Returning to Maycomb County


“For thus hath the Lord said unto me, Go, set a watchman, let him declare what he seethe.”  Isaiah 21:6

The release of Harper Lee’s second book, Go Set a Watchman was a hot topic of conversation a couple of years ago.  I missed it.  Somehow I was otherwise distracted and so didn’t read anything about it or engage in any conversations other than the passing acknowledgement that it was available.

I came across a hardcover copy last year in a second-hand book store for $5:00.  It sat neglected for months until this last fortnight, when I could not settle into a book after reading a riveting crime novel.  Within moments of realising I was spending time with Atticus and Scout, I was drawn in and satisfactorily engaged.

To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee’s blockbuster, has long held a spot high on my list of favourite books.  Having to teach it to reluctant teenagers did not tarnish its lustre.  While I had a significant adjustment to make to the older Scout in Go Set a Watchman I was compensated by recollections of her childhood which provided a good and detailed account of the passage of time in the lives of many of the main characters.

My beloved Atticus, gentle, wise and honourable, who reminds me of my grandfather, was not as forward facing as I’d have liked.  And I’ll admit I was at first a little disoriented and confused by his portrayal, though I was delighted by the large roles of the critical and complex Aunt Zandra and the charming and captivating Uncle John.  I missed Jem and Dill and Calpurnia, though Lee cleverly fed me enough information to propel me forward.  This is not a novel about Atticus, neither perhaps was To Kill a Mockingbird though I made it so.  Go Set a Watchman is a coming of age novel about one Miss Jean Louise Finch. She probably narrated her 1930’s childhood summer at the age she appears in this current novel.

Though the narrative was disturbing and meandering it held my interest. It’s a powerful and brutal bildungsroman.  It’s a brutal coming of age for Scout and a brutal read for devotees who find the idyllic Maycomb ravaged and transformed by historical events.  The ample dialogue caused me some consternation and rereading when I confused speakers. The novel ends satisfactorily with an invitation for Scout to return to Maycomb, to join forces with others, who, through strength of character, righteousness and will, could set the moral compass for Maycomb and be the watchmen of the town.

What was your experience, returning to Maycomb County?

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Create your own reading festival

Sometimes, you read a book and it fills you with this weird evangelical zeal, and you become convinced that the shattered world will never be put back together unless and until all living humans read the book.
― John Green, The Fault in Our Stars

Reading has been a huge part of my life, since, well, almost forever.  I loved being read to as a child and once I could read I enjoyed learning new things that came from understanding print.  Exploring different literary periods at university enhanced my insatiable need to consume the printed word.  A few years back I set myself a goal of reading fifty books in the year. I ended up reading many more than that.  It was a great experiment and afforded me the opportunity to explore different genres and forms of writing. Since then I have been reading anything that takes my fancy: I’ve read whole series, one-off books of interest, recommendations from friends, plays, novels, non-fiction etc.  At times I’ve struggled to select books and found myself hankering for a little guidance in my selections.

Now that the new year has begun and many of us are pondering the terrain ahead and how we can make it joyful, I’ve been inspired to consider focusing my reading choices and reading with purpose.

My son was the first point of inspiration.  He discovered a book reading challenge where you read a book every two weeks from a different category.  Categories include a book:

  • you read in school
  • from your childhood
  • published over 100 years ago
  • set in your hometown/region
  • with someone’s name in the title
  • with a number in the title
  • with a character with your first name
  • you can finish in a day
  • previously banned
  • with a one-word title
  • translated from another language
  • that’s a memoir or journal
  • set somewhere you’ll be visiting this year.

Sounds like fun. Check out this link for more ideas.

Then I read my friend Nicole Cody’s blog and she had an interesting take on a reading challenge and it sits very nicely with the idea of paying it forward and donating to charity.  Her idea is to read a book a month, put aside a small amount of money for each book read and then at then end of the year buy a book and donate it to charity for Christmas.  How neat is that?

Tim Ferriss, in his 5 bullet Friday, always has some interesting book recommendations – things I would not select myself.  He is a great source for reading inspiration, as is Pinterest, the weekend newspaper and Avid Reader bookshop.

Having been motivated by the two reading challenge ideas and having good sources for recommendations (although I do have enough unread books on my shelves and in my kindle that I probably don’t need to purchase a book this year) I am going to combine the two ideas and read at least a book a month from a different category, putting aside a few dollars for each book I read to purchase one for  someone in hospital, a nursing home or shelter at the end of the year.

Where will your reading take you this year?

Inspired by Artistic Expression

I have a friend who asks “What inspired you this week?” It’s a great question. Often I have to scratch around and ponder deeply in order to respond. This last fortnight, however, I have been greatly inspired by a number of sources. The energy of these artistic sources have remained with me as daily companions.

I visited GOMA, in Brisbane, where Cai Guo-Qiang’s Falling Back to Earth exhibition is currently showing. I find my thoughts returning to linger over the works on display.

I had purposely not read anything about the exhibit prior to attending not wanting reviews to interfere with my experience. I was not prepared for the grand scale of each of the installations.

