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: October

Annie 
Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez and A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

I’ve been on several weeks holiday and have divided my time between gardening, socialising and unpacking a house after a recent move. Oh, and I’ve found some time for reading.

Invisible Women is a rousing call to action that addresses a glaring blind spot in the data collection that increasingly dictates our lives: information about women. Across a whole range of issues, from transportation to work, medicine to machines, women’s experiences are not being tracked and therefore not being accounted for. As a result, half the world risks consequences that range from frustrating to fatal as we traverse a world that is not built for us. Criado Perez writes in an engaging and readable style, with appropriate sarcasm and humour balancing the rage that is induced by her comprehensive attack on the many gender gaps in our knowledge. The economic, social and medical costs of excluding such a large portion of humanity are drawn starkly and I hope that the recent awarding of the Royal Society of Science prize means that this book engenders future change.  

Speaking of invisible women, Tracy Chevalier’s latest novel, A Single Thread, kept me entertained and fascinated by a group of women often forgotten in history: the unfortunately named ‘surplus women’, who lived between the wars in the UK without men to give them substance or protection. One such woman, Violet, moves to the town of Winchester to escape her difficult mother in an attempt to strike out on her own. She becomes involved with a group of ’broderers’ at the cathedral, who are working on a large scale project to fill the pews with kneelers and cushions. Chevalier skilfully brings to life a range of characters who demonstrate the limited options available to women of the time, but who manage to make their mark in spite of the unfavourable circumstances. A deeply enjoyable holiday read that has enough meat to take to your book club. 

Charmaine
The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

I don’t know if this happens to you but I am having a period of not reading as much as usual. I know it will pass and meanwhile I’m listening to lots of book podcasts. But I did read Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s Stella prizewinning book, The Erratics. This is the memoir of a family that is dominated by a narcissistic personality disordered mother, although was not diagnosed until very recently. Vicki returns home to Canada following 18 years of estrangement from her parents. The visit is preceded by her mother being admitted to hospital after a fall. Vicki and her sister arrive to find their father in very poor health. Despite their mother’s charismatic and compelling personality – she tells astounding lies – they take the opportunity to ensure that their mother does not return home again. Well this is a tragic story of the devastating impact that this mother has wrought on her family, but it is told with some humour and spareness of detail.

Kate 
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews and Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann

I stayed up all night reading Irma Voth by Miriam Toews and now I’m at work in a daze, still in the strange and wonderful and distressing world of Irma. A customer ordered in this book and then lent it to me saying she think I’d like it and I think I may honestly have found my new favourite book. Irma is nineteen and her family is part of a Mennonite community camp. She is quietly rebellious, astute and hilarious in her perception of the world. She marries an outsider Mexican man, unacceptable to her family and is moved to a house nearby. There is an empty expansiveness of the Chihuahuan desert scrublands in Mexico. Her husband soon tells her she is a bad wife and leaves. Irma is lost and aimless until a chaotic film crew arrive, with idealistic plans to make a film about Mennonites. She is drawn in to their artistic life and ideas. As her role as translator for the lead actress leads her to experiment with her view of the world as she deliberately translates incorrectly and drives her own narrative. While the book is subversive and humourous, the oppressiveness of her Mennonite family is not ignored. She literally runs for her life with her sisters to Mexico and begins to start a new life there. This book is such a unique and compelling story of finding your own way and overcoming adversity. I already miss Irma!

I’m also chipping away at Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann, a contender for the Man Booker prize this year. It is 998 pages and is written in eight sentences. I didn’t know this when I started it and it took me a while to notice. An Ohio housewife who was once a teacher, but after recovering from cancer, now bakes pies at home and takes care of her family, is our company for these eight long sentences. This compelling and witty book experiments with what stream of consciousness writing can do and made me think about how sculpted narrative usually is. I enjoy the honesty and immediacy of this structure and feel like I’m in an intimate space with the narrator. I suppose it’s close to being inside someone else’s head. The narrator jumps from subjects erratically and tackles things such as cinnamon rolls, a good time to plant nasturtiums, the Black Lives Matter movement, the death of her mother and the fact that apparently teenagers check their phones 2000 times a day. Ducks, Newburyport is an original and refreshing read. I would recommend to people who are usually drawn to writing and characters over plot. I am totally hooked – will report more next month. 

