Booksellers' Book Club: May

Chloe

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

FIONA - co-owner

I'm having a week of beginning new books in time for our June book clubs.

This I Would Kill For by Anne Buist

I've just started Anne Buist's This I Would Kill For. It's the story of psychiatrist Natalie King who is the expert witness in a vicious child custody battle. When not writing crime fiction Anne is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne and has over 25 years clinical and research experience in perinatal psychiatry.

Anne will be speaking at our crime book club on Saturday 2nd June at 2.00pm. All welcome. I'm really looking forward to asking Anne about how her work influences her fiction. I think there is a marked difference between a crime writer researching for a book and an author who's daily life involves dealing with trauma and courtrooms.

The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti

The other book I have on the go is The Eight Mountains by Paolo Cognetti which our newest book club, The High Noon Book Club will be discussing on Friday 1st June. This book club reads award-winning fiction and is developing into a really interesting mix of people who work from home, work nearby or those who enjoy a bookish chat over lunch.

I chose Paolo Cognett's book because it won the Italian literary prize The Strega in 2017 and also because Annie Proulx described it as "Exquisite." High praise indeed! I'm really looking forward to immersing myself in mountain life of the Italian Alps.

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BRI - events co-manager, bookseller

Waiting for Elijah by Kate Wild

"In 2009, in the NSW country town of Armidale, a mentally ill young man is shot dead by a police officer. Senior Constable Andrew Rich claims he ‘had no choice’ other than to shoot 24-year-old Elijah Holcombe — Elijah had run at him roaring with a knife, he tells police." Wild follows the proceedings against Rich as they swing like a gut-wrenching pendulum; he won't give evidence then he must then there's an appeal and then a civil matter, and it goes on. At the heart of this story is Wild's own grappling around who to sympathise with. The Holcombe family open up to her, compromising the distance-from-the-matter she would normally maintain as an experienced ABC reporter. Wild has her own history with mental illness to enrich her understanding of the situation too. The reader wonders "who will win" the lawyers' battles in court, all the while being mournfully aware of everything important already having been lost. I am gripped by this question now: how can the police better handle members of the public with mental health problems? What's happening right now isn't working. Come hear Kate Wild talk to Cathy van Extel about it next month.

The Court Reporter by Jamelle Wells

Wells was a court reporter for over a decade and this book is a culmination of the cases that "shocked, moved, and never left us." As someone who has actually worked in the legal industry - and in the courts in particular - I have a lot of thoughts and feelings about the way legal matters and issues of "justice" are often communicated to the public. This book is proving to be (I'm half-way through) an incredible insight into the role of the court reporter. It's fascinating to hear how Wells experiences court, forms opinions or perspectives on cases, then communicates them to the public in a way that really (I believe) shapes and affects public opinion. It's a lot more than a journalist's niche. I'll be in-conversation with Wells in store next month.

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KRISSY - events co-manager, bookseller

Flights by Olga Tokarczuk

This Booker Prize shortlisted book by Polish writer Tokarczuk is a perfect travel companion. It is a novel broken into short sections, sometimes a few pages, sometimes a paragraph and reads like a philosophical response to the concept of travelling, kind of like a female, more adventurous version of Alain de Botton's book The Art of Travel. It weaves myths and history and observations in with fictional stories that reflect the ideas of the physical body, travel, life and death. I am halfway through this book and most of it has been fabulous although one of the very short sections was a thoughtless fat-shaming aside and almost turned me off the whole book. It is a shame that someone that has thought so deeply about the world can thoughtlessly dismiss large bodies who travel. In the same section another throwaway comment about disability had me equally upset at the work. I hesitantly made my peace with the scene and I'm glad I did because if we agree to disagree on those points, this book is such a striking and thought-provoking work and so many of the little details lead to a reassessment of the way we see the world. I'm not awarding Tokarczuk my Booker Prize because of those niggles - even though she is the hot tip to win the prize - but I am awarding her my attention. I wonder what the judges will think.

UPDATE: Flights has won the International Man Booker Prize!

There Once Lived a Mother Who Loved Her Children Until they Moved Back In: Three Novellas about Family by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya.

