The Crying Place is Lia Hills’s second novel, and it moves at an unhurried yet insistent pace, like looking into the distance from the window of a fast-moving car.
It’s been a while. Jean and Linda at Newtown Review of Books – literally the kindest editors and most patient people in the world – let me write a review for them. It’s my first for the year and it’s the first day of June tomorrow. The year’s nearly half over. How does that even work?
I’m working on another review, which I hope to have finished soon. Fingers crossed.
What else is going on? To avoid rambling, here’s an incredibly quick life update, in three dot points…
The Great Reading Slump of Twenty Sixteen Slash Seventeen…might be over? Yeah, I know I’ve always been That Person barges her way into bookish conversations boasting OH, I SIMPLY CANNOT BEAR TO LEAVE A BOOK UNFINISHED. But for a few months, I’ve been struggling to read a full book. My attention wanders off, and the book sits on my bedside table or in my bag for weeks on end, making me feel guilty and grumpy every time it catches my eye. However. I read a book recently and found myself distracted during the day, wishing I could somehow get out of what I was doing and just keep reading. I remember that feeling! I’m glad it’s back.
I have a great new job! Working from home sounds like the best thing ever, right? Getting up late, wearing your pyjamas all day, snacks on demand without judgement, singing The Boys of Summer at full blast as I type…but the thing is, nearly two years of working from home turned me into a human slug. It’s not for me. Hence – new job! Among the many other things I do, I manage social media and write blog posts full of terrible puns. And yes, I miss being able to belt out bad songs from the Eighties at the top of my lungs while I work, but still – it’s pretty great to be back in the working world again. Even when the weather looks like this…
I’m working on a secret project. It’s a memoir. Of all the things I could possibly write, I never thought I’d find myself contemplating writing about my incredibly boring life. And besides, what do I know about writing memoir? I’m still trying to convince myself that this is the baddest of bad ideas, so I won’t say too much…but the idea seems to have taken hold of me and I’m stuck with it now. I’m interested in where this idea will take me. Maybe nowhere.
I often end these posts by saying something along the lines of “I’ll write more soon” – which doesn’t always happen. But now I’m reading again, who knows?
Let’s just throw everything into the air and see how it lands. Like buttered toast.
Even though it’s pretty much The Done Thing to give 2016 a good kicking – pass me my pointiest boots, because I’m joining in.
I know I sound melodramatic, but seriously, this year. It’s New Year’s Eve and I’m still staggering around, still trying to swing a few more feeble, sweaty punches at 2016. But the bell’s about to ring. I might be down for now, but don’t even think about counting me out.
I wanted to take a (very) last-minute look at a few of the good things about 2016; the books, the music and the moments that made this year bearable. Okay, fine – begrudgingly enjoyable.
Any year with a new Bon Iver album can’t be all bad, right? This was the song I listened to most this year – and that first line, “it might be over soon”, the album’s opening lyric, became a kind of mantra to me. The rest of the album is good too, but sometimes frustrating – the annoying song titles, the reliance on vocal effects that sometimes wriggles down in between the song and the emotion behind the song, getting in the way of things…but 22, A Million seems to me an album of (and about) the things that get in the way. I get that, and I’m grateful it exists.
As for movies, I only made it to the cinema a handful of times this year, and every time to see blockbuster films I found oddly disappointing. Though (like the Death Star, ha) it has some glaring faults – an unnecessarily confusing opening, characters so undercooked I risked food poisoning – Star Wars Rogue One seemed emblematic of a year in which, to quote Leonard Cohen, the good guys lost.
Like everyone else, I was transfixed by Stranger Things. I’m not great with keeping up with the latest TV shows, so it was quite nice to be watching something at the same time as everyone else for a change. I finally caught up with all of Orphan Black this year – a show I love despite the fact that they seem to be making up the plot on an episode-by-episode basis. I also really enjoyed the recent BBC adaptation of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, which managed to inspire in me the memory of of the same obsession I felt when I first read the book.
