Reading, TV and Music Choices for Festive Season 2011/2012

No entertainment is so cheap as reading, nor any pleasure so lasting*

Riveting reading, reading aloud to kids, cooking together, considered DVD watching and beautiful music listening experiences are all great can-do activities for the holiday season, as are long walks each day. All of these will be sure to keep you entertained and help recharge the body’s batteries,  refresh the spirit, the mind, the body and the soul.

2012 in Australia will be the National Year of Reading, promoting the positive benefits of literacy skills to the public at large. It is a collaborative project of Australia’s public libraries, government, community groups, media and commercial partners and the public. A staggering statistic revealed on their website is that 46% of Australians are unable to read a newspaper, follow a recipe or make sense of instructions of any kind. So the campaign next year is about promoting literacy, which we support wholeheartedly at The Culture Concept Circle.

Reading aloud to children is vital. The earlier children are exposed to the reading experience the greater the possibility they will enjoy it both at school and in life. Our list of children’s books contain choices from birth to young adult readers. All have been nominated, or have won awards through The Children’s Book Council of Australia. The family that cooks together seems to be a latest trend and it is good to know great chefs are producing cook books for families. We have included a few as well. Whether you read a book that is printed, or download ebooks to your computer, Kindle or iPad is not the issue. What is important is taking in the words.

For adults the Festive season is the time to enjoy some great escapist thrillers and entirely switch off. It is good to mix it up however and challenge ourselves, and our intellects. Reading current essays and journals, whose writers tackle sensitive issues about protecting the environment, ensuring sustainability and addressing societal concerns provides a balance. Pushing our own boundaries is good for all of us. Books suggested are available at, an Australian on line searching tool you can use/bookmark to find the cheapest price on any book or ebook.  The DVD’s are available at the ABC Shop and Music choices can be downloaded from iTunes or purchased through


Notebooks by Betty Churcher

Discovering works of art with Betty Churcher is a positive, completely wonderful and transforming experience. Her favourite artists have that je ne sais quoi, or indescribable intangible quality that makes them both very attractive and enormously appealing, as they simulate the artists reality of their world in constant flux. Notebooks has proved so popular it has already been re-printed three times in 2011, the year it has been published.

Steve Jobs: The Exclusive Biography – Walter Isaacson

An extraordinary book, which gives us a unique insight into the life and thinking of the man who single-handedly transformed and helped make the modern world.  From bestselling author Walter Isaacson the landmark biography of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is an amazing account of Jobs’ professional and personal life. Drawn from three years of exclusive and unprecedented interviews Isaacson conducted with Jobs, as well as extensive interviews with Jobs’ family members, key colleagues from Apple and its competitors, this is the definitive portrait of the greatest innovator of his generation

Women’s Stuff by Caz Cooke

The essential guide to life for women aged 18 to 108. With the best info, independent advice and great fun this is THE book every Australian woman truly needs if they want to know anything about everything from confidence, body image, eating, health, hormones, bosoms, hairy bits, love, heartbreak, to sex, mental health, wrinkle creams, cosmetic surgery, friends, sleep, home, false eyelashes and menopause. Best of all, there’s no fibs, fantasy or fakery. It also includes more than 2,000 illuminating, amazing, hilarious and heartbreaking quotes from real women who shared their own secrets and stories.

The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin

On last year’s list but one to revisit. This is an extraordinary tale, beautifully crafted and terrifically told of an epic quest undertaken by Canadian rock critic Eric Siblin. It is a great book about the search for a Baroque masterpiece, a score specifically written for the cello. Eric Siblin had an epiphany of sorts when he attended a recital of J S Bach’s six Cello Suites, falling completely under the spell of this classic musical masterpiece. He decided to go on his own journey to learn all about the works and their composer and to record his findings. By all accounts he certainly got more than he bargained for.

Smut by Alan Bennett

This contains two ‘unseemly stories’ that concern women in middle life; Mrs Donaldson, whom sex takes by surprise, and Mrs Forbes, who is not surprised at all. The stories are naughty, honest and very funny. British playwright Alan Bennett has been a leading dramatist since the 1960’s and this is the latest in his ‘small collection’ that last year included his other brilliant offering, The Uncommon Reader.

Hegarty on Advertising: Turning Intelligence into Magic

A book that no creative mind should be without – Hegarty on Advertising contains more than four decades of wisdom and insight from one of the world’s leading advertising men. The book is packed with anecdotes and insights, from advice on the elements of advertising, pitching and the effects of new technology, to the personal story of John Hegarty’s career from his early days at Saatchi and Saatchi and the global force that is Bartle Bogle Hegarty today.

