2018 Mudgee Readers Festival Program Announced

The program for this year’s Mudgee Readers Festival has just dropped, and it’s a doozy.

I would definitely recommend a trip out to Mudgee for the weekend of 10-12 August.  It’s only a three hour drive from Sydney and Mudgee is just one of the most beautiful Australian towns I have ever visited.  There is such a buzz on the main street the weekend of the festival, and a really convivial air in the town.  Plus, there are vineyards everywhere.

It’s pretty much the perfect weekend!

Highlights I am really looking forward to are a panel hosted by the wonderful Jane Rawson with three authors deeply connected to landscape, a blind wine tasting that matches wine with books, and an australian music trivia night featuring the marvelous Andrew P. Street.  It’s a diverse program this year, and there is something for everyone.

I will be offering bibliotherapy sessions at Mudgee Art House (don’t forget to book in, as these one-on-one consultations are limited!), and am interviewing Mandy Sayer at a breakfast event at Pipeclay Pumphouse on Saturday morning.

I am also very excited to be hosting a panel with Inga Simpson, Andrew P. Street,  Laura Elizabeth Woollett and Chris Womersley, asking them about their favourite Comfort Reading.  I can’t wait to talk about the reading that provides us with comfort and solace.  What is your favourite Comfort Read?

Best Fiction From 2017

My favourite new reads in 2017
I only ended up reading four new novels this year, so these are (by default) my best fiction from 2017.  I would highly recommend the first two to almost anyone , while the second two are possibly more niche reads that will be loved by many readers of science fiction.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
(Book Depository)
Even though I am not a massive Jane Austen fan, I am a huge Connie Willis fan, and this time travel novel was similar in some ways to Connie Willis’s Oxford novels.  It was contemporary in tone, really brought the Austen family to life, and provided wonderful insight into the social history of Regency England.  It also contains a gorgeous easter egg for any fans of A. S. Byatt’s Possession.

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson
(Apple iBooks)
One of the few times in living memory that I have read an entire novel in less than 24 hours.  Fred Lothian’s cramped retirement village unit and his inability to address significant failure of character in his own life sucked me in, and I didn’t come up for air until I was finished.  Deeply satisfying.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland
(Public Library)
While there were lots of things that were far from perfect about this time travel novel (that is actually not in fact a time travel novel, but a novel about the history of science, magic and the systemic failures of bureaucracy), there was an absolutely sublime Viking raid on Walmart that made the hard slog totally worth it.  Mostly, this novel made me miss the wonderful Kage Baker and her Company novels, with their secret society of time traveling cyborgs.

Luna: Wolf Moon by Ian McDonald
(Kinokuniya)
As a long time fan of Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars books, I think I can safely say that Ian MacDonald’s Luna books are a worthy inheritor of the kind of epic political science fiction that Kim Stanley Robinson is celebrated for.  An ensemble cast with complex back stories and a fully realised frontier setting sucked me into the first book, Luna: New Moon, but it was the civil war in Luna: Wolf Moon that made this one of those books you just couldn’t put down.  Game of Thrones on the moon, indeed.

Books I Haven’t Read

Some of the books I am ashamed to say I haven't read yet, but that are at the top of my reading list

I’m embarrassed to say that there is a growing list of books that I am pretty sure I would love but have never got around to reading.  I choose to see this as an opportunity, and leave this list here as a reminder of all the amazing holiday reading I am going to get done next time I go traveling.

Anathem by Neal Stephenson
Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susannah Clarke
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
Downbelow Station by CJ Cherryh
The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu
A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

If You Liked Extinctions by Josephine Wilson…

If you enjoyed reading Extinctions by Josephine Wilson...
I read Extinctions by Josephine Wilson over the weekend. It’s the latest winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary award, the Miles Franklin, and certainly meets the award’s criteria of being distinctly Australian – presenting Australian life in any of it’s phases.   Extinctions portrays a few days in the life of Fred Lothian, a retired academic who has recently lost his wife and has a difficult relationship with his two children.  While living in a retirement village unit so cramped with vestiges of his former life that he can barely move, a few incidents compel Fred to remember certain moments from his own life, and a series of vignettes slowly reveal the somewhat tragic and complicated details of Fred’s relationships with his family.

I really enjoyed this novel and couldn’t put it down, partly due to the fact that I longed for some self awareness from our patriarchal protagonist.  When self-awareness starts to come to Fred’s unreliable narration, however, it’s incredibly confronting and heartbreaking.  Josephine Wilson has done an excellent job of portraying the way the human mind works when it pushes something away that ultimately must be addressed.

This is a novel about growing older, and the years between one significant stage of your life ending and the limbo you dwell in as you wait for dependency and advanced age to set in.  But it is also a novel about memory, grief and loss, and about personal and cultural identity.  I have intentionally not said much here about what is actually revealed as the novel progresses, because I think Wilson has done a masterful job of slowly sharing the details of Fred and his daughter Caroline’s story.  The theme of extinction and being the last of your kind is very lightly woven through this novel in a way that I think makes it as relevant to our living now in the Anthropocene age, and while the 20th century looms large in this novel, this is very much a novel for Australia’s 21st century.  As the Miles Franklin judges said, this is a novel that is deeply compassionate, but also unapologetically intelligent.