Talking of obsession, many of the TV series I consumed with an obsessed passion, I can barely remember a single thing about now. I did a lot of re-watching instead. I decided to celebrate Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary by watching the entire thing from the very beginning, starting with The Original Series, then moving on to The Animated Series (which I’ve never seen before), then The Next Generationand so on. Admittedly, we spend just as much time snarking on Trek as we do enjoying it, but that’s all part of the fun. Plus, it’s also the reason why Swear Trek(see the gif above) is my favourite Twitter discovery of the year. I’ve also fallen completely in love with Webcomic Name…
Though I’ve read a lot of books I loved this year, I’m limiting myself to five favourites, plus a few honourable mentions…
Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things deserves every accolade it’s received so far, and quite possibly a few more. Not that prizes make a work of literature more legitimate, but still – this deserves to be recognised. There’s nothing left for me to say about this book – everything has already been said. All I have to add is that I consider it a classic. If you haven’t already read it, make sure it’s the first thing you do in 2017.
I wrote about Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree novellas over at Newtown Review of Books, but what I didn’t have room to mention was the way that, as soon as I finished Noho, the final of these five linked novellas, I went straight back to Gotham, the first, and read them all again. Also, top marks to Inkerman and Blunt for these beautifully-designed books. And to Earls for his initiative and determination in publishing these as separate novellas, rather than together.
I mentioned Letters to the End of Love by Yvette Walker earlier this year when I wrote about my favourite books for the first half of the year. According to Goodreads, I finished reading Letters on February 14, which seems too appropriate to be actually possible. This little book wasn’t at all what I was expecting. It’s stayed with me all year, and I adore it.
Another book from my middle-of-the-year round up that’s still very much on my mind is Nic Low’s Arms Race. It’s from 2014, but I’m slow on the uptake. I think about the stories in this seriously underrated volume all the time – they come back to me like the memories of dreams. Mental note: add more short story collections to my to-read pile for 2017.
From fiction to non-fiction, the final book to round off my top five for 2016 is Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The Hate Race. It turns out that Clarke and I are of the same generation – high school debating teams and Cabbage Patch dolls – but it turns out that our experiences of growing up couldn’t have been more different. This book made me sad, it made me angry – and, more importantly, it made me think.
As for those honourable mentions, The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson made a real impression on me this year. Helen Garner’s Everywhere I Look was another favourite for the year. Not every piece in this collection needed to be there, but still – Helen Garner! Seeing her speak at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.
Talking of idols, I found a new one in Jeanette Winterson. I picked up Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? from the library a few months back. It’s a strange place to begin, but I immediately wanted to read more.
And finally, I’m being a little cheeky naming a novel I’m right in the middle of reading on my Best of 2016 list, but Zadie Smith’s Swing Time is just amazing, and I’m going to try and sneak away to spend the final few hours of 2016 finishing it.
From inspirational to aspirational. In 2017, I’m hoping to read more widely – more short stories, more graphic novels, more sci-fi and fantasy…more everything, really. Everyone’s been sharing their reading stacks for summer on Twitter and Instagram. I’m so, so excited (and lucky) to have such an amazing-looking pile of books to work my way through in the coming weeks and months…
What do you want from 2017? Personally, I’m just hoping for kindness, a calm mind and great books. Writing some essays and book reviews would be an added bonus.
Whatever you’re after from the New Year, I wish you all the best. Stay safe.
I photographed my neighbourhood, where fresh concrete walls climbed skyward, leaving crumbs of soil around their edges, as if they were plants pushing up out of the weeds. I knew every speck of view from seven floors up. If I pressed my nose against my bedroom window, I could follow the bony backs of cats stalking invisible prey in the giant hole gouged from orange clay, which we called ‘the quarry’ … The quarry reeked of cats’ piss and rotting fruit mingled with sweet, poisonous exhaust fumes. It didn’t stop people from climbing to the quarry top on the evening to watch the sun drop into the sea. I’d train my lens on them as they munched snacks and danced to tinny taped songs, while their faces turned yellow, then red.
