I decided to begin piano lessons again this year when I realised the studio within 5 minutes walking distance of our house had free slots on weeknights. My satisfaction with living in Preston for the past 28 years (and not succumbing to moving houses out of restlessness) seems to rise with every new local person I talk to and every new shop I can walk to. I’m enjoying being less and less car dependant, and so for now it’s the coffee shop, the hairdresser, the lovely couple who run the grog shop and Red Note Piano Studios. I try hard to remember the shopkeepers and people I run into’s names.
I have long been thinking about what ties me to where I live and whether it would continue in the future, even into retirement. I don’t think I have enough friends or activities nearby to make a compelling argument for staying and I find myself trying harder to find some community I suppose, knowing a decision is coming at some point.
In a silly way I’m enjoying ticking off the years in one place and yet I’m wary of falling into my grandparents scenario of “50 years in our house in Preston, but wow we’re loving this new unit in Heidelberg – wish we moved earlier”. And then dying within 5 years or so.
But back to piano. I stopped in 2007 when World of Warcraft kicked in hard and I just couldn’t keep up the motivation. This time (Feb 2019) my teacher is half my age and she’s got similar classical interests Bach etc..and likes Phillip Glass too. She reckons she wrote a thesis on minimalism. We’re still getting to know each other a bit but it’s going well and I hope to do the grade 1 exams in December.
I rarely use this site for anything but book reviews anymore, but here and there other things need to be noted. And in the past 12 months there have been some high and low points. After Bonnie died so suddenly in mid 2018, I got it into my head in the months to follow that Fergus had lost some zest, perhaps even more than a 15 year old dog with faded hearing and dozens of benign lumps should. He just slept and slept. Kim and I debated it in a pretty casual way, and in building a case for another dog, my mind was tossing up how much effort it was to look after 2 dogs vs. 1, versus how much I wanted another dog around to give him more interest in life. It was inferred that it was on me to take most of the ongoing responsibility if we went down that path, probably because Bonnie had been quite a burden really.
Once again it took a lot longer than I wanted and I probably applied for about 8-10 dogs in varying states but generally older and with some health concerns, but I still rarely got a call back. I like how the rescue people take their caretaker role seriously but it made me anxious when they would talk about a meet and greet session which I knew Fergus would fail. I don’t know why he tries to chomp other dogs really. In the end we drove to Wodonga and in a highway roadhouse carpark met a free spirited young guy called Morgan who would do the rounds of outback NSW pounds and try and rehome them regionally or in Kyneton. Even then, he only let us take her because the previously approved adopters hadn’t got back to them the day before.
Leesa Cupcake was her name and she was really shy and kept wanting to get on Morgan’s lap and lick him on the face as a submissive act. We had the impression she had been part of pack of 3-4 dogs and hadn’t been on her own much. We took her back with us and it was interesting to watch her react to Preston. On the lead she had no idea what to do, and she mostly just followed Fergus with her head snapping at the slightest noises on the street. I don’t think she’d ever been in a city before. In the early months she was fantastic when meeting other dogs but over time this has changed as she’s become more confident and aggressive. She loves nothing more than lunging at birds or getting a head of steam up approaching other dog houses.
I’m so happy she is a healthy 8 year old and isn’t too dominant with Fergus. I think he’s picked up a lot since getting her and I see him watching her and following her as he trusts her eyesight and ears. She gets into bed with him sometimes out of boredom I suspect and he stands up irritated and moves over to her bed and spends ages mussing it up till it’s how he likes it. She’s put on a lot of weight too, thanks to our overly generous treat regime. It makes me excited that we’re about to take her on a caravan holiday to the beach which she’s likely never been to before. I bet she will love chasing the birds there and I’ll take some video for sure.
Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan. I thought I was largely done with magic realism in the 90s after large doses of Marquez and Allende, but wow, give me more – what a crazy story this was. Easily the most imaginative, fun and readable book out of this lot, but also incredibly dark. It continued to surprise and the magical stuff didn’t really ramp up until the last bit thank goodness. I could have kept reading forever. 5 stars.
Men and Cartoons by Jonathan Lethem. Looking back, to read this after the previous book was not ideal. The stories seem self-conscious and overworked, a couple of them are just terrible really, but there’s quite a bit of imagination on show too. Some of these feel like early attempts at short stories that didn’t quite work or fell short, but I’d still give it 3 stars for originality.
