All posts by Annie

About Annie

Annie has never felt more at home than surrounded by hundreds of books. She has been an avid reader for as long as she can remember, starting at age four with George's Marvellous Medicine. Now all grown up, she loves to read the weird and wonderful stories of the likes of Haruki Murakami, Neil Gaiman, Scarlett Thomas and Dave Eggers. Really, she's just a sucker for any well-crafted story. A self-confessed Francophile, she has a degree in French as well as one in English and would love to talk to you about your next trip abroad. Currently, she is completing a post-grad in Professional Communications and publishing an online magazine that celebrates literature and art in her spare time.

What We’re Reading: March

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

Carmen Maria Machado’s collection of stories Her Body and Other Parties considers all the ways women’s bodies are used and abused in our society. It is absurd, scary, sexy and even, at times, darkly funny. The stories play with form and subvert familiar tropes, making the collection feel very contemporary and a bit risky. I’ve also been reading two books that chime with Machado’s book: Hunger by Roxane Gay and Apple and Knife by Intan Paramaditha. Both have a huge preoccupation with the body, and Paramaditha’s story collection also injects feminism into familiar fairy tales. All three women seem to be expressing their desire to be seen as more than their bodies, to escape from the capitalist and all-consuming corporeal world.

La Belle Sauvage by Philip Pullman

This month I’ve had the pleasure of returning to Philip Pullman’s much-loved alternate Britain of daemons, Dust and existential daring. The Book of Dust Volume 1: La Belle Sauvage is a prequel, of sorts, to His Dark Materials – and like that trilogy, it revolves around a curious and independent-minded child, who becomes embroiled in decidedly grown-up clashes of faith, science, power and morality. La Belle Sauvage‘s Malcolm, however, is a far more careful and sensitive protagonist than the raucously half-wild Lyra of His Dark Materials, and this gives the book a more restrained quality – all subtlety and intrigue, keen observation and mounting menace. It’s a must-read for fans of the first series, and sure to win over many more.

RHS Genealogy for Gardeners by Simon Maughan

At the moment I’ve been looking through the Royal Horticultural Society’s book RHS Genealogy for Gardeners: Plant Families Explained and Explored. It’s a fascinating book with beautiful painted illustrations which traces the history and diversity of flora right back to its early origins. Imagine an animal encyclopaedia but for plants and you’ll be on the right track. You can discover where different plant families originate geographically, what their fruits and leaves look like, whether they have any interesting/useful properties and what the current state of their wild populations are in their natural habitats. I’ve found it very enjoyable to pick and a browse through with a cup of tea in hand, it always results in fresh garden inspiration running through my head!

Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood

Patricia Lockwood is an American writer and poet who, for financial reasons, moves back into her family home with her partner. Her father is a priest and her mother is a complex character who is very religious, erratic and worried about the dangers of the world. Lockwood recounts moments from her childhood and her relationship to her parents now through loud-out-loud funny recollections. So far the humour has been a dominant part of the memoir but she has also touched on some serious topics such as abuse of power in the church. I hope and think more serious moments are approaching as she gets deeper into her family’s psyche but for now I am cherishing her talent to be so funny and empathetic.

The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich

Well the author that had me running to the Writers’ Week bookshop was Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich. The Fact Of A Body is compelling and difficult reading. Two stories are told – the one about the murder of a little boy about 20 years prior, that the author was asked to research as a young law intern. The second about her own childhood secrets that unexpectedly emerged during her research. Her interview was astoundingly honest and left us all deeply thoughtful and sure that we had just heard some difficult truths that are rarely spoken publicly. I spoke to several people afterwards, all similarly off to get a copy.

What We’re Reading February

Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

My Writers’ Week picks are Rachel Khong, Patricia Lockwood and Sarah Sentilles. I’ve also just finished reading Jennifer Mills’ Dyschronia, which is a meditation on climate change, the media and the effect of boom and bust economics on small towns. Clapstone is a failed mining town, whose fortunes are reversed for a short time with the arrival of Big Asphalt. However, a young girl in the town foresees a dire future for the town, and when her premonitions start to come true, the townspeople don’t know whether to brand her as a witch or seek her help. Poetic and sweeping, Mills shines a stark light on Australia’s abusive relationship with the land we live on.

