On Yellowcard, old music, and why every rock band should have a violinist.

This evening I went to Yellowcard’s farewell concert at the Enmore Theatre.

This music has been with me through a full half of my lifetime. The lyrics are embedded invisibly somewhere deep within my neural pathways. I don’t listen to much of this kind of music any more so it seems a funny choice to get misty-eyed about, but it was just that 2 or 3 year period of your teenage life where certain things stick, you know? If I were a few years older I’d probably feel the same way about Blink182.

It’s simple music – in some ways a lot simpler than what I generally listen to these days. But it’s real and it’s genuine and it’s energetic and joyful, and there are moments when the lyrics shine and the melody soars, and it’s a bloody punk rock band with a violin. The notes of it are engraved on my bones.

They have always been excellent in concert. Tonight, Sean Mackin backflipped off an amp (as he always has done) and I lost. my. goddamn. mind. 

They did an acoustic guitar/violin arrangement of Empty Apartment and I swear to you every single person in the theatre sang every single word, a single seething mass of song. 

Ryan says “I want you all to run around in a circle in the same direction like it’s fucking 1997 up in here.” And the average age of the crowd was about 30 so we were right at home. It wasn’t new fans; they’d brought these people along with them through the decades. Imagine creating something so good that people can still sing it along with you half a lifetime later.

It’s not my music now, but it was my music then.

And their music does acknowledge the passage of time – as the albums go on things get messier, darker, lost, saved, and then nostalgic, and lastly (because they knew it would be their final album), a closing sense of farewell, a goodbye, a thank you. 

It has been quite a few years since I got home at 1am, feet aching, ears ringing, throat swollen and sore, guitar riffs still fizzing in my veins. But tonight they brought it like they always do. Like the time in the Big Top at Luna Park when the stupid mosh kids broke the stage barrier and we had to wait around for an hour for a new one before they could play. Like the time a week or two after ‘Light Up The Sky’ was released and everyone knew it off by heart already and there was a moment in the last chorus when Sean and Ryan looked at each other, their eyes glittering in this ferocious disbelief and joy that we were GOING OFF for this brand new thing they had created. We were more levitating than jumping, I swear our feet barely brushed the floor. They have always looked so freaking happy to be up there on stage, and it’s infectious to watch someone doing what they love to do. It’s a privilege. It’s a joy.

I’m so sad to see them go. I’m so thankful for the soundtrack they provided to my growing up.

I Can’t Keep Quiet

A couple of things making me think.

  1. Friend comments that I really should start blogging again (thanks Nick!)
  2. Red wine.
  3. This:

So here is something that I truly believe. In these dangerous times, if you have an ounce of creative instinct in you, it is unethical not to create. Make good art.

This joy in protest, in the face of ugliness, this beautiful resistance. This harmony in the face of being torn apart. Personally this is my favourite act of protest that I have seen. What could be greater, what could be more glorious than this?

(There’s something ancient and undeniable in song. When you open your mouth and your throat and your everything and it comes pouring out like the purest fucking thing you’ve ever experienced)

What if this is opportunity? There’s a crack in everything, and that’s how the light gets in. What if this could be how the light gets in?

How dare I stop writing? Even for a moment. You have to write like you’re running out of time, because what if you are? Hard times require furious dancing.

And what if it happens here, what if this insane wave of neo-liberal-fascism comes to my country? It’s already stirring. If it can happen in America it can so just as easily happen here (let alone all the places around the world that are in even greater suffering), and the planet these days is just one big place, anyway, what’s an ocean or two in separation?

I gave up on this stuff for a while, I burnt out, I thought we got what we deserved, I stayed (relatively) quiet. Fuck you Tony Abbott.

… You know what? No.

No one deserves this.

That’s not good enough. Try harder.

We (earth, people, us, the pale blue dot) are better than this.

Time to re-ignite.


Cause I can’t keep quiet,
a one-woman riot.
I can’t keep quiet
for anyone.
No. Not any more.


My 2016 Reading List

There has rather sadly only been three blog posts since my last reading list, and yet here we are again! Already!

I have read a total of 33 books this year – 15 more than last year, so a numerical improvement (although that’s not really what I measure reading by). Some interesting serendipities, old flames and new discoveries.


