it might be over soon – some (typically last-minute) thoughts on 2016

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.

Another favourite? Bibio‘s new album, A Mineral Love. Next year, I’ll listen to a few songs without saxophone solos, I swear.

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 Generation and 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.

Michelle

book to the future bookmarks #12

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Every second Monday at Book to the Future, I share a selection of literary links, as well as a few thoughts on what I’ve been reading lately…and anything else that comes to mind.

This particular Monday is the last day of the last long weekend of the year (for those of us here in Sydney, at least). I’ve been hard at work writing reviews – and because I’m eager to continue writing, I’m going to keep this edition of Book to the Future Bookmarks relatively short.

Today’s links all centre around little stories and big apples. I hope you find them as interesting as I do.

Continue reading “book to the future bookmarks #12”

book to the future bookmarks 11 – the spring cleaning edition

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No, I can’t really believe it’s been close to two months since I last wrote anything either, but that’s how it goes.

Things are, of course, still piling up around me – the garden needs weeding, the house needs cleaning, books need reading and words need writing, but I’m getting there, one task at a time. Which is the only way to approach these things, really.

After a short, unintentional winter hibernation, I’m back, and it’s spring and I’m feeling better for the much-needed rest. I’ve even given Book to the Future a bit of a facelift. I hope you like it!

I know it’s not much of a Book to the Future Bookmarks post without a heap of links, but in the spirit of spring cleaning, I deleted my unread bookmarks. All five hundred and seventy two of them.

So, I’ll leave you with one link only this time around. But I promise, it’s a good’un.

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Zadie Smith. Image source here.

Very slowly a pair of profoundly blue eyes rose to meet Miss Adele’s own green contacts. The blue was unexpected, like the inner markings of some otherwise unremarkable butterfly, and the black lashes were wet and long and trembling. His voice, too, was the opposite of his wife’s, slow and deliberate, as if each word had been weighed against eternity before being chosen for use.

“You are speaking to me?”

“Yes, I’m speaking to you. I’m talking about customer service. Customer service. Ever hear of it? I am your customer. And I don’t appreciate being treated like something you picked up on your shoe!”

The husband sighed and rubbed at his left eye.

“I don’t understand – I say something to you? My wife, she says something to you?”

Miss Adele shifted her weight to her other hip and very briefly considered a retreat. It did sometimes happen, after all – she knew from experience – that is, when you spent a good amount of time alone – it did sometimes come to pass – when trying to decipher the signals of others – that sometimes you mistook–

Zadie Smith’s latest short story, Miss Adele Amidst the Corsets, has been shortlisted for the BBC’s National Short Story Award. It’s also, of course, amazing. It’s published in full right here. Make sure you put aside some time to read it – it’s a treat.

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I might not have been writing, but I’ve been reading constantly over the last couple of months. Last week, I finished Cracking the Spine, a collection of short stories accompanied by essays written by their authors, and I’ll be writing a review soon. I’m also slowly making my way through The Big Issue’s annual Fiction Edition, as well as catching up with my Review of Australian Fiction subscription (one of the smartest things I’ve done this year was subscribe to RAF). And, as if that’s not enough short stories, Australian Love Stories is right near the top my pile of books to read. I’ve been swimming in short stories, and I couldn’t be happier.

There are novels on my pile of books to review soon, too – like, for instance, Jessie Cole’s Deeper Water. Cole is the kind of writer who makes me forget I’m actually meant to be a reviewer; she pulls you into her world everything else just sort of falls away. But the novel you can expect to see reviewed next on Book to the Future…isn’t actually a novel at all. It’s a novella – Julie Proudfoot’s The Neighbour. I won’t say too much about The Neighbour. I’m saving it up for my review.

Anyway, this is all just a long, roundabout way of saying that life can be overwhelming, but stories, long and short, are the best way of escaping from it all.

I’ve got a lot of catching up to do, but it’s good to be back.

(One other thing: I’ve just added a heap of new blogs to my Required Reading list over in my sidebar. If you’re looking for links, that’s the ideal place to start!)

book to the future bookmarks #5

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Welcome to the fifth edition of Book to the Future Bookmarks, a series of fortnightly posts in which I bombard you with just a few of the many links I’ve bookmarked during the week.

Being edition number five, it seems only fitting to include five links this time around.

(This is also because I’m working on a huge, complicated review at the moment, and these days, it seems as though I’m only able to concentrate on one thing at a time. Thanks, brain!)

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Number five is aliiiive!

1. Shelf Denial

My lovely Ikea Expedit bookshelf looks fairly neat in this photo, taken last year for a guest post on Michelle5The Incredible Rambling Elimy’s blog (here’s the post, if you’re interested). But since then, more and more books have found their way into my home, and my once-organised shelves are now double-stacked. Triple-stacked in places. There are piles of books forming on the floor in my study again.