If you enjoyed reading the 2017 Miles Franklin Winner, Extinctions, you may like some of the following reads for their unreliable narrators and focus on the often complicated but deeply significant stage of life that is old age.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
Plumb by Maurice Gee
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence

Reading for Wellness

Reading for Wellness Course from the University of Warwick

Next month I am starting an online course from the University of Warwick through Future Learn called Literature and Depression: Reading for Wellbeing.

This is a subject I have always been interested in, and while I don’t suffer greatly from depression, having an autoimmune disease that often makes me extremely fatigued means that reading  is a great solace to me, because it gives me the ability to rest my body while I engage my mind (podcasts are also great!).

Even more importantly, reading the right book or poem at the right time can offer  a great sense of wonder, which is definitely what makes me enjoy living and helps me make the most of every day.  I should preface the phrase ‘right book at the right time’ by saying that I mean the right book at the right time for me.  Everyone’s reading needs and desires are different, and my perfect leisure reading or reading for solace will not be the same as someone else’s.  We all have different reading paths.

I am excited to learn more about reading that may offer comfort, however, and I am looking forward to learning about some famous readers and what peace they found.  I hope that this course will help me expand my bibliotherapy offering in future and it will definitely help me with Readers Advisory at the library.

A Perfect Weekend at the Mudgee Readers Festival

Mudgee Library

Hotel Review - Perfect Boutique Stay at the Mudgee Homestead Guest House

Mudgee Readers Festival 2017

I was lucky enough to be invited to be an expert reader at the Mudgee Readers Festival in August.  It was a gorgeously mild weekend for winter, and I had a great time running some readers advisory training for Midwestern-Regional Council staff at Mudgee Library, doing one-on-one Bibliotherapy Sessions with readers (where we workshopped for each reader what they might like to read next), and facilitating a panel discussion about Better Living Through Books.

Mudgee is one of my favourite towns in Australia, and I can’t deny the fact that I spent pretty much the entire festival coming up with schemes for how I could move there.  It was great to meet some of the Mudgee locals at the opening night festivities, during the Bibliotherapy Sessions on Saturday and at Rant, a fantastic storytelling event held at the Mudgee Brewing Company on Saturday night.

There was also time to squeeze in some tastings at several of Mudgee’s vineyards, and a gorgeous dinner at Pipeclay Pumphouse on Friday night.  As always, when we go to Mudgee, we stayed with Sean and Karen at the Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse.

I can’t wait to head back to Mudgee for the festival next year!

Travel Diary: A Winter Weekend in Noosa

The Perfect

The Perfect Australian Destination: Noosa

The Perfect Australian Destination: Noosa

I couldn’t have asked for a better winter getaway from Sydney during July than a weekend in Noosa.  While I have been to Noosa before in summer, it was so much more enjoyable being there during winter, and making the most of the blue skies, warm sunshine and beautiful sparkling water.

It was whale watching season, as the humpback whales migrate north up Australia’s East Coast, and we were lucky enough to see a whale off Sunshine beach while having a drink at Sunshine Beach Surf Club.  I can’t say I didn’t spend a decent part of the remainder of the weekend standing on the balcony of the house we were staying at with a pair of binoculars to my face, watching for more whales.

I was also really impressed with the relaxation options and the shopping.  We found a very affordable spa package at Noosa Springs, which included time in their excellent hydrotherapy baths  (think marble columns, greek statues, and a different jet for every part of your body), sauna, steam room and blast shower, as well as quite possibly the best facial I have ever had, using German botanical products that were carefully chosen for my skin type.  Peregian Beach was my favourite shopping destination, with some gorgeous homewares stores and stylish boho fashion boutiques, as well as a very well curated vintage store selling floaty dresses, blouses and vintage denim.

But my favourite part of the whole weekend was the easy walk we did from Sunshine Beach to Main Beach around Noosa Heads, through the National Park.  The sea was such a magnificent colour, a deep green blue that soothed my soul after a difficult couple of months.  The light sparkling on water was incredibly magical and I just had such a sense of wellbeing on this 2-hour walk. Some of the walk is under bush canopy, but a lot of it is out in the open and I was glad I had good sun protection.  There are also plenty of opportunities for a quick swim on the walk. And the best bit is that because you finish at the eat streets of Main Beach, it’s the perfect excuse for a late lunch and an afternoon drink.

I’m definitely heading back to Noose every winter from now on, it was a perfect weekend.

Stayed at: With Family in Sunshine Beach
Ate at: Betty’s Burgers, Ricky’s, Bistro C
Explored: Relaxation at Noosa Springs Spa, Noosa National Park
Region Highlights: Peregian, Sunshine Beach, Main Beach