Category Archives: Ideas Discussed

Summer Library Pleasures….the time to read & dream.

How wonderful it is to have the luxury of time during the traditional Australian summer holidays. I finished work on December 21st and because I am employed at a school, work does not resume until after Australia Day in late January.
Five weeks to catch my breath, spend quality time with friends and family, enjoy Christmas and New Year festivities, clean the house, go to the beach, watch international tennis and cricket live and on TV, go to the movies and READ! Very close to heaven I feel….

Lots of interesting articles in the newspaper and in magazines I don’t normally venture near, being so time poor.
For example, I borrowed a copy of ‘Good Reading’ September 2012 and found an interesting bunch of articles of variable quality but thought provoking nonetheless.
First up (1) was a short article about a thriller by LA Larkin set in Antarctica. Although not particularly interested in reading the book, I was delighted by the closing two paragraphs of the article…Antarctica is not only the coldest, highest, windiest and driest continent but it also has no national government or police force and no judicial system. It is managed by the Antarctic Treaty, to which Australia and New Zealand are signatories. This agreement stipulates that there should be no mining for minerals, no testing of nuclear weapons and no military action. Scientific research is shared among nations and it is a place of peace. Sounds like Utopia? It is, and long may it last. It seems that other visitors agree. Andrew Denton sums it up well:
‘If Antarctica were music it would be Mozart. Art, and it would be Michelangelo. literature, and it would be Shakespeare. And yet it is something even greater; the only place on earth that is still as it should be. May we never tame it.
I couldn’t agree more with both Andrew Denton and the article.
Next up was a brief article(2) about the recycling of books from a Gold Coast library. It is reassuring to read about a thoughtful way of keeping books in circulation and of volunteering in such a constructive manner, with benefits to all concerned.
‘The Arty Emperor’ (3) was of interest as I has enjoyed the exhibition ‘Napoleon:Revolution to Empire’ at the NGV during 2012. It was fascinating to re-visit the fact of links between France and Australia via flora & fauna collected by Josephine…not sure I agree with her transportation of kangaroos and black swans etc to Chateau de Malmaison but I applaud her interest in the wider world.
I had not heard of the ‘Why vs Why’ series of books. After initially thinking the arguments presented for and against the idea of increasing Australia’s population were a bit simplistic or self fulfilling rather than persuasive, I warmed to the report(4) after reading further articles via the wonderful tool of Google! Australia is desperately in need of leadership and deeper policy making than is presented to us at the moment and the publication of more complex discussions which need to be had about our future can only enrich the culture of decision making in every corner of our continent.
Finally, the article (5) about a monastry in WA was incredible to hear about. Fancy there being a library of international renown over an hour NE of Perth in the tiny community of New Norcia! Housing close to 100,00 articles such as illuminations from the 15th century, a Hebrew manuscript written in 1734 and many day to day documents which form part of the history of this farming region, the Benedictine monks are caretakers of a ‘unique collection that reflects a culture of devotion and faith as well as the desire for new knowledge and ideas’.

We need more of this life philosphy everywhere!

1. http://www.thebigthrill.org/2012/12/thirst-by-l-a-larkin/

2. http://thethousands.com.au/brisbane/shop/friends-of-the-library-bookstore/

3. http://www.napoleon.org/en/magazine/interviews/files/481365.asp

4. http://www.panterapress.com.au/files/media/WHYvsWHY_BigAustralia_Excerpts%20from%20both%20sides_NOcase_and_YEScase.pdf

5. http://au.news.yahoo.com/thewest/opinion/post/-/blog/10196731/monasterys-library-an-arsenal-of-books/

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Melbourne’s new ‘School of Life’.

