A year in books: 2010

I had the concentration span of a gnat this year, and I read comparatively less than I have in previous years. Like last year, I am writing this sweltering in a revolting Sydney summer, though this time I’m drinking bourbon, revisiting NIN’s Pretty Hate Machine, newly remastered. And so here we go!

The Complete list:

  • A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • Hollywood Animal – Joe Eszterhas
  • Tess of the d’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • In Full View – Lily Brett
  • New York – Lily Brett
  • Between Mexico and Poland – Lily Brett
  • Palimpsest – Gore Vidal
  • Experience – Martin Amis
  • True Stories – Helen Garner
  • The Trial of Henry Kissinger – Christopher Hitchens
  • The Last Empire: Essays 1992 – 2000 – Gore Vidal
  • Who Wants to be a Billionaire? The James Packer Story – Paul Barry
  • The Rise and Rise of Kerry Packer – Paul Barry
  • Goodbye Babylon – Bob Ellis
  • Of a Boy – Sonya Hartnett
  • Jonestown: The Power and Myth of Alan Jones – Chris Masters
  • The Great Hangover – Graydon Carter (ed)
  • The Eclipse: Memoir of a Suicide – Antonella Gambotto
  • Bell Jar – Sylvia Plath
  • The God of Driving – Amy Fine Collins
  • American Journeys – Don Watson
  • The Great American Bus Ride – Irma Kurtz
  • Just Kids – Patti Smith
  • The Member of the Wedding – Carson McCullers
  • Falling Man – Don DeLillo
  • Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close – Jonathan Safran Foer
  • Things the Grandchildren Should Know – Mark Oliver Everett
  • The Missionary Position – Christopher Hitchens
  • No-one Left to Lie To – Christopher Hitchens
  • Fargo Rock City – Chuck Klosterman
  • All the President’s Men – Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward
  • Fear and Loathing: On the Campaign Trail ’72 – Hunter S Thompson
  • If Chins Could Kill: Confessions of a B Movie Actor – Bruce Campbell
  • Gone Baby Gone – Dennis Lehane
  • Mystic River – Dennis Lehane
  • Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane
  • Looking at this list, it’s interesting to see what patterns emerge. Typically I go through a big Lily Brett stage at least once a year, and I’m still obsessed with evil media barons. Some things never change! My reading plan for 2011 is quality over quantity, though I would like to read more than I did this year, and I’m taking part in an online book club dedicated to sci-fi novels written by women, which I think will be really interesting.

    Reading remains one of the things I love doing most.

    And what’s next I guess I’ll know when I’ve gotten there…

    I can’t believe tomorrow is the last day of the year! And what a year it was. 2010, bar a few bumps in the road towards the end, was just the year I needed. I’m really excited about 2011.

    Right before I was meant to head off to New Zealand for Christmas, my much loved grandmother had a massive stroke. Things did not look good and I spent two days with family in Newcastle, at her bedside.

    Despite everything, she survived and while the situation is complicated, to say that I am relieved is an understatement.

    It did mean the the New Zealand trip was on, then off, then back on again, and having one evening to pack and get ready to go overseas for a week was an adventure in itself. Until the day before we left, we weren’t even sure we had our flights back. All of this meant that many of the things I meant to post about before the end of the year went by the wayside.

    I hope everyone had an amazing Christmas and is as excited about the new year as I am!

    My favourite albums from 2010

    I was going to make a huge list and then I stopped feeling like it, and couldn’t think of anything to say about a lot of this year’s music other than ‘rad’ and ‘super good’ [which isn’t to say it wasn’t really good, just that I’m not much of a music writer]. Instead I picked my two favourites.

    Josiah Wolf – Jet Lag

    In December last year I saw Why? at the Annandale in Sydney and I played one of their songs, ‘The Vowels, Pt. 2’ repeatedly, every day, for most of that summer. Yoni Wolf’s lyrics are the most intense, perfect lyrics I’ve ever heard.

    Before the gig, I liked Why? a whole bunch. After the gig, Why? were my favourite band. The energy from the crowd that night was amazing. Even before they stepped onstage, I knew it was going to be a special gig. My good friend, a wonderful live music photographer, Meesh Ho, took photos of the band that night.

