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.

 

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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!

 

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac part 23: Boating for Beginners (Jeanette Winterson, 1985)

Books left: 3. Weeks left: 6 (just keep swimming).

‘I’d rather play Battleships but we haven’t any graph paper, have we?’
They hadn’t, and so they were forced to talk about the Space-Time Continuum, and whether or not you should write books which clearly fixed themselves into time or books which flouted the usual notion of time in order to clear the mind of arbitrary divisions.

boating for beginners

I revere many novelists, but it’s fair to say there are some for whom my feelings run deepest.

They include Peter Carey. Carol Shields. Lucy Maud Montgomery (shush). Isobelle Carmody. John Marsden. Tim Winton. John Wyndham.

And Jeanette Winterson.

My affair with Winterson (and it seems entirely appropriate to describe reading her books as such) began during my English degree with The Passion. This novel was assigned for a unit on postmodern narratives, but don’t hold that against it.

I’ve actually only read a couple more of her works since then, but this was enough to make Winterson one of the authors to make the most lasting impressions on me.

Long after the details of The Passion‘s alluring stories of labyrinthine Venice have faded, I remember how arrestingly its language and characters hit me, the pull of its mystery.

Winterson’s writing is sensual, thematically complex and unexpected. Her power of invention is so dazzling it seems inadequate to term it imagination or originality. Her creativity is not about novelty, charming though her novelties are; it is about what they ultimately serve to reveal, the truths about how people think and what they desire.

At least, that’s how I remember it. Is it any wonder I haven’t picked up one for so long? After uni, I craved meat and potatoes reading for several years, hence my impressive mental crime novel catalogue. And sometimes you just get out of the habit of wanting to be really moved, really unsettled. You just think… I’ve had a long day at work. I need some simple entertainment.

This sort of thinking has resulted in me hoarding several unread Wintersons for more than several years, so I thought it time to see if we still clicked, or whether my love was one best left in the past.

So I open the book and the storm hits.

Boating for Beginners, which I shamelessly chose because it was short, features a romance author called Bunny Mix, a God made of animated ice-cream and Noah, who created that God in a culinary accident.

They are pretending to make a blockbuster film, but they are actually planning to wreak havoc, destroy the world and rewrite history.

Unless, as synchronised swimmer-turned-transsexual potter Marlene says, a group of girls succeed in making “one heroic attempt at foiling that cosmic dessert and the little chocolate button that created him.”

‘I like reading books,’ insisted Marlene, ‘but I’m more concerned with how to get rid of the cellulite on my thighs. I mean, there’s plenty of books around but I’ve only got this one body.
‘Art shows us how to transcend the purely physical,’ said Gloria loftily.
‘Yes, but Art won’t get rid of my cellulite, will it?’
‘Art will show you how to put your cellulite in perspective,’ replied Gloria, wondering for a moment who was feeding her her lines.
‘I don’t want to put it in perspective,’ Marlene tried to be patient. ‘I want to get rid of it.”

Boating for Beginners turns out to be what the author herself described as a “comic book with pictures”, a laugh-out loud alternative to the Biblical flood myth, and a gimlet-eyed look at why people react to the story so powerfully.

I need not have feared it too smart to be fun. This story about people believing any story put to them, and creating their own histories, is wonderfully, confidently absurd.

I have decided to keep my pile of unread Wintersons and be less shy about dipping into it next time. Winterson is by no means a one-trick pony. She sparkles – and surprises – every time and deserves to be read now, not kept for another day.

We’re back on, in other words.

Keep or kill? In my new tradition (I am learning from this project) I am going to pass this on along with my other already-read Winterson titles. But I’m keeping those yet unread and I’m keeping The Passion.