What We’re Reading: September

Annie 
Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

This month I’m getting to two books that I should have read long ago and am (somewhat unsurprisingly) being blown away by these modern classics. 

Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu has been running off the shelves

 ever since it was published in 2014 and has recently been given new wings with the publication of a version for younger readers. It is an incredible investigation of Aboriginal political, social and agricultural practices pre-contact with Europeans and Pascoe draws on the diaries, letters, illustrations and photographs of early settlers to craft his argument. What he uncovers is a vastly different picture to the hunter-gatherer narrative that we have been taught in schools. Rather, the Indigenous population of this country were farming, fishing and managing the land using a wide array of sophisticated engineering techniques.

While these practices alone place First Nations people further along the evolutionary track than many people give them credit for, they were also building large, robust structures and maintaining a peaceful and democratic governance across this vast land. European settlers deliberately ignored or obscured the facts to lay better claim to a land that they wanted for their own financial gain – and have laid waste to in the successive 250 years. However, Pascoe’s account is far from bitter as he urges all Australians to accept and acknowledge the wisdom of his ancestors so that we can start to repair some of the damage done by colonisation. Full of fascinating stats, facts and anecdotes, Dark Emu is a remarkable work of scholarship and one that all Australians should read.

The other book that I’m shamefully late to the party on is Margaret Atwood’s classic, The Handmaid’s Tale. Prompted by the upcoming release of the sequel this month, I’ve finally taken the plunge. As with all books that stand the test of time, Atwood’s misogynist dystopia feels strikingly relevant as women are segregated from men (for their own good, of course) and stratified into the roles of Wives, Handmaids or Marthas – all of which are preferable to the unmentionable fate of the ‘Unwomen’. Bodily autonomy, reproductive rights, language, power and class are all skewered by Atwood in her typically nuanced fashion. Just like Orwell’s 1984, the tone is oppressive and ominous, even though we experience the day-to-day reality of the characters rather than a broader picture of society. Atwood’s dark humour, superb characterisation and masterfully painted scenes keep the book bearable, even as our heroine walks deeper into a forest full of danger. I can’t wait to get back to it and then dive straight into the sequel when it arrives! 

Carly
Liarbird by Laura + Philip Bunting

The white lie is a tricky skill to master, lucky for Lyrebirds they learn to lie from the day they hatch. They are the best in the bush at fibbing, faking, fabricating and fake-news creating. Laura and Philip Bunting’s newest offering, Liarbird, is their most hilarious book yet. Philips’ soft, bold illustrations and sophisticated palette combined with Laura’s witty play on words will have adults and children laughing together from page one. Familiar characters Koala and Kookaburra, join Liarbird to tell the classic tale of The Boy who Cried Wolf with a Jon Klassenesque dry humor from books like, This is not my Hat. Just when you are almost convinced that lying is a necessity in life, disaster strikes and Liarbird is left cleaning up his mess vowing to tell the truth and nothing but the truth. What could possibly go wrong? A laugh out loud book with a subtle message for the media-information age generation.

Kate 
The Yield by Tara June Winch

I was blown away by Tara June Winch’s debut novel Swallow the Air (2006), so when The Yield was released this month I was eager to get have it in my hands. This story is told through three narratives and periods of time. August Gondiwindi is returning to Country after living overseas for over a decade when her Pop dies of cancer. There’s Pop, reflecting on his memories of growing up in a mission and learning about his culture later in life, by writing a Wiradjuri-English dictionary. These connected stories are interspersed with the letters of a nineteenth-century missionary, Reverend Greenleaf. From these three narratives we learn about the place the Gondiwindi family live; Prosperous House in the fictional town of Massacre Plains. We learn about the history and the treatment of Aboriginal people and the development of the mission. We learn about Pop’s experience of growing up in the mission and cut off from his culture. He recalls learning the old ways later in life, of being taught language, ancient farming practices, stories and dance. These parts of the story are beautiful and poetic and I was often brought to tears with the images of connection to land and spirits. When August arrives home, she quickly learns that her Nan is being evicted and a mining company are taking over the land. Similarly to Too Much Lip, childhood heartbreak and cultural loss are developed alongside environmental devastation and native land title. 

In her review of The Yield, Yugambeh author Ellen van Neerven says Winch’s use of Wiradjuri “decolonises the throat and tongue”. She asks: What does contemporary use of language look like? What can it offer us in our lives? What can it do for the overall health of our country? These questions and many more are raised in The Yield, a poetic and powerful novel that I have learnt greatly from and I urge everyone to read! 

