Read this: Wish You Were Here by Sheridan Jobbins + BOOK GIVEAWAY TIME!

Wish You Were Here
by Sheridan Jobbins Continue reading

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Read this: Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Insomniac City
by Bill Hayes

A while back, I saw a picture of this book on Instagram (can’t for the life of me remember who posted it…); it grabbed my attention, I screen-shotted it to come back to later, and forgot about it. A week later, I was Googling books about/set in some of the cities we’ll be visiting on our big trip, and it came up again, under New York books. Onto my library app I went to reserve it, and I collected it a week later…

“In the haggard buildings and bloodshot skies, in trains that never stopped running like my racing mind at night, I recognized my insomniac self. If New York were a patient, it would be diagnosed with agrypnia excitata, a rare genetic condition characterized by insomnia, nervous energy, constant twitching, and dream enactment – an apt description of a city that never sleeps, a place where one comes to reinvent himself.”

Written by Bill Hayes, a writer and photographer who packed up and left San Francisco for a fresh start in New York, where he made a new life for himself and fell in love with Oliver Sacks, a particularly brilliant neurologist.

When I realised this booked was about Sacks as much as it was about New York, I knew I was meant to read it; I had just completed an online course in psychology from the University of Toronto through Coursera in which Dr Sack’s name came up a few times, with some of his work recommended as further reading.

Back to Insomniac City; Hayes write about his experiences of living in New York  as an insomniac, with his writings interspersed with diary and journal entries. I found it to be a really easy read and flew through it in only a few train rides to/from work – while a good part of the book covers their slightly unconventional love story, the parts that really drew me in were Hayes’ recollections of the city itself on those nights sleep evaded him and he went out into the city to explore.

“I’ve lived in New York long enough to understand why some people hate it here: the crowds, the noise, the traffic, the expense, the rents; the messed-up sidewalks and pothole-pocked streets; the weather that brings hurricanes named after girls that break your heart and take away everything.

It requires a certain kind of unconditional love to love living here. But New York repays you in time in memorable encounters, at the very least. Just remember: ask first, don’t grab, be fair, say please and thank you- even if you don’t get something back right away. You will.”

I loved reading about all of his chance encounters with his feller New Yorkers, all of the beautiful dialogues that came simply from asking people if he could take their photo. He writes so charmingly about his adopted city and it’s people; his descriptions all felt so real to me, it was so easy to place myself right there with him…

It was also a wonderful insight into the brilliant mind of Oliver Sacks; there’s so much we could learn from the way he viewed the world, which lead me to his book “Gratitude,” a collection of four of his essays. Highly recommend both for a weekend read 🙂

Read this: The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

The Devil in the White City
by Erik Larson

“Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men’s blood.”
– Daniel H. Burnham

“I was born with the devil in me. I could not help the fact that I was a murderer, no more than the poet can help the inspiration to sing.”
– H. H. Holmes

So begins Erik Larson’s account of two extraordinary men and the event of the century that tied their stories together. Husband and I were channel flicking a few weeks ago and came across a documentary on America’s first serial killer. We’re both a little macabre and enjoy a good doco, so we started watching; an hour later, we were glued to the screen, intermittently Googling details mentioned to check their legitimacy. My online hunt led me to this book, which I was mighty excited to start reading.

In a nutshell, Larson’s book covers the Chicago’s World’s Fair (or World’s Columbian Exposition) held in 1893 held officially to mark the 400th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus, and unofficially to one-up Paris on their stunning World’s Fair held in 1889 (which celebrated the 100th anniversary of the storming of the Bastille) and stick it to New York who didn’t think a city like Chicago had the ability to do it justice. The Fair is one of three “characters” in my mind; the other two were architect Daniel Burnham, the man who was behind the design and construction of the Fair (no small feat considering it covered an area of almost 700 acres with almost 200 buildings custom built for it), and H. H. Holmes, the man who used the excitement and lure of the Fair to help him kill at least nine people, but the actual number is suspected to be quite a bit higher.

