My 10 best books of 2016 (in no particular order)

Posted on Jan 13, 2017 in Books
My 10 best books of 2016 (in no particular order)

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Mari Condo

neatThere is no real need for a blurb on this book. The title says it all, really.

I read this at the beginning of last year and found it so incredibly inspiring, but I did wonder if it would have effects on my life beyond my initial flush of excitement – let’s face it, a lot of self-help books don’t actually have lasting effects.

I am pleased to say this one did. Although Mari claimed that her decluttering/tidying technique would only need to be applied once, I am finding that (for me) it is more of an ongoing thing, which continues to evolve as I do. One of the most wonderful changes for me has been to rid myself of multiple items that perform the same function.

For example, I have one bottle of shampoo, one of conditioner, one skin cream etc. in my bathroom cupboard. I tend to view clothes in terms of the function they perform and I try to limit the number of clothing in each category. The list goes on. For me, I can’t believe how marvellous and freeing it feels to have less crap to look after and clean. I absolutely love how much simpler it is to keep my life tidy and not overwhelming.

These are also great things to teach Rock, who has similar troubles to me when he is overwhelmed with clutter. My whole life continues to feel better and easier and I am itching to do another big purge and tidy up my life again this month. This is a great book to read at the beginning of a new year, when you are inspired to spruce things up a bit, or if you’re finding adulthood rather exhausting. Five stars.

Joseph-SmithThe Sound of Gravel – Ruth Wariner

This is a memoir from a woman who grew up in a Mormon compound, with her mother, a gaggle of kids and a stepfather who has multiple wives.

The family lives in abject poverty, with no running water or electricity and are forced to commit fraud to keep themselves fed and clothed.

It is an absolute eye opener of a book, with an amazing ending. There are some pretty harrowing sections of the book; it is not exactly light reading, but it is an incredible portrait of a lifestyle that almost seems beyond belief in this day and age.

I found the book utterly gripping. Five stars. 

The Art of Frugal Hedonism – Annie Raser-Rowland and Adam Grubb

Why-BuyAgain, this book has a fairly self-explanatory title. Honestly, in many ways it gave a name to a set of principles I’ve followed in life for quite some time: essentially, I get a kick out of living really juicily without spending money on stupid junk or compromising my ethics. My life is about freedom and creativity and I choose these over material goods whenever I can. It’s my passion. You could say that it is my “thing.”

I often feel at odds with the middle class world around me. I dislike the rampant consumerism of keeping up with the Joneses and that can make me feel quite bleak and lonely.

I choose to work part time and do without – I’m sure people see me spending lots of time sitting on my verandah, surrounded by my unmown lawn and they think I must be frightfully lazy. Ha! Maybe I am. It means I don’t fit in very well around here and that gets to me sometimes. But hang it, I’m happy.

This book was like finding my people. Not only did I get tips, inspiration and validation of my beliefs – I realised that there are actually whole communities out there who believe what I do.

This book was a great read, and one I thought would be useful to give to people who are open to the idea that living frugally needn’t feel bleak or empty. Five stars.

Love Warrior – Glennon Doyle Melton

LoveI am not sure why I picked this book, but I’m glad I did.

There is a bit of Oprah-style navel-gazing content in the book, which I often find a little twee, but this woman can write beautifully and although my relationships, life and perspective are nothing like hers, I still found myself excitedly highlighting great tracts of this book and inwardly shouting YES! EXACTLY!

I love books that make me feel like this – it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s pretty much why I love to read. If you like thinking about life and relationships in all their complexity, you will probably enjoy this book. Five stars.

Crumby – Alex Crumbsnatcher

face-troubleThis is the tale of a young, queer boy who has a really dysfunctional relationship with his mother, takes lots of drugs, ends up in prison and meets lots of unsavoury characters.

This is essentially what the memoir is about, which doesn’t sound like much, but his funny, touching, brilliant writing style makes you love and care about him even as you want to throttle him for being such an idiot.

Crumby hasn’t exactly got a high level of insight about his choices and relationships but somehow he manages to convey his own blind spots.

It is actually quite a difficult book to do justice to. In a sense, it reminded me a little of DBC Pierre’s Vernon God Little, because the book made me cringe so much as I read it.

Crumby is a bit of a disaster, but I felt great affection for him by the end of the book and had lots of laughs. A great read, methinks. Five stars.

Have You Seen Simone? Virginia Peters

My Lismore friends will probably all remember when backpacker Simone Stroebel was killed in a local caravan park.

It made front page news and was the talk of the town for quite a while. Everybody was trying to figure out whodunnit and at the time, a lot of people suspected her boyfriend, Tobias Suckfuell, although he was later acquitted for the crime.

However, quite a few people continued to believe he was guilty and there was certainly plenty of evidence to suggest he was. Virginia Peters took this curiosity to another level, immersing herself in court reports, detective work and interviews and travelling to Germany to visit family members of the victim and accused.

This true crime tale reminded me of the podcast Serial or Helen Garner’s crime books, because Virginia Peters doesn’t even pretend to be writing impartially.

She is obsessed with trying to get answers and her conclusion is most interesting. Virginia takes the immersive approach to crime writing to even greater lengths than I’ve seen before. For example, she hires a psychic to analyse the crime, which was quite spooky and tantalising.