What We’re Reading: August

Annie 
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner and The Yield by Tara June Winch

I’ve been reading lots of great forthcoming fiction at the moment, in preparation for the end of the year, but here are two that are out at the moment that I’ve particularly enjoyed. 

Fleishman is in Trouble is a highly accomplished debut novel from the New York Times staff writer, Taffy Brodesser-Akner. We follow Toby, a middle-aged doctor who is diving back into the world of dating after his protracted divorce. His phone is running hot with dates, but when his tween children get dropped at his door and his ex-wife is off the grid, he has to reassess his options. Blisteringly funny, tongue-in-cheek and surprisingly honest about the state of modern relationships, Brodesser-Akner weaves plenty of home truths into this book about marriage, responsibility and friendship. 

Closer to home, Tara June Winch’s third book The Yield is a beautifully rendered portrait of a grieving family and a changing town. August Gondiwindi is returning to her hometown after a decade in Europe for the funeral of her beloved grandfather. The place she returns to is in peril – mining corporations and greed threatening to remove the land from under their families’ feet for a second time. As she reconnects with family and old friends, August is hunting for closure. Interspersed with her story, we are given Albert Gondiwindi’s own account through a dictionary of the reclaimed Waradjuri language and the diaries of a German minister who established Prosperous Mission, where Albert grew up. This is a luminous novel about history, heritage, ownership and the power of language and story. The Yield would make a great book club pick!

Jess
Jim’s Book: The Surprising Story of Jim Penman Australia’s Backyard Millionaire by Catherine Moolenschot

Most Australians know Jim, his face graces arguably one Australia’s best known brands. But as I discovered through reading this fascinating biography, I actually knew pretty much nothing about him, in fact Jim isn’t even his real name! Jim’s book tells the story of both Jim the man and Jim the business, both tales are equally fascinating and at times astounding. Jim never set out to become one of Australia’s most successful business people, in reality his business evolved as a vehicle to enable him to continue to pursue his academic research, which focuses on the rise and fall of civilisations throughout history and Jim devotes a large part of his personal wealth to this continuing research. It’s often said that truth is stranger than fiction: although at times Jim’s Book reads like a quirky bestseller with a colourful main character, Jim Penman is one hundred percent real and he is one of the most interesting and memorable characters that I have read about for a long time.

Kate 
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

I’ve been enchanted by Lisa Taddeo’s book Three Women, a work of investigative journalism unlike anything I’ve read before. Taddeo spends eight years with three women, getting to know them and researching their sex lives and desire. We learn about their formative experiences and how they came to be where they are today. In some ways these stories are ordinary, they could be anyone, but each woman has a defining element in her sex life. Maggie had a relationship with her high school teacher, Lina has cheated on her husband with her first love and Sloane and her husband are swingers. The way Taddeo traces how early experiences informed what follows reveals interesting insights into desire and power. I’m particularly interested in how systemic control has shaped the lives of many of these women. This element is both revealing and frustrating. The balancing of frustration with seduction and delight makes for an impressive and highly enjoyable read!

What We’re Reading: July

Annie 
The Fate of Food by Amanda Little and Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

A couple of non-fiction titles have held my attention this month. 

Amanda Little’s search for answers about the future of food production has led her over the course of several years to write The Fate of Food: What We’ll Eat in a Bigger, Hotter, Smarter World. Following the release of a report stating that climate change with irrevocably alter our world over the next 30 years (alongside all the other science that says we’re headed for disaster) I was feeling quite despondent. This book gave me some hope that while our situation is indeed dire, there are some very clever people working to solve or work around the issues that will arise for farmers and food producers in years to come.

Little has traveled from Uganda to Mexico to talk to people who are combining technology and traditional farming methods to varying degrees of success in order to battle drought, frost, rising sea levels and water shortages. She is frank about the mental hurdles she comes up against – for example her deep-seated prejudice against GMO food, which is challenged by multiple farmers and scientists. Far from being a stodgy science book, Little also weaves her own discoveries and experiences as a parent, a foodie and a failed gardener into the writing to create a fascinating look at how food is produced currently as well as how we will need to adapt into the future. 

