Booksellers' Book Club: February

Chloe

Welcome back to The Booksellers' Book Club. Here you will find out what Avid staff members are currently reading, have just read, and plan on reading next.

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FIONA - co-owner

The Only Story by Julian Barnes

On the first page of Julian Barnes's short, sharp eviscerating new novel The Only Story our narrator Paul says:

"Most of us have only one story to tell. I don't mean that only one thing happens to us in our lives; there are countless events, which we turn into countless stories, But there's only one that matters, only one finally worth telling. This is mine."

This is a very powerful story told in a musing reflective manner. The story also changes from first person, to second and concludes in third person. Only a writer of Julian Barnes' calibre could ensure this literary device worked. It's a beautiful meditation on not just first love but love in its many forms.

Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

I have almost finished Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor for our new bookclub High Noon. This bookclub which will meet on the first Friday of the month will be reading award-winning fiction from around the world. I chose Jon McGregor because he has won this year's Costa Award for fiction.

Set in a village located in the heart of the English countryside this is the story of a girl who goes missing and the ramifications on the villagers over the next thirteen years. The story follows the seasons and nature is as much a character as any of the finely painted villagers. The text is alive with the life cycles of birds, foxes, insects and badgers. McGregor's style is almost a stream of consciousness except there is the narrative hook of what happened to the missing girl.

There is much to admire and love about Reservoir 13 and I'm looking forward to chatting about with our bookclub members on Friday 2nd March.

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart by Holly Ringland (due April)

Over last weekend we slipped away to stay at the Headlands Chalet. I'd been saving a particular book to read. I wanted something I could immerse myself and enjoying that feeling of being swept away by story and character. (On a side note booksellers spend way too much time thinking and deciding about the books they will read on their holidays! Three nights away required five books to be packed)

But back to the book. I chose Holly Ringland's The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart. It was the perfect read for a wild and windy weekend. Holly has written an emotionally charged story of Alice, an orphaned girl raised by her grandmother and introduced into the secret language of Australian wildflowers. Holly's novel sweeps you along with strong female characters, landscapes of cane fields, flower farms and the desert. Holly has also given readers the special gift of revealing the beauty and the magic of our wonderful native flora. Coming in April, it will make an ideal Mother's Day gift.

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KEV - co-owner

The Shepherd's Hut by Tim Winton (due March)

Jaxie Clackton is fleeing his childhood home after the death of his mother. He's heading north, off road and on foot to find the only person he trusts. Jaxie really hasn't thought this through very well. At a point of desperation Jaxie stumbles in on a desolate salt lake where he encounters one person who may be able to help him, or not. Winton is the most gifted of writers where the landscape in this story becomes a third character in this taut drama.

Miss Burma by Charmaine Craig (due March)

Charmaine Craig has written an bold novel set against the vibrant backdrop of Burma from the 1940s to the 1960s that has many parallels to the current political and ethnic issues in Burma. Love, faith, persecution, betrayal all wrapped in a complex and wonderfully told story based on Craig's mother and grandparents' experience. Miss Burma entertains and informs.

White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

White Chrysanthemum is the story of two sisters, Hana and Emi who are part of an island community of Haenyeo, Korean women who make their living diving in the sea. Separated by the Japanese invasion during WWII the novel switches between Hana's harrowing story as a 'Comfort Women' during the war and Emi's, as an old woman who has never stopped looking for her sister. This is a heart-wrenching and compelling novel of love, loss, longing, innocence and brutality.

Kintu by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (due March)

This is an epic Ugandan novel told through the cursed bloodline of the Kintu clan. Commencing in the 1750s, regional governor Kintu Kidda unleashes a curse that will plague his family for generations. We trace the impacts of the curse on different generations up to today when the family reunites to break it. Each generation's story gives us an insight into family structures, society, history and politics that makes modern Uganda. Fortunately, Makumbi provides a family tree that I needed to consult throughout my reading. This is a surprising story and one you would not have read before.

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton (due June)

I will write more about this superb debut novel by Brisbane journalist and author Trent Dalton closer to its release date in June. Suffice to say everyone should read this story about love, goodness, evil and the ability for people to manipulate time and presence.

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KRISSY - events manager, bookseller

Body Music by Julie Maroh

I have just read Body Music by Julie Maroh. It is a graphic novel celebrating sexual love in all its wonderful and various forms. Gay men, gay women, gender queer, differently abled, cross-cultural - there, characters find each other, settle or part. Relationship formations are monogamous, polyamorous, there are affairs and hookups. I love Maroh’s ability to think herself into other people’s skins and to share this with us so visually.

