Wednesday, March 14, 2018

What have I been reading?

I started this month by re-reading one of my favourite books from 2017. When we were planning our writing retreat, one of my author mates, Marion Lennox, proposed that we discuss this book, and I was more than happy to dive in again.

I found Eleanor Oliphant is CompletelyFine a refreshingly different story, with a wonderful character I could easily empathise with, even though her life experiences are miles from my own. Despite being severely handicapped by her past, Eleanor has a wryly humorous and perceptive take on the world, which I and my friends all enjoyed.

Mind you, some members of our group were not as enamoured with Eleanor as I am. One fellow romance author found the story too dark. And yes, there is a very dark undertone. Another felt that some of Eleanor's reactions were out of character. But one thing we all agreed on was the brilliance of the writing and the appeal of the character Raymond.

I'm sure Gail Honeyman deliberately broke every convention of the romance genre when she created a computer nerd hero with a soft tummy and cigarette breath, but we are all romance writers and every one of us loved him, despite these flaws. I know a huge number of readers have already enjoyed this book, and if you haven't read it, I strongly recommend it.

The next book I read was also in preparation for our writing retreat. I was tasked with heading a discussion on author anxiety. Yes, alas, our dream job isn't completely stress free.

I found this book fascinating as it explains the science behind what's actually going on inside our heads. I learned about the instinctive reactions of the amygdala – which would explain my behaviour if anyone near me is foolish enough to put a plastic bag over their head – and how these impulses can be quite separate from the activity in the cortex where all our thinking and worrying happens. In fact, I found a better understanding of these “mechanics” could be quite calming.

For me, the very best thing about this book was that suddenly all the advice about meditation, regular exercise and a good diet (the advice we hear all the time and think yeah, yeah..) suddenly had a fresh impact. The book explained the scientific reasons why these virtuous activities work. It also gave helpful strategies for dealing with quite specific problems. One thing that really resonated was the suggestion that we should actively work to replace familiar worrying thoughts with “coping” thoughts. Worth a try, I reckon.

By coincidence, the next book I read was about a neurosurgeon. I read this for my book club and I've found that a great thing about being in a book club is that it pushes me to encounter books I might never normally pick up. And often (not always) I'm pleasantly surprised.

When Breath Becomes Air is a memoir and it's a sad book. There's no getting away from that. From the start we know that the author dies and that this is a story about his youth and hopes and then about his experience of dying. But what sets it apart is the power of his writing and his message. Paul Kalanithi didn't merely study medicine, he had degrees in Literature and Philosophy from Stanford and Cambridge. If he'd lived, he'd hoped to become a full time writer in the second half of his career. So he brought incredible word power and deeply profound thinking into play as he wrote about his situation.

For me, the simple but inspiring message from this book is that none of us knows how long we have to live and, by example (by extreme example in his case), Paul Kalinithi shows how to make the most of each day and to not waste our talents.

I don't usually read back to back non-fiction books, unless I'm researching for one of my novels, and I was about to slip back into fiction when Michelle Douglas distracted me on Facebook with a post about this book – The Year of Less.

I had heard the idea of a year without money on Radio National and was totally intrigued. It reminded me of the hippie movements of the sixties, but with a new, anti-materialist slant. Since moving to the country, I'd been conscious of spending much less on going out to restaurants or movies and the theatre, and although I sometimes miss these things, on the whole I've embraced the alternatives, which mostly involve having friends over to dinner, or singing in our local a capella group.

So, I couldn't resist taking a peek at Cait Flanders's book which outlines how she spent a whole year without spending her hard earned cash on anything more than basic necessities. Cait had already managed to clear her huge credit card debt and to lose 30 pounds in weight and during this particular year, she also massively de-cluttered her house. For a twenty-nine year old, these were impressive achievements and she's certainly got me thinking about my (sometimes impulsive) spending habits.

Now, I'm looking forward to returning to fiction and to Lucy Diamond's The House of New Beginnings. I discovered Lucy Diamond during the Christmas holidays and she quickly became a firm favourite. 

I think this is the fifth book of hers that I've read now and I know I'll love it. Simple chick lit, with lovable characters and cleverly written. 

So what about you?What are you reading? I'd love to hear.


Sue Gerhardt Griffiths said...

Hi Barbara,

The books you listed sound intriguing I'm especially interested in Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine - I've heard good things about this book from friends.

I've read a few excellent books recently: The Sister's Song by Louise Allan, The Fifth Letter by Nicola Moriarty and Rain Music by Di Morrissey - loved that one not just for its storyline but because it was set in Carins, the Daintree and Cooktown. Far North Queensland is my top favourite place to visit ever!

I have an enormous TBR pile on my coffee table and they need to be read as they are books I've had for years so I'm kind of making them my priority but I'm also participating in a couple of reading challenges so some books need to be new/ish. I'm about to start The Lucky Galah by Tracy Sorensen and The Anatomy of Wings by Karen Foxlee and for a quick read Weirdo by Anh Do.

Barbara Hannay said...

Thanks Sue. What an interesting list. I'm very glad you like books set in Far North Queensland -- happens to be my neck of the woods. :) I know what you mean about TBR piles. I have a bad habit of buying new books when I still have so many I still haven't opened. I'm trying to take a leaf out of the Year of Less, but not sure of my chances.
Lovely to hear from you. B xx