My Monday

My Monday: My favourite love-story

I’ve heard it said, that February is the month of romance.

Personally, I’ve always found that February is more the month of no more sleep-ins, a new school year starting, going back to work, and subsequently trying to catch-up after a month of down-time. Bah humbug.

But this year, I’m changing my tune. I’m going to get into the spirit of Valentine’s Day with a little light reading and a classic film.

And so, my first My Monday for 2012 is all about one of my favourite stories of all time – Truman Capote’s heartbreaker Breakfast at Tiffany’s. A tale that can make even me; ever practical, slightly cynical, a little too matter-of-fact, feel positively romantic.

I know it’s not the most original choice for this time of year, but for me, this story is the epitome of style, romance and that New York, New York feeling. Both the film and the novel in equal measure have an undeniable allure, a sweetness, a street-smartness and a delightful element of intrigue.

“Also, she had a cat and she played the guitar. On days when the sun was strong, she would wash her hair, and together with the cat, a red tiger-striped tom, sit out on the fire escape thumbing a guitar while her hair dried. Whenever I heard the music, I would go stand quietly by my window. She played very well, and sometimes sang too. Sang in the hoarse, breaking tones of a boy’s adolescent voice. She know all the show hits, Cole Porter and Kurt Weill; especially she liked the songs from Oklahoma! which were new that summer and everywhere. But there were moments when she played songs that made you wonder where she learned them, where indeed she came from. Harsh-tender wandering tunes with words that smacked of piney-woods or prairie.”

And of course, there’s this:

Each time I read this gorgeous novella I am perplexed by Holly…Is she an innocent? Is she a woman in charge of her own destiny? Or is she simply on a wild, wild ride through 1940s New York – peppered with gangsters, smitten neighbours and trips to the powder-room?

I’m going to read it again tonight, and I’ll try and work her out all over again.

And then of course there’s the film, and there’s Hepburn. Audrey Hepburn has become synonymous with Holly Golightly and her New York style, her sophistication has become iconic, the very measure of beauty.

When I was New York I almost missed out on seeing Central Park and I blame this entirely on the film. I lost myself for hours, deep inside Tiffany’s – hypnotised by sparkle and mental images of Audrey Hepburn, sipping coffee, strolling slowly on a New York morning. Before I knew it, I’d cut my day in half and had time only enough for a quick wander through Central Park. Never mind, next time.

I’d love to be planning another trip to the Big Apple, but a date night to the Astor Theatre will have to suffice – they’re showing Breakfast at Tiffany’s next weekend.

And with that, that’s my February set, and Matt be warned, I’ll expect diamonds this Valentines Day.

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My Monday: Like Water for Chocolate

O0, ah…

My choice this Monday, Like Water for Chocolate is my guiltiest pleasure. I’m no romantic, but this love story moved me and has stayed with me since first read.

I’m not sure if it was the magic, the mythology or the menu that drew me to this novel, but I found Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate completely irresistible.

“A sumptuous feast of a novel, it relates the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and in desperation he marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close to her. For the next 22 years Tita and Pedro are forced to circle each other in unconsummated passion. Only a freakish chain of tragedies, bad luck and fate finally reunite them against all odds.”

Constructed around a culinary calendar, this novel is as much recipe book as it is love story and for me, with a weakness for cookbooks, this was always going to be a favourite. Couple this with the fact that it is a fine piece of magic realism, with more than a dash of absurdity, and it is securely in place in my top ten.

Esquivel’s use of imagery is very unique, at once symbolic and also surprisingly literal:

“The way Nacha tells it, Tita was literally washed into this world on a great tide of tears that spilled over the edge of the table and flooded across the kitchen floor. 

That afternoon, when the uproar had subsided and the water had been dried up by the sun, Nacha swept up the residue the tears had left of the red stone floor. There was enough salt to fill a ten-pound sack – it was used for cooking and lasted a long time.”

