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Bookshelf: Adventurous Women

6th May 2015

Mon dieu,  the school holidays have kicked off with a bang: 3 sick kids here, infected with Slapped Cheek virus. The name and the primary rosy- cheeked symptom share a  certain medieval charm, but they are fine really. Not too ill. They did  need to stay out of the sun today though, and under the watchful eye of the mother, who sighed (melodramatically) and cancelled the complicated system of play-dates and day care that was supporting her Wednesday writing day.

Instead, we hung out in the homestead. The baby added layers of filth as the day progressed (paint, Vegemite, texta, playdoh, sticky pear juice) and the big kids played Sumo wrestling and an odd, complicated  game they call ‘Christmas Trees’ while communicating in screeches of varying volume (and by varying read from ‘high’ to ‘ear-splitting’).

It was fine. We had nowhere else we needed to be. Plus, once you’ve been through the wringer once or twice with proper, unspeakable Linda-Blair style kid sickness, a little rash and a runny nose is a walk in the park. It’s all roses when you don’t end the day with somebody else’s vomit in your ears.

I have been housebound though. It feels like a good day to write this post about  adventurous women in literature.

Onto to rambling about books, then, what ho!  I’m a word nerd, you might have guessed by now. I’ve got a few favourite literary tropes and themes.  (True confession: one of my great pleasures is a good Princess Diana memoir, the trashier the better. My favourite of the genre is a toss-up between the writings of Diana’s  aura cleanser, and the masterpiece penned by Dodi’s Algerian, obsequious, mini-shorted man-butler.)

I also really, really love to read the memoirs of adventurous ladyfolk. Me, I am not such an athletic specimen. I am more of the  ’lied about being the outdoor type’ types. One of my happiest pastimes is lazing around, snacks close to hand, immersed in the physical hardship and challenge of somebody that is not me.  Somebody has to do it, I figure, and then somebody else has to read the book about it. I know where my place is in the pack.

Recently I’ve read a couple of corkers.

In  ’Wild’ by Cheryl Strayed, young Cheryl hiked the remote Pacific Coast trail across America alone after the death of her mother and the breakdown of her marriage. It’s beautifully written - funny, moving, incisively honest. Here is Strayed on losing her mother young:

“I didn't get to grow up and pull away from her and bitch about her with my friends and confront her about the things I'd wished she'd done differently and then get older and understand that she had done the best she could and realize that what she had done was pretty damn good and take her fully back into my arms again. Her death had obliterated that. It had obliterated me. It had cut me short at the very heigh of my youthful arrogance. It had forced me to instantly grow up and forgive her every motherly fault at the same time that it kept me forever a child, my life both ended and begun in that premature place where we'd left off. She was my mother, but I was motherless. I was trapped by her, but utterly alone. She would always be the empty bowl that no one could full. I'd have to fill it myself again and again and again.”

I also had a blast reading Love With a Chance of Drowning by Torre DeRoche. Lighter fare, but so pleasing. This sharp and funny writer took off to sail the Pacific with a green-eyed Argentinian boyfriend. (For me, second best only to lying in the sun reading about sailing with my green-eyed Scotsman.) Torre’s Argentinian turned out to be quite clumsy, and the book turned out to be hilarious and sweet.  Escapism at its best.

For classic Australian adventure, Tracks by Robin Davidson is brilliant (seventies sensibilities plus Outback plus camels), and in a more contemporary vein,  True Spirit explores Jessica Watson’s successful mission to become, at sixteen, the youngest person to sail solo, unassisted, and non-stop around the world. Finally, if we are talking about women who pushed the boundaries of their time,  you cannot go past the bodice-ripping gripping biographies  of Georgiana: Duchess of Devonshire and Jane Digby, who threw off the aristocratic shackles of the nineteenth century like  a couple of pairs of scratchy underpants.

Cheryl Strayed nails it when she says: ‘The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherfucking shit out of it.’ Bravo, adventurous women! Thanks for getting out there and doing all those risky and fabulous things,  so I can read about them later while eating chocolate bullets in the bath.


From Childbirth as the ultimate extreme sport. 

And from the gals at the Stuff You Missed In History Class podcast: meet Alice Roosevelt: she wore pants, smoked cigarettes on the Whote House roof, carried a snake to parties and is said to have coined the phrase ‘If you’ve got nothing nice to say about anybody, come sit next to me.’ Here’s the full podcast about her - it’s a joy.


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