1. The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

This was a great ‘ideas-book’ of a sci fi, translated from the original Chinese. I think it’s always good to read more books from different countries of origin, and interesting to feel the difference in tone between this and English sci-fi. The prose was certainly nothing spectacular (although who’s to say whether this is from the original or the translation), but I can certainly say it was very different to any other sci-fi novel I’ve read.

2. The Myth of Sisyphus by Albert Camus

I’ve always wanted to read Camus ever since I read that quote of his – “In the depths of winter, I finally found that within me there lay an invincible summer” – and this year I finally got around to it. A treatise on absurdism in a meaningless, Godless world. I found it incredibly cheerful.

“The struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

3. Trigger Warning: short fictions and disturbances by Neil Gaiman

Short stories by Neil Gaiman are always good. They are the kind of short stories that I absolutely wish I could write.

4. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

One of my great discoveries of the year, Station Eleven is the story of several characters experiencing the end of the world as we know it (a swine flu mutation wiping out most of the earth’s population), and the post-apocalyptic survivors 20 years later, a travelling band of Shakespearean performers keeping the Bard’s words alive. Two things about this book:station-11

1) There is a scene during the global melt-down where a plane full of infected passengers lands at an airport and taxies to the far end of the runway. The doors remain sealed. The plane sits in the background of the story for decades, full of bodies. I felt eerie and haunted every time I saw a plane for at least a month after reading this book.

2) A fantastic hidden interactive reading experience. I turned the page and the first line on the next page was “A folded piece of paper fell out of the book.” … And a folded piece of paper fell out of my book. I was literally seeing what the character was seeing. This is my favourite piece of cool publishing ever.

5. Writing Down the Bones: freeing the writer within by Natalie Goldberg

I’ve read a lot of writing advice books in my time, and in fact I’ve generally stopped reading them now, as it’s reached the point where the only thing I really need to do in order to write is just to sit down and do it. However, this tiny little pocket-sized book caught my eye in the library returns room and I couldn’t pass it up. While there were quite a few good prompts and bits of writing advice in there, what I really got out of the book was a philosophy of writing more than anything.

“We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter…”

6. Writing to the Edge: prose poems & microfictions by Linda Godfrey (ed)

Another random acquisition from the library returns room, I picked up this slender volume because I figured if I was going to be writing short stories I should be reading more in the genre, and I really enjoy microfiction.

7. Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes

Honestly all I can remember about this book is Barnes’ usual glorious prose. I have no memory of the plot or narrative or anything whatsoever. Whoops. I remember enjoying it, though.

8. The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

I picked up this book and the following one after a Gleebooks YA author talk, and I’m so glad I did. Three teenage boys deal with the death of one of their friends. I may have cried a little bit.

9. The Flywheel by Erin Gough

Enticed into buying this after the same author talk, I was not disappointed (I find I never am, when I buy a book due to meeting the author). Del drops out of high school to take care of her family’s cafe. I need to read more books with LGBT characters in them. Also, this was set very specifically around Glebe, where I was living at the time, and I always love reading Aussie books with recognisable settings.

10. Slade House by David Mitchell

My Halloween book recommendation of the year, Slade House was deliciously creepy in a very David-Mitchelly sort of way. A succint but satisfying addition to The Bone Clocks universe.

11. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

The disappointment of the year.

Authors, repeat after me: Fairytales should not be extended into novels, at least not while trying to keep the fairytale-esque style. This could have been good as a short story but as a lengthy novel it draaaaagged. I wasn’t really sure what the point of it all was. And since the prose was fairly bare, in keeping with the fairytale style, I couldn’t even squeeze enjoyment out of that aspect.

12. Secret Scribbled Notebooks by Joanne Horniman

This one was a re-read for me – I read it as a 16 year old and absolutely adored it. I thought it might be a let-down since I loved it so much as a teenager, how could it stand up to re-reading?

… IT WAS EVEN BETTER YOU GUYS. The bookish main character read all of the same books that I went on to read in my late teens and early 20s, and I don’t even know if that’s just coincidence or if this book wormed its way so deeply into my subconscious that I was destined to read them. I’m pretty sure Kate is my soul mate, or maybe I was her in a past life, I don’t know.

