Worthy Thoughts

Books, reading, life & other worthy thoughts

Recently, I was lucky enough to see ‘Out of Africa’ for the second time. The first time I saw it was many years ago. I was slightly apprehensive about seeing it for a second time, mainly because I have invited my partner to go see it with me. I hate recommending movies to people and then you feel anxious wondering if they liked it or not. ‘Out of Africa’ takes on more anxiety because it goes for a whopping 161 minutes (a quick calculation tells me that we are looking at almost three hours of movie).

Anyhow, off we trekked to USQ for Friday Night Flicks. Friday Night at the Flicks is advertised as ‘Toowoomba’s very own arthouse film night!’ and I would like to take this opportunity to thank the organisers of this great event. Over the last few years, we have had the opportunity to see some great films. Yes, we could watch them on Netflix or a similar service, but there is something about coming together with a group of people who love movies that makes this event quite special. I am yet to stay for the drinks and chat afterwards (being the notorious introvert that I am), but I appreciate this service to the Toowoomba community. The organisers always try and pick movies that will both entertain and challenge. When looking up this event because I was hoping to find the names of the guys who created this occasion; I came across this snippet of trivia on their website about the movie – Meryl Streep wasn’t the first pick to play the lead role of Karen Blixen, the role was originally offered to Audrey Hepburn as the director didn’t think Streep was ‘sexy’ enough. If you’ve seen the movie, you will know that Meryl Streep embodied Karen Blixen (particularly the Danish accent).

Out of Africa is the story of Karen Blixen, the Danish writer who was later to publish under the name of Isak Dineson. Blixen shares her story of when she lived in British East Africa, now Kenya, where she ran a large coffee plantation. It is also the story of her love affair with big-game hunter Denys Finch Hatton played by Robert Redford. But the real character of this epic story is Africa.

David Watkin’s romantic and graceful cinematography and John Barry’s lavish score indeed provides us with a feast for both the eyes and the ears. Sydney Pollack (director) made a beautiful film and the way he showcased Africa’s beauty is masterful. Even if you don’t enjoy the storyline, David Watkin’s photography is incredible – the landscapes, the shots of animal life. Finch Hatton’s biplane and the spectacular scenery will take your breath away. I am sure many who watched this movie fell in love with Kenya and were planning a trip to this majestic place.

There have been many criticisms of this movie since its release. Most criticisms were levelled at its length at almost three hours long and that it was boring and suffered from hostile pacing.  Personally, I didn’t find the movie too long. This is a movie that is a visual masterpiece and I soaked up every image that was presented to me on the screen.

The direction of the movie was gentle and sensitive. There is a scene in the movie where Robert Redford can appear to be narcissistic, but with the careful handling of director Sydney Pollack, as an audience, we are sympathetic to him AND to Meryl Streep’s character who wants so much more from him.

Out of Africa is a movie with the audacity to be about complex, sweeping emotions and Sydney Pollack doesn’t shy away from using his stars and their star power to his advantage and without apology. This is a movie that owns it stars – Streep, Redford and Africa.

 

 

 

 

 

Take Three Girls is one of those novels that comes with high expectations. Three award-winning authors are writing together in one book. The first time I read this novel, I wasn’t quite sure what all the fuss was about and it was only on my second reading that I appreciated the three narratives that Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood had blended together.  The book’s chapters switch between each girl’s individual view. Take Three Girls is a book so well written that you take the subtleties and the nuances of this beautifully crafted novel for granted.

Ady, Clem and Kate are thrown together as part of their elite school’s Wellness Program. The three girls are put together in a group (based on their thumb size). The Wellness Program forces the girls to interact with one another and it is through this compulsory group that the three girls get to know each other better, eventually becoming friends. These three girls were barely acquaintances and without the program most likely would never have become friends – Clem is a star swimmer, Ady is the Queen Bee and Kate is a quiet over-achieving musician.