Similar to my last My Monday pick, Lessing’s The Memiors of a Survivor, the fantastic and starkly realistic are inseparable from each other. This makes Esquival’s novel a curiousity, a delightful mixture of myth and matter-of-fact.

The passion of the relationships in this book is intense. Readers are given a true sense of the hatred, the torment of desire. Tita’s love for Pedro is insurmountable, and the complexity of mother-daughter relationships is fascinating.

In short, this book gripped me. Even now, on re-reading the last three pages of the book for this review, it gave me chills, goose-bumps and a tickle of a tear.

What’s the most moving love story you’ve ever read?

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My Monday: Memoirs of a Survivor

I’ve got some pretty cool reviews lined up this week, but I just couldn’t bring myself to skip My Monday, especially since this week is a spooky pick.

I really like Halloween, and we’ve had a great time letting the kids pick out their costumes. We had a ball trick or treating this afternoon, and I had fun last night chatting to a friend about our favourite horror films of all time.

It got me thinking about some of the scarier books I’ve read over the years, and of course one of the first that came to mind was a novel that sits in my top five all-time favourites…Doris Lessing’s The Memoirs of a Survivor. 

It’s not a book of blood and gore, and it’s not horror in the same sense as the novels of, for instance, Stephen King or Clive Barker. It is, nonetheless terrifying in it’s confronting recollection of a dystopian society where:

“…reality is the everyday of a few years hence, when barbarism is what is normal, and each of us has to fight for survival – men, women, and even little children who are so brutalised by necessity they are more frightening than the ferocious adults. From her windows the narrator watches things fall apart, sees the migrating hordes seethe past in search of safety, the shelter, the good life that is always somewhere else.”

At the time, I wondered to myself, if this was how Londoners had felt during the recent London riots, as they watched news reports identifying disturbingly young looters committing theft and voilence.

As much as I like zombies, brains and gore (Dawn of the Dead, I am Legend, and 28 Days Later are amongst my favs) it is the horror of a post-apocolyptic world that gets under my skin the most. I recently worked out that this fascination started when I was a kid, when I read Z for Zachariah, by Robert C. O’Brien.  It’s since gone on to mean that my collection includes charming tales such as The Road, I am Legend and movies like Children of Men, 12 Monkeys and so on.

There are a few elements that make The Memoirs of a Survivor so memorable for me. Firstly, it’s rare that the protagonist in these types of stories is a woman. The unnamed female narrator’s placement at the centre of this story lends a compassion, a reflectiveness and a sense of heartbreak not usually seen in these types of novels. Her care for Emily throughout the story makes this novel multidimensional, dealing not only with disaster, but equally with issues of responsibility, nurturing and loyalty.

Secondly, a complete picture of the disaster which has brought about this dystopia is left unclear, making this post-apocolyptic memoir all the more powerful. Lessing’s cautionary tale could easily be interpreted as a warning against scenarios of war, extreme civil unrest or environmental catastrophe. One thing that is certain is that the trauma and subsequent brutality is unavoidable:

“I shall begin this account at a time before we were talking about ‘it’. We were still in the stage of generalised unease. Things weren’t too good, they were even pretty bad. A great many things were bad, breaking down, giving up, or ‘giving cause for alarm’ as the newscasts might put it. But ‘it’, in the sense of something felt as an immediate threat which could be not be averted, no.”

Finally, Doris Lessing is an absolute master at the genre of magic realism. Her fantasy is so matter-of-fact, so seamlessly integrated with the everyday that the real and fantastic become one. The reader is expected to completely accept all that is put in front of them, as fact. This mastery of a very challenging genre is a delight.

This is a smart book, a sensitive treatment of a sorrowful theme. Lessing is an incredibly talented author, and unless the world comes to a horrible end, I’m sure I’ve not read this book for the last time.

Do you like scary books? What was the last scary novel you read?

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My Monday: Pink Ribbon Day!

Today is Breast Cancer Day, and as such I thought it would be fitting to make My Monday a little bit pink ribbony!

