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Though this is the first year I have ‘lived’ in this little patch of country Victoria, it is my third visit, and the third time I have started a Winter here. I did think that, by comparison, Autumn hung around as long as it could and has made a thoroughgoing effort to keep the town looking lovely. There are still plenty of beautiful yellow and orange trees shaking their little coats down onto the footpaths. It’s delightful. But there are also fewer and fewer hours in the day when one can venture outside and maintain circulation to fingers and toes.

This chilly situation has it’s own advantages for someone as thoroughly and completely uncool as me. I am entirely without any sense of style, I have always known this, but every now and then I feel like I should try. But it’s inevitably disastrous, so winter is a welcome reprieve. When Pri 1 is only to be warm, it seems much more acceptable now to put PJs on straight after work than it does in sunny February. ‘Warm’, in my case, has never equalled ‘matching’, or ‘trendy’, or even ‘acceptable for answering the door’. I don’t mean your Peter Alexander pants and your beloved’s cosy hoodie and cute slippers and a messy bun – that shit belongs in an Ed Sheeran videoclip. I mean ‘these 3/4 pants are the only ones not in the wash, so I’m going to have to pair them up with knee high hiking socks if I don’t want to freeze, and I suppose this old PT shirt with the few holes will do, and I swore I would never wear this sweater again after that airport incident, but hey, it’s cotton, so it’ll breathe when I’m wrapped around the three heat packs and hot water bottle in bed tonight’.

Further to embracing this homely attire has been a prompt to one of my other Winter pastimes – a little bit of a reading challenge. I’ve set myself a few over the years, with varied success. Booker Prize Winners, Non-Western Authors, Australian authors, Books I Bought But Have Never Read, Books People Loaned Me Months (*Years*) Ago And Probably Want Back’, etc. A couple of weeks ago, I stumbled across this Master List, which has many wonderful ideas, and settled on the Alphabet Soup Challenge. A book for each letter, as perhaps is obvious (the rules are a little relaxed – as long as there’s a word somewhere in the title starting with the applicable letter, it’s allowed). I’ve started compiling my list, and am trying to keep a bit of variety in the mix, to reflect the things I love and that help me keep the long view. A bit of post-war fiction, a bit of domestic wisdom, a bit of political savvy, and a bit of fantastical escapism. But as you can see below, there are a lot of gaps in my list, so I’m hoping a few good friends might point me in the direction of the books they’ve loved lately!

Jx

(PS – I’m a big fan of ‘book pairings’ – a little bit of deliberate savouring of the last chapter in a especially good book. I wore the Sorting Hat my brother gave me when I finished HPDH. I was given a parcel of Ceylon Silver Tips with my copy of The English Patient, which was much anticipated by the end, because it took  me a VERY long time to read). The book I’m reading now is set in Prague, so I’m going to try my hand at a Czech dish when I finish it. So… Add those recommendations too, if you have them!)

books&snow

ALPHABET SOUP BOOKLIST

A – Around the World in 80 Days by Jules Verne

B

C

D – The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby 

E – Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss

F

G – The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson

H – Heroic Australian Women in War by Susanna de Vries (starting over, after losing and finding in my last move)

I – The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

J – The Judge’s Wife by Ann O’Loughlin

K

L – Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

M

N

O – The Origins of Political Order by Francis Fukuyama

P

Q

R

S – The Satanic Verses by Salmon Rushdie

T – Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

U

V

W – The Wife Drought by Annabel Crabb

X

Y – Yates Garden Guide

Z

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?”… “As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

Cornelia FunkeInkspell

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Today was one of those good days that starts with a perfect quartet: good brunch and good coffee in the home of good family who have good bookshelves. Perfection, right there. So, as one can when she is in entirely comfortable territory and the conversation is easy, I began to browse the bookshelves. A few things occurred to me.

