Monday, 30 January 2012

Reading and Commuting

I am beginning this post by acknowledging that, in this city, to complain about having a short commute to work is equivalent to some kind of heresy...

Having said that, two ferry stops is just NOT enough time for a book junkie to get a decent fix.


This morning, I pulled A Room of One's Own out of my backpack as I settled myself on the ferry, opened it to page 15 and started reading. I ignored the violent rocking that always accompanies the first stop due to the backwash off the sea wall and kept reading doggedly on... And then, all too soon, we were gently chugging into the city wharves, and I'd not even made it to the end of the chapter! I can't even blame slow reading, because I don't read slowly. Although, I will say that Woolf's text does make me slow down to really enjoy it - it's just so considered, and elegant. The opening chapter (I got to the end on the trip home) is all about her internal response and subsequent wrangling with the topic of women and fiction, about which she was invited to lecture - which is the premise of the book, which is taken from that lecture. Should she write about women in fiction, women writing fiction, why it is believed that women can't write great fiction and the reason why, and a stack of other permutations on the theme...

The backdrop is a day spent on the campus of a great university, 'Oxbridge' (uhuh....), where she is first waiting until it is time to join a luncheon party to which she has been invited and while en route is chivvied off the lawn by a Beadle while walking to the college where she is to dine - women must walk on the gravel pathways, only the Fellows and Scholars (male) are allowed on the grass. Still with some time to pass, and following the tangled train of thought still wrestling with how to approach her topic, she realises that an essay that has been tickling her brain is, in all likelihood, in the library of the university, which she is just passing. So, she makes her way through the doors. To be met by, as she puts it, a 'guardian angel barring the way with a flutter of black gown instead of white wings, a deprecating, silvery, kindly gentleman, who regretted in a low voice as he waved me back that ladies are only admitted to the library if accompanied by a Fellow of the College or furnished with a letter of introduction'. With still an hour to spare, she passes by a chapel where there is something happening, given the music coming from within and the people entering. She decides this time not to enter, even if she does have the right and remains outside listening to the music, musing on the possibility that the academic figures she is watching are a, perhaps, soon to be obsolete species, given that - in her opinion - outside the rarified atmosphere of the university environment, they may fail to survive.

The luncheon itself - as a guest in one of the male colleges - is delectable, leisurely and memorable. She describes the courses in great detail, relishing the aesthetics of the presentation as well as the richness of the fare. Moving on, she arrives much later for a dinner engagement with a great female scholar in a college of a much less affluent nature, with a meal that she gives only a perfunctory nod to - although, there is a great deal of detail about the prunes that make up, with custard, the dessert, which is not at all complimentary.

She ponders, after this day which has produced a series of roadblocks due entirely to her gender, and a sumptuous male hosted feast followed by a more frugal female hosted repast, on how it is that money and privilege are so unevenly divided... And the first inklings of where she is headed begin to make themselves felt.

I can't, for the life of me, imagine being barred from a library. A library!!! Books are for everyone, are they not? The reality, of course, is that this has not always been the case. In the course of human history and scholarship, it is only in very recent times that scholarship has been open to women. Not that it stopped us - stories abound of women who strove to learn, and who rose to the highest rank, albeit often in disguise - Pope Joan comes to mind, and there was a woman doctor who served in the Crimea (I think - I'll have to go and look that up, can't remember exactly which war...), also disguised as a man. In both cases it was their bodies that gave them away when they fell pregnant.

There are many others, and I think, sometimes, how pleased, but probably envious too, they'd be to see how many women there are at universities, who are accepted as academics. I still think though, that Woolf's concept of that room, and independent income, are key to our potential for success. Someone once said to me that women are one man away from poverty. It sounds extreme, but in my experience, once there are children in the mix, the overriding tendency is that it is the women who carry the bulk of that load, putting aside their own dreams, their own studies, their own work, in order to support those children and often, too, the children's father.

It reminds me very much of a paper I wrote in art school - the first history paper I wrote for the degree - where I was examining the stories of women artists and their struggles to both work and be recognised. I felt then, and I don't know that it's changed all that much in the interim, that at a grass roots level, that the daily lives of women who wish to create are still marked by a struggle to have the space and the funds to do so, since they have to be found AFTER the work of the domestic environment has been attended to...

And on that note, I must go and attend to the next stage of dinner production, as what could safely be left to do its own thing now needs rather more attention!

Saturday, 28 January 2012

A Room of One's Own

...with a bow to Virginia Woolf....

The crux of this - 'one of the greatest feminist polemics of the (20th) century', from the blurb on the back cover... - small book is that, in Woolf's opinion, that what a woman needed to realise her full creative potential was £500 per annum and a room of her own.  

I am writing, this morning, at a small table facing a bank of windows that overlooks an overgrown, but pretty leafy courtyard at the back of the house in a space that, yesterday, Dearly Beloved dubbed 'The Writer's Room', in much the same way that Twentysix named my customary armchair years ago when my first article was published and paid actual money, 'The Writer's Chair'. I suspect, given the size of this house and the somewhat separated and isolated location of this room - out through the back door, across a wee porch that's open to the outside, then up a step into this room - that it may have been intended originally as a maid's or housekeeper's room. When it became very clear that it would remain unused unless I claimed it, and unless I claimed it I would be relegated, once again, to working wherever I parked myself with the laptop - which meant on the bed if I needed to escape from the television or other people's music - I asked for one of my tables to be moved up, which happened yesterday afternoon.  

This is just a beginning. The table is the smaller of my two tables - and will, eventually, be on the other side of the room with an easel because it has a laminex top that can be trashed with art equipment. Downstairs in the garage is the other table - one of my great treasures - an old pine baker's table. It will almost span the entire space under this bank of three windows, but is under a metre wide, so it won't intrude on the room. It will give me room to leave my sewing machine up and ready to use at one end, and allow me to spread to tools of my trade around the laptop for when I am working... 

I went and dug my copy of Virginia Woolf's essay out of the bookcase - the joy of knowing exactly where to look is not to be ignored... -  thinking it would be a timely re-read. It is one of those books which, as an academic, an artist, a writer, a reader, and...a woman..., I had always been aware of, but hadn't read. One of those books from the 'definitive' list I may make one day - my definitive list of the books one should read! When I started my post grad studies, I also began a Women's Studies unit from an undergrad degree course at another university - bit messy, but I had an idea for a post graduate thesis, and I needed the unit to gain entry to that particular school if I were to follow up on the idea. 

