Review - Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge

Monday, 9 December 2019

Silence: In the Age of Noise by Erling Kagge
Released: 15th October 2018
Published by: Penguin
Genre: Non-fiction
Source: Bought
Pages: 160
My Rating: 5 of 5 stars
From the Norwegian explorer, a stunning meditation on the power of silence and how to shut out the world.

Behind a cacophony of traffic noise, iPhone alerts and our ever-spinning thoughts, an elusive notion - silence - lies in wait. But what really is silence? Where can it be found? And why is it more important now than ever?

Erling Kagge, the Norwegian adventurer and polymath, once spent fifty days walking solo in Antarctica with a broken radio. In this meditative, charming and surprisingly powerful book, he explores the power of silence and the importance of shutting out the world. Whether you're in deep wilderness, taking a shower or on the dance floor, you can experience perfect stillness if you know where to look. And from it grows self-knowledge, gratitude, wonder and much more.

Take a deep breath, and prepare to submerge yourself in Silence. Your own South Pole is out there, somewhere.
Silence is about rediscovering, through pausing, the things that bring us joy.

Reading this book was a breath of fresh air in a world that never stands still. This unassuming title was a serendipitous find in the art gallery shop, and since I can't say I've ever read anything by a Norwegian explorer I thought it would be a good place to start. What I didn't know then was that it would turn into one of my absolute favourite books of the year. What Kagge proves through these mini-essays and insights is that it doesn't always have to take a weighty tome to explore deep reflections on life - just a few fitting references to philosophers, a scattering of personal anecdotes and a warm tone that brings its own sense of calm to the whole piece.

Is it possible to both be present in the world and not present at the same time? I think it is. To me, those brief moments when I dwell on the horizon and am captivated by my surroundings, or when I do nothing more than study a rock with green moss and find myself unable to pull away, or else when I simply hold a child in my arms, are the greatest. Time suddenly stops and I am simultaneously present and completely distant. All at once, a brief moment can seem like an eternity. 

As Kagge himself remarks at one point, who would have thought there would be so much to say about something as basic as 'silence'? What I got out of the book in its entirety, from reflections on the author's explorations in the stark desolation of the Antarctic, to life around the dinner table with his three daughters, is the importance of appreciating the small things. It sounds easy enough, and maybe even somewhat trite; yet when you think about it, it's the 'timeless' moments which can bring the greatest joy and wonder. Simply put, 'Life is long, if we listen to ourselves often enough, and look up.' It's amazing to reflect on how little time we make to truly block out all the other distractions, notifications and chatter and just sit quietly with our own thoughts - or get outside in nature and appreciate the beauty of it all.

Allow the world to vanish when you go into it.
To listen is to search for new opportunities, to seek fresh challenges. The most important book you can read is the one about yourself. It is open. I've started to understand why I was so fascinated as a small boy by the snail who carries his house on his back. We can also carry our houses - everything we have - within us. 

I tabbed so many sections of this book as I was reading, but the quote above has to be my favourite..."The most important book you can read is the one about yourself." Being the author of your own life story is a gift we all have, and maybe it takes reading something like this to realise just how significant that is. One thing's for sure, this book is both thought provoking and memorable - perfect for revisiting when you're looking for a slice of solitude amidst an ever-evolving hectic schedule.

FINAL THOUGHTS

Almost anyone will find something to relate to in Silence. Erling Kagge is definitely onto something with this eloquent work that allows for the reader to experience moments where 'the world is shut out for a moment, and an inner peace and silence takes over.' For me, it's moments like that which make everything worthwhile. 

Waiting on Wednesday: The Long Distance Playlist

Wednesday, 27 November 2019


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly prompt hosted by Breaking the Spine where the participants tell their readers about an upcoming release they are looking forward to. This week I've picked The Long Distance Playlist by Tara Eglington.


Told primarily in instant messenger conversations, Skype, emails and texts, this is Jaclyn Moriarty's Feeling Sorry for Celia for the modern teen.

Taylor and Isolde used to be best friends - before THAT FIGHT, 18 months ago. It's been radio silence ever since - until Taylor contacts Isolde to sympathise with her breakup: the breakup that she never saw coming; the breakup that destroyed her confidence and ended her dreams of joining the National Ballet School.

