I’m A Polygamist… Reader

A friend recently sent me an article on the types of readers. ‘You’re a polygamist reader!’ she declared.

I paused a second, baffled by the term. Did that make me a Mormon? I’d describe myself as obsessive-compulsive and easily distracted rather than a polygamist reader. However, after I’d read the article, I agreed.

Oddly enough, the term fits. I’m the type to have too many books on my ‘Currently Reading’ list. What I’m reading rapidly shifts based on my mood, what I happen across in second hand stores and friend’s recommendations. My Goodread’s ‘To Read’ list acts mostly as an overpriced bookmark for the multiple books I’m trying to finish this month. So, I’ve decided to put it to good use. The books below can be found lurking in my handbag, sitting on my dining table, and on my bedside table as I frantically flip pages and try to progress a little further each and every day. I’ll finish them all one day! And I’ll always take recommendations.

I’m Currently Reading

Vested Interests: Cross Dressing and Cultural Anxiety by Marjorie Garber

Progress: 10 pages / Just started

Why am I reading it? I found it in Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookstore in Newtown. After doing a number of courses on gender in medieval history, the chapters on cross dressing saints appealed to my research focus. It’s promising so far.

 

Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies by Jared Diamon

Progress: 97 pages / A few weeks in

Why am I reading it? Another find in Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookstore in Newtown. A number of people have recommended it as an important historical work of the twentieth century, however, it has been criticised for racism. I’ll withhold judgment until I’ve finished it.

 


Survival of the Prettiest: The Science of Beauty by Nancy L. Etcoff

Progress: 94 pages / A few weeks in

Why am I reading it? Elizabeth’s Second Hand Bookstore in Newtown is my second home from the look of things.

 

 

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Progress: 100ish pages / A month in

Why am I reading it? Recommended and loaned by a friend. A modern fantasy, full of intrigue and magic. I’m rather enjoying it. If you enjoy modern fantasy and stage magic, you should read this book. And then you should try the TV show The Magicians (based on Lev Grossman’s books of the same name).

 

Bedlam: London and its Mad by Catharine Arnold

Progress: 16 pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? Stolen from a friend’s bookshelf. An interesting history of Bedlam, I really need to devote more time to.  I’m fascinated by the history of mental illness and early modern medicine and Bedlam is a perfect melting pot of both.

 

 


Tribal Science: Brains, Beliefs and Bad Ideas by Mike McRae

Progress: 34% / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? I bought this on my Kindle after it was recommended to me. Social beliefs and biases are pretty critical to the history of science and it’s an intriguing exploration. I need to finish it soon!

 

The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas L. Friedman

Progress: 63 pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? An interesting look at 21st century global economics and the effects of the global economy on everyone, not just the Western world. Yet another book I found in Elizabeth’s. The benefits of outsourcing on third world countries was something I’d not considered and is actually quite interesting. I’d recommend it!

 

The Origins of Sex: A History of the First Sexual Revolution by Faramerz Dabhoiwal

Progress: 62 pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? This is a really good book. Beginning with the transition from medieval attitudes to the modern, it discusses the policing of morality and punishment for transgressors, providing a variety of evidence of medieval and early modern legislature and literature. I’m keen to read more by Dabhoiwal, as he is highly recommended. First, though, I need to finish this!

 


Second Variety and Other Classic Stories by Philip K Dick

Progress: 342 pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? Stolen from a friend’s bookshelf. Phillip K Dick is one of my favourite sci fi authors. I’ve not yet started Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep but that is also lurking on my shelf.

 


False Impression by Jeffrey Archer

Progress: ?? pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? Borrowed from an ex’s bookshelf. I need to return it soon actually. A typical Archer crime novel which also focuses on classical art and forgery, which I find fascinating.

 

 

Pet Sematary by Stephen King

Progress: ?? pages / I’ll get back to it soon

Why am I reading it? I’m a bit of a Stephen King fan. Creepy, with elements of Native Indian myths, it’s a good read so far (what I’ve read of it in iBooks). I don’t know why I didn’t finish it!

 

 

Add me on Goodreads!