It’s chaos. Admittedly, chaos of the best kind, but chaos nonetheless.

Sadly, I’m lacking the space for another big bookshelf. Which is a problem, because, much to the dismay of bookish types and vinyl lovers, Ikea will soon be discontinuing their classic Expedit range.

According to Gizmodo, it’s an environmental move. I appreciate that. And the Expedit is being replaced with a range that’s very similar; available in the same range of colours. But, at the same time, this means I’ll never be able to find another bookshelf that’s quite the same as my much-loved, much overloaded Expedit bookcase.

Oh, Ikea. For the love of meatballs, nøøøøøø.

2. Far from the reading crowd: literature from a distance

This article in The New Yorker on Franco Moretti’s work on Distant Reading – for which he recently received America’s National Book Critics Circle award – makes for interesting reading.

Moretti argues that literary criticism should be considered as a science rather than an art. Using software, Moretti examines the changed in literary trends over time. Joshua Rothmann, author of the New Yorker article, is sceptical, but fascinated.

I’m not really sure that Moretti’s work can be construed as “literary criticism”, per se. Perhaps it’s something else entirely. I’m definitely intrigued….

3. Draw About Love

I (um) might have blogged about this before (in fact, I know I have) but I’m kind of obsessed with Belle and Sebastian – arguably the most bookish of bands. If you love B&S too, chances are you’ll want to bookmark Draw About Love. It’s the Tumblr of an artist dedicated to translating some of Belle and Sebastian’s best songs and lyrics into art. There are a few misses here and there, and updates are few and unfortunately far between, but I really like the fun, quirky aesthetic of these images.

4. Have you heard the one about the two existentialists at a shooting gallery?

It sounds like the setup to a joke, but it really happened.

Turns out that the very first photo taken of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre together shows the pair at a Paris shooting range; de Beauvoir, smiling, with her eyes closed and a gun in her hands, while Sartre, a pipe in his mouth, rests a hand on her shoulder.

I guess that’s one way to deal with that existential angst. This article over at Open Culture explains everything.

5. The new normal – Zadie Smith on climate change

I read Zadie Smith’s essay on climate change on the New York Review of Books website last night as a huge electrical storm overhead turned the night into oddly-lit day. It seemed appropriate. Thoughts clattered into place. Here’s a little extract:

[..] The climate was one of those facts. We did not think it could change. That is, we always knew we could do a great deal of damage to this planet, but even the most hubristic among us had not imagined we would ever be able to fundamentally change its rhythms and character, just as a child who has screamed all day at her father still does not expect to see him lie down on the kitchen floor and weep.

This is a staggering piece of writing. I won’t say another word about it – I’ll just leave the link right here and let you take a look for yourself. Totally worth it.

Bonus round…

Great news: the Stella Prize shortlist is out!

Bad news: Sydney institution, Shearer’s Books, will be closing down. They’ll still be around online, so it’s not all doom and gloom. Announced this morning, the news has left this Western Sydney reader with a heavy heart. It makes me sad to see good bookshops close.

Finally, the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Blogs competition is on again this year, and if you’re a blogger, you really should enter. You’ve got until this Thursday. Click here to take a look. Good luck!

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What I’m reading looking forward to reading… 

I’m skipping my usual What I’m Reading update this week because I haven’t had as much reading time over the past two weeks as I’d like. That, and I’m still reading pretty much the same stuff I was reading two weeks ago.

Instead, I thought I’d mention a book that I’m looking forward to reading.

A few weeks ago, I reviewed (and enjoyed) Jessie Cole’s 2012 novel, Darkness on the Edge of Town. Because I’m nosy, I couldn’t resist getting in touch with Jessie to find out what she’s up to next.

As it turns out, my timing was spot on – Jessie’s new novel, Deeper Water, will be out later this year. Here’s an early look at the blurb:

“The secret things I knew about my mum, and the things that everyone knew, had played in my mind for some time, since I was real little, I guess. When I was small, all around me seemed to flow, gentle and sweet like the quiet edge of the creek. Then my brothers grew too large to be hemmed in, and Sophie met a bloke, moved out and had babies, and things became harder. The older I got the louder those secret things inside me became, all those knowns and unknowns, until – apart from Anja – I’d rather talk to animals than people.”

 

Innocent and unworldly, Mema is still living at home with her mother on a remote, lush hinterland property. It is a small, confined, simple sort of life, and Mema is content with it. One day, during a heavy downpour, Mema saves a stranger from a flooded creek. She takes him into her family home, where, marooned by floods, he has to stay until the waters recede. And without even realising it, he opens the door to a new world of possibilities that threaten to sweep Mema into the deep.

I can’t wait to dip into Deeper Water. Is there a book coming out soon that’s got you excited? Let me know in the comments.

I’ll have another post online tomorrow night. Something special…!