In the Garden of the Fugitives by Ceridwen Dovey

I have just finished the very confounding new book by Ceridwen Dovey, In the Garden of the Fugitives. Ostensibly it is a story told in letters between an old man, Royce and a middle-aged woman, Vita. Vita told Royce not to contact her twenty years ago but he has broken the silence because he is gravely ill. Royce is the founder of a fund that helps young women pursue their dreams when they leave college. Vita was one of those young women. She has been living off this bursary her entire life. She travelled to her once homeland of South Africa to make a documentary that night in some way atone for her guilt at being a white child under apartheid. Royce has his own demons to atone for. Ultimately it is a book about guilt but there are some twists and turns in this book that change everything about it. I was swept away by the lives of these two characters, particularly Royce’s confessions about his first love, Kitty, a young archeology student he followed to Pompeii. The detail about the archeological dig, the unearthing of cavities in the earth where people crouched in terror, filling these absences with plaster to reveal the people lost to history, and the deceptive shapes of those plaster casts that look like they are in pain, but that are, in truth, contorted by the heat of the ash and pumice they have been buried in - all this seemed like the perfect metaphor for a dig into the guilt of our own colonial past. I wanted everyone to read this clever, layered book.

Then everything changed and now I want everyone to read it so we can talk about the twisty nature of the narrative and how frustrating it was for a reader to be buffeted as we were by the book.

The Cage by Lloyd Jones

I am reading The Cage by Lloyd Jones in advance of our conversation at Avid. This book is a parable about refugees and it holds up the mirror to our treatment of asylum seekers here in Australia. Two strangers come to town having lost their homeland which no longer exists. They walk, exhausted, till they arrive at a hotel where they stay as guests, but the hotel quickly becomes more like a cage and the strangers are desperate to leave. I am only a third of the way through but Jones already has me squirming. Not an easy read but an important conversation. Perhaps one for book club?

The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

I am about to read The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe. I was recently thrilled to be longlisted for the Stella Prize (An Uncertain Grace) and Mirandi was the other Queenslander in the list. Got to support my homegirl! Also looks like a fascinating read. The longlist is fantastic. I am super keen to read Tracker by Alexis Wright, too. I have a month to work my way through some awesome books before the shortlist is announced. I’ve already read and loved Anaesthesia by Kate Cole-Adams. Best get to it!

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TRENT - bookseller

The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton

I’m reading The Earlie King and the Kid in Yellow by Danny Denton which I am enjoying very much, and which is a loud and clever take on dystopia, fairytales, and Gangster goings on. Think Yeats mixed with Scorsese with a touch of Irvine Welsh and a sprinkling of Gaiman, and so many other things besides. It’s experimental in all the ways that push my buttons.

No Time to Spare by Ursula Le Guin

The late and wonderful Ursula Le Guin’s No Time to Spare was her last collection of essays and it is a delight. It ranges over so many topics from the writing life, to choosing cats, to the difficulties of growing older. Her prose is always clear, and clever, and she approaches everything with a warmth and a sort of no-nonsense charm. She the kind of writer that opens up subjects, rather than closing them down, and her clear sight will be missed.

Weird Maths by Agnijo Banerjee and David Darling

David Darling and Agnijo Banerjee’s Weird Maths is a fun look at some cutting edge mathematical conundrums, if, like me you’re about as mathematically minded as wet tea towel this book will keep you entertained, and pondering some the great mathematical mysteries with at least a little better understanding of the weird maths beneath them. To infinity and beyond!

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix

Paperbacks from Hell by Grady Hendrix is a richly illustrated history of horror fiction from the seventies and eighties. It’s a great read, not least because the first book it discusses is John Christoper’s The Little People, a novel featuring Gestapochauns: evil psychic S&M loving nazi leprechauns. Where do you go from there? You’d be surprised. Head back to the decades where pulp horror writers went for the jugular with a set of demonic scissors, and the only taste was less (is more). Though it’s not all sexy evil nazi leprechauns some absolute classic work is discussed as well. Highly recommended.

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CHLOË - social media manager, bookseller

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue Nights is considered Didion's companion piece to her hugely successful memoir The Year of Magical Thinking. While the later discusses the sudden death of her husband, Blue Nights is a consideration of her Didion's daughter who died shortly after The Year of Magical Thinkingwas published. With beautifully pared back prose and startling insight, Didion explores her grief and contemplates her own mortality.