After years of visual art based academic reading and writing, I was suddenly confronted by literature in a formal style that was completely new. The last time I'd studied literature critically was in high school, so it was a monstrous jump. As it was the introductory unit for literature in Women's Studies, A Room of One's Own was on the reading list. Not only was I now going to get to read it, I was going to have to read it critically and write about it... Which I did, but goodness knows where those papers are - somehow, I have all the post grad art history papers stashed away but not the Women's Studies ones...odd. They will be on the hard drive of my old computer which is now in storage - being saved for an opportune moment with a geek who can retrieve what's on it! 

I've just read the opening pages again, and will need to now be totally disciplined and put it to one side so I can get some work done as I have a large extra assignment that needs its back broken today. But, it's a nice neat little book that will fit into my bag for commuting next week, and I'm looking forward to tickling my brain with some Woolf after all the Heyers and my current re-reading of What Katy Did, which is in an omnibus that is just too bulky to carry back and forth to work.

So, now I have a room of my own and absolutely NO excuses for lack of creative output! A realisation of a need, and also, the imposition of a much needed sense of discipline so I can get through the work that needs to be done! I can hear the birds, there is a nice breeze, I can hear, distantly, the sounds of the household, but they're not intrusive - just nicely companionable.

And, by the way, fellow book junkies - don't forget there are books for sale, looking for congenial homes... Check out previous posts Books for Sale, and The Library Installed for the lists and buying instructions - I look forward to getting your emails!!

Friday, 27 January 2012

The Library Installed!

Well, they're all in - and they're all fitting better than last time too - I can't figure out why... I have my suspicions that there are some books not there - I know that Sixteen has a couple of them, those on that reading list that I owned that he's borrowed. So, they're not far away.


...and after:

Don't they look nice??? Dearly Beloved just sat back on the couch - he's been working in the garden for hours, so has just flaked with a well-deserved beer - and said it looks nice with all the books along the wall... Yup!

Having sorted them all properly this time, I'm aware of some gaps. There are a couple of boxes that went into storage after the last move that shouldn't have, and I think I need to get brave and retrieve them. I know the first Dimsie book - from the series by Dorita Fairlie Bruce - must be in there, and Stephanie Alexander's A Cook's Companion and Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food are in one of the boxes, and it's driven me mad not having them, particularly the latter.  I've had to go online to find particular recipes...but that's not helpful when what I want to do is sit and leaf through it when I don't really know what I want to cook until something jumps off the page at me... There has to be a trip to the storage place anyway, so I will retrieve that box...

Now - three of the books in my last post have gone - Little House on the Prairie, Three Little Maids and White Boots. So, if anyone had been thinking of buying them - it's too late!! So, the moral of the story is, stop thinking about it and just do it....! Just to spark some interest, a couple of grown up books to add to the mix that were duplicated. Same deal as the kid's books, so get in touch me via this blog or my Facebook page if you're interested:

Kerry Greenwood, Trick or Treat, Allen & Unwin paperback, 2007, excellent condition
The fourth in the series, featuring baker Corrina Chapman and her Israeli PI boyfriend. For those unfamiliar with these books - you WANT this...and then you'll have to go get yourself the others. Set in Melbourne, with a madly eclectic cast of characters, these are modern mystery stories that are just delightful. Bonus is, there are always recipes at the back of the book too!

Faye Kellerman, Serpent's Tooth, Headline paperback, 1997, good condition
One of the Rina and Peter Decker series of police mysteries - these are good fun if you're looking for a mystery with a bit of a difference. The Deckers are Orthodox Jews, he's in the LAPD and the clash between the two worlds is often the thing that makes these that bit more than a standard murder mystery. Good stuff.

Re Sixteen and books - priceless, this afternoon. He arrived laden with all his back to school gear, since school starts again next week, which included a not insignificant collection of books - novels... It was with much delight he showed them off, asking if I'd read them - I'll have to be borrowing books from him at this rate! I made him laugh when I suggested that soon he might need a bookcase of his own...he says that's very true. I think it's a clear case of corruption, because I sense it's starting to go beyond the having to read them for school thing - he's starting to eye particular books on my shelves and ask about them, and is responding positively to some that I've suggested he might particularly like. Watch this space....

Thursday, 26 January 2012

Books for Sale....

OK, I'm biting the bullet - I'm not  hoarder in the true sense, because I can and do clear stuff and get rid of it on a semi regular basis. However, I do find it difficult to offload books. Having said that, I didn't realise how many duplicates I had in my children's book collection until this most recent move. So, here we go bibliophiles - for the big kids out there who continue to treasure quality writing for children, here's the list:

K.M. Peyton, Flambards Divided, Penguin paperback, 1982, good condition
This is the fourth in the Flambards series, that was made into a TV series by the BBC which I've never seen and would dearly love to! Not sure if the books are still in print or not.

Ethel Turner,  Three Little Maids, Ward Lock hardcover, name plate inscribed 1956 (WL didn't date all their editions), good condition - a few small age spots, cover a little faded.
Ethel Turner's most autobiographical novel - tells the story of a widow and her three little daughters who, with little money to her name, migrates to Australia in the late 1800s.

Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie, Puffin paperback, 1976, excellent condition
Those of you who know the books will know that this is NOT very much like the television series of the same name! The second in Laura's biographical series, when the family leave Wisconsin to begin their travels west into Indian country. This paperback edition with a facsimile cover of the hardback copy and all the original illustrations throughout.

Noel Streatfield - LOTS!
Thursday's Child, Lion paperback, 1983, excellent condition 
The orphaned Margaret, who is sent from her home with an impoverished vicar to an orphanage, runs away with two boys she's befriended after shocking ill treatment. Their adventures on one of England's canal boat and with rep theatre companies is delightful - fairy story ending...

Ballet Shoes, Puffin paperback, 1962, pristine condition
Remember my earlier post? This is one of THE children's classics - one of the 'Shoes' books mentioned in You've Got Mail, a must for little girls - and their mothers, aunts and older friends...!

The Circus is Coming, puffin paperback, 1967, pristine condition
Published in America as Circus Shoes - another of the 'Shoes' books. An orphaned brother and sister are plunged into circus life with their unknown uncle after the death of the aunt who has previously cared for them. Great fun!

