Monday Blogcrawl

Something to distract you before you REALLY get going for the week:




(Pic of Madonna at her old home originally appeared in Vogue, via Lucindaville)

New Meditation CDs

I think these are the first CDs I've purchased all year. I used to be a big buyer of CDs, but of course with all the changes in technology I have slowly drifted to digital formats. I still find the CD format to be incredibly convenient at times, though, and I miss the pretty pictures.
While on a silent retreat recently we did quite a bit of meditation to music, and I found myself really enjoying the process. Now, I know my purist friends are going to say "sorry, you weren't meditating - you were listening to music." And they may well be right, but what the hell, I found myself in a deeper, better place at the end of each session, and have found the practice incredibly helpful since I returned home.
So I went into the city and visited the wonderful Adyar Bookshop to check out what they had on offer and I bought two great new CDs from two of my favourite artists:




Call to the Divine by Sacred Earth - Sacred Earth are an Australian duo and I have followed them since they released their first CD. I have also been to hear them live, and they are just amazing. Their music is based largely on Hindu chant, but incorporates a lot of different elements: shamanic rhythms, ambient sounds and even folk rock. Prem's voice is quite unique, and I have their CDs on regular replay.




Sanctuary by Donna De Lory - Quite how I discovered Donna De Lory I don't know. Probably heard her CD Lover and the Beloved being played while I was working at Adyar. I fell in love instantly with her soulful voice and her modern re-workings of sanskrit chants. Exquisite stuff, with a nice combination of sanskrit and meaningful English lyrics, and some beautiful Indian intruments playing alongside electronic sounds. I keep getting lost in this CD and its beautiful moods. Ooh, and Donna was once one of Madonna's back-up singers, which makes her pretty fabulous in anyone's book!

New Books - Fiction


I'm one of those twenty-first century characters who rarely reads fiction, though when I do I always enjoy it. I just find it so hard to justify when my areas of research and interest lie in other directions. It's an all-too-common story. That said, I always manage to get through at least half a dozen or so novels in a year, and many (most) of my favourite authors were/are novelists. Here are some titles I have picked up recently, confident that I will read them some time this year (from the top):

Collected Stories by Tennessee Williams - I explained in my last post my renewed Tennessee Williams mania. I have read all of his plays, but I must confess that I have never read any of his fiction. I once saw a short film made from his story "desire and the Black Masseur" and thought it was time I read some of the stories.

Love's Shadow by Ada Leverson - Leverson was one of Oscar Wilde's most loyal friends (she was his famous "Sphinx"), and I have read a biography of her. Her novel was long out of print, so I was excited to see this re-issue. Obscure indeed.

The Rose Crossing by Nicholas Jose - Nicholas is one of the Fellows at the Writing and Society Research Group at the University of Western Sydney, where I am completing my PhD. I see him regularly, so I thought I should read some more of his work - until now all I've read is his fascinating family memoir/travel book Black Sheep.

Proofs and Three Parables by George Steiner - I will confess that I had never heard of Steiner till I heard him on The Book Show talking about his My Unwritten Books. He sounded brilliant and fascinating, so I thought I'd check him out.

Pollyanna by Eleanor H. Potter - What a hoot! You may not know it but Pollyanna has quite a significant philosophical/religious sub-text, one that coincides with my own academic research. I have only ever seen the film so I have purchased the novel with an eye to writing an academic paper about it.

Moise and the World of Reason by Tennessee Williams - An obscure full-length novel from Mr. Williams. You know why.

Jeeves in the Offing by P. G. Wodehouse - Another confession - I have never read Wodehouse! I did try when I was a teenager, but I quickly threw him aside. I am about to give him another chance. People always assume I have read Wodehouse.

The Raven's Heart by Jesse Blackadder - Jesse is one of my colleagues, and I was at the launch of this one - I love reading friends' books.

New Books - Memoir & Biography


The next installment of my book booty for the past month or so. This time it's memoir, biography & autobiography - perhaps my favourite genre. Here's what I couldn't resist (from the top):

Aunts Up the Cross by Robin Eakin - When I worked in second-hand books I always used to see this one, but it's only recently that I have discovered what a fab book it is. A memoir of the author's various eccentric old aunts who lived in bedsits in Kings Cross in the 1930s. This is pure Sumner Locke Elliott territory, and I think I'm going to love it.