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

I cannot wait to see Kamila Shamsie next month at Adelaide Writers’ Week. Her latest book Home Fire, longlisted for the Man Booker in 2017, is in my top 5 reads in the past year. It is a gripping story of 3 siblings in contemporary London, who are Muslim and whose father was a terrorist but was killed en route to Guantanamo. What happens when his son is convinced to avenge his father’s death, a daughter falls in love with the son of the British Home Secretary (also Muslim) and the other daughter takes off to follow her dream to study in America? The story is powerful and devastating with an ending I am still getting my breath back from. We had the best book club discussion ever about this one.

Lost Connections by Johann Hari

Swiss-British writer and journalist Johann Hari’s first book, Chasing the Scream, was a revelation, offering what were, for me, mind-changing new insights into the failed war on drugs. His second book, Lost Connections, is an exploration of depression and anxiety (which Hari himself suffers from) and questions the prevailing view that these conditions are solely the result of chemical imbalances in the brain. Instead, Hari argues through vigorous research that psychological and social factors matter just as much, if not more than, biological ones. Moreover, it’s Hari’s (evidence-based) view that the idea that depression and anxiety are individualised problems is wrong. Instead, he argues, society is to a large extent responsible for making us feel mentally unwell, for example by disconnecting us from nature, from meaningful work, and from each other.

While Hari acknowledges that antidepressants have their place, he believes profit-driven pharmaceutical companies have distorted our understanding of mental illness by framing it as an individual problem and one that can be fixed with pills alone. Hari speaks from a place of experience but it is his careful analysis and synthesis of the relevant studies that makes his arguments so convincing and refreshing. As just one example, I had not before considered the positive effect a universal basic income (UBI) might have on mental health, which various trials and studies referenced by Hari have suggested. This is an important book for anyone who, like me, has experienced depression and anxiety, but I think there are lessons in it for everyone who wants to improve their mental wellbeing and the society we share.

The Gamekeeper by Portia Simpson

At the moment I’m reading The Gamekeeper by Portia Simpson. Portia is a young Scottish woman who, in the early 2000s became Scotland’s first fully accredited female gamekeeper. Her memoir immerses the reader into a real-life world where passionate and dedicated people live their lives connected to nature in a way that few others still do today. She shares with us the beautiful, the confronting, the humorous and the sometimes harsh and tragic realities of an outdoor life. Her experiences remind us that the people who choose to live their lives in wild places and with wild things are some of the last guardians standing watch over what remains of our planet’s wilderness.

Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin

I read this small book in one sitting. It’s a strange and eerie novel about a mother who is on holiday somewhere in Argentina with her young daughter. From the beginning we are aware something has gone wrong as she lies dying in hospital recounting her story to a young boy. Through this conversation, she recalls the events that led to this moment and uncovers her foreshadowed doom. An ambiguous and thrilling read that plays out somewhere between a critique of genetically modified soy crops, folk superstition and the anxiety of motherhood and protecting children from imagined threats. I was left with many questions so I am very keen to listen to the author at Writers’ Week.

What We’re Reading: January

The Choke by Sofie Laguna

A punch in the guts that deals expertly with issues of poverty, class and male violence. We see 70s Australia through the eyes of 10 year old Justine, whose voice is exquisitely and heartbreakingly rendered as she tries to navigate the unforgiving adult world around her. The rare glimpses of joy were what affected me the most, puncturing the bleak landscape like drops of rain, only to retreat again. A powerful and moving novel.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien and Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang

So since I returned from my year in Bali, life has been so busy. First with working in the shop leading up to Xmas and then catching up with friends and family. So I haven’t had a great month for reading. But I am reading 2 wonderful books at the moment.

I saw Madeleine Thien at Ubud Literary Festival last year and simply loved her, her words are spoken poetry and so thoughtful and gentle. Her book Do Not Say We Have Nothing is beautifully written and looks at modern China and the consequences of Mao’s tyranny on one family.

Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang is also looking at the far reaching consequences of Mao’s regime, this time a collection of seven interconnected stories about a group of people who arrive in New York in the 1990’s, to a life of extreme hardship and poverty. Jenny’s writing is unsettling and bold, like nothing I have experienced before. Read this book and then go and hear Jenny Zhang at Adelaide Writer’s Week.

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Kranostein

At the moment I’m part way through reading The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Kranostein. Sarah explores the past, present and future of Sandra Pankhurst in a powerful, intimate and human way, opening a window for the reader into the good, the bad and the ugly moments that all fuse together to make up a life. Not only do I feel like I am learning about Sandra, I am learning Sandra’s clients and their families, Sandra’s own family and also about Sarah the author as well. The book is fascinating, heartbreaking and surprisingly humorous at times, but overall it feels like it’s an exploration and meditation on the way that all lives are touched and then forever changed by incidents of trauma.

