Castles, ghosts, heart surgery, Paris

This was such a good month for reading, I travelled back to Australia for Christmas and had a fair few 3am wake ups to read through, and after finishing the Wolf Hall trilogy I felt like I could tackle anything (except Middlemarch, which I’m circling. So many people love it. Maybe I should try audio?)

The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel

The last of the Thomas Cromwell books from the late, wunderbar Hilary Mantel. I sensed that she didn’t want to let go of Cromwell, so this book felt slightly drawn out, but it was still the reading experience of last year for me. I listened to all three on audio and highly recommend the experience as there is a lot of very subtle dialogue that is wonderful to hear rather than read.  

Almost French by Sarah Turnbull

This is one of those classic travel memoirs that I read years ago and rediscovered on my parents’ bookshelves when I got home. As I’m currently working on a travel memoir about the last four years in Berlin, I am reading as much as I can (recommendations welcome) and reading this, I understand why the genre is so popular: Paris, romance, a sense of adventure, a lively narrator showing you around a city without having to actually get off the couch.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

After getting a bit stuck with one of her placid domestic memoirs, Raising Demons, I realise I far prefer her horror. You can see how the two worlds must have fed off each other: her as a suburban mother, trying to maintain some semblance of order while raising four children and wanting to write at a time when women were only meant do the former, and then these weird, gothic stories where she lets it all out. I’m going to have to read her biography next. She fascinates me.

A Kind Of Magic by Anna Spargo-Ryan

A lot simmers below the surface in this book – family patterns, motherhood, mental health care, forgiveness, hope – but the storytelling is always at its centre. The anecdotes are engaging and often very funny, wandering from house moves to Formula One to Neighbours, and the stories of her family are very moving, particularly a scene with her grandfather in the car, waiting patiently for his wife as she tries to leave the house.

For me it was also about the power of putting your own life into words, and how transformative that can be. A great book to read in January, and if you’re thinking of writing a memoir this will definitely inspire you.

Wild Things by Sally Rippin

Sally Rippin is the author of the Billy B Brown and Hey Jack chapter books, which many Aussie kids would have come across. Here, she delves into her own experience of finding that her youngest son was struggling to read, and how she helped him find a path through formal education. Dyslexia is one of those learning disabilities that a generation or two ago would have gone mostly unnoticed; now there is so much more awareness around learning disabilities and neurodivergence, and so much that can be done to help people so that it doesn’t define their path in life. Really useful and full of tips about getting your kids through school, dyslexic or not.

People Might Hear You by Robin Klein

This is a wonderful 1980s YA book I recognised immediately when I saw it in Perth at the Paraquad Industries Book Bazaar in Shenton Park – what a place! As I read the story came back to me and I remembered what an incredible, lyrical writer she is. Its themes of cults, domestic isolation and doomsday prepping all felt weirdly ahead of their time – and such a beautiful last line.

The Outrun by Amy Liptrot

I saw this recommended on Instagram and read it in a couple of days on my phone. A memoir that takes a few seemingly disparate elements: the Orkney Islands, alcoholism and London – and spins them into a distinctive story.

Scrubbed by Nikki Stamp

I tore through this memoir by Perth heart surgeon Nikki Stamp in a day. Heart surgery, difficult colleagues, life and death situations – it has it all. I suspect it shares some similarities with Emotional Female by former surgeon Yumiko Kadota, as Stamp also writes about the difficult of finding a place in the male-dominated field of cardiology.

I always love a well-written medical memoir. It is depressing, though, to realise how hard it is for women to become and stay surgeons, particularly when research shows that women have better outcomes when operated on by women.

Books like this get us closer to equality, though, I believe that. I have to.

Also, no more guilt about borrowing E-books and audiobooks from the library

It really feels like Australia is getting behind its writers. It wasn’t a priority of the Morrison government – you only had to see how little the man enjoyed being questioned in press conferences to understand that he wouldn’t be much of a fan of pesky writers and their annoying books – but it feels like this government recognises and appreciates writers and is backing up those warm feelings with actual cash.

There will be more funding for writers, a new funding body, Writers Australia, and audiobooks and e-books, which I’ve borrowed a lot, feeling rather guilty, using my WA library card, will now be included in lending rights payouts. Thanks to the Australian Society of Authors for campaigning long and hard on this.

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