A Booklover’s Delight

Recently I popped along to one of the occasional book sales hosted by Lifeline in Sydney. These events are major fundraisers, offering books which are no longer needed or wanted by their current owners for sale with the proceeds going to charity.

Having attended a couple of these events before, I knew what to expect. Rows upon rows of books sorted in categories and held in sturdy cardboard boxes. A multitude of volunteers zip about, tidying up boxes that have been picked through and refilling gaps from a large stash held out of sight. These well organised events hold a treasure trove of books across all topics and genres, a delight for anyone seeking something of general interest and those trying to track down an elusive book that is tricky to trace through bookshops and online channels.

There is something about being in a group of people, strangers yet united through the common interest of books. Courtesy is evident in the absence of snatching and grabbing of books, a polite patience as one waits to scrabble through the box adjacent which someone is still lingering over. There are book titles both recent and remote in time, old treasures that have been kept for decades until finally they were no longer needed or required, and are available for their next custodian to collect for a very minimal fee.

As I am still sorting and culling my current collection of books, I entered with low expectations and didn’t even have a bag with me, such was my mindset that I didn’t really need any more books. There were still shelves of books at home that needed to be picked over and bags of books that could be sent back into the world for a more appreciative mind to gather and enjoy. But inevitably I found one book, then another, as a small stack formed in my arms. The books at events such as these, and in charity shops too from my explorations, tend to include lots of large, beautifully illustrated books that are hard to find anywhere else. If found online, the postage costs would be greater than the purchase price. But treasures they are, documenting a different time and place and worthy of collecting and enjoying even if it is only for a brief period of time.

Eventually I stumbled out into the daylight, found a spot in the winter sunshine and enjoyed the beautiful surroundings of the Knox Grammar School at Wahroonga as I sipped a coffee and flicked through my books. There is something satisfying about finding that book which you didn’t even know you needed in your life.

Are you able to resist a book sale?

[Photo: sample of some of the classics on sale, including one of my long ago favourites, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson]

 

For Your Listening Pleasure: Why Audiobooks Are Great

There seems to be some contention about audiobooks. By listening to a book being read to you, are you really reading the book?

A stray tweet reminded me recently of the early discovery of the joy of having a book read aloud. Sure, the Disney records and books were also about learning how to read and follow a story, even if there were words on the page that were beyond the reader’s vocabulary at that point. The chime of a bell to mark the turning of a page would probably still produce a response from me today.

Audiobooks on tapes, CD and MP3 are provided by local libraries, and now they can be downloaded online from the comfort of home. There is no fear of forgetting to return them and incurring fines as they simply vanish on the expiry date unless you extend the loan. It really couldn’t be easier to tap into a whole world of literature and non-fiction with the only expense being time and bandwidth.

I have been introduced to many of my favourite books through listening to the audio version. Recent highlights have included:

  • The Belltree Trilogy by Barry Maitland: a detective series featuring Harry Belltree and set around western Sydney and Newcastle. This was memorable for the morally ambiguous main character and the excellent narration of Peter Hosking, who has guided me through many books including several featuring Peter Corris creation PI Cliff Hardy.
  • The Sellout by Paul Beatty. This was a recent read for my book group and whilst I had the book itself, I was struggling to get into it. I listened to a sample of the audio book and suddenly the narrator’s voice was clear and I ended up enjoying the book much more than I would have thought.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert. Again I had the book and had read segments of it, but listening to it read by the author added an extra element of enjoyment and depth. It was an invigorating experience.
  • Rain and Other Stories by W S Maugham and The Home Girls by Olga Masters. Two short story collections by masters of the craft. Years later I can still recall elements of the stories made even more vivid with the telling.
  • Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, narrated by Simon Slater and Simon Vance.  I don’t usually listen to audiobooks more than once but these books are an exception to the rule.

There are, of course, downsides to listening to books. If the narration doesn’t resonate I tend not to persevere. Fortunately you can usually download a sample before committing to the entire book. For really long works this is a wise step as some books can go for days, literally. And it isn’t possible to listen all the time: concentration does drift away sometimes and some books have the odd boring passage. As yet, I haven’t skipped to end of the book to see how it ends, which is something I would do with a physical book that was not maintaining my interest.

If I really enjoy the audiobook, I will usually pick up a copy of the book itself to revisit passages or re-read entirely. For me, audiobooks supplement my love of reading, providing a convenient entry into another world, and one that I can enjoy whilst driving, cooking, cleaning and the like.

Do you listen to audiobooks?

[Photo: reading room in one of the buildings at Sovereign Hill, Ballarat]

 

I Wish Life Was More Like A Sunday

I came across this sentiment recently in notes I took a couple of years back whilst working my way through Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It was one of several items in a list of wishes that made me smile upon rediscovery. There is something about the sentiment that draws me still, so I thought I’d spend a moment or two on a Sunday and work out some of the elements of Sunday life that make it so special.