Towards the End of the Morning by Michael Frayn. Written in 1967, this funny little piece seemed to be exactly my kind of thing – an expose into the worst excesses of a newspaper office heading towards irrelevance, but along the way I realised that it was a lot more farcical than I expected. Some of the scenes in the TV studio were excruciating and unlikely, and although you know the protagonist is a silly git, and all the men in it are hopeless, it just made me a little sad in the end. I don’t think I love comedy in a novel much. 3.5 stars.
Revolutionary Road by Richard Yates. This must have been quite a shocking book for its time (1961) when divorce or family issues were scandalous things, not to be talked about. It’s beautifully written – the tension ratchets up relentlessly, and the crushing of dreams is heartbreakingly detailed. A very affecting book and I’m so pleased I finally got to it. 5 stars.
The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker. A series of essays talking about the rhythm of poetry (fairly handy really) linked by a man-loses-partner-frustrated-by-procrastination-and-tries-to win-her-back story. I didn’t love it, and I wouldn’t recommend it. 3 stars.
The MVP Machine by Lindbergh and Sawchik. The only non-fiction in this batch of books, this had been all over my Twitter feed for months until I succumbed. I know there’s still a lot of things I don’t know about baseball, and I’ll confess I did learn a bit about spin rates and how determined Trevor Bauer is, but it was overly long, repetitive and had a cheap, rough dust-jacket which I could barely stand to touch. 3 stars.
Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle (Mountain Goats). There were some early disconcerting moments because the book is put together in reverse order, so it’s funny that he titled it Wolf in White Van, because that’s what’s heard when playing Larry Norman’s “666” song backwards (for the satanic voices). A really interesting premise about a mail order adventure game “Trace Italian” run by a handicapped teenager, which ends up having real world consequences for some of the players. This is the sort of book that makes me nostalgic for the pre-internet age, when our imaginations were free to be explored and which spawned Dungeons and Dragons and the like. Occasionally it was a little verbose, but otherwise it was an amazing and worthwhile journey. 4 stars.
What a wonderful set of books to have to write about – fresh off our cruise, I found books 3,4 and 5 for 3 bucks in an Op Shop and devoured them all, before finishing off with my yearly crime/thriller pulp for a bit of 900 page fun.
Bought in New Zealand on our cruise, Crudo by Olivier Lang came recommended by someone on Twitter, and is really not my normal thing, but I enjoyed it. Anxious, paranoid, and worried about an uncertain political future, the narrator edges towards a future marriage like it’s a doomsday clock, afraid of everything it will bring. The writing is wonderfully dense with imaginative, seemingly disconnected phrases joined into sentences, always surprising and keeping you unbalanced as a reader. I found it a little self-conscious at times but found myself wanting more at the end. 4 stars.
Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy had been sitting on my shelf for years, and I think the cover and font put me off it for a long time, when I really should have been more fearful of the content in hindsight. Telling the historically true story of an 1850’s young teenage runaway that is enlisted in a group of hard men bounty hunting for Indian scalps along the Texas- Mexico border, it was compelling and repetitive at times, but hands down it was the most relentlessly bleak and murderous book I’ve ever read. I would not recommend it to most people, because there sections which did sicken this sensitive modern reader, some of which involved animal cruelty and the murder of many, many innocents. Not since Bolano’s 2666 have I felt such revulsion, and yet Blood Meridian goes way further, to the point of being apocalyptic. All through it, the brooding, relentless, messianic character, the Judge provides tension and finally horror when the Indians are no longer the enemy and the barbarity turns to events within the hunting party itself. Incredibly unsettling and impossible to forget – 4.5 stars.
After all that butchery, I needed something very different to remind myself of the the good things in the world, and I found it in the irresistible front cover and title Fever of Animals by Miles Allinson (a Victorian writer in his mid 30s at the time of writing). This intimate, self-aware book was everything that the last book in this series of reviews was not; unsure, not fully formed or thought out, and yet almost as compelling in its own quirky way. A seemingly autobiographical voyage to eastern Europe to discover the mystery of how the painter of a small work found on the wall of a Melbourne restaurant died after going missing in a forest walk in 1967. It’s the sort of thing that’s easily resolved in movies and Hollywood, but not 50 years later by a blundering amateur who’s unable to speak Romanian. It’s a fun journey regardless and worth the read 3.5 stars.