Firstly… Bookshelves tell you a lot about someone. They are maps, or maybe artworks, that collect together the circumstances under which each book came to be there, whether they were gifts, or deliberate choices, or are ‘borrowed’ books that are still making their way home. They came from this airport newsagency, or that birthday, this lover, or that rainy day in an unfamiliar city where getting lost ended up on a street with a bookstore. Thank God. So all this made me realise how very personal bookshelves are. They’re almost intimate! If you take a look at my bookshelf, you may as well pick up my soul and have a good look through while you’re there, because there won’t be a lot of secrets left. The chapters of my life are very clearly there, just in separate volumes. If I’ve read it, something about it (however small), stayed with me. If I haven’t read it yet, it’s there because I really want to – I’m trying to grow into the person who will have read that book one day. As future considerations go, it got me to thinking about where I will put the library in the home I will have one day. I always thought it would be right by the front door, so visitors know exactly where it is. That way they will know where to seek solitude in a comfy chair with a cuppa when needing to escape company (which will always be perfectly acceptable at my place). But now I’m not sure! Perhaps a little more reserve and privacy. Perhaps in the back room (much more relaxed), where family and close friends are welcome. If you don’t mind me being in my PJs when you arrive and you feel comfortable making your own tea, you are welcome to browse and take from the bookshelf.

Secondly… I don’t just look at nice covers and interesting titles when I’m browsing a bookshelf… I wonder about the authors. Was this their first book? Where did they write it? What are they doing now? I have wondered out loud before about how the authors on my bookshelf felt about the neighbourhood in which I had put them. Of course, this is less of a hassle when one doesn’t bother ordering their bookshelves at all (ahem, DAD*), but it occurs to me – incontrovertible proof that I am an excruciating overthinker. Perhaps it is the consequence of having quite a few history and theology texts on my shelf – whole wars have been fought over the contents, so perhaps those two might not like to live next door to each other. But perhaps novelists deserve the same consideration. He wouldn’t get her sense of humour at all and she won’t understand why he is taking so long to get to the point.

Thirdly… Books are my greatest weakness. I have been given many lovely gifts in my life, but books have almost always been my most treasured (with a couple of exceptions). I have been won over instantly by that little leap that comes of recognising one, two, three books on their shelf that are also on mine. I would forgive just about anything if the offender had a good enough bookshelf. This lovely piece, on why you should fall in love with a girl who reads, is just about spot on. When life gets tough, make tea. When it gets really bad, go for a walk, preferably up a mountain. When it’s heading toward unbearable territory, lose yourself in a bookstore.

* Dad – at least put all the Margaret Atwood in the same room, if not next to each other. Honestly!

For those who, like me, are still finalising their Lenten reading:

(With thanks to Andy Goodliff for compiling this list)

1983 The Truce of God by Rowan Williams

1988 Looking Before and After by Helen Oppenheimer

1992 Tested by the Cross – Wesley Carr

1993 Mary’s Story, Mary’s Song by Elaine Storkey

1997 Pilgrims by Stephen Platten

1998 The Shape of Living by David Ford

1999 Living Well by Robert Warren

2000 Following the Way by Gerald O’Collins

2001 Christ on Trial: How the Gospel Unsettles our Judgement by Rowan Williams

2002 Pearl Beyond Price: The Attractive Jesus by David Day

2003 Flame in the Mind by Michael Marshall

2004  I Thirst by Stephen Cottrell

2005 The Wounds of Jesus: A Meditation on the Crucified Saviour by Christina Baxter

2006 Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace by Miroslav Volf

2007 Power and Passion: Six Characters in Search of Resurrection by Sam Wells

2008 Life Conquers Death: Meditations on the Garden, the Cross, and the Tree of Life by John Arnold

2009 Why go to church? The Drama of the Eucharist by Timothy Radcliffe

2010 Our Sound is Our Wound: Contemplative Listening to a Noisy World by Lucy Winkett

2011 Barefoot Disciple: Walking the Way of Passionate Humility by Stephen Cherry

2012 Love Unknown by Ruth Burrows

2013 Abiding by Ben Quash:

http://www.archbishopofcanterbury.org/articles.php/5018/launch-of-lent-book-abiding-by-ben-quash

I think blogging  takes quite a bit of self-discipline, and (like lots of other self-disciplines) is often easy to neglect but very rewarding when it does get done – quite like going to the gym. In 2011, I got better at reading blogs, but certainly no better at keeping mine. I’m not feeling too bad about this, seeing as I’m quite sure I’m writing to an extremely small (but no doubt excellent!) readership. That said, I really do think it is a helpful habit, mostly because I do think almost constantly, and it is helpful to put some order to those thoughts.

As it happens, there are just a few gaps in the List of 25, so feel free to make recommendations! I especially want to make some progress on my resolution from LAST year to read through more of the Man Booker Prize list…

Out of interest, did anyone make any especially interesting new year’s resolutions for 2012?