The other book that I’m part way through at the moment which is totally engrossing is Lisa Taddeo’s much-hyped Three Women. It is being hailed as Truman Capote for the #MeToo generation and it is a truly astounding work of longform journalism. Over the course of eight years, Taddeo found three women who agreed to share their stories and truly immersed herself in their lives, attempting to uncover female desire.

Maggie was a student when she began an affair with one of her teachers, which she remembers as her first love. Now that she is older, however, she is attempting to prosecute him for his inappropriate sexual conduct while she was still a minor – but does she want justice or attention? Sloane is a successful business woman living in Rhode Island who is happily married to a man who likes to watch her having sex with other men, which she also finds exhilarating. Lina is a small-town woman in an unhappy, sexless marriage and has recently taken up an affair with her high school boyfriend, with whom she split up after being gang raped at a party in her youth. By submerging herself in these women’s very different and quite extreme stories, Taddeo manages to reveal truths about female relationships, self-esteem, bodies, sexuality and the desires that underpin all of our actions – whether they are acted upon or not. The writing is lyrical, hypnotic and sometimes painfully real, but Taddeo manages to honour and uphold her subjects with great dignity even as they share their most vulnerable thoughts. 

Charmaine

I am having a great time reading the 5th book in Kate Atkinson’s private eye series revolving around her beloved character, Jackson Brodie. But don’t worry if you haven’t read the others, this one stands alone and you will be rewarded. Some of this is laugh out loud funny, some very detailed human experiences, a cast of fabulous characters and a very sinister storyline running through it. 

It has taken 9 years for this 5th book in the series and you won’t be disappointed.

Customer Library Spotlight: Rex Hosking

A childhood fascination which grew into a lifetime collection….

As a child Rex Hosking has memories of seeing the books that his parents would borrow from a commercial lending library. He knew then that books were special, as at the time with money being in short supply the family owned no books themselves. As he got older, he was presented with books of his very own as a reward for doing something well, he “got the disease” he says. A lifelong love of collecting (of books in particular) was sparked, which is still with him to this day.

Rex, a former Headmaster who is now in his nineties, has a collection of over 21,000 books, all catalogued by hand and arranged by category across the bookshelves which line the majority of the rooms throughout his house. Over the past few years his daughters have helped him to transform former bedrooms in the old family home into cosy reading rooms. Originally, his collection was squeezed into just two rooms, but after he was sadly widowed five and a half years ago the decision was made to give the collection more space. With standing room only and many shelves stacked over capacity in one of the rooms, it had become dangerously inaccessible and wasn’t being shown off or used to its full potential.

Rex arranges his books primarily by subject with Australian History, Geology, English Literature, the Silk Road and even Lawrence of Arabia being some of his favourite topics. Rex also keeps a number of other collections including maps, his own photographs and slides, music on CD and cassette tape and sporting memorabilia. When it comes to sport, Rex has been a dedicated supporter of the South Adelaide Football Club since he was a boy. There’s a 1964 premiership jersey hung in pride of place on his sitting room wall and he mentions that he’s been to almost all of their matches. Always a keen traveller, he and his wife explored both Australia and the world. During the seventies they were intrepid enough to take on the trans-Siberian railway alone! Rex tells me that whenever he travels to a new destination in Australia, he always tries to find a book about the history of the place to add to his collection, which on the subject of Australian history now numbers over 4,100 items. For many years Rex worked as a guide at the State Library and still belongs to a book club that he founded with a group of fellow guides. Their group chooses a new leader each month and the leader gets to select a topic on which everyone can choose their own book to read. Rex will be leading the next group and has chosen the Black Death as his subject for reading and discussion, after recently completing a course on it.

If there’s one thing that Rex’s remarkable collection demonstrates so well it’s that a love of learning and discovery can flow through an entire lifetime and can lead to a vast and wonderful treasure-trove of knowledge and history. Rex’s love of reading and learning was clearly nurtured by his parents from an early age. Even when he struggled with what he now suspects was dyslexia, his parents gave him every encouragement to stay in school and keep reading. He says that the biggest reason he decided to go into teaching is because in his upper years he didn’t want to leave school! He continued to pursue both learning and teaching for many years after retirement, attending courses at the University of Adelaide, the WEA and even lecturing at the University of the Third Age on one of his favourite subjects — geology. Today Rex still devotes a considerable amount of his time to his collection. He is transferring his many volumes of meticulously handwritten catalogue onto an electronic archive program called End Note Plus, which he learned about during his Geology studies. Rex says this keeps him busy most of the time. His children and grandchildren sometimes borrow books from his collection and of course he still continues to add new items to his shelves whenever a new book happens to catch his eye!

