Em and Stu do America part 14: Edward Abbey’s West

The canyonlands. The slickrock desert. The red dust and the burnt cliffs and the lonely sky – all that which lies beyond the end of the roads.

Edward Abbey

Aim

Outrun winter, see 10 national parks in three weeks, focusing particularly on the ‘canyon country’ as described by iconic American writer Edward Abbey.

A new moon over southern Montana

A new moon rises at dusk over southern Montana.

 

Itinerary

Start: Las Vegas (a sort of man-made Grand Canyon of 100% neon)
California: Death Valley, Sequoia, Yosemite
Crossing Nevada on Hwy 50, “The Loneliest Road”.
Utah: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Capitol Reef
Colorado: Rocky Mountain
Wyoming: Grand Teton, Yellowstone
Now too cold to camp (we drew the line when it dropped below 0C at night) so driving across Montana, Idaho and Washington and staying in crusty motels.
End: Vancouver, for a brief Moraday family reunion

The ancient sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

The sculpted landforms of Death Valley, Nevada

New team members:

Cheap-arse Walmart tent, with related camping accessories
The Grey Goose, a compact four-cylinder Chevy, our home until we go home.

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park

Our little tent pitched on the banks of the Colorado just outside Arches national park.

We did it, and had an amazing time. But man, America is a weird land of contradictions…

Even in the shoulder season, when temperatures at night weren’t far over freezing, it’s not like Australia where you casually rock up at a reasonable hour and snag yourself a campsite. While this was possible in some parks, competition for campsites and even just on the roads at America’s most beloved and famous national parks is intense. Yosemite got five million visitors last year. That’s nearly 14,000 people PER DAY. I don’t know how that is even possible. Zion got more than four million. No wonder some of the roads and campsites are getting, as the Park Service describes it, “loved to death”.

In Yosemite campgrounds are all solidly booked, seemingly months in advance. You must rely on a lottery of the cancellations, called out at 3pm. We were lucky to snag a spot for one night this way but we had planned to stay two. So the system dictated we rise at 6.30am, pack up the entire camp into the car and turn up at the office at 7.30am, waiting in line to put our names down. Then we had til 3pm to do our hiking for the day, because we had to be back at 3pm sharp to hear the lottery results. Then it’s go and set up for the second night.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

Yosemite: crazy busy, but totally worth it.

At Zion, we turned up in the morning and waited in line for an hour and only just snagged a site in an “overflow” site. To stay a second night in the morning we had to pack up camp and get in “line” in our car at 5.30am. And there were plenty of people in front of us. We got confirmed for a second night by 8am, but those behind us got turned away. We then moved everything to a new site.

Every single park we visited bar one had major roadworks and we spent gobs of time sitting in our stationary car, looking out at bobcats throwing about tons of the good green Earth we came to see. While you can see American wilderness by hiking overnight into the backcountry, if you are “car camping” you are never going to get much in the way of wilderness. I was still wearing earplugs at night to block out highway noise in basically every place we camped.

Camping in the car in order to snag... a camp.

Camping out overnight in line for… a campsite?

In other words, the Americans, bless them, have somehow managed to make camping stressful!

We were conscious of being ‘part of the problem’, too, having set ourselves this task of seeing so many parks in such a short time, the only way of doing so being pounding serious pavement.

We were so conscious because of our reading of the seminal western wilderness work Desert Solitaire. Author Edward Abbey spent several years as ranger at Arches National Monument (now Park) in the 1950s and the book chronicles that time. It’s a moving, profound meditation on the nature of the desert and man’s place in it. By turns it’s also an angry, misanthropic manifesto against humanity’s apparent commitment to ruining the land at all costs, most notably by ensuring we pave big fat highways across sensitive areas to allow people to “see nature” without getting out of their cars. It should be noted Abbey’s so famous in the west the National Park Service still sells his books in the parks gift shops, despite the irony that his book is a withering condemnation of humanity in general and the Park Service in particular. I’m sure Abbey’s rolling in his grave to see his books being sold in the kind of massive visitor centres he never lived to see, but so gloomily predicted.

Pretending to be Edward Abbey.

Attempting to commune with the spirit of Abbey (despite his explicit instructions to the contrary).

With his voice ringing in our ears we did our best to feel the soul of the country he loved by getting out of our car as much as we could. We climbed to the top of Vernal Falls and beyond in Yosemite, a breathtaking hike (literally, ha!)