Over recent years, my family has been affected repeatedly by cancer, in particular breast cancer.

Facing cancer involves a series of challenges you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. The medical, cosmetic and emotional ramifications of both the illness and the treatments are distressing (to say the least), and the ‘journey’ is a long and at times, lonely one.

It is for this reason that I’m so grateful to the organisations that dedicate themselves to the support of breast cancer survivors and their families. These organisations support and inform, as well as provide the financial means for continuing research in to cancer, its causes and its treatments.

Could I please encourage you to check out the wonderful work of:

Breast Cancer Network Australia
The Breast Cancer Network Australia (BCNA) is a national organisation that offers information, treatment, support and care to people affected by breast cancer. They provide opportunities for networking with others going through similar situations, and their newsletters and publications are a great way to stay in touch and up-to-date with what is going on in the world of breast cancer research.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation
The National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF) funds all forms of research into the prevention and cure of breast cancer. They run lots of fun and informative events which work incredibly well to raise both funds and the profile of breast cancer in our community.

These organisations need your support, and seeing as this month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month it seemed like a good time to give them a plug. Please consider donating, if you can, as every dollar helps them continue their important work.

If you’re facing breast cancer, or know someone that is, please don’t overlook the BCNA’s My Journey Kit, and their other resources such as the Hope and Hurdles, for those facing secondary breast cancer. I know I’ve said it before, but I can’t emphasise enough how helpful and reassuring I found the My Journey Kit.

So on this My Monday, I send my love and strength to my darling Mum and big thanks to my family and friends. I look forward to working on the Pink Lady Art Exhibition 2012 next year, to help give a little back, and I hope you might find a little way to get involved in supporting organisations like BCNA and NBCF.

Happy Pink Ribbon Day!

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My Monday: True Adventures

You probably wouldn’t really pick it, but I was a huge Rolling Stones fan when I was a teenager. Throughout high school I worked hard to commit to memory as many Rolling Stones lyrics as I could, trivia on mass, and the bass riff to Sympathy for the Devil.

Today’s My Monday pick is a book I found in a secondhand bookstore in Camberwell when I was about fifteen, and have since studied as true history. And although my obsession for the Stones has cooled somewhat with age and experience, I most fondly remember Stanley Booth’s The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones. 

I considered myself quite rock ‘n’ roll when I was growing up and took this rock journalist’s tome on as a bit of a manual. Not that I was even close to this debauch, but it was certainly fun to imagine getting up to even a tenth of this crazy.

In True Adventures… Booth documents one of the most revolutionary, awe-inspiring and horrifying years in rock history – 1969. Enviably, he is entrenched within the Stones camp at an incredibly pivotal time, witnessing the loss of Brian Jones, the non-stop scandal that surrounded Mike and Keith and rock’s call to arms:

“We will play your music in rock ‘n’ roll marching bands as we tear down the jails and free the prisoners, as we tear down the state schools and free the students, as we tear down the military bases and arm the poor, as we tattoo BURN BABY BURN! on the bellies of the wardens and generals and create a new society from the ashes of our fires…Broadsheet distributed at the Rolling Stones’ concert in Oakland”

Booth’s descriptions are graphic, romantic and gritty. As is necessary to truely, authentically tell as story like this, Stanley not only tells the story, but is himself part of the adventure. He’s up his neck in booze, drugs and groupies…and in gonzo-esque form still manages to surface with a story.

The book, and the year 1969 climaxes in the alcohol and acid fuelled mayhem that was Altamont. Booth’s recount of this infamous open-air concert is terrifying…it’s dark, and bloody and chaotic. The Hell’s Angels, in charge of ‘security’ struck fear into the heart of many a Stone’s fan, and the event itself saw the sorrowful end of Meredith Hunter. Airlifted out by helicopter, the escape of the band and their entourage at the end of the gig felt like an emergency evacuation from a war-torn field. Surprisingly, they all made it out in one piece and went on the be one of our favourite, oldest rock bands.