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Photo and interview credit: Jessica Riordan

What We’re Reading: June

Annie 
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert and Magic for Liars by Sarah Gailey

I’ve been reading a couple of incredibly fun books that have transported me far from dreary Adelaide.  

Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls is a fizz and bubble of a book which centres female sexuality and joy. Vivian Morris is blissfully rich (and blissfully unaware of the fact) when she moves to join her theatre director aunt in New York City in 1940, at the ripe age of nineteen. Obsessed with glamour, clothing and her own reflection, she is also blissfully ignorant of the violence that is threatening to encroach upon her newfound freedom. Wickedly funny and delightfully debauched, Gilbert’s sentences are luminous as always and the characters are authentic and lovable. This book will get you high kicking with abandon while you knock back all manner of strong drink – a marvellously pleasurable read to be enjoyed without a shred of guilt.

Like most people, I’m a sucker for a good cover, and I think this one is a real doozy! Magic for Liars is a gritty crime novel that takes place in an academy for magical teens and the book is just as fun as it sounds. Washed up PI Ivy Gamble is called in to solve the grotesque death of one of her estranged twin’s colleagues and she immediately becomes enamoured with the lifestyle and promise that Osthorne Academy appears to offer. This is no Hogwarts; Osthorne is filled with real teenagers who would rather turn their magic to creating indelible graffiti or float vulgar shaped clouds past classrooms. But as Ivy begins to unravel the mystery, she also reveals the dark secrets that lie beneath the Academy’s facade – and also the family truths that she has tried for so long to keep under wraps. Complex, witty and dark, this is a great read for anyone who has enjoyed Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London series or Lev Grossman’s The Magicians


Kate
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata

Two sittings with this little gem is all it took to race through Keiko’s intriguing world. Keiko does not live her life the way others think she should. As a child, she doesn’t get along with other children and doesn’t seem to understand basic social rules. When she gets a job in a convenience store when she’s 18, it seems she’s finally figured it out. We meet Keiko when she’s 36 and still works at the same convenience store, and she loves it. She lives and breathes being a store worker and marvels at the sounds, smells and routine of the shop. It is in this role that Keiko has found her life purpose, but feels pressure from her family and friends to have bigger aspirations. It is a strange and funny journey we go on with Keiko as she wonders about what to make of her life and if her connection to a convenience store is enough. This is a very touching story about finding ones place in the world. 

What We’re Reading: May

Annie 
Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams and Things in Jars by Jess Kidd

This month I’ve been reading two novels with
lovably quirky protagonists. 

Queenie is a funny, honest and sometimes heartbreaking novel about a young woman trying to find her feet in the world. The titular Queenie is vivacious, neurotic and recently dumped. She launches into the world of dating with an open mind, but quickly discovers that modern relationships aren’t as straightforward as they may seem. And perhaps she has to resolve her personal baggage before she takes on anyone else’s? 

I have read and enjoyed both of Jess Kidd’s previous novels, and her new one is no disappointment. It follows the Victorian lady detective, Bridie Devine, as she tries to track down a lost child – who may or may not be a merrow (a relation of the mermaid). The first problem is that her father doesn’t want Bridie to tell anyone what’s missing. The second problem is that she is being haunted by the ghost of a boxer … and he has developed a crush on her. Delightfully creepy and strangely tender, Things in Jars is based in Victorian-era London but people with thoroughly modern characters. Fans of The Essex Serpent and The Rivers of London series will enjoy this fantastic historical romp. 

Charmaine
Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson 

Jeanette Winterson has been one of my favourite authors since the late 80s when I was given a copy of The Passion. I was totally amazed at this magical fairy tale and have read most of what she has written since. Later this month her new book Frankissstein will be published and this one is a must read (I haven’t loved everything that she has written). The story is set in two time frames. One in 1816 when Mary Shelley is writing her story about creating a non-biological life-form. The other in Brexit Britain where a young transgender doctor is falling in love with a prestigious professor who is leading the debate on Artificial Intelligence, another character is launching a new generation of sex dolls and in America, men and women who are medically and legally dead have used cryogenics but are waiting to return to life. The writing is daring, funny and pacy – the issues are provocative and timely. 

