Five books that have made an impression on me this year
Bookseller Jason Austin shares five books that have made an impression on him in 2014.
Young Hearts Crying by Richard Yates.
Every year I try to read at least one novel by Richard Yates. It’s a relatively new tradition of mine that will sadly only last a couple more years as Yates only wrote seven novels and only has two short-story collections available. His own story is a sad one. He suffered from alcoholism and mental illness and his books, although critically acclaimed, were not commercial successes in his lifetime. Maybe his themes of depression and the creativity crushing banality of suburbia were too realistic and/or introspective for a post-war American audience, and not long after his death in 1992 all of his books went out of print.
Luckily, there was a re-interest in his writing, maybe due to Sam Mendes’ brilliant 2008 film adaptation of Yates’ classic first novel Revolutionary Road. Last year I read The Easter Parade which is about two sisters that take very different paths from childhood into older age. Young Hearts Crying explores the subject of masculine pride, as young poet Michael continuously turns down his wealthy wife’s offer of financial aid, insisting that he can support them both. It was one of my favourite reads this year. This book would be perfect for book clubs too.
We Are Called To Rise by Laura McBride.
I am a little ashamed to admit this but I quite often choose reading material based on the cover alone and I first picked up We Are Called To Rise, due to its cover. Though, I am glad that Simon and Schuster did such a great job on the artwork, as this is a wonderful novel.
Told through four disparate narratives which eventually come together: Avis’s marriage is in tatters and her adult son has just come home from serving in the US military with PTSD; 8-year-old Bashkim and his mother are constantly walking on eggshells around his father, who was a political prisoner in Albania; Luis is a returned serviceman who is laying in a military hospital in Washington; and, street smart councillor Roberta looks after the troubled and disenfranchised.
I loved the way McBride has crafted this novel as it kept me constantly wondering how these narrative threads were going to be tied together, and when they do comes like a punch to the stomach. A brilliant debut!
The Shock Of The Fall by Nathan Filer
Matthew is the author of this tale which begins with the accidental death of Simon, Matthew’s younger brother. Reading this book you learn two things: 1. Matthew is responsible for Simon’s death. 2. Matthew is also schizophrenic.
Nathan Filer’s book won the Costa First Novel Award early this year and it’s not hard to see why the judges thought it a worthy winner. His writing of love and loss, guilt and mental illness is beautiful and heartbreaking. The judges of the Costa Award said The Shock Of The Fall was ‘so good it will make you feel a better person’.
One of the most thoughtful titles that I had the pleasure of experiencing this year.
What Came Before by Anna George
In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to say that Anna is a friend of mine. But I also want to say that she has written one of the best thrillers that I have read this year and it’s set in Melbourne.
Our reviewer Fiona Hardy wrote: ‘This book is searingly local - the scent of marinara, white-star jasmine and smoke from the oil refineries fill the air of Melbourne’s city streets and inner-west - and upon reading it, maybe, like me, you’ll wish it wasn’t, so that you couldn’t imagine this book playing out in the house next to yours.’
It’s not an easy read as What Came Before deals with domestic violence and the very real situation of what happens when one falls in love with someone who is courting these very dark demons. A thoughtful, beautifully-written and riveting debut.
The Days Of Anna Madrigal by Armistead Maupin.
It is important to note that this year saw the end of the Tales Of The City series that has been such an important series to many, myself included. The Days Of Anna Madrigal, although not the best book in the series, rounds off the chronicle in satisfying fashion as Anna Madrigal, now in her nineties, revisits the desert brothel that was her childhood home. She has come to make amends for an incident that she fled from many decades before, when she was a boy names Andy Ramsey.
On a personal note, I was twenty years old when I picked up the first book and as a young guy who had just moved to Melbourne from country Victoria in 1993, it spoke volumes to me. I consumed the first six books in a matter of a couple of weeks and then had to wait another fourteen years before the seventh book was released. Since then I have re-read the books several times (as well as viewed the companion TV series; the first three books have been filmed). With each reading (and viewing), these characters have made an indelible mark on my psyche and, at the risk of sounding sappy, my heart.
You shall all be missed, my dear old friends.
Jason Austin is a buyer and bookseller at Readings Carlton.