13. Perdido Street Station by China Miéville

The longest book I read this year. I have no idea how to summarise a Miéville novel, as I’m too dazzled by his imagination. It’s a chunky book and a bit of a slow starter, but it accelerates towards the conclusion. You know how in most sci-fi books the aliens are just funny-looking humans, maybe speaking a different language, but otherwise pretty indistinguishable? … Yeah, Miéville’s alients are not like that. Not that this book is sci-fi, exactly, unless sci-fi got cross-pollinated with urban grunge fantasy.

14. My Candlelight Novel by Joanne Horniman

Kind of a sequel to Secret Scribbled Notebooks, this one is told from the perspective of Kate’s older sister Sophie. While I don’t feel I have quite as much in common with her, there is something about the way Joanne Horniman writes and the way that her characters see the world that nestles perfectly against my heart. I must now acquire every single little thing that this author has ever written.

15. The Penelopiad: The Play by Margaret Atwood

I got this out of the library randomly, and since I did actually make my way through Homer’s Odyssey (as a complement to my slog through Joyce’s Ulysses), I thought it might be worth reading the feminist, Atwood-version of the story. I do enjoy modern re-tellings of ancient myths. Reading plays is always a bit weird though.

16. Black Swan Green by David Mitchell

This is the least David-Mitchelly book of all of Mitchell’s books – if you hadn’t read anything else in his universe, it would probably just seem like a quirky 1980s coming-of-age story. Of course, if you know where to look you see characters from his other books popping up all over the place.

17. The Pillow Book by Sei Shōnagon

How can a journal, a secret scribbled notebook written so many centuries ago (AD990-early 1000s), feel so relatable in so many ways?


18. We Ate the Road like Vultures by Lynette Lounsbury

I heard the author speak somewhere (was it at the Sydney Writer’s Festival?) about how she really loved the beat poets and On The Road by Kerouc, but hated the part where they were all kind of sexist assholes and not very nice people. She wanted to write a road story told in the same style but by a teenage girl, and so this book was written. It was an insanely fun wild ride. I read it in about 24 hours. A moose explodes in the first few pages. You have been warned.

19. My Year of Meats by Ruth Ozeki

I opened this novel and lo and behold, the epigraph was one of my favourite quotes from the last few pages of The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, which I had only just finished reading. My Year of Meats is about a Japanese American documentary maker and the dodgy practices of the American meat industry, and it will probably make you want to be vegetarian. It’s also about documentary making and telling the truth in general, which is where The Pillow Book comes in.

20. Communion Town by Sam Johnson

I bought this book years and years and years ago on sale (it has a pretty cover), and finally got around to reading it. It’s an unusual city told in a collection of short stories, with different styles and genres. I like this idea of collected short stories, and I think I want to try writing one one day.

21. Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

Set on the British airfields in WW2, this book is about two girls (a secret agent and a pilot) and their friendship. Apart from making me cry (as war books have a tendency to do), this had a lot about planes and airfield life in general, which I found really interesting – my grandparents on my dad’s side met on an airfield base in WW2 so I gave them a copy for Christmas.

22. The Djinn in the Nightingale’s Eye by A. S. Byatt

A collection of fairytales – done right this time, each tale sticking to an appropriate length. Traditional in many ways but also with an edge of modernity underneath.

23. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Okay, so I know I’m late to the bandwagon in finally getting around to reading this book. I sort of liked it, but there were a few too many “hand-wavy” moments to explain the time travel. It didn’t quite make sense and seemed to promote the irritating idea that the future is set in stone, so the characters never bothered to make any real choices. Also I wasn’t quite sold on the romance – if a middle-aged guy showed up in my childhood and told me we would get married one day, I think I’d resent the loss of agency and free will. Even if he turned out to be super hot and totally cool.

24. Wake in Fright by Kenneth Cook

I got this one out of the library because a Text newsletter reviewed it as being “A sweatier, dustier, woozier, kangaroo-ier Heart of Darkness” and I was immediately sold on this description. I’m not sure why, as I don’t really like Heart of Darkness much, and had a bit of the same dislike for this one. It’s never fun to watch characters make obviously stupid decisions and ruin their lives. But it was an interesting take on the Australian outback (and alcoholism and gambling).

