Tuesday, June 28, 2011

reading around the world (update)

As I wrote back in January, one of my challenges to myself this year was to read a book from every continent (author's nationality + setting of book + language originally published in must all be from the same country in that continent, although I will read them in English). Since we're now almost halfway through the year, it seems like a good time to report on my progress. I'm actually quite pleased with my progress, but not quite finished with this challenge yet. Here's what I've read so far:

Africa: Song for Night by Chris Abani (Nigeria). On the recommendation of my friend Duncan. While all the reviews for this say it's set in 'an unknown country in Africa', the tribes mentioned in the book are both from around Nigeria, as is the author... so I'm calling this Nigeria. Not entirely happy with this one as a representation of Africa though. I do feel this is perhaps written for Western audiences... which wasn't really the point of this challenge. So I might try to read something else from Africa as well. Apart from that, this was a good book. I thought the story of a child soldier might be overwhelmingly depressing but it's not, very sad, certainly, but more haunting than anything.

Asia: The Pillow Book by Sei Shongagon (Japan). I've already reviewed this one but I will say it again, I liked this one! It's such a personal tour through the world of the Japanese court at the end of the last millennium, and a beautiful book.

Australasia: Truth by Peter Temple (Australia). This was a Christmas present, and the only Australian book I've read all year... Which is a bit sad really. It's a detective story set in Melbourne, the sequel to a book I haven't read, and that and the fact that it's a hardboiled-ish Crime novel (not my favourite subgenre) meant that I didn't like it all that much. Not a writer I will feel compelled to follow more.

Europe: A Very Long Engagement by Sebastien Japrisot (France). The book the movie (which I haven't seen) was based on. It's a WWI story, and I am constantly amazed that despite all the books and movies made about the World Wars they still have the power to be so moving. This one certainly was. It's the story about Mathilde, a young girl in a wheelchair whose fiance declared dead, in the trenches. She hears from another soldier that the circumstances surrounding her fiance's death are murky, and spends years following leads to try to find out the truth. A very bittersweet ending, this was definitely a bit of a tearjerker. It's not all romance, there is a lot about the horrors of war and I guess the expendability of soldiers... Anyway, recommended.

North America: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (US). This seems a very fitting book to read for the US, it's by one of the current 'Great American Writers' crop and it is about America in the 2000s, it's even called 'freedom'. Like many people, I loved Corrections, and I think that it's very hard for other books to measure up. Nonetheless, I enjoyed this book, the story of the Berglund family from middle-class middle America. There's a lot to write about in this book, it's too hard to fit in a mini-review (and hard to sum up my thoughts, which were, like the Berglunds, in the middle). Suffice to say it talks about liberals and conservatives, particularly in the wake of the September 11th attacks, and has some pretty scathing things to say about both. In the figure of Walter Berglund we have the well-meaning liberal who has lost his way somewhere along the line, and his son shows a fairly self-interested and uninformed young conservative, looking for profit and self-preservation. I love, though, how I came to feel affection for all the characters, no matter how misguided or self-seeking, by the end. That's why I read Franzen.

South America: The Captain's Verses by Pablo Neruda (Chile). I am not planning on counting this one. This collection of poems was written, in exile in Europe, mostly for his lover, who was with him in exile. Therefore it doesn't really fulfill the criteria of being set in South America. But the poet's love for Chile is a major theme running through his poetry, and his yearning for a better society in his country, as much as the love for his mistress/lover/later wife. A beautiful set of poems.

So there you go- just halfway through the year and mostly done! Maybe I was too easy on myself... I would definitely like to read another book from South America, probably another book from Africa and I feel like I should read some more from Australia. I might add some more to the other continents too. Suggestions for further reading welcome!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

reading block

I finished up the semester of uni a couple of weeks ago, and, as is often the way, completely lost motivation for everything else. I was getting so excited about reading books that are harder going when uni's on, I borrowed two non-fiction books from the library (one on Old English literature and society, and one on fairytales) and I haven't opened them. Instead I have been reading fashion  blogs, considering starting a fashion blog, my last blog post was about food, I even painted a picture the other night, despite my lack of anything resembling artistic talent. By contrast, while uni was on and I was getting more and more stressed and feeling so short on time, I read like crazy, found myself enjoying books more than I have for a while- you know, when you read late into the night and don't want to put the book down. Don't ask me why this is, all I can think is that it's a break, a time for something different.