We climbed the challenging Primitive Trail to Double O Arch in Abbey’s beloved Arches.

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

See Stu rappelling down the wall?

Just outside the Arches boundaries we tasted the thrills of canyoneering, rappelling down 90 feet into Ephedras Grotto then into the canyon beneath Morning Glory, the world’s sixth-largest natural land bridge. The reward for such bravery was sweet: filling our flasks at a sweet-tasting spring, then hiking out next to the beautiful stream it became, all the way to our gorgeous campsite on the Colorado River. We did a three-hour horseback ride through Bryce Canyon. We climbed to Emerald Lake at Rocky Mountain, playing in the snow like children.

The blue skies of Utah over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Utah sky beams blue over Bryce Canyon. Best viewed on horseback.

Most memorably of all, we did a six-hour round trip hike through The Narrows at Utah’s incredibly beautiful Zion National Park. This required hiring full gear – canyoneering boots, dry pants, wooden poles – as the hike is through the cold (6C), swiftly moving Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon. It’s at times up to your mid-thigh and can sweep you off your feet if you make one misstep. This was an incredibly special hike, a unique experience.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

Breathtaking lake hike in the Rocky Mountain National Park.

This whole time was a treasure for us, though it wasn’t easy. We were dealing with abrupt climate changes, freezing nights, difficult hikes, long drives and pulling the tent up and down nearly every day. But the teamwork required brought us closer together, and the mind-boggling beauty that unfolded before us each day brought continual delight. We spent whole hours in the car idiotically repeating “Wow!” and “Oh, wow!”

The Narrows, a challenging hike upstream through the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Us in The Narrows, upstream along the Virgin River at the bottom of Zion Canyon.

Our joy in these places, and that of all our fellow American hikers and campers, led us to conclude that despite our differences, inside we all yearn for the sense of transcendence and connection these places give us. We can only hope and pray the US government can find a sustainable way to manage the massive (and growing) demand. And that the wider world, in designing and infilling its cities, remembers this thirst for nature that remains universal and unquenched inside the human heart.

UTAH ROCKS!

UTAH ROCKS! Em at Delicate Arch.

StuMobservations: Camping

  • 3 days of Vegas and we rent a car, buy sleeping bags and a tent, load up on supplies and flee back out to nature.
  • 10 National Parks makes for a lot of good camping.
  • Walking upstream with dry pants and poles is heaps fun.
  • Walking to the top of a waterfall is heaps fun.
  • Walking through massive trees is heaps fun.
  • Walking around rock formations is heaps fun.
  • Walking up and around mountains is heaps fun.
  • Walking through snow is heaps wet/fun.
  • Rappelling down canyons is heaps fun.
  • Riding horses through canyons is heaps fun.
  • Driving in a snowstorm is scary/fun.
  • S’mores by campfire are incredible.
  • Utah Rocks!
  • 100% of National Parks are ‘under construction’.
  • That point where $5US for a shower sounds reasonable.

Recommended campsites and suppliers*

Furnace Creek, Death Valley NP
Tehachapi Mountain SP
Potwisha campground, Sequoia NP
Lower Pines, Yosemite NP
KOA campground, Cedar City, Utah
South campground, Zion NP
Ruby’s campground, just outside Bryce Canyon
Granstaff campground, just outside Arches – the winner for sheer beauty
Union Reservoir, Longmont, Colorado

Moab Adventure Center (canyoneering outside Arches)
Canyon Trail Rides (Bryce Canyon)
Zion Adventure Company (Narrows outfitters)
Enterprise car rental (the only place that allowed a two-month solid car rental, a cheap one-way drop off fee and for us to be able to drive all over the US and Canada. Suffice to say this was a VERY difficult thing to find).

*We paid full price for all these, so consider the recommendation unbiased!

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Em and Stu do America part 9: Miami Beach

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

This is Miami. Even your bike has to look good.

We’ve fled Florida and the Miami Beach we describe will be sadly damaged. Residents just got let back in to see their homes today. But we thought we’d do this post anyway to encourage – eventually – tourism dollars back to the area when the time comes.

We had planned eight nights in Miami and chose to stay on Miami Beach, specifically South Beach. Miami Beach is actually an island off downtown Miami and South Beach is the portion of it that the rest of the world imagines when it imagines Miami: the palm trees, Art Deco, fancy vintage cars parked on the streets, sun-bronzed people on rollerblades, neon and nightlife. We chose to stay “where the action is”, conveniently forgetting we are old farts in training who don’t appreciate “action”.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

The deco district. A tourist trap, but such a pretty one.