I love Petrushevskaya. A book I previously read of hers (There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbour's Baby: And other Fairy Tales) is a perennial favourite of mine. Petrushevskaya won many awards for her memoir of living in Stalinist Russia (The Girl from the Metropol Hotel) which I have yet to get my hands on but her childhood has certainly influenced her writing. These books are bleak but they are also funny and incredibly astute. The title story is a monologue but Petrushevskaya cleverly draws a dysfunctional family relationship and hints at the narrator's own terrible relationship with her mother, a relationship that she is revisiting and repeating through her own daughter. This is a great look at maternal failures featuring a mother who will always forgive her son (and grandson) no matter how terrible their behaviour and who will never forgive her daughter no matter how she tries to gain her mother's love. Somehow you still manage to understand and empathise with this terribly flawed mother. Petrushevskaya is one of the great writers whose name should be indelibly etched in the cannon but as a woman, writing about domestic situations, she is shamefully undervalued.

Axiomatic by Maria Tumarkin

"The past shapes the present – they teach us that in schools and universities. (Shapes? Infiltrates, more like; imbues, infuses.) This past cannot be visited like an ageing aunt. It doesn’t live in little zoo enclosures. Half the time, this past is nothing less than the beating heart of the present. So, how to speak of the searing, unpindownable power that the past – ours, our family’s, our culture’s – wields in the present?" And with that enigmatic blurb I am hooked. This is another book that weaves fact fiction, past present, philosophy and police into a narrative. I have this book lined up to read as soon as I finish Flights. Brow Publishing has been choosing such interesting texts. I am a big fan of their list and this one sounds like the best yet. I'll wait and see.

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CHLOE - social media manager, bookseller, web assistant

The Town by Shaun Prescott

My book club, the Young and Restless, have chosen this book for our June meeting and I am loving it so far. It's pretty weird, and pretty weird books are my favourite kinds of books. An unnamed narrator moves to a remote NSW town to write a book about "disappearing towns". The mundanity of small town living–having coffee at the local Michel's Patisserie, stacking shelves at Woolworths, grabbing a beer at the pub–is juxtaposed with the odd people that populate the town. There is a man who spends all his time in the supermarket trying to forget his tragic past and go back to life as a child when he knew what he was supposed to do; a young woman who receives mysterious tapes filled with unclassifiable music and plays them on her midnight radio show that no one listens to; a bus driver who never has any passengers. It's both familiar and unsettling in the way that the best gothic fiction can be. Although I haven't finished reading it yet, I think that this book will be an excellent and subtle addition to the Australian gothic genre.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

Full disclosure, I was very skeptical about reading this book. I thought it might be a bit too... saccharine for me. But I am pleased to say that I was wrong. This book is utterly wonderful. Gilbert addresses the usual concerns for creative living and gives her readers honest insights into her own life as well as techniques she uses to overcome the paralysing fear that can come with creating new work. It made me feel so happy and hopeful that I have no qualms in recommending this book to anyone who is grappling with their own creativity and self-doubt.

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

This book has been boldly touted as THE thriller for 2018 and I can certainly see why. It's fast-paced, taut, and unexpected. Anna Fox is a recluse and an agoraphobic. She spends her days taking copious amounts of prescription drugs and washing them down with merlot. Then comes the fun part–she watches old noir films and spies on her neighbours. When she witnesses a shocking act of violence, no one will believe her. Her drug-addled mind makes her an incredibly unreliable witness. As Anna begins to doubt her own sanity, a series of bizarre events leads Anna down a very dangerous path. This book has two major twists and I must admit that I was shocked and did cry in public when the first twist was revealed. This is a very clever book and a must-read for fans of psychological thrillers such as The Girl on the Train.

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TRENT - bookseller

In the Distance by Hernan Diaz

I just finished Hernan Diaz’s In the Distance, which is certainly the greatest Western I have read since Cormac McCarthy’s Blood Meridian. Like that book it is sort of an anti-western, but Diaz’s work resists the kind of amplification that occurs in most Westerns.

Hernan Diaz’s Swedish immigrant hero Hakan is separated from his brother on their journey to America, lost and alone he ends up on a boat to California, his brother on a boat to New York. When Hakan decides to travel against the flow of immigration and head East, he experiences all the travails of your standard western, but in In the Distance they are turned on their head. Hawk (as he becomes known, because no-one can pronounce his name) grows into a gentle giant of man, but his strength is not a virtue, and the legend that builds around him is a kind of cruel haunting. It’s a grim, heartbreaking, and utterly thrilling book. Highly recommended.

