Tag Archive | Books

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. 

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. 

More on sleep

I’m working on improving my sleep patterns. (Yet again!)

I am always so rested during holidays. Of course nearly all teachers are tired during term. The hols prove to me I am not getting enough sleep in term. I look and feel better with such restful and longer sleep. I may not be able to reduce the stress and its impact on sleep but I will have to ensure I get to bed earlier when back at work.

Part of my sleep improvement regime has been to borrow the books in the central branch of my public library on sleep. 

I’ve just finished The Sleep Revolution by Arianna Huffington, founder of The Huffington Post. Honestly I’m skimming this book, and not because I learnt enough from the book I wrote about yesterday, Night School by Richard Wiseman. It was lucky I read Wiseman’s book first. I liked his style. 

Taken in holiday unit with nails done courtesy of gift voucher from Mr S.


Huffington writes in the style of American self-help books that want to appear authoritative. Each paragraph starts by referring to some seemingly important person, “John Blah, CEO of Massive Corporation says…”, “Jill Cleverwoman , head of research at Big Prestigious College, concludes…” Aeach paragraph with few linking words to the previous. I much prefer Wiseman’s more narrative style. 

Also Huffington sensationalises the stories, and almost labours the point, with multiple horror stories on the lack of sleep. Sensationalism from the founder of Huffington Post! Who’d a thought it! I get it she was well and truely rocked by her collapse from lack of sleep, but I think it is just her style of writing. And clearly one that appeals to most. But I’ve never been a tabloid sort of person. 

And this book is too American. Eg, the drugs referred to are all American. As are the cultural and historical references. (Not a criticism but an observation.) This makes it slightly less useful or interesting to non-Americans. 

I think what irks me is a journalist presenting herself as an expert. So she had an experience. So she’s read lots and done a TED talk. “The question I get asked all the time.” You’re not a doctor. You’re not a sleep expert. Your not a psychologist. Youre a journalist/business owner. And while I’m not accusing her of plagiarism (though she did settle out of court in a case of plagiarism regarding another book) this book seems to follow a lot of Wiseman’s book which was published earlier. And, I suppose, it always irks me when people have made their fortune but then say don’t do what I did, there’s more to life than financial wealth. Oh yes, easily said when you can now live on your millions by not working as you did but probably wouldn’t have got there without working madly, and sleeplessly.  

If you’re going to read one book on sleep, I’d go for Wiseman’s. 

Still there’s much to learn. Here’s some take-away points:

  • Burn out seems to be associated with success. Saying you’re overworked is like saying you’re important. Whereas leisure time used to be the symbol of higher classes, now it is working very long hours, at the expense of sleep. And strangely, while the poor struggle to get 40 hours work a week. 
  • The theory that in pre-industrial society it was normal to have your night sleep in two phases. This before electric light. People apparently slept for half the night, woke and then spent some time doing other things – tending to animals, praying, loading the fire, having a conversation, having sex. Then going back to sleep. If left to my own devices, I often do this, even when really rested. 
  • Wiseman wrote about this but I forgot to put it in yesterday’s post. When you sleep, your brain washes out all the toxic waste proteins that accumulate between brain cells every day. The washing away of waste chemicals and toxins happens only when we sleep and may help in prevention and treatment of dementia. (With my hypochondria, this is very useful. I have diagnosed myself with early onset dementia several times in the past year.)
  • The less we sleep as we age, the faster the brain ages, so gaps increase which decreases cognitive performance. 
  • Developers of artificial intelligence are finding machines which sleep and dream perform better!!! How amazing/scary is that???
  • Sleep can help you not catch the common cold. One research project found that those who had less than an average of seven hours sleep were three times more likely to get the cold (via nasal drops with the rhinovirus – fun research project to be a participant in, hey?) than those with eight hours or more of sleep. But if you do get the cold, sleep helps you recover. 
  • People who suffer from insomnia become anxious about going to bed as they anticipate not sleeping. So they learn to associate bed with sleeplessness and frustration, making bed a cue for wakefulness. This is me! It’s why I sleep on the lounge no worries but struggle once in bed. Cure: optimise bedtime conditions and change associations. 

The “how much sleep is enough” table is interesting. I bet most teenagers do not get it. Probably none of us are.

  • School-age 6-13 years: 9-11 hours
  • Teens 14-17: 8-10 hours 
  • Adults: 7-9 hours

Huffington does pose the pertinent question. If you know sleep is crucial, why are you not doing it?

Her answer: changing all bad habits about sleep is a long process requiring small steps. But more on this tomorrow.