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.

 

My most inspiring podcasts right now

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

Podcasts: for Type A individuals who enjoy learning in their downtime.

I’ve decided I can’t stand blog posts that make you wade through a bunch of personal crap before they get to the reason you clicked, so without further ado:

The Tim Ferris Show
My favourite podcast. Usually the top-ranked business podcast on iTunes, and iTunes’ “Best of 2014” and “Best of 2015.” Tim Ferriss is the author of the Four-Hour Workweek, the Four-Hour Body and the Four-Hour Chef. Despite how gimmicky these sound, they are intensive. A long-form show usually in intimate interview format, with diverse and fascinating guests, sometimes famous and sometimes not, dissecting their high-achieving lifestyles along with Tim Ferriss, who they are usually as impressed by as he is with them. Listen to this if you take self-improvement and learning deadly seriously.
Recent favourites:
Conversations with Richard Fidler 
Lovely 45-minute interviews that are reliably wide-ranging, humorous and touching. Recent favourites:

Chat 10 Looks 3
How could you not already be charmed by a podcast whose title is a quote from A Chorus Line? Annabel Crabb (Kitchen Cabinet host, ABC political writer and author) and Leigh Sales (famously tenacious journalist, host of ABC’s flagship 7.30) get way less serious in this podcast in which they bake for each other, eat the things they bake, name-drop, review books and TV shows and movies, and generally crap on about things they like. They are hilarious when bouncing off each other. If I could get paid to make a show like this I would die happy. Has recently been made into an iView show called When I Get a Minute. It’s completely unstructured, so just dive in at any starting point you like.

The Minimalists Podcast
The Minimalists talk about ‘living a meaningful life with less stuff’. If this topic doesn’t interest you, probably don’t start. If it does, hop into it, because these two are pretty much the faces of modern minimalism.
Inspiring and encouraging for anyone who feels like life is a bit of a rat race at times, and provide a sense of community. They repeat their own stories a shade too often, but I kind of like this, I find it weirdly soothing. They are a good team and bounce off each other well – they’re not preachy or overly serious.
If you’re looking at this for the first time, I’d avoid their more recent guest podcasts and the ones done live from cities,as these are all kind of filler episodes while they’ve been touring their new documentary. Yes, I have preordered the documentary and the six hours of bonus footage. I’m a sad lady.

Enjoy!

 

I know what you’ll read this summer

Fay’s noticed something she’s never noticed before. That love is not, anywhere, taken seriously. It’s not respected. It’s the one thing in the world everyone wants – she’s convinced of that – but for some reason people are obliged to pretend that love is trifling and foolish.
Work is important. Living arrangements are important. Wars and good sex and race relations are important, and so are heath and illness. Even minor shifts of faith or political intentions are given a weight that is not accorded love. We turn our heads and pretend it’s not there, the thunderous passions that enter a life and alter its course. Love belongs in an amateur operetta, on the inside of a jokey greeting card, or in the annals of an old-fashioned poetry society. Moon and June and spoon and soon. September and remember. Lord Byron, Edna St Vincent Millay. It’s womanish, it’s embarrassing, something to jeer at, something for jerks. Just a love story, people say about a book they happen to be reading, to be caught reading. They smirk and roll their eyes at the mention of love. They wind and nudge. Lovebirds. Lovesick. Lovey-dovey. They think of it as something childish and temporary, and its furniture – its language, its kisses, its fevers and transports – are evidence of a profound frivolity. It’s possible to speak ironically about romance, but no adult with any sense talks about love’s richness and transcendence, that it actually happens, that it’s happening right now, in the last years of our long, hard, lean, bitter and promiscuous century. Even here it’s happening, in this flat, midcontinental city with its half million people and its traffic and weather and asphalt parking lots and languishing flower borders and yellow-leafed trees – right here, the miracle of it.

I’ve decided good winter reads are the same as good summer reads. They basically require awesomeness. That is why I chose these from the To Read Pile for my winter holidays (exhaustively detailed on Instagram) – because I knew they’d be page-turners. So I’ve done the legwork for you on what to order in for the approaching summer holiday. Yep, it will be here before you know it.

Well, then, in order of preference:

The Republic of Love
(Carol Shields, 1991)

For a great winter read, just add whisky and a heater.

For a great winter read, just add whisky and a heater.

Quoted above. The Canadian Carol Shields is one of my all-time most beloved authors. She wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning The Stone Diaries and also Larry’s Party, my personal favourite. This is the story of Fay, a folklorist who has the dubious fortune to fall in love with a man already married three times. Her books are as engaging as Barbara Trapido’s but with a subtler flavour, a rolling rhythm and glorious detailing of character, of thought and of action. It feels as though she speaks to the secret places inside of you.

