Wednesday, October 01, 2014


No blog post at all for August is a pretty poor effort (and now September as well! eek!) but I have a good excuse, honest! I was away on holidays for a couple of weeks, and between planning and packing and traveling and unpacking I've been kept pretty busy. So what did I do on my holidays you ask?
View from the Empire State Building

Well, I travelled to North America for the first time, and I got to see New York, Vancouver and Whistler (as well as a friend who I rarely get to see- which was a treat). I stayed in New York with a couple of friends from uni, and met up with my school friend in Canada (where she now lives).
On a mountain in Whistler

It's a bit hard to sum up travel quickly, as I've discovered anew after getting back and trying to answer the inevitable question: "how was your trip?" It was great, New York was very big, Canada had lots of mountains, you know the deal. And in any case I feel like I've shared so many photos on social media that no-one really wants to hear any more about it.

But for my blog which is mostly about books, I thought I would write a bit mostly about New York but partly about books. We went to bookshops (Strand Books was amazing!) and libraries, and saw books for sale in museum bookshops (the wonderful Tenement Museum had a lovely selection- and has made me want to read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn), but beyond that, it seemed that W.H. Auden was following me around.

WH Auden's (very temporary) house

I love Auden, but I was not expecting to stumble across him on our Lonely Planet walk guided walk through Brooklyn, which led us past a house which proclaimed "W.H. Auden (POET 1907-1973) lived in Brooklyn Heights from 1939 to 1940". It's a brief stay, really, that's now immortalised, but was it this house he returned to after September 1, 1939? Apparently he wrote 'New Year Letter' there, but it's not one that I've read. Which is a pity, because I don't think Auden's read enough. My friends don't seem to know him. Not even 'Funeral Blues', famous for appearing in Four Weddings and a Funeral, nor 'Death's Echo' which is one of my favourites (it is bleak but also beautiful). I recommend them all! But when I tried to explain what Auden wrote the lines that kept running around my head (though always jumbled) were the first lines from 'Lullaby':
Lay your sleeping head, my love,
Human on my faithless arm;
They tumbled round my head until we visited the Morgan Library (a beautiful private library from the early 20th century- built for JP Morgan) and there among the rare books on display was WH Auden again. A hand corrected copy of his first printing of his first book of poems. Just a couple of traces of Auden to stumble across, but ones that made me happy.
Auden in the Morgan library

And I can't finish this post on my trip without a photo of the fabulous Metropolitan Museum of Art. Happy travels!
Just a temple taken from Egypt to America

Thursday, July 17, 2014

number ones

I've been on a bit of a kick lately of reading about pop music and number one singles. I've been finding it fascinating, so I'm sharing some links here here on the off-chance that you do, too. Down the internet rabbit-hole we go...

It all started a few years ago when I stumbled across a music column in The Vine by Tim Byron, reviewing the latest Australian number one single. Usually, the column looks at what makes a song so popular- what are it's hooks? Themes? Cultural context? And what makes the song- it's influences and so on. Tim Byron is a music writer but also apparently a psychology lecturer, and he often seems to have interesting things to say about the singles, and treats them with a certain respect. Which is one of the reasons why I was so interested when he mentioned his new podcast...

90 percent hits is a podcast (and blog- their tumblr is well worth checking out) about all the number one singles in Australia in the 1990s (the period that my generation looks on with particular nostalgia). It's made by Tim Byron, Casey Atkins, Tim Coyle and Danny Yau. They talk about the songs, and also their personal reaction to them/memories of them. I must admit I still haven't finished the podcast, but it's definitely hit 1999. The podcast (and the column) reference some other blogs that inspired them...

Like Popular by Tom Ewing, which reviews all the UK number one singles (see the chronological list/archive here). The reviews start in 1952, and as I write this go all the way to 1998 (I'm only at 1967). The posts tend to be pretty short, always including a score out of 10, but the commenters are often pretty well informed and have interesting tidbits to add. This blog seems to be the one that inspired them all (it started in 2003!) including...

No Hard Chords, a blog by Sally O'Rourke  looking at all the US number one singles from the Billboard Hot 100. I really like the writing in this blog, it gives some nice background to the hits. It's covered 1958-1967 so far, but the last post was written over a month ago so I'm a bit worried there may be no more, still the one before that was written in January, so there's still hope! 

Last is the one I haven't really gotten to yet (maybe because it would take a bit longer!) is Then Play Long, which reviews every UK number 1 ALBUM (by Marcello Carlin and Lena Friesen). I've only read the entry on U2's The Unforgettable Fire, which was linked from a round-up of music writing in The Vine (another Tim Byron column), but that was a great mix of personal essay and music writing, so I would be interested to read more.

