all good things, april to july ’18

Hi. It’s been way too long.

I wrote a few words about what the hell I’ve been doing for the past six (and a bit) months, but deleted it all, because it sounded an awful lot like waaa waaaaa waaaa, and that’s not what I want to say at all.

Here’s the really short version, sans waaa: I have a great new copywriting job where I get to pat a lot of dogs. We had to move because our house was sold, but I’ve just got all my books back on the shelves in the new place, and I really like it here. And in the few weeks where I was flat broke while looking for work and moving, my local library saved my sanity. I visit pretty much every weekend now.

Also, in the middle of all that, I turned forty. I don’t know how this happened either.

My All Good Things posts are an opportunity for me to look back on all the good stuff that’s kept me going over the past month (or so). Because it’s been a while between posts, I’ve got quite a lot to ramble about, so I’d better get started…

Music

How to Solve Our Human Problems
Belle and Sebastian

I haven’t been particularly adventurous with my music choices this year. I’m a little ashamed to say I’ve spent most of my time listening to podcasts or Spotify playlists. But there is one new album I’ve had on repeat lately…

Belle and Sebastian is one of my favourite bands, but for some reason, I put off listening to their latest release. When I did finally give How to Solve Our Human Problems a listen, I wondered what had taken me so long.

I managed to get my hands on some last-minute tickets to see B&S perform at the Palais Theatre back in May and had the most amazing night.

Books

Our Tiny, Useless Hearts
Toni Jordan

Janice still loves her ex-husband, Alec. Her sister, Caroline is married to Henry, who’s just revealed that he’s having an affair with Martha, their children’s teacher. Janice is disgusted on her sister’s behalf – until she discovers that Caroline is herself having an affair with her neighbour, Craig. Alec catches Janice in bed with Craig – and Craig’s wife, Lesley wants everyone to know that she’s been having an affair with Alec.

Got all that? Good. Now – take all these characters, confine them to a suburban McMansion, add a generous helping of awkwardness, then stand back and watch the mayhem unfold. Our Tiny, Useless Hearts is a rare thing: the kind of book that will make you laugh and cry, then laugh all over again. It’s chaotic, touching and very, very clever.

I’m really looking forward to reading more Toni Jordan. Her next novel, The Fragments, is a “literary mystery” that’s due out later this year. Yes please!

The Hot Guy
Mel Campbell and Anthony Morris

Adam is hot. Like really, really hot. He doesn’t even know he’s hot. He has no idea, for instance, that there’s an entire Facebook group dedicated to sleeping with him.

When recently dumped Cate is set up with Adam by her boss, Cate isn’t aware that a night with the Hot Guy has a set of rules. The morning after, rather than making a hasty retreat, she decides to stick around.

The Hot Guy is oodles of fun. Not to mention screamingly funny. I particularly enjoyed the authors’ comments on online movie reviewing culture. And there’s a scene in Adam’s hometown, which has a statue that looks a lot like him….anyway, I don’t want to spoil all the jokes (and there are quite a lot of them) so you’ll just have to trust me on this one – if you’re feeling a little drab, read The Hot Guy.

The Fortress
S A Jones

After he’s implicated in a violent incident at his workplace, executive Jonathon Bridge voluntarily enters the Fortress. It’s an extreme step. His confinement will last a year, and his wife, Adalia, is due to give birth to their first child in a few months. If Jonathon’s to save what’s left of his marriage, The Fortress is his only option.

When I added The Fortress to Goodreads, I noticed how many people tagged it as “dystopian”. Jones’ world in The Fortress is only slightly removed from our own – it has PlayStations and football and the internet. But there’s also the Fortress, a mysterious compound ruled by a matriarchal society; a place where men go to seek redemption.

I read The Fortress a few weeks ago and it seems to have set up camp in my head. There’s something about this novel that doesn’t sit quite right with me, and I’m still turning it over and over in my thoughts. Still, I think it’s better to read a novel that makes you think – even if you disagree with it – than something you forget instantly.

Television

Nanette
Hannah Gadsby

While on the subject of things I can’t get out of my head: Nanette. It’s on Netflix. You’ve probably already seen it – I feel like I’m definitely the last person in the world to do so.

