Debauchery, dodgy politicians and difficult fiction; my year in books and reading (2016).


By Grant Hall, Founder of League Cultural Diplomacy

In 2016 I read a lot of books – probably more than I ever had or ever will in a single year.  This was largely because I was on a steep learning curve with some projects that I wanted to involve myself with and the business growth that I was aiming to achieve with League Cultural Diplomacy, which also explains the large number of business books that I read during the year. I didn’t read as much fiction this year, because I got stuck reading some lengthy and difficult novels that took me a while to get through, however I managed to stick to my commitment to read a diverse range of fiction from around the globe from different eras.


 Business books

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People – Stephen R. Covey

How to Win Friends and Influence People – Dale Carnegie

Thinking, Fast and Slow – Daniel Kahneman

The 4-Hour Workweek: Escape 9-5, Live Anywhere, and Join the New Rich – Timothy Ferriss

For many years, I didn’t read business books or self-help books, or books that overlap between the two – I didn’t need to because I had various family members who were prone to reading them and then talking incessantly about them. Even today I could tell you a heck of a lot about business and self-help books that I’ve never even picked up like Rich Dad, Poor Dad, I’m Ok You’re OK and The Cashflow Quadrant.

One good thing about having this theoretical information floating around my head is that when I started I knew which books to reach for to support many of the arguments that I intended to make in the blog. My business, League Cultural Diplomacy, deals in the business of influence, so of course the go-to book is Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People. Written in 1937, How to win friends has dated a little, not so much that the concepts have dated but that the strategies seem to be the standard way to communicate in today’s world, and I wonder if Carnegie should get so much praise for inventing the communication techniques that, at least today, seem to be just commonsense? Perhaps in 1937 his communication techniques represented an incredibly new way of thinking, but then perhaps not – I dunno! Nonetheless, it’s still a “must read” book.

The 4-Hour Workweek pretty much represents my life, and although the book didn’t inspire me to live my life ‘on the road’ (a path I was already on and have now been on for fourteen years), it certainly gave some helpful pointers on ways to continue to do so, particularly in regards to using new technologies to increase productivity. Though I still work more than four hours each week, I usually spend less than four hours each week doing work that I don’t find enjoyable, which is largely the point of the book.

The Lean Startup: How Today’s Entrepreneurs Use Continuous Innovation to Create Radically Successful Businesses – Eric Ries

The Startup Game: Inside the Partnership between Venture Capitalists and Entrepreneurs – William H. Draper III

Platform Revolution: How Networked Markets Are Transforming the Economy–And How to Make Them Work for You – Geoffrey G. Parker, Marshall W. Van Alstyne and Sangeet Paul Choudary

Exponential Organizations: Why new organizations are ten times better, faster, and cheaper than yours (and what to do about it) – Salim Ismail

Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World – Peter H. Diamandis and Steven Kotler

Founders at Work: Stories of Startups’ Early Days – Jessica Livingston

Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future – Peter Thiel

Start Something That Matters – Blake Mycoskie

Progressive Partnerships: The Future of Business – Callum Laing

Mastery – Robert Greene

I started working my way through these books once League Cultural Diplomacy was at the point where it became ready to market its services and we needed to work out how to best achieve rapid growth. I selected most of these books upon the advice of multiple “Top ten books entrepreneurs must read” lists and the first one I read was Exponential Organisations. I was initially disappointed because the book appeared to be largely about tech companies wanting to make billions of dollars (and my business is not a tech company and I’ve never planned to make billions of dollars). As I read on however, I realised that the book was equally about how businesses can use technology to grow “exponentially” even if they aren’t tech companies themselves. The key takeaway from many of these books, for me at least, is that as Diamandis and Kotler also suggested in Bold “the goal here isn’t to become Rackspace (or Amazon or Microsoft), it’s to build your big idea atop their infrastructure”, and I based Can arts organisations become ‘exponential organisations’? upon this notion.

Progressive Partnerships is more of a general business book which is written to help business owners use partnerships, networks and collaborations to get what they want. The author, Callum Laing and I were first introduced by David Clive Price and Callum subsequently interviewed me for The Asian Entrepreneur. Progressive Partnerships dramatically changed the way that I approach doing business for the better, and, as I indicated in my review of the book, it deserves to be widely read.

Mastery is an awesome book through which the author argues that what lies at the root of mastery “is a simple process.. one that is accessible to all of us”. Exploring this hypothesis, he analyses and discusses the work and thought processes of many individuals who have become masters in their field, through which he presents a rewarding masterclass in creativity.