Miami Beach is expensive, and our inability to find somewhere close to South Beach within our budget led to our first negative AirBnB experience. We’ll save the hair-raising stories for home, but advise anyone needing budget accommodation in the area to search well in advance and take precautions. We would also recommend avoiding the Instant Book feature – take time to message the host first and check them out.

Miami Beach is scorching hot. Temperatures climbed above 37C by 10am. I have yearned throughout many muggy, cloudy eastern states for blue skies and white sand, a real summer holiday, but I realised that Miami, far closer to Cuba culturally than it is to the rest of Florida, is also a climate unto itself, with us arriving in the wet season, rather than summer as I understand summer.

Green lizard!

Green lizard!

Miami is exotic. Extreme humidity and frequent rainstorms allow for thick, lush vegetation, tropical flowers and palms everywhere, the smell of wet greenery thick in the air, lizards scattering at your feet; tiny ones, big ones, curly-tailed ones, bright green ones. There is a World Erotic Art Museum and gorgeous old art deco architecture everywhere, the preservation of low-rise heritage buildings throughout most of South Beach adding to the feeling that you have left the United States far behind. The famous South Beach itself is, to give credit where it’s due, the first Australian-quality beach seen so far in terms of white sand and clear water, though the water is very warm.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

White sand, warm water, hot bodies.

Looks are vital. The stores have big-breasted mannequins, and mannequins of little doggies to display the clothing choices for your doggy accessory. People-watching should be done in the afternoons and evenings. Before midday, empty streets are peopled by tourists, recognisable by their protective hats and clothing (residents walk around wearing as little as possible to prevent tan lines forming). We concluded locals have more in common with the lizards everywhere than they did with us – protected by their browned skins, they waited until the sun warmed their blood before hitting the streets each day.

But when they do it’s a sight to behold and they quite agree, taking so many selfies you’re as much at risk of collision on the sidewalk as you are on a street. They work out, half-naked, on full outdoor extreme gym equipment in the sun, doing one-armed pushups on baking rocks and sand. And bars and restaurants are all open virtually 24 hours, maybe to relieve the stress of looking so good. One Cuban we talked to, Jeffrey, said the women in Cuba were “needy”, explaining he meant expensive, needing a lot of investment in their hair and nails.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

Where dogs are a fashion accessory.

On Miami Beach we spotted lots of bare slow-cooking boobies, one skin-diver-suited man with a metal detector, one particularly gorgeous siren of a woman taking selfies with a full-on tripod and SLR setup, and of course, plenty of ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ situations, in which hapless men contort themselves trying to take the pictures their women require for social media.

One example was an older man in his 60s being instructed in photography by two girls in bikinis. Whether he knew them was unclear. Stu and I observed closely and are able to report for you the rules for looking hot in a photo (Emma models these in the gallery below):

  1. Pop butt upwards and forwards
  2. Somehow keep front knee bent?
  3. Ah! It’s by keeping feet together.
  4. Twist so boobs and butt face same direction
  5. Pout.
  6. Repeat until satisfied.
The only place I've ever seen a DD mannequin.

The only place I’ve ever seen a DD mannequin.

I also witnessed a hilarious ‘boyfriends of Instagram’ incident when I went kayaking around the Sunset Islands, four little islands in Sunset Bay off the main island. These are some of Miami Beach’s most exclusive addresses, home to the rich and famous. The immense, mostly Mediterranean-style homes are big enough to serve as hotels. Most are worth $15 million plus and one, the former home of Lenny Kravitz, sold last year for $25 million. It was a peaceful and beautiful time, me dragging my feet in the cool water, contemplating how much nicer it was to kayak past such a mansion on a Monday morning, instead of working to pay for one.

Presently I was joined by a man and woman on stand-up paddleboards. The woman gave the phone to her boyfriend to snap photos of her from behind. Geez, she looked gorgeous, slender and bronzed in a blue bikini, paddling between towering mansions, a Velcro strap around one tanned and toned ankle, blonde blow-waved hair shining as it fell past her waist.

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Check out the size of the boats behind me!

Her boyfriend did his best to capture this moment on the phone as instructed as well as paddle to keep up with her. For my part, I tried to get my kayak as far to the edge of the canal as possible so that I wouldn’t wreck the shot.

