Come December, blog feeds are filled with writers surmising their years, photographers sharing their favourite photos and readers their favourite books. I'm an avid believer in self-reflection, and while my diary is the primary source of my musings and filled with nonsensical scribble, I've decided to amalgamate themes and write a little reflective memoir of my year with a literary framework on my blog. It has been the wildest ride of my life thus far and I'm thankful for the people (and the characters) who have cushioned the impact of pain.
January | Location: Europe
I'm curled up in a bus from Berlin to Amsterdam after spending New Years at Brandenburg Gate running from a sky of falling fireworks. I'm tired, happy and ready to return to the Netherlands to begin my final weeks of student exchange in Utrecht. I've just turned the final page of We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler (2013) with a smile on my face. An engaging and witty narration, with a plot twist that begs for no further allusion. Four stars.
The infamous Lolita by Vladimir Nabakov (1995) is sitting in the carry-on backpack at my feet, ready to be devoured after its purchase in Foyles, London a couple of weeks prior. I struggle with beginning another novel, feeling emotionally connected to Fowler's protagonist and hesitant to cheat her by moving on so quickly. I quickly abandon these thoughts when I realise four more hours on a bus without a book would be far more damaging on my mental psyche.
Lolita is a controversial novel about a paedophile and his doting obsession with a young girl. It sparked outrage when first published resolving in a two year ban in England, Argentina, New Zealand and South Africa. I finished reading it on a train to Den Haag with my three closest friends on exchange and despite the intensity, found it entirely interesting. Four stars.
I spend the rest of the month away from the comforts of my student accommodation and in the apartments of friends playing cards and cooking meals.
Other books read: My Life in the Bush of Ghosts - Amos Tutuola (2 stars).
February | Location: Europe > Australia
I'm snuggled up in bed with an old lover after a hot bath in a small apartment in the middle of Pest, Hungary with East of Eden by John Steinbeck (1952) in hand. A book which swiftly becomes one of my all time favourites. My love for Steinbeck began with Grapes of Wrath and flourished through my reading of other landscape inspired literature. If you like Australian author Tim Winton, Steinbeck is the American original. Rich imagery and powerful characters in every one of his books. Five stars.
I explore castles and ruins and say emotional goodbyes in the Netherlands, exchanging gifts and meals. After a week I'm on the plane returning to Sydney, Australia. Tim Winton's The Turning (2006), a book set by the sea in Western Australia is proving to be a nice welcome to the sandy shores I surely miss.
Other books read: High Fidelity - Nick Hornby (3 stars), A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole (2 stars).
March and April | Location: Australia
These are hard months devoid of reading. A holiday, a break up, long commutes, a mundane 9-5, house hopping from squats to apartments to friend's couches. I return to the literary world with a reread of an old favourite that once sparked my sincere love for the study of literature: Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale (1998). A speculative fiction piece centred on women and the Taliban. Five stars.
At the tail end of the months of pain I read Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden (1997), which sparks my interest and desire to experience Asian culture. I don't have enough money for Japan, so I book a one way ticket to Thailand.
May | Location: Australia
I turn 21 and receive my friends' favourite books as gifts.
I squish into a two-man tent with a friend by the side of a train station, sewerage plant and an old milk factory. We're hitchhiking to Byron Bay. He's strumming the guitar he's built and I'm reading Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey (2009) and chuckling through every page. Set in a regional town in Austraila in the heat of summer, this book is the perfect backdrop to an Australian adventure of my own. This YA fiction speaks to me, and I find myself underlining entire paragraphs. Five stars.
Sorry means you feel the pulse of other people's pain as well as your own, and saying it means you take a share of it. And so it binds us together, makes us trodden and sodden as one another. Sorry is a lot of things. It's a hole refilled. A debt repaid. Sorry is the wake of misdeed. It's the crippling ripple of consequence. Sorry is sadness, just as knowing is sadness. Sorry is sometimes self-pity. But Sorry, really, is not about you. It's theirs to take or leave.
Sorry means you leave yourself open, to embrace or to ridicule or to revenge. Sorry is a question that begs forgiveness, because the metronome of a good heart won't settle until things are set right and true. Sorry doesn't take things back, but it pushes things forward. It bridges the gap. Sorry is a sacrament. It's an offering. A gift.”
Other books read: Gilead - Maryanne Robinson (4 stars), The Old Man and the Sea - Ernest Hemingway (4 stars).
June | Location: Australia
I meet someone new. I attend dinners, parties, and engagements. I listen to a lot of Florence and the Machine and I write poetry. I read Tim Winton's Dirt Music (2002) and get lost in a joy that I haven't felt for months.
July | Location: Australia
I read his favourite book in one sitting on the train to work, one I haven't read for a long time: The Great Gatsby by Scott F. Fitzgerald (1925). I turn the final page crossing the Harbour Bridge, the light blue sky and the deep blue water meeting to create a horizon of possibility. Five stars.
We say goodbye as he moves overseas and I resume my life at work, buried in study and committee meetings and yum cha. I read my first Jack London book- The Call of the Wild (1903), the snowy setting giving me a chill that is somewhat comforting. Five stars.
Other books read: The Secret History - Donna Tartt (4 stars), The Colour Purple - Alice Walker (4 stars).