25. Signs for Lost Children by Sarah Mosssigns-for-lost-children

The sequel to Bodies of Light which I read last year, with an equally gorgeous cover. Early interactions between Japan and Europe in the 19th century seem to crop up weirdly often in the books I read, and it happened again here – Ally’s husband Tom goes off to Japan to build lighthouses while she stays behind and works as a doctor in a women’s mental asylum. Loads in here about the psychology and mental health of 19th century women but that description makes it sound far too dry; Sarah Moss is one of the best wordsmiths I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. Ally is such a powerfully real character, a quiet feminist of her times.

26. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

A fantastic idea told in some of the worst prose I’ve ever read. It’s set in a slightly futuristic, somewhat dystopian world which everyone escapes by logging in to a virtual reality game called ‘OASIS’. It plays on RPG/gaming tropes (which my geek heart really enjoyed), but the little amount of social commentary given to this fascinating idea was extremely unsubtle, and there were a couple of moments where the writing/dialogue was so bad I had to stop and put down the book in order to roll my eyes. If I had gone into it expecting a story for young to mid-age teens I may have enjoyed it more; I think I approached it too much as an adult book, which was a mistake.

27. Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck

It was with this book that my love for Steinbeck became somewhat tainted with the realisation that he really, really, really didn’t like women. I’ve read three of his stories now and all 3 of them have had a ludicrously vile and evil/stupid woman as the antagonist. (Usually a sexual element to their evil-ness, too). Come on, Steinbeck – a guy who wrote the timshel passage should bloody well know better.

Read East of Eden instead.

28. Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

I opened this book to the ‘about the author page’ to the following three realisations: 1) Her name was Jennifer (cool name yo). 2) It was her debut novel. 3) She was the age of my little brother.

Then I huffed and got jealous.

Anyway, a melancholy little book set in very recognisable parts of Australia (in the second half of the book the main character moves to Randwick). How do debut novelists have such gorgeous prose? It’s not fair.

29. The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

Prameeta had been recommending this to me for ages (thanks PLal!) and I finally borrowed it out of the library after seeing the three writer Moriarty sisters at an author talk (what a family full of talent). It’s about relationships and family life and secrets. It’s not quite my usual cup of tea but I did like it better than I expected. It’s tightly written with a satisfying conclusion.

30, 31 & 32. The Colours of Madeleine Trilogy by Jaclyn Moriarty

I’ve put these three books of the trilogy together because I devoured them as one story in the space of about a week and a half (they were holiday reading while I was in Byron Bay – book 1 was actually a re-read for me). I read Jaclyn Moriarty’s first book, Feeling Sorry for Celia, when I was about 15 and have eagerly snapped up anything she’s written ever since. I was so excited to finally meet her at Hornsby Library this year and thank her for a decade of happy reading – I think it’s so important for young readers to have access to Australian books, with characters that you might bump into while hanging out at Hornsby Station or at school on on Sydney’s Northshore.

Not that The Colours of Madeleine is set around here – it’s in Cambridge and also in the magical Kingdom of Cello, where Colour Storms rage over the land and a rogue Purple can kill you in an instant. Jaclyn Moriarty is a seriously whimsical lady.

33. Railsea by China Miéville

 I am cheating only a little bit by including this – it’s midday on December 31st and I haven’t quite finished reading it yet, since reading time has been delayed in favour of Christmas events and eating far too much delicious food. Quite different to the other Miéville books I’ve read (as I think this one is classified as YA), it’s just pure rip-roaring fun. Sort of riffing off Moby Dick (and maybe a touch of Robert Louis Stevenson too), except instead of a whaling ship on the ocean it’s a mole-train on the Railsea, crossing the earth that boils with giant beasties that will eat you as soon as you put a toe overboard. The captain of the mole train is hunting a giant white moldywarpe named Mocker-Jack and…. here, just read this and giggle with me:
“You know how careful are philosophies […] How meanings are evasive. They hate to be parsed. Here again came the cunning of unreason. I was creaking, lost, knowing that the ivory-coloured beast had evaded my harpoon & continued his opaque diggery, resisting close reading & a solution to his mystery. I bellowed, & swore that one day I would submit him to a sharp & bladey interpretation.”
Something tells me Miéville studied Moby Dick in high school and had to write that essay explaining what the white whale was supposed to symbolise.

