Archives

What to do when I can’t walk?

Read, of course.

  • Another Agatha Raisin book. A quick, light read.
  • The next book in the Ferrante Neopolitan series. I'm a third of the way through. Getting a bit heavy.

Binge watch TV series and movies.

  • Line of Duty Series 1. I don't know how I missed this series. Some shocking, shout-at-the-tele scenes. I will have to get season 2.
  • Pioneer Woman. I'm not sure how I feel about this show but it is kind of addictive. It's a cooking show but I doubt I'll cook any of the recipes. Too much butter and cream and fat and cheese. Handfuls and handfuls of cheese. With a layer of more cheese. The outdoor scenes are so different. The flat, apparently tree-less plains made me google if there are trees in Ohio. And there are. But you wouldn't know it. It must be so cold and windy!!! It's strangely addictive in the way of watching shows about cults are. All that smiling, wholesome American, blocking out of any diversity. And oh! The plastic. Everything comes in plastic and styrofoam.
  • The 100 Foot Journey. Light, schmaltzy, movie. As you'd expected from something produced by Oprah Winfrey. With great acting. As you'd expect from Helen Mirren. And wonderful scenes from France.
  • The Women on the Sixth Floor. A French movie set in the 60s. A gentle love story and personal awakening.

Play mindless games on my phone.

  • Twenty. My eldest got me onto this. And I'm hooked. My son got up to 18 and deleted it. I got up to 18 and deleted it too. But then put it back on. And got up to 19. Should I keep trying to get to twenty? Mmm, really it's a waste of time.

  • Desktop Tower defence. I have no idea why I'm still playing this. Have been for years or decades.

French lessons. The actual lessons are two hours on a Saturday morning. Add in travel and parking and that's a fair block of Saturday gone. But really, all I'd do is sloth around if I didn't go. Then there's homework and other revision.

Blog. I have more time for blogging. I have posts galore for the future. And I've developed an idea for a new blog.

Going to a cafe. I don't do cafes. I don't see the point of sitting in a crowded small place, often on a road side, on wibbly chairs, paying a premium for a sandwich I can make at home or a cake I don't really like with either too much icing or too dry or both, and poorly made tea or my other choice at cafes, iced chocolate, chosen because I don't like their tea, and then feeling sick because of all the cream in the iced chocolate. But as I can't walk far or up and down stairs, an invite from a friend for an outing to a cafe was accepted.

And did I enjoy it?

The view was of the road, and the intersection was noisy but we weren't right on the road. The chairs were stable. The food was yummy and something I'd never cook. A flourless orange cake with gelato and orange sauce and Persian fairy floss. And the tea was fine.


Do you spy the scone at the top of the photo? I ordered scones first but they only had one left so they gave it to me on the house. A bit too much with the cake but I powered through most of it. The scone was the softest scone I have ever had!And not at all crumbly.

So yes, it was a lovely. Thanks to my friend who took her temporarily disabled friend out for a Sunday outing. I'd do it again. As an occasional outing, it was good.

And plan my trip to France. Of course, I've been doing plenty of this. Must be time for another post on my plans.

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Lately I’ve been reading

One of the things I love doing, one of things that a make a margin for on my life, is reading. Novels. 

Making time for myself involves making time to read, going to my bookclub, going to the theatre about six times a year and going to weekly French lessons. I wish I had more time to other things I’d like to do, and have to do: to garden and to exercise. But we can’t have everything. I would have to make such big margins around my work that I wouldn’t do even half what I am required to do. It’s why I don’t understand people who say they have to find things to do, to fill their time for when they retire. Or when they tell me I will be bored if I retired. 

No way! I’d be going to more language classes, exercise, garden, travel, explore my city, bake, hang out with friends more. But for now, I make time for reading. 

Here’s some of my Goodbooks ratings with some brief reviews and reflections. 

Commonwealth by Anne Pratchet. 4 stars. If I could give half stars, this would be a three and a half. But I’ve just finished it so feel generous. In a week, its nothingness will probably have me revise this to a three star. I like how the children’s view/memories of their lives change as they hear more parts, or parts are filled in my adults. This is a very visual book. Surely the film rights have been sold? A film within a book within a book within a film!?!


