Another Post about Buying Fewer Books

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intentI’ve been trying to a write a post for the past week about my need to buy fewer books in 2017, but my brain hasn’t wanted to think about it. Anyway, at the end of 2016 I was sorting out my Filofax, and as I removed the old pages and inserted new ones, I came across all the book lists I’d compiled. The lists got me wondering about how many books I’d actually bought throughout the year, so I consulted Booxter, the trusty old database app I’ve been using for years, and was rather surprised at the number it turned up. I became curious about how much money I’d spent on acquiring those books, and was pretty shocked to find myself staring at a not inconsequential figure. Multiplying that by 5 – because I’ve been on a book buying bender for at least that many years – made me sit back in my chair and draw in my breath rather sharply. Really!? It wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d actually read the books I’d bought, but most of them are languishing in piles, unread and mostly forgotten.

After that unwelcome revelation, I decided I needed to get serious about my ongoing battle with my unread book mountain. I’ve written here so many times about reading projects and plans that were supposed to motivate me to reduce the piles, and I even started a new website in an effort to force myself to read my own damn books, but nothing has worked. I decided to give it another try, so I set myself a perfectly reasonable monthly amount to spend on books and vowed to stick to the budget. However, on New Year’s Day I was feeling a tad stressed and I ended up going on a bit of a binge and spent three times my monthly allocation in one day. Yup. Since then I’ve been feeling quite disappointed with myself. I know I often use online book buying as a displacement activity when I’m feeling stressed – it’s a distraction from what’s bothering me and a way to escape my thoughts for a while. And, although book shopping isn’t exactly a self-destructive and dangerous addiction, I do feel that I need to quit indulging the part of me that still wants to find a way out of dealing with what is.

As regular readers know, I have an OCD/depression/anxiety thing going on. I’ve been off meds for over three years now and am doing ok. I no longer see doctors, psychiatrists and psychologists, because quite frankly, they made me feel worse about myself; they made me feel as if everything about me was very wrong and totally broken and that the best I could hope for was to find a combination of medications that would correct the chemical imbalance in my brain. I got tired of the ‘suck it and see’ approach of psychotropic medication, the way that prescribing is more of a black art than a science, and the way that doctors discount the horrible side-effects of some drugs. I got tired of all the waiting rooms and being asked questions and being labelled by people who had only met me half an hour previously. I got tired of the whole thing, really, and decided to quit the system and see what happened. Sure, it can be a bit tough sometimes to be with my crazy brain, but I seem to have developed some coping strategies and so far I’m doing alright. I don’t discount the idea of taking medication again at some point, if I think I need to, but at the moment I feel as though I’m dealing ok with my thoughts and impulses, except for the excessive book buying thing, and it’s time for me to deal with that, too.

After my shopping binge on New Year’s Day, I’ve not felt inclined to buy any more books. I’m feeling alright about trying to stick to a monthly book buying allowance. Instead of making lists of books I need to buy, I’m writing about the things I could do with the money I save. I could do something about the travel plans that have been brewing in the back of my mind for a while, or I could buy the top-of-the-range motorcycle I’ve been hankering after. I could spend money on the house, or buy furniture, or just leave the money in the bank and watch it grow. I know that I need to avoid reading book reviews and trawling websites looking for out of print editions. I’ll have to try to get over my fear of missing out: on a bargain, on a great read, on learning something new. I need to turn away from the internet as a source of distraction, and instead invest more of my spare time and energy in real life activities – such as reading, making art, and writing.

Yesterday, I went to the metropolis and wandered into a book shop and looked around, and I didn’t feel in the least bit tempted to buy anything. Instead, I felt a kind of revulsion at the idea of acquiring more books, and I felt very tired all of a sudden. I just didn’t want to be there, so I left empty-handed, which has to be a first for me! I didn’t have any sense of prohibition; I just didn’t want to break my promise to myself.

