Celebrating Jane Austen: Reboots and Reimaginings

What to read if you love Jane Austen

This month is the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, and her novels are as much loved and relevant today as they were in her own time.  Her acute understanding of human nature, her wry observations and her ability to create complex three dimensional characters leave her stories feeling so modern in many ways.  Or if not modern, then enduring… timeless.

Perhaps this is why her books still matter.  Despite the fact that many women today have more agency than they would have had in Regency England, many readers still relate to the dilemmas and conflicts that Austen’s characters face, the internal and external tensions in our lives as we seek the path that is right for each of us.

I’m not a Janeite, myself…  not yet… but my love for Jane Austen and her world is growing, and I especially like some of the modern twists on her writing.  Here are several novels that are Jane Austen adjacent, a contemporary adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, a biographical film, and a fantasy film and television show for the Janeite in all of us.

The Jane Austen Project by Kathleen A. Flynn
Two researchers from the future travel back in time to 1815, two years before Jane Austen’s untimely death, to befriend the novelist and steal her letters and an unpublished manuscript. Presenting themselves as distant relatives from colonial Jamaica, the time travellers must settle themselves into Regency society and convincingly pass themselves off a brother and sister from that time.  I loved this novel for its insight into a historical period I knew little about, and the many facts that I gleaned about the Austen family and Jane Austen’s life.  While the character depiction of Jane is fictional, it’s a charming way to widen the net cast by her novels and imagine her as a character in her own story.

Longbourn by Jo Baker
An engrossing recentred telling of Pride and Prejudice from the servants point of view.  This novel begins on washing day, when a maid at the Bennett house, Sarah, bemoans the fact that Lizzie Bennet likes to go for muddy walks in the fields – as Sarah is left scrubbing her petticoats. All the action from Pride and Prejudice is still there in this novel, but is off to the side, while Sarah’s life and the interest caused by the arrival of a new footman takes centre stage.  A gorgeous love story set in familiar territory, but seen with new eyes.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
A thoroughly modern take on Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary America.  Jane is a 40-year old yoga teacher, Lizzie is a journalist, Kitty and Lydia are obsessed with paleo diets and crossfit, Mary is undertaking her third Masters degree online, and Mrs Bennett has a shopping addiction.  Jane and Bingley met on a Bachelor style reality TV show, the ball at Netherfield is replaced by a particularly crass game of charades, and Lizzie and Darcy keep running into each other while out jogging.  Not one for the purists, but I loved this modern take on a classic (and the plural ways we can find love and happiness that it offers)

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What to Read After Watching Dunkirk

If you Enjoyed Watching Dunkirk, Try Reading...

I have never been very interested in the military side of World War II, but a few novels read recently have captured my imagination with their detailed depiction of the evacuation of British Forces at Dunkirk during the Battle of France.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Dunkirk just premiered in cinemas, and is likely to be one of the biggest films of the year.  Nolan has stated that Dunkirk is not a war film, but is ‘a survival story and first and foremost a suspense film.’  If you find you enjoyed the film and your interest in this era in history has been piqued, here are some suggestions for novels to read if you want to learn more about the Dunkirk evacuation and the experiences of Allied civilians and soldiers during World War II.

Their Finest by Lissa Evans
A wonderful (if more light hearted) counterpart to Nolan’s Dunkirk, as this novel is about a British propaganda film made about the Dunkirk evacuation.  It felt particularly meta and intertextual reading the farce of this filming recently, as promotion geared up for the release of Dunkirk.  A film adaptation of Their Finest was also released in 2017.

Blackout and All Clear by Connie Willis
In Connie Willis’ novels about time-travelling historians trapped in WWII England, the details of the evacuation at Dunkirk are crucial to the time travellers own evacuation back to the 21st century. The second novel All Clear also has some really fascinating detail about Operation Fortitude and other counterintelligence measures taken by the Allies.

Atonement by Ian McEwan
The hellish experience of being far from home during wartime is captured well in McEwan’s WWII novel, which features Robbie, conscripted into the army to avoid a prison sentence, at Dunkirk – awaiting the evacuation. Robbie’s experiences in Northern France are vividly depicted in the novel, and the evacuation is featured quite prominently in the 2007 film adaptation by Joe Wright.