  • Sleep-ins. Best chance of a sleep in is on a Sunday. The working week is full of bustle, Saturdays fill up with things to do. Sundays are usually less hectic.
  • Catching up. A slower start to the day encourages a more leisurely pace. Sundays offer space for dawdling and pottering about, even if this means catching up on news missed during the week, or small chores left aside until a pocket of time appears. Sundays are full of such moments.
  • Sunshine. Not always guaranteed, of course, but if the weather is kind the temptation is strong to enjoy it with an outing or even just working in the garden with the sun on your shoulders. It is energising and grounding,  providing an energy store for workdays spent inside.
  • Just relaxing. That might sound obvious but without the usual bustle and to-doing, there is space to daydream or read a chapter in a book without interruption or haste, or listen – really listen – to the song playing in the background or the slower pace of the world outside.

What do Sundays mean to you?

[Photo: sunset in the Hartley valley]

Blue Mountains Book Settings

There are many upsides to sorting out your book collection. A definite highlight is being reunited with books that captured my attention and took me on a journey that remains vivid, years after reading them.

Amongst the stacks of books, there were some that I’ve put aside into a cluster of stories featuring the Blue Mountains. Here are a few fictional books that come to mind.

The Service of Clouds, Delia Falconer. Set in the early 1900s, this is the story of cloud photographer Harry Kitchings and Eureka Jones, a pharmacist’s assistant. I read it a couple of years before I moved here and think of it often when I catch myself looking upwards to watch clouds moving across the sky. The mural in Katoomba Street near St Hilda’s in honour of photographer Harry Phillips reminds me of it too; it is based on one of his photographs of the Bridal Veil Falls.

Dear You, Kate Llewellyn. This novel of love letters is set in Leura where the author lived for a few years. I read this when I first moved to the mountains, and remember scanning the entries for mentions of snow falling as that was one of my big concerns, being snowed in. It is a story of lust and longing and the everyday and gardens and being aware of the world in which you live.

Miles Off Course, Sulari Gentill. This is the third book in an excellent mystery series set in Australia in the 1930s featuring Rowland Sinclair. Rowly is an unconventional man from a privileged background who has bohemian friends including fellow artists and musicians. They get involved in all sorts of interesting situations which are historically accurate but with contemporary echoes. The series includes various famous and infamous people of the time in cameo roles. This book starts off in the Hydro Majestic where famous entrepreneur and hotelier Mark Foy is seeking Rowly’s input on the plans for his grand tomb which was to be carved into the grounds. This was true: it was incorporated into Foy’s will but it was ruled as not financially feasible by the court and his executors were released from any obligation to complete it.

Ash Island, Barry Maitland. This is the third installment of a trilogy featuring Harry Belltree, a Sydney detective with a troubled past and a complex network of enemies. In this final book, there is a murder early on in Blackheath, with Harry’s estranged wife Jenny the main suspect. But are things really as they seem?

Beware of the Dog, Peter Corris. My liking for Australian detective stories is apparent, and Corris is fondly regarded as The Godfather of Australian crime writing. His main character, Cliff Hardy, entered the literary scene in the 1970s and has been all over the country, and in various parts of the world, in his role as an old-school private investigator. In this installment, Hardy follows a lead up to a remote property past Mt Victoria, and the essence of this mountain village is well depicted. Hardy makes his final fictional appearance this year.

The Palace of Tears, Julian Leatherdale. This multi-generational fictional drama is based on the life of Mark Foy and his family. The author lives locally and has an extensive background in the arts and hotel management. This novel was a popular choice when it was released in time for summer reading a couple of years back and there is an interesting twist at the end. Julian has an article on the excellent Dictionary of Sydney website about the Hydro Majestic here.

Evergreen Falls, Kimberley Freeman. I came across this book by chance after listening to an interview with author on So You Want To Be A Writer. This story is set in modern times with historical flashbacks to a singular event in the 1920s which changed the course of the lives of several people. I liked the attention to detail, and the references to an old motel undergoing extensive renovations rang true as the Hydro was brought back from disrepair to its much more fashionable state.

Have you come across any books set in your town?

[Photo: detail from the mural in honour of Harry Phillips, Katoomba]

 

Splendid Synchronicity

I have been thinking lately about synchronicity, those surprising instances when something that is on your peripheral comes into sharper focus through a multitude of moments.

This was started when I met up with a friend a month or two ago and we were comparing recent travel stories. Whilst talking of a recent cruise along the coast of Western Australia, Kelly mentioned seeing stromatolites. I nodded politely, not really knowing what they were. She explained how they are one of the oldest forms of life on earth, with three known locations, two of which are in Australia. She had discovered this while reading Down Under by Bill Bryson. I had this book on a shelf at home but hadn’t read it.