It’s not as though I’m going cold turkey with a book buying ban, because that never works for me in the long-term. Gradual reduction and resetting the want-o-meter is the way to go. Setting reasonable goals instead of setting myself up for failure. Stepping off the conspicuous consumption roller-coaster. In the end, I’m accountable to myself. I need to stick to the plan, stick to the promise, defer action, and let it go, whatever it is. I’ve been here a time or two in the past. I know how this goes. If I can stay clean and sober and vegan and sane(ish), hopefully I can apply the same principles and stick to my book buying budget.

I’m determined to do it. It’s time.

C U 2016

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Well. What a tumultuous year it has been. Australian elections, Brexit, US elections, and the deaths of so many beloved cultural icons. The refugee crisis arising from the wars and political instability stemming from the dislocation and disenfranchisement caused by European colonisation, all those years ago. The state of the world is karma in action, if you ask me. Then there are the climate change worries, the resurgence of nationalism, fascism, and social conservatism, and the everyday violence, cruelty and stupidity so many humans choose to engage in. On a personal level, 2016 zoomed by in a flash, because I’ve been juggling so many hats and trying to keep all the plates spinning on their sticks. No wonder that this year has probably been my second-worst reading year ever, and that’s saying something! Of course, I did do a lot of reading every day, for research and other purposes, but reading in my leisure time just went right out the window this year.

I did start quite a few books, but by the end of most days I couldn’t stay awake long enough to read more than a couple of pages. Not only was I tired, but I lacked motivation and focus, and it was much easier to veg out and watch a DVD instead. I ended up watching quite a few Nordic crime series, and cosy whodunnit shows, such as Father Brown and Grantchester, and not-so-cosy series, such as Vera, Happy Valley, and George Gently. I watched all the costume dramas I could get my hands on, including all the Austen adaptations, yet again. However, I’m afraid I couldn’t get into the new Poldark, because I thought the acting was very ordinary and Ross is too pretty to take seriously. Also, I couldn’t watch Outlander, because it was just too banal and stupid. I still haven’t watched War and Peace, either. I can’t quite bring myself to do it, even though I’ll probably like it when/if I get around to it.

And so, on to the five books I enjoyed the most this year:

5: Zero K, Don DeLillo.

I didn’t love DeLillo’s latest novel, but it does get my vote for sentimental favourite. I think it’s great that he’s still writing in his old age, and that he’s still concerned about issues to do with how we live, and how technology is shaping our experience of life. There were so many quotable passages in the book, and although I think the narrative was a little disjointed and the characters not particularly well-drawn, there was still much for me to enjoy. One of my big concerns in life, which DeLillo writes about in Zero K, is the way in which so many people are ‘performing’ and ‘curating’ their lives via devices connected to the internet, rather than living in the REAL WORLD. How will life and death be defined in the future? Will future generations end up living in virtual reality? I’d much rather be out there in nature than in here staring at a screen. It might be time to pack up and head for the hills!

4: Windblown World: The Journals of Jack Kerouac 1947-1954, Jack Kerouac.

Jack Kerouac took his writerly vocation very seriously, although urban legend would have it that he sat down and dashed off his novels, just like that. Actually, as these extracts from his journals show, he agonised over his writing, and wrote and rewrote, and rewrote some more. He spent years and years practising and honing his craft. Sadly, when finally he had popular success with On the Road, he didn’t know how to deal with fame, or the expectations of his readers who couldn’t see the wild man of his early novels in the somewhat raddled, middle-aged conservative Kerouac had become by the time he was well-known. Anyway, as a fairly major Kerouac fan, I enjoyed reading his journals and seeing what he was like when he was young. I liked getting a glimpse of the things he thought and worried about. I was impressed with his dedication to reading and writing – he was a big Dostoevsky fan, and he greatly admired Proust, which is fairly obvious seeing as how Kerouac’s own sequence of novels were very much based on the literary foundation constructed by Proust in his In Search of Lost Time cycle.

3: Dying: A Memoir, Cory Taylor.

