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 🙂

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5 Reasons To Renew Your Library Membership

Remember back in the day when you used to go to the library after school, pick up your books like it was the most exciting thing in the world, and head home to your juice box and teddy bears to read (chances are if you weren’t born in the 80s, you probably don’t)? Unsurprisingly, I had pretty high library attendance rates when I was a kid. I went through books like a pack-a-day smoker goes through cigarettes, and it wasn’t cheap for mum and dad to keep up with my habit. So I went to the library.

Many years later, not much has changed. I don’t smoke. I don’t really drink, other than the odd glass of wine. I don’t buy myself nice clothes, fancy shoes, new handbags or jewellery – my money goes towards books. That’s my guilty pleasure. But with my travel habit getting more and more expensive, something’s had to give. So I toddled on down to the local library, and signed myself up, expecting a half-decent collection of old books, at best. What I found instead, I was not expecting.

Libraries have upped their game since I was last a member back in the 1990s. They’ve got new books, old books, and so much more than books. I’m kicking myself for not having signed up earlier, because the easy access to books has meant I’ve been able to tear through 24 of them so far this year already! My habit is satisfied, and I’ve found a whole new world I didn’t know existed a few months ago. I’m really glad I went back to the library, and here’s why you should, too…

 

1. It’s not just access to your local library – it’s your whole council.
Say you live in the confines of the Whitehorse City Council. Say you live in the suburb of Blackburn. It’s not just Blackburn’s library you can borrow from; you can use your library card to borrow from Box Hill. Or Doncaster. Or Nunawading, Vermont, Bulleen or Warrandyte. You have no idea how nifty this is until you want to borrow a book on your way home and it’s way easier to drop into a different branch!

2. Easy reservations online or with apps.
You know how frustrating it is when you finally get to the library and they don’t have the book you want? Well that’s a thing of the past, now. Councils like Darebin have introduced an app you can download; from there, you can search the library catalogue and make a reservation! And, to prove step one really is efficient, it doesn’t matter which library the book is currently residing in – they can bring it to your library of choice for collection! AND you’ll get a handy sms to let you know when it’s ready for you, so you don’t have to make the trip down for nothing. Amazing!

3. They look after the kids.
Libraries have seriously upped their game when it comes to activities for the small ones. The City of Moonee Valley are outstanding, providing not only sessions for kids of all ages (rhyme time for babies, a mix of singing and stories for the toddlers, a story time program for pre-schoolers, and even an after school program for the older kids), they also have a gorgeous initiative called “Begin With Books” that gives a free book bag to all babies born within their council 🙂

4. Free community events.
Did you know that most libraries actually hold a ton of free events?! Libraries like those in the City of Yarra host regular events, ranging from social (crafternoons, Lego clubs and kids’ reading clubs) to educational (digital coaching and how to create your own food gardens), and all you have to do is register online and turn up!

5. Free books – duh!
Sooooo many books! All yours! For free! For a time, anyway. Oh, and it’s not just physical books that libraries lend out anymore; you can also get eBooks to download to your favourite electronic reading device! And as you can see on Moreland City Council’s library page, you can also get eAudiobooks, And eMovies. And eMagazines. Libraries are keeping up with technology to stay relevant and accessible, and that can only come in handy!

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: 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 🙂

From my travel journal: Washington, D.C., 2015

When I find things getting hectic, I tend to crave more time in my book nook; time to read or write, to just generally be in a quiet, comforting place filled with books…

 

IMG_6427

“THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS (Jefferson Building).
This was a gorgeous building, as they all were, really. The upper level was beautifully decorated, with quotes lining the walls. I quite liked “Books will speak plain when counsellors blanch.” The ornate columns and ceiling were really magnificent, and seeing Thomas Jefferson’s library was brilliant. To have a lifetime of being around all of those books…”

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!

Read this: The Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux

The Great Railway Bazaar 
by Paul Theroux

Only 280 sleeps to go until the big adventure! Sounds a bit ridiculous, I know, but actually 280 sleeps isn’t all that many… 9 months… and still so much to do before then!

Anyway, it’s never too early for me to start getting excited about my next adventure, and a lot of my reading reflects that. I love to read older travel books, written by proper adventurers, before the advent of technology came and changed travel. I love to read about how travel was before everyone was in a hurry to just get to a place and see the tourist attractions and get their photo and tick it off the list, when it was just as much about the journey as it was the destination.

I’ve finally gotten around to reading The Great Railway Bazaar, and I couldn’t agree more with the commendation on the cover – it was truly entertaining, from start to finish. Paul Theroux’s travelogue takes us from London through the Middle East, India, Asia and Siberia. He was travelling for the sake of travelling, all by rail (well, as much as was possible by rail), back in the mid 1970s. Just on the road because he wanted to be. Experiencing rail travel in country after country, watching the world go by, and writing about it all as it went.

“But he does not know – how could he? – that the scenes changing in the train window from Victoria Station to Tokyo Central are nothing compares to the change in himself.”

It mesmerised me. Every page. I fell in love with train back in 2013 when we caught a few trains around Europe. That’s the way travel should be; slow. Time to think. Time to take it in. Not running around airports like headless chooks – I hate that. I’m even more looking forward to all of the train trips we’ll have in this next big trip after reading this one.

The other thing that really got me about this book was how incredibly descriptive it was. I’ve read plenty of books that paint a lovely picture, but not terribly realistic; with so many passages in this book, I actually felt like I was there…

“It was a single-line track, but squatters had moved their huts so close to it, I could look into their windows and across rooms where children sat playing on the floor; I could smell the cooking food – fish and blistering meat – and see people waking and dressing; at one window a man in a hammock swung inches from my nose. There was fruit on the window sills, and it stirred – an orange beginning to roll – as the train sped by. I have never had a stronger feeling of being in the houses I was passing, and I had a continuous sense of interrupting with my face some domestic routine. But I was imagining the intrusion: the people in those poor houses seemed not to notice the strangers at their windows.”

 

Anyway, I got my copy at a second hand bookstore, but you can also get one here. Happy reading 🙂