In Larson’s own words:
“Beneath the gore and smoke and loam, this book is about the evanescence of life, and why some men choose to fill their brief allotment of time engaging the impossible, others in the manufacture of sorrow. In the end it is a story of the ineluctable conflict between good and evil, daylight and darkness, the White City and the Black.”

The book follows the city of Chicago, Burnham and Holmes through the years preceding, during and after the World’s Fair. We see the White City of the Fair come together under the watchful eye of Daniel Burnham, and we see how Holmes uses it to his advantage. While Burnham is employing talented artists and craftsmen, Holmes is luring vulnerable young women to Chicago and killing them in his “castle,” a structure he had built for use as a hotel for the guests that would flock to Chicago for the fair, but which was also equipped with special features like gas pipes that only he could control, sound-proof chambers, and custom built oven that was not used to bake bread in.

“The Chicago Times-Herald took the broad view and said of Holmes: ‘He is a prodigy of wickedness, a human demon, a being so unthinkable that no novelist would dare to invent such a character. The story, too, tends to illustrate the end of the century.’ “

 

And the legacies these three legends left behind?

Holmes was hanged in 1896 after being found guilty of the murders of Benjamin Pitezel and his daughters Alice and Nellie. While some claim he was America’s first real serial killer with over 200 kills, the exact number will never be known for certain. Larson writes that “At the very least he killed nine.”

Burnham‘s Fair was a raving success, the buildings swept visitors off their feet, and went on to design many more buildings, including the Flatiron in New York City. He passes away in Heidelberg, Germany in 1912 and was laid to rest in Chicago’s Graceland cemetery.

And the World’s Fair set the standard for every other fair to come; Walt Disney was most likely inspired by the Fair, given his father helped build it. L. Frank Baum’s Oz was another dreamland likely informed by the White City. Every carnival since has had a Ferris Wheel, which was invented just for the Fair. Juicy Fruit and Pabst Blue Ribbon came into existence, and the Dewey Decimal System was introduced to the world, and Helen Keller was introduced to the man who invented her beloved Braille typewriter.

 

One of the best reads I’ve had this year, combining history with story telling in the most captivating possible way. I also love reading books that describe great cities as they used to be, and this painted the most vivid picture of “old” Chicago – I’m so much more excited to get back to this amazing city for a second visit now! And apparently in line for the Hollywood treatment, so pick up a copy and read the book first – it’s always better, anyway!

Read this: La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy by the Italian Academy of Cuisine

La Cucina: The Regional Cooking of Italy
by the Italian Academy of Cuisine


So, at almost 1000 pages long, it’s not exactly a “curl up with a pot of tea and read it on Saturday morning” kind of book. But, it’s also a lot more than just a cookbook. I’ve found myself picking it up and flicking through it more than usual lately, and as you can probably tell by the top of the dustcover, I spend a bit of time with this book…

A few decades ago, some thoughtful, clever Italians came together with the idea of preserving their culinary legacy. They formed the Italian Academy of Cuisine and set their sights on the lofty goal of recording the classic Italian recipes from all over the country. Including/especially those very specific, regional ones that have (until now) only been passed down verbally through the generations.

With over 7,600 members across the country, they were able to get their paws on some 2,000 recipes, covering everything from pasta to vegetables to desserts and literally everything in between. These are the precious recipes that are cooked in only this or that region of Italy. Recipes that have graced the dinner tables for generations. Recipes that would have eventually been lost as the generations stopped cooking them, or stopped remembering how much flour and salt Nonna said the dough needed.

Not only are there the recipes, but like in the photo below, scattered throughout the book are little snippets of “local traditions;” with half of my family from Northern Italy and the other half from Southern Italy, there’s a lot in between I don’t know much about! And if you love to travel and learn about other cultures through their culinary traditions half as much as I do, you’re going to find a veritable treasure trove in these pages…

One of the most beautiful things about this book is the point made in the introduction – it is very much recognised that every Italian has their own way of making a dish their own (I can vouch for that), so this is not intended to be a “correct to the last letter” type of cookbook…

“Interpretation, improvisation – these are essential characteristics of Italian coking. Thus while we have strived to present the most iconic version of key regional dishes, it is up to you, the home cook, to make them your own.”

