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Books

I feel I’ve read very little this year. I am always reading something, or several things, so it’s not as if I’m reading less, but because I didn’t keep a list, and because there weren’t that many books that I loved, it feels sparse when I cast my mind back over the year.

  1. My Year of Reading India. On one hand it was a failure as I only read a handful of titles, and started a few but didn’t finish. On the other hand, it was a mega-success because I read Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children. I think I will claim it a success for that reason, and also because now I have a lot more titles on my shelves that I didn’t before. Maybe without putting pressure on myself I will get to more.
  2. I don’t have a favourite read for the year, and can’t turn my mind to trying to pick one, or even a top 5 or 10. Here are some titles I really liked: Leap by Myfanwy Jones; The Sound by Sarah Drummond; The Windy Season by Sam Carmody; The Feel-Good Hit of the Year by Liam Pieper (so so funny); Nutshell by Ian McEwan; Swimming Home and Hot Milk by Deborah Levy and Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. In addition to Midnight’s Children, which I ended up loving and think is a masterpiece. I’m sure there are others I’m forgetting but these are the ones that come to mind.
  3. Biggest reading disappointment for the year was EASILY Karl Ove Knausgaard’s Some Rain Must Fall. And it should have been fantastic as it is the part of his life when he ‘becomes a writer’ but it was dull and tedious and boring. Other people will say all the books are dull and tedious and boring, but I have been held in his tight grip for Books 1 through 4. And then 5, uh oh, ummm. But I will read 6, oh yes I will.
  4. My first book for Reading India was A God of Small Things and I liked it (but straight after I began the Rushdie, and thought hers a paler version of something similar) but I am happy to read she has her second novel coming out next year… A God of was her debut, and released in 1997, so that’s a gap of 20 years.

 

Television

  1. The TV mini-series of Christos Tsiolkas’s novel Barracuda was amazing and great. I loved it a lot.
  2. Game of Thrones, naturally, we were all over it. I even dressed up as Cersei for the final episode and if I say so myself, looked pretty damn good. Here I/she am/is:

jensei

2. Other shows that we enjoyed: Stranger Things (nostalgic, pacey, original/familiar); The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (funny, boundary-pushing, poignant); Broad City (fantastic female characterisation, and different). GIRLS, yes I like it, no I don’t care that you don’t. One show I did not enjoy and stopped watching after first episode of new season: Walking Dead. We are now watching Westworld but my daughter is in Japan so I have to wait until she is back. I like it. Again, I’m sure I’ve missed some but…

 

Radio

I was on live radio twice this year, at the ABC, for my day job (the teaching). The first was with David Astle chatting about sex education and parents answering the tricky questions from their kids; the second was a couple of weeks later with Clare Bowditch.

with david astle 774 ABC

 

Film

Imagine tumble-weeds rolling through a cinema. I can only remember one movie and that was last week: Rogue One. I have plans though for Paterson, Arrival and maybe La La Land. And seeing Rogue One again next week because: blended family.

 

Blogs

The blogs I’ve most visited and enjoyed (and maybe commented on, although that has been sparse) are: Lisa Hill’s ANZLitLovers (I did an author appearance there earlier this year: Meet an Aussie Author) and Kate’s Books Are My Favourite and Best. They are disciplined and consistent, fantastic ambassadors in bringing the goodness to our screens. I also pop into a couple of other blogs, including Sarah Drummond’s lovely lovely one, where sometimes you get a slice of delicious prose that may or may not be part of a work in progress. And the photos – divine. (See The Wine-Dark Sea).

 

Animals

We got a kitten in July, just when the Tour de France was starting. His name is Alan, he was a rescue baby, abandoned or found at about two weeks old. Here are before and after (current) pics. We LOVE HIM SO MUCH.

 

Writing news

It was a good year, even though not much actual writing happened.