Even as the owner of a non-tech business, reading these books was an incrediably valuable way to spend my time. Each of them is part business book and part self-help book, and as I mentioned before, each book complements each of the others. People often remark to me on the rapid growth that LCD has gone through over the last twelve months, and largely the inspiration that enabled this growth came from the books listed above.

The skills to pay the bills. Business studies versus business books
Can arts organisations become ‘exponential organisations’?

Bamboo Strong: Cultural Intelligence Secrets to Succeed in the New Global Economy – David Clive Price PhD

Cultural Chemistry: Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps – Patti McCarthy

Both David and Patti are pals of mine; David is also a League Cultural Diplomacy Adviser and a contributor to this blog and I even get a mention in his book. Both are thought leaders on cultural intelligence and provide cultural competence training services for corporate clients and individuals. Their books are also great and if you are doing business abroad or across cultures I can’t recommend these books highly enough

Book review: Bamboo Strong: Cultural Intelligence Secrets to Succeed in the New Global Economy by David Clive Price
Simple Strategies for Bridging Cultural Gaps: Patti McCarthy on Australian engagement in Asia and her new book, Cultural Chemistry
All posts about cultural intelligence
All posts about workplace diversity


The Rise of the Creative Class – Revisited: Revised and Expanded – Richard Florida

Bicycle Diaries – David Byrne

When I discuss the work that I do at networking events and the like, people often mention Richard Florida, and his seminal work, The Rise of the Creative Class. I must admit that the first time I heard someone talking about Richard Florida it didn’t click that Florida is a person and for a while I thought Richard Florida was a town or city called Richard in the state of Florida that was undertaking a project to attract creatives. Like some of the business and self-help books that I mentioned earlier, this is a book that I’ve both heard and read so much about over the years that I’ve never felt particularly compelled to read it. I read it this year because I’m toying with the idea of doing a PhD in matters that are somewhat related, and I thought I should read one of the ‘bibles’ of modern city development theory. It’s a good book with good ideas that appear to be relatively well supported by research and lived-in experience and I wish that more political leaders who make big decisions about our cities would read it.

I’d been meaning to read Bicycle Diaries for years because I like riding bicycles and greatly admire the artistic works of the author, David Byrne, who is best known as the lead singer of Talking Heads. Florida’s book referenced Byrne’s book, reminding me that I’d always wanted to read it, which prompted me to buy it. In return, Byrne’s book also references Florida’s, making it a big love-in! I read them simultaneously though which was a bit of a mistake as the subject matter overlapped a great deal which got me a little confused at times (I’d expected Byrne;s book to be more about bikes and music than city planning, although I enjoyed it nonetheless).

Revolution – Russel Brand

Why Orwell Matters – Christopher Hitchens

Fight Like a Girl – Clementine Ford

 Yes, we need a revolution and yes, George Orwell matters, and an appreciation of Orwell will give you a greater understanding of why we need a revolution. Orwell’s Politics and the English Language should be required reading for all high school students, for as Orwell writes within:

Political language-and with variations this is true of all political parties, from Conservatives to Anarchists– is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

And within this sentence lays many of the problems of the world, firstly that our political representatives tell lies and their words have no meaning, and secondly, that, as demonstrated by the rise of Donald Trump in 2016, that vast swathes of our population can’t recognise bullshit, even when it’s right in their faces. If more students studied Orwell, there would be less suckers in the world, and fewer people like Donald Trump getting elected to office.

In any case, although I’ve never agreed with everything Russel Brand or Christopher Hitchens had to say, I enjoy reading and listening to both of them for their humour, strong arguments, ability to illustrate through story-telling, their passion and, well, their very Britishness!

Australian feminist Clementine Ford shares many of the same qualities as Hitchens and Brand, including a capacity to deliver a compelling argument (her mock English accent is pretty strong too). Clementine was a regular drinking partner of mine when I spent a rare year back in my home town of Adelaide in 2008. A friend of one of my housemates, she was frequently at my place and we had some things in common, such as a fondness for the occasional glass of wine or two and of having bicycles as our primary modes of transport (two life-style choices that aren’t entirely unrelated). I’ve enjoyed watching her writing and speaking develop over the years, but more importantly, it’s been great to see her become bolder and more badass and I’m thrilled to see the success she’s achieved (something that was never in doubt). I saw her fight like a girl on two memorable occasions, once at my birthday party at the Exeter Hotel against my friend’s obnoxious (now) ex-husband, and another time where she used the Ridikulus spell to slap down five racist boggarts racially abusing and physically intimidating Dim Sum storeowners in Adelaide’s Chinatown while we were trying to eat some dumplings; I doubt any of those five blokes have ever released a racial tirade again, as she got each of them to discuss their own immigrant heritages, acknowledge their own stupidity and promise not to do it again.