Pick up a copy here and start reading/cooking!

Read this: Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies) by Vincent Adams Winter

Around The World (Without Counting The Pennies)
by Vincent Adams Winters

Considering the fact that I found this at an op shop, it contains absolutely no publication details, and a search online didn’t turn up any results other than a listing in the National Library of Australia catalog, this isn’t so much a “read this book” post as it is a “give your local op shop book shelves a proper look through” post.

Second hand book shops are my favourite places to pass the time. They are honest-to-goodness treasure troves, and some of my favourite are ones that I’ve found tucked away under dusty piles of random volumes. This one I discovered in an op shop in Healesville – the bright cover and title got my attention, but once I saw what it was all about, I knew I had to have it.

Written by Vince, it has all the hallmarks of being a written-for-fun book, recounting Vince and wife Betty’s adventures on their 18 months and over 20 country trip around the world in 1979-80. Vince introduces the book with a strong message that age, health and budget restrictions shouldn’t stop you from getting out there and seeing the world; both in their sixties at the time of the trip, Betty had club foot and hyper-tension, and Vince suffered from Parkinson’s disease. They visited doctors or hospitals every 6 weeks or so for treatment and medication, which was crazy to read about so many years later – imagine rolling up to a hospital in Barcelona with a letter from your doctor asking them to dispense some medication to you?!

Reading through this book was an incredible trip back in time; there was so much more freedom back then in how you could travel, few real restrictions on visas and border crossings like there are now, no real worries in finding accommodation, no serious concerns in talking to strangers. I’m a big fan of journalling as a bit of a time capsule, a way of capturing a piece of the world as it is right now, and that’s exactly what Vince and Betty’s book was.

It was also really entertaining to read about how they liked to travel – upon arriving in each new city, they had two requirements they liked to have met:
1. A bus tour of the city to get their bearings and see the general outlay, while learning a few facts about the place.
2. Accommodation that provided a good on-site restaurant, because a quality breakfast and dinner were paramount.

This second point I related to particularly well, as husband and I are particularly keen on being well fed on our travels (the main difference being that we like to get out and try as much local cuisine as possible, generally avoiding hotel restaurants like the plague). This passage in particular summed up their attitude for the bulk of their trip, and had me in stitches trying to picture it…

“Leaving Solvesborg, still through dairying and wheat country similar to that between Malmo and Solvesburg, we decided to stop at Vostervik for our customary pre-lunch drink. It is a fairly large town but an hour of investigating failed to find a bar or cafe selling beer. Leaving in disgust and finding out way to the main road with some difficulty we drove only five kilometres further where we got our drink.”

 

They also kindly added in an appendix first page below) tracking their spendings on accommodation and meals… googling inflation conversions of these rates today was a bit of an eye-opener!

To think this little gem ended up in an op shop in regional Victoria, selling for only $3.50, and ending up in my hands is incredible; it also has to make you wonder how many other little treasures are floating around out there in the world with so much information and so many beautiful stories to offer… next time you’re at a second hand bookshop, take a bit of time to trawl through the stacks; you never know what you might find 🙂

 

Read this: Travels by Michael Crichton

 Travels
by Michael Crichton

I actually can’t remember where I first came across this book, but its been on my to-read list for a while, along with a few of his other books. But I managed to get my paws on this cheap, old copy via eBay, and tore through it a lot faster than I expected to! I personally loved it from page 1, but it definitely won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Michael Crichton goes right back to the start, when he was studying medicine, before he “made it” as a writer, which may seem a little pointless, but is completely necessary to show you why he turned to travel. This was where I realised this was the perfect book for me to be reading…

“I conceived these trips as vacations – as respites from my ongoing life – but that wasn’t how they turned out. Eventually, I realized that many of the most important changes in my life had come about because of my travel experiences. For, however tame when compared to the excursions of real adventurers, these trips were genuine adventures for me: I struggled with my fears and limitations, and I learned whatever I was able to learn.”