Winter King: The Dawn of Tudor England by Thomas Penn

Shifting alliances at home and abroad, ruthless accumulation of capital and endless court intrigues form the backdrop to a chilling and enticing portrait of Henry VII. He was the founder of the Tudor dynasty that created a centralised English state. Well written and well researched, the book helps us understand why Shakespeare decided to give this Henry a miss. It would have been difficult to prettify him. According to some English critics The Royal National Theatre should seek to remedy the omission rapidly: Winter King has a very contemporary feel.

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht

Deeply engaging Téa Obreht, the youngest of The New Yorker’s twenty best American fiction writers under forty, has spun a timeless novel, weaving a brilliant latticework of family legend, loss, and love that will establish her as one of the most vibrant, original authors of her generation. In a Balkan country mending from years of conflict, Natalia, a young doctor, arrives on a mission of mercy at an orphanage by the sea. By the time she and her lifelong friend Zóra begin to inoculate the children there, she feels age-old superstitions and secrets gathering everywhere around her.

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

Like many of the heroines of the Victorian novels she favors, Madeline Hanna, Brown University class of 1982 English major, must choose between men: the hungry wanderer Mitchell Grammaticus or the brilliant but troubled Leonard Bankhead. Madeline goes with the latter, sidelining her own intellectual pursuits in favor of riding a manic depressive’s roller-coaster through the dawn of semiotics, post-structuralism, identity politics, and psychopharmacology. A coming-of-age novel that’s as unapologetically erudite as it is funny, fun, and profound.

Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89 by Rodric Braithwaite

Written largely from material obtained from Soviet archives, this account of a winter nightmare explains why the Afghans hate being occupied and each chapter offers a warning to the Nato occupiers of today.

Arguably: Essays by Christopher Hitchens

As a political, cultural, and literary critic, Christopher Hitchens really stands alone. This is demonstrated by his major collection of mostly recent essays and reviews, covering a range of topics, from America’s founding fathers to the state of the English language. You don’t always have to agree with this fearless author and polemicist to appreciate his erudite mind. Last year, his prolific career was derailed by a grim cancer diagnosis. His Vanity Fair essay on losing his “writer’s voice” as cancer attacked his vocal chords is a must. The anthology collects some of his best recent work. It is unapologetically candid, wryly humorous and keenly insightful, the essays examines such cultural icons as Isaac Newton, Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, Thomas Jefferson, Ezra Pound, Abraham Lincoln, George Orwell, and even Harry Potter in the context of contemporary events, weaving history and present together as he reflects on the most pressing political and social issues of our time.

Death Comes To Pemberley by P.D. James

The year is 1803, and Darcy and Elizabeth have been married for six years. There are now two handsome and healthy sons, the heir and the spare in the Pemberley nursery, Elizabeth’s beloved sister Jane and her husband, Bingley, live within seventeen miles. The ordered and secure life of Pemberley seems unassailable, and Elizabeth’s happiness in her marriage is complete. But their peace is threatened and old sins and misunderstandings rekindled on the eve of the annual autumn ball. In a pitch-perfect recreation of the world of Pride and Prejudice, P.D. James elegantly fuses her lifelong passion for the work of Jane Austen with her talent for writing detective fiction. She weaves a compelling story, combining a sensitive insight into the happy but threatened marriage of the Darcy’s and the excitement and suspense of a brilliantly crafted detective story.

Women of Letters by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire

This is the result of is a series of events designed in part to revive the lost art of letter writing and in part to highlight a diverse range of female talent. The events raised money for Edgar’s Mission (Victorian animal rescue shelter). Each event has a theme (To My Nemesis, To My First Boss, To the Night I’d Rather Forget), and about five writers write letters on this theme. Over the past year, they’ve built up an impressive list of contributors, including Judith Lucy, Helen Razer, Noni Hazlehurst, Jennifer Byrne, Claudia Karvan, Tara Moss, Alice Pung, Karen Hitchcock and Julia Zemiro. They also held a Men of Letters event, featuring Paul Kelly, Dave Graney, John Safran, Eddie Perfect, Ben Salter, Tim Rogers and Bob Ellis.



Okay, well you don’t read a cookbook per se, but the recipes in those that follow might become a great family holiday activity.

Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals : A Revolutionary Approach to Cooking Good Food Fast – Jamie Oliver

This book is as practical as it is beautiful, showing that with a bit of preparation, the right equipment and some organization, hearty, delicious, quick meals are less than half an hour away. You’ll be amazed by what you and your loved ones are able to achieve. The secret then is to sit down and enjoy it together turning all meal occasions into an expression of love.

Ladurée Paris: The Recipes – Sucré and Savoury

These two beautifully presented ‘scriptum editions’ contain delicious recipes from Ladurée, the world famous tea shop at Paris where the delicious combines with the exquisite for the delight of all gourmets.

Fine Family Cooking by Tony Bilson

As seen on Masterchef, from Australia’s original master chef to the master chefs of the future. It provides home cooks with a repertoire of recipes and techniques to create restaurant-quality dishes at home. First published 15 years ago, Fine Family Cooking’s recipes are as relevant now as they were then, and this kitchen classic has been used to inspire and instruct competitors in the current series of ‘Masterchef Australia’.


The Wonky Donkey by Craig Smith

Kids will love the silliness of this fun to read aloud picture book. The wonky donkey is a winky wonky donkey, then a honky-tonky winky wonky donkey, in tongue-twisting repetitive text, which will have all youngsters joining in. This book is outstanding in that it can also be sung, a wonderful tool to help children with learning difficulties. There is an accompanying CD sung by the books creator Craig Smith. The text won the APRA Children’s Song of the Year in 2008. As well as the funny text and the music, kids will love the illustrations, which bring the donkey to life in watercolour on a textured paper background. The bird character which stars alongside the donkey in the illustrations adds to the humour.

Maudie and Bear written by Jan Ormerod and illustrated by Freya Blackwood

Maudie’s world revolves around Maudie. Bear’s world also revolves around Maudie – he is as patient and solid as a rock. Maudie is so confident of Bear’s love that she makes demands, throws tantrums, lays down rules and lets Bear do all the work, knowing he will love her unconditionally. And he does… right to the end.

Cabin Fever: Diary Of A Wimpy Kid #6 by Jeff Kinney

The sixth in a series – Greg Heffley is in big trouble. School property has been damaged, and Greg is the prime suspect. But the crazy thing is, he’s innocent. Or at least sort of. The authorities are closing in, but when a surprise blizzard hits, the Heffley family is trapped indoors. Greg knows that when the snow melts he’s going to have to face the music, but could any punishment be worse than being stuck inside with your family for the holidays?

Hamlet by Nicki Greenberg

“Staged on the Page”and set in Denmark, which is in turmoil. The palace is seething with treachery, suspicion and intrigue. On a mission to avenge his father’s murder, Prince Hamlet tries to claw free of the moral decay all around him. But in the ever-deepening nest of plots, of plays within plays, nothing is what it seems. Doubt and betrayal torment the Prince until he is propelled into a spiral of unstoppable violence. In this sumptuous staging of Shakespeare’s enigmatic play is an extraordinary visual feast, gripping and, as ever, tragic.

Why I Love Australia by Bronwyn Bancroft

From the coast to the outback, from cities to plains, from dramatic gorges to rugged alpine peaks, from deserts to rainforests Australia is a continent of many and varied landscapes. Each of them is dramatic and all inspire awe and reverence. Aboriginal artist Bronwyn Bancroft, who has illustrated several award-winning books for children 4 + explores both the country and her feelings for it.

Wicked Warriors & Evil Emperors: The True Story of the Fight for Ancient China by Alison Lloyd and illustrated by Terry Denton

Imagine you’re made king at the age of twelve. You have plenty of enemies. You have a million soldiers armed with all kinds of awesome weapons, you have tons of gold and a network of spies. What would you do with all that power? It happened to a real boy, who made himself China’s first emperor. He was brilliant and brutal. His legend, and the stories of his wicked warriors, have lived on for thousands of years. You might call him evil, but when empires are at stake, people do incredible things.

Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon from the One Arm Point Remote Community School

This is a childrens book written entirely by the children of the remote Aboriginal community One Arm Point and the cultural team at the school. The children’s book council of Australia book of the year awards awarded Our World: Bardi Jaawi: Life at Ardiyooloon the Honour Award in their category, Information books. Jackie Hunter is part of the cultural team at One Arm Point Remote School and helped the children put together this book. Jackie says the book is based around their culture and dreamtime stories.

