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.
Shell by Kristina Olsson
I know I am a little early, but in October you will all be in for a treat. Kristina Olsson has a new novel out! Her first novel in years and gosh is it a beauty. I kept underlining sentences and thinking about all the ideas she just lightly touches the page with. This is a thoughtful meditative book set during the building of the Sydney Opera House. It follows duel protagonists. Pearl Keogh, a jaded Sydney journalist who has been punished for her wit, her gender and her vocal opposition to Australia's involvement in the Vietnam war, by being banished to the 'women's pages', where she has to write about fashion and charity events. Pearl is worried about her two estranged brothers who would now be old enough to be drafted into the army. We also follow the dreamy glassmaker Axel Lindquist who is creating something sublime for the foyer of the Opera House. Axel has also lost people, his father, and more recently the architect of the Opera House, Jorn Utzon, who he desperately wants to find while he is in the same city. These two characters walk us around the city of Sydney at a time of unrest and political upheaval. I was so happy shadowing Pearl and Axel who made me think about loss, love, art and the concept of neutrality. I came away from this book knowing that I have to take sides in any battle and completely prepared to step into any fray. A gorgeous book, literary, gentle, haunting.
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
Melissa Lucashenko's new book Too Much Lip has had to wait till I finish books I have to read for writers festival appearances, but every so often I sneak away and read another chapter. Melissa is in fine form, she has a way of mixing the political with laugh out loud comedy. I am completely won over by smart talking, motorcycle riding protagonist Kerry Salter. Kerry heads south to visit her dying father, even though she has spent a lifetime trying to avoid both her home town and a prison cell. She is only going to stay a day but of course, the best plans... I am itching to finish this book which has started out as a rollicking and thought-provoking read.
Spinning Silver by Naomi Novik
From the author of the fantastic standalone fantasy Uprooted comes another breathtaking tale set in a frosty fantasy Eastern European village. The story is a loose retelling of Rumpelstiltskin but weaves other traditional fairytales and folklore through a complex, though not burdensome, plot involving three very strong, and very different, young women. Through this retelling, the heroines are both monster and hero, both princess and pauper. Novik lets her young women get selfishly angry and it is so satisfying to read. Spinning Silver has the perfect mix of magic, romance, legend, and danger and I couldn't put it down until I had finished the entire book.
A Beginner's Guide to Being Mental by Natasha Devon
Mental health campaigner Natasha Devon tackles the incredibly complex subject of being 'mental' in her book A Beginner's Guide to Being Mental. Devon calls on experts in the fields of psychology, neuroscience, and anthropology to demystify the full spectrum of mental health from A (anxiety) to Z (zero fucks given). Readers will learn about every form of mental health issue including body image, self harm, depression, bipolar, and gender. By using a combination of statistics and personal experience, Devon informs with humour and compassion. I think that this is an incredibly important book, especially for those who work with, or live with, people experiencing mental health issues--particularly young people. Devon offers strategies for helping yourself and helping others in an inspiring and accessible way.
Murderbot Diaries by Martha Wells
I’ve been reading the Martha Wells Murderbot Diaries. It’s one of the many fine things coming out of Tor’s Novella series. There’s an argument that novellas are the perfect length for SF, and this series proves it. They’re not just fabulous adventures set in a kind of Corporate Space Opera Universe (If you’re not sure what Space Opera is, it’s a little bit Star Wars and a little bit Star Trek with a stack of Alien thrown in) but they’re also a great rumination on artificial intelligence and how it might interact with humans. Murderbot’s a deeply cynical rogue cyborg who loves soap operas and who goes around solving people’s problems while delving into a deeper conspiracy in the background. They’re a lot of fun, kind of like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, but punchier (these novella’s crack along) and set in space: a new mystery crops up in every book. The last one Rogue Protocol was so much fun that I read it in one sitting, the first novella All Systems Red won this year’s Hugo for best novella.
The Thing Itself by Adam Roberts
I also finished another book by Adam Roberts called The Thing Itself . It’s the sort of novel that is highly literary but science fiction, so if it can’t pretend to be one or the other it sort of falls between the cracks. Starting with an attempted murder and possible encounter with aliens in Antarctica, it threads itself backwards and forwards through time. If you enjoyed Cloud Atlas, I suspect you’d love this. It’s a fabulous novel that engages not just with the movie The Thing, but the philosophy of Kant, the Fermi Paradox and a possible use of AI, as well as Time Travel. The physics is cutting edge, the story compelling, and it will leave you thinking. Adam Robert’s 'By the Pricking of Her Thumb' will be our SF Bookclub’s book in December.