I listened to many of Fight Like a Girl’s arguments back in 2008, and I never felt threatened by any of them and I’m astonished by the amount of hatred that many men appear to feel, and often express to her. I simply don’t understand why so many men are so shit-scared of Clementine and what she has to say. I have a young daughter and I hope that when she’s a bit older she’ll be reading books like this one and not stand for any bullshit from dickhead blokes. Fight like a girl incorporates some colorful language that you’ll enjoy if you’re a fan of “bad language”; I found myself muttering sentences like “intellectually bereft bag of soggy dickblisters” and “bonerkiller” for weeks, phrases which sit comfortably among the 100 “fucks”, 40 “sluts”, 36 “bitch’s”, 32 “shits”, 17 “cunts”, 14 “dicks” and 8 “cocks” that are tastefully sprinkled throughout the book (though, to be fair, many of these words are quoted from the insulting messages she receives daily from her (mostly) male detractors.

Biographies and autobiographies

Porcelain – Moby

It’s So Easy (And Other Lies) – Duff McKagan

Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem, Good Vibrations – Terri Hooley and Richard Sullivan

Autobiography – Morrissey

I ranked these rock music autobiographies according to their level of debauchery, and Moby’s Porcelain, which encompasses a period from 1989 to 1999, is surprisingly debauched. I enjoyed Moby’s book for it’s well told stories of depravity and of the 1990’s New York club scene more than I’ve ever enjoyed his music, and whilst the book’s a little patchy at times, this is to a far lesser degree than his recorded works are.

In complete contrast is Morrissey’s imaginatively titled autobiography, Autobiography. As Morrissey himself writes and declared to David Bowie “I’ve had SO LITTLE sex and drugs that I can’t believe I’m still alive’. Just as Porcelain reflects the patchiness of Moby’s recorded work, Morrissey’s Autobiography also reflects his musical output; just like he has done throughout his entire musical life, he negatively moans his way through Autobiography from beginning to end, and yet, just like in his music, he does so in such a humorous and well-crafted way that you can’t help but be totally enthralled and kept in hysterics throughout.

I read a review somewhere that described It’s So Easy as both a rock autobiography and a business book. The review, which was quite misleading, made me think of buying it as being like getting two books for the price of one and hence a financially responsible purchase. Duff McKagen is a musician who is most famous for being the bass player in the original (and best) Guns ‘N’ Roses lineup and who has gone on to have considerable business success, however, this book only touches on his business operations and is largely about his astonishing recovery from his drug and alcohol addictions. The story about how he changed his life around by riding mountain bikes, taking up boxing, going back to university and playing in some other great bands is quite an amazing and inspiring one. I suspect that McKagen has had such a debauched life that he doesn’t feel the need to write about it.

When I lived in Belfast from 2003 to the last days of 2005 I knew this bloke called Terry. Terry was one of the first people I met in Belfast when I dropped into his record store in the North Street Arcade to ask for a job, not long after arriving in Belfast. The violence prone marching season was starting and I’d just learned that it would be a couple of months before I could get a job in the arts management field which I desired, so when I chanced across a dusty old record store, one of the only stores open at the time, I saw my opportunity. Upon asking for a job he replied “No… to be honest, I already have too many employees and I’m losing money”, a sentence I later learned was his standard reply. He also told me his employees had their fingers in the till, and I told him that if he gave me a job I wouldn’t steal anything from him. Anyway, Terry changed the subject to Australian music, which he knew a lot about, and I stayed for a good while talking about music.

Terry, it turned out, loves music, drinking and frequenting Belfast’s live music bars, and so too did I, and so we kept bumping into each other at places like the Empire Music Hall, the John Hewitt Bar and the Crown Liquor Saloon, and we’d often have a bit of chat, usually about music. Occasionally I’d pop into his store and say hi. He used to tell me all these old rock n roll tales; he was a good friend of Bob Marley and many other famous rock stars, and he’d once been in a fight with John Lennon he reckoned. I thought his stories were fanciful, but kept my thoughts to myself, Terry was a good bloke so I was happy enough to talk to him.

