Is your to-read pile looking particularly uninspiring at the moment? Or maybe you’ve just finished a novel and aren’t quite sure what to read next? Never fear! The staff from Readings have your back. Here they share what they’ve been reading this month.
Mark Rubbo, Managing Director
I’m reading the latest book by popular historian Erik Larson. His previous book, In the Garden of Beasts, was about Roosevelt’s Ambassador to Hitler’s Germany, William Dodd – a fascinating story; a fascinating, horrible time. His new book, Dead Wake, is about the tragic crossing of the giant liner the Lusitania from New York to London and the political intrigues that lead to its sinking by a German U Boat in 1915, one hundred years ago. Larson is the master of historical narrative and this one is a cracker! I’m not surprised it went straight to the top of the US bestseller charts immediately upon publication.
Hannie Rayson’s Hello, Beautiful! is a memoir of sorts – a series of vignettes that illustrate a time or event in Hannie’s life. It is such a positive happy book that it has me smiling most of the time – or laughing. Not that it isn’t wise or serious at times – it’s often the first and sometimes the latter. The message I’m getting from the book is that we should embrace life and those around us. Coming from the theatre world, Hannie has some lovely anecdotes. She’s also shockingly frank, personal and funny. Talking about her an ex partner, she recounts how he had a brief fling with Helen Garner after they’d separated; she asked him if he’d mind if she put it in her the book and he replied: ‘Sure, but it was more than a “brief fling”’. She doesn’t say if she asked Helen!
Emily Gale, Online Children’s Specialist
I read the YA novel The Dogs, by Allan Stratton, in just a few hours: a combination of the fuss-free style and tensely unfolding dual mystery that makes this an ideal page-turner for teenage readers who would really prefer it if authors could just get to the point.
Stratton wrong-foots us from the start with his portrait of an unsettled teenage boy frustrated by his anxious mother who is convinced that her violent ex-husband has caught up with them again. Not for the first time she makes them pack up all their things and relocate. But then while the mother’s anxiety seems to subside, it’s the boy’s mental health that comes into question – we’re not sure which of his memories of his father to trust because he’s not sure either.
In the new place he becomes obsessed with an unsolved murder that he’s sure must have happened in the remote house they now live in, so much so that he’s distracted when his own past catches up with him. I found the last few chapters incredibly tense and confronting. This is a powerful depiction of domestic violence, and very accessible for young teenagers.
Stella Charls, Marketing and Events Coordinator
When I was a teenager I precociously decided that fantasy and science fiction were for children and I was only going to read ‘the real stuff’ from now on. I didn’t exactly know what ‘the real stuff’ was – Love! Death! Humanity! – but this ridiculous aversion to genre fiction hit me somewhere in between the fourth and fifth Harry Potter books and has sadly stuck with me for over a decade.
This year I’m keen to be braver, and read more broadly, which is what I told Michel Faber when he came into our Carlton shop to sign copies of his latest novel, The Book of Strange New Things. The book itself is a stunningly beautiful object, and my colleagues had raved about it since its release a few months ago (my colleague Deb calls it ‘nothing short of luminous’ in her review). It seems like a story of humanity, only set in an alien world – for believers and non-believers alike. So I’m going to dive straight in. Michel Faber is known for his personalised inscriptions, so here’s what he wrote inside my copy: ‘Prepare to be taken out of your comfort zone, trust me, and exhale when you get to the other end. I promise this is “the real stuff” as you put it…’.
Chris Somerville, Online Team
In anticipation for My Documents, published this month by McSweeneys, and which has already been called his best work to date, I’ve been making my way through the earlier work of Alejandro Zambra. So far I’ve read Zambra’s novella, Bonsai, and now I’m about halfway through his novel Ways Of Going Home, which is about a young boy growing up in Chile and also a writer working on a novel about growing up in Chile. The pleasure of reading books features heavily.
Zambra’s work is equally sad and funny and it feels, in the best way, nostalgic. I’m only about halfway through Ways Of Going Home and already there’s been more ideas contained in it than novels twice its size.
Ann Le Lievre, School and Libraries Liaison
Last year it was Tasmania. I soaked up the writing of Bob Brown, Maggie MacKellar and Favel Parrett. This year I think it will be Wales.
I am loving Katharine Norbury’s The Fish Ladder. The author lives part of the year in a small cottage on the Llŷn Peninsula: ‘At its western tip the Llŷn Peninsula is like a pointing hand; a solitary finger gesticulates a warning against the Irish Sea, at the place where the tides converge, and this place is known as the Swnd, or Sound.’
Norbury’s life has been filled with loss. She has suffered the miscarriage of a longed-for child and she has also been experiencing loss throughout her life in another way. She was raised by adoptive parents after being abandoned as a baby. These events become the motive for her yearning to be outdoors, to experience the rawness of nature. Norbury takes us on walks, into the Welsh wilderness and then into Scotland, searching for streams to follow, hopefully from their source to their eventual completion at coast-end. The writing has an ebb and flow, echoing the movement of water, and moving backwards and forwards across time, too, with the interweaving of stories from local myth and legend.
Bronte Coates, Digital Content Coordinator
There are a few short-story collections that I return to again and again. One of them is Laura van den Berg’s What the World Will Look Like When All The Water Leaves Us which is straight-up fantastic. Now her debut novel is here and, much like her short stories, it’s all kinds of weird and wonderful. Set in a America ravaged by a strange new sickness that causes rapid memory loss, Find Me, opens in a hospital. Along with the other ‘inmates’ (the hospital has the eerie feel of a prison), the narrator Joy is immune to the sickness and being studied for a cure. The second half of the novel follows Joy’s trip across a desolate landscape to track down her birth mother.
Van den Berg’s debut has been warmly received overseas. Salon described her as ‘the best young writer in America’, while the Guardian compared her writing to Margaret Atwood and Kazuo Ishiguro. It’s easy to see why. The themes van den Berg tackles are wide-ranging and universal while the details that evoke her dystopian vision of the world are elegant constructions in miniature, precise and haunting. I don’t think Find Me is a perfect novel – the structure is unwieldy – but I get so much joy out of her perspective on the world and writing style.
Nina Kenwood, Digital Marketing Manager
ABC TV’S Book Club recently raved about Brother of the More Famous Jack. Published in the early eighties, this is Barbara Trapido’s debut novel, and it’s rather delightful. It’s a novel about families, and relationships, and it has a lot fascinating things to say about both. It’s cosy book, perfect for reading while curled up under a blanket with a cup of tea at hand.
The Well, by Catherine Chanter, is a big, thoughtful debut novel, with a lot to say about the internet and the media, and faith and survival. The story is set in a world where it hasn’t rained in Britain for years, except for one place: a rural farm owned by a couple, Ruth and Mark, who left the city for their tree-change dream when the resources shortage was just beginning. The heart of the novel is actually a murder-mystery, with the water crisis and the strange happenings at Ruth and Mark’s farm setting the stage for tragedy. A good one for book clubs, I think – there are a lot of themes and ideas to discuss.
I also recently read So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson, and it was so much fun (as well as being rather horrifying). It’s the kind of book you’ll race through very quickly, only stopping to tell whoever’s around about the outrageous, irritating or amusing chapter you just read. I highly recommend it.