The Bush by Don Watson
This book set me back a few weeks in my reading list, not because it was dense or a drag, but because it prompted more 'what-was-before' and 'what-could-have-been' gazes out of Translink windows than usual. Amongst the images conjured by Watson's vivid descriptions, I was wondering where all of these images come from. Sure, some are drawn from personal experience and memory, but Don got me to wondering whose conception of 'The Australian Bush', and whose impressions of it I've been harbouring. Although there is plenty of social and cultural history, of a certain kind, I particularly enjoyed Watson's descriptions of native and introduced flora and fauna.
Favourite sentence: "The bush will not lie down."
The Wounded Sinner by Gus Henderson
Educative though it was, Watson's book is one kind of knowledge, and I like my learning to be shaken not stirred. Like last month, I admit to my aesthetic weakness in choosing this book. But the title also had a hand to play, and the blurb really was the icing on the literary cake. Magabala Books are doing something seriously right. The Wounded Sinner is a novel set through a Sunday to Wednesday of an Australian family. Henderson sheds a different light and autonomy on the archetypal bush characters that have frequently been glazed over or assumed. It is about people that are each other's lives and people that enter each other's lives; what they leave and whether they themselves ever leave. If I were one to bother with Father's Day presents, I would bother with this book.
Favourite sentence: "Matthew and Vince walked back to the twin-cab, carrying beer and ice and lighter wallets."
Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko
At this point I've clearly indulged in a tangent reading list: Australia when, how and for whom. In Too Much Lip, Melissa Lucashenko gives articulate voice to a diversity of black experiences in this country. From Donna, who pulled herself from trauma twice in her life, to her namesake nephew Donny, stuck somewhere between virtual reality, the animal world of his totem and emotional limbo, Lucashenko's characters interact in what could be harmony or syncopation. Melissa's writing is also absolutely hilarious at times, and delightfully raunchy at others. Don't go through 2018 without reading it.
Favourite sentence: "Uncle Richard gazed steadily at his nephew and in the dark pools of his Uncle's eyes Donny found somewhere to be."
Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami
In anticipation of the release of Haruki Murakami’s latest book, Killing Commendatore, I have just read his collection of short stories, Men Without Women. In seven stories Murakami tells the stories of men, who for different reasons, find themselves alone in the world. From a cosmetic surgeon, to a veteran actor and divorced salesman, Murakami’s stories manage to combine existentialism with humour and compassion.
Identity by Francis Fukuyama
I am currently reading Identity by Francis Fukuyama set to be released in October. Identity is a meditation on the times. Examining the rise of economic nationalism and authoritarianism, Fukuyama seeks to understand the populist appeal to ‘the people’ and the role of identity in world politics today.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
An absolutely devastating masterpiece. George Saunders said he didn't know how Kushner "is able to know so much and convey all of this in such a completely entertaining and mesmerising way" and I wholly agree. I read a New Yorker article in which Kushner talked about her research and the people who helped her understand the women's prisons in the US, and that article led me to the book itself. Honestly it's given me a lot more empathy and insight into the lives of incarcerated individuals (that's a big thing for me because typically I'm the kind of person batting for the prosecutors) because the protagonist is serving a double life sentence. The book is heartbreaking, sure, but the phenomenal wit, dark humour, and absurdity of the dialogue and characterisations save it from being just low-low.
Wintering by Krissy Kneen
I was so, so excited to read this and it did not disappoint - I finished it in two sittings. Wintering takes several dark twists and turns, but initially we're gripped by the disappearance of our protagonist Jessica's partner in the remote Tasmanian forest. It made me feel physically cold and pretty creeped-out at times; there is a perfect combination of specific science (duh, it's Kneen) and a much more amorphous sense of the uncanny. Setting is a critical component of this book, and I found the natural world was painted vividly for me and that the dialogue was absolutely evocative of a particular time and place. The ending is hugely satisfying so that 'cold' feeling was like the hard work to get to a red-hot finale. A fantastic, expertly-handled book.