Audible Originals, 7 hrs 29 mins
Also available in print and ebook format, 320 pages
Phosphorescence is an engaging soliloquy by Australian journalist/writer Julia Baird, on her thoughts about how to achieve contentment, written after surviving a tough battle with bowel cancer. I listened to the Audible Originals version, which is narrated by the author, and was offered as the free Book of the Month in August this year, without which I don’t think I would’ve come across it, as despite apparently being ’Book of the Year’ at the Australian Book Industry Awards, I had not heard of either it or her. I listened to it over a couple of afternoons while weeding in the sunshine, after a particularly wet winter here, and thoroughly enjoyed her calm but friendly delivery style, empathetic observations and honest confessions.
Phosphorescence, or bioluminescence, is the natural phenomenon where certain species, like fireflies and some Crustaceae produce a natural glow under specific circumstances. Baird uses this as a metaphor for the sense of inner peace and well-being that most people seek, but is hard to achieve in the modern world especially after nearly three years of the pandemic. She describes becoming obsessed with cuttlefish and the joy she experienced swimming in the Ocean off Manly beach in Sydney. This isn’t a self-help book, as she’s not telling anyone what to do, but instead offers her own observations honed through her own conservative Christian upbringing, her feminist rebellion, experiences living in the US and Australia and overseas travel, her career in the public eye, the joys of motherhood and the despair of serious illness. She retains a strong faith but is not preachy and readily criticises the conventional male-dominated religious establishment.
I found Baird both interesting and pleasant to listen to. Yes she’s privileged but she’s alsokind and respectful and has worked hard for what she has. I liked her description of being pushed into using her title of Doctor by online misogynists and unintentionally starting a global Twitterstorm of #immodestwomen. She presents some science, from biology to sociology, and offers her opinions on what works in the quest for happiness – this won’t be anything you haven’t heard before, but the way it’s written is eloquent and thought provoking. I’m hopeless at meditation and the least spiritual person you’ll ever meet, but found great contentment digging up dandelions with the sun on my skin as Baird’s soothing voice washed over me like the Pacific.