Taylor's had his own share of challenges, including a life-altering accident that has brought his hopes of competing at the Winter Olympics to a halt. Isolde responds to Taylor, to be polite. But what starts out as heartbreak-themed Spotify playlists and shared stories of exes quickly becomes something more. And as Taylor and Isolde start to lean on each other, the distance between them begins to feel not so distant after all ...

A boy. A girl. A one-of-a-kind friendship. Cross-country convos and middle-of-the-night playlists. With big dreams come even bigger challenges. 

I've been following Tara Eglington's books since she first got published with the fun and witty release of How to Keep a Boy From Kissing You (followed by its fitting sequel How to Convince a Boy to Kiss You). Then came the brilliant exploration of female friendship in My Best Friend is a Goddess, so I can't wait to see how this latest novel goes. If her track record so far is anything to go by, this is going to be something special - I can't wait to get my hands on a copy!

Releasing 16th December 2019 from HarperCollins Australia

Review: The Innocent Reader: Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

The Innocent Reader by Debra Adelaide
Released: 24th September 2019
Published by: Pan Macmillan
Genre: Non Fiction, Memoir
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Pages: 257
Books are impractical companions and housemates: they are heavy when you are travelling, and in the home take up a lot of space, are hard to keep clean, and harbour insects. It is not a matter of the physical book, it is the deep emotional connection that stretches back to my early years. Living without them is unimaginable. 

These collected essays share a joyous and plaintive glimpse into the reading and writing life of novelist, editor and teacher of creative writing Debra Adelaide.

Every book I have read becomes part of me, and discarding any is like tearing out a page from my own life. 

With immediate wit and intimacy, Adelaide explores what shapes us as readers, how books inform, console and broaden our senses of self, and the constant conversation of authors and readers with the rest of their libraries. Drawing from her experiences in the publishing industry, the academic world, her own life and the literary and critical communities, she paints a vibrant portrait of a life lived in and by books, perfect for any student, bibliophile, editor, or simply: reader.
Thanks to Pan Macmillan for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

There is something comforting about coming back to reading essays from fellow bookworms about just what makes reading such a major part of their lives. A few years ago I had the pleasure of eagerly flipping the pages of The Simple Act of Reading, edited by Debra Adelaide, which so eloquently described the joy and wonder which these words on a page can inspire. In The Innocent Reader we have a glimpse into Adelaide's own reading and writing habits, alongside how books had shaped her life from her early years, to raising a family and becoming an academic. 

I don't know how you cope. People would say this constantly over the months that followed. What with the other children, your work...There was no mystery. I told people I coped because I had to, as any other parent would do the circumstances. I coped because there was no question of not coping, there was quite simply no alternative...But there was another reason I could cope, which was one I could never articulate, seeing as it sounded so simple-minded at times, even callous. I coped because I read. My diary of that first year or so of the treatment is also a diary of my reading, haphazard and arbitrary, literary and highbrow.

It may seem easy to dismiss taking the time to pick up a book and escape for a little while into another world as something frivolous when we could always be doing something else - or if you are reading, for it to be at least something 'literary' or 'highbrow'. But what I love about Adelaide's voice which comes through so clearly here is that literary 'snobbery' doesn't need to have a place at the table in our everyday lives. After all, where is there room for that kind of ego when you are facing some of the biggest challenges of your life? The chapters detailing reading both for her son and herself at his bedside at Sydney Children's Hospital after he was diagnosed with cancer made clear just what a difference these simple moments with a book can make.

Everyone has a story in them. Everyone has a novel in them, or so it is frequently said. And humans tell stories...so it makes sense that people everywhere, from cocktail parties to wedding receptions and the signing queues in bookshops, lean forward confidentially and offer you a story, if only you are prepared to write it. 

While it was so interesting to read about the author's personal life in this book, The Innocent Reader also offers some really useful insights into the writing process and how to go about reviewing too. Now being a 'literary critic' is a whole other world from this land of book blogging, but the process of filtering your thoughts on a written work through both a subjective and objective lens is similar. It's definitely made me reflect on how I look at the books I read, and what that special something is that draws me to a particular author or writing style. With a balanced and measured approach of someone who is well within the literary scene, Adelaide offers her own advice and reflections in a way which all readers should be able to take something away from. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

As one of my favourite quotes from this book states, "There can never be too many books, or too many writers. Or too many readers, or too much reading." When it comes down to it, I couldn't have said it better myself.