As the book progresses you realise there is more to each girl then the label they have been given. All of them are trying to find their way in the world. The girls are on an exploration to discover who they are and how they fit into the world that they live. The book also introduces us to the online site called PSST (Private Schools Secret Tracker). PSST is an online social media site that takes delight in bullying – mainly through body and slut shaming (most of which is untrue). PSST is a toxic website that shows how toxic online social media sites can be and the damage they can unleash.

“The class is filing in for Wellness, a new program designed to cure us of the urge to trash each other on social media. I love the internet, code, computers. I love that if I miss Ben, I can summon him into my room and talk to him over Skype. It’s the most mind-bending invention in the last century and how do humans use it? They access porn and talk smack about each other.’

What I love about this book is that it is a celebration of friendship. Take Three Girls captures what good friendship looks like but it also shows what bad friendship looks like.

“Friends. It seems so simple it’s dumb, but it took you a while to get onboard – a friend is someone you can be real with. No games, no faking it, no showing off, no putting down, no power plays. Not cool or hot or mean or unpopular or fashionable or competing with each other. Just being true. And how that makes you feel is…relaxed.”

This book also celebrates how a few can make a difference in a small way. This is a book about showing teenagers that if everyone made a stand (even in a small way), then the bullies can be put in their place. Online bullying is most likely here to stay, but rather than embracing it and relishing the gossip and takedown of others – stand up, speak out and do what you can. It may only be small. It may not make a huge difference, but it will make a difference. Teenagers are an influential group and they can make a change. Ady, Clem and Kate took on an online site and they may not have stopped it but their small action brought joy and beauty to many and this ultimately is what life is about – giving happiness and taking away pain, even if it is for just a moment.

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Melissa Keil is one of the finest voices in Australian YA fiction. Her books are always delightful, entertaining and wonderfully eccentric and The Secret Science of Magic, her third novel is no exception.

A quirky, high school romance unfolds in alternating voices of maths whiz Sophia and aspiring magician Joshua. The Secret Science of Magic is a book with a lot of heart that deals with complex questions of love, identity, friendship – sensitively and realistically.

Sophia is a fantastic and refreshing character. She is almost certainly on the autism spectrum – brilliant in science and maths but finds people challenging. Life for Sophia is not comfortable – crowds frighten her and she suffers from panic attacks. She lives inside her own head and sees the world a little differently to those around her. Sophia is authentically geeky and readers will emphasise with her anxiety.

I like that Sophia shows us that just because someone doesn’t feel comfortable around people doesn’t mean that they are shy, aloof or uninterested. Many of those on the spectrum choose to be alone, preferring their own company – a little like introverts.

“I resist the urge to remind her that I am not shy. That’s always been the conclusion most people draw about me, the simplest and least demanding diagnosis, which I rarely bother to correct, ‘shy’ is a label everyone can get on board with.”

Keil has an exceptional gift of putting together characters who are uniquely different but so well matched. Joshua is empathetic, vulnerable, awkward and romantic. He understands Sophia and Sophia needs a Josua in her life.

Joshua brings fun and joy to Sophia’s life. He uses his magic to woo her (often anonymously) and it works. It is sweet, charming and gorgeous. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t like magic.

“Mr Grayson’s vintage movie projector on the back of the room starts to whirl…it floods the dreary lab with flickering light and then begins broadcasting a Dr Who Xmas special.”

Josh is unique because at school he’s a loner but he’s okay with this, he’s happy and he isn’t fazed by what other people think.

Melissa Keil has a knack for creating colourful and likeable characters that you wish you knew in real life. Her characters feel real and always are fun, engaging and intelligent.

The Secret Science of Magic is a modern classic for today’s generation. Both Joshua and Sophia are clueless about what their life after high school will look like. Keil doesn’t sugar coat the reality of what life can be like for a teenager and the confusion that occurs particularly in Year 12 where life is about to change dramatically.

What I love about Melissa Keil’s books is they sparkle and yet they have hidden depths. She always makes her books funny, uplifting but also moving and emotionally wise. She makes it look so smooth and effortless, but a book with this much heart has been written by an exceptional author.

Like her previous novels, The Secret Science of Magic is humorous, heartfelt and compelling. Once again Melissa Keil has delivered a book that is heartwarming, empathetic and often hilarious – a delightful read.