The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arandhati Roy. 4 stars. But this should be higher than Commonwealth. Bugger Goodreads not allowing half stars. This is a difficult read on many levels. The narrative structure is challenging. More challenging is the content on torture. A deeply moving tale. There are paaaates of lyrical beauty, which reminded me of Roy’s first, and only, novel. Her book was the first where icread descriptive passages without skimming. 


The Group by Mary McCarthy. 4 stars. I read this as it was recommended by the ABC TV show, The Bookclub. It is an amazing read. The challenges faced by the women are universal, if many details are specific for middle and upper middle class. Still they are not limited to 20s nor the period in which is was written, decades later. 

My Lovely Wife: a memoir of madness and hope by Mark Lukach. Three stars. This is an eye opener on psychosis. And how selfish mental illness makes one. 

A Winter Away by Elizabeth Fair. Four stars.   I read this because it was recommended by my favourite book blogger, Book Snob. A lovely gentle escapist read. So soothing on the mind that I bought others by this author for when my mind cannot cope with a demanding novel.

The Dust that Falls from Dreams by Louis de Bernières. Three stars. This is a mini-series in a novel. With an overriding story arc of the love life of one of the characters, the lives of different characters are explored. The result is similar to how one sister is described by another sister in the central family – we never really know them, despite being within the same house. The novel also begins by using different perspectives – switching between letters, various first person voices and third person narration. But seems to give this up in the second half, almost as if the story got away from the author and became a roaming soap opera that struggled to be contained, possibly jumping the shark two thirds of the way through. Or waiting for the final series to draw everything together, but the network already pulled the plug so the story had to be finished before the writer was ready to finish it. Those caveats aside, I enjoyed this read. 

The Sroey of a new Name by Eleanor Ferrante. Four stars. While Vol 1 was fresh and original, and this volume became a little soapy, it is still a fantastic read – you feel the gritty, claustrophobic, limiting life of ignorance bred from poverty. Or is it poverty bred from ignorance?

The TV show or the book?

I really enjoy the English TV series, Agatha Raisin. It’s light-hearted murder mysteries bring Agatha Christie into the now. Kind of a Midsommer Murder meets Miss Marple. 

Just the thing for a Friday or Sunday evening viewing, I never bothered trying he books on which the TV series was based. Slightly too light-weight for me.  Something I’ll watch but not really read. 

Until now.  I needed something to distract being stuck indoors on the lounge with my bung knee. And I can borrow the electronic version online from my library while away. 

I found the books were perfectly distracting, and entertaining. 

But book-Agatha doesn’t have a blonde bob. And she isn’t noted for her lovely figure. 

What? I know. The blonde bob is so perfect for the character. 

Oh! You mean why would I focus on the blonde bob? As if that makes a character. 

Well, yes, I grant you that it could be seen as trivial detail, except the story isn’t deep and Agatha with a blonde bob is like Phyrne Fisher’s black bob. It seems to define the character. 

Anyway, I have accepted that the book-Agatha is slightly different from TV-Agatha. And that’s OK. I enjoyed the first novel so much, I borrowed the next instalment. And read it. And reserved book 3 – my library only has book 3 in real book so have to wait until I return home. And I borrowed and read book 4. All from the unit down the snow, 8 hours away from home!!!

Have you ever been disappointed by how a character has been portrayed in transferring a novel to a TV show? Or the other way? Or enjoyed both, even if the portrayal isn’t the same?

I know I will probably tire of the books. Like Alexander McCall-Smith, MC Beaton churns out a new volume in the series every year. And some of the details are more than slightly silly. Fine for TV series. And fine in small doses when house-bound. 

I’m so glad the series is being repeated on TV. I will have another look, especially as I missed some of the episodes. 

Getting old 

Old age is close enough now that I can imagine it, feel it in my bones, so to speak. Especially my knee after yesterday’s incident.  

Getting old, as opposed to getter older which we all do, is that thing you can’t imagine happening. 

I had an elderly neighbour, tough as old boot straps she was, from the north-east of England, a Geordie, and she summed it up by saying, “Getting old is no fun.” This from a woman who was still very fit, fitter than people a quarter of her age; she walked distances which most young’ens couldn’t consider going without a car. 

