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.
House of Stone by Novuyo Rosa Tshuma
Novuyo Thsuma has done something so heartful and so heavy here. The protagonist, Zamani, longs for the family, lineage and history denied to him by his country's past. So pulled is he by this call to relations that he sabotages the stability of his landlord's family, so that he may take the place of their son, Bukhosi. Ensnared in Zamani's profound yet tormenting ploy, the lessors Mama Agnes and Abednego are coaxed into opening their own and their respective families' wounds. Most of these were inflicted during Gukuruhandi, a series of massacres committed by the Zimbabwe National Army in the early 1980s after Rhodesia gained independence and became Zimbabwe. This is a novel with intense agony and remembering, a novel of fate within and fate without your hands. Please come in and order a copy so we can talk about it together.
Paradise Rot by Jenny Hval
Jo's thoughts and sensations blur the line between inside and out. So when she moves to a new country, residence and course, she struggles to hold onto herself amid these environments. From her roommate and the thin-walled home they share, Jo learns to draw and collapse her boundaries as she desires and requires.
Rosewater by Tade Thompson
Kaaro is a secret government agent living in Nigeria, 2066, in the wake of global alien invasion. He is also a 'sensitive', a person who is able to manipulate others' perceptions with his mind to his own end. No longer wielding his abilities for theft and personal profit, Kaaro finds himself at the centre of an ecological, psychological, political, global and extraterrestrial play. And it's a trilogy!!!
ImPerfect by Lee Kofman
This exploration of the idea of surface beauty has no answers but poses a lot of questions. Kofman's deep dive into the idea of physical perfection is woven into her own memoir where early surgeries in Russia left her with pronounced scars on her chest and legs. The memoir sections in this book are the most compelling where Kofman lays herself bare on the examining table, scars and all. Her journey moves from Russia to Israel to Australia and throughout her personal journey, ideals of physical beauty shift with cultural differences. She interviews people living with what people would call physical imperfections and in the process comes to terms with what beauty means for her and the complexities of living in damaged skin.
Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead by Olga Tokarczuk
This odd little mystery set in a remote Polish Village in the heart of winter feels like something the Coen Brothers Might have come up with. Our protagonist is a difficult older woman who believes in astrology and the rights of animals. When a series of murders occur and a group of hunters seem to be involved, Duszejko believes that the animals might just be taking their revenge. This is a quirky book with a very Eastern European soul. Perfect for summer reading.
About the Author is Dead by Pascalle Burton
In this fabulous collection of poetry, Burton explores the idea of Authorship in smart and playful ways, She bumps up against the work of other authors of music, film and philosophy whilst weaving in ideas that feel intensely personal. Entering this book is like entering a hall of mirrors where the idea of the self is confronted at every turn. A refreshing book of poetry filled with plenty of wonderful ideas.
Sabrina by Nick Drnaso
This graphic novel is truly a book of our times. The social media obsessed characters of this book are shocked when Sabrina is brutally murdered. Her boyfriend can't deal with his grief and goes to live with an old friend in a distant town. Online trolls question the death of Sabrina. They question the guilt of the murderer who is discovered to be a man who lives not far from Sabrina's apartment. The trolls start conspiracy theories blaming Sabrina's boyfriend, blaming the friend. This book looks at the disconnectedness of modern life and the toxic nature of a culture that hides behind anonymity online. The clean almost architectural drawings underline this feeling of sterile disconnected life in our world of social media and fake news. This book is dark and troubling but really touches a nerve. It feels like Drnaso has put his finger right on a festering sore in our modern times. Clear-sighted, disturbing and true. Not a light summer read but an important one.
Fusion by Kate Richards
Sea and Serene are conjoined twins who have been abandoned and rejected by society. They live an isolated existence in the Australian alpine wilderness with Wren, a young man who helps care for them. One day, Wren brings home an injured woman he finds on the side of the road. The twins nurse the woman back to health and try to help her recover the memories she has lost the her mysterious accident that led her to them. This beautiful book is poetic and filled with stunning imagery. The prose breathes and lingers - I had to stop myself from underlying almost every sentence. Fusion is part gothic fairy tale and part mystery.
Everything Under by Daisy Johnson
I must admit that I wanted to read this book because the cover is just so beautiful, but the story is even better. Gretel is abandoned by her (rather mad) mother only to be reunited with her sixteen years later as her mother is battling dementia. While taking care of her, Gretel tries to unravel the mysterious events leading up to her mother's disappearance. Everything Under is a modern retelling of the classic Greek tale of Oedipus that crackles with energy. It's dark and edging and utterly compelling. It was also (well-deservedly) shortlisted for the 2018 Man Booker prize!
Louis & Louise by Julie Cohen
Louis & Louise is so good it is our February fiction book of the month. An original, powerful and moving story, Louis and Louise are the same person born in two different lives. They are separated only by the sex announced by the doctor and a final ‘e’. They have the same best friends, the same red hair, the same dream of being a writer, the same excellent whistle. They both suffer one catastrophic night, with life-changing consequences. Critically acclaimed author Julie Cohen has taken her storytelling to another level.