The Maggie Bright by Tracy Groot
When a woman unexpected inherits a yacht, she discovers that the boat hides secrets that could shed light on Hitlers darkest schemes. This novel really brings to life the experiences of the soldiers evacuated at Dunkirk.

Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
This novel doesn’t feature Dunkirk, but it is one of my favourite WWII novels – focusing on some of the counterintelligence that went with the Allied forces cracking the Enigma Code.  This is a big sprawling novel that I think is one of the best post-modern historical novels about WWII out there (a good one to read if you liked Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon or The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan).

If you enjoyed watching Christopher Nolan's film Dunkirk, try reading some of the follow novels set during WWII that feature the evacuation of Allied Forces during the Battle of France

What I Learned Wearing A Capsule Wardrobe For a Year

What I learned from wearing a Minimal Capsule Wardrobe for a year

When my workplace introduced a limited colour palette of black, white and grey a year ago, I basically stopped buying new clothes. I have bought the odd fresh t-shirt or top, and two new jumpers, but have pretty much survived this Sydney winter in the same 4 dresses, 2 cardigans, 2 skirts, 2 pairs of tights and 1 pair of jeans.

Apart from 1 new dress and 1 new skirt that I bought to start with, I really did already have a capsule wardrobe – it was just hiding in amongst all my other clothes.

what I learned when I wore the same clothes in a limited colour palette for a year:

Fewer clothes makes getting dressed so much easier

It’s true what they say about uniform dressing, there is much less to consider in the morning when all you have to worry about is the temperature and what kind of situation you are entering that day – having less items of clothing will immediately narrow down the choices you have to make once you have taken weather and context into consideration.

You will save a lot of money

If you limit the colour palette of your wardrobe, going shopping will lose its charm. You will look at half the clothes on the rack and simply say ‘not for me’. Over time, the desire to even go shopping will almost disappear.

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If You Liked The Handmaid’s Tale…

If You Liked the Handmaids Tale.. try reading...

If you enjoyed Season 1 of The Handmaid’s Tale, you may be interested in trying some of the following novels, tv series and films – many of which raise (still) relevant questions about personal agency, fertility and reproduction, and society (especially when it takes a dystopian turn).

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Children of Men by P. D. James
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell
He, She and It by Marge Piercy
Parable of the Talents by Octavia Butler
The Testament of Jessie Lamb by Jane Rogers
The Gate to Women’s Country by Sherri S. Tepper
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
Humans created by Sam Vincent and Jonathan Brackley
Orphan Black created by John Fawcett and Graham Manson
Top of the Lake created by Jane Campion and Gerard Lee
Never Let Me Go directed by Mark Romanek
Children of Men directed by Alfonso Cuaron

Novels to try reading if you liked The Handmaids Tale

What is Bibliotherapy?

ways to read more

There can be an amazing solace in reading the right book at the right time, and bibliotherapy is both a formal and informal way to help readers find the stories or information they need during significant moments in their lives.

In a formal sense, bibliotherapy is a clinical practice that encourages healing through reading and reflection. Expressive therapies like bibliotherapy use the arts and value creative and imaginative processes as paths to healing. By carefully selecting reading materials that may help a client understand or solve an issue that they may be facing at a particular time, bibliotherapy practitioners offer options for personal reflection, assessment and growth.

In a more informal sense, bibliotherapy is what many of us do whenever we are feeling unsettled, sad, or confused. We reach for a read from our comfort shelf – the books that remind us who we are, and that reinforce our sense of self. New reading can also enrich our lives, providing us with much needed insight and inspiration.

Reading specialists like myself love nothing better than matching the right book with the right person at the right time. Not all readers are the same, and when helping someone work out what to read next, I like to understand the reader – what they like to read and why, and what they don’t like to read and why. I also like to understand if the reader is seeking a new perspective, revitalisation or a renewed sense of wonder, or comfort.

It’s also important to recognise that everyone’s reading choices are valid. There’s no point being snobby about what people read, and we all read for different reasons. I do like helping people read outside their comfort zones from time to time, however, and this is one of the fun challenges you face as a reading specialist or amateur bibliotherapist.

In an informal bibliotheraphy session, I might have a friendly conversation with you, and ask you some questions about your reading and where you are in your life. I may give you some instant recommendations on what to read next, and I may follow up with some suggestions by email after a bit of research or reflection. Because I’m not a psychologist or counsellor, I can’t help you with serious issues that may come up in our conversations, but I do have a great list of services staffed by professional and caring people that I can refer you to.

