Best Reads of 2016: Not Actually 2016 Books

Three World War II novels, two modern classics, and one newish post civilisation novel (I can never get enough utopia/dystopia/post-apocalypse) rounded out my list of favourite not so new books read in 2016.

Life After Life and A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
(Kinokuniya)

California by Edan Lepucki
(Readings)

Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans
(Public Library)

High-Rise by J. G. Ballard
(Public Library)

Ripley Under Ground by Patricia Highsmith
(Public Library)

Best Fiction from 2016

2016 was extremely busy.  There was a brand new library that opened in May, and it definitely felt like work took over most of my life for the better part of the year.  I also went back to university and spent a lot of time reading for study rather than pleasure. And I (finally) got my drivers licence and started driving to and from work most days, which put an even larger dent in my leisure reading.

Goodbye reading on the bus! (but I have tried to ensure I have more time for reading at home and love a good cafe date with a book when I have a day off work).  There was a lot of comfort reading this year, and I discovered some wonderful new novels – especially Ann Patchett.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A pitch-perfect reboot of Pride and Prejudice, in which the plural ways we can find love and happiness in the 21st century are celebrated.  I wrote a review of Eligible in March.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett
(Public Library)
An intensely compassionate portrait of the many ways casual neglect and difficult circumstances impact a generation of children in one blended family.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
(Public Library)
An engrossing novel that bridges the historical and contemporary genres, connecting a female artist in the Dutch Golden Age with a female art forger in New York and Sydney 400 years later.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)
A highly original and entertaining look at connection fatigue in our modern world.  A romance novel disguised as science fiction or a science fiction novel disguised as chick lit?  I wrote a review of Crosstalk in October.

Good on Paper by Rachel Cantor
(Public Library)
A quirky literary mystery, with many messy layers of personal complexity and a gorgeously casual narrative vernacular.  I loved the New York setting and all the nerdy Dante detail.

Honorable Mention:
Children of Earth and Sky by Guy Gavriel Kay
(Book Depository)
Not quite in my top five favourites as far as new releases go, and far from my favourite Kay, but any new novel by Guy Gavriel Kay is cause for for celebration.

How to Live Like A Traveler (Even When You Are Home)

How to live like a traveler (even when you are at home)
It can be really tough when you get that itch to travel, but circumstances prevent you from traveling too far or for very long.  A big year at work and our first year of having a mortgage to pay off mean that there hasn’t been much scope for overseas trips in the last 12 months, but I have developed some strategies to help keep myself sane and grounded when all I really want to do is take flight.  Here are some of the ways I help myself find that exhilarating and/or comforting feeling that travel always brings into my life.

Centre Yourself

Many mornings when I have to get up, shower and go to work, I try to visualise the excellent life place I was in when I was travelling solo for six months, back in 2013.  The physical place that represents my adventure mindset that I always end up returning is Whistler in Canada, because I was there in summer and the landscape, hiking and people I met were amazing.  I felt so free and grounded there.  Most mornings when I am in the shower, shampooing my hair etc, I imagine I am back in the shower of my dorm at the Whistler Hi Hostel.  This helps me start the day with the same peace and sense of wonder that I have when I am travelling.  Every day is an opportunity to recapture the person I was that summer.

Prepare Your Body for Future Travel

Traveling requires endurance, and we are often far more active when traveling than when at home.  Lately I experimented with being as active and adventurous in Sydney as I am when traveling, and found it really lifted my spirits.  I bought new active wear that I love so much I would wear it all day if I could, and started getting up at 6am at least 3 mornings a week to take the dog for a 7 km walk around Sydney Harbour near our house in Balmain.  I also started cycling 10 km to rock climbing twice a week and going for drives to the beach on weekends for an early morning swim.  Not only do I feel much more fit, strong and capable, I feel encouraged by the fact that I am living the same active life that I would be if I were off on a long adventure. Let’s just say that I have already started my training regime for a life of future travel.

Downsize Your Possessions

After having been home for a while, most of us tend to start to accumulate possessions again. While I love having shelves full of books, an ice cream maker, and at least three big fluffy petticoats for wearing under vintage dresses, I often feel overwhelmed by the amount of stuff that I have.  I often lie in bed at night doing an audit of my wardrobe, working out what would make the cut if I were to head off traveling, and what would stay behind.  I’m making a point at the moment of selling or getting rid of a lot of possessions that I just really don’t need in my life any more, and whenever I buy anything new I think about whether this is something that will help me in the future if I decide to live a more transient life.

Make the Most of Your Weekends

Even when you work full time, there are weekends (especially long weekends) when you can get out of the city and go somewhere different.  Even though it has been a very busy year without any overseas trips (NZ doesn’t count), I have been lucky enough to go on several short trips in the last year, including to Queenstown, Noosa, Melbourne, Mudgee, Brisbane, Tasmania, and the Hunter Valley.  Even if you can’t jump on a plane or drive for three hours, there are still plenty of ways to explore your own backyard.  Check out national parks near your home, cheap rental properties near the beach for the weekend, special excursions like walks or kayaking trips.  I especially like We Are Explorers, an Australian community of adventurers who curate awesome microadventures that you can go on close to home.

Travel in Your Own City

Even if we spend much of our time dreaming of far-off or exotic locations, most of us are actually not that great at spending time alone.  If you are thinking about traveling in the future, or just want to capture that magic travel feeling, try wandering your own city.  Pick a suburb you have never been to before and visit for the day, go to museums alone, take solo ferry journeys, take a book to a restaurant or cafe with good atmosphere and eat out alone, visit bookstores and art galleries.  Exploring your own city is a great way to revisit that sense of wonder you carry with you when you travel and gives you a chance to see your own home with fresh eyes.

