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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

January reading

I nearly had to admit something slightly embarrassing. That I only read one fiction book the whole summer holidays.  

Immersed in self-help – happiness, decluttering and, of course, sleep – books, I just didn’t get into a novel. 

I loved Hannah Kent’s first novel, Burial Rites, about the last woman executed in Iceland. Her second novel, The Good People, was my book club read. So I had to read that before I tackled another one. It is another well-researched story based on fact, again another murder. Kent creates a strong and distinctive sense of place and the story is original. 

So why did I labour through the first third?

I think because the narrative is slow and some of the characters just don’t feel all there. It’s like they aren’t fully realised yet but are shadows emerging from the clay. 

It’s a unique tale, worth putting on your list but be prepared for the slow pace. Some of my book clubbers loved it. Love is too strong for me, though it is certainly well written. One thing I couldn’t make sense of or see a connection to the tale is the plants that headed each chapter. If you could see (and I don’t mean in the general way of the wise woman used herbs but in the specific way if each plant had relevance), let me know. 

The Good People was nearly the only book I read. Then I found a copy of Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift in my local second hand book shop. I love Swift and I had wanted to read this novel after reading some reviews of it. 

Oh, I loved it. I loved the story, the style, the themes. 

The plot is original – starting in the period when great country houses were in decline. With the demise of house staff and the restrictive class structure, came greater opportunities for the class that used to be the below stairs staff that enabled these big houses to exist. 

It’s sad in a melancholy, not tear jerker, way. There’s two distinct paces – the first slow and languid reflecting the period and the day; the second much faster which reflects the faster pace of the modern world. There’s so much to discuss: themes of memory, love, class. The characters. The line that hints at disaster, so space that you might miss it. 
Luckily my book club agreed to have this as out March book, well one of our March books. It’s so short they all thought we needed two. And therein lies another bonus. If you disagree with me and don’t love this book, it’s short. So you won’t feel you’ve wasted time. 

There’s no caveats for this book for me. 

Sleeping apart

Mr S used to snore. There was no set type of snoring. He did it all – random loud explosive snores, constant grumbling snores, wheezy nasal snores. 

And he used to breathe on me. I know! How dare he breathe! 

We solved the latter with the purchase of a king sized bed. Now he can breathe to his heart’s (and lungs’) content. I don’t feel or smell it. We have the luxury of space!!!!

I tried sleeping with white noise or rainforest music through my iPhone (cause of course, he couldn’t be disturbed by it playing through speakers). But I got twisted in the headphones. And I found the ear pieces uncomfortable. 

I admit to being driven from my bed on many occasions by his snoring. Mr S was aghast! He sees separate sleeping as a sign of marital discord. Well, yeeeessss. The snoring is pissing me off. 

I worked out Mr S’s snoring pattern. He would mainly snore when sleeping on his back and the snores would be more frequent after about 1 or 2am. They’d also be more common if he slept on his right side but less than if he slept on his back. 

Mr S was dismissive of my concerns. He said I couldn’t talk being a Dora The Snorer myself. I counter pointed with the fact that if his snoring is disturbing my sleep then it is a problem. Mine doesn’t wake him so it isn’t a problem. 

We got to the point that he would roll instantly if I pushed a little on his shoulder. I also worked out if I could tip his head back a little when he was lying on his side, he wouldn’t snore at all. (Almost like tipping the head back for CPR.) But that wasn’t easy to do and he normally woke up, even when I surreptitiously pulled on his pillow to move his head. 

Of course all this means I had to take action and I had already been woken. 

Now I’ve just read Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart: how to get a good night’s sleep and keep your relationship alive by Jennifer Adams. Mr S was quite alarmed at seeing it in the pile of library books on sleep. He really doesn’t want separate rooms. 


At this point I can say my sleep issues are not to do with Mr S. He no longer snores! After more than a decade, we have clear, quiet, non snoring sleep. 

The miracle is a nasal spray. Nasonex. It works. I’m too scared to read up on the side effects lest I have to go back to hearing snoring. 

Some interesting points in Ms Adams’ book, even though I won’t be sleeping separately. All the research and surveys find that women are less happy and have their sleep more disturbed when sharing a bed than men are. And, although the biology gives no reasons, men fall asleep more quickly in the main than women. 

The history and cultural differences of shared beds is curious – group sleeping vs couple vs single bedding. 

Where do I sit on the separate sleeping? I always think it is funny that when I finally became an adult with my own home I couldn’t get my own room and had to go back to sharing bedrooms. I do prefer to share, especially with a king bed, but I would like a room to withdraw to or retreat. A room of one’s own! Sounds like a good title for a feminist tract. 

Where do you sit (or lie) on this issue?

Do you suffer from your partner’s nocturnal rumblings? 

Are you disturbed by any noises at night and need a silent cocoon or can you sleep through fire alarms and the like?

Share your tales in the comments. 