 

Jack Irish Quinella: Bad Debts and Blood Tide (Peter Temple, 2007; published individually 1996, 1999)

To enjoy this book in summer, simply remove the blankie.

To enjoy this book in summer, simply remove blankie.

This volume comprises the first two books in Australian crime writer Temple’s Jack Irish series, the first having won the Ned Kelly Award for Best First Novel. Set in Melbourne, it features hero Jack Irish, a widowed ex-alcoholic lawyer who moonlights as a cabinetmaker, debt collector and accidental private investigator. These are highly readable mysteries with a compelling central character whose highlight is their blink-inducing use of Australian vernacular. But despite the local technicolour they never slide into parody and the nets of the plots, cast wide, are gathered slowly and carefully into killer climaxes. Even so, they didn’t make me cheer as hard as I did for the first Temple book I read recently, stand-alone The Broken Shore, another Ned Kelly award winner. This was what made me fall smack-bang in love with Temple’s writing – vivid, dark and beautiful.

Juggling (Barbara Trapido, 1994)

A warm and fuzzy read for winter. Or summer!

A warm and fuzzy read for winter. Or summer!

Picks up the stories of characters originally appearing in her earlier Temples of Delight, but functions fine as a stand-alone, following the gender, continent and common-sense-defying loves spanning several families. Far out, I just adore Barbara Trapido. I took this on holiday knowing full well I would chew through it with indecent speed. The words just fly off the page. But despite its relationship-exploring themes and dorky cover, this is nowhere near chick-lit. It’s fiercely funny, brightly intelligent literary fiction and it’s joyous. Pick up a book by Trapido – any one, seriously, it doesn’t matter – and clear your schedule. Don’t believe me?

Last Car to Elysian Fields (James Lee Burke, 2003)

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Forgot to photograph this alone, so here’s a tiny blurry version for you with a warming coffee break booktail chaser.

Burke is a stalwart of the literary crime genre, so it was high time I tried his Dave Robicheaux series. This cop is another alcoholic widower – what can I say, whether in fiction or film the cliché works – but this is anything but cliched. Rather it is a lilting portrait of the state of Louisiana, its people and history. A reverberating sense of place is shot through with a streak of pure melancholy – Robicheaux’s grief for not only his wife, but for the New Orleans he once knew. This was perhaps the most appropriate read for a holiday, as it transported me to a world truly strange to me.

 

Call the Dying (Andrew Taylor, 2004)

Best enjoyed, regardless of season, with German chocolate from Hahndorf.

Best enjoyed, regardless of season, with German chocolate from Hahndorf.

More literary crime, this time English, with a historical bent. I had previously read Taylor’s Gothic mystery The American Boy, set in the 1800s, a fine creepy read inspired by the early life of Edgar Allen Poe, a winner of the Crime Writers Association’s Ellis Peters Historical Dagger. I had high hopes for Call the Dying, a murder mystery set in an English country town around the 1950s. But despite my insatiable love for mid 1900s-set English crime (Agatha Christie obsession anyone?) I still preferred The American Boy to this. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with it or the plotting or execution of the mystery, and it had a very pleasing and entirely unexpected twist in the tail. It was perhaps just the least exciting of the pile.

Disclaimer: yes, I read these six books in two weeks, but they WERE page-turners, and I didn’t have anything else to do other than drink wine and eat cheese and go caving and horse riding and look at sea lions and then drink some more wine.

Turbo Blog

  • The Sending: The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 6 (Isobelle Carmody, 2011)

I might have to read this again from the beginning before the last and final book in the Obernewtyn series comes out. I just dont think I can wait long enough for my appetite for this series to be sated. I think I got the first book in the series nearly 20 years ago, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and the plots that I enjoy it as much, if not more, now.
Of course the books have gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and could now double as weapons, or crook-stoppers, as the Ministry calls them.
I confidently predict that even those who don’t get into fantasy would love this epic post-apocalyptic series.

  •  Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-Up Revolution (Astor Theatre, October 14, 2012)

Phwoar. This guy is not the world’s most You-Tubed comedian for nothing. If you do nothing else today, Google Fluffy and be prepared to laugh your ass off.
This show was more like a rock concert than a stand-up gig – Fluffy’s support acts were awesome, and then the main act, the lovably obese Latino himself, ran nearly an hour over. He ended up talking until his on-stage “reminder” clock ran out at 99 minutes, at which point he giggled and happily pulled its plug out.
Then, and only then, did he stop with the brand-new material and obligingly do all the fans’ most beloved routines, which they deafeningly requested then nearly sang along with everypunchline.
It was a powerful, positive, bizarrely touching event to be a part of, and I laughed until I nearly passed out.

