aa gill is away

I’m going to break up my blogging week of Melbourne lovin’ to write a review on the latest book I just finished;

AA Gill is Away (funnily enough by AA Gill). 

Adrian Anthony Gill is a food and travel writer who I first read as a regular feature article in Australian Gourmet Traveller magazine. He’s a handsome, 50-something journalist who literally fell into the profession after an unsuccessful stint as an artist.

The first thing I love about AA Gill is that he’s funny. Literally laugh out loud funny. After you accept his decidedly British humour then you can focus on his in-depth knowledge and sublime prose. When his first editor at GQ magazine asked him what he wanted to achieve as a journalist he said “I’d like to interview places. To treat a place as if it were a person, to go and listen to it, ask it questions.” And that he does. He’s not your usual travel writer. He is brutally honest with no regard for political correctness, which I find extremely refreshing, but whether or not he falls in love with a destination (whether it be village, city, country or restaurant) he takes the time to explore and gets to know it intimately.

Away is written in essay format and sectioned into four parts; north, south, east and west. The North focuses on Europe, South mainly on Africa, East on Asia and West on the Americas.

I love the story on The Kalahari entitled ‘Out of their Element’ so much that I read it twice. I had tears rolling down my eyes as I read the description of his bowel movements in the middle of a gargantuan dessert storm.

And similarly, the story of how he came to be a porn producer in Hollywood was both fascinating and surprising. Read ‘When DD met AA’ for a titillating account of a journalistic man’s wet dream! (and many other men, I’m sure)

For those who know his magazine and newspaper columns (he writes for UK Sunday Times, Vanity Fair and Australian Gourmet Traveller) the noticeable difference in his book is that he swears. A lot. Most people say that people who swear have a limited vocabulary but this is simply not the case with Gill. I have to look up words on more than one occasion. The swearing doesn’t bother me but I’m sure some people would take offence to all the F-bombs. But then again, those same people would probably take offence to half of the essays in this book considering his satirical, non-censored account of the people and places he visits (refer to East essay ‘Mad in Japan’).

I am envious of his exceptional talent and the number of stamps on his passport. But you know that he works for it; in one essay he references that he took 30 minutes to write the previous sentence and it’s common knowledge that he has a serious case of dyslexia (his articles are written by dictation); and you admire him for that.

I really enjoyed this book and I’ve got the order in for two more.

Anna Karenina | A novel by Leo Tolstoy

What is it about Leo Tolstoy‘s novels, written and set in 19th century Russia, that still proves relevant after all these years?

On the surface, Anna Karenina is a beautifully written account of love, betrayal and Russian high society. But delve deeper into the themes and structure and it gives way to thought about the ease of which society’s collective morals shift to accommodate popular opinion, differences of social expectations between genders, the relationship between love and marriage and, the importance of status & class.

I know. It’s heavy! But it’s well worth the read. And at 815 small-print pages, it’s a lengthy one at that!

Anna Karenina was first published in serial form in a weekly magazine The Russian Messenger between 1873 to 1877. It was published in full in 1878.

1. Cover page of the first volume of Anna Karenina. Moscow, 1878.

pic source 1

The story is woven in two strands. One concerns Anna Karenina and Count Vronsky; the other Kitty Oblonsky and Konstantin Levin. The stories bisect each other while remaining the very opposite; Anna Arkadyevna Karenina who is married to Aleksei Alexandrovich Karenin a parliamentary minister, embarks on a torrid love affair with Aleksei Kirillovich Vronsky a young Count who is headed for distinguish in the military. Princess Ekaterina “Kitty” Shcherbatsky is newly Of Age and sees the world innocently and with deep emotion (the effect of the juvenile infatuation with Vronsky), while Konstantin Dmitrievitch Levin is a serious countryman who’s only dalliance is his obsessive love of Kitty.

Love, heartbreak then love-again surround Kitty, who marries Levin on his second proposal and together they settle down to a commonplace existence, while the full emotional spectrum are experienced by Anna, who has a cordial and somewhat tender relationship with her husband until she can no longer fend off the brazen advances of Vronsky. Her world becomes saturated with their love affair that progressively deteriorates and in-turn causes her demise.

At times there are chapters of sheer dullness (mostly of Levin’s activities), and there are other times when I want to hurl the book across the room from frustration of all the arbitrary communication that consume these high society Russian’s, but generally the novel is an artistically written window into beautiful but tragic disorder.

It’s interesting to learn that Tolstoy himself was born into Russian aristocracy but had his fair share of relationship mishaps. It’s been said that he based Anna’s character on the daughter of Alexander Pushkin whom he met at a dinner party, and the character of Levin on himself.

my copy of Anna Karenina

Beautifully surmised, English poet Matthew Arnold once said “We are not to take Anna Karenina as a work of art; we are to take it as a piece of life.” And in 2011 that’s what we can take away from this piece of Russian literature.