From Phnom Penh to Paradise by Var Hong Ashe & The Lost Executioner by Nic Dunlop - My next book is about Cambodia, so naturally I have been reading lots of books about the place. These are the two latest I've found - the first seems to be standard survivor memoir and the second is a biography of the truly abominable Comrade Duch, the overseer of the notorious Tuol Sleng torture chamber.

Notebooks by Tennessee Williams and Tennessee: Cry of the Heart by Dotson Rader - Reading recently Justin Spring's absolutely brilliant Secret Historian caused me to remember how much I adore Tennessee Williams, so I have been trying to fill a few gaps in my collection.

The Letters of Noel Coward ed. by Barry Day - Another bitter old theatrical queen. Have I mentioned how much I adore reading letters and diaries?

Mrs. Simpson by Charles Higham - One of my cult figures is the incredible Wallis Simpson, the woman who stole a king. I can't believe I haven't read this before.

Self-Portrait With Friends: The Selected Diaries of Cecil Beaton ed. Richard Buckle - It's occurring to me just how camp this pile of books is. But who doesn't love Cecil?

Too Brief a Treat: The Letters of Truman Capote - Capote is a god to me, the very epitome of wasted talent.

Just Kids by Patti Smith - This one won the National Book Award over Secret Historian, so I thought it must be pretty damn fabulous. Plus I love Patti, and this memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe promises to be fascinating.

Sal Mineo by Michael Gregg Michaud - The beautiful Sal was always the real star in my book, though he lived forever in James Dean's shadow. From a youthful reading of Kenneth Anger's wonderful Hollywood Babylon I was aware of Sal's shadow side, and the moment I heard about this biography I knew I had to get it.

Midnight by Arlene Gottfried - This one's kind of cheating because it's a photo-memoir, but how fascinating! The photographer charts a long friendship with a handsome schizophrenic in photographs of him taken throughout his life. It's completely hypnotic.

Jesse Blackadder - The Raven's Heart - Book launch

On Sunday night it was boiling hot, but Thang and I faced the heat and went to Shearer's bookshop on Norton Street for the launch of Jesse Blackadder's fabulous new historical novel The Raven's Heart.



Jesse is one of my fellow students at the Writing & Society Research Unit at the University of Western Sydney, and I remember her coming into a seminar late last year with a proof copy of The Raven's Heart, hot off the presses. I ached to read it then, but have had to be patient till now.



The book was developed during a residency at the Varuna Writers' Centre in the Blue Mountains, and is published by Harper Collins under the 4th Estate imprint - the very same imprint that does Jonathan Franzen! Illustrious company indeed! It is Jesse's second novel.
Here is the description from the publisher's website:

′I am awaiting my castle and the Queen is waiting for love.′

Scotland, 1561.

A ship carries Mary, the young Queen of Scots, home from the French court to wrest back control of her throne. Masquerading as a male crew member, Alison Blackadder must find a way to gain the Queen′s favour so she can win back her family′s castle and lands, cruelly stolen by a murderous clan a generation before.

Surrounded by treachery and deep suspicion, the Queen can trust nobody in the Scottish court until Alison, with her flair for disguise, becomes her most valued confidante and spy. But Alison′s drive to reclaim the Blackadder birthright is relentless, setting off events that threaten to bring down the monarchy. Alison discovers lies, danger and betrayal at every turn. Then, unexpectedly, she finds love ...

This sweeping and imaginative tale of political intrigue, secret passion and implacable revenge is a breathtaking epic from a remarkable literary talent.

Congratulations Jesse!

I have my autographed copy, and can't wait to plunge into it.

New Books - Spirituality


Have rather an embarrassing pile of new books this month, so need to break them down according to theme. So I've started with the smallest pile. From the top:

The Intention Experiment by Lynne McTaggart - This one has been around for ages - when I worked at Adyar bookshop it was a bestseller, but I never really got around to it. I have seen it mentioned in several places recently, so thought it was time to give it a careful read. It sounds fascinating.