Kelly mentioned that Bryson had travelled on the Indian Pacific across the country, and I thought it would be of interest to read of his experience. When I got home I pulled out the book, read the opening pages and was hooked. It was a genuine delight to spend the next month or so reading a little of this book most nights before sleep claimed me. I wanted to savour the chapters and this was enjoyable on several levels. Seeing what is familiar through someone else’s viewpoint, including many of the little quirks that come with being Australian from a different perspective, was pleasurable. There were lots of laugh out loud moments, along with reminiscing about places that I had visited years ago, such as the tall trees in the south of Western Australia.

Whilst reading the book, I was listening to podcasts on my longer drives and this included an episode on books on Let It Be. This podcast, by the incredibly organised and motivated Kelly Exeter and Brooke McAlary, ended with a round-up of their favourite comfort reads. For Kelly, this was Down Under by Bill Bryson. Snap! I could see why it would appeal in this way, and how it was one of those books which probably gives a little more with each read.

Then today I was noodling through my Twitter feed when I should have been doing something else, and came across a link to footage taken by a drone of Uluru. The way Bryson writes about Uluru makes me want to travel to the Northern Territory as soon as possible to see it for myself. As this is logistically not possible in the short-term, it was one of those joyous moments of synchronicity to come across this beautiful footage.

Have you had any moments of synchronicity lately?

[Photo: servants bells in Elizabeth Farm at Parramatta]

Imagine

This is such a powerful word. It immediately conjures up a collection of images, of worlds both real and invented. It can take me to another time or place, and makes me think of a life with less limitations. That place in your head where simply anything is possible.

Imagine doesn’t have to be a fanciful word. It can hold elements of what is possible, even if what is possible is yet to be realised into actual existence. Creativity. Uninhibited possibilities. The abandonment of realism. Reality: who needs it? Imagination offers resourcefulness and inventiveness, the opportunity to delude, to believe, to create, to fantasise and to think.

It also brings to mind early writings and creativity. When does it start, this compulsion to imagine other worlds into existence, to create something out of nothing? Perhaps it is the short creative writing exercises in primary school, those stretches of time when it was just a ballpoint pen, a lined exercise book and a prompt. I had early forays with elaborate tales involving tennis balls and hamburgers. These were separate stories and although the detail is lost to me now, the story where I was somehow metamorphosed into a tennis ball is still vivid to my younger brother, who surprises me with snatches of it occasionally.

There is also the pure joy of losing yourself in someone else’s imagined world as a child, from tales such as Blinky Bill and The Magic Pudding to The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. There are so many places to explore, vivid destinations with memorable characters and some life lessons along the way.

Words have always mattered to me. They have weight and substance when required. I used to tote around a rather large pocket dictionary as a child, and have a collection clustered about me now for dipping into and exploring words and their varied uses. Words are the gateway to my imagination, and for that I am eternally grateful.

What are your early memories of creations from your imagination?

[Photo taken at Mona Vale on the northern beaches of Sydney]

Taking Note

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to keep track of the tendrils of thoughts and ideas that come to the surface when I’m trying to do something else. These snippets seem to arise alongside, despite of and as a consequence of what I am writing, reading and listening to at the time.

Not all of these are recorded and rightly so. They are tenuous at best when I look over them at a later date, and sometimes I wonder what I was thinking when the need to record the essence of whatever it was took hold. These days we are subject to an increasing tide of information and stimulation. It can sometimes feel like grabbing handfuls of sand whilst being tossed on a thundering incoming wave. Recording snippets helps me to feel a modicum of control, as well as providing prompts and ideas for future writing.

I wish I could write that I have perfected the art of keeping track of these moments, but that would be a fib. I scribble bits and pieces in an A5 lined notebook. The pages include motley collections of lists including things I want to do when I have time (optimist!), musicians that I’ve heard and want to explore further, the name of a subject matter expert that a friend mentioned, a word that I hadn’t come across before (senescence, if you must know) and other miscellany.

Other pages contain prose relating to a short story where I was working on an ending, and some paragraphs where I was playing with a character’s viewpoint. There are to-do items along with song titles or lyric lines that have captured my attention for future use as writing prompts or just because I like them. There are a myriad of apps that also help with capturing the flotsam and jetsam. I like to use Evernote because I can group thoughts and images and links into journals, but I’m sure there are lots of other options out there.

This consideration of the compulsion to take notes was inspired by an article written by Joan Didion called ‘On Keeping a Notebook’. I’m quite sure this was referred to by Annabel Crabb or Leigh Sales in one of the early Chat 10, Looks 3 podcasts. There is a link to the article here. I found it encouraging to read that someone else feels the need capture these moments, such as they are. Didion writes about the necessity to record things, the mix of truth and fiction, the snatches of conversation, the need to capture how something felt.

How do you keep track of the flotsam and jetsam in your life?

[Photo: View from Mt Tomah Botanical Gardens]