Author

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.

All posts by Annie

What We’re Reading: October 2019

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 2019

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 2019

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 2019

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