365 Thank Yous by John Kralik - I was looking for another book and this one leapt out at me - it's exactly the kind of premise that intrigues me. A man finds something to be grateful for every day over the course of a year and he records how it changes his life. What can I say? These kinds of books are written for people like me! I just know it's gonna make me happy.

Afterlife by Barry Eaton - Barry is one of the stalwarts of the Australian New Age scene, and hosts an incredibly popular radio show dealing with these subjects. Afterlife has only just been released, and has come from Inspired Living, the same imprint that I am published under. I met Barry at the Mind Body Spirit festival last year and he told me all about the book, so I've been looking forward to it for some time.

Teaser Tuesdays



TEASER TUESDAYS is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading, and asks you to:
  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
  • Please avoid spoilers!


  • "Our responsibility is only for this day and for this moment. Whatever demand is made upon us, let us fulfil it this moment. If a call comes to us for help, let us not wait until tomorrow to give the help, but answer the call at the moment it comes."
    ~ p. 163 Joel S. Goldsmith's "
    Practising the Presence"


    Monday Blogcrawl

    I've become addicted to Real Housewives of Atlanta, and I really can't afford to be. I have to keep up my chapter-a-month schedule, or else my thesis will never get written. Still, despite my slow progress I am working hard every day on research, which is why I fail to panic. I know that a fascinating Doctoral dissertation is just waiting out there in the Universe for me to access. Until it manifests, here are some interesting tidbits from the www:

    (Photograph of Bruce Chatwin by James Crathorne, via nytimes.com)

    My Current Reading List

    It is no secret that my reading ambitions frequently outstrip my actual reading potential. I buy too many books, and perhaps will never get to read them all. I also spend almost all my days skipping into and out of books for academic research purposes. But I am scrupulous in never recording a book as "read" unless I have actually looked at every word, from cover to cover. I also won't review a book - on my blog or anywhere else- until it has been read completely. I feel every author deserves this courtesy.
    So, here is the list of books that I intend to read before Autumn. I know, an impossible task. It is a list I have compiled that is equal parts pleasure, research and obligation:




    The Family Law by Benjamin Law - This book has been something of a publishing sensation in Australia, and I really do need to read it. It sounds intriguing, with lots of elements to interest me: homosexuality, Asian-Australian experience, Queensland, dysfunctional families...



    In Tune With the Infinite by Ralph Waldo Trine - Trine's book has been constantly in print ever since its release in 1897. It is one of the earliest New Thought books, and as such is essential to my academic research. Henry Ford used to give a copy of this book to all his key employees, and in reading the biographies of the great and famous it's remarkable how often Trine's influence is cited.



    Wellness on a Shoestring by Michelle Robin & Roxanne Renee Grant - Quit a lot of my time is spent listening to podcasts, and I am a huge fan of the Unity FM 'Hooked on Classics' bookclub. I'm actually running a little behind, and this is the book I am up to.



    The Wish by Angela Donovan - While I am a critical reader of self-help, I am also a loyal follower of the books, especially those released from my own imprint, Inspired Living. This will be a big release in May this year, and I have received a proof copy. I shall be reading it with interest.




    Enlightenment to Go by David Michie - Michie is also published with Allen & Unwin, so is a brother writer. I am very interested in his efforts to modernise and, to an extent, secularise the Buddhist message, and to make arcane Tibetan texts more accesible to a modern audience. This book was given to me by my dear friend, the Australian writer Rosamund Burton.



    Five Bells by Gail Jones - Gail is one of the lecturers at the Writing & Society research group at the University of Western Sydney, where I am currently completing my PhD on the History of Sef-Help writing in Australia. I am very excited by her new book. Gail is one of Australia's literary greats, and an incredibly inspiring figure.



    Don't Get Mad, Get Wise by Mike George - I bought this book while on silent retreat at the Brahma Kumaris Centre in Wilton, NSW. I think the author is affiliated with the Brahma Kumaris movement. I am actually reading it at the moment, though only one short piece at a time - the book is designed to be consumed that way. I am loving it.