Poe Ballantine wrote the whimsical Guidelines for Mountain Lion Safety and with a name like that, I was preparing myself for some possible eyerolling until I read the phrase “one of Americas finest living writers” on the blurb. And it was wonderful stuff – here was a man who’d travelled his country on the cheap, had done a million two bit jobs and could write well about it all. I loved these short stories about his upbringing, girlfriends, drug addled uncle, and debaucherous years, and I just gobbled it all up. I’d read him again for sure. 4 stars.
This next book Black Rock White City, was the last of the three Op Shop ones, and I had saved it to this point because it was the one I was least excited about. Mostly because it was Australian, and because I thought I knew all the Aussie authors I liked already. It was a real surprise and I probably ended up enjoying it the most because of the suspense and because (I can’t believe I’m saying this) the relationships and dialogue were really convincing, if not the premise of the story (which reminded me a lot of the John Lanchester book I finished earlier this year). A.S Patric has written a compelling, edgy story of a first generation migrant caught up in events he wants no part of, and struggles to explain. 4 stars.
I was looking off into space at Kim’s “to read” bookshelf and came across a spine with a label “The only thriller you need to read this year – Guardian” and I realised it was time for a 900 page dose of pulp, and boy did I Am Pilgrim by Australian Terry Hayes deliver! Ridiculously readable, I spent a bunch of nights saying – oh just 1 more chapter before cursing and turning the light out after another hour. Once you accept that the protagonist is almost flawless, all knowing and wise (and thankfully not a total arsehole) and prescient due to infinite years of combat duty, medical experience blah blah blah, you roll with it, and try and decide whether you’d prefer it if the bad guy(s) get away with it, because those folks are all amazingly skilled as well, and you just have to admire everyone’s utter competence. When the U.S President gets involved you know it’s all jumped the shark but it remains just as compelling regardless. It satisfies in every way, as all of the ends are neatly tidied up, and there are some pretty original and exquisitely timed James Bond-like manoeuvres which make for a hell of a ride. The biggest page turner I’ve read in years. 4 stars – wild!
I’ve had a great start to the year with my reading, and nearly all of the books have been wonderful. Inspired by a new podcast called BackListed, I plan to venture off my safe path of Murnane, Galgut and Carey one day, but not just yet. I managed to get through about 3 and a half books in two weeks on our New Zealand cruise, and it was all very effortless.
Murnane’s Barley Patch had been sitting around in my piano / computer room for 10 years and I don’t know why. I have a feeling I bought it after listening to him be interviewed at the Melbourne Book Festival back then, but I’m confused by the Readings sticker, since I think the event was at the MaltHouse Theatre. Regardless, I’m going to be vague here and say that once again, his mesmerising and voyeuristic prose will always captivate me, even if I’m occasionally irritated by his wilful and pedantic use of “boy-man” and “image-object” and digressions about what defines fiction writing, however I’m still planning to go to the Goroke Bowling Club one day and shyly stalk my literary hero in his final days. 4 stars.
As someone who thought in 1994 (and still thinks) that the internet was the greatest thing in the world, I felt I needed to see what cultural richness I’d missed in my life, and Sebastian Smee’s Quarterly Essay Net Loss tried pretty hard to describe it to me. It’s true that with phones around, “it gets hard to pick up a book, harder to stay with it”, but I felt that way playing World of Warcraft too. I was more convinced watching a YouTube video of Roald Dahl writing in his shack than I was after 56 pages of Net Loss. 3 stars.
I’m pretty sure that this is my second John Lanchester book, and both have been straightforward, but intriguing stories. This one, Capital, reads like a BBC drama series (and apparently became one), and beguiles with the premise of a nasty campaign against the (mostly) wealthy home owners of Pepys Road, London by an unknown have not, who leaves “We want what you have” messages everywhere, and which escalates. A little cliche prone at times, but it was fresh and humane and a joy to read. It had me waiting nearly the full 575 pages before spilling the beans. 4 stars.