I’m now at the stage where I can see old age. I give myself about 12 to 13 more years of working and 25 more years of travelling. 

Earlier this year, I read two novels on aging. 

Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf was a beautiful book. Until the end. I won’t spoil it for possible readers except to say the ending spoilt the whole book for me. I was so angry!!! I was still angry the next day. 

And not in the “but at least it made you think about issues” angry. 

In the “that was so stupid and not real and not in keeping with the characters” angry. In the “I want to cut out the last few chapters and write the real ending and stick that in” angry. If it wasn’t a library book, I would have done that. In fact I think all future readers would thank me. 

Maybe the author was ill? (He has since died and this was his last book.) And he had to finish it quickly? Or maybe he was not thinking clearly, being irritable and sick? 

I do not want to read any of his other books, least this is his schtick. What he does to the people of his books – subvert the whole story and take the ground from under their ( the characters’ and the readers’) feet. I think an author has a responsibility not only to his readers but to the characters they create. You can’t treat either so abominably. 

I think I was meant to consider if I would miss having someone sleep next to me if my husband died before me. That’s the main premise of the novel. Someone to lay next to you like a puppy dog!?! Like a teddy bear. No, I think it would be my need. For me the intimacy (and I don’t mean sex), the comfort of having someone have your back and sharing adventures and joys and successes and worries. That’s what I’d miss. Not the empty bed. 


The other book was The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen, 83¼ Years Old and I loved it. The tone. The character with his undercurrent of sadness but trying to get some joy from life. The sense of boarding school rebellion. The reality. The mocking of old people and their routines. The grief, the laughter. I enjoyed it all.  It’s always about finding your peeps, your crowd. No matter the age.  Though this reads like it was written, not by someone who is actually elderly, rather someone who has witnessed a lot of elderly people, it still has a sense of athenticity.  

So read this. Not Our Souls at Night. 

Iran/Iraq. Persian/Iranian. Which one are you?

I always enjoy well-written books about the migrant experience. It’s the voice of the outsider, the fresh eyes on what is taken for granted, the challenge to othodoxy. Common themes of exclusion and racism run through stories of migration. But so do themes of survival and humour. Humour that the mainstream society of the country into which the migrant had come often do not get. 

This affinity with the story of migrants probably is a result of my family history. But it is also my attraction to the underdog, the divergent, the one who challenges societal norms. 

Shappi Khorsandi’s A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English has all of these themes.  

You know how I love books that show me a different life, teach me about something I know little? Well that’s one reason I enjoyed this book. 

I knew so little about Iran, including why we persist in calling them Persian. I confess, to my shame, I am also one who previously confused Iran and Iraq, and the religious and political philosophies that governed both countries under the various rulers: the Shah, the Ayatollah and Saddam. Nor did I know much about the Iran-Iraq War. 

Reading this has been so rewarding in opening my eyes. 

Another reason I enjoyed this book is the humour. It is very funny. 

I love the description of the navity play Shappi was in at primary school. Being Zoroastrian, they do not celebrate Christmas. Shappi is picked as a shepherd as she’s dark, so “obviously” can’t play an angel. She tries to explain to her grandmother, Madar Jaan, about the navity play. 

“So what happens? Madar Jaan asked. 

“We have a doll that’s meant to be the baby Jesus'” I explained to my grandmother. 

Who’s Jesus?”

“Eisah,” Maman told her. “They pronounce it ‘Jesus’.”

“Ah! Hazrateh Eisah! Yes, I know him,” Madar Jaan said. “So, what’s a shepherd got to do with the prophet Eisah?”

“The shepherds come to see the baby Jesus and they bring him a lamb as a present.” 

“What’s a baby going to do with a lamb? Does he want to make kebabs?”

Sometimes it takes an outsider to make us see the silliness or the ridiculousness of what we take as real or right or factual in our traditions. 

The horror and ignorance of racism is ever present. Her family are called Pakis, the term of abuse for anyone who is a darker skinned. So telling about those who use the term! And obviously hurtful for those so insulted and all who are actually from Pakistan. 

Feb/March/April books

With all the business and “oot and abooting” I haven’t been reading as much as I’d like. Only four books read!