Speaking of fashion blogs, here are a couple that are a little different, if you feel like reading about clothes. Leila Audrey is my friend Bec's blog. She works in a museum and has an interesting perspective on fashion and history. Marieke Hardy has been promoting her friend's blog Dress, Memory on twitter, it's a personal history in clothes- more memoir than anything.

Other than that, I am spending my uni holidays on work placement in Fisher library, which has been pretty great so far. I'm based in the Uni press, so it's kind of a mix of librarianship and publishing. But of course, all about books! (and yes, all the other materials the library has to offer). I'm planning on doing a half-yearly post on my reading around the world challenge soon, I'm currently looking for a book from South America- preferably by an author I haven't read before (because this challenge is all about reading new things!). Hopefully will find some inspiring reading to write about soon, in any case I am enjoying my holiday!

Monday, June 13, 2011

brunching in sydney

Seeing as it's a long weekend, it seems like an appropriate time to talk about brunch. Brunch would have to be one of my favourite meals, because it goes very well with a sleep in and basically you can eat whatever you feel like at the time. Today I ate a croissant and muesli at 2pm. Why not? Alternately, you could have a burger at 11. It's brunch after all, and anything goes. The one downside is the prevalence of eggs in brunch foods, I just don't like 'em, and some menus have little else. But many do, and here are some of my favourite brunching places in Sydney...

Vargabar, Newtown

This is my regular, and it's great for having a wide range of options (vegetarian, meat, breakfasty, lunchy, eggs or not). It also does good coffee. Of all the things they have here my favourite is the pumpkin chili hotcakes. They're a savoury twist on pancakes and just delicious. I love the way the dishes here keep changing, nothing seems to be presented the same way twice, but it's always good. The hotcakes come with kumera rosti, kumera chips, avocado and relish and all manner of good things- a veritable feast! Andrew also loves their eggs benedict with salmon, it's served on brioche which apparently makes it stand out from the eggs benedict crowd. They also do some amazing cold drinks.

Book Kitchen, Surry Hills

This is not one of my regulars, but I had to include it because when I went there they had the most amazing bircher muesli. Honestly, it tasted like Christmas cake mix, it was so delicious. It's also very, very close to the amazing Bourke Street Bakery. But on its on merits Book Kitchen has tasty food and a good selection of cookbooks, even if it is a bit pricey...

Deus ex Machina, Camperdown

It is pretty much impossible to park near this place, but they do do good food. I think their dinner menu is perhaps better, but we haven't really tested the whole brunch menu, so maybe a return trip is in order. The one time we managed to go there for brunch, I had strawberry crepes (very tasty). Andrew had, of course, eggs benedict with salmon.

The Gallery Cafe, Annandale
The portion sizes here are pretty amazing, so a good place to come if you're feeling hungry. This is a cheerful and fairly large cafe with a good range of options for the fussy bruncher (i.e. me). Plus they stock baked goods from the famous Adriano Zumbo, for instance the croissant you see below. And a bunch of jams and other goods. 

So many more cafes to explore, so many weekends to explore cafes in...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

extracts from my notebook part 4

A full bottle of wine next to the public phone - Pitt St

Bree and Adam
Locked 2gether in hatred as it's the closest to love- we're forever
- sad toilet graffiti at The Annandale

"When the dog that you tattoo on your arse turns into a shark"
- Overheard on a train

Though contrived, this little story might as well exemplify the mischief that involves us all who take on the job of turning real life into words.
Always the essential thing gets lost. That's one rule holds true of every inspiration.
- 'The Moon', Jorge Luis Borges

"His dad's a novelist"
"What, writes books and stuff?"
- Overheard

Graffiti on a train seen on the morning commute:
"Be not a man of success, but a man of value"- Einstein

"I just want to go live in Europe... I want to do everything and I want to do it now."
(other person says something)
"But when? What's the plan? How will it all fit in?"
- Overheard on the train

and human speech is like a cracked kettle on which we tap rhythms for bears to dance to, while we long to make music that will melt the stars
- Madame Bovary

"Lies and deceit..."
"But that's all part of the job, isn't it?"
- Overheard on a train