Sunday, November 30, 2008

Comfort in words

Is it a sign of getting older that I find such comfort in certain routine items, especially those linked to books and words?

If I have been travelling, especially in less than joyful circumstances – like when I went to Uganda last year – there’s nothing I find more comforting that than the sound of Mark Colvin’s voice as he calmly and authoritatively presents ABC radio's current affairs program PM. It helps me know I am at home and back in my private bubble.

This came to mind when, heading off to Noosa with Mum for a few days recently, I found myself fondling a P D James book a the shop at the airport. I needed ‘holiday’ reading as I call it and I knew it had to be easy to dip in and out of and its entertainment value had to be guaranteed. I can get a bit toey when I'm with people a lot, so used to solo time at home am I, and I need a panacea. I opened The Private Patient while still on the plane and, after one or two pages, felt myself breathe out with relief. I was in safe and familiar hands.

To be honest the book was not one that will go down in the annals but bloody PD (pictured above) is 88 now. Give the woman a break! She’s quite an inspiration. Commander Adam Dalgliesh, poet and policeman and a returning character for her is making his fourteenth appearance for Scotland Yard in this book. The twists and turns are all there, the language spoken by the characters is precise and wordy, there’s a fine old English country house, some literary references, some religion and some mayhem. Ah, so reassuring. I tell you, even as I noted some repetitive phrases or had that strange premonition of what was going to happen next I was simply further appeased. That’s the power of the book, it’s like a woobie blanket for grown ups, or at least it is for me.

Holiday reading is a funny thing is it not? A number of people I know save up all their trashiest books to savour by the pool or swim-up bar. Why is that I wonder? Surely, at a time in the year when one’s mind should be freer and less preyed upon by the day to day pressures of life, a holiday is the very time one should be tackling challenging and exciting reading?

I have a new plan in place. I always tend to read one ‘serious’ book followed by one (or I dip in to both at once) guilty pleasure. Of course I pride myself on reading well written ‘guilties’ like a cracking yarn by Ian Rankin. Now, because I love books on CD so much, I have committed to non fiction in the car and fiction on my MP3 player. Now I can have at least four books going on in my head at one time.

Jesus, no wonder I’ll never get ‘round to writing my own.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The book club is a happening thing

Hi there handful of book club members.

Our first book is BRIDESHEAD REVISITED by Evelyn Waugh.

We will give ourselves two months to get hold of this book and read it. Obviously we are inspired by the re-make of the movie but, on alll accounts, it sounds like it pales in comparison to the 1980s mini series. Perhaps we can have a marathon viewing session of this when the book is finished.

Time Magazine included Brideshead Revisited in its list of 'All-time 100 Novels' which is good enough for me.
We will be ready for online chat about the book week commencing 19 January.

Happy reading!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The spirit in things

In my experience, often when people lose very close loved ones they turn to religion or spirituality for succour. A mad dash to the pulpit is not for me but, amidst the platitudes and pleasantries that I have found myself doling out over recent weeks, some weird powers have been at sway, dumping religion, God even, into my lap.

During the wake for Mrs U one of the delectable catering staff we hired turned out to be a book editor for a major publishing house (in the children and young adult arena I believe). Using the W.C at the rear of the house – the one that I only arghhh today remembered has a big poster of a girl having beer splashed all over her breasts (a gift to Mr U from one of his pals during their more boisterous days) – the editor found herself reading a piece I wrote a thousand years ago called Stealing Jesus. It’s about a boy who secreted a host (the piece of unleavened bread that represents the body of Christ for the heathens out there) whilst serving as an alter boy. Man I had not thought about that story, about that period or about that church for a long, long time and yet she really liked the story and seemed struck by it.

On Monday I interviewed a wonderful young NZ woman who has been working in Cambodia teaching girls whose families had sold them into prostitution (for reasons too complicated and tragic to enter into here) to make jewellery as part of their recovery and rehabilitation period. This 29-year-old is about to throw in her life as a teacher in NZ and return to that country and volunteer her services for two whole years. At that age I shudder to think what I was doing. I believe it was throwing back Moet and complaining about my workload on the Melbourne Fashion Festival account and trying desperately to sneak a weekend away in or dinner with the girls. Hmmmm.

The really interesting thing about my interviewee though was how she came to even find out about the group in Cambodia she is now working so diligently for. She qualified me very carefully before she told me and asked a few times, “This won’t freak you out too much will it?” before going on to explain:“I said to God, if you give me a contact in Cambodia and at least around $800 worth of jewellery supplies to get things started I will do the rest.” The next day her sister called, said she’d met a woman running an NGO in Cambodia who’d just had a whole heap of jewellery supplies donated to her, didn’t know how to use them and was desperate for someone to come and teach her girls skills in this area that they could then trade on. Spooky no?

Finally, last night, while tossing and turning at 2.30am as per usual a fabulous idea for a story came into my head involving a haunting by a recently deceased family member. Of course I am reading Hilary Mantel’s fabulous book, Beyond Black, which deals with spirit mediums but I did think, imagine if – amongst all the other gifts and kindness my mother in law has given us – she gives me the elusive idea I’ve been looking for for a book. Drawing a long bow I know and jumping the gun and imagining I can write the bloody thing but, hey, if I did, the press release would write itself.

Say a little prayer hey?