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busyness

Recently I received a book in the mail, and there were several advertisements, including one for Audible that said, “No time to read? You need Audible”. Seriously? I had just ordered a book in the post, BUT it wasn’t the advertisement that truly offended me, what bugged me was the idea that I would have no time to read – I couldn’t find a few moments in the day to sit and read.

The idea of BUSYNESS has bugged me for quite some time now. I will admit that my week-days are particularly busy. I arrive at work at 7 am and most days I don’t get home until between 5 – 6 pm most days. Rarely is there a time during the day to sit and just read BUT my weekends are a different story and so are my weeknights. I will definitely make the time to read because reading is essential to me. It slows me down, it centres me and it relaxes me AND I take the time to read because I enjoy it. I will never be too busy to read.

BUT let’s get back to the idea of busyness. I hate that word. BUSYNESS. I hate people that tell me that they are TOO busy to read. People that tell me that they are too BUSY to go see a movie. Too BUSY to take time out for themselves. When did we become so obnoxious that we think being busy makes us important?

A couple of years ago I photocopied many of the above quote (that opens this blog) and placed them around my staffroom (before the first bell). When I went down to the staffroom at morning tea, all the posters had disappeared. I found this curious, so throughout the week, I would put the posters up and by the time I went back to the staffroom they had been removed. Apparently, someone was incredibly offended by this poster. Someone who equated their busyness with their worthiness??

Personally, I believe that BUSYNESS is used as a sense of entitlement or as something to hide behind.  If I were to say that I couldn’t go to a party because I was busy, no one would bat an eyelid. If I was to say that I couldn’t go to the party because I didn’t want to, then everyone would be offended or everyone would try to change my mind. What’s the difference? Busyness is the greatest of all excuses. No one will even ask what you are busy doing; they will just accept that you are busy.

Today it would seem that if you have “nothing” to do on the weekend, then you are pitied, BUT no one pities the busy person. Instead, they are admired. We praise busyness. If someone comes into work for the whole weekend, they are respected, appreciated and prized. Why? Is this healthy? Are we giving our best to our students if we are spending our weekends at school working? Wouldn’t it be better to give ourselves some distance from school on the weekend and come to school on Monday feeling refreshed? Isn’t it better to show our students that we are well-rounded individuals with a life outside of school?

I believe that busy people choose to be busy because they are frightened. They are fearful of silence, solitude and idleness. They need to fill their lives with busyness, otherwise, what will they do? Lately, I have been leaving my phone at home when I go to do errands. This means that while I am waiting for my coffee or standing in a queue, I wait and stop and enjoy the small amount of time with my thoughts, or I look around and watch what is happening around me rather than mindlessly scrolling through my phone. It is kind of sad that people never look up and appreciate what is happening around them. It is unfortunate that a few minutes waiting for a coffee, or standing in a queue or waiting at a traffic light can’t be endured without a screen to stare into.

Why do we have so much less time today then our grandparents did fifty years ago? Do we have less time today than in previous years because we waste so much time scrolling through our phones, iPads, laptops? Is it because we binge watch television? If you were to put your devices away, what would you do? Try it and see how much time you get back for yourself.

Lately, I have been choosing to spend a day where I do “nothing”. I read. I sit on my couch and daydream. I watch television or a movie (but not six hours of bingeing, but rather an hour or two). I play with my dog. I sit on my deck and watch the birds. I go for walks with my dog. I sit in the park. I read a magazine. I read the newspapers. I avoid my phone and other technology that will distract me. I don’t do any work for school. These days are blissful. They restore me. They make me a better person.

Let’s stop being consumed by the busyness monster. Let’s stop thinking that being busy makes us important. Lets put away our devices and look around and enjoy and appreciate the world we inhabit. Let’s stop the “glorification of busy”.

 

 

Recently, I attended Somerset Celebration of Literature at Somerset College on the Gold Coast. I was fortunate enough to attend one of Gabrielle Williams’ sessions. I have been a huge fan of Gabrielle’s for some time, Beatle Meets Destiny being one of my favourite books.