The Imposter, by Damon Galgut is about an early 40’s man, having lost his 20 year corporate job who finds himself being dared to write the poetry he always dreamed of doing in a rundown rural shack owned by his brother, many hours drive from Johannesburg. Aimless months go by with little progress and the man, finding himself progressively becoming unhinged is grateful when an old now-wealthy school friend takes him on board and offers him weekends away with his wife whilst they transform and old game park into a golf course with plenty of graft and money involving local officials.
This is yet another wonderful book by Galgut whose sense of the racial and wealth divide in South Africa is always concisely detailed and who manages a broody unpredictable storyline in all his novels. 4.5 stars.
I’ve finally spat the dummy with an early Peter Carey book, managing 96 pages of The Unusual Life of Tristan Smith before giving up in disinterest. The forced quirkiness and richness of unlikeable characters felt implausible and inconsistent to me; the construct of the lands of Voorstand and Efica (seemingly a simple name replacement for Australia and New Zealand) added just for novelty. I’m a little afraid to go back and read Illywhacker again in case I feel the same way – I think my tastes have just moved on a bit. I wonder if Carey himself feels a little sheepish about this book in 2019? 2 stars.
American Rust by Philipp Meyer was a much more straightforward, but convincing affair set in a rural Pennsylvania steel town, probably one of thousands of novels published in the last few decades documenting missed opportunities and the jobless consequences for blue collar workers. I found it pretty dark (particularly the prison and the hitchhiking / homeless sections), but it rang true and was a compelling read, jumping between 4 or 5 viewpoints. A self-confident high school jock son finds himself involved in an accidental death of a vagrant and wrestles with his allegiances, whilst a world weary sheriff is forced to make a decision between his relationship with the boys mother or his job. Satisfying and convincing. 4 stars.
Detroit by Charlie LeDuff was not quite the anthology I expected, and in a good way. It’s a memoir of 5 parts ego, 2 parts good Samaritan and 4 parts tabloid gonzo journalist, chasing anything that would sell copies of the Detroit News. LeDuff is no doubt a no-bullshit, ballsy guy who rocked a lot of boats amongst those in power in Detroit by exposing corruption, lack of resourcing and the third world-ness of his hometown. There’s not a lot of hope or positivity in this book, but it’s a hell of an eye-opener and his writing is authentic and utterly frightening. 4 stars.
I need to not wait 6 months before going back over things – there’s a book in this list I had absolutely no memory of reading, and had to re-scan the blurb to remind myself of its merit.
Since I was going to visit the Midwest in September, I remember seeing Between the World and Me, by Coates and thinking – great, a black author and a thin book; perfect if I’m not enjoying it, as I’ll still finish it, and also intriguing because I’ve never consciously read anything about race before. I suspect I didn’t want to slog through Hillbilly Elegy either. I need not have worried about it because it was terrific and eye opening to me, and I read it in about 3 short sessions. 4 stars.
I’ve always liked Peter Carey’s earlier books like Oscar and Lucinda or Illywacker the most because of their quirky characters and unlikely scenarios, but this barely continues to hold true after the Kelly book and now Amnesia, which is set in nearby Coburg and Carlton. Once again (for an expatriot) he shows a remarkable feel for (a perhaps 80’s dated) Melbourne and it’s political factions and migrant families. I wasn’t overly taken by the hacker teens premise of the book, but his characters were very believable and the pages just melted away. An easy read in the presence of a master. 4.5 Stars.
I had absolutely no idea what Michael Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White was about when I nabbed it secondhand, but the reviews were all great and that’s usually enough for me. I read big chunks of it up in Woolgoolga sitting outside the caravan minding Fergus and it was a pleasure. Apart from the 800 pages – almost twice as long as it needed to be (or could have been), it was an enthralling rags to riches tale of Sugar, a lowly prostitute in the awful, patron-dependent world of 1870’s London. Some really rich character depictions here (the inscrutable Sugar, the ill Agnes Rackham, and the tortured Henry Rackham). A really engaging and forthright story and deserves all its accolades. 5 stars.
In contrast, Matthew Berry’s Fantasy Life was the lazy read I thought I needed afterwards, and by a quarter way through I was regretting it. I should have chucked it then and there but slogged through. 2 stars.