Cory Taylor wrote this book not long before she died from cancer, and it is a beautiful and unsentimental reflection of her memories, thoughts and feelings, not only about her own imminent death, but about her childhood and family, and the relationships, joys and sorrows she experienced throughout her life. The memoir is not only about dying well, but also about about living well. I heard Taylor being interviewed on the radio a few times when the book was first published, and she sounded so prepared for death, even though she had massive regrets about leaving her children and husband behind. In her writing, Taylor is totally clear-sighted about what will happen to her, and she is courageous and brave about facing the reality of dying, even though she was angry that we don’t have voluntary euthanasia rights in Australia, so she couldn’t choose when to end her own life. It seemed to me that the book was really written for her loved ones, so that they could take comfort and strength from her, even after she was gone. She seems to me to have been that sort of person, always thinking of others even as she faced up to her own mortality, and wanting to ease the way for others. I liked the book a lot, especially the way Taylor stayed true to her atheistic beliefs, and I admire the way she was so practical and matter-of-fact about what was happening to her.

2: A Gentleman in Moscow, Amor Towles

I loved this historical novel for all sorts of reasons. Not only is it beautifully written, and also clever, witty, elegant, and sometimes delightfully farcical, but I fell in love with the protagonist, Count Alexander Rostov – Member of the Jockey Club and Master of the Hunt. He is such a quintessential Russian aristocratic gentleman, and he might have stepped out of the pages of a Tolstoy novel or a Chekhov story. Despite losing everything in the war between the Bolsheviks and the Imperialists, Rostov maintains his integrity and dignity as a representative of his class and all the positive values they held dear. For him, kindness and decency matter, and he is determined never to let the Reds get the better of him, no matter what the provocation. Towles deals with a very sombre subject – the chaotic aftermath of the Russian civil war and the bureaucratic nightmare of the Soviet era – but he maintains a light touch throughout. Frequently, I found myself reading between the lines, as I situated the events in the narrative within the wider context of Russian history. This is not a realist novel, but it is historically accurate, and the execution of the narrative reminded me of Emily Dickinson’s line, ‘tell all the truth but tell it slant’. I think Towles’ novel has something of the zeitgeist Bulgakov created in The Master and Margarita – it’s a fable, a fairy tale, a fantasy, but it’s also deadly serious.

1: A Country Road, A Tree, Jo Baker.

After feeling decidedly underwhelmed by Baker’s Longbourn, I approached A Country Road with caution. I really didn’t like what she did with the Bennet family, so I was a bit concerned about what she might do with Samuel Beckett. I needn’t have worried though, because Baker’s portrayal of Beckett’s war years in France is clever and imaginative, while at the same time being soundly based on the facts as we know them from his journals and letters. The Beckett I encountered in Baker’s narrative is pretty much how I imagine him to have been. I don’t like biographical fiction very much, as a rule, but I was pleasantly surprised at just how ‘alive’ Beckett seemed to be in this novel. The title of the book is taken from the first stage direction in Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, and A Country Road contains many such winks and nods to his writing, and to his writing style. I loved everything about this book, and it was definitely my best read of the year.

I don’t have any reading plans for 2017. I have a feeling that it’s going to be another year of not-so-nice surprises. Who knows what will happen when Trump and his bunch of crony capitalists get their hands on the levers of power? Will the UK actually leave the EU? What will happen in the elections in France and the Netherlands? Will Trump tweet something that really upsets the Chinese? And will Australia’s government last the year, given that the hard-right faction is calling the shots and its members have been emboldened by Trump’s victory and they’re behaving more outlandishly than usual. How will we tree-hugging green lefties counteract the racism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, nationalism, authoritarianism, and all the other isms and phobias the fascists-in-waiting are allowing to crawl out of their collective consciousness? I expect I’ll feel just as appalled and bewildered in 2017, and I’ll probably find it as hard to concentrate on reading anything I don’t absolutely have to, because that would feel like fiddling while Rome burns. I don’t mean to sound melodramatic, but it really does feel as though the world is caught in a moment, and it’s time to stand up for what I believe in, or run the risk of finding myself living in the 1950s, or much worse. If anyone knows of any books about how to use social media as part of a political strategy, please let me know. I’m totally clueless when it comes to social media, but I think I need to educate myself about its intricacies.