I was very excited to read about the new venture in Melbourne run by ‘Small Giants’ in association with philosopher Alain de Botton’s ‘School of Life’ in the UK. Classes start in January 2013 and I will be booking one or two very soon! I came across this interesting opportunity reading the article in last weekend’s ‘Good Weekend magazine de bottonhttp://www.theage.com.au/lifestyle/lessons-in-life-20121218-2bl9c.html

Melbourne is hosting the first classes of this sort outside of the UK, due to De Botton’s high opinion of Melbourne’s literary population & their high uptake of ideas, festivals & other literary/philosophical events. Similar I imagine to our gaining The Wheeler Centre for Ideas & the UN stamping of Melbourne as a city of books….I like the notion that wisdom about how to live in the best way possible is not just learnt via (hard) experience but can be transmitted through the classroom…we don’t have to all reinvent the wheel just as scientists (for example) don’t all have to rediscover Newton’s Laws of Gravity… I also like the plan to make these classes affordable & non elitists…will let you know how they stack up once I have attended one!

http://www.theschooloflife.com/shop/australia/classes/

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The weekend treat – browsing through the paper……

I really need another day in my weekend. I have finally finished reading last weekend’s Age and thoroughly enjoyed  the content & the quality of the journalism.

I have heard Christos Tsiolkas speak at a Melbourne Writers Festival & enjoyed reading ‘The Slap’ for bookclub before it became trendy as a television mini series (which, incidentally,has been nominated for an Emmy this coming week). I am now looking forward to viewing the movie ‘Dead Europe’ thanks to an excellent & insightful review. (1)With two talented actors ( Ewen Leslie & Kodi Smit- McPhee) and topicality – Henson’s art/photography, the plight of Greece, anti semitic feeling – to name just a few, it was always going to be interesting. But the review really struck a chord of recognition with me & I want to follow through by seeing the movie. 10/10 to the reviewer for a successful job! I love lines such as ‘Part of the impact of Tsiolkas’ novels stems from his willingness to enter imaginatively into unpalatable points of view’. Hence the furore over the ugliness of human behavior after ‘The Slap’ was screened! Can’t wait to head to the Nova soon for a dose of thought provoking reality…

Next weekend I have my last MTC play, ‘Music’ with Richard Piper & Janet Andrewartha amongst others. I am eagerly anticipating the experience thanks to a great review. (2) The review was full of lines which I found myself nodding ‘Yes!’ to over & over. ‘There is nothing secret about the power of music. From the moment of birth it forms a soundtrack to our lives.’ Or ‘Grief keens his senses like steel blades: when time reveals itself to be in short supply, there is no room for synthetic sentiment: it is the raw, tattered edges of real emotion he craves.” And ‘ The emotional gauge veers crazily from moments of euphoria to deep despair & utter sadness, with a heap of anger thrown in..” Who would not look forward to a play supported by Brahms, Debussy, Beethoven & Schubert?

Robbie Williams suddenly seems a whole lot more intelligent than I have previously given him credit for. Or it could be that the favourable review of his recent history is more flattering than it should be. (3) Either way it is nice to hear good things about a pop star whose ballads I have absolutely enjoyed. ‘A Better Man’, ‘Feel’ & ‘Angel’ have always struck me as above the run of the mill pop ballads, sung with a voice which summons both the pain & joy of life. It used to be more of the former but could it be that marriage & fatherhood have weaved their magic yet again? It would certainly be nice to think so.

‘Horn Please’ in North Fitzroy is a new Indian restaurant which I recently had the pleasure of dining at…The review is slightly flattering but the ambience & service are worth experiencing even if the dishes did not quite live up to their zesty descriptions. (4)

And my favourite piece of all..an examination of Colm Toibin’s new novel – The Testament of Mary. (5) Not only does it sound intriguing to one who finds spirituality more interesting than religion usually – the wars, corruption  & abuse of power are a complete turn off – but the clarity with which the reviewer captures Toibin’s thoughts on who writers write for was magnificent…‘ His mother was what most writers long for, and what most of us still write for: the ordinary reader, curious & intelligent and demanding, ready to be moved & changed, and believing still that the written word has all the power to make the deepest imprint on the private self. He still carries her example with him and still writes for someone like her, someone who actually feels that the next paragraph could change their life; that books are really important.’  Hoorah! And Toibin still writes in longhand.