A Plea for the Animals by Matthieu Ricard

At the moment I’m reading A Plea for the Animals by Matthieu Ricard. Ricard is a monk and molecular geneticist, and this is his first book on animals. I’m only partway through, but it’s already obvious Ricard is a skilled writer who has done his homework, drawing extensively on the worlds of both science and philosophy in crafting an argument for treating all living beings with greater compassion. I’m looking forward to his discussion of industrial farming, animal experimentation, and the possibilities of rights for animals.

Winter by Ali Smith

I’ve just finished Winter by Ali Smith, the second book in her Seasonal quartet which began last year with Autumn. With her trademark wit and brevity, Ali Smith tells a story of a complicated family at Christmas. As she moves between past and present and the personal narratives of her characters, Smith meditates on Dickens, Shakespeare and the artist Barbara Hepworth. Given that the quartet is being written so quickly she is also documenting recent global events and seems to be questioning the work and impact of political protest. Like in many of her books, it is a stranger’s imposition that assists the characters to communicate.

From the Wreck

Humans have always had a fascination for the sea, as well as a fascination for the stars. Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck masterfully brings together these little-understood, far-off places with a truly human story, set in the familiar location of the burgeoning colony of Adelaide.

When a man miraculously survives the 1859 wreck of the Admella, thanks to the efforts of a strange, otherworldly life-form in the guise of a woman, he becomes obsessed with finding her again on dry land. This haunting, lyrical book explores the lengths people will go to when confronted with the unknown, and the universal desire to find one’s place in the world.

Full of spirited, modern characters, this historical-cum-science-fiction novel draws comparisons with Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. I highly recommend that you lose yourself in its depths.

The Anxiety Book

Elisa Black is a health journalist from the Adelaide Hills, who has lived with anxiety her whole life. Recently, she has published The Anxiety Book, which is part memoir, part pop psychology – with Elisa herself as the guinea pig. It is honest, searching and well-researched and contains surprising (and necessary) moments of humour.

anxiety book

She chronicles the course of her anxiety alongside the course of her life, as the one has dictated the other in so many crucial instances. She includes stories from multiple other sufferers, showing that there is no one anxious ‘type’ – one in ten Australians experience it every year. Throughout the book, Black pits her anxiety against hope, and it is this hope of living a life without the effects of anxiety that has led her to share her story.

The book arose from an article in the Advertiser that went viral, in which Elisa wrote about her recent success with a simple vitamin regime, after years of trying to find a solution for her crushing illness. By taking folinic acid alongside some other naturally occurring vitamins, Black has been able to correct an abnormality in the expression of her MTHFR gene. While this treatment does not yet have the research to back it up, for Elisa it has worked when so many other methods have not, and she is not alone.

As in the best memoirs, I came away feeling I had a whole picture of a person; what’s more, the kind of person with whom you can drink a pot of tea and have a good laugh (or cry, as necessary).

Come along to Mostly Books at 7 pm on Wednesday the 8th of June to hear Elisa speak about her experiences. Please RSVP via phone or email – tea, coffee and wine provided on the night.

Inside Story Event

We’re greatly looking forward to our upcoming event in conjunction with the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, ‘Inside Story’. From 1pm on November the 1st, we’ll be listening to local authors and illustrators talking about their craft and signing books. Come and hear from your favourite author or discover a new illustrator!

Light snacks and prizes will be offered on the day. It is definitely not one to miss! This is a free event, although we do ask that you RSVP via phone, email or Facebook for catering purposes.

Inside Story Flyer-page-0

Deeper Water

cov_deeperwaterIt is hard to believe that Deeper Water is only Jessie Cole’s second novel. Her prose is assured and graceful as she expands the ripples of a stranger’s arrival ever wider across a remote New South Wales community. Cole explores issues of family, identity and environment in a story that swells slowly but surely towards overflowing its banks.

Mema’s family have always been on the outskirts, both physically and emotionally. She now lives alone with her mother, with brothers and fathers conspicuously absent. The two women exist in a simple, silent routine, carrying out farmyard duties on their property, until a car runs off a bridge in a flood. Mema is forced to expand her horizons beyond her innocent, rustic lifestyle. We develop an intimate understanding of this naïve, gentle and caring individual who discovers a depth of feeling within herself that she never thought possible.

This is a novel of truth, power and beauty, soaked through with a lush sense of a place that is truly Cole’s own. It is the best Australian book I’ve read this year; sensual, evocative and broad in scope, it is definitely one to lose yourself in.