My short kayak and I passed easily under the low bridge between two of the islands. The guy was busy checking he’d got the shot; the blonde, preoccupied, did not see the giant metre-wide pylons she was headed for and got knocked clean off the paddleboard, landing in the water with an almighty splash.

I managed not to giggle as I asked her if she was OK. I felt for her, losing that nice blow-wave, but I also knew that Miami Beach features “blow bars” where you can go and have cocktails mixed for you while people blow-dry your hair.

Super-chill Miami - the lovely bloke at South Beach Kayak skaeboards back and forth to the water with the kayaks.

The super-chill bloke at South Beach Kayak skateboards to and from the water with the kayaks.

But enough about the eye candy when there is food to be discussed. We ate and cooked as much Cuban food as possible: Cuban sandwiches (Cuban bread, ham, roast pork, cheese, pickles; Juji, it really depends on where you get them); Cuban espresso (Juji we couldn’t tell the difference between this and regular espresso).

We ate empanadas, linden flower tea, yuca fries, stuffed yuca, various meats with black beans and rice, guava pastelito (pastry), enormous avocados, tamales, cheap mangoes, street corner empanadas and plantains in all sorts of guises, sweet and savoury, including tostones.

We can recommend the Cuban and Cuban-inspired food at the Ocean Deli (cheap), Havana 1957 (mid-range), Puerto Sagua (cheap), The Cafe at Books & Books (expensive, but a great take on the Cuban sandwich, and the bookshop itself excellent) and Mas Cuba (mid-range).

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner.

Despite the use of non-regulation bread, or perhaps because of it, we found The Cafe at Books & Books was the clear winner for the Cuban sanger. That’s yuca fries in the background.

But the highlight was Moreno’s, owned by singer Jorge Moreno. It’s hard to find. You have to walk through the driveway of the Dorchester hotel and pass beneath an enormous twisty tropical tree that frames the restaurant awesomely but also shields it from the street. It outshone everything with its pastelito, its Imperial Rice – a must-have! – and its live Cuban band. A word of warning – it recently moved from its old location which has now been occupied by Mas Cuba, which has remarkably similar signage and styling to Moreno’s. We would urge visitors to ensure they seek out Moreno’s.

Another tip for tourists seeking nice bars and hangouts away from the hustle of South Beach – we found this No Nonsense Guide to Doing South Beach like a Local, invaluable.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

Miami looks good, but it tastes better.

The charms of Miami Beach take some time and detective work to uncover if you aren’t born to party and are on a strict budget. But once the place is back on its feet, we would encourage you to visit – it’s totally worth it.

StuMobservations: Miami Beach

  • The buildings are like an 80’s version of the future.
  • Rollerblading down Ocean Drive in shorts is acceptable if you have your own soundtrack.
  • $17US + tip for a bourbon and coke – not cool bro.
  • It’s like Bali but with black beans.
  • Do not put solids in my drink. #Mojito
  • Are selfies a hobby/sport/activity now?
  • I do not like pina colatas or getting caught in the rain.
  • Sex museums should have blank walls for time-outs/regrouping/safe eye-contact.
  • Miami Beach = 50% Eat and Drink, 25% Drink, 12.5% Eat, 12.5% Sleep.
  • Airbnb hosts ARE obligated to provide clean bedding.
  • Cuban food is now called Stuban food. (See Cuban Sandwich).
Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

Stu with a $25 bourbon and Coke. We misread the menu. Note his forced smile.

What we’re reading
Em: The Hostile Hospital, Lemony Snicket; French Women Don’t Get Fat, Mireille Guiliano; The Magic World, E. Nesbit
Stu: Blood of Requiem, Daniel Arenson

What we’re listening to
A southern crash course: Joe Mullins and the Radio Ramblers, Riders in the Sky, Elvis Presley

What we’re watching
Today we’re going to the movies to see IT! Very excited…

Performance-enhancing book: Tim Ferriss’ Tools of Titans

the-tim-ferriss-show-podcast

Tim Ferriss and trusty steed Laura keep me inspired and happy through each and every commute. 

Just as with fiction I tend to fall down the rabbit hole, I get excited when I find a good resource covering one of my more “real” areas of obsession.