The paper this weekend was chock a block with reasons to love living in Melbourne including references to ‘our’ Kylie – a lady who really knows how to take a good picture using her many assets to advantage (in a fun, nice way), the upcoming Queenscliff Festival – bring on Sunday 25th Nov. when Jeff & I will be driving down the highway for a day of great music and finally, a review of the new Kerry Greenwood murder mystery novel starring Melbourne & Phryne Fisher.

Hats off to Jake Wilson, Jason Steger, Larissa Dubecki, Kathy Evans & Bernard Zuel for enriching my weekend with a description & explanation of the wealth of creative events I can look forward to.

1. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/movies/family-ghosts-haunt-dead-europe-20121115-29d90.html (actual article not available from ‘The Age’ !!!)

2. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/theatre/music-20121115-29eo1.html (actual article not available from The Age!!!)

3. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/music/robbie-williams-scarred-but-smarter-20121108-28z6m.html

4. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/restaurants-and-bars/honk-if-youre-hungry-to-spice-it-up-20121109-291tq.html

5. http://www.theage.com.au/entertainment/books/interview-colm-toibin-20121108-28z7n.html

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How can humans be so evil?

ImageReading a review in Saturday’s Age of a new memoir about Joesph Roth, a Jewish German writer whose life was destroyed by Nazism(1), I was struck by the strength of the ripple (or earthquake really) of man’s evil deeds against other men. Mention of Ernst Toller and the Hapsburg Empire caught my eye & my imagination when reading the article. What a powerful sentence….”The corollary of Hitler’s book burnings was a bonfire of the talents, the flames of which lit a succession of melancholy images.”… What wicked destruction of art, writing & people’s lives, the effects of which last forever (the loss of culture) & decades (many generations of traumatised families). Just today there was an obituary in ‘The Age’ newspaper (2) to yet another refugee from Hitler’s Europe who found her way to Australia & managed to build a quite different life out here. In the sad final sentence of the review of Roth’s memoir, Roth is quoted in 1933 as writing ‘We all over-estimated the world, even me, an absolute pessimist’.

Here was I, in Australia in 2012, being struck for probably the sixth or seventh time this year by the devastation caused by World War 2. Possibly I am at an age where reflections on life become more relevant & more likely, with slightly more leisure time on my hands. Going to Auschwitz and Poland was the start. Reading ‘Sophie’s Choice’ (3)and ‘All that I Am’ (4) was a natural progression. Choosing to do a CAE course on the Hapsburg dynasty seemed like a natural fit for someone curious about Central Europe’s history. The film ‘Lore’ (6) confirmed the absolute ugliness of WW2 Germany where a father could choose to desert his family in favour of duty as the head of an internment camp and where the children truly believe in the inferiority of Jews, even when someone they think is Jewish saves them as they trek across Germany in search of their grandparents’ home. What madness & evil is the human race capable of & why do we repeat it even as we recognise the errors of the past?

Even my bookclub read at the moment (‘The Constant Gardener’ by John Le Carre(5)) is depressing as pharmaceutical and colonial powers experiment with thousands of lesser beings in Africa, using them as guinea pigs for drug trials.

It all leaves me pondering at the randomness of our fate – me safe here for no apparent reason & with no tangible means to stem the ways of the world at large….the only useful path seems to be to not give up on our environment, on the power of education, on faith in the majority of my fellow humans. I hope we are not too little, too late.

1. http://www.smh.com.au/entertainment/books/words-waver-during-the-rise-of-the-reich-20121012-27hst.html

2. http://www.theage.com.au/national/obituaries/grief-set-aside-to-better-other-lives-20121015-27n93.html

3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie’s_Choice_(novel)

4. http://annafunder.com/all-that-i-am/

5. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Constant_Gardener

 6. http://sff.org.au/films-container/lore/

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