    The crowd was relatively small, the band was selling their own merch and watching Seekae’s support set. My favourite pre-show moment was when Steph came back from the bathroom and said ‘Well. Josiah was in the women’s toilets. We both were confused, but he’s really lovely!’

    When onstage, he’s like a crazy, lovely human version of Animal.

    As is my luck, I became a rabid Why? fan right around the time they’d just released an album, and so while I waited for new material, I tore through their back catalogue, again and again. I was very happy then to hear the news that Josiah was releasing a solo album, Jet Lag. I was also nervous. It would pit Wolf against Wolf in my auditory battlefield.

    Turns out I need not have worried. Jet Lag is a gorgeous break up album with percussion that twinkles. It feels like that moment just before you drift off to sleep. I’ve spent a lot of afternoons this year lying on my couch with the Wuz listening to this album.

    ‘The New Car’ is my favourite track, being especially lovely:

    Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse – Dark Night of the Soul

    Dark Night of the Soul is my aural masturbatory fantasy album. A dark album about death and partially justified redemption, with music from Sparklehourse, twisted by Danger Mouse, with disturbing images courtesy of David Lynch? I was born and bred to own this album.

    The album has vocalists from Wayne Coyne of The Flaming Lips, Jason Lytle, Black Francis, Vic Chesnutt and Iggy Pop to name but a few, yet it’s so cohesive for an album which came together in parts. It’s as dark as sin and unrelenting.

    Sadly, both Vic Chesnutt and Sparklehorses’s Mark Linkous committed suicide before the album had an official release, making listening painful and poignant. If Jet Lag is my afternoon album, Dark Night of the Soul has seen me through many nights on the same couch, same view but darker, fuelled by bourbon and the good kind of despair. 

    These two tracks are gorgeous:

    Honourable mentions:

    Envy – Recitation/Julie Christmas – The Bad Wife/Swans – My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky/Evelyn Evelyn – Self Titled/Atmosphere – To All My Friends, Blood Makes the Blade Holy/Red Sparowes – The Fear is Excruciating, But Therein Lies the Answer/Harvey Milk – Small Turn of Human Kindness/Jesu – Infinity/Laurie Anderson – Homeland/Crazy Heart soundtrack/Sage Francis – Li(f)e/Cloud Control – Bliss Release/Liars – Sisterworld/Melvins – The Bride Screamed Murder/Jonneine Zapata – Cast the Demons Out/Shutter Island soundtrack

    Jan.

    I spent a lot of class time in high school bored and frustrated. The particular school I went to was quite dogmatic and it didn’t gel with me. I remember sitting in my religion class once, taught by an ex-nun, and there was a particularly disruptive girl in the class who the teacher couldn’t control. Now this teacher was scary and had the rest of us trained to be mute fairly early on, but not even she could silence this girl. One day she sent her to stand in the hallway, where she continued to yell abuse. The ex-nun looked up and smiled wickedly and said ‘Mrs Hardy will stop that’.

    Mrs Hardy taught in the next room and was a sweet, white-haired grandmother, a scholar who looked like she was more suited to working behind the counter of a Ye Olde Sweet Shoppe. I was confused. How was this sweet grandmother going to stop what this battleaxe ex-nun couldn’t?

    Suddenly there was a roar from the hallway and the girl fell silent as Mrs Hardy really let loose. When she was done, the whole row of classrooms was completely quiet. I duly took note.

    When I got to the senior years of high school, I was lucky to have an influential English teacher, a dedicated Modern History teacher and the formidable Mrs Hardy as my Ancient History teacher. I can’t fully describe how transformative her classes were. Her wealth of knowledge about her specicialist subject was unparalleled by anyone I’d been taught by so far, and I wouldn’t meet anyone like her in this regard until I did Honours at uni.

    We would come in each lesson, and she would greet us all from behind her desk, where she sat, legs crossed and swinging, while she sipped from a water bottle, a necessary accessory after treatment for cancer. We would all sit, completely ready to be engaged by her and the lesson would begin. She would begin to speak and we would take notes. She literally dictated these incredible stories to us for two years, and I’m not exaggerating to say that the entire class was transfixed in hearing about all these ancient places and people, the syllabus covered, but added to with asides – tales from her trips, interesting facts about Latin, crude ancient jokes. She’d visited many of the places and tentative plans were made for an overseas school excursion, something that sadly never came to pass.

