December 2023

Read, watch, listen: top picks to bring in the New Year

In this edition, The Good Oil has gathered recommendations from some of our readers and writers on what to read, watch and listen to over Christmas and the New Year.

There is something for everyone in this list of recommendations, which are sure to enrich your mind and spirit.

Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray.

Recommended by Good Samaritan Sister Jennifer Farrell

Read: Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray by Anita Heiss

Anita Heiss is a proud member of the Wiradyuri nation of Central NSW. This book focuses on the town of Gundagai when it was being settled. The First Nations people already had a settlement in this place, but high of the Murrumbidgee River. The white settlers came and built right next to the river, which floods twice, and the local Aboriginal people saved many of the white people. It took the settlers many years to realise not to build next to the river. The story centres around Wagadhaany, and how she interprets what happens during this time. Published by Simon & Schuster.

Watch: The film NYAD is the story of Diana Nyad, a long-distance swimmer who had completed many marathon swims in her younger days but was unsuccessful with her attempts at the Cuba-to-Florida crossing. At 60 years of age she decides to attempt this crossing again. To watch the trailer, click here.

Listen: Australia, we need to talk, a TED Talk by Cally Jetta. Is reconciliation between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples possible? To watch, click here.

The Two Popes.

Recommended by Noel Debien

Watch: The Two Popes. This 2019 film is a stunningly good comparison of Popes Francis and Benedict XVI. So well written and acted. So convincing. So entertaining. To watch the trailer, click here. Available on Netflix.

Read: What Happened at Vatican II  by John W O’Malley SJ. Sure it came out a decade or so ago, but it’s the best and most realistic assessment of the Second Vatican Council I have ever read. Completely changed my understanding of it. And by implication Pope Francis too. Published by Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Listen: Plenary Matters podcast series with Geraldine Doogue. If you are still wondering about what on earth is a Plenary Council or a Synod on Synodality, Geraldine manages to sort it all out clearly with her guests. You’ll never look back after listening. Meetings suddenly become totally UNBORING! To listen, click here.

Vanity Fair.

Recommended by Christine Hogan

Read: Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (Folio Edition, 1963). I had a childless aunt – actually, all my blood aunts were childless – who was a determined Catholic (demonstrated to me by endless holy pictures, stickers, and cards from Pellegrini’s in Adelaide where she had trained at the Mater and still lived.)

Then, things kicked up. For one of my birthdays, she sent me a copy of Thackeray’s Vanity Fair. It was a most glamorous affair, in a slip cover, with a vibrant teal silk cover. However, for a child not at puberty, it was a pretty intense affair when it came to content. The Sedleys, the egregious Crawleys, and my dear lord, Becky Sharp herself.

Of the novel, set in England and Europe around the time of the Napoleonic Wars, Thackeray himself wrote, when urged by a friend to lighten it up a bit, quoted Bunyan’s Evangelist: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?”

Who indeed? Certainly not a pre-teen girl in Brisbane. Years passed before the trauma had passed enough for me to re-read, then re-read, and re-read. Every time I do, I find it more and more a story of redemption, which might not have been what Thackeray meant, nor my aunt. I think she was trying to remove any trace of Becky from my psyche.

It is clear, however, this towering masterpiece arrived in my life just a little early. Nowadays, I dip into the Memoirs of the Duc de St Simon for a little of the real life Vanity Fair.

Watch: My Dearest. This 2023 South Korean television series starring Namkoong Min and Ahn Eun-jin owes a little to Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind but it is largely its own, sprawling melodrama. Among its themes is acceptance and forgiveness, two qualities we all need as much of as we can get. Streaming on Viki Raukuten.

Listen: BTS: Permission to Dance on stage – LA (Disney plus) or single performance of Permission to Dance on YouTube. In the middle of the year, I landed in a place where I could access only YouTube on my iPad. And that was when I fell into the BTS rabbit hole. Now I play Permission to Dance every day, and every day I am reminded that we don’t need anyone’s permission to be happy. I also fell into chateau renos as well, but that is another story!

Searching for and Maintaining Peace.

Recommended by Daniel Ang

Read: Searching for and Maintaining Peace. In a time of global conflict and culture of outrage, there is a pressing need of that peace that comes from faith, that arises from friendship with Christ. In recent weeks, a book that has encouraged and challenged me has been Searching for and Maintaining Peace, a small treatise by the contemporary French spiritual master Father Jacques Philippe.

For Father Philippe it is the surrender to God in whom we trust and who we desire to please that provides the conditions for peace of soul. This interior confidence in God is often undermined by our all-too-human lack of trust in God’s providence and our acute fear of suffering.

