My stack of spines

May 30, 2019 at 8:44 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , )

I’ve been writing, as usual, but I’ve also been reading.

Lord, have I been reading.

I’ve always been a bookworm but it seems to have kicked into high gear recently. There’s a stack of spines on my dresser, but also in my kitchen, and the studio too. I almost hold my breath when walking past The Sun bookshop in Yarraville, or Brown and Bunting in Northcote, lest my feet automatically turn and walk in, my fingers opening and closing in readiness. As conundrums go, it’s really not a bad one, hey?

Here are some of the books that I’ve slid from a stack recently, and devoured.

Saga Land’ by Richard Fidler and Kári Gíslason

Anyone who regularly reads this blog knows how much I love Iceland. Even my pharmacist, hairdresser and vet know how much I love Iceland. My novel is set there – currently getting stuck into manuscript revisions and edits, thanks for asking! I studied the language at university, and I’ve been there many times, including an incredible month-long writing residency in a tiny fishing village up near the Arctic Circle. Unforgettable.

novel edits

Editing advice from my Icelandic fortune cards: ‘Let go of it.’

‘Saga Land’ is deeply engaging. It offers twin strands of the authors’ personal history and travels across that wild, white land, woven in with tales of the sagas and their richly detailed insight into Icelandic culture and history. Definitely worth a read.

‘Rebecca’ by Daphne du Maurier

I was a latecomer to this classic. In all honesty, my tastes run more to contemporary titles: I still resent English Literature classes and their force feeding of Austen and the Brontës. Du Maurier is one of my partner’s favourite writers, so when I found this gorgeous version of ‘Rebecca’ in Ampersand, Sydney’s revered second-hand bookstore, I couldn’t resist (their brunch of black sticky rice, coconut cream and caramelised bananas with crushed hazelnuts also got a huge thumbs up). I started reading this book at the airport flying home to Melbourne and could not put it down for a week. I kept sending my man texts along the lines of ‘I can’t believe Max de Winter did (spoiler)!’ or ‘Oh my god, Mandelay (spoiler)!’ This glorious Gothic suspense novel makes me want to visit Cornwall, and scan more bookshelves for du Maurier’s name.

Rebecca at Ampersand

Delights at Ampersand Books, Sydney

‘Angry Women in Rock’ edited by Andrea Juno

This book is an old favourite of mine. I bought it in the 90’s when I joined several online communities dedicated to writing and putting out feminist punk zines. These interviews are just so invigorating: Kathleen Hanna (Bikini Kill), Lynn Breedlove (Tribe 8), Joan Jett and my absolute favourite, the incomparable Val Agnew from 7 Year Bitch (one of THE best bands of the 90’s). I love the fiery opinions, the delicate artwork, the Goddess tattoos, and the reverence of metal and punk music. I often pull this off the shelves for a dose of feminist fire.

Juno book

Interview with the extraordinary Valerie Agnew from 7 Year Bitch

‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood

What the HELL just happened? This was my bellow to my bestie as I came to the end of just the first chapter (!) of this staggering, controversial and unforgettable book. I took it as a holiday read for a quick New Year’s jaunt to Tasmania, but I did not get much rest. The cover should have warned me, with its praise from other authors along the lines of ‘A haunting parable of contemporary misogyny…sly and devastating’ (The Economist) and ‘You can’t shake off this novel; it gets under your skin, fills your lungs, breaks your heart’ (Christos Tsiolkas). Ten young women are abducted and held in a makeshift prison in the middle of the stark Australian outback, the heat and desert a jailor in itself. The women come to realise that all they have in common is involvement in ten different sexual scandals with prominent men; kept away from society, they are all being punished and can either turn to, or against, each other. I will say the ending had me wanting to pull my hair out, but in all honesty, I hope a reader reacts with the same vehemence to one of my books one day.