I've still got a lot of blog reading to do, clearly, but this has inspired me to read up on my pop music history- any good book recommendations?

Monday, June 30, 2014

today's post brought to you by the letter...

Simon posted a fun meme over at Stuck-in-a-book the other day- he assigns a random letter and you have to pick some of your favourites that start with that letter. And my letter is N! Let's do this.

Favourite book...

number9dream - David Mitchell
Image from Google Books

This book made me really fall in love with the writing of David Mitchell- and still my favourite. Although Cloud Atlas is also amazing! And I can't believe it but it took me a while to think of it...


Favourite author...

E. Nesbit
Image from Wikipedia

I grew up with Five Children and It, The Phoenix and the Carpet and so on, but most of all with The Railway Children. My siblings and I read the book, and watched the movie, multiple times. E. Nesbit will always have a special place in my heart!

Favourite song...

No Light, No Light - Florence and the Machine

Because I love Florence and the Machine! Though I have to say it was a toss up between this and No Aphrodisiac by The Whitlams. 

Favourite film...

I'm going to cheat and say Star Wars: A New Hope, one of my all-time favourites.

Favourite object...
Image used under a CC2.0 license by Stewf

Nightstand! If I didn't have one, where would I store my books?

Well, N ended up being harder than I thought! But lots of fun.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

library haul

Just stopped in to return some books to the library the other day, and ended up taking an armful home with me- I couldn't resist posting about them. I've added to the haul with a book from the library where I work (is it excessive being a member of 2 libraries? I don't even care). So here's what I've got lined up:

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith
Well, if I'm honest I've read this one already. I didn't blog straight away and it was just too good not too finish. Though I had no real desire to read J.K. Rowling's first book after Harry Potter, The Casual Vacancy, I'd heard good things about her pseudonymous foray into fiction. I really loved the set-up to this book- I feel like there aren't enough private detectives in modern mysteries and Cormoran Strike is a good one, complete with personal demons and dingy office. I also loved his secretary, Robin, and I think these characters really made the book. Though for some reason I found myself hoping that romantic tension didn't develop between them. Anyway, parts of the solution were maybe slightly lacking, but it was a good journey there with plenty of clues to follow along. Looking forward to the sequel!

A Curtain of Green - Eudora Welty
The one I'm currently reading. A collection of short stories from this famous Southern writer. I haven't read anything by her, but I've heard her name around a lot so I thought it was time to fix that. Apparently this is Welty's first short story collection, published in 1941, so I suppose it's a good place to start. I'm finding it a strange book so far.

Orkney - Amy Sackville
I just have this thing for books set in remote Scottish islands, and I feel a special interest in the Orkneys since visiting there a couple of years ago (or since before visiting really, that's why I chose to go there at all). I'll just include a gratuitous holiday photo, why not. Anyway based on that alone I picked this up, and the blurb also sounded somewhat familiar- it's the story of a professor and his former student who have come to the Orkney Islands for their honeymoon and "alone beneath the shifting skies of this untethered landscape, the professor realises how little he knows about his new bride." There is also a definite suggestion of selkies or mermaids, which just adds to the intrigue. 
Approaching the Orkney Islands by ferry
Mr Fox - Helen Oyeyemi
I read The Opposite House a while ago, and found it fascinating but uncomfortable. I think it was well written but it was a bit of a hard read. So I am approaching this optimistically but with caution, in case it bites. Lovely cover, though, and I knew I'd heard something intriguing about it. Googling it just know to jog my memory I see it's inspired by/a retelling of Bluebeard, so I suppose it was the fairytale connection. And foxes. 

Lion in the Valley - Elizabeth Peters
What's not to like about a series of murder mysteries whose protagonist is an Egyptian archaeologist in the 19th century? I started reading the Amelia Peabody series a little while ago and they are a lot of silly fun. Unfortunately this is the fourth in  the series, and I've only read the first two, so I will need to hunt down the third one first I suppose.

The Child that Books Built - Francis Spufford
This was recommended to me by a colleague, it's the only non-fiction book in the bunch and it's a book about children's literature and being a child who grew up reading. At least, that's the impression that I get. The blurb tells me it's about the author going back and rereading childhood favourite books and reflecting on them, and that sounds like a great premise right there. 