I’m an ‘expert reader’ at The Mudgee Readers’ Festival in August, in beautiful rural NSW. If you will be in Mudgee during the festival and are interested in having a one-on-one or small group conversation with me about reading, you can book in for a 15 minute bibliotherapy session on Saturday 12 August at Warbehr Design.  These sessions are free, but you must email info@mudgeereaders.com to book your 15 minute slot.

For the Full Festival Program, visit The Mudgee Readers’ Festival website.  The Festival runs from Thursday 10 August to Sunday 13 August, 2017.

What is Bibliotherapy, How can you lead a better life through books, and what should you read next?

Girl in Christchurch

The Tannery Best Shopping ChristchurchBill Sutton Christchurch Art Gallery Canterbury LandscapeNew Regent Street Best Shopping ChristchurchBill Hammond Christchurch Art GalleryDemolished Building Post Earthquake Christchurch

Christchurch is one of the main airports from which to enter New Zealand’s South Island, and because Christchurch is in the centre of the island’s east coast, it offers easy access to Kaikoura, Able Tasman, Marlborough and Nelson to the north, Mount Cook, Mackenzie Country, The Southern Alps and the West Coast to the west, and Queenstown, Central Otago, Costal Otago, Southland and the Southern West Coast (including Fiordland and Milford Sound) to the south.

Historically, Christchurch is a very English city, with beautiful parklands along the Avon River, but the city is currently experiencing significant change after a devastating earthquake 6 years ago. This makes Christchurch a really interesting, dynamic city to visit, as there are new developments constantly, and the 21st century is currently butting up against the older parts of the city that are being preserved.  Two of my favourite new (old) places to visit this trip were The Tannery in Woolston, which is a new shopping and eating precinct in a beautifully preserved old arcade and New Regent Street in the CBD, which is full of cafes and quirky little shops, very near Cathedral Square.  I miss old haunts I used to visit like the Arts Centre, but am fascinated by my old memories of Christchurch and the palimpsest of new developments that have been overlaid over the old routes and ways I used to navigate the city.  I know it’s been very hard for people who live in Christchurch, but she is a wonderfully resilient city and I know it is going to be a very interesting city to visit for years to come.

Surrounding the city on all sides are the gorgeous Port and Cashmere Hills, and it is an amazing feeling being in a city where you can see magnificent and rugged nature looming just beyond the skylines of buildings.  This is something I associate very much with New Zealand, and it always makes me feel like I am home.

Stayed: With friends in St Albans
Ate at: The Caffeine Laboratory, Tanner Street Bakery, The Thai Container
Explored: The Tannery, Christchurch Art Gallery, Crate Escape (an Escape Room in a Shipping Container!)
City Highlights: CBD, Woolston, Lyttelton

Girl in the Hunter Valley

Hunter Valley Vineyard Tour Wedding at Circa 1876 Hunter Valley Halls Road Walk Hunter Valley New South Wales

For somewhere that is less than 2 hours drive from Sydney, we don’t go to the Hunter Valley nearly enough. We were lucky to be invited to a gorgeous wedding at Circa 1876 between Christmas and New Years, however, and stayed at the Convent next door – a gorgeous boutique hotel that has now topped my list of affordable but luxurious places to stay in NSW.

The wedding itself was gorgeous, one of the nicest and most heartfelt weddings I have had the privilege of attending, and it was a great opportunity to explore the Circa 1876 vegetable garden that the restaurant uses to supply some of the produce for their dishes. The vegetable garden is large and varied, with lots of herbs, trussed tomatoes, globe artichokes and feathery fennel.

With only 48 hours to play in the Hunter (and temperatures above 40 degrees centigrade) we had a very laid-back day visiting vineyards after the wedding. We picked up the makings of a picnic lunch from Binnorie Dairy (which we enjoyed from our private balcony looking over the Convent gardens), and went for an afternoon swim in the hotel pool before hitting a few more vineyards in the early evening.  One of the best vineyards we visited was Petersons, where ‘John the Pom’ treated us to a special tasting in the private members room.

Stayed at: The Convent
Ate at: Restaurant Cuvee, Peterson House, Circa 1876, Binnoire Dairy
Explored: Hunter Valley Vineyards
Region Highlights: Broke, Pokolbin, Lovedale, Wollombi, Wollemi