The Golden Touch

Joan London’s latest book is, I sheepishly admit, the first of hers I’ve ever read. But, after just a few pages of The Golden Age, I’m her newest fan.

Lovers of London’s prose will know just how lightly and effortlessly she manages to craft her tales. This particular one is set in the Golden Age, once a West Australian pub, now home to children who are recovering, physically and emotionally, from polio. “Some considered that this wasn’t a suitable location for a hospital. But the children found the noise soothing and loved the lights shining all night through their windows.”

Our protagonist is Frank Gold, a small, thin boy who has a golden tongue and only faint memories of his upbringing in German-occupied Hungary. He has a depth of feeling that is set in astonishing relief against the tight-lipped stoicism of the other residents of the home, predominantly British Australians. What is unsaid in this novel is often more powerful than what is, as we delve into the world of Frank and his migrant parents, as well as the other patients and their families.

Although this book is ostensibly about illness, we rarely pity these afflicted children. Their resilience and determination shines, as they allow polio to shape their lives but not define them. For Frank, “polio had taken his legs, but given him his vocation: poet”. He also discovers love in the shelter of the Golden Age, in the form of an angelic girl called Elsa. Their relationship is one of intense feeling and deep understanding, affecting not only the course of their own lives but touching those around them as well.

A beautiful novel that eddies and flows in the bright Western Australian light, London explores passion, first love, and what it means to be part of a family.

A Cookbook with a Difference…

season taste

The cover of Season to Taste (or How to Eat Your Husband) is plain and unassuming, much like the central character, Lizzie Prain. However, her mundane life is experiencing an almighty upheaval. At first, I took the subtitle to be a metaphorical one, but I was quickly disavowed of that ridiculous notion. Lizzie is, in fact, devouring her one-time life partner, who, Monday last, she knocked on the head with a shovel and is currently storing in the freezer.

Definitely not for the faint of heart, Season to Taste flips between present day Lizzie preparing various parts of her husband Jacob with ingenuity (and a touch too much relish) and scenes from their life together. As the picture begins to build up, we see that she was always the dormant one in the relationship; sexually frustrated and isolated, Lizzie is considered useless by her husband. But does their life of failed dreams justify its brutal conclusion? Lizzie is not concerning herself with such philosophical questions, instead turning to the more practical matter of hiding the evidence. However, suspicions are starting to be voiced from several quarters and Lizzie is discovering that as hard as she tries to shut herself off, life just keeps seeping through the cracks…

This book seemed to me to be quintessentially English. Lizzie’s eminently practical solution to corpse disposal smacks of maintaining a stiff upper lip, and her out-of-character act of violence comes as a shock, even to her. The recipes given for consuming a hand, say, with crushed potatoes and mangetout, are your traditional English fare, which is perhaps what makes them so gruesome. I kept being reminded of Margaret Atwood’s Edible Woman, as Lizzie tries to forge a new life for herself through absorbing the hurtful elements of her past, absolving as she goes.

With very black humour and surprisingly delicate prose, Natalie Young paints a very human picture of seemingly inhuman crimes and their ramifications.

My Holiday Reading

Over the Christmas break, my reading bag was of a rather mixed variety. Curled up on the couch, inevitably digesting another giant meal like an anaconda who has swallowed an entire pig, the farthest I wanted to go for my supply of reading material was our conveniently placed bookshelf. The pile of unread books that accumulates over the course of a couple of months was my target, resulting in a hodgepodge of mystery and historical fiction; memoir and fantasy. Here are five of my eclectic holiday reads.

The Night Circus – Erin Morgenstern

A Christmas gift, this book was a magical escape. It revolves around a circus like no other; a kind of eerie, beautiful but dangerous dream-space where real magic is wrapped up in trappings to keep the crowds at ease. Arriving in the dark of night, the circus is unannounced, and when night falls, its monochromatic circles of tents come to life.

We come in to the story following the trajectories of two children, each talented in their own way, who have been pushed into a test of wits by their masters, in a contest that will last their lifetime. The circus is the scene of this challenge, but it quickly becomes more than that to the performers, organisers and particularly the dedicated guests. The characters are simply drawn for the most part, but by far the star of the book is the circus itself: it is a wonderful world of possibility where no individual experience is the same. An easy, enchanting read, the world of The Night Circus is like no other.