Review: The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre - a snappy piece of French noir

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
Released: 3rd September 2019
Published by: Black Inc Books
Genre: Crime Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 197
My Rating: 4 of 5 stars
The French bestseller La Daronne 
Now a major film starring Isabelle Huppert 

Meet Patience Portefeux, fifty-three, an underpaid French-Arabic translator who specialises in police phone taps. Widowed after the sudden death of her husband, Patience is wedged between the costs of raising her daughters and the nursing home fees for her ageing mother. She’s laboured for twenty-five years to keep everyone’s heads above water. Happening upon an especially revealing set of wiretaps ahead of all other authorities, Patience makes a life-altering decision that sees her intervening in – and infiltrating – the machinations of a massive drug deal. She thus embarks on an entirely new career path: Patience becomes ‘the Godmother’.

With a gallery of traffickers, dealers, police officers and politicians more real than life itself, and an unforgettable woman at its centre, Hannelore Cayre’s bestselling novel shines a torchlight on a European criminal underworld that has rarely been seen, casting a piercing and darkly humorous gaze on everyday survival in contemporary France.
Thank you to Black Inc Books for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review

It's not too often that a crime novel like The Godmother comes along. Coming in at just shy of 200 pages, you may at first think that in such a short span it would be impossible to create a plausible and meaty plot-line with the right balance of action, mystery and character development that this genre demands. But therein lies Cayre's genius - the whip-smart narration from our protagonist Patience Portefeux and her scheming in playing both sides of the law provides just the right atmosphere for a piece of French noir that is entirely compelling.

Dark humour, as the blurb suggests, is rife here - alongside the corruption within the ranks of the justice system and shady line between who has the upper hand in world of organised crime. Patience, once a straight-laced court translator turned trafficker, provides a sardonic insight into her career and the many faces of the drug trade. The writing style and character development is where The Godmother shines - as while the content itself is serious, dealing with large-scale money laundering, the experiences of immigrants assimilating in Europe and all the while trying to find some moral ground, the narrative voice cuts through all of this with a sharply pragmatic tone. 

...Frankly, you could devise a better system, couldn't you, in terms of incorruptibility. Well, I find it pretty disturbing, And I have been corrupted. At first I thought it was funny, then one day I wasn't laughing any more. 

In one instance it's almost surreal to have a scene depicting an armed robbery with shocking results relayed with a sense of detached calm; the mania of the entire situation construed through a completely unemotional lens. It's this writing style that I'll remember most from The Godmother, and draws the readers focus towards the greater themes at play about how the main character justifies her actions - both within her own mind and in the dialogue she has with the reader themselves throughout. 

FINAL THOUGHTS

While there is no shortage of crime fiction to choose from, The Godmother comfortably holds its own. The most memorable books are often those with a distinct voice and a main character facing some sort of moral dilemma. This one executes both exceptionally well.

Author Interview: Under the Stars by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

Monday, 30 September 2019

Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime by Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith
Released: 1st October 2019
Published by: Melbourne University Press
Genre: Kids Non-Fiction
Source: Publisher
Pages: 277
Under the Stars- Bedtime Astrophysics transports curious kids and inquisitive adults on an incredible journey through the night sky. Explore our solar system from the comfort of your cosy bedroom.

Find out why the sky is blue. Fly around a black hole and peer inside! Learn why Jupiter has stripes.

When astrophysicist Lisa Harvey-Smith isn't looking skyward, she is answering the smart questions of school kids. Her engaging storytelling in this colourfully illustrated book brings the night sky to life, giving amazing new perspectives to young explorers who are always asking, 'Why?'
Author Interview with Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith

What was your motivation for writing Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime?

I have always had a fascination with the night sky, which blossomed into a wonderful career in astronomy. Aside from my research though, one of the most energising parts of my job has always been visiting schools and talking to kids about space. They are always so excited and enthusiastic and the questions they ask are so creative! I knew that I needed to create a book just for them. 

When you were a kid, what interested you about space?

When I was a child, it was really the beauty of the stars that first captured my imagination. My Dad and I used to go out somewhere really dark and just take it all in. After a while though, I had questions running though my head like, “How many stars are there?”, “How big is the universe?”, “Is there other life out there?”... and the list goes on. So, I began reading books about astronomy and I was enthralled by this amazing new window on our universe.