 

 

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Word Jumbles: Writing in Cafés

Why do people write in cafes?
     Easy access to coffee is my reason.

Words to describe the café and its inhabitants
Charming / Effable /Lacklustre

Back to the inhabitants of the café. 
The young people
‘I don’t like the word slut’

‘People should do what they want, what makes them happy’

It’s amazing to think that each person will have anew that same discovery of self.
The realisation that what you should and can do what makes you happy, as long as you’re not hurting other people.

I had a week off work recently and spent a few afternoons trying to write in a café. When I write, I have two documents open – fiction and random thoughts that occur while I’m writing that don’t really relate to what I’m doing.

Results of my efforts? A lot of jumbled up fiction, some progress on my novel, and over-caffeination. It doesn’t make sense a lot at the time or needs more research. Yet, I’m battling the demon of self doubt and actually writing consistently which is excellent.

So, that’s this writers head is at right now. Struggling with block? Go and write some random things in a café or a park or somewhere you can relax your mind. After all…

you-should-be-writing

 

Before It Melts

Originally written as part of my Taste of Time series, this article was never published. As we again sink into the midst of the autumn gloom, a brief ray of summer sunshine prompts me to post this. I hope you enjoy!

The changing of the seasons brings with it a sense of nostalgia. As summer, a time of hot days and muggy evenings, draws to a close, I begin to forget the desperation of escaping the heat and start to long for warmer days. There is no more thirsting for that breath of wind or hint of fresh air. No more locking myself away in my tiny bubble, air conditioners humming, surviving in a world of artificial cold. Humanity uses water to cool itself. Ice water, chilled water, swimming, skating – the myriad of cooling pursuits is seemingly endless. Frozen foods are especially popular – popsicles, frozen yoghurt and best of all, ice-cream, melt on our tongues and create a cooling sweetness and pleasure that echoes the first time we tasted it as children.

Is it strange to think that we can taste time? When I eat ice cream, I am cast back into my childhood. Days at the beach, the swimming pool, and walking around the shops with my mum. All of these were punctuated by treats of ice trapped in cardboard tubes, stuck on wooden sticks, or scooped into delicious sugar wafers. A discussion with friends about their memories of ice-cream inspired recollections of being bribed with their favourite flavours (strawberry or chocolate generally) and arguments over whether our childhood treats had tasted better then or it was just our imaginations. Of course, food tastes better as a child. Everything is new, exciting, and wonderful to their tastebuds. Some things are just too sweet as you grow older, like sherbet, or slurpies, yet to a child they taste delightful.

Memories: nostalgic treats suspended in our minds like the distant sound of the local ice cream truck on a late school afternoon. Our memories are interwoven with our senses. The feel, smell, and taste of a food can bring an old, long forgotten memory to the fore, from where it was locked deep in the psyche. Smell memory, taste memory, all connected to parts of your life long forgotten. That much-used trope ‘the tastes of childhood’ does not exist for no reason. Memory has also become associated with dreams. While recent studies suggest that dreams make a way to form and store long-term memories, dreams may also provide a glimpse into the concerns of the present. A dream of ice cream, for example, may symbolize the delightfulness of life, pleasure, and a concern with the here and now. The physicality of ice cream itself is representative of a brief and fleeting moment in time – it must be eaten, quickly! Before it melts! How many times were you told that as a child, before being left to deal with your quickly liquefying cone of gelato. Sticky handed and chocolate smudged lips, you couldn’t care less, as long as most of it was in your stomach and not on the floor. A touch, a taste, a smell can all conjure traces of our memories, and our younger selves. Time has a taste.

So, you declare, what does time taste like? Depends on the place and the time, after all. Of course, since that first iced-cream was scooped from a pail in seventeenth-century Italy, it has tasted cold and creamy. Gelato, or sorbet, was a source of delight, novelty and pleasure for those who had the resources to transport ice to their homes. These Italian chefs were the creators of the ‘iced-cream’ that we would recognize today, though it had been around long before them. Sweet or savoury, the predominate characteristic was that it was frozen. Chefs and cooks experimented, striving to achieve the perfect technique to freeze cream. Ice mixed with salt became extremely cold, and into that, they placed the container of frozen cream. This technique has never been lost. Today, children experiment placing bags of sweetened cream into a combination of ice and salt. In less than half an hour, you have a small serve of iced-cream, and a small taste of what it might have been like for a diner in seventeenth-century Italy.