There are so many smart articles floating around Twitter that perfectly express what’s so special about Nanette (like this one in the New Yorker, for instance). All I can say is that you really need to watch it. Then tell someone else.

Podcasts

Obscure
Michael Ian Black

The very first episode of Obscure opens with the words “I’m telling you right now at the outset: this is probably not a good idea”.

Obscure is a pretty simple concept. It’s a comedy podcast in which Michael Ian Black reads Thomas Hardy’s Jude the Obscure out loud, commenting as he goes. Yeah – that’s Jude the Obscure – without a doubt the most hilarious of Thomas Hardy’s novels.

It’s a bonkers idea for a podcast. But a bad idea? I’m not so sure. The second I heard the premise, I subscribed and I’ve been listening from the first episode.

At its best, Obscure is funny and fascinating. It’s more than just a reading of Jude the Obscure – it’s also a meditation on dreams and fame and what it means to be obscure. Black (who claims to have not read the book, though he clearly has) peppers each episode with interviews and observations taken from his own comedy career.

At its worst, Obscure is uneven and awkward. Some of the earlier episodes in particular have extended rants that stray a little too far away from the book, or interviews with people who have nothing to add. There are also moments when Black’s interruptions simply restate what’s already been said, like the Lyrics Genius version of Jude.

A few of the early episodes are rough, but I think Obscure is just starting to find its groove. I’m really interested to see how this podcast evolves and I look forward to every new episode.

Other Stuff

Mi Goals Planner

I have one more recommendation this month, and it’s for the Mi Goals Planner that’s pictured in the header image for this post. Just say you’re someone who is really, notoriously bad at planning things (like relaunching their blog, for instance). This journal encourages you to get your plans written down on paper and work through each step, one by one.

It seems stupid and basic, but it’s working for me, because apparently I really need stupid and basic to get me back on track. And it’s not too full of the kind of idiotic inspirational quotes (You are enough! Live, laugh, love!) that fill me with rage.

I got mine from Milligram and I’m finding it really useful so far (and no, this isn’t sponsored. I’m just really disorganised and love this journal).

Coming up next…

As I mentioned at the start of this post, I’ve kind of become a library addict. Where else can I experiment so wildly with what I read?

I’ve got a pile of books on my bedside table waiting to be read and I’m sure some of them will make appearances in next month’s All Good Things post. But before that, there’s a review I need to write. I’m also trying out a few bookish podcasts and working on a post about what I’m planning to do with this blog. More on that soon…

all good things, march ’18

What? Where did March go? All of a sudden, it’s the day after Easter and I’m winding back my watch again.

As I mentioned in my first All Good Things post, 2018 is shaping up to be A Year…and March has been no different. On one hand, I’ve settled into a new job and its rhythms – waking up with the birds, watching through the train window as hot air balloons hover over the inner north. I’m loving it. Even the commute. Even the early starts.

On the other hand, the house I’m renting is being sold in April, so I’ve had to adjust to randomly scheduled open-for-inspections, mopping floors at weird hours…and, of course, worrying about whether or not I’ll have to move. Fingers crossed whoever buys this place wants to keep me riiiight where I am. I’m not too keen on the prospect of having to pack all my books into boxes.

So anyway, March has been almost comically all over the place, which seems to be the norm for this year. Looks like I’d better get used to it…

For anyone new here, All Good Things is a monthly post where I have a bit of a chat about some of the things I’ve enjoyed during the past month. It’s a chance for me to write a little about some of the books I’ve been reading that I haven’t had time to review in full, as well as movies I’ve enjoyed, what I’m watching on the small screen, games I’ve been playing – anything goes. It’s mainly about the things I’ve loved. Good things. Hence the name.

Books

An Uncertain Grace

I’ve been meaning to read one of Krissy Kneen’s novels for the longest time – but last week, I picked up her sixth novel, An Uncertain Grace knowing next to nothing about it – and I’m wondering what’s taken me so long.

