Monthly Archives: August 2016

The Good Life – Hugh Mackay

The Good Life - Hugh McKay

The Good Life – Hugh Mackay

A bit of a departure from my normal fiction reading – this was recommended by a friend and I took a long time reading it. I read a little bit at a time taking copious notes.

Here is the blurb …

“No one can promise you that a life lived for others will bring you a deep sense of satisfaction, but it’s certain that nothing else will.”

Hugh Mackay has spent his entire working life asking Australians about their values, motivations, ambitions, hopes and fears. Now, in The Good Life, he addresses the ultimate question: What makes a life worth living?

His conclusion is provocative. The good life is not the sum of our security, wealth, status, postcode, career success and levels of happiness. The good life is one defined by our capacity for selflessness, the quality of our relationships and our willingness to connect with others in a useful way.

Mackay examines what is known as the Golden Rule through the prisms of religion, philosophy, politics, business and family life. And he explores the numerous and often painful ways we distract ourselves from this central principle: our pursuit of pleasure, our attempts to perfect ourselves and our children, and our conviction that we can have our lives under control.

Argued with all the passion and intelligence we have come to expect from one of Australia’s most prolific and insightful authors, The Good Life is a book that will start conversations, ignite arguments and possibly even change the way we live our lives.

I think reading it a little at a time really helped me to absorb Mr Mackay’s message, which ultimately distills down to ‘do unto others as you would have done to yourself’. It is very readable with the occasional real life example.

Here are some quotes …

If you adopt a rigid world view – religious, anti-religious, political, economic, academic,  aesthetic or otherwise – you tend to see everything through the filter of your convictions, and, not surprisingly, you see what you are looking for.

Fundamentalism, religious and otherwise, is like a steel trap that imprisons the soul and inhibits freedom to wonder.

The integrity of any theory lies in its falsifiability – that is, its openness to the possibility of repudiation in the light of more evidence, fresh insights or a more creative interpretation of data whose significance was not previously understood.

Certainty is the enemy of reason and reasonableness. It fuels our complacency and arrogance, wrapping us in a cocoon of self-confidence, perhaps even self-righteousness.

Intelligence is not an achievement to be admired, or a goal to aspire to; it is mainly an accident of birth, plus or minus a bit of training and encouragement. We all have it, and some people have more than others, but intelligence in no way predicts the kind of person we are likely to become, the level of contentment we are likely to attain or the influence, good or bad, we are likely to exert on the lives of others.

The thing to nurture in our children – is not only the maximising of our intellectual potential, but the maximising of our potential for goodness.

[…] those who plug away, year after thankless year, doing their best to be faithful partners, loving parents, good neighbours and responsible citizens. These are the unsung heroes…

Painful as it can be to admit, an overly busy life – rushing here, rushing there – can be a highly effective insulation from engagement with the very people who made need you to stop running, listen to them and take them seriously enough to spend time with them.

Self-absorption is not a recognised path to goodness.

At its heart, that’s all morality is about; co-operation, mutual respect, a sense of community, a spirit of egalitarianism …

[…] we can nurture the goodness in us by associating with people whose goodness we recognise and admire, avoiding the close company of those whose self-interest infects everything they do and may infect our own thinking in the same way.

Here are some of the things I learnt while reading …

Power, wealth, status and fame have the potential to corrupt us in three ways
1.  Encourage a sense of entitlement based on an assumption of superiority
2.  Fuelling our greed.
3.  We judge people by the same criteria we use to measure our own success.

Each life has the meaning we ourselves choose to invest in it.

This book is well worth reading, but read it a chapter at a time and give yourself a bit of time for reflection before moving on to the next chapter.

Another review …


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Filed under Non-Fiction, Recommended

Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar


Salt Creek - Lucy Treloar

Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar

I can’t think of when I first heard of this novel – a review in The Australian perhaps? It has been short listed for the Miles Franklin award, so I might have read about it in that context.

Here is the blurb

Some things collapse slow, and cannot always be rebuilt, and even if a thing can be remade it will never be as it was.

Salt Creek, 1855, lies at the far reaches of the remote, beautiful and inhospitable coastal region, the Coorong, in the new province of South Australia. The area, just opened to graziers willing to chance their luck, becomes home to Stanton Finch and his large family, including fifteen-year-old Hester Finch.

Once wealthy political activists, the Finch family has fallen on hard times. Cut adrift from the polite society they were raised to be part of, Hester and her siblings make connections where they can: with the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route – among them a young artist, Charles – and the Ngarrindjeri people they have dispossessed. Over the years that pass, an Aboriginal boy, Tully, at first a friend, becomes part of the family.

Stanton’s attempts to tame the harsh landscape bring ruin to the Ngarrindjeri people’s homes and livelihoods, and unleash a chain of events that will tear the family asunder. As Hester witnesses the destruction of the Ngarrindjeri’s subtle culture and the ideals that her family once held so close, she begins to wonder what civilization is. Was it for this life and this world that she was educated?

I have been suggesting this novel to a lot of people – I found it extremely interesting from a historical point. Despite being Australian (an educated in Australia), I know very little about interactions between indigeneous australians and early (mostly white) settlers. I found it fascinating particularly how the settlers usually bring disease and disaster with them (although they feel they are ‘civilising the natives’).

There is a menacing feel to this novel – we know something happens because Hester (who is narrating the story) is living in England. The family structure is destroyed and they scatter to various parts of the globe. The scenes set in the Coorong are the best – you can feel the isolation, the coldness and the threat of brutality as well as the beauty of an (originally) unspoiled landscape.

More reviews …


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The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter - Nathaniel Hawthorne

The Scarlet Letter – Nathaniel Hawthorne

Have you ever had one of those days, weeks, months when everything is hard work? That’s where I am right now – hence the lack of posts. Books are being read and enjoyed, but the ability to sit down and write about them seems beyond me and then by the time I do find the motivation I have forgotten most of what I thought in the first place.

Anyway, The Scarlet Letter has always been one of those books I thought I should read, but somehow never got around to it. My historical book group chose it and I was quite pleased to be finally forced to read it. It was quite hard to find a copy I think I eventually got one from the book depository (I like the penguin editions because I can read the introduction and get a better idea about the book).

Here is the blurb …

Set in the harsh Puritan community of seventeenth-century Boston, this tale of an adulterous entanglement that results in an illegitimate birth reveals Nathaniel Hawthorne’s concerns with the tension between the public and the private selves. Publicly disgraced and ostracized, Hester Prynne draws on her inner strength and certainty of spirit to emerge as the first true heroine of American fiction. Arthur Dimmesdale, trapped by the rules of society, stands as a classic study of a self divided.

And here is the link to Wikipdeia.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect the story (or at least the plot) is very much part of popular culture – I even watched Easy A, but the writing and style were an unknown quantity.

I hated the first section, about working in the Customs House, but once the story got going I was hooked. I was amazed at how modern it felt – Hester was a woman born out of time she wanted the freedom to live her life on her own terms. Dimmesdale just annoyed me – a dithering coward who couldn’t face up to the consequences of his actions and allowed Hester to bear the ‘shame’ alone. It really highlighted for me the tyrannical effect religion can have on some people. And the effect strict, joyless communities can have on the individual members of the group – not a lot of christian charity going on.

I think this is well worth reading – you just need to push on past the Custom House chapter (although I believe some editions don’t have that chapter, so maybe find one of those).

Here is an article from The Atlantic.


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Filed under Fiction, Serious