    Just My Type by Simon Garfield - A history of typography. I heard the author interviewed on the radio, and he was so throughly charming that I simply have to read this book.

    Letters from Emerson to a Friend ed Charles Eliot Norton - I found this sweet little hardcover while trawling the religion section at the back of Gould's book emporium in Newtown, a truly fascinating place. It looks intriguing, and I might glean some gems for my thesis.



    Why Kindness is Good for You by David R. Hamilton - The Adyar Booknews is just about the best bookshop newsletter ever, and as soon as I saw this book advertised in the last edition I had to have it. Of course, it will just be shoring up my own convictions, but it will be good to read someone else's argument!



    Live the Life You Long For by Annie Evans - Another of my Inspired Living stablemates, I am taking my mother to one of Annie's healing workshops next weekend. I don't think I will have the book finished in time, but no matter - at least it is on my list!




    God's Salesman by Carol V. R. George - This is a scholarly study of the life, literature and influence of Norman Vincent Peale, published by Oxford University Press. I have dipped into it quite often while writing the current chapter of my thesis, and I have found it so intriguing that I want to read it in its entirety.

    Monday Blogcrawl


    I have been quite good with my reading these past few weeks, but I realise that I have been using reading as a procrastination device to avoid writing. So there you have it, a frank admission. But I seem to be admitting to procrastination every monday. Here are the blogs:

    Seeking the Sacred - Stephanie Dowrick - A Review


    Reviewing a respected friend and colleague's book is always a perilous business. Especially when it has previously been reviewed so well by another colleague. But Stephanie Dowrick's latest book Seeking the Sacred has been my constant companion for three months now, and I have read it repeatedly and carefully, so would like to share some of what I have learned from it.

    Over the weekend I had it with me while I was doing a silent retreat, and it proved to be the perfect companion for such an undertaking. Every time I left the meditation hall I would pick up this book and almost instantly would be reading something that was completely relevant to my thoughts and contemplations at the time. Of course, this was bound to happen as Seeking the Sacred deals with some of the really big questions of life, and with most of the abiding concerns of the "spiritual" person. Among them include, love, belonging, forgiveness (a constant theme in Stephanie's books), humility and vulnerability. And these were just the things I was dealing with on the weekend!

    Of course, I should declare an interest in this review: both my partner and myself are quoted in the book, and I am a longtime attendee at Stephanie's Interfaith services at the Pitt St. Uniting Church in Sydney. That said, I hope I am not an uncritical reader of her writing. I am, however, an unashamed enthusiast.

    It is a big book dealing with big themes, and in its way it works as a spiritual autobiography - a fascinating enough exercise in itself when you consider that Stephanie Dowrick is one of Australia's most successful and influential writers. In fact, these autobiographical moments were among the things that drew me most closely into the text - perhaps out of a natural human interest in gossip, perhaps out of a desire to identify more closely with the author, or perhaps simply because Dowrick's skill as a writer becomes most thrillingly apparent in these moments. I can't help but hope that one day there might be a more complete, more exclusive memoir - for in many ways I think that Stephanie Dowrick's great genius is in being everywoman. She does not posit herself as the exemplar of spiritual attainment - on the contrary she is at pains to highlight her failings in Seeking the Sacred, thereby reassuring her other merely mortal readers that the path of the sacred does not necessitate a complete saintliness. Her own journey and struggle echoes that of the reader's. The humility of her own journey functions, ironically, as a great inspiration.

    Seeking the Sacred is about the drift towards spirituality, not just in the writer's own life and work, but in society at large. Dowrick notes that there is an abiding, and perhaps growing interest in the sacred at the exact same time that people in the West drift further and further away from institutionalised forms of religion. At the same time that we reject dogma we seem ever more fascinated with the life of spirituality. Perhaps we yearn for a community, for an experience of communal oneness or interbeing that transcends selfish interest in our own concerns and anxieties. Seeking the Sacred encourages us to inhabit a space both shared and intensely private, a complex idea of self where:

    "...need to find ways to remind ourselves that from a spiritual perspective personal good and common good are never separate."


