2019 has seen the release of some fantastic books - and we're only halfway through the year! Our staff look back on their favourite books published so far this year...
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
This has got to be my hands down book of the year. Macfarlane takes us deep underground into caves that seem almost impossible to access, to underground burial sites to the mycelium growing underground linking the forest together. This is a beautiful book about the interconnectedness of nature and humans. It made me weep in several places. It is a journey that I will remember forever.
Three Women by Lisa Taddeo
This book is not technically out until July but I got an early copy of it and it is sensational. It is non-fiction, but more like a documentary than like anything else. Lisa followed a bunch of women for eight years. Each one had been marked or changed by a sexual decision or event. The three women in this book are the three subjects that she found most compelling. They are very compelling indeed. We watch these women over the course of years and see how their lives play out, the repercussions of decisions they made or acts that were performed on them, the judgement of the community around them. It is like you are a fly on the wall observing everything that is happening to these women. The book is written in such a clear and immediate style that it feels like you are watching their lives play out on the page. Rather than judge these women, the laying bare of their lives forces a reader to question their own judgements. It makes you wonder about things you have done that have gone on to define you. It makes you wonder why women are often defined by their sexual choices where men are not. So many questions that can only be answered by a reader. This is the kind of book that will stay with you for a long time.
Lanny by Max Porter
Porter got my attention with Grief is a Thing with Feathers and he has followed up with a book that is equally as quirky and poetic as Grief, but which is possibly more readable to a general audience. Lanny is the name of a young boy who moves to a rural community with his family. He is a strange child, he seems to be able to commune with nature, befriend anyone, and perhaps even channel the spirits of the town. When Lanny goes missing a landslide of blame and recriminations cause terrible rifts in the town. This is a book which is more about the way it is told than the events themselves. There is poetry in these pages, there is game-playing and sleight of hand. A unique and enjoyable experience
Exposure by Olivia Sudjic
This is a book about the process of putting yourself out there in the world through your writing. It looks at the panic that this can endure and the fact that this is a very female phenomenon. Drawing on the work and lives of other female creatives, Sudjic delves into the creative process and the horrors of presenting your work to the public. As someone who suffers from extreme anxiety whenever a book is born, I completely relate to this little book. It is comforting to think of the women who have gone before me and to know that I am not alone in facing the horrors of making space for myself in the world. I will keep this book on my writing desk always. I am sure other creatures of every type will see a glimmer of truth in this book.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner
A surprise last minute entry, Fleishman has only just been published but it is really wonderful and will be our book of the month for July. Toby Fleishman is newly divorced, and just discovering the wonders of app hookups - and the self confident sexual freedom experienced by women over 40s. Then one weekend his ex drops off the kids in the middle of the night and doesn't come back. On paper I wasn't sold on this book - another contemporary family drama set in Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side - but Brodesser-Akner really turns it on it's head and delivers a searingly funny and smartly observed novel, succeeding in part by having the story narrated in anthropological detail by Libby, Toby's long term friend an a writer for men's magazines. This one is a real treat!
Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
I feel like this one didn't quite get the love it deserved, but hopefully Reese Witherspoon will work her magic with the upcoming miniseries and it should translate effortlessly. 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. 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.
Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips
In the opening chapter of Phillips’s exceptional and suspenseful debut, two sisters—Sofia, 8, and Alyona, 11—vanish from a beach on the Kamchatka Peninsula in northeastern Russia, and their disappearance sends ripples throughout the close-knit community. The subsequent 12 chapters, taking place during the months over the following year, chart the impact of the kidnapping—and the destructive effect of longing and loss—and play out in a series of interconnected and equally riveting stories about others in the surrounding area. I love books that give such a sense of place to somewhere I have never considered before, and this one does it perfectly.
I do have a feeling that my favourite books of the year will be two that I haven't been able to sink my teeth into yet, but from the first few pages look absolutely stunning - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong, an epistolary novel of heartbreaking tenderness to the author/protagonist's illiterate mother; and Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, a completely addictive record of unmet needs, unspoken thoughts, disappointments, hopes and unrelenting obsessions that tests the boundaries of non-fiction.
Cygnet by Season Butler
Season Butler is such a good writer. I'd forgotten just how crucial to and emblematic of humanity our everyday gestures and actions are, and Butler's descriptions helped jostle me out of the fog. Her story is odd and tender, about a young woman abandoned by her parents on an island for eccentric retirees. A very, very good read that I am keen to get through at least once more this year.
The Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
This is a story of listening and echoes. One sound documentarist, the woman; one sound documentarian, the man. Her daughter, the girl; his son, the boy. They are a new and young family living in New York until the woman and the man's mutual archiving project comes to a close. The man decides he must settle for some time in Apacheria, where he will record the echoes of Geronimo and his gang, and their fight against colonial and military oppression. The woman has dedicated herself to archiving the identities, experiences and stories of children who cross the American/Mexican border unaccompanied by adults.The family road trip across the continent to the man's new home, which is a journey filled with arguments, silences, stories, the radio, discussions, David Bowie and Laurie Anderson, none of which is lost on the boy and girl in the back seat.
Luiselli does a superb and eloquent job of illustrating the functions, dysfunctions, understandings and misunderstandings of family dynamics. More so, Luiselli reminds us why childhood ought to be protected right for every child.
On the Sunday, She Created God by Gerii Pleitez
This book centres around a young author, Wren, who leaves Sydney with her two mates in search of snow. Rather than finding this soft and icy ideal, the group of misfits instead sift their way through a lot of drugs and emotional wreckage. I enjoyed the pace and poetry of this little gem, and have never read anything like it before. Gerii Pleitez’s debut novel and the inaugural novel from Kara Sevada, an independent publisher whose activities I look forward to following. I also thoroughly appreciated Pleitez’s author photo, a stunning homage to the cover of Patti Smith’s Horses. Right on, Gerii.
Underland by Robert Macfarlane
Underland by Robert Macfarlane is hands down my favourite new title of the year. It's a glorious exploration of the worlds beneath our feet, and the secrets those places hold. As compelling as gothic fiction, and beautifully written, this book will hold your hand in the darkness and enchant, horrify, and illuminate our intimate and often troubled relationship with the lands below us.
The Binding by Bridget Collins
This book has a little bit of everything and is the perfect holiday read. It has magic, romance, mystery, family tension, overcoming adversity. I just loved it. I've said it before and I'll say it again, this book is like is Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy fell in love in a Dickensian world. My mum was feeling a bit down so I gave her this book to read and she loved it. She said, 'it's just the most beautiful love story between two blokes'. Love ya ma.
Spring by Ali Smith
Ahh Ali Smith. I just love her and her mysterious and beautiful ways. She manages to cover such a huge range of issues effortlessly. I loved this meditation on death, immigration, art, and nature. She just has the most beautiful way with words.
Exposure by Olivia Sudjic
This is a tiny book that contains so much truth about writing, anxiety, and the difficulties in being a female artist. I keep this book near me when I'm stuck and flip through the pages for reassurance. Sudjic has a wonderful way with words and I'm keen to go back and read her fiction.