Once a technique is perfected, however, flavour can be truly experimented with. Chefs and cooks all over Europe could now focus on creating complex and strange flavour combinations. Vanilla, so familiar and commonplace today, was rarely seen in the eighteenth century! Popular flavours enjoyed by Europeans included lemon, chestnut, cinnamon, ginger, and saffron. In 1768, M. Emy, a French chef, created an ice cream flavoured with cookies, then strained before freezing. He then topped it with cookie dust, a creation that would be enjoyed by any lover of cookies and cream today. Given the opportunity for creativity and opulence, chefs created statues of ice cream, moulding them into animals and even into the shape of asparagus spears. Ice cream was even served as an accompaniment to savoury foods, and a Mrs Sarah Rorer records a recipe for cucumber sorbet, to be served with halibut. Sweet, savoury, or somewhere in between, ice-cream was a way to innovate flavour and texture, and create new sensations on the palate.

While we may disdain such flavours, in favour of those like vanilla or chocolate, the sense of creativity and wonder in creating new ice creams still inspires chefs and cooks in various ice-creameries and restaurants in Sydney and the world. Numerous gelato creators still add salt to many flavours – salted Belgian chocolate has appeared on the menu at Gelato Blue and salted mango at Gelatissimo. Many food lovers make the trek to try Peter Gilmore’s world famous Guava Snow Egg and even more will visit their local gelato place to enjoy pistachio or pavlova. No matter the flavour, ice cream is associated with play, with joy, with wonder, and most of all, with summer. I remember as a child, a hot summer’s day at school. Our teachers led us outside, to the grass oval, where we caught glimpses of gold painted rocks in the grass. ‘Go find them!’ they said. ‘It’s a treasure hunt!’ After finding as many as we could, we were taken back inside, and told that we could trade these golden rocks for cubes of jelly and scoops of vanilla ice cream. Hot and sweaty after digging through the grass, those cold and quickly melting scoops were heaven to a group of nine year olds.

I can still taste it. Of course, I know what jelly and ice cream tastes like (I’ve had it many times) but this taste is more than just sugar and cold. It is memory. It is special. Though humanity may progress and change in many different ways, we can still have that same sense of wonder and excitement over a bowl of ice cream as someone four hundred years ago. So, relax, try a new flavour, and enjoy the fleeting sunshine. Just take care to eat it before it melts!

Thoughtful Mondays: A Year

It has been a year since I last posted a blog update. Eight months since I last posted a story.

Life has changed rapidly. I have watched as old friends moved away and met new ones. I have left my childhood home, never able to return to it. The land I grew up on is going to become apartments and houses, shops and streets. Change is inevitable. Progress unstoppable. Yet, it seemed, my creativity was not one of those forces. Until recently…

A new friend poked me about my writing. ‘What would you write about?’, they questioned me. ‘What are you going to do?’

‘Well’, I answered. ‘I’m going to write about…’ I told the story of a mad king who doomed his country and I slowly realised that I still had this passion for words. For weaving stories and capturing minds. I am a writer and I don’t have to only write at work. I’ve spent a year absorbed in technical writing and marketing. Writing manuals, copy, and project management documents. Boring but essential words. Time to get back to doing what I love and making time for it. Time to practice making my creativity an unstoppable force.

The intermission is over. Prepare for Act II!

 

 

A Brief Intermission (and some news!)

This blog has been a bit neglected over the last few months as I decided what direction to take my writing in. This is going to be a long journey of (attempted) self-discovery. I’ll be updating about my projects and work as I go along, so no fear! I haven’t abandoned ‘Teapots and Typewriters’. Regular stories and  updates will return soon when my schedule returns to normal.