    It is this concern with the common good that seems so absent from our contemporary culture, and yet which Dowrick so cannily identifies as a great yearning within us. Not only do we seek to be better people, we seek to help and improve the lives of others. We have consciences and we care about how others live, despite the abiding political and economic tropes that seemingly rule our day-to-day decisions and dominate the media.

    There is a great richness in this book, and its concerns are far-ranging. I won't bore you with a chapter-by-chapter analysis because there is really no need for that kind of review. It is a book best read slowly and meditatively, and, as in my case, repeatedly. It works best, perhaps, as an awakener of our own awareness as spiritual beings. The possibilities that Stephanie opens up are great, but also achievable and intensely practical. We too, she is saying, are capable of spiritual growth, despite our faults and our lack of patience with our struggling selves. The reader is handled gently but honestly, and the resultant text is neither didactic nor sanctimonious. Dowrick's spiritual maturity is evident in her willingness to be totally honest about her own struggles, and in her acknowledgenment of the inevitable shortcomings of others. But what makes the book so interesting, and so counter-cultural, is that it encourages us to see beyond these differences and shortcomings in order to connect on another, deeper, level. Our surface disagreements, while powerful, are also arbitrary, and pale in comparison to the strength of what connects us.

    There will be some readers who, perhaps, are looking for something more easily palatable, more instantly recognisable, in the spiritual landscape Dowrick describes. Those seeking prescription, advice and exhortation may be disappointed by Seeking the Sacred because, as its title might suggest, it is a book about searching, questioning, challenging and acknowledging reality. And Stephanie Dowrick wants us to challenge even our "innermost stories," our cherished identities, and build something new, something altogether more transcendent and, dare I say it, mystical.

    This is a book that speaks of experience and a lifetime of asking the really big questions. It is brave and touching and, in Dowrick's inimitable fashion, constantly readable. And it is also unashamedly spiritual and resolutely non-sectarian. As would befit a book written by an Interfaith minister, it draws on wisdom and literature across many different religious traditions. But it draws on them deeply, not grazing and browsing, but dwelling and mining into the real context, the real applicability to twenty-first century lives.

    The book is a disarmingly modern artefact; evidence of both our insecurities as a culture and our secret yearnings for the metaphysical. And it provides us with no easy answers, no soft sops to our anxieties - Dowrick seeks not to lecture, but to challenge. Ultimately it is a book about the vulnerability and unease currently at work in our psyche; the exact place, perhaps where a true spirituality is spawned. Ultimately the book offers us hope, as we are reassured about our own internal capacity for growth, renewal and sacred recognition. In Stephanie's words:

    "It is as we gain familiarity with our spiritual resources, and most particularly with our capacity to care consistently that we will most effectively be freed from the twin tyrannies of insecurity and self-absorption."

    50 New Things: No. 3 - A Retreat At Innerspace



    Well, I've been a bit slack in pursuing my 50 New Things. Indeed, I am well and truly behind, and need to speed up and do multiple things in a week if I'm going to get 50 done in a year! But, as one of my friends so justly pointed out, "Walter - there's nothing you haven't done."
    True, true, oh so sadly true. I am a bitter and jaded thing. But this weekend I managed to notch up Number Three:

    3. I did a silent retreat at Innerspace Centre for Spiritual Learning - this is a retreat centre run by the Brahma Kumaris organisation, situated South of Sydney, only about 40 minutes from my home. I had never visited before, so I leapt at the opportunity.





    Now, I have done retreats before, and I've even done silent retreats before. But this was the first at this particular location and in this particular spiritual context.




    The Brahma Kumaris run this gorgeous centre and offer the fully-catered retreats for free (though of course I left a donation equal to what I would have paid at another organisation for the same service). In doing this they display a tremendous generosity and faith in human nature, and I was never once hassled for money or a donation while I was there - it was truly left to my own initiative and goodwill.
    Thang and I had quite a fun time, and I will admit that, just occasionally we broke the non-speaking rule.





    The centre is in a beautiful bushland setting, and the gorgeous vegetarian meals provided by smiling volunteers were just wonderful - especially the much appreciated cheesecake treat.





    I was quite surprised by just how obsessed I became with food throughout the retreat, and how ravenously hungry I was at each mealtime, considering I was doing absolutely nothing in the way of physical work. All of that meditation helps work up an appetite!