White Boots, Puffin paperback, 1981, excellent condition
Another of the 'Shoes' books (Skating Shoes in the US), this one about a little girl recovering from a serious illness who is advised by her doctor to take up skating for her health. Lovely family portrait - she is the only girl in her large family. Also, a very frank telling of the dynamics of different relationships.

The Growing Summer, Lion paperback, 1994, good condition
Four children are sent to stay with their great aunt in Ireland when their father is taken ill and their mother has to care for him. Great Aunt Dymphna is not your average aunt, living wild in a huge run down country house and they have to fend for themselves. And then, there is the mysterious boy who appears, telling them he is on the run and they must hide him and help him... Absolutely delightful.

When the Siren Wailed, Lion paperback, 1977, good condition
A story of three children evacuated from London who leave their safe place in the country to go back to their parents and get caught up in the Blitz. Streatfield was an air raid warden during World War II and there is a wonderfully accurate sense of authenticity about the children's experiences in bombed London.

So, the way to do this would be for anyone interested to contact me direct - via the blog, my Facebook page or email. $10 each for the books plus postage. I have a Paypal account or I can send you my bank account info for direct deposit. Sydneysiders can let me know a good time for us to meet up for hand delivery...and maybe a quick coffee!

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Progress Report...

Joy! The Internet is live so I am back to the computer - back to the freelance assignments...sigh...big ones to get done this week (think of the money, I hear my mother telling me...).

No further work on the books at this point, as I'm still waiting on the new wedges for the other two bookcases. However, I can get to the lower shelves I'm not happy with in a little bit when I need to get away from the computer. But, this is how I started out:

Those stacks are all in alphabetical order - the Ts had to go into two piles - Ethel Turner's books, published by Ward Lock, are huge! I remember buying a stack of them all from one shop once - turned out to be an expensive exercise.

As any confirmed book junkie knows, the correct stance in a bookshop - particularly second hand ones where you really have to comb the shelves - is to be angled about three quarters on to the shelves so you can stack the books on your outside arm as you pick them off with the inner one, head on one side to read the spines uninterrupted, and shuffle along - if you pick your feet up you run the risk of tripping over stacks of books on the floor or other book junkies squatting by the lower shelves. Well, Ethel Turner books pose a bit of a physical challenge with this posture... Based on my experience, I would advise chatting up the store owner so you can deposit your growing stack on the front counter. The nine or ten I found that day (riches!!) sent me to the physiotherapist for a very extended series of treatments because their combined weight on my left arm, couple with the tilt of my head pulled my neck badly out of alignment and the next day my head was completely immobilised. So, what should have been an excellent bargain - the books were really good prices, with a first edition in amongst them... - ended up costing me a lot of money!

But I digress... Here's where things are up to now:

Most of the children's books IN! Although, since that pic was taken, I've found others in random piles that I've been sorting in preparation for the other bookcases. I also found some duplicates I didn't realise I had, so I have to try and sell them on - and create more room!!

Meantime, I've read my way through more Georgette Heyer - they're easy to spot in the confusion of the stacks, apart from anything else! I'm reading Black Moth at the moment and the underlying theme of the story had me thinking this morning. The chief protagonist is Jack Carstares, the latest Earl in the family who is, however, on the run, rather than being based in the ancestral home. Due to an incident in his youth where his brother Richard, deep into some heavily costly card playing marked some cards, but allowed Jack to take the blame. As a result, Jack was cast off by his father and shunned by his friends and has been many years in exile in Europe, while Richard, marrying the girl they both loved, is living in the ancestral home, caretaking it and miserably aware that he is to blame. He went as far as to confess to their father, who rewrote his will, reinstating Jack, but hasn't made it public knowledge that is was in fact him, not Jack, who'd cheated.

Now, the interesting thing for me here is that, because he was believed by the men at the card game to have cheated, he has been completely ostracised, cast out of polite society, written off by his father and left to fend for himself - penniless and friendless. It's a question of honour and the integrity of the man that is the chief factor. Then I think to today... Not so much in terms of the card games, but in other things. One of the reasons, I discovered in a conversation with sixteen, that kids don't read now - even required reading for school - is the existence of online precis of books, annotated with analytical commentary - shortcuts, or cheats, so that they can spend an hour or so studying those in order to get through any assignments based on those books. This isn't, I found out, considered to be cheating. This is, apparently, accepted practice. ...???...

Similarly, because so many books have been made into movies, many kids think that if they've seen the movie, they don't need to read the book. Then they wonder why it is that the marks they get for there assignments aren't what they were hoping for. We have a generation of kids who want everything instantly, have no idea at all of the concept of delayed gratification, and don't see the point of starting something that might take some time before it's done.

I'm soap boxing, I know, but this really riles me. It's not just books and reading - it's endemic across a number of areas. What the solution is, I don't know. I do believe that there are way too many shortcuts available, and we have made it, in may cases, way too easy for kids to skate along and think that that's an adequate way to tackle life. It doesn't do them any favours really, in the long run. At some point, they have to step out there on their own, and that's hard enough even when they have good life skills.

...and people scoff when they find me reading Georgette Heyer... The books themselves may be light easy reading, but it doesn't mean they don't make me think!!


The aforementioned need for diversion duly occurred:

ALL the children's books, the art books, the biographies and the dictionaries... Took  bit of juggling. But they're in. And get a load of the cutest bookends ever: 

Gus and Wilbur - providing a buffer between the biographies and the kids books. Wilbur is kind of in the dark - but he's old and delicate, and that probably suits him. Gus likes to be out and about!

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Arranging... Rearranging....

Well, we’re in – pretty much. It’s been a monstrous effort to get the house cleaned and ready for us to move in, to pack up everything and actually move it. Sixteen took on the task of loading the boxes of books onto the trolley and into the van for transport to the new house – box after box, “These are REALLY heavy...!” Uhuh… I know this only too well…

The bookcases went into place and then the sorting and decision making started. Where to put everything? In the old place, all four bookcases were in a line along the wall, so I had the four metre length of each shelf to deal with in an unbroken line, which made it all very simple – like a real library with great long lines of shelving. Now, they’re in two pairs either side of the TV cabinet, which changes things considerably.

