Category Archives: Books

Crossing the Ditch by James Castrission

Crossing the Ditch by James CastrissionWhile we were at our work conference on the Gold Coast, our director arranged for two Sydney adventurers to come and speak to us on the last day of our conference.

Apparently they’d asked the guys, James Castrission (Cas) and Justin Jones (Jonesy), to speak at the previous year’s workshop, but I wasn’t with the company at that point so knew little about these two. The previous year they’d been doing motivational talks about their first unaided crossing from Australia to New Zealand in a kayak and this year we were going to see them fresh from the Arctic to tell us all about it.

My manager at the time seemed to be obsessed with following the two adventurers on their current crossing of the Antarctic and it was something I couldn’t understand. They were doing some type of unaided trek across ice and I thought ‘so what?’.

But you know what… after seeing these two in person, they are simply amazing. I could see why my manager had become obsessed with following these pair on their blog. They came into the room, in suits (I was expecting jeans and t-shirts), with noticeable marks on their faces from frost-bite, and presented themselves so wonderfully that not a person in the room wasn’t captivated by their talk. Cas had worked  as an accountant for four years before he decided he didn’t want to spend his working life sitting in an office doing 80 hours a week.

I think what’s engaging about Cas and Jonesy is that they’re just normal guys, they’re not super fit, super athletic, olympic champion winners. They’re just two guys who loved bush walking and kayaking and doing outdoor adventures on the weekends and then decided to turn their love of the outdoors into a career.

They planned the kayaking trip for years before they made the crossing, consulting experts, and doing test runs and just generally getting fit and planning their adventure, including obtaining sponsorship to do it.

I think what I love most about these two is they’re just ordinary guys who show us that you can decide to do something great with your life if you really want to. They go into details about their planning methods, everything down to the clothes they had to modify to so they could dress or undress with gloved hands in the snow. Their approach was to write down every question or doubt they had about their expedition (the Crossing the Ditch and Crossing the Ice trips) and then set about solving or answering all those questions so they could undertake their adventures in the safest way possible while still doing what they love (and raising money for charity).

Crossing the Ditch was their first ever book and as soon as I started reading it, I couldn’t put it down, even though I couldn’t give two figs about kayaking. This story is more than that, it’s about two best mates who threw off the corporate world (even though one of them suffers terrible seasickness and the other is claustrophobic – a tiny kayak on a big blue ocean probably wasn’t the best idea with this in mind), put themselves in a kayak and paddled across one of the most dangerous oceans in the world – and came out alive.

At the end of their videos and talk about their adventures of Crossing the Ice the entire room was buzzing with enthusiastic energy. I think every single person in that room felt inspired and energised and the possibility to do… SOMETHING. Something BIG.

I could feel my itchy feet get even itchier with the idea of quitting my job and going overseas… for the fourth time in my life.

This book is told in such a humorous and truthful way, this story is by far one of the best books I’ve read. In fact, I talked my man’s ear off about the two of them the entire weekend after the conference.

Their next book ‘Crossing the Ice’ is out soon at the end of July and I can’t wait to get my hands on it.

Read more about Cas and Jonesy.

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

I Am Legend by Richard MathesonI first became aware of this novel in 2000 when, instead of doing my assignment on Jane Austen, I was listening to a CD interview and story reading with Stephen King. In which he was asked who some of his influences were in the author world, and he announced that he was very much a fan in of Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend.

When he described the novel it sounded very much like something I would enjoy and I made a mental note to read it one day, perhaps after I graduated uni and could read again for pleasure, rather than pushing forward with my English, Creative Writing and Journalism degree.

Fast forward to 2007, I remember being in the cinema and seeing a preview for the latest movie adaptation of I Am Legend and before the title showed up I had thought to myself ‘this story line seems oddly familiar’ and went back later to check that the novel I had remembered wanting to read was of the same title. It was.

I’ve always put off seeing the movie, mostly because I’m not a Will Smith fan, and also because I wanted to read the story without bias. Now that I have I’m curious to see how the movie portrays the book. Poorly, it seems from the reviews, but I still plan to make up my own mind.

It’s only taken me twelve years to get my hands on the book, but I’ve finally read it (lesson here, kids, always keep a ‘to read’ list – very handy). I really loved this story, it’s a novella rather than a novel, though Matheson’s book does contain other horror stories, much shorter but with the same isolated subtext as I Am Legend.