    She’d taught English to Mary for her HSC and I’d often come to class early or leave late and tell her what Mary had been up to in Sydney and at uni.

    In the middle of my HSC exams my grandmother passed away really suddenly and everything fell apart for the rest of my exams. I remember she told me not to worry, that everything could and would be sorted out. She was so sure that I’d put in the hard yards and that it would pay off. I came back to sit the 3U Ancient History exam, the last of all the HSC exams that year. My tiny class and I were a mess of nerves and excitement before the exam and Mrs Hardy came down to tell us in her unflappable way not to be stupid and to read everything carefully, for goodness sake.

    And when it was over, we were free, and we went out and did all the things you do when you’re that young, including forgetting about your wonderful Ancient History teacher.

    A few years ago, I found myself thinking about her a lot. I’d had some life experience under my belt, I’d been taught more by other people, found that I would clash with teachers even when we were both adults, that many are just there to make money, and that there are a few brilliant people, like her, who can change the whole way you look at things. So I emailed my high school, knowing she’d retired and moved away, asking if I could have her address. I didn’t think they’d give it to me and I was shocked when a reply came, with the address and best wishes to pass onto her.

    Both Mary and I wrote to her and received fantastic responses all about Newcastle, where she and her husband, Ken had gone to live and about her grand kids, the Ginger Ninjas. At the end was an invitation to swim in her pool when the weather got hot.

    Life interrupted again and it wasn’t until this year that we got to see her. Mary and I took Vincent to Newcastle a few months ago, and when she opened the door, she was exactly the same. We spent hours with her and Ken, she insisting we call her Jan and that it was fine for Vincent to destroy anything a baby might want to destroy. We heard all about her kids and their kids. She fed us bowls of soup, placed on laminated pictured of ancient frescoes. We discussed travel, life, Orange and school.

    It was such a fantastic afternoon. It was just relaxed and easy. Jan was, and always had been, so free of pretension, always ready to treat you like an adult, a contemporary, if you acted like one. I fully expected to visit her again, take her up on the offer to use the pool, maybe meet a few of the Ginger Ninjas.

    Yesterday I was at work when Mary called to say Jan’s son had rung, and that on Tuesday afternoon she had passed away suddenly, possibly from an allergic reaction to some medication she was taking. Mary had seen her only three weeks ago, and she’d been her usual wonderful self.

    It hit me much harder than I thought it would, had I imagined it at all. Maybe it’s because her relationship with Ken reminded me a lot of the one my paternal grandparents had. Maybe because it’s been ten years almost to the month that I lost my paternal grandmother and Jan was there and a comfort when that happened.

    Mostly though it is because she really illuminated learning for me.

    I will miss her greatly, and will be forever thankful that I met her.

    Those of us that had been up all night were in no mood for coffee and donuts, we wanted strong drink.

    Yesterday I got an ultra wide angle lens [the Sigma 10-22mm for those playing at home] and I spent the evening taking real estate photos of my lounge room, before annoying The Wuz.

    In this photo, titled This is bat country, she is being a cat version of Hunter S Thompson.

    And yes Mum, I see the cobwebs on the window. And no, I probably won’t clean them off.

    In response to my fans #2

    I feel like the most popular girl at prom! I have so many awesome new fan mails, I just blush constantly. Here are my recent favourites:

    In response to my post about this year’s Melvins’ album ‘The Bride Screamed Murder’, free government grants said, ‘Thanks for some quality points there. I am kind of new to online , so I printed this off to put in my file, any better way to go about keeping track of it then printing?’

    Dear free government grants,

    I can’t help but think that’s not your real name, you know where I’m coming from? I think you’re being cute with me. That’s ok, I like cute.

    So you’re new to online and you’re going about your business, printing webpages that you like, am I following? Good. Sadly, there is no easier way. All I can suggest to you is keep printing. Print out the entire Internet and put it in your file. For someone who’s new to the Internet, you really caught on fast, free government grants, good job!