An Uncertain Grace is told in five parts, tied together by the presence of Liv, who uses technology to tell stories. In the background of each narrative, we glimpse a world turning to water as the ocean rises, claiming front lawns and apartment blocks as its own. Nearly all sea life has died out, leaving only a particularly hardy species of jellyfish. Meanwhile, on land, some things haven’t changed.

Everything is shifting, boundaries are moving, and through it all, there’s Liv, growing slowly older. An Uncertain Grace is a dark and elegiac look at a future world – it’s strange and compelling and even if I wanted to, I couldn’t look away.

The Sparsholt Affair

Strictly speaking, All Good Things is meant to be about the things I’ve really enjoyed. But while I wasn’t entirely convinced by Alan Hollinghurst’s latest, The Sparsholt Affair, there’s still something about this novel I can’t shake.

It’s a series of episodes in the lives of two men – in the first part of the novel, we meet David Sparsholt, while the remainder of the novel centres on his son, Johnny, who bears the weight of his father’s very public disgrace on his shoulders.

The novel’s first part, set in Oxford in the 1940s is simply enchanting. But it sets a tone and an atmosphere that the rest of the novel simply can’t live up to. Sure, Hollinghurst’s writing is typically elegant, but I found the novel’s second half tough going. If only the whole novel had been set in that glorious first section…

The Lucky Galah

Finally, I know it was the subject of my most recent post, but I can’t stop squawking about Tracy Sorensen’s The Lucky Galah, which I reviewed for Newtown Review of Books towards the start of the month.

The thing is, there’s so much I couldn’t find space in my review to discuss – I wanted to write a lot more about the novel’s humour in particular. Plus, there’s a certain political figure in the novel who readers might find rather familiar. Anyway – no spoilers from me. Read the book – I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Other obsessions…

I always feel a little worried when one of my favourite novels is adapted for the screen. However, trepidation aside, I couldn’t resist watching the new four-part BBC adaptation of Howards End, which aired on the ABC recently.

I was pleasantly surprised. Much of the dialogue was taken directly from Forster’s novel. Margaret and Helen Schlegel’s costumes were just stunning (that red beret! The incredible coat with all the buttons! The scarves!). But more than that, this adaptation attempts to restore a little dignity to Leonard and Jacky Bast, as well as to the working classes, who are more visible in this adaptation than they are in the novel. While the novel begins with a letter, here we see the postman who delivers it.

I enjoyed the miniseries version of Howards End, but with that in mind, I have to confess, I’ve never actually seen the 1992 Merchant Ivory version. I’ll have to try and rectify this very soon.

What’s next?

Right now, I’m in the middle of Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, and can’t wait to get back to it! I have The Reservoir Tapes ready to go as soon as I’ve finished.

Also, now I have a longer commute, I’m determined to try out a few literary podcasts. I’m also on the lookout for new music to enjoy, because I’m tired of listening to the same few songs

I’ll let you know what I’ve found in next month’s edition of All Good Things. More soon!

all good things, january and february ’18

Hoooooo boy. It’s been an interesting couple of months, hasn’t it? Well, it has for me, at least. Despite the very, very best of intentions, I’ve staggered into 2018 in typically hapless fashion and I’m still trying to find my bearings. That relaunch I’m planning? Yes, still happening. More on that soonish. Like I said, bearings.

In the meantime, I wanted to try something new.

This year, I’m going to write a monthly post called All Good Things, where I have a bit of a ramble about the books I’ve been reading, as well as other stuff that’s made me happy over the past month. However, because I missed January’s post (yes, I know: such an auspicious start) this first post covers both January and February.

Here are just a few of the things I’ve loved so far this year…

Books

The Examined Life: How We Lose and Find Ourselves

This collection of tales from the couch of psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz had me enthralled. Originally published in 2014, The Examined Life is a series of brief, real-life anecdotes taken from Grosz’s 25-year career as a therapist.

I was surprisingly moved by every one of these brief glimpses into the lives of human beings at their most vulnerable – I read it in a single sitting, cover to cover.