Anyway, on a more happy note – I graduated with Honours last month! It was a fantastic day and I am so happy to have graduated with such a fantastic group of people. Congrats to all the new grads and good luck to everyone doing final exams at the moment.

grad

Thoughtful Mondays: Big Writing… or Analogies I’ve Always Wanted To Use

When you first start writing,  you want to be big, impressive and complex, using your pen to create the sensation of soaring like an eagle over mountains and fields. Or at least I did. The epic fantasy genre is fabled for elaborate landscapes and I wanted to create a UNIVERSE, not a short story. But once I started writing more, I became fascinated by smaller things (like the fact that soaring like an eagle over mountains requires some pretty warm clothing). No point drawing maps of the universe when I knew nothing about where my protagonist lives in them.

The more I’ve read, the more I’m convinced that BIG writing without attention to the details will fail. I’ve been captivated by Patrick Rothfuss’ description of silence in the prologue of The Name of the Wind and laughed at Pratchett’s clever riff on the colour black in the first paragraph of The Colour of Magic. It’s these tiny little things that make up a good book. Descriptions, characters, plots don’t have to be as BIG as you can make them. They can have tiny little elements that are knitted together.

Have a think. What little things have you thought of that you know you’ll use one day in your writing (or any other pursuit)? You don’t need to tell anyone. Just think about it and lock it away for future use. You never know when they’ll be needed. Personally, I love a good analogy. It can be strange, obscure, and oddly appropriate (like much of Pratchett or Adam’s work). Some of the ones I hope to someday find a place for in a worthwhile phrasing include…

‘… like that feeling you get when you put a clean pair of socks on in the morning.’

‘… like the first drop of rain, right after you realise you’ve left your umbrella at home.’

‘… like leaf cutter ants, who’ve just found a new tree.’

They sound terrible now but one day, they might just fit. Who knows? As a writer grows, so does their writing. You don’t need to struggle to be big and impressive when you first start out. A lot of excellent, little writing can build  a far greater story than a clumsily woven epic of enormous proportions.

So, go put on a fresh pair of socks and go build something. It might take a while and be full of tiny, annoying details, but one day, you may just end up having something BIG.

Writing in Progress!

4 days until the deadline I’ve set myself for a new food article. I hope it’s finished before then…The weeks have sped by, filled with work and trying to catch up with friends. I miss the loose structure of university and being able to spend long hours outside.

I have little time to write this now, so instead I will leave you with the recipe for the wonderful birthday cake I had last week. It serves as a tasty reminder that I’m 22 now. Grown up and feeling as much like an adult as I possibly can (which isn’t very much). Either way, make this cake, it really is Death by Chocolate. I only used one pan and one cake tin and it was prepared and baked in under an hour!

Shirley also provides a recipe for a delicious glaze (which you can follow the link to) or, like I did, you can make a simple ganache with 4 oz of cream to 4 oz of good dark chocolate.

Ganache

  1. Heat up the cream in a small saucepan.
  2. Add chocolate and stir until melted.
  3. Allow to cool and then spread over the cooled cake.

Alas, I don’t have any pictures at the moment (the cake was gone too fast) but trust me. It was delicious!

Short Story: The Scientist & The Slinky

I originally wrote this for a magazine competition, based on the theme ‘Spring to Life’. Though it wasn’t successful, it was a light piece that cheered me up after a stressful day. Slightly inspired by a recent science show I went to, which also starred Chris Hadfield…

***

He held a slinky in one hand, the end stretching away from him. ‘Now, if I drop this, what will happen? Will the whole slinky drop at the same rate, the bottom hitting the ground first, then the top? Will it all fall at the same speed? Will the top travel faster, hitting the bottom of the slinky before it all falls?’ The audience seemed to hum in anticipation. Of course, the whole thing would travel at the same speed and the bottom would hit the ground first. Or would it? The scientist continued to rile them up. ‘Well, which is it? Bottom hits ground, top follows, or top hits bottom, then it all hits the ground?’