He wrote that he travelled because he felt lost. He felt the pressures of society and expectations. He had a lot going on in his head that he was trying to make sense of. Me too. He actually summed it up pretty well in this passage…

“Often I feel I go to some distant region of the world to be reminded of who I really am… Stripped of your ordinary surroundings, your friends, your daily routine, your refrigerator full of food, your closet full of clothes – with all this taken away, you are forced into direct experience. That’s not always comfortable, but it is always invigorating.”

He writes about some truly fascinating experiences that he’s had around the world, and writes wonderfully frankly about the impact those experiences have had on him. He also writes about more spiritual experiences and the conflict that caused in his scientific, logical brain. But at the end of the day, he’s open to so many experiences, and as someone who is terrified of the unknown, I really have to admire that – the outcomes were always brilliant learning experiences, and always took him that little bit closer to learning what he felt he needed to know about himself.

“I couldn’t stop trying to control everything… I had been taught countless times that you were supposed to make things happen, that anything less implied shameful passivity. I lived all my life in cities, struggling shoulder to shoulder with other struggling people… when I finally began to crack, when I tried to control everything about my life and my work and the people around me, I somehow ended up in a Malaysian jungle and experiences a solid week of events over which I had absolutely no control. And never would. Events that reminded me that I had my limits and I had no business trying to control as much as I did, even if I could.”

This is not a travel memoir in the typical sense, but a book that seriously challenges what you believe in terms of your own limits, and that’s a book worth reading. Grab a copy here 🙂

Read this: A Traveller’s Year compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

A Traveller’s Year 
compiled by Travis Elborough & Nick Rennison

I hope everyone reading had a wonderful Christmas and were able to enjoy some time with their loved ones! I also hope that if you had a Christmas wish, it came true; all I really wanted this Christmas break was to have a bit of time for some quiet Boxing Day reading before going back to work today (what I wouldn’t have given for just one more day off…), and I happily did 🙂 Among the books that have had my attention this Christmas weekend was this absolute gem, which I picked up around this time last year.

It’s my dream book; a compilation of travel writing, from books and journals, from both men and women, covering a time span from the 1700s until the current day, with a few entries per day. The writings collected cover everything from grand adventures to epic voyages to the regular yearly vacation.

While I’ll read just about anything but a romantic sappy love story,  a vast bulk of my book collection is made up of old travel writing. Stephen Brooks’ “New York Days, New York Nights.” Frank Korbl’s “Born To Travel.” Jan Morris’ “Journeys.” Ralph Parlette’s “A Globegadder’s Diary.” Tiziano Terzani’s “A Fortune Teller Told Me.” Paul Theroux’s “The Great Railway Bazaar.” And my hands down favourite of the vintage adventure genre, Cedric Belfrage’s “Away From It All: An Escapologist’s Notebook.”

This book is like all of them combined, plus more, on steroids. It’s the most beautiful collection of travel writing, with every piece offering something different from places all over the globe, all written very differently yet all so descriptive in their own ways…

“I have spent one hour in St. Peters, walked through the Forum Romanum, and seen the Arch of Septimus Severus, the portico of the Temple of Saturn, the three beautiful columns of the Temple of Vespasian… How I like to write down the illustrious names of what I have all my life long so much desires to see! I cluster them together like jewels, and exult over them.”
– Sophia Peabody Hawthorne, NOTES IN ENGLAND & ITALY (1858)

I’ve been trying to read the day’s entries before I go to bed each night, and if you’re head and heart are filled with wanderlust and dreams of adventure, too, this is the perfect book to treat yourself to this new year; pick up a copy here!