Year in review

Sitting on a beach at 11:58pm last New Year’s Eve, I raised a hip flask of liquor to a better year ahead.

For me 2016 has been a year full of personal achievements and much happiness, while simultaneously the world at large seemed to continue being somewhat awful. It has been a discombobulating combination of global grief and of private celebration.

My partner and I finally achieved our goal of buying our first apartment, along with a whole bunch of our friends who ended up buying in the same week (many glasses were raised and much alcohol imbibed that week – it was also my birthday).

While we moved in to our new home a repressed, homophobic religious bigot decided to commit a mass shooting in a gay club in Orlando and I wrote about how Love Doesn’t Win. Britain decided to screw itself over royally with Brexit and my British passport suddenly became a lot less useful.

I had many great and exciting opportunities in my professional life this year, which gave me a gratifying sense of progress. I’ve been acting in a higher position at work which has given me a lot of fantastic experience, and Laura and I got our conference talk proposal accepted (woohoo!).

Australia elected not just Pauline Hanson, but a second and third One Nation Party member to the Senate. Good job, Australia.

… I discovered Hamilton.

The world watched with car-crash fascination as America seriously considered Trump as a candidate for the highest position in a country that calls itself the ‘leader of the free world’…airquotes

… And then they actually followed through with it and elected him. And what smug right-wingers don’t understand when they tell upset progressives to ‘get over it’ is that we’re not just mourning a race that has been lost, like some sort of sporting competition, but the disillusionment of realising that people – human beings – are maybe not the sort of creatures you thought they were, deep down inside. Maybe we have made a fundamental mistake in assuming that social progress is inevitable and humanity by its very nature will improve and make the world a better place as time goes on. That’s quite an upsetting realisation.

I started out earlier in the year geeking out about Kate Mckinnon in Ghostbusters:


And I ended up watching her in this, watching with the kind of ache in your throat that won’t go away for days:

And even though it all went wrong
I’ll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah…

Well, two steps forward and one step back, I suppose.

You find things/people to love, get creative, and keep on going.

I ticked off a bucket list item a couple of weeks ago when we went surfing with dolphins in Byron Bay. We are snowballing towards that end-of-year freedom feeling when the air is hot and the sky is high and blue and wonderful.

Sometimes it’s the smallest of things (literally) that make life great. This is Taco:


He is our baby and he makes everything right with the world.

Popping the Hamilton cherry

I recognise that I’m late to this party, but tonight I finally sat down and listened through the Hamilton soundtrack.

… Hoo boy.

I was going to write a thoughtful blog post about storytelling through musical theatre and the cleverness of weaving a tale through not just words but melodies and beats, but let’s be honest, I’m great at deconstructing prose but I’ve always found musical analysis harder to pin down and express.

(I’d rather be divisive than indecisive, drop the niceties)

So instead I’ve given it a modicum of thought:

Hamilton is Valjean, Burr is Javert, Eliza and Angelica are clearly Cosette and Eponine, Phillip (I think) is Gavroche, oh and I think Washington is Enjolras?

… And now I want to watch a hip-hop version of Les Mis.

But there’s a lot about writing in there, writing like you’re running out of time, and this morning I read an article about how Harry Potter changed the world (or changed people) a little bit, and now I’m like, you know what? I want to do that. That’s what I want to do. I want to make something that makes it. I want to create something great.

(And look, I don’t know much about American history but it seems like Hamilton was pretty much a professional shit-stirrer, so at least I know that’s a career option.)


Except, no, love doesn’t win.

Love gets gunned down by a fanatic with a gun. Love dies screaming. Love bleeds out on the pavement. Love sends desperate text messages before falling silent. Love is killed. Love dies, and dies, and dies.

And even if it doesn’t die, it is scarred. Love is rushed to the hospital, pocked with bullets. Love loses blood. Love loses limbs. Love has nightmares about hiding under dead bodies. Love has PTSD. Love loses people.

