Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month.
Leanne Hall, grants officer for the Readings Foundation:
This month I barrelled through Julie Koh’s excellent short-story collection, Portable Curiosities. Koh has a knack for irresistible titles, so I naturally turned to ‘The Fantastic Breasts’ first and was not disappointed. If you like pithy, strange, cutting and hilarious stories that skewer modern-day living – this is the collection for you. I loved the takedown of foodie culture in ‘Cream Reaper’ and was mightily unsettled by the uncanny therapist in ‘The Sister Company’.
The writing ranges from satirical to gently speculative, and Koh deliberately and relentlessly presses on sore points of racism, misogyny, corporate torpor and emotional cruelty, all to extreme (and extremely funny) effect.
Isobel Moore, children’s and YA specialist:
I’ve been craving a really immersive, chunky read for a few weeks now, and so picked up the first book in Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander Series. It’s super fun – very enjoyable and richly detailed in a way that feels almost hypnotic. Gabaldon’s writing actually reminds me of Enid Blyton’s descriptions of mealtimes, except for that the former’s descriptions are all of herbal medicines (one of our main characters, Claire, is a nurse). This is vastly more enthralling than it sounds!
Jan Lockwood, human resources manager:
I was lucky enough to get away to the sun recently and my stand out holiday read was The Martian by Andy Weir. This is the story of an astronaut, Mark Watney, stranded on Mars and believed dead, and his incredible struggle for daily survival and to be rescued.
Told largely from Watney’s perspective via his personal log, The Martian had me totally engaged from start to finish. The movie was nominated in the comedy category in the 2016 Golden globes but I found the book in the science fiction section, and I reckon it fits comfortably in both camps. Yes, there are a lot of highly technical parts to this book which, to my surprise, I found utterly absorbing. But most of all I loved Watney’s ingenuity, his never-say-die attitude, and his sense of humour. I think he may be my new favourite literary character.
Stella Charls, marketing and events coordinator:
I don’t read many books for kids and teens, but this gem by Emily Gale made me realise what I am missing out on. The Other Side of Summer completely stole my heart – I found myself caring so much for Summer, the novel’s gutsy 13-year-old protagonist, and was incredibly moved by her story. There’s a lot to love about this novel. Gale weaves in storylines that involve music, mystery and magic, and you can read more about these beautiful elements in rave reviews from my colleagues Dani and Nina here and here. However, what really blew me away was Gale’s nuanced and heartfelt depiction of a family – their myriad relationships (complex and true), and the intricacies of their grief in the face of a tragic death.
Gale has written about the importance of books that tackle these heavy issues for kids and teens, and I highly recommend that anyone who finds themselves suggesting books for young people in their lives read her post here. I also highly recommend they pick up a copy of The Other Side of Summer, and enjoy getting lost in this heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story.
Mark Rubbo, managing director:
Interest in Hans Fallada was re-ignited with the republication of his great anti-fascist novel, Alone in Berlin, a few years ago. His new work, Nightmare in Berlin, is partly autobiographical and set just as Germany is falling to the Russian troops. Fallada’s disgust with himself and his countrymen is evident in this powerful and mesmerising story. It’s terrific that local publisher, Scribe, have brought this book into print in English. I’ve always been interested in how a highly-civilised and cultured society could have sunk to the depths of cruelty and depravity that Nazi Germany did, and Fallada shares unique insight into the minds of ordinary people that has frightening lessons for us now. Nightmare in Berlin is an amazing book.
Nina Kenwood, marketing manager:
Debut novel Music and Freedom is the beautifully told story of one women’s life. It’s also, as the title indicates, a book about music – specifically classical music – about which I confess to knowing nothing. This was not a problem when reading, as Zoë Morrison writes so well that I was swept up in her prose, and felt as though I myself were a pianist. But it’s not just a book about music – it’s also a story of a marriage, of power, pain, violence, hope, and opportunities lost and gained. I found myself furious at various points throughout this book, because I wanted the best for main character Alice so badly, and watching her life unfold in unexpected and painful ways was heartbreaking.
Music and Freedom is a moving, emotionally resonant novel, and an accomplished work of fiction. I highly recommend it for fans of Anna Goldsworthy, Anne Tyler, Stephanie Bishop and Elizabeth Strout.
Annie Condon, bookseller:
Susan Cain is the author of the bestselling Quiet and her subsequent book, Quiet Power is aimed at young people. It’s simply set out and really speaks to adolescents who may be wondering why they don’t enjoy big group events, or the increased use of group work in school and further education. Cain is highly personable, and refers to her own adolescence, and how if she’d known she was an introvert she would have relaxed a lot more and been happier within herself. If you’re interested, it’s worth checking out her TED talk where she describes her nightmare at summer camp!
I’m reading this because I have an introverted pre-teen, and I would also have loved this book when I was younger. Cain champions introverts, their creativity, innovation and ability to listen. In an age that values self-promotion, YouTube stars and international talent shows, this book is the perfect unassuming antidote.
Kara Liddell, bookseller:
I’m currently reading Renata Adler’s Pitch Dark, suffice to say it’s incredible and I can’t believe it has taken me this long to discover it. After a recommendation from a fellow bookseller during a recent trip to New York – and a continuing (and growing) obsession with NYRB publications – I picked up a copy. It’s repetitive, fragmented and jarring to read and it can be difficult to get into. Once you find your stride, though, you’re done for.
Pitch Dark will leave you breathless with the most singular and shattering lines of prose. I’m finding I often need to put it down to mull over what I’ve just read. It’s the story of a nine-year love affair, but that description alone is an injustice to the book. Just read it, you’ll see what I mean.