The Midnight Zoo by Sonya Hartnett

Under cover of darkness, two brothers cross a war-ravaged countryside carrying a secret bundle. One night they stumble across a deserted town reduced to smouldering ruins. But at the end of a blackened street they find a small green miracle: a zoo filled with animals in need of hope. This is a moving and ageless fable about war, and freedom for older readers.

The Life of a Teenage Body Snatcher by Doug MacLeod

A very black comedy set in England in 1828, this novel shows what terrible events can occur when you try to do the right thing. ‘Never a good idea,’ as Thomas’s mother would say. Thomas Timewell is sixteen and a gentleman. When he meets a body-snatcher called Plenitude, his whole life changes. He is pursued by cutthroats, a gypsy with a meat cleaver, and even the Grim Reaper. More disturbing still, Thomas has to spend an evening with the worst novelist in the world. For older readers

Six Impossible Things by Fiona Wood

Fourteen-year-old nerd-boy Dan Cereill is not quite coping with a reversal of family fortune, a mother with a failing wedding-cake business, a just-out gay dad, and an impossible crush on Estelle, the girl next door. His entire life is a mess, but for now he’s narrowed it down to just six impossible things. For older readers


Frozen Planet with David Attenborough

An incredible documentary series about nature in the Arctic and Antarctica. Filmed by the BBC Natural history unit and narrated by one of the planet’s living treasures, David Attenborough. This series depicts the changing seasons at the poles and a final episode that deals with climate warming issues.

Martin Clunes – Horsepower

I found this truly delightful. British actor Martin Clunes explores his personal fascination with horses in an appealing light-hearted study of the noble beast. Martin travels around the world to trace the origins and evolution of the horse and to explore man’s relationship and reliance upon them. A skillful rider and owner of several horses himself, Martin jumps into the saddle at every opportunity, bringing the story to life with his trademark gentle humour.

Downton Abbey – Series 1

In case you have not caught up with the sumptuous costume masterpiece. Written and created by Academy Award™ winner Julian Fellowes (Gosford Park, The Young Victoria) boasts an all-star cast featuring Hugh Bonneville, Maggie Smith, Elizabeth McGovern, Michelle Dockery, Dan Stevens, Penelope Wilton, Jim Carter, Phyllis Logan, Siobhan Finneran, Joanne Froggatt, Rob James- Collier and Brendan Coyle. This prestigious ensemble brings the world of Downton to life with splendour and passion. Set in England in the years leading up to the First World War, Downton Abbey tells the story of a complicated community both upstairs and down.

Wonders of the Universe – Professor Brian Cox

Presented by England’s rock star scientist, this pioneering 4-part science series explores some of the most profound questions we can ask about ourselves, the universe and the world in which we live. Brian Cox explains the vast and unfathomable phenomena of deep space by re-examining the familiar on earth. He is erudite, easy to understand and explains things in layman’s terms. He takes science away from telescopes and labs and in his mind-bending series travels into the natural world across the planet to reveal how light, gravity, time, matter and energy are the fundamental building blocks of everything, from the smallest microbe to the biggest solar system.

James May’s Toy Stories

Fabulous for the whole family to watch together James May takes iconic toys of yesteryear and by spectacularly supersizing them, attempts to make them relevant in today’s technologically obsessed world. He builds a full size Lego house, wins a major award at the Chelsea Flower Show for his Plasticine garden and, breaks two world records.


BBC three part series presenting Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective in a contemporary setting. Texting fast and furiously while considering three ‘nicotine’ patch problems. Brilliant stuff starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman

Monty Don’s Italian Gardens

Monty Don’s observations are sensitive, finely worded and spot on. His passionate pursuit of answers as to why we create gardens, admirable. What we have is incredible view of some of the world’s greatest outdoor naturally decorated spaces, many of which are public while the rest are still in private hands. While they cost millions of dollars, the ideas and philosophies behind them remain as a point for our understanding and reminder of our cultural and societal development.


Piazzolla: Song of the Angel by the Australian Chamber Orchestra, Richard Tognetti

A cross-section of Piazzolla’s music, including several of his most famous works covering the full gamut of his style, from wildly energetic to passionately languorous. James Crabb – the guest soloist (arranger of several of the album’s works) – is nothing short of incredible. Richard Tognetti has a natural feel for this style of music, and his ability to imbue his ensemble with “the feel” is nothing short of  remarkable

Rameau: Suites d’Orchestra by Jordi Savall

Following the success of the albums L’ Orchestre de Louis XIII (Philidor l’Aisné) and L’ Orchestre du Roi Soleil (Lully), Jordi Savall delivers another dynastic opus consisting of music by Jean-Philippe Rameau. Le Concert des Nations sparkles in these four orchestral suites which document the genius of the French composer and Jordi Savall’s affinity with the repertoire of the the XVIIIth century.