Love’s legs are broken, and even though they’ll walk again the bones will never set quite right, they will always ache in the cold.

Love was just going about its business and trying to have a good time, to be kind, to get through life without causing too much harm. Love is not good enough for some people. Love does not convince people who are already so far gone they think that violent hate is the answer.

Love is mocked by our politicians and our political institutions. Love is lied to with platitudes and then stabbed in the back by conservative political donations and back-room deals. Love is dismissed and ignored by the powerful. Love is picked on in the playground. Love is called names. Love is hated by those who are blinded by their faith. Love gets fucked over again, and again, and again. Love cries itself to sleep at night because it feels like nothing is changing.

Love has to live in a world where Trump is an American presidential candidate and Cory Bernardi is an Australian Senator.

Love, quite frankly, is tired of this bullshit. And so am I.

I’m sick of people pretending that religion has nothing to do with it: IT DOES.

Almost all major religious texts preach homophobia. It doesn’t matter if you are religious person with humanist ethics who dismisses the parts of their Bible/Qu’ran that they don’t like. Your faith is no more or less valid than the people who read the same book and decide to blow up a building full of Filthy Heathens, or bomb an abortion clinic. Faith by definition has no basis in rationalism or reality, and there is nothing to stop it spiralling out of control. Faith does not and cannot stop radicalisation; only logical human morality can.

I’m sick of people pretending that homophobia has nothing to do with it: IT DOES.

Queer people are still, in the 21st-goddamn-century, treated unequally by our political and social institutions. If you’re a casual homophobe, congratulations, fuckwit, you helped Orlando happen. You are a bad person and you should feel bad.

I’m sick of people pretending that inadequate mental health care has nothing to do with it: IT DOES.

Logically, the majority of the world’s population follows a religion of some description, and yet the majority of the world’s population are not psychotic mass-murderers. If you hear voices in your head, you need psychological help, even if the voice calls itself ‘God’ and convinces you that eternal glory awaits you in the afterlife. (Hint: it doesn’t. You’ll just be dead. Sorry.)

I’m sick of people pretending that gun control has nothing to do with it: IT DOES.

This one’s just incredibly fucking obvious to most of the world.

I know why people say that love wins. Love wins because in spite of everything done to it, love keeps on loving. It just keeps on doing what it does.

Is that going to be enough, though?

Normally I am inspired by solidarity, but tonight I feel like it’s just a hollow hash tag. There’s no glory here. Love doesn’t win. Love gets massacred.

My 2015 Reading List

It’s rather small this year, and a little belated, but here it is.

Notes/Rambling: I can’t help but feel a strange common thread has run through my reading and thinking life this past year, about reincarnation and immortality and living in the present moment, a time being, moving through time. It’s there in David Mitchell’s novels and of course in A Tale for the Time Being and in My Name is Memory and in Orlando, both the stage production I saw at Sydney Theatre Company and the original novel that I finished off the reading year with. It’s here, it’s now. It’s consciousness. It’s maybe the opposite of death. I haven’t intentionally sought out this thread but it seems to keep finding its way to me, and I’m glad.

1. Sabriel by Garth Nix

Starting the year off on a light note. I’d heard a lot about this series, and that Sabriel was a solid female protagonist. I enjoyed it, but it’s definitely for younger readers and I’m not going to track down the rest of the series (but I probably would if I’d read it fifteen years ago!)

2. Bodies of Light by Sarah Moss

Seriously… look how pretty it is!


Another successful ‘I bought this book because the cover was pretty’ venture. Bodies of Light is about one of the first female students to study medicine in London – her childhood, her frigid relationship with her mother, women’s suffrage, a certain period in history. The prose is almost as gorgeous as the cover. One of those happy accidents stumbled upon in a bookstore that I want to tell everyone about. Go! Find! Read!



3. A Madness of Angels by Kate Griffin

Recommended by a friend (which is how I read most genre fiction). Very enjoyable urban fantasy where the city of London has developed its own magic of electricity and Biker gangs and graffiti. It was grungy. It was strange. I liked it a lot.

4. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

This is one of those books I’ve always had a vague feeling I should have read, and this year I finally got around to it. Now I can finally sing the line about Maya Angelou in La Vie Boheme from Rent and know what I’m talking about!

5. Clade by James Bradley

I have been a reader of James Bradley’s blog on and off for a while now, and I really enjoy the way he writes. This is the first full-length piece of his fiction that I’ve read, and I was not disappointed. Though beautifully written, it left me with a lingering sense of sadness that was hard to shake. It follows generations of a family through a world devastated by climate change, and it just felt all too real to me. It didn’t feel like science fiction, it just felt like the future that we are all going to be stuck with.

6. South of Darkness by John Marsden

More than anything else, this reminded me of Treasure Island by my good ol’ great-great-grand-cousin, Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s a relatively simple tale of a young London orphan in the 1700s who gets himself sent to Australia as a convict to seek a better life. This is Marsden’s first ‘adult’ book, but to me it felt strangely much more child-like than his excellent Tomorrow When the War Began serieswhich was packed with heavy questions about war and death and reams of character development, all of which were lacking in South of Darkness.

On a happy side note, I did get to see John Marsden speak at the Sydney Writer’s Festival in 2015, and my tatty old well-loved paperback copy of Tomorrow When the War Began is now signed by the author, which makes my fangirl heart infinitely happy.

7. Ghostwritten by David Mitchell

Okay, we all know how much I love David Mitchell by now. His books are like dreams. It’s incredible to me that this was a debut novel. While I enjoyed some of his later work better (and Cloud Atlas will always be my favourite), this was seriously impressive for a first novel. I could only dream of writing something this powerful and original.

I got to hear David Mitchell speak at a couple of sessions of the 2015 Sydney Writer’s Festival, and I absolutely and unabashedly have a writer-crush on him. He is awesome, funny, humble, incredibly smart and creative, and ever-so-British.

8. Jonathon Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

This was the longest book I read this year. I read the first half of it very slowly and the second half very quickly – it takes a while to get going, and the fact that I was on holiday to read the second half definitely helped. This book is sort of like… the love-child of Charles Dickens and Jane Austen wrote a 19th century urban fantasy novel. I enjoyed it overall, but I’m not quite sure I understand what all the fuss and the cult following is about. It could have been shorter.

9. A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Another recommendation, this time from Mum, and I hereby proclaim it my Book of the Year. A few months after the 2010 tsunami, a Canadian writer (named Ruth) finds a lunchbox washed up on the shore and inside it the diary of 16-year-old Tokyo schoolgirl, who is quite determined to write a diary before she kills herself. The book weaves back and forth between the novelist reading the diary and the diary entries. While I found the schoolgirl Nao to be a more entertaining narrator, the real glory of the book is the way the two threads intertwine.

I can’t really describe this book. It did stuff to me. It was a book that I deeply needed in my life this year.

As per tradition (the fact that it happened once before makes it a tradition, right?) my Book of the Year gets the honour of my favourite passage transcribed:

“A single moment is all we need to establish our human will and attain truth. […] Both life and death manifest in every moment of existence. Our human body appears and disappears moment by moment, without cease, and this ceaseless arising and passing away is what we experience as time and being. They are not separate. They are one thing, and in even a fraction of a second, we have the opportunity to choose, and to turn the course of our action either toward the attainment of truth or away from it. Each instant is utterly critical to the whole world.”

10. Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

This was my Unfortunate Disappointment of the year. I first read Eucalyptus in Year 11 English class and I remembered enjoying it at the time as an Australian fairytale-esque novel. On re-read a decade later, it appears to be a loose collection of short stories tied together by an irritating plot in which a modern Australian man sells off his daughter to whoever wins his stupid tree-naming competition. No one sees anything strange in this medieval marriage/competition throwback and the daughter mopes around doing and saying literally nothing for the entire book while her future is determined by a handful of male characters.

I put the book down around the last chapter and lost track of where I’d left it for a little while. When I found it again, I couldn’t even be bothered finishing it off. Ugh.