    In my post about my tattoo, Motorcycle Fairing said, ‘Good Afternoon, Thanks for sharing, I have digged this post’

    Motorcycle Fairing, I have digged you! Seriously, who taught you to speak to a lady like that. Me likey.

    I posted some pictures in March, of things I had been doing…in March. In response StellaHaynes said, ‘If you are willing to buy a car, you would have to get the loan. Moreover, my sister all the time uses a college loan, which seems to be really fast’.

    Dear StellaHaynes,

    I have two sisters of my own and I know how hard it can be when one of them is hiding from you on the other side of their bedroom door and the only thing you can do to get to them is kick a hole through that door, but really? Calling your sister a whore on the Internet? That’s not cool dude, not cool at all.

    In response to the first round of fan mail, the lovely Pharme795 said ‘Hello! efecdcg interesting efecdcg site!’

    Oh Pharme!

    I want to efecdcg you, but it’s still illegal in NSW.

    Finally, not all fan mail is pleasant or erotic. Sometimes there’s just someone out there looking to ruin your day. As you can imagine, I don’t get much of that kind of mail, but when I do, gosh my blood boils.

    In response to my post about my love for Army of Darkness, frostwire download said, ‘one can argue that it can go both ways’

    “Dear” frostwire download,

    No it can’t. If you don’t like Army of Darkness, I’d be surprised if you had a pulse.

    Yeah, snap shazam.

    Shutter Island – Dennis Lehane

    I’m afraid of large bodies of water. When I read this passage from Shutter Island, it almost perfectly captured how I feel:

    It was warm and clear out there, but the water was threaded with dark glints of rust and an overall pallor of gray, a suggestion of something growing dark in the depths, massing – Shutter Island, Dennis Lehane, p. 28.

    Tony, the Pony.

    Yesterday I had to call Dad because our flight to New Zealand for Christmas was cancelled and had to be rescheduled and I needed to know when we were flying out, so I could make new plans for boarding That Bloody Cat, aka The Wuz. When he answered, he was very distracted and rushed and said, ‘I have to go, we’re getting something delivered’. Later, I called back and it turned out they were getting a horse delivered. I was all, ‘Of course. Because I get horses delivered all the time, spontaneously. I hate when I accidentally buy a horse and have to get it delivered’.

    I just assumed they had bought the horse, but I found out later that the story was much more awesome than that.

    At Mum’s work, they’ve been doing Secret Santa, and about three days ago, a bag appeared with her name on it and in the bag were some red and green, large-ish scrubbing brushes. She was puzzled, especially when someone said they thought that the brushes were actually horse grooming brushes. Especially when someone suggested that maybe someone was trying to give her a hint about being a horse [and I shake my fist at you anonymous insulter]. Even stranger was the fact that the bag and the brushes didn’t seem to have anything to do with Secret Santa or any of the other staff.

    Yesterday afternoon, Mum’s friend June dropped into her classroom to have a chat. June and her husband Tony are old friends of my parents, because my dad is a stock and station agent, and Tony drives cattle trucks. Tony and June’s grand kids go to my mum’s school.

    June asked Mum to stop into their place on the way home, because they had something they needed her to give to Dad. This seemed a bit weird, but whatever.

    When she dropped by, Tony handed her a piece of paper, on which was a description of a horse. An old stock horse, ready to retire somewhere nice and eat lots of grass and get lots of pats.

    Here I need to digress and say that Mum’s lifelong dream has been to own a horse, she loves them. When she was growing up, she used to go and muck out stables on the weekends just to be near horses, but she was a Sydney girl and it was never feasible to own one. When she and Dad moved to the farm, she spoke about getting one, but wasn’t sure how confident she would be riding anymore, so she let the dream go. But she used to talk to Tony about it and Tony is a fellow horse lover. So Tony got an idea…

    Tony and June bought my mum a horse. And they had him in the back of a truck at their place yesterday afternoon, ready to take out to the farm.

    My mum was so excited when I spoke to her, and I think it’s such a great story.

    So now, when I visit the farm, I’ll get to hang out with Tony the Pony!Welcome to the family equine brother!