So a long time ago, when I was writing updates every week and before life got crazy, insane, busy, I posted about doing something called the Dusty Bookshelf Challenge.
“What could be so hard?” I thought naively, “it’s not like you have much in your life right now, what’s a few more challenges?”
Not long after that, shit got real and I'm genuinely surprised I got through the rest of the year alive. I long ago learned from Dooce’s mistake about talking shop on the internet, but seeing as it’s all good things, I'm going to take the chance:
Not long after we came back from the UK, I was offered an amazing opportunity at work to manage a project that will deliver an important piece of software to every hospital from Hawke’s Bay to Wellington. The budget is huge, the pressure is huge, and every day is like herding chickens with a stick of dynamite. The really weird thing is that, despite feeling like I am only ever one volley away from utter disaster, the chickens seem to be heading in vaguely the right direction.
The downside of this amazing opportunity was that it has had an impact on the 16 non work hours of my day; I barely made my last deadline for the last issue of The Natural Parent, I stopped writing on here, I was getting stressed with the family, my support of the local birth centre project waned … it all felt like very hard work for a while.
And it was hard work, but it was also worth the effort and while most days I still get home and feel utterly cabbaged, I also had the sense to take my own oft given advice to “be kind to myself” and now that I feel like I have glimpses of brain power to spare, I want to get back into writing on here.
I miss it. I miss everything about it.
So anyway, I promise there will be no catch up post. Over the next little while as I get back into things, I will write whatever it is I want to write about by recapping on the HALF YEAR I have been AWOL and then carry on like nothing ever happened.
Because I'm British, and we long ago turned “Carry On Regardless” into an art form.
Anyway, the Dusty Bookshelf Challenge. Long story short? I failed. I did manage to read some of the books though, and I have a few thoughts about them to share:
This was inherited from my family with a glowing recommendation, and I will be taking that up with them when next we meet. Is it a fairy tale? Is it reality?
Genuinely I have no idea, nor did the author.
Like the main characters I was just grateful for the distraction from the unrelenting misery of Alaskan life.
I have no idea why this book terrifies me; but between the themes of loss and anger and how easily hardship strips the ability to hold a shred of empathy for your fellow human being, it does.
There are so many themes to this book I could write an entire thesis on it - in fact some have - but what sang out to me, that I could relate to most closely, were the discussions around motherhood and at the nature of female friendship.
Thinking about them took me to dark places I try hard not to acknowledge in myself.
This is a world where a mother burns her son to death, and where a daughter stands by curiously while her mother writhes in agony: These are not things I could ever see myself capable of, but it challenges you, as a reader, to look at how far removed from dispassion each of us really is.
There are no easy answers offered by Sula, and no glory either, not is her rebellion, nor in her friend’s conformity.
It took me a while to get into this book, in part because of the author’s determination to end every paragraph with a witty statement and in part because it was shaping up to be a back-slapping, rose tinted, wallow in the “good old days” of one of New York’s most violent neighbourhoods.
I’ll admit it, I came to this book cold. I didn’t read the blurb, I didn’t notice the words “True Story” on the front cover, and I was swayed by the black and white cover image of four smiling boys.
Damn you smiling boys and your false promises!
This book is dark, I mean serious dark. It is a look at life in a young offenders’ home in the 1960s and it will give you nightmares. If you have sons, you will read this and fight the urge to sneak into their rooms while they sleep to wrap them protectively in your arms.
Slightly surprisingly, the last quarter of this book takes an engaging, if morally contrite, view of what constitutes “justice”. And I concede that there was no need for me to spend hours navel gazing over it, I could have, y’know, just read the book and moved on with my life like a normal person.
But I didn't.
You know how long it took me to read this book? About the same time as it takes an average teenager to decide the answer to the eternal question of “does he like me?”, which is handy because the entire book is basically a treatise on that exact question.
STOP ALREADY!! Yes he likes you, but not in the way you want him to like you. He just wants sex, which is what you said you wanted too, before you accidentally went and fell in love with him and became best friends with his wife.
This book is getting mailed to the next person who pisses me off as a kind of passive aggressive revenge.
This was actually my pick of the year, which came as a huge surprise because it is a factual account of the lives of the three greats of British Land Speed Records: Henry Segrave, Malcolm Campbell, and John Cobb.
It could have gone either way; it was either going to be like reading a library catalogue or it was going to be all about the drama and the violence of shoehorning several tons of truculent iron to ungodly speeds.
It was the latter, not just because the actual record breaking stuff is a pretty stunning read, but because the author spins a bloody good yarn. Setting aside the fact he has now ruined my view of Malcolm Campbell forever, he was also able to strike exactly the right balance to make the characters compelling, but flawed.
I can see now why this was the book that sparked an unhealthily expensive obsession with LSR memorabilia in our household.
In 2003, Keith and I took our first holiday together; a 10 day trip around Ireland on our motorbikes.
I had already read McCathy’s Bar by this point and it strikes me that it must have somehow woven itself into my subconscious because it turns out we did a similar trip to the one described in the book, including a trip to Dingle:
“The bicycle shop that is a pub also sells vegetable seeds and items of hardware. I go inside for an inner tube and some cabbage seeds, but I don’t really need them, so I have a pint instead.
I take a seat at the tiny bar, on a stool next to two conspicuously veined old Kerymen.
“How are ye enjoying yer holiday?” one of them asks me
“It’s grand thanks. I’d say the town’s changed since I was last here though”
“sure it has” He takes a sip of whiskey. “I blame that feckin’ dolphin”
Poor Fungie the Dolphin, so little respect from the locals.
Like Pete McCarthy, we too stayed in Virgin Mary adorned rooms attached to half shop pubs and got frequently and gloriously lost on all the unlabelled roads along the way. Reading this book was like reliving my own holiday in all its comic, messy glory.
So, I missed a few off the list, but considering the way 2015 panned out, I don’t think I did too badly.
I also managed to sign myself up to do a video review of a water repelling T Shirt. If you want to see how that went, you can check it out here.
I don’t think Sir Peter will be quaking in his boots at my cinematic prowess just yet.