I figured out how to distribute the two largest components of the collection – children’s literature one side, grown up literature on the other. That takes care of about four shelves on each side, so then there’s the bottom two levels on each side and the rather more messy components – the poetry, the art books, religious books, reference, biographies, and the remnants that all get stacked in together…

The next hitch was that along with many other features peculiar to the age and style of this house, the power points are all located on the skirting boards. Of course, Murphy’s Law being what it is, they are – on both sides – where the bookcases need to go to get the whole assembly centred on the wall. Dearly Beloved was concerned about the tilt of the bookcases, given the bottoms had to be a bit further away from the wall than originally planned. As I pointed out, they’re six feet tall and are going to be full of kilos of books, so a good tilt into the wall is a good thing. However, the wedges we’d used in the old house were geared to a lesser tilt and we had to double them here – so I’m waiting on another set to get the other two bookcases stacked!

I started with the children’s books, since they’re the real treasures and they’re now all in alphabetical order and stacked. At the moment, I’ve got the art books under them in one, the biographies in the second to bottom in the other and I’m thinking reference on the bottom of that one.

When I get to the grown up books on the other side, it might all change. I’m not sure yet. I do know that there are fewer grown up novels, which means that the two plus shelves of poetry will fit around them and I can get them all in without too many laying down along the tops… But, until I get to actually stacking, I don’t know how it will look – the agonies of it all!

At this point, the grown up novels have all been sorted into alphabetical stacks along the floor by the window in the dining room – so they’re not all over the floor any more, which makes getting around a little less hazardous! With the public holiday this week, I might just manage to have the books sorted and my freelance assignment done by the weekend – with a bit of luck!!

Saturday, 21 January 2012

The Mobile Library

Day one of the move...well, day two if you count yesterday's packing! Tomorrow, the books go into boxes and the relays begin. This afternoon we sat in the living room of the new place discussing where the bookcases would go - I think we reached consensus. One of the important things yesterday was to make sure my current three books were in bags of stuff that I could get at - nothing worse than being partway through a book and then losing that book into the bottom of one of a number of identical boxes!

Young Sixteen, who has a holiday reading list, and was - back in December - eyeing it with some trepidation, announced today that he's really enjoying reading now. However, he qualified that with not being sure if that's a good thing for him! He's on his second reading of Cormac McCarthy's The Road, loved The Colour Purple, told me that One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is 'sick, but cool' (!), and just got his hands on a copy of Catcher in the Rye. I have to borrow that from him when he's finished with it. I read it last in early high school, and to be embarrassingly honest, I don't remember anything much of it. I do remember I struggled to really get into it at the time, and clearly, it didn't leave a lasting impression on me. But, all the hype when Salinger died reminded me what an important book it is, so I'm feeling as if I ought to re-read it.

It's a funny thing, that sense of feeling as if I 'ought' to read a certain book. I have Dickens in my bookcase - not all of them, three or four I think. I picked them up at a huge second hand book sale years ago. I had to survive another book junkie's sharp elbows to get them - and she got Oliver Twist, which was the one I really wanted...she was so blatantly pushy that I refused to put the ones I'd picked up while I was trying to get to Oliver back on the table, although she was eyeing them covetously, because I wasn't going to let her have them! But, I'm ashamed to say, I have yet to read them. They add a decided air of distinction to my adult fiction collection, being lovely old dark red hardcovers with gold tooling. But there they sit - and although I have a big rule about the books in the bookcase having to be books that are read regularly, and they're not, I can't bring myself to toss them when I'm being brutal and having a cull. I think it's because they're Dickens. They're on that list of 'the books one ought to read'. The classics. That collection of literature that the well read book junkie should have well and truly under his or her belt. I have read Oliver Twist. I haven't read any of the others. So, although I never make New Year resolutions - and it's a little late for that anyway - maybe this year, I should bite the bullet and start on the Dickens.

I don't know if there is a definitive list of books one ought to read. I do know that when those lists come up on Facebook where you have to tick off how many of the hundred books you've actually read, I've usually read well over half, and own most of those I've read. But, there are often some quite random titles on those lists, so I don't know that they're definitive lists, In any case, my sense of a list like that is that it isn't enough to just read one Dickens, you have to read them all... Sigh... 

Classics-wise, I did Thomas Hardy at school - Tess of the d'Urbervilles and The Mayor of Casterbridge. Then we did a pile of modern classics - The Great Gatsby, One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Catcher in the Rye, To Kill a Mockingbird, and others I don't remember. I also remember S.E. Hinton - The Outsiders and Rumblefish, and Paul Zindel's books with their crazy titles - Pardon me You're Stepping on my Eyeball, My Darling My Hamburger, and others. My generation went through high school at a time when American culture was really starting to impact on Australia and youth culture. Lots of American TV shows were being programmed (although, I'm only discovering many of those now, because my mother wasn't pro-TV and when we did watch it, we watched the ABC) and the American teen magazines became available. I remember borrowing Seventeen magazine from the local library - I loved the clothes, which were so much more interesting than anything I could find in the somewhat limited boutiques of the country town where we lived at the time.

Quality television adaptations of classic books offered me an easy entry into reading them -  I read George Eliot's Middlemarch after watching the series that was made - and have reread it since a number of times. The more recent adaptations of Pride and Prejudice - the TV series with Colin Firth and Jenifer Ehrle, and the film with Keira Knightley (which I liked SO much better) - have probably done more to bring classic literature back into popularity than anything else. Having said that, I think all of Austen's books now exist in film or TV series form, and they've all be done extremely well. Perhaps it helps that Austen was writing about ordinary people of her time living their everyday lives, suffering through similar issues as we do today - although, poor Mrs Bennett's anxieties about getting four financially challenged daughters married off is less likely to be the worry of a modern mother!

Well, the bookcases are behind me, and will be disembowelled tomorrow. They'll be reassembled in a different configuration in the new house. I've been giving some thought as to how I will organise the books...because I will get them all in order as I unpack them this time! For now, some mindless TV feels like the best option for a little while, and then the Heyer to doze off with before getting into the packing in the morning...

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

An Age of Courtesies...

Last night, I caved in and as a result, book number three is on the go...The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer. This is my other type of comfort reading - I tell myself it's grown up comfort reading, and it's maybe a little less odd than being seen on the ferry commuting to work up to my eyes in a brightly dust jacketed children's book!