Kate
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli

I’m enjoying reading this book slowly, taking time to research and write down quotes along the way. I haven’t read like this for a while and it’s a pleasure to be so interested and in the moment with a book. Lost Children Archive follows a family of two sound-artist’s and their children from New York City to the Apacheria, the regions of the US which used to be Mexico. The parents are working on their own projects and have become distant from one another while in their own worlds. The father is working on a project about the history of the Apaches, retracing the steps of the last Native Americans conquered by European settlers; and the mother is working on a project archiving undocumented children travelling between the border of Mexico and the US.

As they travel, it feels as if you’re part of the family holiday with all the food stops, motel decor, quibbles in the car, map reading mishaps. It is a work-focused family travel trip, told through the lens of capturing moments through sounds. Alongside this narrative is that of undocumented children travelling from Mexico to the US border, hoping for safety, but facing the brutality of a system that doesn’t want to help them. The comparison between the children in the car and the children travelling without adult protection is an obvious but powerful one. The narrator wonders if it’s ethical to make art with someone else’s suffering and I’m not sure she finds an answer, but I think this book succeeds in humanising the border crisis and in turn, humanising the readers, so often desensitised by the news.

What We’re Reading: April

Annie 
The Forest of Wool and Steel by Natsu Miyashita and Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

If you’re looking for dreamy reads, I’ve got a couple of great recommendations this month.

First up, The Forest of Wool and Steel is a gentle, gorgeous book that follows a young piano tuner as he learns his craft. Tomura first hears a piano being tuned in the gymnasium at his high school and it gives definition and purpose to his previously aimless life. As he listens to the freshly tuned piano, a beautiful mountainous landscape appears in his mind. He commits to years of training and apprenticeship in an effort to recapture the beautiful images that were conjured by a master tuner. A Japanese best-seller and winner of the prestigious Japanese Booksellers Award, this is a meditation on perseverance, success and what makes a good life. 

Helen Oyeyemi is one of my favourite writers, and her latest novel is no disappointment. Gingerbread is a loose retelling of the Hansel and Gretel story, but Oyeyemi brings her characteristic wit and quirky charm to the story, adding elements of magical realism, feminism and class to ensure it’s a completely modern take on the old story.

Harriet Lee has made gingerbread according to the family recipe for years, but her daughter Perdita has never quite believed that they hailed from the tiny, undocumented land of Druhástrana. Determined to reunite her mother with her childhood friend, Gretel, Perdita unknowingly sets off a chain of events that will force these exiled Druhástranians to confront their past and share long-hidden family stories. A funny, rollicking read that weaves an enchanting spell, give this book a go if you’re willing to suspend disbelief and indulge in some playful literary storytelling. 

Kate
Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

One of the best feelings as a bookseller is when you arrive at work to find one of your favourite authors has released a new book! This is a sort-of biography of Siri Hustvedt’s younger self. As 60 year-old SH clears out her 94 year-old mother’s house, she finds a manuscript she wrote for a detective novel when she was 23 and had freshly arrived in New York. She also finds her diary from that time, and pieces together the person she was. As SH communicates between her younger and older self, she meditates on memory, time, and physics.

The voices of SH patch together the story of a young writer navigating New York City, friends, relationships and intriguingly, her next door neighbour who she listens to through the wall with a stethoscope. She’s drawn into her neighbours nightly monologues and discovers a world of women who open up a door to her own self-knowledge. This was such a joy to read. I was taken into the mind of young SH and felt her pain, anger, excitement, and intelligence blossoming. I would highly recommend! And if you haven’t read Siri Hustvedt before, please do.  

Lou
No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani’s award-winning account of life in Manus Prison reveals the Australian government’s “systematic torture” of asylum seekers. It initially seems like a harrowing read: a refugee’s journey from Indonesia to Australian waters by boat, and a bureaucratic prison system whose goal is degradation and violence. But No Friend But the Mountains reaches deep into the psyche of imprisoned people, and incorporates the finest literary traditions and Kurdish storytelling to create a work of enormous dignity, beauty and power. Boochani’s voice is compassionate without being sentimental, ruthless but never cruel. Not only is this an essential read for all Australians, but it joins the ranks of prison writing and world literature, and is a testament to the transforming power of words.

