Byron - Via the Great Romantics by Stu McKerihan

If you’re not that familiar with the movement that is Romanticism then you’re probably thinking I’m recommending the literary equivalent of a Hugh Grant flick. Fear not! Romanticism has a lot less to do with Tim Tams and The Notebook than the name would suggest.

You know how you crave a horizon uncluttered by skyscrapers, a beach devoid of footprints and a line up not littered by heads? You do? Do you also harbour a distinct distaste for society, its institutions and its growing disconnect with the environment? You do? Sounds like you’re a Romantic my friend. Do you often feel like you’re fighting a losing battle against the corruptive forces of the majority in this vacuous world? You might even be a Romantic hero. You see, the Romantics are all about putting their feelings before logic and allowing the solitude of nature to spark creativity, teach and redeem.

Now, Byron may seem like an odd place to align these ideals with. If you’ve ever surfed the Pass you know it’s a location more likely to see you strangle a small child on a bodyboard with your leash out of pure crowd frustration than inspire some sense of the sublime.

But, apart from just having you feel like a martyr against the masses, there are few places that so regularly inspire awe.

Now, I’m going to try and describe a regular Byron setting without getting all romantically poetic. Here I go; ‘Stashing the car keys under the bulbous roots of a pandanus palm, I descend the stairs down onto the sand. Shallow pools formed by the low tide feel warm on the feet. As the sun begins to dip over the surrounding range the ocean lights up gold, taking on the appearance of undulating oil, smoothed by the light bree……’ Wait. Damn it! I told you. Impossible. I didn’t even get to the waves. Not to mention the girls. If there is anything that inspires romantic reverie more than a sun-kissed hunny pedalling her bike towards the beach, little twin fin under her arm, bleached tendrils drifting in the wind….. yeah, you get the picture.

You’ll be so busy frolicking in the natural playground that the bite size nature of much of the poetry makes the Romantics the ideal companion. Whether enjoying a desolate back beach with more peaks than a Himalayan mountain range or cooling yourself under some hinterland waterfall, take some Wordsworth, Keats or even the aptly named Lord Byron to see how best to put words to the sensory assault that is the Byron Shire.

Here are a couple for you to dip your toe into:

-William Blake: Songs of Innocence

-Lord Byron: Child Harold’s Pilgrimage

-John Keats: Lamia and other poems

-William Wordsworth: The Major Works

 

Prague with Franz Kafka's 'Metamorphosis'

Kafka was a depressive wretch. His very name has come to represent situations where you find yourself powerless, stuck within the machinations of an endlessly bureaucratic system. Like trying to track down your luggage when lost on an Easyjet flight. Kafkaesque. Yet, he casts a broader shadow over a city than any other literary figure I've come in contact with. Bar maybe Hemingway in Havana. So it seems kind of incongruous for such a despairing figure to be the face of such a thrilling city. A history of diabolical invading dictators might have something to do with this. Prague now has the ability to make Paris look off the beaten tourist track but the Bohemians went back to back with the Nazis and the Soviets as overseers so Kafka's anxious scribblings became the voice of the people.

Working as an insurance lawyer certainly fed into Kafka's bleak view of existence but the most menacing force in his life was in fact his father. So when Kafka writes about transforming into an unsightly bug, becoming a burden upon his family, eventually dying and his family feeling joyous relief at his demise, you get a pretty graphic insight into the family dynamic.

The dark humour, concise and lucid writing style are an anecdote to the bureaucratic delays he railed against. They pull you along at a pace but saints be praised, Prague ain't no drag either. Every angle the eye can turn is littered with castles and an architecture often lost after WWII's bombfest. Czech food is as delicious as it is dense. Its beer and goulash, a revelation. 

If you can find a bar that only serves beer, beer snacks like small sausages and cheese in jars of oil and is peopled by large bellied Czechs discussing politics, then you are in the right place. 

Prague is a Western European pit stop for a good night out so save Kafka's short stories for the train ride in and out. Metamorphosis is a must but I'm all about the absurdity of the cheerily named Being Unhappy. Just as a Kafkaesque worldview no longer applies to Prague this story is a way better time than the name suggests. 

Australia, with Tim Winton's 'Island Home'

"Spread below us, the land is flat and golden, all its undulations etched into shadow. Wheat stubble is sectioned into orderly rectangles. Sheep pads spider away from dams and troughs. From above, the windmills are barely visible. Rare clumps of trees stand in vivid contrast to the bleached summer pastures. When sheep move, as hot milk split across a tawny cloth, dust rises like steam in their wake"

Apologies for starting with an excerpt from the book, but my words could do the prose no justice. Winton captures the wonder of Australia's vast landscape in a way that will connect you to it like you never believed possible. For me, I've been slowly building a love for this island and a deepening connection since moving here 4 years ago from England. This book was the perfect description of why I was falling in love with Australia and why it was shaping me into the person I was becoming. It helped me understand why I never felt strong connections to cities or built up areas. It encapsulated the wonder of this huge island.

Island Home is a landscape memoir, following his life around different parts of Australia and the way he connected with the land. For anyone looking to explore Australia, whether you're a tourist, local or born and bred Aussie, this book will strike a chord with you. A book that will inspire you to explore the land, stare at the sand and most likely, pick up a pen or camera and just try to recreate some of the beauty he has captured.

We are all a reflection on our surroundings. For the lost boys exploring new lands, this book gives an understanding to where you may feel could be home. It may be where you grew up, or it may be where you grow up. Winton's words will inspire you to feel a deeper connection to a place you might call home. Perfect prose for Australians and travelers alike, the book is a great way to come to an understanding which this large island would take years to expose itself.

I recommend reading Winton's other works, particularly Breath & Land's Edge!

- Pete Adams

New Orleans with John Kennedy Toole 's A Confederacy of Dunces

Literature and its litany of heroes are full of tales of woe and the story of this novel and its beleaguered author are no different. The twisted satire of A Confederacy of Dunces is the ultimate companion to the quirky streets and freaks, not always comfortable but these pages can match the people of New Orleans for Southern style hospitality. 

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