I love Heyer's Regency romances, they're great fun. But, as anyone who knows anything about the period would know, they're also very well researched which is, I think, one of the reasons I enjoy them so much. The way people lived in different periods fascinates me. Remember the Regency House series on television, from the BBC (early reality TV...)? It took a group of people and set them up in a big house in the country to live as people in the Regency period would have during a house party. Some of them were staff, and others were the house guests, all dressed in authentic clothing from the period, eating the food, and engaging with typical pastimes. Things I'd only read about - in Georgette Heyer, of course! - I watched happening over the course of the show.

The fashion is fascinating - the things that are fashionable in different times, and really intriguingly, the parts of the body that are regarded as sexy... The women wore those high waisted dresses dresses that were ankle length. A flash of ankle was a real possibility, which was considered very fast, because there weren't miles of fabric, or floor dragging skirts. But, unlike later in the Victorian period, breasts could be spilling out of low cut bodices, and quite often, they wore very short sleeves. Really flighty young misses were known to damp flimsy evening frocks down so they clung to the contours of their bodies... In contrast, the men seemed to wear inordinate numbers of garments in any one outfit and there were a whole lot of different styles they could adhere to - the Dandies, the Corinthians, and a host of others. A breadth of shoulder and chest, and well shaped calves were much admired. For those not so well built, padding in the shoulders of jackets was incorporated, and their tailors designed very wide lapels to create the illusion of a broad chest. They also - and this cracked me up - padded their calves!

I watched Bright Star again just a week or so ago, the beautiful Jane Campion film about Yeates and his muse Fanny, who was a noted designer and seamstress. They must have had the most wonderful time with the wardrobe for that movie, and it is another, like the most recent film version of Pride and Prejudice with Keira Knightley, where they didn't sanitise it overly. Skirts DO drag in wet grass and muddy puddles, the girls DO struggle to slog through nasty weather with shirts wrapping themselves around their legs, and their hair is just pulled up into little buns when they're at home - the more elaborate braids and curls are reserved for special occasions.

Regency wasn't my best period - spending fifteen years in an opera chorus meant dressing in clothes from all sorts of different eras. My Act II costume for Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin was one of the biggest jokes in the chorus - multiple puffed sleeves, braid trim on every edge, a hat like my Granny's best tea cosy (seriously!) and all in the delightful colour combination of bilious pale green and dull mauve. I did a bit better in the Act III ball gown, which was black with silver sparkles all over it - but it was the hair... I used my own, rather than a wig - it was waist length at the time. The back section was pulled up into a tight, high bun. The front section was parted in the middle and twisted back and around the bun. The crowing glory was the wiglets...tiny combs of glossy ringlets that were tucked in at the sides just behind my temples - they looked like poodle ears!! They were disastrous under the tea cosy. They kind of worked with the ball gown, which was accessorised with lots of sparkly bling, including a small tiara. The photographs have all been packed in box - so sad... - or I could have, maybe, included them in this post...possibly. Then again, possibly not too!!

The memories that every book I read trigger amaze me. Knowing that we never truly forget anything we experience - it's all filed way in there somewhere - doesn't really surface in my mind until I have a random experience that triggers a memory of something that I haven't thought about for many years. Sometimes that's a good thing, sometimes, as a friend of mind said last night while we were chatting, when the past comes back to visit, I just don't want to talk to it!

Georgette Heyer has been on my bookcases for many years. I started with her via the local library and gradually acquired the odd one or two. Then, I had a few years when I kept finding hard covers in second hand book stores. Sadly, they don't seem to be around so much these days, so I don't know whether I'll manage to get hold of the rest of the collection - I have about half of what she wrote.

And now, it's well and truly time for me to sign off and get ready for work - with Heyer in in my bag for the ferry!

Monday, 16 January 2012

Many Books Means Many Boxes....

The move is scheduled for this weekend - argh! My four bookcases measure - in total - two metres by four metres...that's eight square metres of books... To be honest, I'm not sure what's scarier - when you have to think in terms of all the boxes - to look at the square metre-age or how many actual books there are... Actually, I don't want to count them! I am very sure that the teenage boys who are likely going to be on my detail when we get to lugging stuff are going to be all too willing to let me know there are way too many!

On Saturday morning I read in Timepieces Modjeska's essay On Not Owning A Grace Cossington Smith. I think it's my favourite of the whole collection. She chronicles the journey that begins with discovering a small Cossington Smith painting in a Sotherby's catalogue through the budgetary wranglings to arrive at a sum that she could afford to pay, through the internal wranglings about whether it was necessary or not to actually OWN the painting, to the frustrating climax of missing out at auction and the aftermath of the let down... It struck a powerful chord for me the first time I read it. Like Modjeska, although not to the same degree, I'd immersed myself in Cossington Smith's life and paintings - Modjeska did it to write the dual biography, Stravinsky's Lunch, published in 2001. I did it for what was to be the first of a string of history papers about both Cossington Smith and Modjeska herself.

Then, on Saturday afternoon, sorting through one of the piles of papers that I am VERY good at accumulating (my dearly beloved despairs...), I found those history papers and read them through. The two papers specifically about Cossington Smith still stand up very well, and remind me why I like the essay as a genre - both to write and read. I took a big chance with both of them. One is an undergrad piece where Cossington Smith was on a list of women artists for a question that read 'Describe how .... brought Modernism to Australia'. I argued that she didn't. My point was, unlike her contemporaries - Dorrit Black and Margaret Preston who went overseas and then opened schools back in Australia to teach the new modern styles - Cossington Smith's struggle, all her life, was to create a visual language that would enable her to paint things as she saw them. It was a lonely struggle, as she was largely ignored by critics and patrons alike, so that when she was discovered late in her life by Daniel Thomas (then a junior curator at the Art Gallery of NSW), nearly her entire body of work was stacked in the garden shed at the family home in Turramurra. It was then that she was claimed as a great modernist - very much in hindsight.

The second of the papers was a massive leap of I don't know what on my part when I was doing post graduate study. There is often an option on a list of essay questions to 'negotiate your own topic'. Based on my experience of this paper, I have always suggested to my students that they think long and hard before they go down that track.  Studying Australian art history at post grad level, the women artists between the wars came up again, and I wanted to do more work on Cossington Smith, but there wasn't a question there I could use. Because I'd become fascinated by self-portraiture (and that's another very long story....) I decided that I'd like to analyse her great interiors as self portraits. Thing is, she's not in the paintings. Not any of them. They're paintings of the interiors in the family home, Cossington, including many of her bedroom. She had a big wardrobe with mirrors in the doors, and in some of them, given the angle of the mirror, logic argues that you should be able to see her in the reflection , but she's not there...