A word of warning: the author is kind of hoity-toity and a bit of a snob, and her descriptions of Lismore might insult those of us who adore and understand the place. I found myself disliking her a little, actually, but her writing is so fantastic it didn’t matter.

I adored this book and read it obsessively, over a couple of sittings. Very moreish. Five stars.

Selp Helf – Miranda Sings

MirandaI wouldn’t recommend this book to everyone but for a few select people, I’d highly recommend it.

Miranda Sings is a YouTuber comedian who puts out spoof vlogs. Some of you will love her, some will hate her.

To appreciate her, I think you do need to be a fan of YouTube culture and follow a few channels.

She is a satirist, so her comedy won’t work if you don’t understand what she is poking fun at. At any rate, she makes me laugh.

Check out her youtube channel, and if you think she is funny, then I highly recommend her “self help” book. I read it in an afternoon, laughed my head off and it was worth every penny. Five stars.

For the <3 of $ – Sam Polk

DollarThis memoir is about the meteoric rise and crashing fall of a high end stock trader.

The book begins at his childhood, contextualises his attraction the stock exchange and finishes by describing his eventual transformation to a completely different kind of person.

This probably sounds as boring as concrete but I swear it is not. I was attracted to this book because the guy who wrote it sounded like my polar opposite: money and power hungry, materialistic, image-conscious and shallow.

I wanted to get some insight into what might make someone end up with those kinds of values, and I certainly got that. I think the thing I enjoyed most was realising how very human, vulnerable and LIKE ME he really was.

It was a really lovely, intimate book that increased my empathy for a kind of personality that I’ve often judged pretty harshly. I found myself quite liking Sam by the end of the book. Five stars.

With You or Without You – Domenica Ruta

WineThis memoir focuses on one woman’s complicated relationship with her alcoholic, addicted mother, from childhood to adulthood, her descent into her own addictions and the impact all of this has on their relationship.

Without giving too much away, by the end of the book, Domenica becomes sober but her mother doesn’t.

The book explores their relationship through all of these stages.

It’s a really satisfying portrayal of a complicated love and it tells a story that is worth telling.

I found it incredibly moving, and having had complex relationships in my own family, I really was inspired by the power of love, forgiveness and blood ties. Five stars.

The Ice Age – Luke Williams

Ice This is a book about former JJJ journalist Luke Williams and an “experiment” with gonzo journalism that goes terribly wrong.

Luke decides to immerse himself “temporarily” in the lifestyle of crystal meth use, and write a book about it.

As you might expect, he ends up addicted, psychotic and in a world of trouble.

However, this book is not meant to be a moral tale about the dangers of drug use.

Williams also describes the parts of the drug that make it so addictive.

He has a great knack for portraying characters and relationships, which always draws me in. He is funny, and also describes the social, political and economic context for the spread of meth.

That sounds pretty dry, but he has a knack for making even this seem entertaining. I hope Luke writes more. He has a terrific writing style and I would love to read more. Five stars.

Look Me in The Eye – John Elder Robison

EyeIn this rib-tickling memoir, Augusten Burrough’s brother offers up an alternative take on his parents’ dysfunctional marriage, setting the scene for what occurs in Burroughs’ Running With Scissors.

However, the book offers much more than that: Robison is a darkly funny storyteller just like his brother, it seems. Robison has Asperger’s Syndrome, but was not diagnosed until adulthood.

Although he was extremely bright, his social quirks led to many misunderstandings and people often labelled him with really unfair things.

He was considered a sociopath, for example. He wasn’t.

He was just an angry kid who showed his frustration by pulling the kind of stunts that demonstrate his high IQ and great sense of humour while really annoying everyone around him.

The book has the same gallows humour that Burroughs’ memoirs often have, but Robison is nothing like his brother. I heartily recommend this book. Five stars.

What’s Eating Gilbert Grape? Peter Hodges

GrapesI have always loved the movie, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape, and I’ve been meaning to read the book for years. For those of you who have not seen the film, it is the story of a young carer living in a small town and his growing guilt and resentment about his situation.

It’s a really great book! I’ve become pretty fussy about fiction as I’ve gotten older.

If a character or plot twist doesn’t ring true to me, it really ruins the whole book.

I know it’s silly, but I can’t help it. I can’t sympathise with the characters and I tend to find myself mentally picking the book apart. I guess I’m a reality girl these days.

There was one part of the book I found a bit implausible, but Hodges’ character portrayal of Gilbert was so endearing that I managed to forgive it and get completely wrapped up in the story.

The book is quite different to the film. The female romantic interest is not as prominent and the ending is quite different. I enjoyed the book immensely, but for quite different reasons to the film.

It was absorbing and the kind of book where you wish you could “stay in touch” with the characters afterwards and see how they are going. Five stars.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

Posted on Dec 1, 2011 in Books
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, by Haruki Murakami

I picked up The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle after a long reading ‘dry spell’, and it reminded me why I love reading so much.

For me, it was so compelling that I found myself indiscriminately trumpeting all those time-honoured cliches about being unable to put it down.

What can I say? Murakami’s style is so addictive. His modus operandi is to write crystal clear, lucid realism, interfused with magic and the supernatural. The meeting between ‘real’ and ‘unreal’ is so seamless that the bizarre situations his characters find themselves in seem almost credible.

He is a fantastic writer, in short; all of his books hit my happy buttons, but this particular one is the cream of the crop.