Orpheus & Eurydice – Pinchgut Opera, Antony Walker

Haydn’s Orpheus is an opera in Italian in four acts by Joseph Haydn, the last he ever wrote. The libretto, by Carlo Francesco Badini, is based on the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice as told in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The cast is soprano Elena Xanthoudakis as the double part of Eurydice/Spirit, tenor Andrew Goodwin as Orpheus and baritone Derek Welton as Creon. The opera makes extensive use of the chorus (Cantillation), and Antony Walker will conduct a classical orchestra (Orchestra of the Antipodes) that includes Erin Helyard playing fortepiano.

Cantemir: Istanbul: “The Book of Science of Music” and the Sephardic and Armenian Traditions – Jordi Savall

Based on ‘The Book of Science of Music’, published in 1710 by the Moldavian prince Dimitrie Cantemir, after many years spent in Istanbul. This unique manuscript enables us to discover the jewels of the Turkish traditional music. Jordi Savall reminds us about a Golden Age of cultural dialogue, brought back to life by Hesperion XXI and outstanding Turkish and Armenian guests musicians. A Jordi Savall experience that goes beyond music.

Baroque Tapas by Australian Brandenburg Orchestra

A tasting plate of gorgeous music! Experience a spicy 17th-century mix from Southern Europe, inspired by songs and dances of love, fire, beauty and freedom. The Australian Brandenburg Orchestra brings earthy improvisations and an adventurous spirit to the Baroque in this beautiful album.

Purcell Suites by Jordi Savall, Le Concert des Nation

Contains Suite from the Fairy Queen and Suite from The Prophetess

Anne Sophie von Otter sings Bach Arias

Born to sing J. S. Bach, Anne Sofie von Otter brings elegant style, richness of voice, and career-long commitment to Baroque music to this glorious recording of alto and soprano arias she herself selected.

Cantiones Sacrae 1612 by the Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge, Richard Marlow

Richard Marlow conducts the mixed Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge in singing these sacred choral pieces composed  by Peter Phillips. Peter Philips was, after William Byrd, the most published English composer of the Elizabethan-Jacobean Age who lived abroad after 1582 when he fled England to avoid persecution as a Roman Catholic, He died in The Netherlands in 1628.

Dinastia Borgia: The Borgia Dynasty by Jordi Savall, Hesperion XXI, La Capella Reia

For five centuries, scholars have studied and debated the role of the Borgias in Renaissance history.Savall presents works by composers such as Isaac, Dufay and Morales, from Pope Alexander VI/6 and two of his children, Cesare and Lucrezia, through to Francis Borgia, Jesuit priest and, perhaps, composer. Thanks to the elite ensembles Hespèrion XXI and La Capella Reial de Catalunya, Jordi Savall delivers the soundtrack of a time during which cruelty and beauty were mixed as never before.

Early Music Up Late – Music from the popular ABC Classic FM program, presented by Simon Healy – Various

Once the exclusive province of kings, princes and the wealthy, classical music is now available to a larger, and better informed, audience than at any time in its history. In the case of Early Music, recordings allow us to go into the types of spaces and acoustics for which it was composed, using instruments of the period, or faithful copies.

Watch List 4 2012


Probably the best television drama series to ever have come out of America. The plot centres on Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody, who returns home eight years after going missing in Iraq. Carrie Anderson is a completely driven (and possibly unstable) CIA officer, who suspects that he has been turned while a captive and, just might be plotting an attack on America. The three main stars surely must be nominated for Emmy awards. They are Clare Danes, Damien Lewis and Mandy Patinkin. As renowned American TV critic from Aol TV Mo Ryan reports ‘Homeland isn’t trying to convince us that some people out there want to commit acts of mass violence; the show assumes everyone knows that. And it’s not really interested in exploring the whys of terrorism in historical or geo-political senses. The show has wisely focused on a few intelligent, driven people who work in this murky arena, and it has told gripping stories about how their isolation has led them into unlikely and even unwilling alliances, some of which have national-security implications’.

It is riveting stuff

Watch the Official Showtime Trailer



Sherlock – Season 2 - BBC TV Drama at its best with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson

All the books above are available online from

Carolyn McDowall, The Culture Concept Circle 2011

*Opening quote by Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (1689 – 1762)