And just for fun, some food for thought from the Abebooks website…

Oh, hello. Well, I have bad news, and good news. I’ll alternate, so as not to shock your delicate sensibilities.

Bad news: your schooner/sailboat/yacht/canoe/dinghy has capsized in a terrible storm and sunk to the bottom of a watery abyss to become home to the eels.

Good news: having clung tenaciously to life and an upturned Styrofoam beer cooler, you have now washed ashore, rumpled, nauseated and salty, but still in one piece.

Bad news: this small island in the middle of the ocean appears to be uninhabited by any other human beings. You are decidedly alone (I recognise that to some of you, this may be good news).

Good news: your basic needs for food, water and shelter are covered with a plethora of fruit trees, a natural spring waterfall, and a conveniently-located cave, warm and dry and free of creatures and guano.

Bad news: There is nary an electrical outlet in sight, so unless that laptop is solar-powered, it has just become a makeshift shovel or paperweight.

Good news: Your waterproof rucksack saves the day! It did its job by protecting its contents, snug and dry: a good supply of matches, and three books: The Holy Bible (or comparable spiritual/religious/philosophical/humanist text), The Works of Shakespeare, and _____________.

The last blank on the list is, of course, yours to fill in.

…okay, so we have blatantly stolen the concept from the long-running (since 1942) BBC Radio program ‘Desert Island Discs’ (it itches my grammatical sensibilities that it is not called ‘Deserted Island Discs’ – are there a lot of islands in the desert? But I digress.) in which celebrities of different disciplines and varying levels of fame are interviewed and given the chance to choose which eight pieces of music, which book, and which luxury item they would want with them, were they stranded on a deserted island. The focus on the radio show is the music, but I’m fascinated by the literary aspect, and started to think…. What would I choose? What formula would I employ? There’s no telling how long I’m going to be there. I decided to look to the experts, and see what other authors and writers had chosen for their books. Combing through the archives of the radio show, there are certain books and authors that make repeat appearances. John Updike, Tariq Ali, Philip Pullman, Stan Barstow, Richard Adams, Dodie Smith and A.S. Byatt all chose Marcel Proust. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy, W.H. Auden and Oscar Wilde all had repeated showings as well, as did various dictionaries, most often the Oxford English. I enjoyed Bill Bryson’s selection – he picked one of his own books. Brazen.

Having surveyed the famous, I decided to turn to the infamous, and ask my coworkers what they thought. After getting rid of the chaff (a million emails with the island-equivalent of “I’d wish for unlimited wishes” — thanks guys), the wheat was pretty interesting. Some people chose books clearly meant to further their chances of getting off the island (books about building, scavenging, edible types of plants, books about fishing). Some chose books clearly meant to help them to better understand their plight (meditation books, self-help books, spiritual texts), and most, having evidently accepted their predicament, chose a favorite book to keep them company, and for good old-fashioned entertainment.

Blessings for the New Year, friends….

Like lots of people, I own a good many books that I haven’t got around to reading yet. Most of them have a bookmark at about chapter 4, where I either got interrupted and never returned or felt guilty that I wasn’t studying and reluctantly put it back on the shelf. As a matter of principle, though, I think every book begun deserves to be finished. So, I’m putting myself under a book-purchasing embargo for the next 10 weeks while I finish 10 from my unfinished stack. Here’s my list:

1. The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje (Mostly because I feel like a literary failure for not finishing it yet!)

2. Seven Ways to Change the World: Reviving Faith and Politics – Jim Wallis

3. Don Quixote – Cervantes (because my favourite high school teacher told me not to forget to tilt at windmills…)

4. War Without End: Israelis, Palestinians and the Struggle for a Promised Land – Anton La Guardia

5. A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini

6. Carpe Jugulum – Terry Pratchett

7. My Story – Peter Cosgrove (especially this one – it’s on loan!)

8. Eats, Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation – Lynne Truss

 9. Mister God This Is Anna – Sydney Hopkins

10. Foreign Correspondence – Geraldine Brooks

Oh, how I’m looking forward to my days off…

Jess.

Quote of the Week

“I wondered if that was how forgiveness budded; not with the fanfare of epiphany, but with pain gathering its things, packing up, and slipping away unannounced in the middle of the night.”

Khaled Hosseini - The Kite Runner

Goodreads

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