The story is interesting as our protagonist, Robert Neville, isn’t a hero, but is merely surviving and his existence almost seems useless and without purpose. We also learn very little about Neville before the plague, but are thrown nuggets of information through his memories which still leave me unsatisfied. But I guess the essence of true horror is not the story of the all-American overcoming all odds, but being forced to accept what has become and learning to deal with it.

Definitely worth giving this story 5 pints of blood.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniBook club book #2:

Way back in 2004, which seems a lifetime ago now, I was working in London and had started a new contract with a very large financial investment firm who were transitioning to outsource their customer service to India. They brought in 12 contractors (me included) to learn the system, test it for problems and ultimately train the new customer service officers flying in from India.

I made very good friends with one of the other contractors and we remained friends long after the job came to an end. I remember her raving about this book and insisting that I read it. I never did get around to it until a week and a half ago when it was pegged as our next member of book club choice in our second book to read.

The Kite Runner is Khaled Hosseini’s first novel, which he wrote while working a doctor, no less. An incredibly moving and electric novel that kept me up at nights and had me nearly missing bus stops because I was so engrossed in the story.

It’s the tale of two young Afghan’s who grew up in the pre-Soviet Union invasion, only to part ways once Afghanistan turns into a war zone. Unlike a lot of other novels that arc over the large life span of a character’s life, The Kite Runner moves along at good pace never leaving you bored.

I was entranced the entire journey and this was the first novel that actual made me shed a tear in a long time.

Khaled Hosseini has started a foundation that supports and builds shelter in Afghanistan for returning refugees. It also provides education and healthcare for women and children in a country where women have lost their rights as a result of Taliban dictatorship. Read more about The Khaled Hosseini Foundation.

Such an incredible writer and engaging book, I’m keen to read his second novel A Thousand Splendid Suns.

If you haven’t read The Kite Runner, I put it on my most highly recommended books for 2012.

Hell’s Angels by Hunter Thompson

Hell's Angels by Hunter S ThompsonI’m a bit of a Hunter Thompson fan, so thought it was get across this one. An interesting insight into the lives and culture of the Hell’s Angels circa 1960-70s.

Possibly the only journalist crazy enough to live, ride and write about the Hell’s Angels on their own terms, and coping his fair share of brawls in the mean time, Thompson writes his accounts of his time with America’s, once most feared, outlaws.

Written from a journalists perspective, Hunter goes into detail about the contrasts between what was written in the media and political reports compared to the facts of the fraternity at the time.

Hunter certainly doesn’t paint the Angels as anything more than they are, but presents the facts based on what he knew first hand.

Very interesting read.

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan

A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer EganBook club book #1:

So when a good couple friend of ours, who had moved to Sydney a year ago, announced they were moving back to Brisbane, I jumped on the chance to resurrect book club. Previously, it had just been the four of us ladies – this time one didn’t want any part of it, so we started looking around for fresh blood.

We arranged a first ‘meet up’ at a bar for drinks after work to meet everyone and decide on how we were going to run book club. Everything looked rather promising with the three of us, one (a friend who drifts in and out of our lives but mostly makes a living out of working overseas as a camp counsellor and sled dog trainer – although currently she’s working as a teacher’s aid on Thursday Island), an old work friend of another woman in our group and another possible friend who ended up choosing not to come.

Every time someone wants to bring a new woman into the book club it’s always prefaced with, ‘She’s childless… by choice!’ – something the three of us relate to.

Anyway, everyone decided we should kick off with my book, A Visit from the Goon Squad. I got wind of this book via The First Tuesday Book Club on the ABC. I chose this one because it was one of the few books I’ve seen all panel members say they loved. Here’s snapshot of the segment.

While I did enjoy this book, it puzzled me why it was a Pulitzer Price winner. The first half was a bit of a struggle, because each chapter is about a different character at different moments in time, and everyone agreed that we all kept trying to make the connections. By half way you stop trying to make those connections and just enjoy the story.

I galloped through the second half, especially loving the chapter where the daughter of one of the main characters keeps a ‘slide journal’. It was engaging and different and equally as powerful in it’s story telling as prose would have been. In fact, more so because the visual representations of the PowerPoint’s aided her story.