Jess
Beyond the Footpath: Mindful Adventures for Modern Pilgrims by Clare Gogerty

Everyone needs time out, an opportunity to step out of a life consumed by day-to-day worries and concerns, an opportunity to rest the mind and rejuvenate the spirit. The lost art of pilgrimage provides us with just such an option if we choose to embrace it. Clare Gogerty’s beautiful book provides a modern pilgrims guide to stepping out of everyday life, whether for personal, spiritual or religious reasons and on to your own pilgrimage journey. She uses both her own personal stories and historical grounding to give the reader an understanding of pilgrimage and what it can mean today. There are practical tips and mentions of well-known pilgrimage routes, but also encouragement to seek out your own path wherever you may be in the world.  A book which smudges the boundaries between travel, history, spirituality and personal growth in a wonderful way.

What We’re Reading: March

Annie
All Systems Red (The Murderbot Diaries #1) by Martha Wells

This punchy science fiction novel is superbly well written and a thought-provoking look at both humanity and artificial intelligence. Narrated by a taciturn, self-aware AI creature, the self-dubbed ‘Murderbot’ has been deployed as a security robot for a team of scientists attempting to ascertain whether a new planet is suitable for commercial activity. When a rival mission ceases communication on the other side of the planet, the team take Murderbot to investigate. A story of corporate espionage and greed plays out as our aloof protagonist has to decide how much of itself to reveal to its human charges.  

Charmaine
A Universe Of Sufficient Size by Miriam Sved

I have just finished reading Australian author Miriam Sved’s new book (available in April), A Universe Of Sufficient Size. This wonderful story moves between 1938 pre-war Hungary where 5 brilliant young, Jewish mathematics students have been expelled from University just prior to the devastation that is about to to be wrought, and 2007 in Sydney where one of these (Ildiko) now lives following her escape. One of the five, Pali Kalmar (a character loosely based on the great mathematician Paul Erdos), is visiting Sydney on a lecture tour and the 2 are about to meet for the first time in 70 years. Long buried secrets are revealed. This incredible story is loosely based on the true story of Sved’s grandparents.  I highly recommend that you read this book, it is excellent storytelling about brave and talented people. 

Kate
Transit by Rachel Cusk

I’m currently reading the second book in Rachel Cusk’s Outline Trilogy. As in the first book, the narrator is a blurry character who mostly reflects other people’s lives. We rarely get much insight into who she is. In the first book she is running a writing workshop in Athens and we learn about the personal lives and struggles of the people she meets. In Transit, Cusk offers a little more insight into the character, Faye, yet we still learn about her mostly through the questions she asks other people.

In this book the character moves back to London with her two sons. She goes about buying a house and is advised by a friend to value location over building quality. She buys a dilapidated apartment in a block above a grumpy and menacing couple. She goes about making the apartment livable and settling back into London life. She has conversations with the homesick Polish builders and friends from former London days. She also runs into her ex-partner who still lives in the house they shared together many years earlier. These books are satisfyingly curious. Through the stable yet vague character of Faye, characters reveal details about their personal lives, desires and fears. Faye attempts to transform herself and her life but through brilliant insights and comic moments, struggles to meet the expectations she’s set up. 

Writers’ Week Reflections

What a wonderful Writers’ Week we had this year. We were gifted stimulating conversation and eventually some beautiful weather. The topics presented to us this year were challenging and fresh and were often the kind that needed some time to reflect on. We each made it to a few sessions and wanted to share our thoughts with you after some time to ruminate. We’re still stocking the Writers’ Week books so if you missed out on a title, we’re happy to help you find it.

Annie

As I have done for the past few years, I took a glorious week off to work at Writers’ Week as a driver. It means that I get to meet many of the authors and have hugely interesting conversations on the way to and from the airport, but don’t get to see many sessions in their entirety. The car air-conditioning was certainly welcome on some of those hot days though!

Communicating Complexity with Rose George and Carl Zimmer

One of the sessions I did get to was Rose George & Carl Zimmer talking about complexity. They are both science journalists and reflected on the current state of affairs in reporting complex issues in this world of post-truth, truthiness and fake news.

Both George and Zimmer lamented the rise of unregulated platforms like YouTube that can spread misinformation – for example, the millions of videos that support the idea that the Earth is flat. Neither author had a simple answer about how to change this dire situation, but agreed that journalists and the media must continue to provide clear, concise and engaging summaries of scientific and other complex information, as well as educating the public about how to evaluate truth in media. They also urged writers and communicators in specialized fields not to remain in isolation.