August | Location: Australia
I begin the month on the carpeted floor of an artist on the Central Coast I met online when I was 14. She hands me Show Your Work by Austin Kleon (2014), which encourages artists of all types to share their creative process, unfinished works, proud moments and moments of defeat with the world in order to develop connection. This sparks a sincere drive to develop my own business and create an ecourse. Read in one sitting. Four stars.
I find myself in a place where I lack self worth and look for answers in the wrongs places- new friends pull me into uncharted territory, my devotion to God pulls me in the other. I struggle with the tug of war until I find temporary resolve. I go on a date.
In the commutes south to visit a new friend I read The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Kidd Monk (2001)- a book that brings me great happiness during a revitalising chapter of my life. The music comes alive, the content best consumed alongside a piece of honey topped toast.
I go to Kangaroo Valley, putting books on hold (but not the shopping of them), to write in a little cabin by a river with a friend for a couple of days. I go to Melbourne and hang out with a bunch of guys I met leaving a hostel in Barcelona. I write four essays for Uni, scribble on a guitar for a highly acclaimed fashion company and kickstart my business. I quit my job.
Other books read: Sons and Lovers - D. H. Lawrence (2 stars).
September and October | Location: Australia > South East Asia
I read philosopher Peter Singer's The Most Good You Can Do: How Effective Altruism is Changing Ideas about Living Ethically (2015) after my Mum sees him speak in Byron.
I jump on a plane to Thailand for a 5 month adventure and read another comfort novel: The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett (1911). Whenever I'm nervous or down I re-read an old favourite. The familiarity brings me a sense of peace and calm. I send an email to a cute photographer who left me his details at work.
I have a horrible experience in Thailand that leaves me broken. I fly home immediately and spend the rest of the month and the following reading in between doctors and psychologist appointments. I read C. S. Lewis' The Problem of Pain (1940) to find answers, finding the final chapter the only one worth reading. I date a boy who helps me from drowning in the ocean flooding my soul. I read So The Wind Won't Blow it All Away by ever-quirky Richard Brautigan (1982) because it's one of his favourite writers.
I read The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz (2007) in the hammock in my backyard after a morning being expressive with shades of blue paint. There is too much Spanish in the book, so it gets 3 stars. My heart begins to heal through art, prayers, blue eyes and rest.
I write four essays and a best friend asks me to be a bridesmaid. I fly to Bali to resume my journey single, thankful and stronger than ever. I decide to devote time to reading non fiction and download The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to our Brains by Nicholas Carr (2010) on my kindle and find the science absolutely fascinating. 4 stars.
Other books read: Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte (3 stars), The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society - Mary Ann Shaffer (5 stars), The Five People You Meet in Heaven - Mitch Albom (5 stars).
November | Location: South East Asia
I am encouraged at a readers and writers festival to write more and so I do, in a treetop bungalow in Bali. I read Mistakes Were Made by Liam Pieper (2015) because he spoke and inspired me with his character. I read Xinran's Buy Me the Sky: The Remarkable Truth of China's One Child Policy (2015) after the author speaks at the conference. Her poise, character and story inspired me, her book providing fascinating insight into a world I had no idea existed. 4 stars.
I begin a short lived obsession with books documenting road trips by both fictional and historical figures. It begins with YA fiction novel Mosquitoland by David Arnold (2015)- a hilarious and profound read that hit me right in the heart, 5 stars. I read it in two long days in a deserted hostel in Seminyak, Bali, in between motorbike rides to restaurants and post offices.
“So I float in silence, watching the final touches of this perfect moonrise, and in a moment of heavenly revelation, it occurs to me that detours are not without purpose. They provide safe passage to a destination, avoiding pitfalls in the process.”
I climb the highest peak in South East Asia in Borneo, I meet with my best friends in Laos. I see, smell and experience new things. Conversation erupts online and postcards are sent, my heart beats harder and faster than ever before.
Other books read: The Awakening and Selected Stories - Kate Choplin (3 stars).
December | Location: South East Asia > Australia.
I spend the days roaming through jungles and markets, slouching in long buses and eating piles of asian cuisine. I spend the afternoons lying side by side with my best friends in hostels and hotels reading books- the occasional gasp awakening us from our fictional worlds, questions arising, conversation erupting.
I continue my road trip reading with Cheryl Strayed's Wild (2012) and Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild (1997). I eat more asian cuisine.
I read Requiem for a Dream by Hubert Selby Jr. (1978), a book for those who loved A Clockwork Orange. Set in New York and centred around the lives of four characters struggling with the burden of addiction. It almost lost a star because of the ending, but upon further contemplation I realise that it mirrors life's lack of complete resolve (spoiler?). The language and lack of punctuation can make for a challenging read, but it's a heart wrenching power novel. 5 stars.
Other books read: The Girl on the Train - Paula Hawkins (4 stars), The Girl in the Spider's Web - David Lagercrantz (4 stars), Modern Romance - Aziz Ansari (3 stars) + whatever I manage to read in the final weeks of the year.
A tornado came through my year and swept me up, spinning me round and round until I didn't know which way was up and which way was down. It threw me out at the top and now, as I sail back down to solid ground I'm looking for a home and I'm thankful that wherever I land I will be supported. What a year of grace, of pain and of love. Here's to you, 2016. May you be yet another year of change, of growth and of good books!