How to be Both by Ali Smith

How to be Both is an incredibly clever novel split into two parts - one part follows at 15th-century artist, and the other at 16 year-old-girl in the 20th-century. The publication of this book varied so that some readers would read the artist's account first, and others would read the teenager's account first. With wit, humour, and insight, Smith offers two unique views on art, youth, death, and grief.

The White Book by Han Kang

This book took my breath away. Kang, author of the International Man Booker Prize winning novel The Vegetarian, has written breathtaking meditation on the colour white and in doing so offers heart shattering thoughts on life and death. Each page is a thought or moment captured in time, shrouded in white, and deserves the attention and deciphering one would give to a poem. Simply stunning.

Bluets by Maggie Nelson

Similar in vein to Kang's The White Book, Nelson's collection of notes, poems, and essays - 240 'propositions' as Nelson calls them - are meditations on the colour blue. Throughout this collection, Nelson touches on love, heartache, grief, tragedy, depression, and loss. Nelson writes, 'I have felt myself becoming a servant of sadness. I am still looking for the beauty in that.' In Bluets, I think, she has found that beauty.

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SPENCER - events assistant, bookseller

Promise Me, Dad by Joe Biden

I recently read Joe Biden’s memoir, Promise, Me Dad: A year of hope, hardship and purpose. A moving and deeply personal memoir, Biden reflects on the most challenging year of his life, when he was forced to balance his responsibilities to his family after son Beau was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and his role as Vice President of the United States. Biden provides insight into crises in the Ukraine, Iraq and on Capitol Hill and explains why he didn’t seek the presidency in 2016. A story of love, hope and family, it is above all an ode to the power of human decency. This book is a testament to why Vice President Biden is yet to lose an election. The only questions he leaves unanswered is, will he run in 2020? Highly recommend!

Rather His Own Man by Geoffrey Robertson

I have just finished an advanced copy of acclaimed human rights barrister Geoffrey Robertson’s memoir: Rather His Own Man, set for release at the end of the month. Both gossipy and thoughtful, Robertson applies his trademark literary verve and piercing intellect to the events of his life. He takes the reader from the streets of the Western suburbs of Sydney to the Old Bailey, to the courts of Sierra Leone, death row in Trinidad, and his experience representing Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia. He discusses his first meeting with a young Malcolm Turnbull, a ‘whitlam-ite’ and Rhode Scholar hopeful, and their subsequent falling out. Along the way, he explains his sympathy for Julian Assange, and of course, discusses dinner parties with George Clooney. Geoffrey Robertson never fails to deliver!

East West Street by Phillippe Sands

I have just started East West Street by Philippe Sands. A human rights barrister, Sand’s book is a mix of history and family memoir. Asked to deliver a lecture in the Ukrainian city of Lviv, Sands begins to uncover the story of pioneering lawyers Hersch Lauterpacht and Rafael Lemkin, and their work in establishing ‘Crimes against humanity’ and genocide respectively as crimes under international law. At the same time, Sands discovers a personal connection tracing the story of his grandfather and the impact of Hitler’s regime on his life.

Emma by Jane Austen

Next on my list to read is Emma by Jane Austen. It seems everyone has read, and loved, what is perhaps Austen’s most famous book.

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BRI - events coordinator, bookseller

Can You Die of a Broken Heart by Nikki Stamp (due March)

Can You Die of a Broken Heart is a book written by an open-heart surgeon about all the ways we're learning that the body and "soul" (emotional landscape) are interconnected. This kind of book is the perfect antidote to the proliferation of pseudoscience online. Dr Stamp avoids hyperbole and establishes herself as a trustworthy author by noting where studies she references are truly conclusive or only suggestive. It's got some practical tips and myth-busting for people who want to take better care of their heart health, but it's written more as a love letter to the organ. It also digs into some prickly medical-industry-sexism with a calm, clear approach. Simple language and peppered with anecdotes from a tumultuous job. Highly recommend.

Frankenstein in Baghdad by Ahmad Saadawi

Frankenstein in Baghdad is such a wonderful book. A rascal-like junky-collecting story-teller, Hadi, has collected bits and pieces of bodies littered around his streets in Baghdad after multiple bombs, and of course he's sewn them altogether, and of course the finished product goes missing. This wild ride of magical realism has some gut-punches of social criticism. Not great for female characters, but it did the most wonderful job of helping me paint the picture of modern-day Baghdad in my mind. I wanted to race through it, expecting more drama and action, but my recommendation would be instead to savour this one. Ahmed Saadawi won the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (the "Arabic Booker Prize") for this in 2014 and it's a new translation by award-winning Jonathan Wright.