Travel in Your Own Mind

Even if you can’t leave your home any time soon, there is no reason why you can’t expand your own experiences.  Read world literature, watch foreign films, and cook meals from other cultures.  Food is one of the most amazing things about traveling, and is something we savour and remember long after we have moved on to our next destination.  A great way to live like you are travelling is to eat food from the places you would like to go (or have been).  We love French and German Rieslings and have been thinking about going to Alsace for a long time.  We planned to spend a month in France in 2017, with part of that time spend in Alsace, but unfortunately (due to a number of circumstances) it looks like we may not make it in the next 12 moths.  But last night, to help myself imagine myself there, I cooked Coq au Riesling, and it was delicious.  You would be surprised how many ways there are to travel to a place you have never been, even when you are in your own living room.

If You Liked Westworld…

If you liked Westworld, try reading...

If you liked Westworld, try reading or watching...

If you are loving Westworld for its setting that on the surface seems historical and nostalgic, but is full of high level surveillance and subtle tinkering…  If you are enjoying Westworld for its portrayal of the gamification of both history and human experience, for the days that repeat endlessly, and the recursive moments and events that shield or ultimately expose glitches in the system, ghosts in the machine…  or if you are drawn in to the series for its constant questioning of what it means to be human, and how we measure our own humanity… you might like to try some of the following television, films and novels which explore similar themes.

Deadwood created by David Milch
Jurassic Park directed by Steven Spielberg
Bladerunner directed by Ridley Scott
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K Dick
Ex Machina directed by Alex Garland
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
The Company Series by Kage Baker
Cabin in the Woods directed by Drew Goddard
The Truman Show directed by Peter Weir
The Peripheral by William Gibson
Reamde by Neal Stephenson
Edge of Tomorrow directed by Doug Liman
Firefly created by Joss Whedon

Book Review: Crosstalk by Connie Willis

Crosstalk by Connie Willis
(Publisher Advance Copy)

A great new geeky romantic novel by Connie Willis, Crosstalk will appeal to lovers of Jennifer Crusie, Rainbow Rowell and Graeme Simsion

Readers of Jennifer Crusie, Rainbow Rowell and Graeme Simsion will likely enjoy Crosstalk, the latest romantic novel from the queen of humorous and entertaining Science Fiction, Connie Willis.

Briddie Flannigan works for a mobile phone company working on a big new release to rival Apple’s latest offering.  Simultaneously, her boyfriend Trent pops a very millennial question, asking her to join him in undertaking a neurological procedure that will bring them closer by allowing them to directly feel one another’s emotions.  When things go slightly awry with the procedure, Briddie must reevaluate many aspects of both her life and modern life in general, guided by an unlikely support team: scruffy and quirky anti hero C.B. Schwartz, a colleague of hers at the mobile phone company; and her precocious 9-year old niece Maeve.

One thing that has always simultaneously delighted and perplexed me about Connie Willis is her ability to have her finger on the  social pulse, while often discounting or neglecting crucial technological developments.  The absence of a portable phone system in Willis’s 2050 Oxford in Doomsday Book and To Say Nothing of the Dog is infuriating at times, but I also recognise that the grim chaos and confusion of Doomsday Book, and the extreme farce of To Say Nothing of the Dog couldn’t have happened without the plot device that the lack of mobile telephony enables.  Willis makes up for this technological oversight in Crosstalk by embracing the mobile phone trope, and ramping up connectivity to an unbearable level.  I don’t want to provide too many spoilers, but it is very fair to say that this is definitely a novel about connection fatigue.

And in the modern world, what better connection is there than love?  I have always adored Willis’s romantic subplots, as she has intelligent, self-possessed heroines and a gorgeous line of attractive anti-heroes.  Her romantic heroes are never alpha males, are often slightly bumbling and scruffy or socially inept, but reveal themselves to be sensitive, intelligent and have the kind of hidden depths and social intelligence you only encounter upon getting to know someone a little better.  Crosstalk explores not only connection fatigue, but also romance fatigue in general. In many ways, this is a romance novel for readers who are sick of or suspicious of romance.

Continue reading

Treat Yourself: Bedlinen

cultiver-sheets

After getting divorced in my late twenties, I lived alone for the first time. It was a quite roomy one bedroom house with a large living room, long corridor and large and very liveable kitchen. It was the entire downstairs of a Sydney terrace house and had a gorgeous garden out the back. I rented on Gumtree (Australia’s Craigslist) and it cost me a third of my salary each week. This was a luxury I decided I needed for a while, to help me find some peace and also test myself: to see if I could live alone and if I would enjoy it.

My new house came furnished and while there was a lot of stuff in the house… shabby antique furniture and over 100 vintage pictures hung on the walls, the bedroom was surprisingly minimal. It just had a plain double bed with no headboard, and a lamp that sent out a gentle, mellow light from a little bedside table. To personalise the bedroom and give myself a little luxury, I splashed out on a gorgeous quilt cover from Spacecraft. It made the room, and also helped me feel extremely happy going to bed each night alone. I loved that little house and discovered in my year there (among other, much more important things) that good bedlinen is a little luxury that can help you every day.

Whether it is a statement quilt cover, or buttery linen sheets, or a collection of mismatched vintage pillow cases, this is a gorgeous and practical way to treat yourself. We do spend a third of our life in bed, after all.