Once I was chatting to him in a bar and momentarily turned away from him to get something out of my bag, when I returned to talk to him, he shocked the life out of me by waving his glass eye, which I didn’t know he had, a few inches from my face (welcome to ‘Norn Iron’ humour; another guy in a Newry bar stunned me when he started stabbing himself with a fork in the leg whilst we were sharing a pint – I didn’t know he had a prosthetic!). In 2005 some bastards burned down the North Street Arcade and Terry’s record store was destroyed in the fire. I was devastated for him and regrettably haven’t seen him since.

Fast forward to 2016 and it’s over ten years since I left Belfast and last chatted to, or really thought about Terry, and suddenly I started to see his name in dozens of articles appearing on the social media. Turns out he spells his name “Terri” with an “i” and his name is Terri Hooley; he’s written an autobiography, oh, and they’ve made a movie about him too. Turns out he wasn’t a bullshitter after all (or at least, not to the degree I thought he was!). His stories about Bob Marley and John Lennon were true, and, amongst other things, he is probably most well known as the man who brought the Undertones and many other great bands from Northern Ireland to the world’s attention; his role in the success of the Undertones hit Teenage Kicks being the stuff of rock and roll legend.

Anyway, both the book and the film, Good Vibrations (named after an incarnation of the record store where I once tried to blag a job) are brilliant. The music and the stories of both really bring the Northern Irish music scene, and the challenges that it faced, alive in the most entertaining, funny and profound ways. I also knew a good half-a-dozen people mentioned in the book, bringing back some great memories. And as to Terri, well, I’m sorry I ever thought you were a bullshitter, mate!

Posts about music
Posts about Northern Ireland

Coach – Darren Lehmann

A Perfect Day – Steve Waugh

Battle Scars – Stuart O’Grady

Black Crow, The Andrew McLeod Story – Geoff Kingston

I’ve started reading more sports bio’s since enjoying Andre Agassi’s incredible autobiography Open so much last year, but none that I’ve read since have come really close to that one. Darren Lehmann and Steve Waugh are both former Australian cricket players and Lehmann, who is from my home state of South Australia, is the current coach of the Australian national cricket team. I was enjoying reading Coach at first, enjoying the good-natured writing style that accompanied what appears to be a good natured coaching style, but then the Australian cricket summer started and the team started losing so badly that my appreciation of the book took a turn to the south. Reading about Lehmann’s considered approach to his communication style whilst watching his team getting thumped on the TV made me long for him to write of at least one time when he took off the gloves, stopped playing Mr. Nice Guy and gave the team a collective bollocking! It was good that the team got back on track towards the end of the summer test series, but I reckon he should’ve written this book once his role was done and dusted. A Perfect Day is one of many books by Steve Waugh, with this one telling the story, from his own perspective, of the famous day in Australian cricket when he scored a century on the last ball of the day to save his place in the team after a poor run of low-scores. I enjoyed this book because I remember watching that very special innings on the TV, one of the greatest thing’s I’ve ever seen on the sporting field, and to hear Waugh talk through his mental approaches to playing cricket, which could be also be duly applied to achieving success in other endeavors.

Whilst former Australian Rules Footballer (AFL) Andrew McLeod is from Australia’s Northern Territory, he made his name playing for the Adelaide Crows, my AFL team and the ‘team for all South Australians’. Cycling champion Stuart O’Grady is a South Australian through and through and over the years I enjoyed watching their respective feats on Australia’s footy fields and the world’s cycling routes. I cheered O’Grady on from the roadside to his win at the 1999 Tour Down Under and was held spellbound by Andrew McLeod’s silky skills from the outer at Footy Park, where I was lucky enough to be in the stands behind the goals when the eighteen year-old McLeod, in only his second match, kicked a crazy and now famous goal to win the game in its final seconds announcing his arrival on the big stage. Black Crow was a good read to relive some great memories and learn more about the ongoing spats he had with his long-time team mate Tyson Edwards and with the tennis champion Lleyton Hewitt. But more interestingly was his discussions about his connection to his Indigenous heritage and the role that this has played throughout his life. I liked O’Grady’s book because, firstly it shows what a tough sport professional cycling is and secondly, as he grew up in my town at the same time that I did and he developed his early cycling abilities on Adelaide roads which I know very well. The book is also told in a very natural Adelaide voice, perhaps best exemplified by this paragraph:

“As soon as the old man found out we were engaged, he started building a deck out the front of our place at Ingle Farm. He reckoned if I was going to be home with my groomsmen the night before I tied the knot, we needed a deck. Besides, he’d been talking about building it for twenty years so my engagement was the kick-start he needed”.