I still remember the somewhat amused look - that she couldn't quite mask - on my supervisor's face when she said to me, after grilling me for about half an hour on how I proposed to do this paper, "I shall enjoy reading your paper". She, of course, had a much better idea of what I'd bitten off than I did. I was THE hardest paper I've ever written - and I've written a 25,000 word thesis since! The paper was only 2,500 words - an absolute paucity of words, considering the ground I had to cover. I read piles of theory about self portraiture, I surrounded myself in reproductions of the paintings, I read everything I could get my hands on about that stage of Cossington Smith's wok and what she was trying to do - and then I took a deep breath and dived in.... It was SO hard. But, I survived, and I think I did her justice - I hope I did. And, on the bottom of the returned paper, my supervisor said she HAD enjoyed reading it!

I'm a bit preoccupied with the move, with the load at work, with the burden of my freelance assignments. The essays are short bites that I can read and enjoy in entirety. The two novels I'm reading are languishing because I'm finding that I'm too frustrated by the lack of time to settle in to enjoy them in little bits.

Rediscovering my own essays has been kind of fun. Kind of confronting too... But interesting!

And, the thing is, at the big church where I work, there are frescoes in the crypt painted by the Turramurra Painters - one of whom was Grace Cossington Smith. They're one of Sydney's best kept art secrets... So, I have a project awaiting me. Time for more research and another paper. I want a Cossington Smith? Of course I want a Cossington Smith. Am I likely to ever have a Cossington Smith? Very likely not. Modjeska's editor (I think) told her that a fairy penguin was richer than her at the time she was trying to buy the one in the Sotherby's auction - and that was when it was estimated at a possible $12,000-$16,000 (it went for $24,000). These days, the price tag would be so much higher, because people know who she is now, and what she's worth. And that's way more than I have!!

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Old Movies, New Books....

You've Got Mail was on TV last night. It's a weird and spooky thing that there have been so many book related happenings around me since I started this blog. The reality is, they're probably always happening around me, it's just that my awareness of them is heightened.

I do love that movie though. I first saw it in the cinema with a friend who lived next door to me at the time and we went because of our habit of leaving each other notes tucked into each other's respective front doors when the other was out. He's one of the few people I know (including myself) who still writes letters - on pieces of paper, in envelopes, addressed by hand, stamped and sent through the post. While it is a delightful romcom - and what's not to like about Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks??? - there is the underlying story of the independent bookshop up against the big mega bookshop chain. I can't remember exactly when Borders first hit Australia, but clearly it's what Fox Books in the movie is based on - with the couches, armchairs and cafe, in addition to the many, many books in stock. I found it ironic to reflect, while watching the movie last night, on the recent demise of Borders. For all the justification of greater stock availability, better prices and more discounts, it seems that bigger doesn't necessarily mean longevity. Obviously, there are probably whole bookcases of factors behind Borders going under, but while the convenience of their stores was undoubtedly a plus, I have to admit I gave a cheer for the small independent bookshops who would benefit.

Our local bookshop is called Oscar and Friends. My second admission of the day has to be that I was there earlier today...and my bookcases have a new resident. This book is a kind of blind date, in that it doesn't actually have a blurb. But, based on the small bites from the reviews on the back cover and that it is an English translation from the original Hebrew of a new book about contemporary Israel, and I'd been craving something new and Jewish, I bought it. It was also under $30 and over 300 pages, so that's excellent value for money!

Oscar and Friends isn't a large shop. It's on a corner, opposite my favourite local cafe. It has a couple of very comfy armchairs tucked in between the bookcases, and a tiny table and chairs in the middle of the children's section - which is mostly furnished with child height bookcases. There are no plastic carry bags for your purchase, the staff ask whether you would like a paper bag for your new books. And, they have a loyalty card, so you get a discount after you've bought ten books. The stock is eclectic - there is a small supply of best sellers, but there is always a selection of really interesting unexpected offerings, like the book I bought today, A Pigeon and a Boy by Meir Shalev.

I'm still reading Timepieces. I'm forcing myself to take my time with it for a change, instead of gobbling madly. Now that I'm back at work, the pace of my time has increased by some horrible increment, and the imminent move doesn't help the sense of urgency in each day, so moving gently through Modjeska's elegant prose is a way of slowing down and taking the time to savour the care with which it was written.

Kathleen - Meg Ryan's character in You've Got Mail says when you read a book as a child it becomes a part of your identity like no other reading does. I have a handful of titles like that: The Diary of Anne Frank, The Hobbit, The Silver Sword, Black Beauty, Seven Little Australians and The Silver Brumby. But I don't know that that experience is necessarily confined to childhood. Maybe it's just that I've read compulsively all my life, but at every point of my life, in amongst the piles of books I've worked my way through, there have been some books that have had significant impact - that now form the backbone of my collection. Perhaps it's a legacy of having a mind that can immerse itself totally in the book I'm reading at the time, inhabiting the world of the narrative, becoming part of someone else's story - and sometimes, that is an experience that remains long after finishing a particular book.

Reading Timepieces is a bit like that. I've just read the essay where Modjeska writes about reading Poppy, her autobiographical novel that explores her relationship with her mother. My mother gave me my copy of Poppy, it was the first of Modjeska's books I read. I wrote reams in the journal I was keeping at the time in response to what I was reading, including repeatedly pondering about why exactly my mother had given me that particular book. We never really did have that conversation so I'll never know if she had some underlying motivation other than to gift me a beautiful book. Reading the back story in the essay is fascinating. It's not often we are privileged to get a glimpse of what is behind a book.

I still have this week's assignment to wrap up - nearly there, but not quite - and there is packing to start thinking about. But, there will be necessary down times and now that I have a new book waiting to be explored, I feel as if - imminent chaos notwithstanding - all is well with my world!

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Crazy Wednesday

Crazy Wednesday is a regular feature of my working week, and today was the first one for 2012. Last week didn't count because many of the elements that make it crazy were absent due to the semi holiday nature of the first week of January. Today offered up almost the whole raft of possibilities: the first staff meeting of the year, the first lunchtime concert, two liturgical books to get prepared because January is the season of the orchestral mass, and a major publication in the making... Still missing was the insert for the Evensong service book, because Evensong doesn't happen in January, and my editorial meeting for the monthly magazine, because the person I meet with was out of the office...