11. Fools Quest (Fitz & the Fool #2) by Robin Hobb

Imagine your absolute favourite long series of all time. Imagine reading twelve novels set in this fantasy world with the greatest characters you have ever read. Imagine reaching the end of the twelfth book, where everything is more or less wrapped up, only there is this little tantalising and frustrating thread of the unknown left. But the author says at the time that that’s it, that was the final book, there will be no more sequels for these characters.

Years later, the author changes her mind, and pants are peed in excitement.

This is the second book of the ever-so-incredibly-and-desperately-long-awaited Fitz & the Fool series, and it really kicks off in book 2. If you read it, sacrifice chickens to the God of Cliffhangers and offer prayers of thanks that at least Hobb is a quick and reliable writer, and the next one should be coming out in 2016.

12. number9dream by David Mitchell

See my happy rant about David Mitchell for #7 on this list. I don’t know if it’s the way all of his books are set in the same mega-universe, or the dreamy quality of them, or if it’s just that they blow my mind so much I can’t keep track – but I do have a hard time differentiating between Mitchell’s books. So I can’t give a very effective recap. As it’s set in Tokyo and it’s a coming-of-age story for the main character, it echoed A Tale for the Time Being in a strange and interesting way for me.

13. Spinster: making a life of one’s own by Kate Bolick

Another recommendation, this time from Laura The Selfie Queen. This book is part memoir, part non-fiction, about Kate Bolick’s life and the lives of a group of writing and thinking women who she has chosen as her inspiration. What makes a ‘spinster’ different to a ‘bachelor’? It’s an interesting look at society’s expectations and judgments surrounding marriage, motherhood and creativity. No offence, Kate Bolick, but I found the historical women you wrote about rather more interesting than your own life. That’s just the hazard of having good source material, I guess.

14. The Collected Poems, Sara Teasdale

Rarely have I devoured a book of poems so voraciously and easily as I did this one. Sara Teasdale has a deceptively simple style and vocabulary, but her poems have this deep ache and joy and beauty in them. She died in 1933 but I swear she gets me.

I made you many and many a song,
 Yet never one told all you are —
It was as though a net of words
 Were flung to catch a star;
It was as though I curved my hand
 And dipped sea-water eagerly,
Only to find it lost the blue
 Dark splendor of the sea.


(“Time,” echoes Josh Pyke, “is like the ocean; you can only hold a little in your hands.”)


15. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

How could I resist this book? It’s dedication is ‘For the librarians’:

People of the Book is a fictional re-telling of the real Sarajevo Haggadah, a 14th Century Jewish prayer book which has survived wars and violence and centuries, and the story of the people who created it and saved it and discovered it through the many years of its life. Historical fiction is not a genre that I read a lot in, but I really enjoy Geraldine Brooks’ work.

16. Looking for Alaska by John Green

I quite possibly would have loved this book if I had read it as a young teenager. As an adult, I found Alaska (the love interest of the main character) to be a shallow and hugely self-absorbed brat. So it was rather irritating. I felt like the main character was too smart to be obsessed with such a yucky person. Alas.

17. My Name is Memory by Ann Brashares.

Yes, Ann Brashares, of The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants fame! This book is about (again) reincarnation and immortality, but this time with the frame of a love story. Two soul mates are reborn again and again through the ages, but only one of them remembers and tries to seek out the other in the next life. This would have been great, if only I hadn’t discovered in THE LAST THREE PAGES that this is actually the first book of a (as yet unpublished) series, so there was no closure whatsoever. Argh. It should be illegal to publish a non-stand-alone book without mentioning somewhere on the cover that it is Book One Of Many.

18. Orlando by Virginia Woolf

This was my other favourite book of the year. I picked it up from the library after seeing the Sydney Theatre Company stage production at the Opera House. It has further cemented my love of Virginia Woolf, and was one of those books that come along at just the right time when you need it the most. It was also surprisingly funny, although when I look back at the wry humour in A Room of One’s Own, I’m not actually sure why I was surprised. It’s about many things – sex and gender, history, memory, our multitude of selves, the surge of time and the present moment. And it’s about writing.

The book is inextricably mixed with the production I saw in my head, so when I read the first I was picturing and hearing the voices of the second. The tiny boat reaches the crest of the wave… I am beginning to understand.


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