Christy Collins

Thoughts on books, writing and life


holiday giving

Favourite books (that I read in) 2015

I can’t resist adding another list of books that you might want to consider adding to your Christmas reading list.

If you are wondering which books to buy (or indeed give as gifts) and which to pick up from the library, consider buying the books by authors who are still alive and picking up the classics from the library. This plan has the added advantage that you probably won’t have to wait on long reserve lists for new releases.

  • Outline, Rachel Cusk – in my opinion this is the most interesting of the recent crop of “somewhere between fiction and non-fiction, first person narrative” books making their mark on the literary awards lists this year. The narrator, a creative writing teacher, tells a story about the people around her and it is in the outline left by these stories that we are able to discern her shape as the book unfolds. A perfect summer read as it’s set in a summer-soaked Athens.
  • The Diver’s Clothes Lie Empty, Vendela Vida – with many resonances with Cusk’s Outline and Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station this book, too, communicates through its silences. A fast, pleasurable read with a quiet intelligence to it.Short Stories
  • The Beggar Maid: Stories of Flo and Rose, Alice Munro – an old-y but worth looking up if you’ve missed it. Linked short stories by an undisputed master of the form.Novellas
    I love novellas and this year has brought me two very different new favourites:
  • Italo Calvino’s Under the Jaguar Sun is an intoxicating, sensual read, I’d feel light headed when standing up after reading it.
  • Another book which had a similar effect for a different reason was Rawson’s Formaldehyde – which requires the reader’s full surrender to its strange alternate universe(s).
    I love racing through a shorter book and both of these are a dream, almost literally, to read.Favourite re-read
  • I re-read Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap, this time on audiobook.  I greatly admired it once again, especially the interesting structure he manages to pull off with each character given only one chance to speak. A very cleverly told story of a small community that definitely holds up in the re-read.Favourite YA
  • This is not my usual reading fare but I have read a couple of Young Adult books this year and especially enjoyed the freshness of Ward’s Welcome to Orphancorp which I’ve posted about seperately here.Favourite audio book
  • This is a new format for me and I am learning to love a good audiobook for long bus and train trips and lazy afternoons. My favourite so far has been Eleanor Catton’s The Rehearsal which is a complex book, especially given the author’s young age, but which holds up in this format, perhaps even gaining something from the “performance” of the work, which echoes some of the themes of the novel.
    A late addition
  • I’m adding one final novella that I’ve just finished reading: Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation – an exercise in “telling it slant” and in compression. Offill’s beautiful writing style, and the way she manages to reach out in so many directions at once, puts this book in the “I wish I wrote that” category for me. Highly recommended and a delightfully fast read that will have you wanting to re-read some or all of it even as you are reading it the first time around.

    Happy reading!

On Christmas Shopping


I’ve been thinking about how to shop for Christmas gifts (and food and decorations) in a way that doesn’t thoughtlessly capitulate to the wild commercialisation of Christmas but likewise doesn’t leave my friends and family empty handed. Here, though they are not revolutionary, are some thoughts I’ve come up with:

  1. I plan to buy gifts from industries and retailers I want to support. For me this means:
    1. Books, bought in bookshops and, where possible, from living authors.
    2. DVDs or Blu-ray disks of film (or tv) projects I admire. Or movie vouchers. If I could afford it I’d love to give ballet or theatre or opera subscriptions too.
    3. Buying from fairtrade shops
    4. Buying from craft markets or from creative friends.
    5. Shopping as locally as possible
    6. Sourcing any food-based gifts from sustainable, organic suppliers.
  2. My family has a tradition of making one of our gifts and I derive a great deal of my pleasure from planning and executing this gift. I sometimes make something for friends as well. One of the advantages of this is that I’m much less likely to be lured into the shops in order to derive a sense of my own Christmas benevolence.
  3. In a similar vein: Christmas baking is a way to get into the spirit of things without needing to visit the shops (except for ingredients perhaps). I team up with my sister and we each bring our own projects and the ingredients we need. We play cheesy carols in the background and swap some of our spoils at the end so we each have plenty of different treats to offer to guests or to give as gifts.
  4. We buy our Christmas tree as part of our local primary school’s fundraiser. Here in Melbourne Oxfam also deliver Christmas trees to raise money.

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