I find a new font of inspiration and information and sort of suck them dry like a vampire, until I have consumed everything they have to say and grown stronger. Hmm, perhaps more of a parasite.
Unflattering self-depictions aside, recent examples include the financial freedom blog of Mr Money Mustache (nearly 500 posts, worked through gluttonously and chronologically) and the 100-odd hours of The Minimalists’ podcasts so far released.
Eventually, I find, I absorb the message. I’m converted. I get it. I know the Minimalists’ stories and catchphrases so well I listen to them more like a soothing old bedtime story now than a source of excitement. I’ve done the projectsjoined the cult.
But a slightly different case is the Tim Ferriss Show,  the podcast in which optimisation junkie Ferriss conducts long-form interviews with the world’s top performers across myriad fields, deconstructing their habits and back-stories in an effort to find out what habits lead to success.
Ferriss is also author of business classic The Four-Hour Workweek, health hacker bible The Four-Hour Body and learning-method deconstruction The Four-Hour Chef. He is so adored it’s sometimes hard to tell who’s more star-struck, him or his famous guests.
(Imagine my delight, incidentally, when finally my nerd prayers were answered this week and Ferriss bowed to fan pressure to interview Mr Money Mustache in the latest episode).
This show never gets old and never runs out. You never learn it all. It’s the personal development equivalent of a gold mine that runs to the other side of the earth. You could never hope to read all the books recommended, follow up all the little side routes and innovations you hear about. I’ve read two of the books, bits of the others and listened to more than 200 hours of interviews and yet feel I’ve barely scratched the surface.
I have the books on Kindle, but am planning to buck my own minimalist trends and buy them in hard copy to keep for more easy and frequent referencing. And throughout the interviews, there are certainly common themes, but there is far more variation than there is repetition, and the recurrences are, in themselves, fascinating.

This was the reasoning behind the book, an attempt by Ferriss to capture and distill the best of all his interviews thus far, and draw the connections between them. I approached it with greedy anticipation, having bought it for myself as a Christmas present (though I had to get it on Kindle, the city bookstores having sold out).

It’s a diamond-hard read without an ounce of fat, and includes plenty of new material and insight into Ferriss’ personal struggles. But a word of warning: don’t bother if you’re not seriously into personal challenges and life-hacking. Otherwise it will quickly overwhelm. Even a medium-level devotee such as I found many of the concepts covered (it is divided into sections Healthy, Wealthy and Wise) too advanced for me, at least in terms of finance, exercise, diet and biomedical science. But even if you skim over parts, that, he says, is the way he intends the book to be read. More like a buffet than a three-course meal (my words, not his).
And it’s endlessly stimulating. I love knowing there is always more out there to learn, about people, the capacity of an individual mind and body to reach extreme performance. It’s humorous and fast-paced, and at 700-odd pages, you can skim the parts you’re not up for yet without feeling like you’re not getting bang for your buck.
Cool features include a comprehensive reading list from each interviewee, and a cartooned spirit animal for each based on how they imagine themselves. My advice is get it in hard copy, devour it for fun, then go back and drill down.
Happy nerding!

Hercule Poirot is alive and well in The Monogram Murders

hannah-monogram-murdersI was dubious when I heard modern crime writer Sophie Hannah was approved by the descendants of Agatha Christie to resurrect her detective Hercule Poirot, beloved by many.
So dubious I avoided it on its release in 2014. I read positive reviews, which mentioned Hannah’s chops as a crime writer, her love of all things Poirot and her faithful promise she  would cut no corners in dusting him off for a new case.
This was good enough for the family, but inexplicably still not good enough for me, so I just eyed it suspiciously in bookshops every time I passed it, stroking the cover creepily but still not quite trusting.
I love Poirot, OK?
Dipping my toe in, I assessed Hannah’s skills by reading her Kind of Cruel, which I found highly satisfactory, twisty and mucky like all good crime.
Finally took the plunge on The Monogram Murders and – ! – was not disappointed.
This has the wit and psychological insight Hannah clearly already commands, and that obviously made her an ideal choice for the project.
It’s also, more importantly, so spot-on rendition of Poirot that – and I feel disloyal, but – I just can’t tell the difference. I can actually hear David Suchet speaking the lines. The rhythm, the cadence, the humour; all perfect.
It’s uncanny, as though the Belgian detective, quirks, mannerisms, wardrobe and all, has stepped prissily from the yellowed pages of Agatha Christie into another woman’s book, where he is rendered in loving, lifelike detail and doesn’t even have the grace to look embarrassed.
Strait-laced young detective Catchpool makes a good solid foil, just the kind Poirot needs to shine. The murders, too are very Christie. Three corpses are found laid out in three different rooms of the same hotel, each with a monogrammed cufflink in his or her mouth.
The plot is full of classic Christie tropes and features, though I will not say what they were for fear of spoilers, and is quite as convoluted and macabre as Christie at her nastiest.
Yet nothing feels contrived or formulaic. It does not feel exactly like Christie and yet I could not put my finger on any difference. You can feel the confidence and the the fun the author has had, and it is infectious. A joy to read.
I’ve caught up just in time – the family must have been happy, too, because her second Poirot mystery, Closed Casket, is now on shelves. Hurrah!