Everyone seemed to think that the bottom would hit the ground first. It was only common sense. However, sometimes, common sense is wrong. Very wrong. The slinky fell slowly from his hands, the top springing towards the bottom, hitting it, and then it all fell at the same speed. Together. As it fell, the bottom of the slinky rotated in place, before the top sprung back to meet its fellow, contributing to the momentum that propelled it to the ground. The hum of the audience grew. Everyone had been wrong. Time seemed to slow down for a moment. Were they angry they had been wrong? Were they simply confused? Had they been tricked? The scientist held his breath, feeling his suspenders tight on his shoulders and a bead of sweat trickle down behind the goggles. The audience decided they were pleased and the tension left his back. Applause broke out and time sped up. They stood, clapping as he took several bows. It was the final act of the school talent show and the momentum of the slinky had continued into the audience. They were impressed and they were happy to leave, satisfied that their children were talented and their money was making a difference. The scientist stood back and moved into the wings. Taking off his goggles and lab coat, he became once more a boy.

Spiky haired and slender of frame, Alex Mintz was ten years old. He dreamed of growing up one day and becoming a grand adventurer. Perhaps he would journey the world, as a botanist or a biologist, finding new and fantastic flora and fauna. Or maybe even a physicist or astronaut, examining why dark matter was dark and had matter. He wasn’t sure yet. He was only ten. He didn’t need to be sure.

‘Oh, great job Alex!’ Mrs. Rowan exclaimed, clapping all the while. She’d taught him science since he was in third grade. Her hair had changed colours every few months, in all the shades of the rainbow, but her glasses had always remained the same. Winged and tortoise shell, he’d always imagined they were alive, about ready to fly off her face and take the freedom they deserved. Of course that was impractical and impossible but Alex’s imagination had never liked those words.

‘Thanks Mrs. Rowan!’ Alex grinned. He’d always wanted to impress her but had never imagined a slinky would do it.

‘How on earth does that slinky thing work?’ Mrs. Rowan looked puzzled as she held it, testing it for tricks.

‘Well, the base of the slinky, when held vertical, is already being held down by gravity.’ Alex took it back and held it out, the base almost touching the floor. ‘See? So, when you release the top, the tension held in the spring decreases as the two ends come together. There’s not enough energy to lift the bottom end against gravity, but just enough to keep it there until the top end hits it. Then they both fall at the same time.’ He smiled at her. ‘It’s just simple science.’

‘Intriguing. So, are you going to study science at university when you grow up?

His face fell. ‘I don’t know, Mrs. Rowan… My dad wants me to be a plumber like him…’

‘Well, your dad can say whatever he wants. But if you want to be a scientist – go for it! You have amazing potential.’

Alex felt his smile return bigger than ever but then Mrs. Rowan stopped. She glanced around the auditorium. ‘Where are your parents? They should be up here to congratulate you…’

‘Oh.’ Alex felt his smile freeze up. He didn’t want to tell her that they hadn’t been bothered to come. ‘Well, um…’ He gazed around, pretending to scan the room as his mind raced for a suitable story. His mind raced. ‘Oh, Mum had to sleep early. She’s not well,’ he said quickly. It was better than the truth. They simply hadn’t cared.

‘Ah well,’ Mrs. Rowan smiled again. ‘I’m sure everyone enjoyed your presentation. Do you need a ride home? It’s quite dark out now.

‘That would be great. Thanks Mrs. Rowan!’ Alex ran to grab his things before she changed her mind. She made no mention of never seeing his parents that year or the next. Instead, Mrs. Rowan gifted him with textbooks and let him use the school science equipment, often with amusing results.

***

The years passed and the boy became a man. Alex always remembered the praise Mrs. Rowan had given him at that Science Fair. For the first time, someone had validated his love of science.

He met a wonderful woman and together they had a beautiful daughter. Like her mother, she loved to read and make up stories. And just like her father, she loved science.

‘Anyway,’ Alex paused, ‘Honey, could you put the slinky down?’

‘But, daddy…’ She pouted, her hair falling in dark curls over hair eyes.

‘No. Daddy’s telling a story now.’

‘Fine.’ Amanda delicately placed the slinky on the top of the stairs and pawed her hair back out of her eyes. It never did what she wanted. She didn’t understand why they had to tell stories before playing with the slinky.

‘When I was your age, all I wanted to be was a scientist. Of course, I read a lot of books about it and tried to tell everyone all I could about science. But no one cared. The other kids made fun of me for being a nerd.’ Alex stopped as she put her hand up.