This was the type of book that once I finished the last chapter I immediately wanted to read it over from the start. All book club members said exactly the same thing. Very few books ever have that affect.

Chasing Bohemia by Carmen Michael

Chasing Bohemia by Carmen MichaelI saw this author some years ago at the Brisbane Writers Festival and found her fascinating to listen to. It was probably the first writers festival I went to shortly after I moved here. I remember it being an exciting one because there were a lot of travel focused topics and travel writing guests on panels and I was about to take off to South America.

Unfortunately, this book has sat on my shelf for a number of years since that festival, unopened. A few times I cracked the cover and tried to make a go of it, but I always ended up discarding it for another book I was more into at the time. You know what they say about a good opening.

But after my last book, We Need to Talk About Kevin, I needed something light, something frothy, something… Brazilian. We are in the height of summer after all, and with the salsa music in my ears, the tropical smoothie excursions I was taking at lunch times to Boost Juice and this book buzzing in my head, I slipped into extreme travel withdrawals.

While, not my favourite of the many travel literature I indulge in when I feel the need to do some armchair travelling, it certainly gave me an insight into the Brazilian culture and the fun of carnival. And again prompted that girl in me who loves to up and leave her house, her job, her friends and life in general for that of one that fits into a backpack. I tried to focus on my new resolve to live on a much smaller percentage of my wage in order to get to my goal of taking a year off. Let me rephrase that (since I have taken years – more than that even – off before)… take a year off and not be broke and/or counting every penny. A planned year off with the funds to sustain me without concern.

I didn’t power through Michael’s book the way I have other travel literature, but I understood her viewpoint better than most because she was similiar in age to me at the time of writing this book and had also given up corporate jobs to basically become a bum in Rio de Janeiro. Okay, the people I admire probably says a lot about me, but even though I like my job I can’t help but peer out the cubical grey window and think, ‘Why am I even bothering with this when there’s a whole big world out there I have yet to explore?’

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel ShriverI was a little behind in reading this infamous novel, but I felt I needed to be in the right frame of mind to tackle it. Turns out, there is no right frame of mind to read such a book. It’s disturbing from the start and nearly every woman I’ve spoken to who has read it all same the same thing, ‘It makes you think twice about having children’. I’m not sure if I totally agree with that statement, I think if you are having children for the right reasons, i.e. you want them, unlike our main character in this book, then this books shouldn’t alter your decision.

Having said that, this book does bring up the question of nature vs nurture and leaves you with a lot of unanswered questions. There were times in this book where I just wanted to close the chapter and take a break, it was emotionally taxing and hats off to Shriver for coming up with such a unique and incredibly written book. Horrifying to read, yet addictive. I didn’t want to know more, yet I couldn’t help myself from continuing to turn the page and watching the horror unfold.

I think what is disturbing was how much I related to the mother in this book, though I like to think I wouldn’t choose to have a child based on ‘wanting to try something new’. Child birth doesn’t strike me as an experience I desperately want to try ‘just to see’. You don’t have to fling yourself off a bridge to know it’s going to hurt.

Having only just reconvened with book club I wish this had been on the list of books to discuss. I found myself at BBQs raising the subject with people who had read the book because I was desperate to hear what they thought of it all. Especially since my man told me he didn’t want to hear anything about this book and at 468 pages, it was in my life for a little while, with me busting to tell him all about it.

I saw the preview for the movie, but am less inclined to watch it since the characters don’t look or act anything like I imaged. I’m also not sure I want some of those scenes realised in visual form, my imagination is frightening enough.

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez

The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Debroah RodriguezWhen my boyfriend saw me reading this, the first words out of his mouth were, ‘Another coffee book?’ While less informative on the actual coffee process, a much more enjoyable read than the previous coffee book.

Author Deborah Rodriguez, spent five years teaching at the Kabul Beauty School, the first modern beauty and training salon in Afghanistan, so brings a wealth of local knowledge to her writing. The characters and descriptions of the lifestyle of Kabul in this book are so rich and full of colour and gives us an inside into the life of the women behind the modern burqa. And also the lives of foreign women in the country and the contrast of freedom that the different women feel.

It’s a wonderful story that touches on the politics, but doesn’t dwell on it, rather allows it to become the backdrop for the individual lives that meet in Sunny’s coffee shop and how five very different personalities can form a strong and united bond.