The cavernous space of the gallery itself usually overwhelms me but it was perfect for this exhibition.  On entering the first room, to view Heritage, I felt as though I was transported to another time and place. Interestingly, I think everyone else felt the same. There was an incredible hush in the room despite the number of people in attendance. There was almost a reverence with which we viewed the waterhole and considered the circumstances under which all the animals would have come together at that one place.  I felt very blessed almost to be in attendance at what appeared, to me, to be a sacred gathering of the worlds’ animals at the waterhole.
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I was initially disgruntled at seeing a large, uprooted tree in the open space between galleries and realising part of my admission ticket was for the pleasure of viewing this ‘piece of art’. My melancholy dissipated very quickly and I was immersed in observing the magnificence of this mighty tree. It’s textures, colours and form, not to mention the surreal nature of having a fifty metre tree, suspended horizontally inside a sleek, modern gallery.

The final instillation was again of gigantic proportions. On entering the room I was immediately drawn to the smooth, almost graceful loop created by close to one hundred wolves. Each wolf unique in its expression was also part of a greater community working together to achieve a single goal. Sadly, it seemed, they were misled and the goal unattainable.

The size and scale of the installations were both mind boggling and impressive. But the deeper statements about humanity behind each piece, the artists skill and talent in bringing such pieces into form and the thoughts and emotions each piece stirred within me have been nudging and poking and prodding my mind these last two weeks.

In last week’s blog I shared my excitement at having heard Elizabeth Gilbert talk on her creative process. Snippets of her talk keep rolling into my waking moments on gentle waves. I’d say I was inspired, wouldn’t you?

I read a novel this week, Left Neglected by Lisa Genova, purchased for three dollars at the local op shop. I literally inhaled it. I could not put it down. I was inspired by the protagonist for overcoming the obstacles she faced and the author’s brilliance at taking on such a formidable topic and engaging, educating and evoking great emotion in the reader. Not only that but I found myself questioning the decisions I’ve made and the consequences of my choices. “Is there another way to live that is more fulfilling?”

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I was awestruck too by the words of Rumi shared with me by a friend, who herself is an inspiration. She is an alchemist, a wise woman and a spiritual teacher. Her own words move me to seek deeper levels of knowing and understanding. On this occasion the words of Rumi she shared struck and stuck at my core. I have attached the poster below for your enjoyment.

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It has been, without a doubt, a magical fortnight. Full of great and inspiring people, creativity and thought. I feel moved, moulded and changed as a result of not only my initial contact with each source but by the lingering impressions each have made on me.

What inspired you this week? I’d love to hear!

Books, Bunnings and blasphemy

Things have been really great lately. I’ve developed some new interests and I now spend my time in different, very productive ways.  Despite my excitement around these new ventures I stopped, momentarily, just this week and questioned my priorities.

You see, I love books and bookshops.  Novels, big coffee table picture books, children’s books, books of poetry, books on yoga and cooking. History books, books on travel, even very old, musty smelling books. I love them all.

I love bookshops too. Did I mention that? I used to hunt out new bookshops and travel the city to visit an unexplored bookstore.  Small independents, book exchanges, online sellers and even the big commercial bookstores. I love them all.

So, you’ve probably gathered I have a love of reading. But I also love the touch and feel of books. The quality of the paper, the thickness and the artwork on the cover all appeal to me. I’ll buy a book simply because it feels good. I absolutely adore the feel of a book with rough cut pages (deckled edges). Embossed and gold leaf covers also grab me.

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So great is my love of books I’m rarely without one close at hand. I was travelling in France several years ago and I’d finished both of the books I’d packed. I went three weeks without a book to read and couldn’t find an English book anywhere. I couldn’t read the magazines or newspapers I saw on the newstands and in supermarkets as they were in French. I was starving for a book to read. There was a physical ache in my gut.  My fingers were itchy. I was tormented.  Then, just when I thought I would implode from the dire craving I had to read, I happened across a secondhand shop with a small cardboard box of English novels out front. I spent a good half hour pouring over each and every book; reading the front and back covers, scanning the inside; carefully selecting my treasure. I was sated, topped up and refuelled in those few moments with that box of books. I’d found heaven, hugging a book to my chest in pure delight.

Recently, I’ve begun to have similar feeling towards my garden. For the first time I have a garden and I’m experimenting with the planting and germination of herbs, vegetables and some pretty flowers. The joy that comes from seeing something you plant grow and then yield fruit and offer sustenance at your table or delight the senses is truly something. I long to be home to potter barefooted in my garden. It rejuvenates me and calms me.  Whether I am planting, watering, weeding or digging garden beds I am at home and content in my garden.

When one has a love affair with gardening one also needs to buy supplies: soil, compost bins, bird netting, seedlings, hoses, stakes etc. This new passion of mine has led me to haunt a new type of store. The hardware store!

imageYou’ll not find me in a bookshop as often as you will my local Bunnings hardware.  I have found myself standing outside waiting for the doors to open on a Saturday morning. I am fascinated by the range of products on offer. I know my way around the aisles better than my husband, so familiar am I with the place.

And this is where I began to question myself and to (lightheartedly) evaluate my priorities.  Maybe you can help me?

Is it blasphemous to love Bunnings more than books?

Here’s to enjoying new opportunities and indulging your passion, whatever it might be.

Shannyn