‘What’s a nerd?’ Amanda tilted her head. ‘Is it like the lolly?’

‘A nerd is what people call someone who likes doing lots of reading and studying, particularly when other people think they do it too much.’ He picked up the slinky absentmindedly. ‘I did every single Science Fair I could in primary school. Would you make fun of me for liking science that much?’

‘No Daddy.’ She shook her head like he was being utterly ridiculous, her curls bouncing. ‘I don’t think you’re nerdy.’

‘That’s good.’ He paused and measured his words carefully. ‘Now, your mother tells me that you said you didn’t want to learn about science anymore. Why?’ Alex had a feeling about what had happened but all the parenting books said not to ask your kids ‘leading questions’. He suspected they’d been written by police interrogators but there were no references he could verify.

‘Well…’ Amanda stared at the floor, twisting the edge of her shirt between her hands. ‘The boys said that girls couldn’t learn science. I said they were wrong but the rest of the girls said they were right. They said their mummies didn’t even like math.’

Alex sighed internally. ‘You know that just because they don’t like math, it doesn’t mean you’re not allowed to like it, right?’

‘Well, yeah but…’

‘But nothing. Girls and boys can like whatever they want to. It doesn’t matter what your friends say.’ He felt the echoes of Mrs. Rowan. ‘If you like science and you really really want to learn more about it? Go for it. Same for maths or art or music.’ Alex smiled and held out the slinky for her to hold. ‘Now, are we going to try and get this slinky to walk itself all the way down to the bottom of these stairs or what?’

‘So I can be a scientist just like you?’ Amanda took it and looked at him hopefully.

‘Absolutely. And you can keep the slinky.’

She grinned and together they placed the slinky at the top of the stairs. As the slinky fell and flipped over and over and his daughter laughed, Alex laughed with her. He could almost hear the loud applause of the Science Fair that night. Even though Mrs. Amanda Rowan had known exactly how that science trick worked (he’d taken it from the Year 6 science textbook after all), she had still validated him and made him feel like his childhood dreams were worth something. And he’d be damned if he didn’t do the same for his daughter. That slinky had helped his dreams come to life and he hoped that it would also work for her.

Dining with Death: An Exploration of Food Culture during the Long Black Death (1348-1771) Part II

Part II!

Australian Medievalists

In part one, I established what my thesis project was and how and why I decided to study food culture and the long Black Death (1348-1771). In this part, I will go through the main points of my chapters and provide a brief ‘exploration’ of food culture. As stated before, my first chapter, Pathologising Moisture, focused on the scientific and medical knowledge of plague. These were predominately based on Galenic humoral theory. In 1348, physicians believed that the human body was made up of three groups:

  1. Naturals (humours, spirits, faculties, members, sex organs)
  2. Non-naturals (air, exercise and rest, food and drink, repletion and excretion, and passions and emotions)
  3. Contra-naturals (diseases)

A sudden or prolonged change in the non-naturals would create an imbalance of the humours and caused disease.1 Humoral theory was known and practised by Islamic, Jewish and Christian doctors in North Africa and Europe. This similar knowledge is…

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Dining with Death: An Exploration of Food Culture during the Long Black Death (1348-1771) Part I

Finally finished the article about my thesis! This was originally presented as a conference paper at the University of Sydney History Honours Conference on November 7, 2014. I believe Part 2 will be available Friday.

Australian Medievalists

Emma-Louise Groucutt is a food historian, focusing on the medieval and early modern period. Her current research interests include nutrition, dietetics and the social hierarchy of food. Her thesis was based on the links between epidemic disease and cultural change and particularly focused on the relationship between the Black Death and European food culture. Emma also likes to write fictions. You can find other works by Emma at www.teapotsandtypewriters.wordpress.com.

The way we eat reflects how we see the world and ourselves. For those who lived during and after the Black Death in Europe and North Africa, food served as an expression of their experiences. By examining food culture, insight is gained into how they perceived disease and how an epidemic changed their world.

It can also show how they perceived death. For the Florentine chronicler Marchione di Coppo Stefani, it seemed death was much like a casserole. In his…

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