I’m going to treat myself to a chapter before I put The True Adventures of the Rolling Stones back on the bookshelf. I’ll turn the pages carefully as they’re very ragged, the cover is hanging by a thread. I’ll nostalgically enjoy the fact that the book is covered in dry pastel, as a result of being stuffed into art bags with life drawings and high school art projects, carried to and from school for weeks at a time.

If you’re up for a bit of rock ‘n’ roll, it doesn’t get any better than this. Check it out.

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My Monday: Jitterbug Perfume

As promised, I’m going to do something a little different on Mondays for a while. I’m going to hope that you’ll indulge me as I share some of my golden oldies, my personal favourites, the books on my bookshelf whose covers are most likely falling off their fronts…

Tonight’s pick as an object is certainly looking a little worse for wear, but only because it is so well loved. It’s my copy of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume, my number one.

I’m a big fan of Robbins, as anyone who knows me can attest to, but this book is by far my favourite.

“Jitterbug Perfume is an epic…which is to say, it begins in the forests of ancient Bohemia and doesn’t conclude until nine o’clock tonight (Paris time).

It is a saga, as well. A saga must have a hero and the hero of this one is a janitor with a missing bottle.

The bottle is blue, very, very old and embossed with the image of a goat-horned god.

If the liquid in the bottle actually is the secret essence of the universe, as some folks seem to think, it had better be discovered soon because it is leaking and there is only a drop or two left.”

In my opinion, Jitterbug Perfume is Robbin’s best written novel, and the story is absolutely magical. The storytelling itself is complex and quirky (as you might expect) and the tale is visceral, romantic, sexed-up and beautifully mythical. And, of course, in true Robbin’s style it’s just a little bit ridiculous.

The novel is about Alobar and Kundra’s search for eternal youth, and at the same time about Priscilla’s pursuit of the perfect fragrance. And, let’s be blunt, it’s about lust. It’s about Pan, and funk and sex all around. It was quite an education, reading this book as a teenage girl, I can tell you.

To be honest, I don’t think I’ve stopped looking for that embossed blue bottle in every op shop and flea market I’ve visited since reading this book. Many years ago now, I actually bought a tiny little bottle, with a stopper on a string that very nearly matched the description, opening it from time to time in the hope of a hint of Jasmine.

I know it’s random, but I still wish that I liked beets (the true hero of this story) just a little bit more than I do and even after all these years I’m fairly sure I’ve still got a crush on King Alobar.

As with many of his novels, Robbins’ skilfully intertwines four distinct stories in this epic – their connection being revealed slowly throughout the novel. It’s a most satisfying read and you really come to feel for the characters and their personal quests, no matter how far-fetched they may seem.

All of Tom Robbins’ books are worth reading, Still Life with Woodpecker is super-cheeky and Even Cowgirls Get the Blues is probably the best place to start if you’ve not read Robbins’ before. This said, as I mentioned earlier, Jitterbug Perfume is by far my favourite and the one I keep going back to.

What’s your cheeky favourite book?

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My Monday…

As you know, I’ve been undertaking to read differently of late. This has meant that at the moment, the books on my reading pile have been largely chosen for me. This, so far, has been a successful experiment – I’ve discovered some new and exciting novels and experienced genres which up until now I’ve avoided. I’m looking forward to continuing this process for some time yet.

But, I’ll also admit that it’s made me miss my old books just a little. By this I mean the books that I’ve read and re-read, the authors which I follow religiously, and the books I love to pick up off my bookshelf regularly and flick through a couple of chapters.

And so, to give me an excuse to revisit, I’ve decided to have a little fun at the start of each week. I’m going to call it My Monday.

On My Monday, I’m going to share with you a personal favourite. I kind of hope this might give you some new reading ideas, but at the very least it will tell you a little bit more about me and my tastes, and maybe even shed a bit of light on why I’m just a little loopy, especially for reading.

So stay tuned this evening for my very first pick, I hope you like it…

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