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SPENCER - bookseller, events assistant

Love and Ruin by Paula McLain

I have just started Love and Ruin by Paula McLain. A work historical fiction it is written from the perspective of the fiercely independent, and now widely acclaimed author and war correspondent, Martha Gellhorn. Set against the backdrops of Madrid, Finland, China and the Spanish Civil War, it follows the development of her relationship with Ernest Hemmingway and the choice she makes after he publishes the biggest literary success of his career. Martha Gellhorn was determined not to be a footnote in history. This book confirms why she deserves more.

The Librarian by Salley Vickers

Next on my list to read is The Librarian by Salley Vickers. Set in 1950s England it follows Sylvia Blackwell, a children’s librarian and the role of books in children’s lives.

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SARAH - bookseller, book buyer

Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday

This one starts out like a book you think you've read before. Manhattan, and distinguished 70-something author Ezra starts a conversation with 20-something Alice on a park bench. Alice works in publishing and is in shy awe of this man who is a seasonal favourite for the Nobel Prize. Awe soon turns to a relationship, part mentor, part nurse, part sexual, and all the messy health, secrets, financial and power issues that come with it. The writing kept me intrigued, with its wit and sly observations of these two characters who both know they have no future together. Then suddenly the book changes, and you are abruptly thrown into the world of Amar, an Iraqi-American who is trying to go back to the Middle East via London to search for his missing brother, but is held up at customs, and you realize that Asymmetry is wholly original and very smart.

Testament by Kim Sherwood

After reading the first few pages of Testament I was hooked. Silk, world renowned painter and one of the last prominent abstract expressionists of the 20th century, has died. In his last few years, Silk's granddaughter was living with him while she studied film, and they dabbled in a documentary on Silk's life. A Hungarian Jew who lived through the war before being settled in London, Silk maintained that that was when he was born - London, 1945. Art historians have long noted the lack of 'the Jewish experience' in his work, and that he was not influenced by his time in the camps. Now Silk is gone, and Eva finds the letter from the Jewish Museum in Berlin regarding some found documents. Responsible for his Legacy, Eva travels to Berlin to view the Testament, and the secrets it contains, certain that Silk would never want them seen. (Out in July)

Florida by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies was my book of 2015, and I was so excited to read her new collection of short stories. Each one centers around a character living in Florida (with a few exception with vacation stories set out of state), and whether you are opened up to their life a few nights or half a life time, be it in a swamp, hurricane or gentrified suburb, they hold the same raw dreaminess and beautiful prose creating a rich tapestry of the Other Sunshine State (Queensland is obviously the first). I'm someone who only really knows Florida as the butt of jokes in US comedy news shows, but it''s Groff's homestate, and in these stories she is fully self aware and darkly funny, with a tenderness if sometimes bleak outlook for her characters. Every story is rewarding. (Out in June)

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KATHLEEN - bookseller, events co-ordinator

Arabella by Georgette Heyer

I reread Georgette Heyer's Arabella for a Georgette Heyer bookclub. It's a very sweet and charming novel (in its way, much quieter than many Heyers, which are more melodramatic adventures than romances), with assorted characters attempting, ineptly and lovingly, to deceive each other about the true state of their (a) finances and (b) emotions.

Sir John Appleby Mysteries by Michael Innes

Otherwise, it has been All British Murders All The Time — miniature worlds of architectural history, the depredations of time, and delightfully observed characters (I do not read murders to try and solve the puzzle).

I started reading Michael Innes' Sir John Appleby mysteries, with Night of Errors; Hamlet, Revenge; and Private View. Unruly plots, occasionally jarring worldviews, but delightful descriptions, and they really ought, like Sarah Caudwell's novels, to have been illustrated by Edward Gorey (and possibly have been; although I haven't found a reference yet apparently Gorey was a fan). The last two - written twenty years apart but featuring the same stately home - create a fascinating contrast between England in the 1930s and 1950s (much as Jill Paton-Walsh attempted in her continuations of Dorothy Sayer's Lord Peter Wimsey novels).

Hamish Macbeth and Agatha Raisin by M.C. Beaton

Then I continued reading Hamish Macbeth with MC Beaton's Death of a Cad, rapidly falling for lanky, lazy, efficient, laconic, sweet, human Hamish, before jumping to MC Beaton's Agatha Raisin, with Agatha Raisin & the Poison Quiche; Agatha Raisin & the Vicious Vet; and Agatha Raisin & the Potted Gardener. Agatha is very much the opposite of Hamish, and at her best when she is unrepentantly, pugnaciously abrasive. Her 1990s Cotswolds are equally full of rural charm, corporate executives and bizarre murders.