Here’s a little extract from Debra Jopson’s “wise, nuanced coming-of-age story”, Oliver of the Levant, which I reviewed for Newtown Review of Books last week. My thanks, as always, to editors, Linda and Jean. Click here to head over to NRBland and have a read.
(And as for returning to blogging, I have a lot to say, it’s just a matter of working out how to say it…and if it’s even worth saying. You know. The usual.)
I actually Googled “how to start blogging again after a long absence” to try and find a non-awkward way to approach writing this post (and, with any luck, the next few posts) but the only real piece of advice I found was not along the lines of “duh, don’t leave your blog dormant for months and years on end”. Harsh, Google. True though.
While I work out where – and how – to begin blogging again, I’ve been thinking about some of the books I’ve read so far this year. We’re over halfway through 2016, which is frankly ridiculous. But that’s okay, because I’ve read some seriously good books.
I hope you don’t mind me sharing them with you.
I’m starting with Yvette Walker’s criminally underrated Letters to the End of Love. I read it at the start of this year and since then I’ve been quietly devastated that I wasn’t smart enough to pick this up when it was first released back in 2013. I utterly adored this intense, elegant epistolary novel about three relationships; each taking place across different time periods, different countries and different sexualities. I’m already looking forward to reading it again – although I’m not sure how I’ll keep my place, as I’ve already folded over every second corner to mark a favourite quote or passage.
Another book I wish I’d read when it first came out? Arms Race by Nic Low. How would you classify these twelve unexpected short stories? Science fiction? Humour? Perhaps a little of both. One thing’s for sure – this is a really strong collection. In the months since reading Arms Race, I still find myself thinking about Low’s stories all the time. They keep coming back to me like the echoes of dreams. They’re bizarre and beautiful and I loved every one of them.
Another book to which I arrived later than usual was Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. How can a novel be so surreal and real both at the same time? And so, so good? Really, everything about this stunning novel has already been written. I have nothing new to add, other than my admiration.
I did, somehow, manage to find something to say about Helen Garner’s masterful collection of essays, Everywhere I Look. I reviewed it for Newtown Review of Books, and it’s left me itching to read more of Garner’s fiction and non-fiction. Hopefully sooner rather than later.
I have a bit of a thing for Geoff Dyer. I read Out of Sheer Rage last year and dogeared it to within an inch of its life. Which is why I picked up White Sands, Dyer’s new collection of essays on place and art and crisis. There are moments in White Sands when Dyer is at his infuriating best – he’s obtuse and wrapped up in his own obsessions, but the thread of vulnerability that runs through the collection draws the reader towards a touching, sincere final act.
I started this post with a book I should have read years ago, so it seems fitting to finish it with a series of books that are very much here-and-now – Nick Earls’ Wisdom Tree collection. It’s a series of five novellas. I’ve read Gotham and Venice, the first two in the series, and I’m just about to begin the third. It’s not just the episodic nature of this series that has me hooked – it’s the way Earls captures his characters so perfectly. I’m looking forward to finding out where Earls is going to take me next.
I’d better sign off here, before I start rambling about every book I’ve read so far this year. Sitting on my to-read pile right now? Jennifer Down’s Our Magic Hour, The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper (how could I resist that title?) and A S Patric’s Las Vegas for Vegans, because I was transfixed by Black Rock White City. There’s also Shibboleth and other stories, this year’s Margaret River Short Story collection anthology, edited by the brilliant Laurie Steed.
I’ve realised recently what a privilege it is to have access to books. Three cheers for libraries. I’m lucky to have plenty of reading in my future.
Talking of the future, I’m hoping to start blogging more often. I’ve really missed writing posts like this one. It’s just a matter of throwing words at the screen and hoping some of them stay there…and make sense.