The Word Exchange – Alena Graedon

One of the joys of working in a bookshop is the chance to read books before they have been officially published. This is Graedon’s first novel, set to be released in April, and although you can tell it is her first attempt, the scope of the book is impressive. It is set in the near future, in a world where people are becoming increasingly dependent on their Memes (read: iPads) to the point that they have relinquished control over many day-to-day tasks to their electronic devices. Some people are even going one step further and implanting microchips in their brains to better facilitate the transfer of predictive data between mind and machine.

In this dystopic future, language is becoming a commodity as more people are relying on an online ‘Word Exchange’ to give them meanings for unknown words. Alarmingly, the words that are being defined are increasingly commonplace. When a ‘word flu’ strikes, characterised by aphasia among other symptoms, the world is plunged into chaos. Our intrepid protagonist, Anana, works with her father at one of the last bastions of language, the North American Dictionary of the English Language. Doug, with his predilection for pineapples and inability to function in the increasingly modern world, is an odd-bod at the best of times, but when he starts raving about danger and then mysteriously disappears, even Anana starts to get worried. Who can she trust in this impersonal, corporate world to help her get her father back? A worryingly accurate meditation on our dependence on technology, Graedon weaves a modern-day fairy tale around her quirky characters.

The Sittaford Mystery – Agatha Christie

I found this languishing on a shelf in an op-shop and couldn’t resist an Agatha I hadn’t read. I loved her books as a child and was hoping that this would be a Poirot mystery, but was pleasantly surprised when it turned out to have a strong female protagonist called Emily. Her fiancé is accused of the murder of a rich landowner (who happens to be his uncle) and she resolves to get him off, seeing as he is absolutely hopeless himself. She enlists the help of the journalist who was first on the scene and they go about interviewing the residents of the tiny village of Sittaford.

It seems to be an open and shut case: Emily’s fiancé was in need of the money, he came to visit his uncle, Captain Trevelyan, and knocked him on the head when he refused the request. Complicating matters is the fact that the Captain’s best friend, who discovered him in a blinding snowstorm, was tipped off by an afternoon séance that began in good humour but ends with a chilling premonition. Could this be real proof of the supernatural? What’s more, it begins to appear that everyone had reason to want Trevelyan dead… This is Agatha at her best, with a startlingly simple twist at the end and charming characters throughout.

A Million Little Pieces – James Frey

Another second-hand buy, James Frey’s intensely personal account of his recovery from drug and alcohol addiction shook me to the core. At the age of 23, he had already been addicted to alcohol and much harder drugs for over a decade. When he arrives, bruised, bloodied and almost insensible in an airport in Chicago, he allows his parents to drive him to the rehab centre that they have been threatening for years and, remarkably (to himself as much as anyone else), he stays. This is his recollection of his time in the centre as he deals with his addiction, self-hatred and shame; as he struggles with authority and comes to terms with himself.

Told in uncompromising prose, Frey exposes the rawest parts of himself; you sense that this book is another step towards absolution. Although he doesn’t pull a punch, there are some surprisingly funny moments, as well as tender ones, as he forges friendships with his fellow patients. These people are just as damaged as himself, some even more so, but he looks past their rough exteriors to the kernel of humanity that lies within. A true eye-opener to the ravages of addiction and the constant struggle that it requires to overcome one’s inner demons.

Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett

I must admit, this is not my type of book. My mother lent it to me along with another few books, but at a daunting 1071 pages, ostensibly about the building of a 12th century cathedral, it was definitely low on the list. One languorous afternoon, after the premature conclusion of the Ashes, I decided to give it a shot. And boy, was I surprised! The next two days were filled with feverish reading, well into the wee hours, and various household jobs got neglected in favour of ‘just a few more pages’. Perhaps it is because I rarely read books like this that it so enthralled me with its slightly predictable “good thing happens/bad thing happens/main characters recover’ structure. But I do think that this book has more to offer than that.

The back cover didn’t lie – it is a book about the construction of a cathedral in the Middle Ages, in the small priory of Kingsbridge. However, although the cathedral looms (figuratively and literally) in the background of the story, it is the microcosm of small-town English life that takes centre stage. Set in a time of political turmoil in Britain, The Anarchy, we follow the prior of Kingsbridge, Phillip, as he becomes consumed by the idea of building a cathedral for his parish with the help Tom Builder and his unusual family. Thwarting their efforts are the powerful Bishop of Kingsbridge and the local Lord, both power-hungry and despicable men. As royal regimes come and go, we see the effects on the powerless people of the country, who are at the whim of their feudal lord’s leadership – be it tyrannical or judicious. Populated with down-to-earth, believable characters, this rollicking tale spans half a century and takes you from the south of England to the south of Spain, in a thoroughly enjoyable adventure.