It means that there is a level of brain deadness that has interfered with my usually insatiable appetite for a book - I've read too much stuff all day. I've also sat in front of a computer screen for too long today already, so writing this post makes no sense on many levels. However, I've just written two elements of this weeks writing assignment for my freelancing work, and there are a few more to push through this evening so the whole thing will be halfway finished before lights out, and this is a combination of a break, distraction and procrastination!

We are going to be moving soon. There are a number of factors contributing to this. It will be OK, something of an adventure, and a potential major step ahead for us. However, when it became certain that it would have to happen, I started eyeing the bookcases thinking, for the umpteenth time, oh we go again.... My eldest son, years ago during one move, was heard to spit - while on one end of a large oak table - "why couldn't you have collected feathers and painted watercolours?" He'd already shifted countless crates of books, a trailer load of terracotta clay, innumerable large clay sculptures and pots, and half a house full of antique furniture.... He probably has a valid point. At his apartment at the moment are three of my artworks and a large crate of photographs - brought from interstate from my aunt's place after her death. And so it continues...

As my dearly beloved said to me tonight, the books are part of who I am. Most of our stuff will be going into storage. If everything works out as we're planning, we'll be moving into a house that we will be renovating. That means we will need to keep our stuff to a minimum because the less stuff we have in the place, the easier it will be to work around. I was having cold chills at the thought of packing the books away for the 6-9 months it may take to do this project. None of my best friends within reach for all that time...?? Not to be contemplated really. And then there's the practical reality that they actually take up less room stacked in the bookcases than packed in boxes - scary thought. So, the books are coming with us - we'll just have to try and plan it so that they only need to be moved once after we're in.

I remember the first time I disembowelled all my bookcases at once to completely reorganise them. They took up the entire living room floor - the WHOLE floor. I was picking my way on tip toes between them all to get from one side of the room to the other. It was frightening - and VERY reassuring to have them all stacked back in their shelves flat against the wall, with only a 30cm footprint along the length of the wall! It's funny how a whole wall of bookcases can look both impressive and quite reasonable. It's totally not funny seeing an entire floor disappear under the same collection....

My absolute fantasy is to own a house with a library - a whole room just for my books, with built in floor to ceiling timber bookcases. With one of those ladders on runners. A cosy couch for curling up in. A beautiful rug and floor cushions for sprawling out with the big art books. A fireplace would be lovely. A deep, cushion filled window seat would be a bonus. But the most basic requirement is that it have four walls, high ceilings and its own door. I'd love a set of French doors out to a terrace too, but that would start to interfere significantly with the wall space - and that really does have to come first. So, perhaps there needs to be a plan for French doors somewhere else in the house!

I don't make New Year's resolutions, but I have made a few decisions about things I'd like to do better this year. One is to reorder the bookcases - because I've moved between three much unloved apartments in the last six years and after getting through the basics of unpacking, I've not done all the refining bits - like getting the books sorted and into alphabetical order within their categories. This will change. I WILL house the books properly when we move, and get them back where they can talk to each other in their familiar groups again. In my bones, I feel that it is a small step towards achieving that library.

PS...anyone who wants to come help me pack the books would be most welcome -  the activity can be fueled with good wine!

PPS Friend of mine posted this on Facebook tonight, had to drop it in here, it's just too perfect!

Monday, 9 January 2012

Have book, will travel.

One thing I forgot when I hauled the Dan Brown off the bookshelf yesterday morning was just how big it is - I bought it just after it was released, so it's the whacking great big hardcover edition with the dust jacket. Not so good for tucking in my bag this morning for the commute on the ferry... So I had one of those frantic, OMG what am I going to read moments when I really needed to be walking out the door - because the ferry does not wait!

I picked up Drusilla Modjeska's Timepieces, a collection of essays published in 2002. A timepiece, as she explains in the opening essay - which was written for this book, as opposed to the rest which she pulled out of her files - is a miniature chest or cabinet made by a cabinetmaker's apprentice at the end of his apprenticeship as a gift to his master. She makes the point that writers rarely have single teachers, and that writing a piece in direct imitation of another writer's work would be unlikely to be seen as a complement. However, in reworking a collection of essays written over a lengthy period of time, she revisits different writers who have inspired her so I think the essays can be seen as something akin to timepieces.

I like essays. I like writing essays - something most of my fellow students at art school really didn't get! I like the discipline of having to deal with a particular question or issue within a set framework and word limit. I also like breaking the rules when I think I can get away with it. I still remember having a marker criticise my use of an Ethel Turner quote in a history essay - she said it wasn't an appropriate academic reference. It was, in my view, totally appropriate within the context of my discussion...

Like Modjeska, I have a file of essays stashed away. I find them periodically, usually when I'm moving house yet again, and justify the break in packing by telling myself I NEED to read them because I need to check and see if they're worth packing and adding to the boxes I cart from place to place or whether I can ditch them and maybe save a box. Needless to say, I still have them. I may do something with them one day...maybe. They could do with tidying up, but on the whole, they're not a bad collection. There are also a few still trapped on floppy discs that I carefully stored away pending a chance to pop them into a computer that still has a floppy disc drive - if I can find one - because I don't seem to have hard copies of them anywhere!

Modjeska has always been one of my biggest inspirations as a writer. At art school, when our advanced diploma course got upgraded to a degree, we were confronted with business subjects. I can't remember quite what the units were, but there were two big writing projects that required us to explore the connections between our work and that of another artist - and writers were on the list of possible choices. Because I am a cross disciplined creative type, I rarely work entirely within a single medium, and as a book junkie, this was right up my alley. I did both projects with Modjeska and her writing as the central inspiration because without exception, whenever I read her work - any of the books (and I have all of them) - I find myself enormously motivated to write, and that often triggers other creative processes.

I also realised this morning, reading Dan Brown with my breakfast, that there are a number of things about his writing that have begun to irritate me, so I'm not sure if I'll make it through the re-reading of his book - which might mean that the book goes west to make bookcase space for something else. I have a rule - to try and stem the compulsion to just keep adding to the bookcases without any sort of discipline - that unless a work of fiction gets re-read within the year, it has to go. I think too, that the surfeit of bloody (used as an adjective rather than an expletive) violence on the television these days has left me rather less than enthused about this tale that is marked throughout with acts of fairly nasty violence. I don't need that kind of imagery floating around my head in the wee small hours.