Doctors return to court to force six-year-old’s cancer treatment

Oshin Kiszko's mother Angela says she wants him to have peace, love and fun times while he is still physically able to. Photo: Elle Borgward

Oshin Kiszko’s mother Angela says she wants him to have peace, love and fun times while he is still physically able to. Photo: Elle Borgward

The parents of a Perth boy with aggressive brain cancer are set for another legal fight with doctors from Princess Margaret Hospital.

The medical team will take Angela Kiszko and Colin Strachan to court again on Thursday in a bid to step up chemotherapy and introduce radiation treatment for six-year-old Oshin, while his parents want only palliative care for their son.

Read more…

Have you seen Stranger Things?

ST_ILLUSTRATED_ANZThis new Netflix miniseries is like the love child of Stephen King and Stephen Spielberg, living life to a soundtrack by Daft Punk, but confusingly, none of those entities have actually been involved.

It’s made by Matt and Ross Duffer, who are my new favourite people even though I had never heard of them before. It’s got American kids riding around on bikes, it’s got other kids with secret mind powers. It’s got animatronic aliens, Winona Ryder doing a bang-up job as a crazy mum, a smart smalltown cop, the best theme (sounds a lot like the soundtrack for the new(er) Tron movie) and an amazing 1980s soundtrack.

It’s Freaks and Geeks meets E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial meets Firestarter meets Aliens meets The Goonies. You won’t believe this wasn’t actually made in the 80s, so strongly will it transport you.

If you’re not curious by now, there’s no hope for you. I’m up to episode five and it makes me too excited to sleep.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Minimalism, Margaret Atwood and crazy mothers

 

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‘Books must pass from person to person in order to stay alive’ – Margaret Atwood (Photo: Dominic Ronzo)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Robert Pirsig’s Zen And the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

is not for the faint-hearted but complex, ambitious, moving and outstandingly original. Still groundbreaking decades after its publication, yes it actually has motorcycle maintenance in it and no that does not make it boring. It’s an impressive narrative device that both illuminates and speeds along this mind-opening mystery/travel memoir/work of modern philosophy.

Margaret Atwood’s On Writers and Writing

is actually a rounded-out version of a series of lectures Atwood gave on this subject, this is a must for anyone interested in Atwood, Canadian writing, or writing in general. Gives a rare and witty insight into the early life of one of the world’s most beloved writers, while musing deeply on the nature of books and the poor saps who write them. Packed to the gills with quotes – worth it alone just as a collection of quotes on writing. A fast, beautiful, inspiring and entertaining read. I got mine at Boffins. Was previously titled Negotiations with the Dead.

Jeanette Winterson’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit

I know, I am the last person in the universe to read everything and I should really just give up on back catalogues and read new stuff, especially since Winterson recently released a new work, a ‘cover’ of Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale. But I’m working my way slowly through the Winterson canon, one of the only bulk collections to survive the Curing of a Bibliomaniac. The most amazing thing was that I didn’t know until I’d heard this podcast interview with Winterson that the reason her books are crazy and awesome and unreal and Biblical in epic proportions, peopled with fantastically grotesque matriarchs, was because that was actually what her childhood was. And right down to the exorcisms, this book tells the story of her childhood and unbelievably crazy mother. If you’re a fan it’s required reading (and the podcast required listening). If you’re not, get out of my face.

Minimalism?

As you know, I’m always up for a new challenge and these books have just been given to my excellent friend Jess, who has just returned home bookless and footloose after time abroad, and who I thought of as I read every one of these recently. They’re right up her alley but the gifting was also part of the 30-Day Minimalism Challenge I’ve just embarked on with my brother and sister-in-law, to the general bemusement of everyone else, especially the poor Ministry, who guards like a dragon the few possessions he’s got left after I blitzed through his life leaving destruction and empty rooms in my wake.

Because I don’t know when to stop, I’m also doing Dry July with my awesomely supportive family. Donate to me (and thereby to support Solaris cancer support service in WA) here. Thank you! It’s a damned good cause.