Sunday, 28 November 2010

like old times, only better

Its amazing how one conversation, albeit a prolonged one, can have a big impact on how one approaches things. In what has been a very active last week and a half, I've rediscovered a bunch of activities that, at various points in my past, have been very regular parts of my life, but that in recent times have been neglected or entirely absent.

I had been making very little progress on the book I'm reading, Jack Kerouac's Lonesome Traveler (I have neglected to write a little review for The Beach, which I read in between Love in the Time of Cholera, and this one). This past week, though, I made more an effort to make time for it, and as a consequence, I got into it, enjoyed it, and finished it. In my defense, I still think it starts slowly. His style is somewhat stream-of-consciousness throughout, but early on, as he is traveling through Mexico and working on the railway in northern California, it seemed less coherent. As the book and its author moved on, to New York, the Seattle Mountains and Tangiers, I thought the prose got much clearer, and I enjoyed the book a lot more. Its a strange style with which he writes. The narrator is the central, often only, character, but at no point is he developed, which gives the book a certain sense of a travel diary, albeit one that is eloquently and interestingly written and paints a vivid picture of the places through which it travels.

The next book on the pile was Breath, by Tim Winton. There was no slow starting for me on this book. I read a third of it in the first sitting, and I finished in about a day and a half. The story is a kind of coming of age story for a young boy who takes up with a group of surfers during his upbringing in a small town. Winton's prose style is just so familiar and easy to read, and the plot just slides so by very comfortably. Like Cloudstreet (the only other Winton I've read thus far), the book is set in Western Australia, in this case around the late 70s, and like the other, it has a very strong sense of place. I have never been to the town where the book is set, or even spent any meaningful (i.e. as an adult) time in the state, but for some reason the setting and characters feel very true. If I had a criticism, I thought the dénouément was a bit drawn out; the book might have worked better for me had it been topped and tailed and presented as a novella.

In addition to doing a lot more reading, I've also been getting more exercise this week. In addition to my usual Monday night volleyball, I got out for 3 runs, which is a lot more than I have been doing in recent months. My leg is starting to hurt from them, which is worrying - I might have to curb my enthusiasm a little.

I also went for a bike ride. In Rennes, a 20-40km ride out along the canal was a fairly common activity on my weekends, but other than organised charity rides and commutes to work or tennis, and excluding one ride up Mt Coot-tha a while ago, I haven't been doing social rides in Brisbane. Yesterday afternoon, though, I just jumped on the bike and rode out past the city, around the river past Toowong and out along the freeway to where it intersects Moggill Road, and back again. It was a nice little 35km route, and it reminded me of what I used to enjoy about riding out of Rennes (although i would trade Brisbane's Western Freeway for Rennes' Canal St Martin any day of the week).

This afternoon, frustrated by Australia's stagnation in the cricket, I rode down to New Farm park and threw a basketball around for an hour or so. This was something I used to quite often while I was living in St Lucia and Toowong, and it was good to try my hand again, even if I quickly realised that the shortcomings I had as a basketballer before my knee operation were not excised with the torn ligament.

I also found a little time for new activities, going with some friends for a night of pickup ultimate disc. I threw a lot of frisbee as a kid, and realised playing social games of ultimate at college that it was something at which I might be reasonably capable. This proved to be true enough, although after a while I fell into the trap of playing dumb, expending a lot of energy without getting my hands on the disc. This, combined with playing almost non-stop for two hours without substitutes, meant that I was well and truly spent by the time the night was finished. It probably took 3 or 4 days for my hip flexors, groin muscles and quadriceps to stop hurting, but I'll be back for more this week, I think.

I also managed to squeeze in an extremely pleasant night at the movies, seeing Gainsbourg, a biopic about the French chanteur from the 60s and 70s. The performance of the lead, Eric Elmosnino, was very strong, convincing in both likeness and style. Although he came across as a flawed character, especially in his relationship to women (at least, from my perspective he did), it was a very interesting film, and nice too as a means of exercising/refreshing my French language comprehension.

I even got out to a concert. My friend Kylie's band Laïque (the haven't been putting the trema on the 'i', which is a little vexing) had the launch for their album "Cravin' just a little misbehavin'", at the Old Museum last night. There was a good crowd in, which was reassuring for their sakes, and everyone seemed to have a good time.

Its tempting to ask what it was that I sacrificed from my previous routine in order to make room for these things, but to be honest, nothing sprung to mind. I watched less TV, which is a boon rather than a price, as was playing less computer games (I am rapidly losing enthusiasm for the games I have been playing of late). I even squeezed in a visit from my parents, a screening of Cinema Paradiso (it had been too long since I'd seen it), and got plenty done at work. I need to be this aggressive about getting off my bum and doing things more often.

Monday, 22 November 2010

The to-read pile, and the on-hold pile, as at November 22 2010

In recent days I've been having a wonderful time talking with various people about books. One of the topics I seem to keep mentioning, along with my poor record in terms of what/whom I've read, has been the pile of books that sit metaphorically and, for the sake of this photo, physically, on my bedside table ready to be read. Unmentioned, so far, is the other pile, on the same bedside table, of books that I have started reading and put aside for one reason or another.