Anyway, that's such a bounty of reading coming up, I'm reinspired (I was feeling a bit of a reading slump for a while there). If anyone is still reading this blog, I'd love to hear what you've got lined up to read next, or any recommendations for future reading?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

writing elsewhere

So this blog has been a bit neglected lately, much as I try to at least update it monthly, BUT this time I've written something elsewhere on the Internet. It's for Kate's blog Women on the Shelf, which is a blog about books written by women. There are a whole lot of different things by different contributors, and I've written a review of Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Spoiler: I loved it.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

americanah - chimamanda ngozi adichie

I've been meaning to write about this a while, but have been wondering how I can do it justice. The first thing I read by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was this short story online- 'Jumping Monkey Hill' (which I found on A Striped Armchair), and I think it was a good introduction. There are a lot of the same themes that crop up in her novels (at least the two I've read) and especially in Americanah- she takes on race and colonialism and identity, as well as the idea of authenticity. The real greatness in her writing, I think, is that it tackles these themes in a thought-provoking, confronting and not at all tired way. I read Purple Hibiscus last year and enjoyed it, would highly recommend it, but for me Americanah is a stand-out book.

Americanah is the story of two Nigerian high-school sweethearts- Ifemelu and Obinze- who are separated when Ifemelu moves to America for college and Obinze is unable to get a visa to follow her. Instead, he ends up spending some time in the UK before returning to Nigeria. In America, Ifemelu starts a successful blog on race in America from the perspective of an outsider. But her time in America starts to make her question her identity as well. 

When I was looking at reading books from Africa from my reading around the world challenge, most of the books I could find were written by expats for a Western audience, and this is no exception. What interests me is that Adichie is so aware of this, and it's a big part of what she is writing about here, in a way that challenges you to think about your position as a reader as well as the role of the writer. It's a very global story, moving between countries and showing a range of perspectives. It's also very self-reflexive- it's easy to draw parallels between the character of Ifemelu and Chimamanda Adichie herself, as American-educated Nigerians. Though Ifemelu often feels like the main point-of-view character the presence of Obinze creates an alternative- they are both quite reflective as well, so that no character or opinion seems to go unquestioned. With this questioning and the global nature of the story it feels so contemporary, and there's a lot here to cause reflection on the state of the world, or to relate to.

I also really loved the characters themselves, and I was hoping things would turn out well for them and their relationship despite all the hurdles this book throws at them, which made for a satisfying read. I really wish I still had the book with me to quote from, because it is all around fantastic and I feel I have been raving rather than providing a balanced review. What can I say? Trust me and read Americanah.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

book haul

I'm more of a library borrower than a book buyer generally, so you don't see many of these posts, but on the weekend I finally got around to using a (very old) book voucher at Gleebooks, and I thought I'd share the results!

Bad quality photo- but beautiful books
The Man Within - Graham Greene
Honestly the only reason I picked this was 1) it cost the right amount to use up the last few dollars of my book voucher, 2) I really loved my Graham Greene reading last year and 3) I was in a bit of a hurry by this point. I actually know nothing about this book, so that could be interesting. The back cover suggests its a courtroom drama about smuggling? Intriguing...

Broken Homes - Ben Aaronovitch
The latest in the Peter Grant series- urban fantasy/crime books set in London. The main character is a policeman and apprentice wizard. I've mentioned these before, here and briefly here (I thought I'd written something longer somewhere, but my search doesn't seem to be working properly, so I can never be sure). Basically, I think these are fun but occasionally flawed by things like drastic shifts in tone, strange editing and a hero who is sometimes just too oblivious. Still, for the most part pretty good (and I'm still buying them as they come out, so they must be doing something right).

The Luminaries - Eleanor Catton
Last year's Booker prize winner, and my next book group read. I thought buying it was a better bet than trying to get my hands on it at the library. I must admit to being a bit daunted by the size of it, but encouraged since Ronni recommended it very highly (though sadly she hasn't written about it, I don't think). As far as I know it involves murder, possibly conspiracies, a New Zealand family in the 19th century, maybe a family saga? Or maybe just historical? Not sure- will find out (hopefully I will make it to the end).

The Late Scholar - Jill Paton Walsh
I read the first paragraphs of Alex's review over at Thinking in Fragments and was so excited to see that this was a continuation of Dorothy L. Sayers' Peter Wimsey novels and apparently pretty well done that I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. Just now I've had a closer look and noticed that it is the 4th in Walsh's Peter Wimsey books, but although it might have been a good idea to start at the beginning (so to speak?) I am pretty excited to read this.

I'm sad that I still haven't managed to get my hands on Sarah Rees Brennan's Untold, but hopefully soon! In the meantime I have plenty to keep me busy...