I have since read Rose George’s book Deep Sea and Foreign Going, which documents her time spent on an enormous container ship as she investigated how 90% of the things we use in everyday life are transported around the world. I think this is a great example of how to blend scientific reporting (on the marine environment, in this case) with the economic and political realities that seafarers face today.

We That Are Young with Preti Taneja

Another session I was lucky to catch was Preti Taneja talking about her debut novel We That Are Young. It is a modern-day King Lear, transposed (or translated, as Taneja put it) onto contemporary India through the voices of five young characters. Themes of division, identity, loyalty and family are immediate links between Shakespeare’s text and this novel, but Taneja has also taken much of the language of the original and adapted it into her setting. The resulting pastiche sounds incredibly rich, poetic and powerful. I am yet to read the novel but am fascinated by the blend of old and new that, from the passages read during the session, seems at once fresh and familiar.

Kate

Remembering the Myall Creek Massacre with Aunty Sue Blacklock and Lyndall Ryan

I’m embarrassed to say I’d never learned about the massacre Myall Creek before I came across this book in the lead up to Writers’ Week. If I had heard of it, I hadn’t learned about the scale and horrific details. In 1838 twenty-eight unarmed Indigenous Australians were brutally killed by eleven British colonists. Lyndall Ryan is an academic and historian and began the huge project of mapping the colonial frontier massacres in Australia. The Massacre Map details and approximates locations of massacres and provides sources of corroborating evidence. The map is an important step in acknowledging the extensive violence used against indigenous people in Australia’s history.

Her most recent book details the massacre at Myall Creek. This massacre was unusual in that eleven of the twelve assassins were arrested and brought to trial. Out of these eleven, seven were hanged. Lyndall was joined at the Writers’ Week conversation by Aunty Sue Blacklock, whose ancestors were murdered in the massacre. She spoke of her family history and the significance of growing up with this painful story. Aunty Sue was the leader of a committee who recently finished a memorial at Myall Creek. The conversation centred around the details of the trial and why it was one of the rare cases where the perpetrators were convicted but also the importance of remembering and acknowledging the extent of the violence that Australia’s First People experienced and ways toward reconciliation today. One of the most powerful moments of the conversation was when Aunty Sue said that in finishing the memorial she could feel her ancestors being set free. 

Too Much Lip with Melissa Lucashenko

This is one of the most energetic Writers’ Week conversations I’ve been to. Melissa Lucashenko is a Bundjalung writer and a born storyteller. It was a joy listening to her speak about her most recent book, Too Much Lip.

She started the session by reading a scene from an early chapter where Kerry, the main character, watches four waark (crows) eating roadkill before tearing off on her motorbike to visit her family after years of separation to say goodbye to her dying pop. Hearing Lucashenko’s voice and sound of the Bundjalung language gave the book such guts that I wanted her to keep reading. She spoke about wanting to convey the complexities and violence in the Salter family while keeping her characters nuanced. I was interested in hearing her speak of the importance that her characters have humour and moments of pleasure in order to paint a realistic but whole image of Indigenous characters, one that included sexiness and playfulness. I was already enjoying the book when I went to the session but afterwards I raced off to finish it.

Charmaine

Red Birds with Mohammed Hanif

I hope that everyone had a wonderful Writers’ Week and heard plenty of good discussion and got inspired to read some new authors.

I went to hear Mohamad Hanif talk about his life as a journalist and author on Sunday afternoon, and I liked his relaxed, easy and humorous style whilst at the same time he was talking about very serious issues in Pakistan. He talked about how long years of dictatorship and censorship has led to finding ways of speaking out by making fun of them.

Hanif is an author who uses satire to highlight these problems and in his most recent book — a dark comedy about human ugliness — Red Birds, he critiques US Foreign Policy, war and America’s role in the destruction of the Middle East. The book is set in a refugee camp and has 3 narrators — an American pilot who survives his plane crashing and ironically ends up in the camp that he was supposed to bomb, Momo who is a young  boy who has become a refugee businessman who finds and rescues the pilot and a Philosophical dog called Mutt. In this story Hanif asks some big questions. How can we have safe sheltered lives when half the world is getting bombed? What role have we had in ruining their homeland? Where do our lives and theirs co-exist? And do we have base urges for conflict/war?