Dear Reader, May 2022
I found tears sliding down my face on the tram earlier this year while reading Chloe Hooper’s Bedtime Story, our wonderful Nonfiction Book of the Month. This exceptional memoir is about illness and mortality, and is an intimate glimpse into the experience of a person and her family whose world is defined in a particular way, for a time, by both those things, when her partner is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. At the heart of the book is a pressing question: how is it possible to prepare the young for the cold reality of our finite existence, to let them in on the open secret that all the people they know and love have to die, especially when we are so poorly equipped to explain this to ourselves? Like all bookish people, Hooper turns to literature for help: here is a writer, looking to the work of other writers to get her through. Books, dear Reader, are the answer to this (and pretty much every) question; Hooper is our literary spirit guide.
For the record, I’m not a reader who cries while reading (or laughs out loud, for that matter) – I can probably name the books that have brought on involuntary emotional reactions – and the weeping on the tram was not induced by gloom, but more by the beauty and impossible accident of being alive, which Hooper brings to the page with her rare writerly skill that we have come to know so well. She is wry and funny too, contrasting the mundane moments of the everyday with the enormity of her partner’s illness. It’s a must-read, and surely one of the books of the year.
Our reviewers also point you in the direction of the essay collection by Eda Gunaydin, Root and Branch; Sam Knight’s seemingly fictional but absolutely historical tale of science and superstition in The Premonitions Bureau; and Australian physicist Suzie Sheehy’s The Matter of Everything, which promises to entertain and inform even the most science-averse reader; and turn to page 5 for an extract from Akuch Kuol Anyieth’s remarkable memoir, Unknown. Also out this month is Astronomy: Sky Country, the next book in the wonderful First Knowledges series (you may recall Songlines, Design, and Country); Ann-Marie Priest’s new biography of Gwen Harwood; Media Diversity Australia co-founder Antoinette Lattouf’s timely How to Lose Friends and Influence White People; actor Minnie Driver’s memoir, Managing Expectations; and the book that couldn’t be more 2022 if it tried: The Nineties: A Book by Chuck Klosterman. I love the idea of the National Library of Australia’s Vintage Knits which trawls the pattern archive (but won’t be able to undertake any projects: for some reason I can knit, but cannot purl). Bryan Ferry has published a book of his song lyrics. China Mieville turns his eye to a unique reading of The Communist Manifesto.
Our Fiction Book of the Month is an outstanding debut novel by a Melbourne author: Sunbathing by Isobel Beech. This book takes its protagonist away from our city, and into the arms of friends in Abruzzo, Italy, as she tries to process the death of her father to suicide. While the synopsis may seem heavy, Beech has a beautiful lightness of touch, and the book’s prose is never weighed down by the sadness of the event that sets the novel’s plot in motion. The evocation of the Italian countryside in summer is strikingly seductive (and perfect as we head towards Melbourne’s winter), and the comfort offered by true friendship is a poignant reminder of how we make our way in difficult times. It’s also a right-on-time commentary of life online, full of insight and intellect. Beech is a brilliant new talent, and this book is so enjoyable: I, among many, will be following her career keenly. Our reviewers also recommend yet more local debut novels by George Haddad, Ashley Goldberg, Michelle Cahill and Caroline Petit, and there is new work from Nigel Featherstone and Steve Toltz. Don’t miss This All Come Back Now, an exciting new anthology of First Nations speculative fiction, edited by Mykaela Saunders. In international fiction, our reviewers enthusiastically point you to the new books by Mieko Kawakami (recently shortlisted for the 2022 International Booker Prize for her previous work, Heaven), Candice Carty-Williams (of Queenie fame), the first novels translated into English from Korean writer Gu Byeong-mo and Italian writer Bianca Pitzorno, the debut novel from Emilie Pine (whose essay collection Notes to Self won the Irish Book Award in 2018). Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These is a little gem. How to Loiter in a Turf War by the multi-talented Auckland-based artist Jessica Hansell (AKA Coco Solid) is definitely worth a look.
Our Crime Book of the Month is Shelley Burr’s first book, Wake, which our resident Dead Write-r calls, ‘the best kind of outback thriller… Burr’s debut is there to show the world that Australian crime is really the superior of the genre. International crime fiction really should watch its back.’ You tell ’em, Fiona! Also out this month in crime are the long- awaited new works from (local star) Dervla McTiernan, and (international stars) Ragnar Jónasson and Don Winslow.
And finally, dear Reader, it’s not infrequently that I reflect on how difficult it is for me to read books that have already been published. Since my job requires so much reading ahead, books that have already hit the shelves are very, very hard to go back to. As the ever-growing pile of forthcoming books taunt one from the nightstand, reading back into the past seems close to impossible. So spare a thought for all the classics that I haven’t read (or, just quietly, might have pretended to have read/finished) – it’s only the event of retirement, hopefully many years hence, that will allow me such an indulgence. So please take advantage of our 3-for-2 offer on Penguin Black Classics on my behalf, and catch up on some of those titles you’ve always meant to read!