But in the days and weeks after reading The Examined Life, I continued to think about these (very privileged) people and their stories, and it struck me that many of Grosz’s stories are more like psychoanalytic fairy tales than anything else. For every problem, there’s a flash of inspiration, like the flick of a magic wand, and everything makes sense.

For those of us living in the real world, that’s not how mental illness works…but isn’t it nice to pretend?

From the Wreck

This book has been sitting on my shelf for way too long. Set in 1859, From the Wreck is the story of George Hills, one of a handful of people who survive when their steamer, the Admella, is shipwrecked off the coast of South Australia.

It’s also the story of a subaquatic homesick alien, trapped in our dimension, whose life becomes entangled with George’s.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck is a beguiling tale of loneliness and survival that’s part historical fiction, part science fiction – and totally unique. Already one of my books of the year.

Gravity Well

The term gravity well refers to the inevitable drag of a celestial body on nearby objects – think of it as a constant undertow in space. Gravity Well, published last year, drew me in in much the same way.

Lotte is an astronomer, struggling to cope with her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent remarriage, as well as her own reluctance to settle down. At the same time, Eve is left reeling in the wake of a tragedy she can’t even begin to put into words. The two women used to be friends, but as they’ve grown older, they’ve slowly drifted out of each others’ orbit.

Slowly and elegantly, Joosten arranges the pieces of Lotte and Eve’s stories before us, in a manner that had me hanging on every word. I genuinely adored these characters, and it’ll take me a while to get them out of my head.

Other obsessions…

Confession – not only am I seemingly the last person in the world to start listening to podcasts, but my favourite podcasts are all comedy podcasts. I know – there are so many good bookish podcasts out there, and I’m sure I’ll get to them eventually, but for me, right now, podcasts are more a form of escapism than anything else.

I’m completely obsessed with Hello from the Magic Tavern, an improvised fiction podcast about Arnie, a guy from Chicago who was sucked through a transdimensional portal into a fantasy world called Foon. Unable to get back home, Arnie spends his time hanging around the Vermillion Minotaur, making a podcast with his friends – a talking badger called Chunt and a rambling wizard named Usidore. Every week, they invite a new guest from Foon to join them in the tavern for an interview. Guests so far have included a sweary, suicidal flower, a waiter who vomits cats, an angry elf who’s useless at archery…even a series of bats.

Look, Magic Tavern might be difficult to explain, but it’s sooo easy to love. And laugh-out-loud funny – expect people to look at you strangely if you listen on public transport on the way to work. Here’s a section from an episode that someone on YouTube animated:

Strangely enough, two of my favourite TV shows this year are also about being stuck in the wrong place.

In The Good Place, Eleanor Shellstropp dies and finds herself in heaven. The only thing is, she’s not meant to be there, and when her presence starts to corrupt the Good Place, it’s only a matter of time before she’s outed as an imposter. Then she’s off to the Bad Place, and eternal torture.

Everyone’s seen The Good Place, right? If, for some weird reason, you’re yet to get around to it, do yourself a favour and don’t read a single thing about it. Seasons one and two are on Netflix, and the episodes are really short – put everything else off and start watching it as soon as you can.

My other TV obsession this year is more of a sentimental favourite…and more than a little bit nerdy. Okay. It’s really really nerdy.

It’s Star Trek: Discovery, the latest Star Trek series, and it’s a bit of a departure from previous Treks.

Unlike previous series, the first season of Disco is a story told over the course of a season, rather than on an episode by episode basis. Plus, the series’ writers make a specific point of breaking some of the show’s long-established rules.

What’s great about Discovery is its focus on its characters. However, what lets this show down is its unevenness, scrambled pacing and – my particular pet peeve – fanservice. But still, for a series I was really worried I was going to hate, I was impressed. Fingers crossed for season two…

What’s next?

I don’t know how it started, but on Twitter and Instagram, around the beginning of every new season, readers share a picture of some of the books they’re planning to read over the next three months.

So, here’s a look at my #autumnreadingstack – excluding the books I’m planning to review, of course. And it’s also missing the book I’m reading right now – Krissy Kneen’s An Uncertain Grace.

Chances are, I’ll be rambling about some of these books (and maybe more!) in the March edition of All Good Things.