The Night Tiger by Yangsze Choo
A mesmerising story set in 1930s Malaysia about a dancehall girl and an orphan boy who are brought together by a series of unexplained deaths and an old Chinese superstition about men who turn into tigers. For readers who enjoy sweeping stories of Asian myth and legend and fans of David Davidar and Eka Kurniawan. Due mid-February
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
Be surprised by Daisy Bates & the Six. An engaging story told in the form of an extended oral history, Daisy Jones and the Six transports the reader to the world of '70s rock 'n roll; creative chaos, musical alchemy and an iconic sound. Due early-March
The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith
I will write more about Dominic Smith’s The Electric Hotel closer to its release date mid-year. Suffice to say now that if you enjoyed Smith’s bestselling The Last Painting of Sara de Voss you will love The Electric Hotel; a radiant novel tracing the intertwined fates of a silent-film director and his muse.
The War Artist by Simon Cleary
I am halfway through Simon Cleary's excellent new novel The War Artist. Brigadier James Phelan returns from Afghanistan suffering post-traumatic stress disorder. I have now lived with Phelan to the point of his breakdown and the story is about to take a turn. To where, I don't know. This is an engaging story beautifully told. I look forward to finishing it and hearing Simon talk about The War Artist at Avid Reader on Tuesday 12 March. Book here.
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
It's the late 1970s and after a whirlwind rise, Daisy Jones and the Six are the biggest rock band in the world, with a number 1 album and sell out stadium tours. At their peak, the band imploded and no-one really knows what happened. Decades later, the band, their family and managers are interviewed and the transcript becomes a document of oral history in this novel. I slipped into the interview style of writing easily, and save for a few moments the read more like they were written instead of spoken, it was effortless done by Reid and convincingly conjured visions of watching it as a documentary (and it's already been picked up as a miniseries). The charismatic but deeply flawed characters really shine, with the messy, drug, lust, and ego-driven relationships between all of them on full display, and each has their own version of history to tell piecing into a whole picture. It's a story that could have so easily become corny, but I was totally engrossed in this novel that is big and bold while at the same time subtle and moving.
The Gunners by Rebecca Kauffman
This is another novel that feels like in lesser hands could have easily been derivative or hokey, but instead is delicately and masterfully written. 20 or so years ago in Buffalo, NY, a group of children start a club in one of the abandoned houses on the street, named The Gunners for the old mailbox sitting outside. Throughout high school they are a refuge for each other from school and family, until suddenly one of them cuts herself off from the others, and never really talks to them again. Now the kids have grown up, moved away, and only keep in contact with the odd email, until they are thrown together again for 1 night and revisit old and new wounds. While each of the friends gets their story told, the crux revolves around Mikey, the youngest of the bunch who felt he never moved on the same way the others did. In the early pages I was drawn to his strained relationship with his single father, so succinctly and complexly detailed, and really enjoyed where Kauffman took it. The Gunners is generous and delightful and I finished reading it with a little lump in my throat.
We, the Survivors by Tash Aw
I've only just started this one but I'm already so excited by it. Ah Hock is an ordinary, uneducated man in Malaysia, and over the course of a few days he sits down with a journalist and talks about the years leading up to his murdering a Bangladeshi migrant worker. It starts with the immediate aftermath, him walking away from the scene of the crime in almost a daze, the 2ft tree branch murder weapon heavy at his side, his looking forward to the consistency of jail. I can't wait to get home so I can keep reading it over the long weekend!
The World As It Is by Ben Rhodes
I have recently read, The World As It Is, written by Ben Rhodes, adviser to Barack Obama. Rhodes was a creative writing graduate and aspiring novelist who joined the Obama campaign in 2008. He became a speech-writer, policymaker and trusted adviser to the President. The World As It Is provides an intimate account of the Obama White House, of the challenges domestically and internationally, and of a man who was frequently described as having a ‘mind-meld’ with the President. Written in the style of George Stephanopoulos’ memoir of the Clinton administration, All Too Human, Rhodes is, however, less cynical and more hagiographical. The book’s strength lies in its descriptions of people, portraits of Obama and his closest aides, and what it’s like to work in the West Wing. If you enjoyed the documentary, the Final Year, following Obama’s final year in office, you will enjoy this book.
A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide by Samantha Power
I am currently reading Samantha Power’s, 2003 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide. Well known these days for having served as American ambassador to the United Nations under Obama, Power is a Harvard professor and former war correspondent, who argues that time and time again, at important moments, America has shown itself to be indifferent ‘in the face of humanitarian crises.’ Power starts with Raphael Lemkin and his fight for genocide recognition, American refusal to sign the genocide convention, and contends that presidents from Wilson to Clinton were not unaware (nor powerless to do anything) when atrocities were taking place in Germany, Armenia, Cambodia, Bosnia, and Rwanda. Armed with one hundred pages of references, Power establishes what was known, and when, to present an indictment, and timely account of American foreign policy. What is clear from reading A Problem from Hell is that American apathy coupled with hubris in foreign affairs is nothing new.