Recent Revelatory Reading Part 4
Wow, it’s December – and time for my last My Favorite Things of the year. And the end of my round-up of favorite reading of 2016 (don’t miss part 1, part 2, and part 3). Today I’ve got the books that were left over from my lists on creativity, fiction and memoirs. Par for the course for this year, they’re all nonfiction. Next year, I’m going to try a bit harder to seek out some fiction that rocks my socks!
Helen Garner is an Australian who writes like an angel on really difficult topics – her most recent book This House of Grief details the trial of a father who drowned all his children as part of a custody dispute with their mother. Joe Cinque’s Consolation is an earlier work (2004), also about a murder that makes no sense to most of us.
In 1997, Anu Singh, a student in Canberra laced her boyfriend Joe Cinque’s coffee with Rohypnol, then murdered him with an overdose of heroin. She was subsequently convicted of manslaughter and the friends who may or may not have been aware of her plans to kill Joe were acquitted of all charges. Helen Garner turns this into a deeply felt meditation on guilt and grief, justice and injustice. I found myself in tears at the end of this book – it’s so terrifically sad, whatever opinions you reach at the end about Singh’s responsibility for Joe’s death. And it’s a book I’ve thought of often since. A sombre, wrenching read, but definitely worth picking up.
My second book is a huge tome that took me weeks to get through – and while in the end, it’s sad too, it has the advantage of ultimate artistic triumph to make it a cheerier read than Joe Cinque. Simon Schama seems to be a roving expert on all sorts of things these days, but art and history lie at the center of his concerns.
His Rembrandt’s Eyes (1999) is another beautifully written book that plumbs deep emotions (much as Rembrandt’s paintings stir emotional responses beyond the range of most painters). It’s 800-odd pages of art criticism, and biography, and meditation on the nature of art and fame. There’s also an awful lot about Dutch history in the 16th and 17th centuries so you emerge from reading this with some understanding of the cultural background that produced not just Rembrandt but a host of brilliant artists including Frans Hals and Rubens.
Rembrandt started off as a huge success in the upwardly mobile society of the Netherlands in the 17th century, before gradually his life went to pieces and he ended up not far off a pauper. Not only had he lost all his money, he lost nearly everyone close to him, including his son Titus and his beloved wife Saskia. Through all these vicissitudes, his painting just became more profound and more incomprehensible to the rich merchants of Amsterdam who were looking for artists to glorify their nation’s capitalist miracle. One of the joys of this book is the many beautiful plates. Well worth the time and effort!
My last book is an altogether happier work called Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan. This one was definitely outside my comfort zone – I know nothing about surfing so a lot of the terminology was over my head (I hesitate to say I was drowning in it!). But again, the beautiful writing won me over. I first heard of this one via the New Yorker magazine where Finnegan has had a lot of work published.
It’s the story of one man’s love affair with surfing and the ocean, and as a water baby from way back, I understood the emotion inspiring Finnegan’s wonderful prose, even if I didn’t always understand what was happening in the water! He spends a lot of his early life roaming the world in search of the perfect wave and his descriptions of what are now some of the world’s best surfing spots before they were discovered by the crowds are vivid and lyrical. Particularly interesting for me are his tales of working at Kirra on the Gold Coast, not far from me, when this was a great surf break (dredging and other human activity have sadly spoiled it since). This is the sort of book that makes you want to go on holidays!
I’m still enjoying my trips to the library and coming up with lots of treasures, so I’m sure there’s another revelatory reading post or two in the works for 2017. In the meantime, thank you to everyone who’s swung by to check out this page on my website this year. I hope you’ve found something to entertain and interest you! See you next year!