    Stephanie Dowrick and her new book "Seeking the Sacred"



    Tonight I went to hear Stephanie Dowrick at Shearer's Bookshop on Norton St.



    It was a full house, proving once again Stephanie's popularity, and her ability to address her reading audience perfectly.
    She spoke about her new book, Seeking the Sacred, and highlighted one or two aspects with great lightness of touch. I have heard her speak about the book on several occasions, and each time the talk has been substantively different - evidence of both the richness and complexity of the book's themes, and also, I suppose, her own continued interest in its subjects.



    For Stephanie it is the second major book to be released in as many years, and she addressed this incredible feat directly. While she was working on her previous book, In the Company of Rilke, the idea for this book, or one very like it, began to emerge, and she started to work on the two books simultaneously. Seeking the Sacred is, she says, very much informed by Rilke's own philosophy, especially his rejection of dogma while still searching for transcendent meaning and a way of living spiritually.
    In an age where strident voices on all sides of the religious "debate" are accorded the most coverage, Stephanie sees a need for a more moderate, more thoughtful voice to reclaim the discourse surrounding religion and spirituality. Religion need not be a "debate" at all, but instead a mutual search for meaning and transcendence.
    Stephanie's influences have been varied and rich, and she talked about her own personal shift from a psychological filter to a more overtly spiritual one. This she sees echoed in the world around her, and it is part of the thesis of Seeking the Sacred: that we ache now for connection, for community, and are discontented with the careful delineation of our own difference and separateness.
    Two of the things that I find most relevant in Stephanie's ophilosophy are the elevation of the status of the seeker; and the recognition of the diffuclty of the spiritual path, and the inevitability of our own occasional failings. Indeed, I asked a question about the latter subject, because I recognise the power in the acknowledgement of this universal truth - that we will always fall short of our own expectations. Part of the charm of Seeking the Sacred is this gracious and grounding nod to our own shared fallability. There is a lack of sanctimony that is refreshing and, ultimately, empowering.
    As Stephanie pointed out in her talk, we live in an age where people want to find things out for themselves. Perhaps they even need to make their own discoveries. We are no longer content to have our worldview served up to us ready-made. It is this rejection of all-questions-answered systems that perplexes, and ultimately defeats, the churches. While they demand that people shut up and take the medicine, people like Stephanie Dowrick are answering to people's profound need to be respected, to have their curiosities and misgivings given due consideration, and to approach the search for meaning with a good humour and light-heartedness that transcends judgement and rejects exclusion.
    What a wonderful night! I have already plunged back into the book, aware of new levels of meaning. And I am re-enthused about introducing the sacred into my everyday life, and vice-versa.

    Teaser Tuesdays

    TEASER TUESDAYS is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading. It asks you to:
    # Grab your current read.
    # Let the book fall open to a random page.
    # Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    # You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
    # Please avoid spoilers!

    My 2 Teasers:

    "Time, money and knowledge are all resources worthy of conserving. Spending your time doing things that do not bring you or anyone pleasure or joy is a waste of a valuable resource."

    ~ p.108, Iyanla Vanzant's "One Day My Soul Just Opened Up"




    Monday Blogcrawl

    Oh, I do love it when readers contact me - it is such an incredible thrill, and it makes me realise how I should have made the effort more often when I was a youngster. Back in those days, of course, one had to write a letter c/o the publisher. Now people just find me on my blog. Using the old fashioned method as a teenager I remember getting really beautiful letters from Simon Callow and Tobias Wolff - both very classy writers with impeccable manners to boot. Here's some of what's interesting on the www:



    • One of the most formative films of my youth was Looking for Langston, so nice to see it would have been his birthday on Feb 1.