What are five things about space that still make you go 'Wow!'?

*Astronauts age more slowly in space than they do on Earth, ever so slightly! That's because the Earth's gravity bends our universe and makes time pass more slowly. It's called 'time dilation'. Weird or what?!

*If you got too close to a black hole, your entire body would be stretched by the enormous gravitational forces and you'd become 'human spaghetti'.

*Ever wondered why the sky is blue? It's because the light from the Sun is made up of all the colours of the rainbow. As the sunlight hits our atmosphere, it is scattered across the sky by tiny particles of oxygen, nitrogen and carbon dioxide that make up the air. These particles act as millions of tiny mirrors. Blue light is scattered from these particles more easily than red light, so that is why the sky appears blue. 

*Shooting stars are not stars at all. They are actually tiny specks of space dust that crash through our atmosphere as we orbit the Sun. The bits of space dust rub against the air and heat up, reaching a temperature of 1000 degrees and burn up, creating bright streaks of light in the sky. 

*Our Sun is a gigantic ball of gas. Tiny particles crash together in its middle, creating a nuclear furnace that burns at a temperature of 15 million degrees. Four million tonnes of the Sun's gas is burned into heat and light EVERY SINGLE SECOND!

What has been your career highlight so far?

I would have to say that seeing the first pictures from the gigantic telescope I helped to build in remote Western Australia was a real highlight for me. It's part of a global mega-science project involving more than 10 countries and I had worked on the project for seven years before we got any results. After all that time, seeing those first images of distant galaxies was a real highlight for me. Also, on a personal note, touring Australia with Buzz Aldrin, the Apollo 11 astronaut who first set foot on the Moon with Neil Armstrong in 1969 was a real highlight for me. Talking with someone who has explored another world and sharing their experiences, it's just such an incredible feeling.

If you could travel into space, where would you want to go and why?

Since I was about 15, I have dreamed of being the first Woman to go to the Moon. It won't be me, but I'm very excited that NASA has pledged to send the first woman to the moon by 2024. 

What do you think still needs to be discovered about space, the galaxies or the night sky?

The great thing about our universe is that there is so much still to discover! For example, we only understand what 4% of space is made from. The other 96% is completely out of our grasp. We don't know how the universe will end, or if it will ever end at all. We are yet to learn how life began on Earth and whether we are alone in the universe. So many mysteries are yet to explore. 

Please describe a day in the life of an astrophysicist

Astrophysics is a wonderful pursuit. On a typical day I might work with a team of scientists on a scientific problem or make pictures of the sky from information I have gathered from telescopes. I'd read the latest astronomy research and see what other people are discovering, to get new ideas. I might travel to a conference or a telescope in a far-flung region of the world or share my results by writing a scientific report or speaking to fellow scientists about my latest discovery. Then I might work with students and help the next generation of scientists learn and grow in their discoveries. 

What do you think kids will get most out of reading your new book?


Under the Stars: Astrophysics for Bedtime is all about cultivating a sense of wonder and exploration in young children. The illustrations are designed so that every child can see a role model who looks like them. It is so important for girls and boys to engage enthusiastically in science, technology, engineering and maths subjects so that we can build a future designed by everyone that serves the needs of society.

Parents get an opportunity to read fascinating stories about space to their children and help stimulate their curiosity at the same time. As kids get older, they will get a bit of peace and quiet as children get engrossed in reading the book themselves! Older primary-aged kids will love reading the stories again and again, each time learning something new. And don't tell the kids - but this book is also for the grown-ups too! You can have a sneaky read once the littlies have gone to sleep. Learning is a life-long joy after all.  

Please feel free to share any amazing stories or anecdotes about writing this book if you have any!

Writing Under the Stars was a labour of love. Since I work full-time, I did my writing at night, dreaming up stories and crafting the book from my bed. I think that writing at night helped create the dreamy 'astrophysics for bedtime' vibe of the book.  


About the author


Astronomer and Australian Government Women in STEM Ambassador. Professor Lisa Harvey-Smith is an award-winning astrophysicist with a talent for making the secrets of the universe accessible to all. She has spent 15 years conducting astrophysics research at universities and research institutes across the world.