A World of Other People by Steven Carroll is lyrical and moving. It’s very sad. Yes I have caveats. Only one. It’s not a novel that will stay with me. But it was a lyrical read. 


In One Life: My mother’s story Kate Grenville gives an account of her mother’s early life and the lives of the largely voiceless rural workers. Her mother came from country stock but lead a life very different from most women, being a qualified pharmacist. The challenges she faced as a woman, living through the Depressoon and WWII, and having such an angry and unhappy mother, make for interesting reading. I like reading about women who buck the norm, even if it doesn’t lead to total happiness. The alternate would also not lead to happiness anyway. I mean being dependent on a man and housebound caused many women, like Grenville’s grandmother, unhappiness. 


I quite enjoyed The Last Painting of Sara De Vos by Dominic Smith.  Reminiscent of Girl with a Pearl Earring and the style of Geraldine Brooks, it has lots of precise information on art, culture and countries. If you want to know about the Golden Age, how colours are constructed and art forgeries, then you’ll learn about it here. 

Crossing countries and centuries, separated but connected stories all resolve by the end. As you expect if you’ve read any of the books that seem to do that now, like The Street Sweeper and The Goldfinch. Storylines like this are clever but too contrived, too formulaic, too naff, for me to be totally satisfied. Though you do get a strong sense of place for Sydney and New York.

My biggest caveat, for a book ostensibly about female characters, the strongest character, the most fleshed out character, is a man. That’s annoying for me. Yes, I enjoyed it but wouldn’t say it was anything brilliant. 


My last book, A Beginner’s Guide to Acting English, will get a post of its own.

More on caveats 

Do you use a rating system for books or films? If so, do you give full marks?

 

I don’t think most people would think 2 stars means the book is OK. Then again, I know people who won’t give five stars. (Just as I’ve known English teachers who wouldn’t give full marks for an essay!)

Well besides the fact that if you have a scale, say one to five, and you leave off the ends, haven’t you just made the scale one to four? 

I find the fact that on Goodreads you can’t give half marks so by using one to four difficult. It limits you so you have to capture books together that you may not have lumped together on your satisfaction rating. You’ve only got four groupings!!!


Anyway, put aside those queries on the logic of not giving top marks, to deal with my main objection. 

Giving any mark is dependent on contexts and caveats. 

Let’s use TripAdvisor as an example. I might stay at a cheap place that’s a bit down at the heels but give it four, because  it was good FOR the price and expectations. Conversely if I stayed at a five star resort but felt it didn’t live up to the price, even if the accommodation and included activities were better than the cheap down-at-heels place, I might give it three, or even four stars. The latter rating doesn’t mean it is equal to or the same as the down-at-heels place but that it is not the best expensive place to stay. 

Does this make sense?

Here’s another example. I ate out at our recent trip to Canberra. One was an expensive restaurant. $150 for two without wine. (And I had two entrees rather than an entree and a main which would have bumped up the price.) I gave it five stars. The food was divine and the service friendly and attentive. The service at the other restaurant, a modern Indian, was also friendly and attentive, but without that finesse from the expensive restaurant. The modern Indian was cuts above your average suburban Indian, and priced accordingly. I gave it four stars. You want something nice and tasty and above your normal butter chicken and beef vindaloo? This is it. But if you expected, and prefer, your normal suburban Patak style Indian, you might be shocked at the price and give this restaurant two stars. Alternatively, if the Indian restaurant was priced higher, say at the same as the expensive restaurant, my rating would drop from four to three, maybe even two. 

Films have contextualised expectations too. It could depend on whether I watched it for free on TV or paid for it at the cinema. Or my expectations. Let’s say I paid for a movie, I might give it five stars, even with caveats, because it spoke to me, made my heart sing, or made me laugh a lot. 

And books? Books that I read and say, “That was awesome. I couldn’t put it down,” they get five stars. 

But beyond caveats and contexts, I get to the heart of star ratings. I hate them for books and films. How can you compare a self-help book with a work of fiction? A piece of literature with some Woman’s-Weekly-stickered, trashy, quickly written novel? (Yes, I’m a book snob.)

And at the heart of it, how can you sum up a book or a film in a number? I need to explain my caveats. I loved it but … It was good but … It was OK but … It was shit but …  

I give it five stars but