Wood

Charlotte Woods’ astonishing ‘The Natural Way of Things’

There are many, many more books to detail! I would love to add:

  • ‘The Breathless Zoo: Taxidermy and the Culture of Longing’ by Rachel Poliquin (the first draft of my novel may have come to an end, but my love of taxidermy research that arose from it will never cease)
  • ‘The Tricking of Freya’ by Christina Sunley (more Icelandic stories)
  • ‘Beautiful Revolutionary’ by Laura Elizabeth Woollett (gorgeous writing about the startling People’s Temple cult)
  • ‘A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists’ by Jane Rawson (odd and engaging fiction that defies definition: part speculative, part cli-fi prose set around my area of Melbourne’s industrial west).

 

book store sign

Sign found in a bookstore in Kallista, the Dandenongs

Rebecca on Sydney windowsill

Windowsill bliss

And on my To Be Read list?

  • Lucia Berlin’s ‘A Manual for Cleaning Women.’
  • Daisy Johnson’s ‘Everything Under.’
  • Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir’s ‘Butterflies in November.’
  • Daphne du Maurier’s ‘Jamaica Inn.’

And I am always ready to hear your recommendations, or your thoughts on any of the above books. My stacks of spines are tall, you know, but they could always get taller.

book stack

 

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Where the fire god lives

May 20, 2013 at 8:26 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

Any horse who leaves the country can never return.

The Icelandic word for goodbye is bless.

Roads are rerouted to avoid underground elf homes.

And she will never go.

She keeps her Reykjavik guidebook close. She pulls it out on the tram and slides a finger down the spine and into the depths. Certain pages show her longing; a coffee stain on the flea market at Kolaportið, tobacco flakes on the bookstore at Skólavörðustígur. She doesn’t know how to speak Icelandic but she would try, lord knows she would try, her throat aching to make the sounds.

She would open her mouth and watch the words spiral out, snowflakes catching on their edges.

She reads about shark meat left to ferment underground. After three months it’s dug up, rolled in salt, and washed down with caraway schnapps. She wonders if she would gag at the ripe ammonia smell, covering the spasm with the back of her hand.

She reads about winter blizzards over the black volcanic soil where tourists are discovered, weeks too late, with snow piled over the roofs of their cars. And she knows she wouldn’t be found clutching the door handle when they scraped the ice from her windscreen.

She drinks down these words as the tram clanks by, sliding a fingertip between her breasts to wipe away the sweat of an Australian summer. A blowfly lands on the cracked window as the passengers moan about the heat, and try to unstick their damp thighs from the vinyl seats.

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

The heart of the Arctic whale weighs more than one tonne.

Hot water from the taps stinks of sulphur.

Strip clubs were outlawed a decade ago.

And she will never go.

She glances out the window. She watches the football ground flash by, blackbirds swooping over sun-bleached grass, and then turns back to her guidebook. She raises her pen and with thin, vicious strokes, underlines all the places she won’t see.

She reads that fifty years ago, a volcanic eruption off the coast of Iceland sent plumes of black smoke spiralling into the sky. Out of the churning waves rose a new island, one square mile across, spitting lava into the ocean. She strikes her pen underneath the Norse fire god who lent it his name, Surtsey, and keeps reading.

Over time birds came to roost, mosses and lichens formed, and spiders nested into the black volcanic soil. But no human has ever lived there, in a land at the top of the world where isolation is constant and the northern lights snake across the winter sky.

Someone pulls the tram cord as the man next to her hums. She keeps reading. She frowns, and slides the top of the pen between her lips. She’s looking at a small triangular hut on the north side of Surtsey, a shelter for the shipwrecked. She’s looking at the rusted roof, and she’s already seeing her hand on the door, pushing it open.

She would have burnt wine in her coffee as she looked out at the ocean, standing at the cliff’s edge. She would have no words on her tongue but it would be all right, for once it would be all right, as she stood and watched the waves roll in, and remembered a time when she was still brave enough to set sail for new lands.

She chews on the end of her pen as the tram doors hiss open.

Here is what she knows about Iceland.

In the Middle Ages it was thought to be the mouth of hell.

Icelanders read more books than any other nation.

The fur of the Arctic fox changes colours with the seasons.

And she will never go.

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