So, here they are, my two piles. First, the to-read pile, starting from the top:

  • Lonesome Traveler - Jack Kerouac (currently reading). Kerouac is one of the many conspicuous absences in the list of 20th century authors whose works I have sampled. I found this one in the remaining collection of my late uncle, nominally housed with my grandmother but slowly working its way to other homes in the family.
  • Breath - Tim Winton. I've read one Winton - Cloudstreet, probably his most famous book - and enjoyed it a lot. I picked this one up at the Library on my most recent scavenging expedition.
  • Bike Snob: Systematically and Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling - Bike Snob NYC. I was recommended the blog from whence this book has sprung, and have been enjoying it for a few weeks now. I have yet to read a blog-to-book adaptation that I haven't liked (sample size: 1), so I have high hopes.
  • The Tree Of Man - Patrick White. As Australia's only winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, another embarrassing omission from my reading resumé. Also another pickup from my grandmother's library, although I suspect not from my uncle.
  • The Undisputed Guide to Pro Basketball History - FreeDarko. The second book to emerge from the FreeDarko collective. Truth be told, I feel like the freedarko blog itself has waned a little in terms of the frequency of its really high-quality contributions, but I suspect this is because Shoals and his co-conspirators have been devoting more of their attention to commercial writing and to this book. Also another blog-to-book adapation, so almost certain to be good. Bought online, with ...
  • The Breaks of the Game - David Halberstam. Widely cited as one of the best books yet written on basketball, following the 1979-80 Portland Trailblazers. Bought online.
  • Hitchcock/Truffaut - Francois Truffaut. I bought this book years ago on Amazon, on a whim, being super-impressed by the idea of an extended interview of one of the era's great directors, conducted by another of the era's great directors.
  • Down Under - Bill Bryson. A 20th century author that I don't feel especially embarrassed about not having read, but nonetheless one who people I trust have said is an entertaining read. I think I picked this book up from my father.
  • The Sentimental Bloke - CJ Dennis. To be honest, I'm not sure I'll get to this one anytime soon (the pile has a tendency to grow from the top, or sometimes from the middle, leaving scant chance for entries near the base). I just noticed it on my bookshelf as a nicely presented book, that I don't believe I've read. On the inside cover it has a sticker identifying itself as the 1994 year 11 prize for Chemistry from Mareeba State High School.
  • A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters - Julian Barnes. I have no idea what this book is about. I picked it up from my grandmother's library for precisely that reason. There is a high probability it will hold up this pile for a long time.

And the other pile, including some not pictured:

  • Claudius the God - Robert Graves. To be honest, I quite enjoyed I, Claudius, and I was enjoying this sequel until I put it aside. The only thing that prompted the interregnum was the somewhat fragile condition of the book itself, which makes it impossible to take it anywhere without fear of losing pages.
  • Thus Spake Zarathustra - Friedrich Nietzsche. I was aware before starting this book that it would be challenging, not only in its content, but in its presentation. However, after only a few dozen pages I found the style too much of an impediment to the ideas, and I put it down. I will probably pick it up again at some point, though, when I am feeling brave.
  • A Thousand Plateaus - Deleuze & Guattari. A colleague at work is an ardent admirer of Deleuze's work, and recommended this to me. I lasted 5 pages before becoming infuriated by the pretentiousness of the prose style, and the obstacle it represented to understanding whatever ideas the authors were trying to communicate. I will almost certainly return this without reading another page.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010


I was almost home. We had lost at volleyball, but had played well and enjoyed ourselves. Chad had again been kind enough to give me a lift home, and we had talked about manners and architecture. All was good in my world.

We pulled up outside my building, and I got out and said goodbye and thanks to Chad. Looking down in the dim light, I noticed what looked like an old tennis ball, a "dog ball", lying on the road next to the car. I gave it a nudge with my foot, and started walking towards my gate. To my surprise, the ball did not roll, but hopped uncomfortably and began a distressed chirping. I quickly realised that this was not a ball, but a bird, and an infant at that.

When I was in high school, our house had a garden planted to attract birds, but was flanked on two sides by cats. I have a distinct memory of coming home from school one day to find a baby miner bird shivering and crying helplessly under a tree, its wings torn and broken. I had no special sympathies for the miner, but it was impossible not to pity such a small creature in obvious distress. The predatory instincts of the cat had been enough for it to hunt and corner the bird, but years of domestication had taken away the killing blow and the need to devour its prey, leaving the bird helpless. I had put the bird in a tree, where it might be safe from cats for a while, but I knew then that it would not survive.

The cries of that bird were echoed now in my mind by those of this small bird on the road. For a brief moment I fancied that it too had been the victim of some neighbour's pet seeking an outlet for long-lost hunting instincts. This time, though, I was not crouched with open hands, but looming over it having delivered a blow. Quite rightly, it struggled to flee the foot of its inadvertent assailant, but alas, this only took it further into the road, and into the path of an oncoming car. It had scarcely waddled a metre when, with a cruel, precise timing, it crossed the wheel line of the car. There was a small crunch as the unwitting vehicle ended its life.

Powerless to help, I thought to attend to the bird, or body, but instead turned away. There was nothing more to be done. The baby bird lived on only as a troubled image in my mind. And neither of us are happy about that.