Posts about sport

Elon Musk: How the Billionaire CEO of SpaceX and Tesla is Shaping our Future – Ashlee Vance

Mr. Nice – Howard Marks

The Promoters – Stuart Coupe

The Elon Musk and Howard Marks bios are two business bios you don’t often see compared. Having made his name in Silicon Valley developing PayPal, Musk now makes rockets and cars and billions of dollars, whilst the recently deceased Marks sold vast quantities of weed globally and was also super-rich. Both were also comparably mad! Living in Vietnam as I (mostly) do there’s a limited selection of printed books available for purchase and photocopied knock-off copies of Mr. Nice are everywhere, making it a particularly popular read with backpackers as they make their way through the region where large chunks of the action in the book takes place. I learned a lot about international business from both books, but like Musk, I think I’ll stick to the legal stuff!

Stuart Coupe’s book is also about a crazy bunch of business people, the music promoters working within the Australian music industry. Coupe is himself, among other things, also a promoter, so some of this book is auto-biographical, but for the most part he writes about other promoters like Michael Gudinski and Michael Chugg. There are some great stories of rock and roll extravagance but some of the best tales come from the Australian tours of jazz singer Frank Sinatra and writer Hunter S Thompson. I would guess that on the whole, Australian music promoters have collectively lost more money than they’ve made as the profit margins are so thin and the risks are so large. The life of an Australian music promoter seems glamourous, but it’s a total mug’s game! I could’ve included this book in my above discussion about music bios, but this is more about the business side, however, if I did put it in the music bios discussion it would rank number two on the debauchery list.

American Sniper: The Autobiography of the Most Lethal Sniper in U.S. Military History – Chris Kyle, Scott McEwen and Jim DeFelice

Homage to Catalonia – George Orwell

Some quotes from American Sniper:

“People ask me all the time, “How many people have you killed?”… The number is not important to me. I only wish I had killed more”

“I signed up to protect this country”

“I have a clear conscience about my role in the war. I am a strong Christian”

“I do not choose which battles I go to. Y’all send me to them”

I enjoyed reading this book in the same way that I might enjoy watching a John Wayne western – it’s full of swagger, style and guns and there’s some well told, and often funny stories about battles and bar room brawls. Although the author was a killing machine, he comes across as a likable guy harboring some serious delusions (kind of like that redneck friend we all have).

A quote from Homage to Catalonia:

“There seemed no hope of any real fighting… I had counted my cartridges and found that in nearly three weeks I had fired just three shots at the enemy. They say it takes a thousand bullets to kill a man, and at this rate it would be twenty years before I killed my first Fascist”

Like Chris Kyle, George Orwell joined the fight “because at that time and in that atmosphere it seemed the only conceivable thing to do”, but whereas Kyle had about 150 documented kills, Orwell “maybe” killed only one enemy during his time fighting with a worker’s party militia against the fascists during the Spanish Civil War. Whilst Orwell saw considerably less action than Kyle, it doesn’t make for any less of a read and he also faced many life-threatening moments, such as when he copped a bullet in his throat.

The main difference about Kyle and Orwell’s respective writings is that Orwell appears to apply more critical thought to the war in which he is fighting and his role within it; he doesn’t just accept the news he reads and the mantras he hears as truth without any questioning. He understood that “this war was a racket like all other wars”. Whereas Orwell expresses some empathy for the enemy, describing them as “indistinguishable from ourselves”, Kyle refers to his enemies as “bad guys”, “motherfuckers” and “savages”.

Perhaps more interesting is Orwell’s consideration of where war can wind up: “to fight against Fascism on behalf of “democracy” is to fight against one form of capitalism on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment”. I often wonder if, to slightly alter Orwell’s words, to fight against terrorism and tyranny on behalf of peace and freedom is to fight against one form of culture on behalf of a second which is liable to turn into the first at any moment.

Inside the Hawke-Keating Government: A Cabinet Diary – Gareth Evans

The Road to Ruin: How Tony Abbott and Peta Credlin Destroyed Their Own Government – Niki Savva

Stop at Nothing: The Life and Adventures of Malcolm Turnbull – Annabel Crabb

Faction Man: Bill Shorten’s Pursuit of Power – David Marr

I wish they still made Foreign Ministers like Gareth Evans, people who build bridges instead of walls. Any good relations that Australia still has with its Asia Pacific neighbours is largely thanks to the institutions and relationships that Evans built during the eighties and nineties. I should mention though that this diary covers a period prior to his appointment as Foreign Minister, Looking back on it, the Hawke-Keating days seem like a golden period of Australian politics, and we haven’t really had a properly functioning government since, but as you read Cabinet Diary, you realise that even the Hawke-Keating governments, which Australians now look back so fondly on, were also full of massive ego’s tripping over each other and diminishing the good governance of the country at the time. It’s a grim, grim read that provides a very in-depth look into the realities of being a cabinet minister.