Good luck with your reading in 2017. Good luck in general! I think we might need all the luck we can get. 🙂

Year’s End = Decision Time

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It comes around so quickly, this annual need to make decisions about what I’m going to do in the coming year. The 2017 academic year begins in March, and I need to make a decision about whether I shall continue with the MA in history, not study at all, or apply to switch to a Master in Human Rights. I’m not feeling the joy with my current course. It’s a very familiar feeling and sometimes I think that I’m just totally over the whole university thing, yes, really and truly over it this time. Maybe my days as a perennial student are finally done.

In the past number of years I’ve switched from doing a Master in Psychoanalytic Studies (I bailed out 3/4 of the way through because if I had to read one more of Freud’s whacked-out theories I would have died from apolexy. The dude was snorting a ton of cocaine and he was off his tree a lot of the time) to three different postgrad lit studies or English courses (I loathed those courses because I’d been there and done that in my lit studies honours year) to philosophy (I loathed that course because it was all DWM philosophers), to history (I loathe this course because the units available to me are mostly Australian history, which bores me to tears, really). Ah, the annual quandary. I’m attracted to the issues surrounding human rights, but yeah, a whole postgrad course on the subject might reveal itself to be a bit, hmmm, loathsome! I don’t know. I wish I could make decisions and not second-guess myself and experience massive buyer’s remorse. AND, the tuition fees are quite steep these days, and studying tends to ramp up my anxiety, and sometimes I think I’d like to stop being so hard on myself all the time.

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Speaking of buyer’s remorse, I bought the Delicious Library 3 book catalogue app the other day, and am regretting spending $60 on it. I had the bright idea of replacing Booxter, which I’ve been using for years to keep a (somewhat haphazard) record of the embarrassment of books lurking throughout our house. It’s an ok app, but it’s pretty old and the UI is kind of last decade, really. It’s basically a database with tiny book cover images, and I wanted something more, something with more bling, I suppose. Delicious Library is quite nice to look it, but it’s pretty much just a conduit to the Amazon website, much like a personal version of GoodReads without reviews, but complete with recommendations based on books in your collection, if you care to click on the recommendations pane. However, DL3 quite often recommends books already in my collection, so it’s more annoying than helpful or useful. There isn’t any way to disable that feature, unfortunately. In fact, there are no preferences in the app at all: what you see is what you’re stuck with. I did download the trial version and have a play with it before I bought the full version, but I wasn’t paying attention, obviously, and hit the BUY button before I’d really thought it through.

I tried importing my Booxter database, and the titles and authors showed up alright, but then I needed to download each individual item’s details and cover art from Amazon using the ‘refresh’ feature, and who has the time or patience to do that? Book covers do look pretty on the pretend shelves, though, and if you’re a visual person like me, that is much more enticing than looking at Booxter’s drab interface. So, I think that beginning in 2017, I’m going to use DL3 to display lists/shelves of books I want to read, acquire, have read, etc. That might work for me. Otherwise, I guess Delicious Library will be consigned to the ether, along with all the other crap apps I’ve forked out for over the years.

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I can’t even begin to articulate my rage about how various layers of Australian government has treated/is treating Indigenous children in the (alleged) juvenile justice system. Yesterday, Dylan Voller gave his testimony before the royal commission into youth detention and child protection in the Northern Territory. He has been failed by so many people, and by a system that treated him in the most appalling manner.

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And, in a completely different vein, I have to say that the reading slump I’ve been in for the longest time shows no sign of going anywhere. I think I’m too preoccupied with Trumpism and the ghastly people he’s selecting for key posts and the Russian espionage angle and the fact that it’s all even happening. The whole situation is bizarre and surreal and too weird for words.