During the session, Gabrielle spoke about her book The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex and it reminded me of how much I loved the book, and so I decided to reread it.

I love books that are a blend of truth and fiction. When authors take an event that has happened and weave it into a story, I find it endlessly fascinating. For days after I find myself googling different elements of the story to learn more. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is based on the infamous theft of Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman’ from the NGV (National Gallery of Victoria) by a group called Australian Cultural Terrorists.

“On 2 August 1986, a group calling itself the Australian Cultural Terrorists stole one of the world’s most iconic paintings – Picasso’s Weeping Woman – off the walls of the National Gallery of Victoria and held it to ransom, demanding an increase in government funding for artists in Victoria. The painting was the subject of an international manhunt involving Interpol, Scotland Yard and the Australian Federal Police.

The Australian Cultural Terrorists were never found.”

It is almost inconceivable to imagine this theft occurring, and that the theft was so simply orchestrated. While googling the incident, I found an article in The Sydney Morning Herald by chief conservator Thomas Dixson (https://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/art-and-design/thomas-dixon-first-person-weeping-woman-20160623-gpqixc.html).

“Art gallery security in 1986 was primitive by today’s standards. I had been on staff at two major art galleries in the US and can attest that NGV facilities and procedures were pretty much on par with the art world of the time.

This meant that at 5 pm attendants locked up the gallery and did a perfunctory walk-through and beat a hasty exit leaving a skeleton staff overnight.

Lacking CCTV and motion detectors, the four-storey building was secured by two attendants’ hourly patrols with hand torches. A thief could simply conceal themselves until after closing and wait for a patrol to pass. They then had an hour or so until another patrol. Come morning they could mingle with other visitors and leave unnoticed. It wouldn’t take genius, just bravado.”

Gabrielle spins a story with four principal characters – Guy (The Guy), Rafi (The Girl), Luke (The Artist) and Penny (The Ex) and with a tremendous supporting cast tells their stories which she then weaves together to become one story. The book is told in third person alternating chapters. In the beginning, you don’t quite understand how all these characters stories are connected, but Gabrielle does a great job of intersecting their lives in surprising ways.

What I particularly like about books that revolve around an event that actually happened is the excerpts from newspaper articles and letters to the editor to tell me what the vibe was at the time concerning the incident. At the time the people of Victoria were wavering between being outraged at the theft or perplexed and bemused that the ‘kindergarten-like’ painting has been stole and cracking jokes or suggesting the Gallery is better off without it in its collection.

                “Thank heavens

Thank heavens that monstrosity has been taken off the walls of our gallery.

ELLEN PORTER, Balwyn”

 

                “Tired old jokes

                Picasso was original, unlike the tired old jokes about children being able to                  do better.

ERIC HANOVER, Northcote”

 

The novel ties together four characters who don’t know each other, a curse, a party, love at first sight and an art heist. Quite a combination but Gabrielle Williams is a master storyteller, and she ties together all these elements effortlessly. The Guy, the Girl, the Artist and His Ex is a superbly crafted novel. Gabrielle Williams is an intelligent, discerning and compassionate writer and this her second YA novel is an engaging, quirky page-turner.

 

 

 

 

Amelia Westlake is an easy read with an anti-establishment message.  It wasn’t a great read, but it wasn’t a terrible read. On the whole, it was a witty and engaging read from an Ampersand Prize-winning author.

Amelia Westlake is an enjoyable read, and I do think that Erin Gough managed to highlight several issues that are important to young people. There was a definite feminist vibe to the book, which I believe young adults will warm to.

The book revolves around two main characters. There is Will (short for Wilhemina). Will is snarky, anti-social and politically evolved (apparently) and a talented artist. Yes, she could fit a stereotype. Harriet is an over-achiever, she’s a school prefect and star tennis player. Yes, another stereotype.

After school one day while Will is in detention and Harriet is sucking up to a teacher the two girls engage in a heated discussion and come up with a cartoon depicting their sleazy sports coach. The girls decide they should deliver it to the student newspaper to be published. The only trouble is the school newspaper editor (a friend of Will’s) won’t publish anything without a name attached to it. The girls come up with the pseudonym of Amelia Westlake. After the success of the cartoon, Will & Harriet decide to hook up and cause havoc in Amelia Westlake’s name.