The books I read about the current Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull,  his predecessor Tony Abbott and the current leader of the opposition Bill Shorten were binge read over the Christmas period when I realised that all of my clients, and my perspective clients, were away on holidays and perhaps I should take a long-overdue holiday myself. These three books confirm what most Australian’s already know as true, that Australia has now been governed for many years, from both sides of the political fence, by a bunch of complete scumbags who are as incompetent as they are psychotic. I learned this first hand during my three-year stint as a public servant which began and ended in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. I witnessed a good deal of incompetent and psychotic actions whilst in this employment, and I can see that possibly some employees were simply following the corporate culture and low behavioral standards exemplified by the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott and his Head of Staff, Peta Credlin. The Turnbull biography is much more interesting than the Shorten one because his life has been much more interesting (and also due to “The cat story”!); Annabel Crabb is one heck of a good writer. I enjoyed the brevity, succinctness and style of both books. Niki Savva’s book, which is largely about Peta Credlin’s “weird” relationship with the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott is an absolute hoot of a read, although, a little like American Sniper of which I wrote about earlier, it would be funnier if the results of the actions detailed within weren’t so serious and catastrophic to people’s lives.

Posts about Australian politics

A Private Life: Fragments, Memories, Friends – Michael Kirby

Island Home – Tim Winton

Here’s two different books that give good insights into different aspects of Australian life by a couple of public figures I’ve long admired.

Michael Kirby is a retired Judge of the High Court of Australia, and his memoirs aren’t devoid of grimness either as he discusses growing up gay in Australia, where the governments “regularly declared that homosexuals were a canker on the body politic and a terrible risk to national security” and where “the fear, stress and shame also drove all but the foolhardy into the closet where the door was shut, locked and barred. In 1950s in Australia, there was no apparent prospect of escape”. Developing a public life under this type of oppression helped drive Kirby’s enthusiasm for human rights and provides the reader with an understanding for the backdrop from which Kirby’s empathy was developed. The biography also provides some interesting historical observations; did you know for instance that when the International was declared in 1948, chaired as it was by the Australian Minister for External Affairs, Dr H.V. Evatt, that every school kid in Australia was given a celebratory copy, so proud as a nation we were for contributing a lead role in the development of global human rights! The document and the fanfare in which he received it was a big influence on Kirby, but’s sad to see how things have changed so much in Australia, where the current government really couldn’t give a crap about human rights.

The actor James Dean also influenced the young Kirby who appears to maintain his boyhood crush on the long-dead idol to this day, and he writes about his adult pilgrimage to Dean’s childhood home, grave and other traps around Fairmount in Indiana. This wasn’t the first auto-biography I read this year which included a trip to Fairmount in pursuit of Dean’s ghost – Morrissey did too – and both writers, writing in the present tense, went in the middle of a snowy winter and froze their arses off when they visited the grave and some other sites such as the family farm. Unlike Morrissey though, Kirby didn’t break into Dean’s old school, steal some stuff, vandalise the place and make a music video (see Suedehead on YouTube), but then again, Morrissey’s a rock star and Kirby’s a high court judge; a bizarre love triangle indeed.

Island Home is autobiographical, though not really an autobiography; it could be better described as an homage to the Australian landscape that Tim Winton writes so lovingly and skillfully about in all of his books. As an Australian living away from my homeland, Winton’s descriptive phrases of the Australian landscape are pure ear candy, and in this sense, Island Home is an indulgence for my sugary addiction – perhaps even an overdose. Perhaps more importantly, Island Home is a call to get out of the house and enjoy it all, and do your best to protect what’s left.

Nowadays I live in a landscape of pindan and spinifex. Like a kid I have my trails and hollows, my secret places, my caches of pebbles and shells, my stash of arthritic-looking driftwood. I live in the littoral zone where terrestrial raptors like grey falcons cross paths with sea eagles. Getting old, you feel barefoot even in shoes. You feel the wild world anew. You’re relearning things you didn’t even realize you’d forgotten.