More about Nothing

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lapland

There are so many things to worry about, if you’re so inclined. I started watching Midnight Sun and was a bit fascinated with Lapland’s landscape, seeing as how it’s utterly different to where I live. So, I googled and found this. Mining is threatening to eat up northen Europe’s last wilderness. Oh. And it seems that Australian mining companies are heavily involved in mining exploration of the area. OH!

I checked out New Matilda and saw this article by John Pilger. Apparently, America is gearing up big-time for a possible war with China, maybe a nuclear war. Oh. So, that’s why so many US Marines are now stationed in Darwin, and why a Chinese company has a 99 year lease on the port in Darwin. Australia is probably hedging its bets, a bit each way, in order to keep in good with our biggest trading partner (China) and our [supposed] military protector (USA). Oy Vey.

And, the huge Adani coal mine has got the green light to go ahead in Queensland: “The mine will consist of six open-cut pits and up to five underground mines, and will supply Indian power plants with enough coal to generate electricity for up to 100 million people. The controversial project involves dredging 1.1 million cubic metres of spoil near the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which will then be disposed of on land.” ABC

The Australian government looks set to provide a $1 billion loan to Adani for a railway line to service the new mining operation. Of course it will, even though the project will be an environmental disaster. Many banks, both local and international, have refused to fund the project because it poses such a risk to the Great Barrier Reef, but the government is so desperate to get Queensland voters onside for the upcoming state elections, that they’d probably sell their grandmothers if they thought it would gain them a seat or two. *sigh*

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I’ve been thinking a lot about hyperreality, and wondering whether we really are living in a post-reality world these days. It seems that it might be an actual thing for many people, but I don’t think I’m quite as sucked into the vortex. It seems to me that some people are treating Donald Trump’s election as a “reality show” that they’re part of, where there’s lying and chicanery and demagoguery, but no actual harm will come to them because “Trump” is somehow “virtual” and not actually “real”. I think that maybe some people invest so much of their time and emotion in social media, and the internet in general, that it’s just part of their actual life, and they don’t (or can’t) separate the “real” from the virtual: they really do exist in a hybrid world that isn’t “real life”. I’m surprised at the reactions I get when I suggest that people lock their smart phone away for a week and don’t go near it. They can’t imagine doing it, and feel a sense of panic at the idea of being “cut off from the world”.

I’m also thinking about the supposed “post-truth” era we live in now. Political double-speak and weasel words weren’t enough; now we live in an era where lies are the new black and there are no such things as “facts”. I find this bizarre and scary. I don’t think we should let people bamboozle us with words, which is what they’re trying to do.

And as for people who insist on their right to express their opinion, I often have “discussions” on this very topic. It usually goes something like this: Yes, but personal opinion is based on belief, and people believe in all sorts of things that aren’t real or true. Point me to the facts that corroborate your beliefs; show me the evidence to back up the validity of your opinion. I accept that there is no universal truth, but there are discoverable facts and there is testable evidence. You can believe whatever you want, and you can hold whatever opinion you choose, but unless you can argue for your opinion and demonstrate that it’s based on verifiable facts, then I’m not obligated to take your beliefs seriously, and I’m not obliged to listen to you. Oh, yes. I can be very charming when I want to be.

metropol

Hotel Metropol, Moscow.

