor-Nicholes, an evangelical homeschooling and gay marriage accepting African American woman - to me drew attention to the way that conversations change and are enriched when 'other' voices are given a seat at the table. 

BlogHer is that rarest of opportunities, a chance for women to join together as a community, to celebrate friendships that are founded on shared values and interests rather than mere proximity (thanks to the talented Alexandra Rosas @GDRPempress for this insight during her inspired 10x10) and to move beyond the silos and echo chambers that our online - and for that matter – real lives often become, far more so than many of us would like to admit.  

At no point in the conference was this more apparent to me than during A’Driane Nieves reading of her Voices of the Year (VOTY) post, “America not here for us”. The reading shook the room, made many uncomfortable, and saw others give a standing ovation. For a few minutes those of us who have not experienced a lifetime of racism were asked to consider what it really means to be black in a country founded on slavery. 

I am now considered a BlogHer veteran, having attended the conference for three years running. In some ways I still feel like an outsider, and on most days an imposter. The fact that this feeling, of being an imposter, was raised multiple times by some of the most impressive women in the room is something I find both comforting and disturbing. One cannot imagine the same sentiment being expressed - let alone experienced - by men who have achieved at the same levels. 

Contrary to the sentiments expressed under the #womenagainstfeminism hashtag, we  do need feminism, and as feminists we desperately need and deserve that rare opportunity that BlogHer provides: to step out of our online spaces and spend real time in a forum where women's voices and experiences are given the space to be expressed, debated and treated with a level of gravitas that is too often missing in all the spheres in which we live out our lives.




Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Some thoughts on finishing C25K

I have been attempting to not just start, but actually finish, the C25K* program for the past 3 years. 

I spent roughly 5 months before beginning C25K walking at least 5 out of 7 days for 40 minutes. And I started C25K again on a bit of a whim after convincing my teen to do it with me. He got sick and dropped out and I decided to just keep going.

The smartest decision I made was to name the 3 days each week I would run and stick to it. So each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning I headed out no matter what. This approach left no room for "I don't feel like it today, I'll go tomorrow instead."

My biggest fear was, and remains, injury. My knees are not fantastic and I am carrying a lot of extra weight. I "ran" slowly, no heroics, so slowly that power walkers easily passed me. 

Rather than feeling defeated by my pace, by being passed by every other runner (and some walkers) on my route,  I have tried really hard to turn what could be a negative into inspiration. 

I am not a "natural" runner, but for some reason I really do love running.  The feeling of both achievement and well-being that settles over me at the end of each run more than makes up for the less happy feelings experienced while tackling a difficult stretch that I now refer to as Bastard Hill Rd.



I am disappointed that my son dropped out but thrilled my tween daughter is now more than halfway through C25K herself. She has attempted it before but never finished. She will make it this time and I am hoping will be my running partner for years to come.

Finishing C25K is not an ending but a beginning. For the next 6 months I plan to continue running for 30 minutes 3 times per week and adding in some weights work on my non-running days. And then I will be tackling C210K. 




* C25K is popular running app that is designed to get the 'couch potato' running continuously for 5km or 30 minutes in 8 weeks. I used the free app by Zen Labs and played my own music using Pandora.





 








Monday, June 23, 2014

Places we call home: watching the World Cup

We are a family that talks about politics in the same way many obsess over sports, so when watching the World Cup it is not so surprising that my youngest asks "Who should we 'vote' for?"

The earnest discussion that follows this question is all about finding the connections, however tenuous, between 'us' and the rest of the world.

When England plays Italy I say that we will 'vote' for Italy: "Dad's grandfather was from Sicily."

"But" interjects Mr9 "my best friend's Dad is from England".

This morning it is Croatia v Mexico. My heart is with Mexico, because I know that good friends of all four of my children will be cheering them on wildly from their homes in California. Then I remember that one of Mr14's best friends is about to visit Croatia for the first time, to meet his mother's extended family.

When Australia plays there is no argument. We are Team Australia. And the same applies when America plays.

My youngest - like the rest of us, a dual citizen - cannot keep things straight in his own mind when the country of his birth  or the country he now lives in play. 

"Is Australia winning?" he asks during the Portugal v USA match.

"No, America is playing, not Australia," I say.

Australia and America are in his mind interchangeable. They both represent and bring forth the feelings associated with the places we call "home". 

My son's loyalties are not divided, nor are they in competition with each other. In fact the opposite is the case. Like immigrants the world over, he feels more connections not less, and this is in my mind something to be celebrated. 



  



 
 







 






Monday, June 9, 2014

Eavesdropping

An Australian and American sit behind me, sharing a coffee and shooting the breeze on a rainy Tuesday morning in Sydney.

The conversation shifts gears, from Syria to Hilary. Will she, won't she? 

I anaesthetise my young boys with treats and technology. Please just let me have a moment of peace. 

I am counting down the days until my husband arrives. I miss him. I also miss, desperately, the ability to escape for an hour or three. 

I flip through the paper. No surprise, the cartoonists sum up the events of the day best with just a few squiggly lines and well chosen words. Boom. 

I tune back in. The men are now talking domestic policy, sharing their exasperation at the absence of a science minister and befuddlement over last night's #qanda. I want to add in my two cents.

I have something to say here in a way I never will about the goings on in Silicon Valley. Just as importantly, I have people to say it to.

We leave the cafe, and I ready myself for the sort of shopping experience I could just as easily have in the US at a generic and dreary discount department store. The only thing that distinguishes this store from any other are the rows and rows of packaged lollies. And even though they are second rate home brand versions of my childhood favourites I still have to restrain myself, cutting a bargain that will no doubt be broken before the week is out.

At the self-serve check-out - the only sort on offer - we ring up our purchases. A clothes horse to hang washing that I would normally lazily throw in the dryer; track suit pants for the kids that are so cheap I would rather not reflect too hard on the conditions under which they were made; and a bag of crappy plastic pirate figures and "accessories" that I plan to point at each time the boys demand an electronic.

Today I missed home a little bit. Not only my husband, but also the dog and - if I am being completely honest - the dryer. When the kids weren't shouting at each other they were shouting at me. Mostly it felt like the opposite of a holiday.

Maybe that is a good thing. If it doesn't feel like a holiday then it must mean that we are, in a sense, home.