Knowing I was likely going to visit Indianapolis, the early home of Kurt Vonnegut (and the Vonnegut Museum), I decided to read the only book of his I didn’t own – the amusing God Bless you Mr. Rosewater. Having afterwards listened to a nearly 2 hour podcast specifically on this book by two clever guys who call themselves the Vonneguys, I realise how shallow my readings of his books have been. It’s been 10 or 15 years since I’d picked up one of his books, but this one reminded me yet again of the unexpected humour, the originality, and the deep pessimism and cynicism of the man. 4.5 Stars and a fun read.
Cricket is not exactly one of my interests, but there was enough quirk in Joseph O’Neill’s Netherland to capture my interest. A corporatised Dutchman in New York in the midst of an expat marital breakdown finds a local with the passion and insanity to try and introduce the game to the U.S public, with some illegalities thrown in for spice. It was a fun read, however occasionally a little too autobiographical for comfort. Still, a solid book that felt at times like a slow burning thriller without actually delivering as such. 3.5 Stars.
I’ve developed a bit of a love affair with books published by Harvill Press which existed from 1946 to 2005, with their distinctive leopard icon on the spine. I always seem to give them an extra look in secondhand bookshops, perhaps because they seem to publish “serious fiction” which has austere or non-playful covers, as is the case in William Maxwell’s short story collection All the Days and Nights, published in 1994. I had not known Maxwell was a mentor to writers like Updike and Cheever, but on the evidence here, I want to read his longer works too. His writing (to me) is dated by his propensity to not finish stories cleanly or simply, leaving room for interpretation, which is the antithesis of the modern age. I hear him described as a humanist, which I can see, but after Vonnegut, everyone else seems like a milder blander version of that. I still think there is plenty of quality here, and I’ll try him again sometime. 4 stars.
Reddit, Fantasy Baseball and U.S Trip planning have combined to make this my worst year for reading books in a long time. But I’ve been really happy with the ones I’ve finished – this lot were done by March, and then a stressful work computer room move from Southbank to Docklands happened and before I knew it, May was over.
The Knausgaard book A Death in the Family was an easy, never-boring read, and thankfully I didn’t feel I needed to finish all 3600 pages of the 6 volume set to sense the mastery and confidence, and enjoy the density and detail. Like Proust, there’s every chance I’ll go back and finish it oneday. 4 stars.
The Diary of a Bookseller (Shaun Bythell) was a book Kim bought me, and having read a few of these over the years, I expected a slog, but he keeps it very fresh, making outrageous but amiable jokes about his part time staff, and some of the deadbeat customers he deals with in a small bookish town in Scotland. It was pretty funny and quite a success I thought. 4 stars.
A few years ago, I became enamoured with the idea we’d catch a freighter ship from Perth to London to get to Europe in the shortest time for a long non-flying holiday, but it never happened, however my subconscious may have kicked in at the 3MBS Book Fair, and I decided to read about it instead. And it was very revealing, in a sad Oh-boy-the-lives-people-are-forced-to-live kind of way. There are some wistful interviews with outgoing sea captains who bemoan the introduction of automated container loading (boats are now in port a number of hours, not days so workers get few breaks), and who feel the highly paid skilled folk are being forced out by computing and super cheap 3rd world labour, in an industry more opaque than any other. It was a terrific read, and I’m full of admiration for the writer Rose George (Deep Sea and Foreign Going), whose fastidious research shines through. Some of the Somalian pirate section was surprisingly tense. Highly recommended – 5 stars.
Finally, I thought I’d have a dig through Melbournian David Nicholls’ “Dig – Australian Rock and Pop Music 1960-1985” which had been sitting around awhile. Really well researched also, and although I didn’t read it cover to cover (mostly the second half), I thoroughly enjoyed it. He’s only a few years older than me, but has industry contacts and musical insights I could only dream of. One day I’d like to meet the Jacana man, whose Distant Violins fanzines I once bought and whose 3RRR radio shows introduced me to The Fall and lofi-pop. I even bought a copy of Dig for a mate. Onya David! 4 stars.
In October 2016, we took over the care of 12ish year old Bonnie, a senior rescue dog with canine Cushings and near-deafness, and who had aged beyond her years, with lumps and bumps and non-malignant tumours abounding. She looked rough and unloved and had large sections on her chest and back flanks where hair didn’t grow.