I didn’t actually intend to write any of this. I was going to post about a film I watched the other day, Lila Says. I did like it, but it was jam-packed with stereotypical tropes and it was kind of voyeuristic and I felt a bit weird watching it. Also, I was going to write about a book I’ve just finished reading, A Gentleman in Moscow, which I absolutely adore. The narrative is charming, highly allusive, slightly satirical, poignant, elegantly written, historically accurate, and gives a big nod to literature by the Russian Greats. There’s also a fantasy element to the narrative that makes it resemble a fairytale at times, but the philosophical underpinnings of the book are profound. The images conjured in my mind reminded me of The Grand Budapest Hotel, with its interplay of light and dark, and its combination of humour and seriousness. A Gentleman is just a very clever and wonderful novel that gives us memorable characters and exposes us to a slice of history seen from a White Russian’s point of view. The chaos and turmoil of the Russian Revolution and the resultant civil war, and the cruel and deadly inanities of the Soviet regime are glimpsed through the eyes of the scion of a well-connected Russian aristocratic family, but mostly we get to see the resilience and courage of a man who once had all the freedom money and privilege could buy, but who now must employ his wit and imagination in order to survive the ordeal of incarceration in the Metropol hotel. Count Alexander Rostov – Member of the Jockey Club, Master of the Hunt – always knows the right thing to do and say in any situation. He is educated, cultured, sophisticated, and knows wine. He is good with children, horses, dogs, and women; he can shoot straight and waltz divinely, and he refuses to concede to the Bolshevik rabble who stole his life and sentenced him to lonely exile in his own country. For those familiar with Russian history and literature, this is sure to be an absolute delight of a novel: it’s beautifully written and cleverly crafted and I think it’s my favourite read of the year.

I Don’t Even Know

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gc

This is a photograph of George Christensen MP, an elected member of Australia’s federal government. He will be featuring in an article published this week in one of the weekend newspapers, and this photograph accompanies the story, apparently.

I don’t even know…

Let’s deconstruct the picture a tiny bit, shall we?

Blue singlet = obsolete but quintessential symbol of the Australian working class man, however, Mr Christensen is a member of one of the most elite groups in the country.

Tattoo = symbol of his (oft-professed) strongly-held Orthodox Christian faith, except the Bible commands, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print any marks upon you: I am the LORD.” Leviticus 19:28 KJV.

Whip = symbol of his role as the National party whip in parliament, but a whip coiled over the shoulder of white male who subscribes to far-right ideology has so many connotations to do with power and privilege, nationalism and imperialism, that it makes my head hurt just thinking about it.

Why is this in any way an appropriate photograph to accompany a story about a politician with aspirations to become a cabinet minister? He has expressed anti-Muslim views over a long period of time and is an advocate for immigration discrimination. Does this sound in any way familiar? (Hint: Donald J. Trump.) Clearly, this photograph is pitched to appeal to working class white men, the Australians who are feeling increasingly displaced and dispossessed in ‘their own country’. New technologies are doing them out of jobs, identity politics questions their assumed superiority, and laws are holding them to account for their misogyny, racism and sexism. A tiny diminution in their status has left many straight white men feeling angry and vindictive, and politicians such as George Christensen know exactly which buttons to push in order to unleash their rage.

And isn’t this just the way the mainstream media rolls these days? In Australia, the ‘colourful’ politicians, the ones who spout racist ideology, who divide opinion, who relentlessly self-promote, who have a recognisable ‘brand’, get all the headlines and all the coverage. Those politicians quietly doing the job they were elected to perform are totally ignored. Politics has become a ‘celebrity’ sideshow, a quasi Reality TV Show, where electors get to vote the ‘contestants’ onto the ‘island’ and vote them off again three years later. Except, while the contestants are busily jostling for media coverage and spouting their headline-grabbing ‘memorable quotes’ and tweeting their stupidity and ignorance for everyone to see, there is no leadership, no one at the helm of the government capable of guiding us through the shoals of piranhas and steering a safe path through the hatred and vitriol and ‘post-truth’ bullshit that seems to be the main cultural currency these days.

Right now, political discourse in Australia is bizarre and surreal and completely disappointing. And, if one day we wake up and find that George Christensen is our new Prime Minister, we will only have ourselves to blame, because we are complicit in this whole mess. We watch the TV shows and read the clickbait news stories and clack away on our keyboards, but what do we actually do to try to turn the tide that’s making us drift, slowly at first, and then faster and faster and inexorably into a political maelstrom that we can’t even begin to imagine.

In our complacency, we think that our established way of life will endure, of course it will. We choose not to see what is before our eyes, staring us in the face, with his coiled whip over his shoulder and a smug expression on his face.

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Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

From ‘The Second Coming’, Yeats, 1919.