So it is that our childlike trust in God’s will, specifically our gaze upon Jesus who gives His life for us in love, that provides the road to peace. It is by our prayer to and humility before God, and the allied detachment from earthly concerns and acceptance of suffering, that we can grow in this interior disposition. Available from St Paul’s Publications.

Watch: Interstellar for its time-bending escapism and gripping soundtrack. Forced from our home planet by environmental degradation, it is one to watch when you want your mind and senses stretched beyond the familiar. To watch the trailer, click here.

Listen: Every Knee Shall Bow. This podcast from Ascension Press is a steady companion through the year, and leans into issues of parish and personal evangelisation with practical advice and a good sense of humour from hosts Michael Gormley and Dave Van Vickle. To listen, click here.

The Beautiful Mystery.

Recommended by Marie Sørensen

Read: The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny. This murder/mystery is set in a 400-year-old monastery somewhere in northern Quebec. Inspector Gamache is called in to investigate who murdered the musical director of this enclosed order of monks. The order sings divine, ancient harmonic chants and the monks are renowned throughout the world for their moving interpretations of the works. The chants have a profound effect on those who listen to them and the monks sing with a belief in the Word of God coming through in their singing. One of the order has murdered their director and it is up to the team led by Gamache to identify the killer. A building of tension is apparent throughout this book, which also delves into character studies during the investigation. Published by Minotaur Press, an imprint of St Martin’s Press.

Listen: Now and Then by The Beatles. Their ‘final’ single – posthumously reworked as a Beatles track. Moving lyrics and new technology embraces the voices of all four Beatles in a trip down memory lane. To listen on YouTube, click here.

Watch: The Way. A film starring Martin Sheen and written and directed by his son Emilio Estevez. The story tracks a bereaved doctor travelling the Camino de Santiago, completing the pilgrimage his son began and accidentally died on. This story of self-discovery is relatable to all. To watch the trailer, click here.

The Last Devil to Die.

Recommended by Sue and Geoff Orchison

Read: The Last Devil to Die, by Richard Osman. OK, is a murder mystery and one with such a title inappropriate for an end-of-year festive read? Well, maybe not one like this. The author, who is on his fourth best-selling novel of murder-to-order, combines the escapades of four amateur detectives, the retirement village oldies who make up the Thursday Murder Club, with a dopey but likeable police presence, and an endless litany of baddies. If you can quickly identify the culpability of any of the baddies, you probably have the wrong suspect.

Osman has a delightfully wry, witty way with words and a talent for contorting his tales so efficiently that you wonder if even he knows who the latest murderer will be.

His books are chocka with dark humour and wit while at the same time he inserts moments of charm and personal tenderness via Elizabeth, Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim. This one mixes up a dish of antiques, forgeries, cocaine, love, loss and who knows what else. Ah, yes, dead bodies.

If you enjoy this kind of club, check out the previous three editions in the series. You may well be pleased you did. Published by Viking, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Listen: Nothing. Yep, try nothing. Try it daily during the holidays. If your life has been full of endless noisy somethings this year, and whose hasn’t, indulge in some silence. In any way you can get it. Headphones, isolation, a locked bathroom door … Breathe.

Watch: Journey to Bethlehem. PG. Not a classical telling of the biblical story, but a musical mixture of Christmas favourites and pop, and a tale with faith and fun. Deep and meaningful, maybe not, but entertaining for youngsters and for parents trying to keep them occupied at the movies. Cast: Fiona Palomo, Milo Manheim, Antonio Banderas. Reviews generally positive. To watch the trailer, click here.

The Dreaming Path.

Recommended by Sonya Mears

Read: The Dreaming Path by Paul Callaghan and Uncle Paul Gordon.

This book would be perfect to read over the Christmas holidays or when you have time to think and dream. The Dreaming Path: Indigenous thinking to change your life is about Aboriginal culture and spirituality. Its wisdom is shared with the reader in beautiful stories, conversations, and self-reflection exercises. The Dreaming Path challenges you to remember and reconnect with your own story and place. Here’s one of many excerpts from the book that hit home for me.

“In traditional Aboriginal society, everything was based on sharing. Not just giving, not just taking, but sharing. … By giving and receiving without keeping score, you are sharing.”

Published by Pantera Press.

Listen: Higher Love by Lilly Winwood. This song is a duet between Lilly Winwood and her famous dad, Steve Winwood. Lilly sings lead vocals on this gentle love song that’s a cover of Steve’s original 1980s single from his Back in the High Life album. To watch on YouTube, click here.


The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

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