She was a most inquisitive little thing, trotting over to strangers, as if to say – “Are you my mother?”. I warmed to her immediately, and she only got better as she relaxed in our household.
It took a year or more of tablets before she stopped gulping down all her food in 5 mins, and making a beeline for poor old Fergus and his dish, and he developed anxiety about her stealing it all. But she never stopped with her incredible thirst, and did some famous wee trails as she walked, because I didn’t want it to pool around her feet. She walked pretty well, but never really figured out exactly which house we lived in. I’d do tests to see if she’d turn into the driveway without prompting but it rarely worked!
Although deaf, she’d make these cute little gulp sounds, snore loudly at night beside my bed, raise her front leg inquisitively when in doubt (like a lot of dogs), and sometimes struggle to get out of bed as her belly made her a body with legs. She’d sleep with her tongue out and take a minute or so on waking to realise it needed to go back in.
Over the last six months, she developed some routines –walk out the dog flap, do a complete circuit around the outdoor table and chairs, and drop down the brick steps to the tanbark sideway where she’d take her time finding the right spot to wee. Then rush back in, as if to say – hey I did the right thing, reward me now? We took her in the caravan for a month, and with her bad legs it was 2 times a night for me to take her out but hey, I was on hols so it didn’t matter.
Recently she figured out that laying in her human’s arms was not as scary as it seemed, and she seemed to like it more and more, but in short doses. She began to seek head and neck rubs more and more.
I just didn’t expect it would be over so soon, and even though she took the bulk of the dog attention because of her disease, and made walks an exercise in patience, I never minded any of it because I really loved this dog, and I’m embarrassed how few photos I took considering how much time I spent with her.
I’m happy that her downturn was pretty quick, and decisions were made for us, and I’m supposed to console myself that we gave her a really good 20 months, but it wasn’t long enough, and I bet she’d think the same thing because she had all the love in the world from us too. Goodbye BonBon, Bonza, my beautiful innocent girl – I’m really heartbroken and wish you were back with me.
A surging Cleveland Indians and podcasts like Short Hops and Rotowire Sports led me to a fresh passion for baseball over the past six months or so. Everything is so much easier for foreign fans now with the internet and MLB.TV
Somewhat nervously I decided to give fantasy baseball another go after an 11 year break. Only after the season finished I went back to an old post and found I had won my league back in the day. This time around I tried both an old fasioned Rotosserie league and at the last minute, a Head to Head league.
As per the screenshots below, I came 5th in both these 12 team leagues. In hindsight the head to head was a lot more fun and I had some genuinely nailbiting moments on the Monday mornings which ended each week.
I won my final consolation playoff game 10-0 but I blame a midseason slump where I forgot to keep aggressively trading for in-form players and had some bad luck too.
Next time I will avoid dual catcher leagues (it’s hard enough finding a single catcher who plays 90% of games, let alone two). I’d also be very happy to skip on Saves for Saves and Holds…I missed a lot points that way.
I really have no idea why I did so terribly in ERA and WHIP (in both leagues really) and put it down to picking pitchers with high strikeout numbers instead and choosing in- form players over more seasoned types who play themselves into form as the season progresses.
I still had a blast, but it took up a fair bit of time on the tram. I missed out on the fun of having someone to talk about it with, so I might try joining a social league next year if they exist. Ultimately I would like to attend a live draft but I need to know the players a lot better first. I’d love to watch a few games again in person oneday.
Sometime in the 2000s I started to drink more regularly at home midweek. It’s something we both had in common and enjoyed, although rarely to excess. I sometimes think about my life and its routines and wonder if a morose boredom brought about the excesses of 2010 to 2013 which saw me drinking higher alcohol (but awesome flavoured) boutique/Belgian beers most nights, which I believe now to have brought about my pancreatic problems at that time.
After stopping all alcohol for 3 years I realised how much I had relied on it and I’m wary of resuming former habits, but it feels utterly fantastic to have a schooner of hoppy Pale Ale a few times a week now. Talking to Ash, it’s one of the few things that guys with disparate hobbies or interests can share…a beer at a local watering house. Guys that I know don’t just drop by your house for a chat and a cup of tea. I’m looking forward to hitting the Raccoon Club with the old geezer again soon – especially now the weather is warming up. It’s been years since I visited that place.