  1. I signed a publishing contract just before Christmas for my second novel. So that is exciting and a relief because: second novel syndrome (even though it’s my first ms, so I kind of avoided the problem of writing something after the first one was released, and published second ms first. How canny, lol, I had no choice in it).
  2. I received a grant from Creative Victoria, to help me develop a manuscript I’m working on. This is what I’m calling the circus novel, or more accurately the circus/abortion novel.
  3. I got a booking to be on a panel at a writers festival next year, and then when I’d given up on a pitch to another – much larger – festival, received word that I will be chairing two events there. This is almost the most exciting writing bit from this year.
  4. I made a 2016 best reads list! The lovely Charlotte read about The Secret Son on Lisa’s blog, got a copy, reviewed it and put it on her list here… I was pleased, it’s so hard to get on these damn lists. (Charlotte’s original review here and her 2016 list here.)

 

Finally, the biggest surprise of 2016? My favourite experience not just of the year but maybe ever? The thing that awakened me to something new and wondrous and deeply thrilling? Me seeing Wagner’s The Ring Cycle in Melbourne in November. I have a friend, he writes opera reviews for the Herald-Sun and tweets about it as Opera Chaser and blogs here. He has been an opera chaser for 30 years but has only started writing about it in a formal sense for the last two or so years. He has taken me to a couple of productions, offered to take me to more, but I’ve declined, saying ‘sorry, it’s really not my thing, it’s a wasted ticket, take someone who appreciates it.’ So yes, I was a hypocrite when he was over for dinner on a Saturday night and asked if I’d be interested in seeing at least the opening opera Das Rheingold two nights later, on the Monday night. YES I would, I said. (The Ring Cycle has been on my list of things to do before, well, you know, ever since my mother saw it three years ago, here in Melbourne. Ever since I went to a talk with her, as part of the Wheeler Centre program, and heard Peter Rose talking about seeing Siegfried in Germany somewhere, and the stamina required of the singers, who ‘staggered around the stage’, swigging water from plastic bottles in the heat. It’s details like this that make me sit up, also hearing that ‘it’s as much an epic feat of endurance for the audience as the performers’. I am intrigued by obsession, and love listening to people talk about their obsessions. I learn about human nature, about the extraordinary in the ordinary.) So I went on the Monday night, and was lucky enough to go on the Wednesday (for Die Walküre), the Friday (Siegfried) and the Monday (Götterdämmerung). By the time it was all finished, and I was sitting stunned and grateful outside the Arts Centre, with my viking helmet on, taking a selfie, feeling changed and other-worldly because I had been converted, something big had passed through me. I’d sat in an audience, for four nights, enthralled. At times my jaw had dropped open, and I mean that literally. I would become aware of my open mouth and close it, then realise a few minutes later it had fallen again. It was visually spectacular, of course, but the music. THIS is why I didn’t like opera before. It wasn’t Wagner. It was an extraordinary experience and I feel lucky lucky lucky. It was a production where the performers transported you; where the sets delighted (the steps up to Valhalla; the little house with snow; the helical ramp for the Gods). The conductor refused to take a bow on any of the nights, and instead repeatedly applauded his orchestra, and on the last night got them up on stage for the standing ovation. I can only imagine what it must feel like to be on a stage for such a thing. Just magnificent. I bought a box set of the CDs and have been playing them every time I’m in the car. The music, incredibly, is familiar, after only one viewing of the Cycle. It’s as if it entered my body that one time, Wagner’s repeated motifs taking up residence inside of me. My only wish now is to be able to take my daughter – who IS an opera fan – to the next production. I hope they do the same one just once more, so we can go. Hopefully in three years. And with my mum too. What a dream!

So that was my 2016. Elsewhere I would indulge in the other matters that have rocked us, the deaths, the politics. I’ve decided though that part of psychological survival, for me, is to try to see the positives and keep the negatives in their place, keep them at the front of the back of the mind, while the beauty and art and achievements and privileges are kept closer to the heart, in gratitude.

Next year, from April I will have something new on the blog, a series you could say, about books and reading, and how it will shape up I’m not sure but stay tuned for news on that.

Happy 2017, and stay safe and well.

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