The Good, the Bad and the Unlikely: Australia’s Prime Ministers – Mungo MacCallum

New Statesman Century: A Collection of Our Finest Writing Paperback – Jason Cowley

I’ve read a good few books about the Founding Fathers of the United States and it dawned on me that I know far more about the national founding of the USA than I do of my own country of Australia. This year I wanted to start to rectify that, but it appears that the birth of Australia as a nation was nowhere near as interesting as that of the birth of the USA, or at least Australians haven’t told the story of our Federation as compellingly as the American’s have. Who, for example, is Australia’s Abraham Lincoln or John Adams? These thoughts led me to read Mungo MacCallums book, and whilst it’s interesting enough and told in a convivial and relaxing style, I could’ve learned as much from Wikipedia.

The New Statesman Century is a lengthy book filled with the best articles of the last one-hundred years of the publications history. Different sections will appeal differently to people with different interests, but I found many of the articles completely absorbing and there is a good deal of excellent writing herein. Many of the great minds of the twentieth century have found their voice in the pages of the New Statesman, and articles are replicated by the likes of many of my favourite writers such as Bertrand Russell, E M Forster, Naomi Klein, Seamus Heaney, Gore Vidal, Richard Dawkins, Graham Greene, Christopher Hitchens, Joseph Conrad, Clive James, John Pilger, George Orwell and others.  A couple of highlights for me were an article about the Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp by Lynne Jones, an event that I’d never heard of, and an amusing article by the movie star Hugh Grant called The bugger, bugged. In The bugger, bugged, Grant tells the wintery tale of how one day his car broke down in the remotest Kent countryside whereby he had to accept the help of a former Paparazzi nemesis. Occurring in the midst of the UK’s phone hacking scandals, of which both Grant and the Pap were embroiled, Grant later called the Pap and secretly recorded the phone conversation to give the Pap a dose of his own medicine; all of which makes for a jolly good read!


Exploring Ho Chi Minh City – Tim Doling

The Gentleman in the Parlour – Somerset Maugham

File Exploring Ho Chi Minh City under books by people I know. Tim Doling is an Englishman in Saigon (AKA Ho Chi Minh City) and a passionate advocate of its historic built environment. He is also a top bloke and his heritage projects in Saigon largely inspired my own similar project in Phan Thiet. Exploring Ho Chi Minh City provides the reader with a number of walking tours throughout the city and the text really brings the history of the place to life. Sadly though, many of the wonderful old historic buildings are being demolished to make way for generic office and apartment blocks, and I fear that this guide will soon be a guide to the wonderful buildings of Saigon now destroyed. I recommend that you take a look at some of Tim’s Facebook pages and his website to support the maintenance of Saigon’s historic architecture for future generations.

As I mentioned before, I enjoy reading books about colonialism, and Somerset Maugham’s name is often mentioned in discussions about colonialist writings. This book details his travels through Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam and I found this interesting as I’ve traveled some of these trails myself, albeit on tourist boats and buses.

Posts about travel

Selected academic articles

The cost of managerialism in the university: an autoethnographical account of an academic redundancy process – Richard Joseph

Crossing borders with youth arts in a remote Australian community – Kathryn Lee

Finding Beauty in a Fractured World: Art Inspires Leaders—Leaders Change the World – Dr. Nancy Adler

With the view of potentially doing a PhD in the coming years I read a whole stack of academic articles this year, leaving my head numb for much of the time, however I enjoyed the following two articles which are both by people I know and are both autoethnographical accounts of past tensions in working environments.

My former boss at the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Richard Joseph, writes about a horrific redundancy process that the Murdoch University in Western Australia dished out to himself and others a number of years ago, to which he claims that the University’s culture of managerialism was largely to blame. Recent press reports indicate that Murdoch hasn’t learned much about good employee relations in the intervening years. After discussing the poor treatment that he and others had to deal with, he then goes on to discuss the damage that managerialism has inflicted upon universities. This was interesting to me because of my personal interest in ongoing university study, my professional interest in international trends in education and because I think that the damage that unfettered managerialism has brought to the university sector has been mirrored also in the Australian arts sector. For academics wanting to write about managerialism in the arts sector (or in any other sector for that matter) there is much to be gained from reading Richard’s paper.