    "The Old School" by P. M. Newton



    The Old School is a dazzlingly original work, equal parts gritty crime fiction, social history and political commentary, and P. M. Newton's voice is a welcome new one on the Australian literary scene. So much of the novel intrigued me and left me full of admiration for the author's daring, her willingness to engage with complex issues and the sheer quirkiness of the book's combined emphases. The Old School is a book that should be read with a careful eye to detail, and Newton's future fiction is to be anticipated with relish.
    One of the first things that really struck me about the book is its setting in South Western Sydney. Now, I am a resident of that benighted stretch of Australian urban discontent, and I am famous for claiming that most of Sydney's real stories are happening here. I am delighted that Newton (an ex-police officer who spent many years pounding the footpaths of Bankstown and Cabramatta) has seen the potential of the area - the rich culture, the insane clashes of ethnicity, cuisine, language and energy, the sometimes harrowing histories of its residents. The Old School is that rare thing, a Sydney novel. And it is a Sydney, moreover, that would be recognisable to the majority of its residents. It's a daring engagement, and one that few authors would bother with. Bravo P. M. Newton!
    I was also intrigued by the book's discussion of race. The protaganist is a Eurasian detective called Ned Kelly, and she drifts through a world populated by (and engaged with) Aboriginal activists, old-school Anglo coppers and a host of other Australians of myriad ethnicity. In fact, I would suggest that the question of race is central to the novel, and central to its understanding. It is a discussion about new and old, belonging and arrival - the kinds of themes that are political minefields, but all the more exciting for their presence.
    Most of all I loved the living, breathing comlexity of Ned, the heroine. Hers is a life lived in pretty regular conflict with her job, with her past, and with her uncomfortable present. Expected to be a hard-nosed copper, Ned in reality reels from violence and, ultimately, death. She is no CSI ice-queen:

    "The more she knew about the dead, the more real they became, and the less she wanted to deal with their remains. Touching, kissing - she couldn't imagine caring so deeply about another human being that it could transcend the rank aspect of death."


    There are moments of description and reflection like this throughout the book, giving me constant pause to remark on the reality of the situations, and the beauty of their expression.
    Ned's own contradictions are perfectly captured, and she displays the bewildering range of hypocrisies, sanctimonies and double standards that we all make ourselves live with. Heightened by her feelings of both belonging and exclusion due to her mixed-race background, Ned is at turns censor and censored:

    "He read her too easily, caught her stereotyping. She resented stereotyping, hated it when it happened to her, but she did it too, like most of the coppers she knew. There were degrees...when shit came to shove most of them reverted to instinct. Instinct was cruel but it worked just often enough to make it useful."


    "Crime novel" simply doesn't work in describing The Old School (though I don't see anything wrong in that particular appellation). Ultimately it is something more, and something more unsettling. It is an experiment in genre fiction and cultural history, and it is challenging, engaging and constantly intriguing.

    What’s On Your Nightstand?



    So what books are sitting next to my bed, to be read when I escape into the air-conditioning or just before I drift off to sleep at night? Well, this month it's a surprisingly restrained pile - I'm actually quite proud of myself. Sometimes it's towering! Here is my bedtime reading (from the top):



    I Am Sustained by the Love of God - A little booklet I picked up for free at the Parliament of World Religions back in 2009. It is a collection of reflections and meditations on the Lessons of A Course in Miracles, and I find it remarkable. I read one reflection every night. OK, so I'm a new ager!

    Time for Tea by Lindel Barker-Revell - Linda is Australia's tea-leaf reading expert, and a really lovely woman. She is also published under the same imprint as me, Inspired Living.

    Rimbaud by Edmund White - Quite simply, Edmund White is one of our greatest living writers, and each of his books is perfect. I adored his wonderfully gossipy biography of Proust, and this one is just as good. I'd love to write like him.

    The Tao Speaks 1 by Tsai Chih Chung - Tsai is a genius who translates the classics of the East into fabulous, but incredibly meaningful, comic strips. They make for perfect bedtime reading. This is his version of the Tao Te Ching.

    Teaser Tuesdays

    TEASER TUESDAYS is a meme hosted by Should Be Reading. It asks you to:
    # Grab your current read.
    # Let the book fall open to a random page.
    # Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
    # You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!
    # Please avoid spoilers!

    My 2 Teasers:

    "Meditation, as my Gurus often say, is not something that you need a special talent for, the way you need a talent for mathematics or art. The real key to going deep in meditation is wanting to go deep."

    ~p.7, Swami Durgananda's "The Heart of Meditation"






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