The book continues along in this manner, where the girls continue to expose social injustices that are occurring in their elitist private school. The trouble is that the book feels contrived and a little like a sitcom at times. Nothing is ever entirely believable. At times, the characters feel like caricatures, particularly Will and her friend the school editor, Nat.

I did enjoy the comedy and the witty dialogue, and there were times that I laughed out loud.

“She’s a joiner. Joiners are the worst. She’s unbelievably repressed. She has a grating enthusiasm. She says meaningless things like, ‘Everything happens for a reason’ and, ‘There’s no “I” in team!”

I found Harriet incredibly endearing and grew to quite like her. Though, I am not entirely sure that private school students are as naïve and innocent as Erin Gough’s character of Harriet.  I also enjoyed the sense of solidarity and power that was shown by the students towards the end of the book and thought that it was more realistic than most of what occurred in the book.

The book is somewhat unrealistic, contrived and melodramatic, but it is a funny read, and I do believe that most young adult readers will enjoy the writing, its characters and the witty plot. Its biggest problem is that it tries too hard to be an edgy satire rather than the engaging romp, it is actually is.

“Still making a fair amount of noise, I run after her, which is tricky, what with her being an elite sportsperson and me being an elite couch potato.”

“I’m comfortable with isolation, unlike some people I know who sweat at the temples if Snapchat is taking too many seconds to load.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Renegades isn’t a book I would typically read. Actually, it is a book that I would generally avoid like crazy. I am not at all interested in superheroes. The only superhero movie I have seen is Suicide Squad, which I only went to see because of it being more about villains than superheroes. I thought that Suicide Squad was okay. I think I would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t for the ridiculous Cara Delevingne character, the Enchantress. Anyway, enough of that. I am not a superheroes fan, but since becoming a CBCA judge, I have decided to continue to push the boundaries of what I read, so I decided to read Renegades. It was another book that I received in my YA Chronicles subscription.

Renegades is quite a good book. I now understand the hype surrounding the author, Marisa Myer; she knows how to write a good story. This is quite a large book at 556 pages but rarely did I find myself bored or wishing Myer would just get on with it. Instead, I discovered that Myer wrote in such a way that the story unfolded in my mind, almost like a movie.

The story is set around the Renegades and the Anarchists. Supposedly the Renegades are the good guys, and the Anarchists are the bad guys, but these lines are always blurred. Like most of society, there is good and bad in every group. No group is ever perfect, including superheroes.

In the world of Renegades and Anarchists, there are prodigies. Prodigies are born with superpowers, and this is where Myer takes a more creative turn. Rather than your run –of- the- mill superheroes that can fly, have super strength, faster-than-light speed and so on, Myer’s superheroes are pretty cool. There’s a prodigy who can transform herself into thousands of butterflies. A character whose blood becomes a weapon. A girl who can make bombs with her hands. The names of the characters are also great – The Detonator, Nightmare, Phobia. Though, they may be names of the villains. Some of the superhero names are a little predictable – like superheroes themselves.

The story revolves around Nova, a prodigy who has ties to the Anarchists and has reason to hate the Renegades. Nova has grown up with the Anarchists but her identity has been hidden, and she is able to move about in society without fear of being recognised as an Anarchist, though her loyalties lie with the Anarchists. She becomes intertwined with Adrian, a Renegade, who believes that justice will prevail. Adrian is what we call a “do-gooder”, he believes that the world needs superheroes and that civil liberties and heroes will always prevail. Nova isn’t interested in justice. She wants revenge and a world where society doesn’t feel that they “need” superheroes.

Myer has created a book that superhero devotees will enjoy and for those of us who just enjoy a well written entertaining book. There is a twist ending, and you do find yourself wondering what will happen next in the series. Will I read the next book? Maybe? I am curious to learn more about Nova and the Anarchists. I am also wondering if the Renegades plan for prodigies will come to fruition.