I decided to go one summer, when the Australian heat was at its most outrageous. Half the city drove to the coast at the end of the working day, hopped over burning footpaths to the sand, spread their towels and waded into an ocean that seemed too hot to raise a wave. Fishermen propped their rods in the sand; old people stood with folded arms, half submerged, staring out to the horizon, lost in thought. A helicopter swung overhead because there were sharks about.

The last dogs and suntanned children were herded back into the stale air of cars as the sky filled with pinks and orange, flaring in high rainless clouds or smearing along the skyline. Then the sun slipped quickly under the ocean and everything was dark and huge and melting; careless, exhausted, exposed. Nobody slept, nobody was fully awake, or even fully dressed. The streets and supermarket aisles were full of salted bare skin.

In Kyoto everything had clear edges; the breath of commuters was held in surgical facemasks. I stood at my hotel window watching snow lift and tumble in invisible draughts of air; I was back in the realm of wonderment and cold.


Reading by Moonlight is a meditation in praise of reading and a travellers tale. Written in the aftermath of an illness, it tells a story of journeys undertaken in the world and in the mind at a time when reading and survival are closely aligned. Along with discussions of writers like Dante, Tolstoy, Nabokov, Beckett and Dickens, the book shows how the very process of reading – surrendering and then regathering yourself – echoes the process of healing.


2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for Nonfiction.

2011 Nita B. Kibble Award.