Kathryn (Kate) Lee is an Aussie doing creative things in New York and we’ve chatted on a couple of occasions as we have overlapping professional interests in common and we are seeking ways to collaborate. One thing that our CV’s have in common is working with Indigenous Australian communities, and Kate’s abstract sets the scene:

This paper draws on the personal experience of the author who had been employed as a Youth Arts Manager in a small, desert town in the Northern Territory. In her research honours study during the project for which she was engaged, she aimed to understand the tensions she experienced managing this partnership. Now, five years later, she reconsidered the experience and, placing the concept of culture shock at the forefront of her perspective, came to see the experience in a new light. Kate proposes that understanding protocols is a process embodiment that may be affected by the experience of culture shock, and secondly, that creative processes can be reduced neither to process nor product. Rather, with a clear understanding of aims and objectives as they relate to context, from community development can fruitful artistic partnerships.

For an academic article, it’s an entertaining and thought-provoking read which will be of interest to anyone working in cross-cultural or indigenous spaces or in remote artistic environments. One thing that I thought really contributed to the paper was the inclusion of reflective poetry which she wrote at the time of her employment – something which you seldom come across in academic writing, unless it’s specifically related to the study of poetry. Click here to read it.

Dr. Nancy Adler of Montreal’s McGill University writes a compelling argument for us all to bring some leadership artistry into our lives and workplaces. I was inspired by the article so much that I wrote Why we should seek the wisdom of artists. Nancy J Adler and reclaiming our ability to “see beauty” about it and was thrilled when the author tweeted me to say thanks.

The messages from Indigenous people that I never passed on to the Prime Minister


The Sound and the Fury – William Faulkner

The Swan Book – Alexis Wright

The Young Desire It – Seaforth Mackenzie

A Brief History of Seven Killings – Marlon James

Antigone – Sophocles (re-read)

For my fiction reading, 2016 was The Year of Reading Difficultly. That I read so little fiction in 2016 was largely due to the fact that I simply didn’t enjoy many of the books that I read. I struggled to read the five “difficult” books above, and only enjoyed the two books below. But just because I struggled with a novel, it doesn’t mean that it wasn’t worth reading. As a former public servant who worked with Indigenous people living in remote Western Australia I found The Swan Book particularly enlightening as it is told by an Indigenous Australian and is heavily critical of the types of government organisations for which I have worked. After reading A Brief History of Seven Killings, I kept finding myself, rightly or wrongly, muttering Jamaican colloquialisms like “bombocloth” and “what is this fuckery?”, adding to the vocabulary that Clementine Ford had already taught me in her book (see above).

As I wrote about in International business, cultural savviness and the importance of reading, my fiction reading is structured to ensure that I read books from a diverse range of authors, and amongst these books are ones written by a Nigerian, a Vietnamese, a Jamaican, an Ancient Greek, and an Indigenous Australian Author. It also includes an ancient classic in Antigone, an English-speaking classic in The Sound and the Fury (which was about god-knows-what) and a typically boring-as-batshit Modern Australian Classic in The Young Desire It (which was *SPOILER ALERT* an overly lengthy tale about the non-fulfilled prospect of a teenage boy and girl having a skinny dip together in a remote lake).

Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe

The General Retires and Other Stories – Nguyen Huy Thiep

I really enjoy reading novels about colonial times in different parts of the world, especially books whose authors were either colonisers themselves or who were themselves colonised. Largely, it is the novels of the colonisers which get the most attention and are most well-known, but in recent years I’ve been reading novels by authors whose home countries have been colonised by people from foreign lands, and Things Fall Apart falls into this category. It’s an astonishingly well written novel that tells the stories of the first years of contact between white colonisers and the Igbo people of Southern Nigeria, as told from the Igbo perspective (the author being an Igbo man himself). I hadn’t heard of the book until recent years but am delighted that so many people have read this book and that it’s so widely studied by school students around the world (I didn’t study a single book throughout my schooling that wasn’t written by a white male author).

The General Retires is a collection of enjoyable short stories by Vietnamese writer Nguyen Huy Thiep. The thing that annoyed me about these stories was that most of them lacked a fulfilling ending, something which I often find with short stories in general. But my annoyance with crappy endings, or even worse – non-endings – got me thinking if there is more to the role of a short story than simply providing the reader with something that has a beginning a middle and an end. For the most part, Thiep’s stories are more like snapshots or paintings that puts the reader into the midst of traditional Vietnamese village life, and perhaps this is the best thing about the book and ultimately provides more value to the reader than simply having a “good ending” might.

Posts about Vietnam

What about you? Have you read any of these? What were your best reads from 2016? What do you recommend? Let’s chat in the comments section below!

You can click here to read more of my posts about books and reading or click here to check out what I read in 2015.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s