Memoir and Gaiman, 2014 readings.

As I looked back at my all too short 2014 reading list I found two themes, memoir and Neil Gaiman.

My decision to leave the military after 34 years became the catalyst for a year of change in 2014, and I decided to use a generous training grant from the Air Force to develop my memoir. I took the Writing the Self class at Newcastle University, and explored memoir in a variety of forms including an interesting foray into zines. I devoured memoirs as I sought to find my own voice (the search continues) but three resonated strongly with my own life.

In Blue Nights, Joan Didion remembers her daughter who died all too young and their troubled relationship. The writing is raw and fragmentary, often confusing and some reviewers thought it narcissistic but it laid bare Didion’s feelings. Blue Nights reflected the confusion and my own narcissism as our son fought for his life after a bicycle accident. It reminded me that it takes effort to maintain your relationship with your kids as they grow into the adults they want to be in our world.

Peter FitzSimons is a journalist, former Australian Rugby player and prolific writer of history and biography, and in A Simpler Time he turns his research and writing skills to his own childhood on a Peat’s Ridge (north of Sydney) farm. FitzSimons’ description of life in Australia through the sixties and seventies spoke to my own childhood, and awakened a dozen long forgotten memories as I read his tale.

Unable to cope with her mother’s death, Cheryl Strayed turned herself inside out with infidelity, drugs and self-loathing that threaten to consume her life. After finalising her divorce, Cheryl headed to California to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from Mojave to Oregon. Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail is a journey into the mind of a troubled life, a woman overcome by grief and unable to find the life she wants in the noise of our modern world. Read Wild before you see Reece Witherspoon’s portrayal of Cheryl Strayed at the cinema.

I started 2014 by reading a thrift shop find, Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman and he has become my author of choice throughout the year. Gaiman builds his fantasy worlds with enough hooks into reality that I find it easy to imagine they really do exist at the fringes of our known world. American Gods, Coraline, The Ocean at the End of the Lane and Good Omens (written with Terry Patchett) captivated me, and my reading list is filling with his novels including The Sandman graphic novel series.

The Martian by Andy Weir is simply the best and funniest book I read in 2014. Stranded alone on Mars Mark Watley employs his engineering and botanist training to survive in the hostile Martian environment until a rescue is possible. Written largely as a series of log entries, The Martian is a great book for a lazy weekend by the sea or sheltering from winter’s cold embrace.