I am hearing the call of the book shops - I do need a new story!

Saturday, 7 January 2012

What to Read...?

The trouble with a lot of re-reading is that there's really only so long that it's possible to keep pulling well known books out of the bookshelf before the need - yes, NEED - for a new story starts to intrude on the pleasures of the old and familiar.

I think I struck that last night. To make a change of pace from my steady diet of children's books over the last week or so, I got out John Wyndham's Consider Her Ways. It's an anthology of his short stories. For those not familiar with his name, he also wrote The Day of the Triffids, of which there are a few film versions and a good television mini series. I'm not generally a fan of the short story - I find them frustrating. Just as I'm getting my teeth into the guts of the narrative, it finishes and I find myself wanting more. My mother loved them and bought me a number of different anthologies over the years, which I've dipped in and out of occasionally, but the only ones I ever come back to are Wyndham's. The man is diabolically clever. His particular brand of science fiction predates a lot of the tech heavy that has become more characteristic of the genre, and focuses instead on the human condition within a range of quite peculiar scenarios, so it's far more possible to imagine being some of his protagonists - unlike the fantasy aspect of more common brands of science fiction - that feels especially pertinent, having watched the latest Star Trek movie on DVD last night. Some of the stories are really creepy and it's almost a relief to reach the end.

Last night though, I couldn't get hooked like I usually do with his writing. What I'd really love is to stumble across a Wyndham I've never read but, alas, with the exception of a second anthology of short stories which I've read but don't own, I have all his books - now mostly out of print I think. And the dear man went and died, so there can be no more.

So, this morning while my pot of tea was brewing, I went back to the bookshelf. I ended up with Dan Brown's most recent book, The Lost Symbol, published in 2009. I'd read The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons, and seen the films, but had somehow missed this one coming out.  In a shift from his focus on the Catholic church and associated - or not, depending on your point of view - organisations, this one is centred around Freemasonry. I bought my copy because I'd been commissioned to write two chapters for an Australian book on Freemasonry (Real Men Wear Aprons edited by Peter Lazar) that was being timed for release at the same time to counter any possible negative impact for Freemasons. I thought I'd better read it as part of my research - plus, I got to claim the purchase price on my tax as it had been bought for work. Bonus!! In the event, Brown presents the Masons with accuracy and a level of sensitivity and the people I was working with were quite relieved.

I'm well into the first chapter, but that niggle about needing something new is still alive and well. There are two new books in the house - gifts from me to my partner and his son. As every book junkie knows, any book is fair game, even if someone is already reading it... One is fiction - Cormac McCarthy's The Road - which my stepson thought was about vampires after reading the blurb, but has discovered is not... The other is what looks to be a fascinating collaboration between a rabbi and an art historian, The Sistine Secrets: Michelangelo's Forbidden Messages in the Heart of the Vatican by Benjamin Blech and Roy Doliner. I am on the receiving end of tantalising fragments that are read out loud to me, followed by "oh, but I guess you'd like to read it yourself"... Now, I didn't, contrary to popular belief, buy that book for myself. I bought it for him. The Renaissance isn't really my period. However, it's a book. An art book. Commentary. And, yes, I want to read it! While I wait, I will settle to Brown's yarn about Robert Langdon and the Masons...

Book Junkies in the Age of the E-Book...

I just watched Julie and Julia again, and Julie's husband says to her that the great thing about a blog is that you don't - as a writer - need to worry about publishers and agents and stuff...all you have to do is write and then click 'publish'. And he's, I have to ask myself, having set up this blog six months ago, why it is that it's taken me so long to actually write the first post.

The idea of this blog was to track what I read. Why?

My younger son reads books on his mobile phone. One of my interstate friends has Kindle (that's a small tablet, right...?). A few others have iPads and get their books that way. Me, I have the real article. Lots of them. My most recent book purchase was two weeks ago, and the only reason I haven't bought any since then is that I've forced myself to walk past bookshop doorways instead of going in.

So, once again, I'm re-reading, which confounds my partner but is an activity understood by the true book junkie. I'm also comfort reading - instantly recognisable by anyone who knows both me and my book collection: White Boots and the Gemma series by Noel Streatfield. They are remarkably fresh - having been written sometime back in the late fifties, early sixties. The children are real, have tantrums and fights with each other, have goals and aspirations that they strive to achieve. They have parents who struggle to both understand children who want to do sometimes unexpected things, and how to find the funds to support their endeavours. I loved them as a kid, and from an adult perspective they still hold considerable charm.

Incidentally - I recently stumbled over a new film version of Streatfield's Ballet Shoes, with Emily Watson as Pauline. It's beautifully made so for Streatfield fans out there, go hassle your local DVD store (where I found it...) for a copy and sit down with it one weekend afternoon.

Some of my children's literature collection are my own books, kept since childhood. Others I've collected over many years since. When I'm tired, or life is particularly challenging, they are like my bread and butter pudding reading; the stories are straightforward, the issues are simple, the characters are accessible and, most importantly, everything works out OK in the end. I had a freelance writing assignment this week, coinciding with my return to work, so the books were what I picked up in between bouts of writing - the charm and innocence, coupled with lovely, quality writing offered brief periods of nurturing in between the drudgery of the assignment, but because they are so familiar, it's possible to read for ten or fifteen minutes then put them down again and get on with the work. 

I think I've had my fill of Streatfield for now, and I finished the last of the Gemma books this afternoon. I'm heading for bed soon, which means combing the bookcases for something to read before lights out.

Which takes me back to where I started with this - I can go to my bookcase and pull a book off the shelf. A book that is soft with the wear of many readings. A book that sometimes drops odd notes, loose photos or forgotten bookmarks from between its pages. A book that has a smell and feel that is familiar. I spend hours in front of computer screens for my work, and I can't imagine reading a book on a computer, a kindle, an iPad or a phone... All the protestations from my friends who do about the convenience are unlikely to convert me. I like my books. And, it's pay week next week, so I may be able to allow myself to step across the threshold of my local independent bookstore to see what new treasure might like to join the collection.