  • Dark Shadow (2012)

Tim Burton’s latest (I think) offering would surely be a deep disappointment to any fan of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Noticeably lacking the dark, disturbing quality of his earlier work (even his relatively recent work, like Willy Wonka), the movie is stylish but shallow.
It’s not stylish enough to be watchable purely as eye candy, and it’s too shallow to be enjoyed even as B-grade fluff. Johnny Depp is peculiarly lacklustre, and even his visual gags about being an ancient vampire struggling to understand a modern-day society are barely enough to raise a snicker.
The villain is so two-dimensional and lazily thought-out she is ridiculous, without any feelings or motivations except a deeply irrational desire to be loved despite being a murderous witch.
Only bother watching this if you are so hungover you can’t get off the couch and change it to something else.

Turbo blog

Those with short attention spans rejoice! I’m low on time this week, so I’m keeping it snappy with a handful of snippets.

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  • 3rd Rock from the Sun (1990s)

Working through it all over again. As good as ever. Pluses: baby Joseph Joseph Joseph.

  • movie: Kid (Disney schmaltz), 2000

Watchable, harmless couch fluff. Pluses: Bruce Willis being suave, and a funny fat kid.

  • Stranger than Fiction (2006)

Funny and clever. Win. Have never liked Will Ferrell but he does a great job in this. Win. Also, movie has Maggie Gyllenhaal, Emma Thompson and Dustin Hoffman. Win, win, win. Also, is about literature and baked goods. ALL THE WINS.

  • Hope Springs (2012)

Entirely watchable, but don’t bother seeing it at the movies. Funny but cringey. Would be worthless without Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones (who plays his usual crusty old bugger with an intimacy problem).

  • Easy A (2010)

I know, I’m so behind the rest of the world. Fun, with racy dialogue and a Mean Girls-ish flavour. Highlights: Emma Stone is nice to look at, and one of her adorably dotty parents is Stanley Tucci who even The Lovely Bones couldn’t stop me trusting.

  • Body Melt (1993)

My partner – let’s call him the Ministry of Magic – had a birthday so watched this as a gift to him, cause he’s been talking about it for ages. Worth watching just to see various Blue Heelers cast members and Harold from Neighbours being younger, but still wobbly-jowled. Also, of course, for the bodies melting. Would make a great drinking game.

Turbo blog

Presenting my guide to what I’ve been consuming recently. You’ll be happy to know I’m not including foodstuffs. I don’t want anyone to know these. 

  • Parrot and Olivier in America (Peter Carey, 2009)

Sadly, the picture of the cover is not that of the incredibly DROOLINGLY HANDSOME BLACK LEATHER-BOUND WITH STAMPED TITLE LIMITED EDITION SIGNED BY AUTHOR WITH RED RIBBON BOOKMARK copy that I have been reading. But I can’t really take a photo that will showcase its beauty.

I haven’t finished this yet. But as his novels get bigger and weirder, the more I love them. Even if you start a Peter Carey book thinking “oh, this is set in a place/time/culture that I know” you will soon leave your own realities far, far behind, scrabbling for footholds in Carey’s completely unique universe. No two books are the same, except for his reliably amazing writing, and – so far – this one has not disappointed. It’s talked about By Jennifer Byrne and the team on the ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club Christmas Special, 5/12/10. Watch the video here: http://www.abc.net.au/tv/firsttuesday/

  • SAS: The Search for Warriors. Two-Part Documentary: Military History, 2010 

For the first time in 25 years the SAS has allowed documentary photography. The resulting two-hour-ish experience spread over two episodes is unrelenting, adrenaline-filled, clear-your-schedule viewing and should not be missed. Whether you’re a military history devotee or absolutely not, you have my personal guarantee that you will be fascinated by every solitary minute of this deeply impressive and thought-provoking doco. Watch it here: http://www.sbs.com.au/documentary/program/sasthesearchforwarriors

  • Independence Day. Movie: Science Fiction/Action, 1996

Once again, the L.A.P.D. is asking Los Angelenos not to fire their guns at the visitor spacecraft. You may inadvertently trigger an interstellar war.

You can’t go wrong with this movie. You need to watch this intermittently throughout the whole of your adult life to retain top mental functioning and psychological health. An admirable choice for your Boxing Day stupors, now and in the future.