If you want to read a radical plan for sleep undisturbed by snoring, reading or farting, get a hold of this book. 

The Sober Revolution: Women Calling Time on Wine O’clock

Enjoy about sleep for a bit, though I did turn off electronic devices and the TB at 9.30 and was asleep by 10.30! Had a great night’s sleep and woke at 5.30, rested and alert without an alarm. Perfect!

So back to Calling Time on Wine O’clock. Catchy title! The book by Sarah Turner and Lucy Rocca called to me from the library shelf as that’s what  doing. 


But it wasn’t really for me. The stories were all of really extreme cases – DV, getting caught DUI, almost losing job. Not me at all. Thank heavens. 

Aimed at middle age women (me) it’s central premise is that you must not consume any alcohol. No trying to cut back. No moderate drinking.

Also the authors kept using the comparison of alcohol as the bad lover you are attracted to. Just didn’t work for me. I am not attracted to the bad boy type. Never have been. And never really being in the in and out of relationships and the single scene, the comparison doesn’t work for me.

The book does constantly refers to a site you can join for support. Except it costs. And I already am on one. The forum I am on is for living simply and saving money. On the site there’s a thread with others who are cutting back on alcohol. So the authors are right, support networks help. I just don’t need theirs. 

So I skimmed this book. My takeaway idea: if you continue to see no alcohol as denying yourself you will falter. You will be unhappy and a “dry drunk”. But if you look at it as a chance to let your true self shine through with time and energy and thought to do the things you love, you see being alcohol free as a positive.

However, they push a totally acohol free state. Not a drink in moderation. I am going down the latter path. I am never saying never. I want it to be like gambling for me. I can walk in a casino or past pokies and have no calling to gamble but then I might buy a scratchie after grocery shopping and enjoy scratching it. 

The authors said  time getting on the wagon is usually continually spent counting down the days until your next drink. Whereas totally alcohol free is not spent in that way. 

My 30 days started like that and then I lost count. And now I can only “count” the days by counting back to when we did things on our hols. “When we did the big walk I didn’t have a drink but I think I did the next day when the storm hit.” kind of thing. Though last night I had a piccolo of sparkling wine. 

As always for me the real test will be when I return to work. How will I deal with the stress? How will I make the mark between work and home? How will I take some time for me to stop and break and breathe without “doing” something?

I know I should sleep but…

Why, if you know sleep is crucial for your health, are you not sleeping? 

I’m not talking about a medical condition that prevents you from sleeping. Though even then, it may be stress or some other health issue you’re not addressing. Nor am I talking about the heat and humidity we are suffering from in Sydney. Not sleeping in this mad weather is understandable. 

As Dar said in yesterday’s comment, we often stay up late because the immediate payoff of doing fun things wins over the delayed gratification of waking up feeling rested. 

Sometimes for me it just takes too much psychic energy to get off the lounge and do the bedtime chores and get into bed. The power of inertia keeps me on the lounge. 

Then there’s the feeling of missing out. Of a new show on TV. Of a repeat of a favourite schow. Of time for myself. (O love it when I finally have the lounge room to myself and Mr S has gone to bed and the boys are not home orcin their own rooms.)

That explains the late nights, even when the good angel is sitting on one shoulder saying, “Go to bed, Lucinda. You know you’re tired.”

But beyond the bad habits there’s deeper truths. 

We expect to be able to have what we want when we want it. Order up a meal. Connect to the Internet. Turn on the TV. And with our body – work now, read, go for a walk. We command and our body follows. So with sleep, we expect it to respond to our demands. I want to go to sleep now. “Now” varies depending on what’s in the diary (or on TV – I lead such an exciting life) and what was going on during the day. 

But sleep won’t be commanded. Our bodies need regularity and routine. 

And stillness. 

Which brings up another point. 

We are operating at such a speed and with so much activity, we’re creating an imbalance in our physiology. 

Dr Ramalakhan on her book, Fast Asleep Wide Awake, says she sees thickening waists as another sign of this overactive sympathetic nervous system. 

My waist is definitely thickening. Is it just too many carbs? Or could the stress be contributing to it? Is there a link between my sleep patterns, stressed and busy and noisy lifestyle and my waist?

And then she said those who operate in continual fast pace, and in stress, have their sympathetic nervous system locked on, that’s the fight or flight mode. Key sign: these people can’t stop or they’ll get sick and when they do stop, they do get sick. 

Back in own bed, reading and blogging


Lightening bolt. 

I get sick at the start of every holiday. My body just collapses in a big pile of “thank god that’s over”. I’m not being a hypochondriac here. Mr S says I go down at the start of holidays as I finally stop pushing myself on. 

So what to do? 

Besides reading Dr Ramalakhan’s book, I’m going to implement some of Huffington’s strategies. I will list them tomorrow. 

More on Dr Ramalakhan’s theories in future posts.