In Cold Blood by Truman Capote – a literary mixtape

It’s ludicrous that I haven’t read In Cold Blood by Truman Capote until now. I thought I was the only person who hadn’t read it (although Bonnie fessed up that she hasn’t either).

There’s nothing left to say about this book – it’s genre-defining; it’s clearly a touchstone for many books since (I’m looking at you We Were the Mulvaneys); it’s absolutely gripping; and it’s beautifully written.

So instead of a review, I’m going to retell the story in songs. Of course, you’ll understand my sequence of choices because you’ve read the book. Note: the Flashdance inclusion is relevant for the song title only! Continue reading

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Woman of Substances by Jenny Valentish

I saw author Jenny Valentish speak at last year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. At the time, I hadn’t read her memoir, Woman of Substances – I often wonder how much my thoughts about a book are influenced by hearing the author speak before I’ve read it. Invariably their passion and post-publication reflections rub-off, and I go into the reading experience ‘looking out’ for certain things, which is why I left Woman of Substances almost a year before picking it up.

Woman of Substances is a memoir-research hybrid. Valentish uses her own experience of drugs and alcohol to explore how women deal with addiction and treatment. There are two main threads in the book – firstly, Valentish examines how trauma and self-destructive behaviours – such as eating disorders and high-risk sex – complicate substance use for women.

There’s an illusion of power in being as sexually aggressive as men are allowed to be, but it can sometimes take a stupefying blood-alcohol level to override the misgivings. Continue reading

Written on the Skin by Liz Porter

I’ve never been particularly interested in crime novels, mysteries, or courtroom dramas, and until I listened to the Serial podcast, true crime was also on the ‘not particularly interested’ list. But there was something about the meticulously produced Serial that sucked me in (and it wasn’t just Sarah Koenig’s dulcet tones). Since that time, I’ve listened to other true crime podcasts and read a few books.

Liz Porter’s book, Written on the Skin – An Australian Forensic Casebook grabbed my attention because of the chapters on the use of DNA testing in forensic science – genes are always interesting! Continue reading

A Zoo in my Luggage by Gerald Durrell

I’m always astounded by the television program, Border Security. I’m not interested in the immigration issues or drug busts – it’s the people bringing fruit, vegetables, live seafood and meat into Australia that is fascinating. Invariably, they’re in the ‘nothing to declare’ line when airport officials open their suitcases to find kilos of unidentifiable meat, plants and seeds, and they feign surprise. For my overseas readers, you basically can’t bring ANYTHING into Australia – we have the world’s strictest quarantine and biosecurity laws (remember Johnny Depp’s dogs?).

So it was with a mixture of interest and amazement that I read Gerald Durrell’s memoir, A Zoo in My Luggage. It’s an account of Durrell’s trip to what was then the British Cameroons in West Africa (now part of northern Nigeria and Cameroon), during which he and his wife captured animals to start their own zoo. The book concludes with their return to England, and how he managed his menagerie while he found a permanent home for them (they lived in his back yard and then later in the basement of a department store). Continue reading

20 Books of Summer (except that it’s Winter)

Cathy at 746 Books is hosting the 20 Books of Summer reading challenge again this year. By Cathy’s own admission, she doesn’t have a great track record with her own challenge… But I do! As I’ve done in previous years, I’m using this challenge to read from my to-be-read stack (with a particular focus on hard copies). The challenge is straightforward – read twenty books between June 1st and September 3rd. Continue reading

White Houses by Amy Bloom

I’ve got so many deal-breakers when it comes to historical fiction that I sound like a pain. You can read about them here. Or you can simply ignore my carry-on and know that I really enjoyed Amy Bloom’s White Houses.

The story is told from the perspective of Lorena Hickok, known as ‘Hick’. Hick grew up in poverty in South Dakota, suffered abuse at the hand of her father, and was sent to work at a young age. Resourceful and tenacious, she soon carved a career as a journalist.  When she met Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 (while covering Franklin’s first presidential campaign trail), a friendship developed, which soon turned to love.

Hick took a job in the Roosevelt administration and moved into the White House, where her status as ‘first friend’ was an open secret, as were Franklin’s own lovers.

Missy and Franklin put a smile on reporters’ faces. Eleanor and I were no one’s favourite secret. I tended to scowl. Continue reading

My Bruce Springsteen project

Born to Run, Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, is a big book (528 pages). Sure, I wanted to read it, but when I spotted the audio version, read by Bruce, I knew I wanted to listen to it more. Nineteen hours of his sexy distinctive voice, reminiscing about New Jersey, guitars and recording studios was bound to be absolutely fucking glorious.

And then I took it to the next level. I interspersed listening to the audiobook with listening to every album in its entirety, as he discussed them in the book. I listened to the songs in the order they were published (because as Bruce says, ‘…an album with its A and B sides has a ‘collective’ story…’, something that millennial-playlisters who cherry-pick songs will never quite understand). It was another 15 hours and 38 minutes of Bruce-listening-pleasure.

I’m not going to write a review of the book – fans will read it and love it to bits (everyone else will think “528 pages? Pass.”). But I have picked a favourite song from each album. Continue reading