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Around the World in several books

This last year has been pretty crazy, in all honesty.

It started with a conversation on the water in Berowra, just north of Sydney. A close friend and I sat on the balcony, chatting about the general dissatisfaction I had with my life. 2014 had been (literally) one car crash after another, and I really felt over everything.

Her suggestion? Get up off my ass and change everything. So I did.

In the last twelve months, I’ve finished off several chapters of my life, and started two new ones.

First, I travelled. Like, more than I have in my whole life. The fact I now live in Munich is a testament to how far I’ve gone. Previously, the furthest I’d been from home was Washington, DC - when I was fifteen. In just over three months, I managed to jump across the USA, and through a good chunk of Western Europe (and didn’t stop there).

Second, I left Australia behind (at least, for the moment). Not to be disparaging about my fellow Aussies, but I really needed to walk away for a while, to give myself the space to try things differently. And it feels fantastic to have done so.

While I’ve been doing this, I’ve read a lot of books. Mainly, SciFi or professional development stuff, but there have been quite a few things that I covered. In the spirit of this post, I present a selection of books that helped me along my voyage so far.

Donna Tart - The Goldfinch

It was the ‘in book’ of last year, but Finch’s writing is top-notch and I loved this story. It’s a slow burn, but it pays off, and it can resonate for anyone who has had that feeling of being out of it, and holding on to little things just a little too tight. Definitely put me in the right mood to make the decision to change my life.

Marina Warner - Once Upon A Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

One can’t head off on a big journey without some historical perspective, or at least the bare bones of story telling. Although it’s light in many respects, this kept my attention long enough to finish it.

Brandon Sanderson - The Mistborn Saga

I occasionally dip into Fantasy, and when I come across something like this, I’m glad I do. It dragged me in - at times, slow, but beautifully drawn together by the end. I hope it does you, too.

Dossie Easton and Janet W Hardy - The Ethical Slut

One of the things I set out to do this year, was to think through my personal relationships and how to approach them better. That included being open to any discussion around bettering my relationship to others, and this book really is amazing in that regard. Beside its core topic of how to be non polyamorous ethically and respectfully, it’s a great guide full of activities and practices which are good for any type of relationship. The poor friends who had to hear me blathering about how good a read this is while we were sailing around Sicily deserve a medal for their politeness.

Frank Herbert - The Dune Chronicles

I read these first when I was a teenager. For some reason, my nomadic existence reminded me of Herbert’s Arrakis and got me open to broader, politico-religious treaties that other forms of hard scifi tend to overlook. Which brings me to:

Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson - The Illuminatus Trilogy

Strangely, I found this lying around in an apartment I was staying in Berlin. This surreal and absurdist novella triad grabbed my attention, and it’s worth reading if only to be explained the words to The KLF’s Justified and Ancient..

Sofi Oksanen - Purge

I’d had Purge on my todo list for a while, and I have to be honest, I struggled through it. Not because it was badly written, but because I was doing this whole East-West Berlin thing at the time, being whacked sideways emotionally by the effects of the Cold War (the joys of being descended from Ukrainian migrants). This is a hard read, and it hurts. But damned if it’s not worth it.

Michael Moorcock - The Whispering Swarm #1

For many years, I’ve heard many writers I love (such as Neil Gaiman) talk about the influence that Moorcock has had on their lives, so I thought I’d take a peek at his writing with this piece. I didn’t care hugely for it - the sections in Alsacia seemed so belaboured - but I did like the bits where he described post-WWII and 1960s life in London, and I stuck around for those. I’ll give him another go with the next one, but for the moment, I prefer the writers he has inspired more than himself.

Magda Szubanski - Reckoning: A Memoir

Honestly, this threw me about. There is something about coming from a family of Eastern European migrants, the way that certain stories are told to you, and how others are never touched except in whispers. In Dead Europe, Christos Tsiolkas talks about the weight of Europe’s history hanging on the children of migrants, and I have definitely felt that at weird moments (in Berlin, at any Holocaust memorial; in Milan, at the Monumental Cemetery; in Unterfranken, at the Schloss Würtzburg where it hit me so hard I got the giggles).

Szubanski, one of the most talented character actors and comedians I’ve seen, manages to deftly discuss these weights in the context of her own life, pulling together politics, feminism, sexuality, humour, activism and a distinctly revolutionary family history to reflect on her life.

Neal Stephenson - Seveneves

Becky Chambers - The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

Two books at the end of the year grabbed me for their sheer brilliance. Both extremely different (one, a serious treaty on how life could exist following an apocalyptic event, the other a space opera with deft touches of, well, something like humanism but across species…), but both entertaining. Stephenson writes one hell of a story about life in the aftermath of the moon exploding, and (could be) setting up for a very interesting series. I see at least four follow up books about Diggers, the Reds, the Purpose and the Pingers.

The Long Way, on the other hand, is a romp. The pulp fiction bastard child of Firefly and Farscape, it follows a ragtag crew of aliens travelling to the core of the galaxy to bore a hole through space-time. Suffice it to say, it’s funny and charming and cute, and worst of all, hard to put down. I swallowed it up in three days.

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