What We’re Reading

Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films we’re watching, the television shows we’re hooked on or the music we’re loving.

Tara is reading Because a White Man’ll Never Do It

white-manI present a fortnightly breakfast segment on Triple R called First Place where I look at an inspirational or interesting figure from the rich, complex tapestry of Australian history who has done something first. Having spied a copy of the classic text, Because a White Man’ll Never Do It, (originally published in 1973) while dusting the Australian Studies’ shelves, I realised Kevin Gilbert was a man of many firsts about whom I knew very little.

Getting to know not only Gilbert’s story but also the stories of so many other Indigenous Australians, whose voices were never heard by White Australia, I found myself learning something new with every page I turned. An intelligently written call to arms entwining important though often heartbreaking personal accounts, this is hands down one of the most significant and moving books I have ever read. I don’t simply recommend it; I feel a responsibility to do so.

I’ve also recently watched Beyond the Hills. Based on the true events of an unbelievable exorcism gone wrong, this is the story of two young women who reunite after many years apart. Alina is lost in a cruel world that has chewed her up and spat her out like so much refuse; Voichita is a novice in a small Orthodox community, living a simple life devoted to God.

Convinced that her friend has been brainwashed and that the commune is in fact a cult, Alina is determined that when she leaves she will take Voichita with her. Not wanting to break her commitment to God, Voichita is torn between her faith and her compassion for her childhood friend. Soon, all good will turns sour and everyone’s actions are called into question in a devastating and unforgettable way.

A staggering film about tested faith, love and loyalty; Beyond the Hills provides provocative and resonant viewing.

Belle is reading The Embassy of Cambodia

ZadieSmith The Embassy of Cambodia is a short story from Zadie Smith, now published in book form. Smith’s story was originally published in the New Yorker and centres on a young woman, Fatou, who is a domestic servant for a wealthy family in North West London. The story is familiar territory for readers of NW, Smith’s sharp and disquieting novel from last year, which was set around the Caldwell housing estate in the same area of London. In The Embassy of Cambodia, we follow Fatou as she moves between her employer’s home and the health club she visits to swim laps, secreting the family’s membership pass out of the house so she can enter the pool. On her walks through the neighbourhood, Fatou passes the Embassy of Cambodia, the geographical and emotional nexus for this quietly disarming story. The Embassy of Cambodia creeps up on you; the accumulation of Smith’s exquisitely observed details pack a heart-rending punch by the end. Good short stories stick with you for some time after you finish reading them, and this one has carried weight with me that far exceeds the book’s slightness. The presentation is really lovely too, the kind of handsome book you hesitate to place back in rank on your shelf.

At the contrary end of the page-extent scale, I’m about to settle into Donna Tartt’s very well-received The Goldfinch. I haven’t read a substantial book for a few months, and I’m looking forward to the pleasure of investing in something expansive.

Nina is reading Far From the Tree

FarFromTheTreeSmall Far From the Tree is the most incredible work of non-fiction I’ve read this year. Andrew Solomon tells stories of families dealing with exceptional and out-of-the-ordinary children. Each chapter looks at a different issue, including: deafness, dwarfism, Down syndrome, autism, schizophrenia, disability, child prodigies, children conceived in rape, children who become criminals and those who are transgender.

At almost 1000 pages, this is a weighty tome but one well worth the reading time. It’s the kind of book you want to discuss with everyone you know; I am constantly reading parts aloud to whoever happens to be near me at the time. Andrew Solomon’s research is astounding, and his dedication and respect for the 300 families he interviewed for the book is obvious.

Far From the Tree also has one of the best companion websites I’ve encountered – see it here.

As I’m nearing the end of Far From the Tree, I just been on a book buying spree at Readings Carlton for my next three reads: Wild Awake (a new YA book getting a lot of buzz); We Need New Names (on my radar ever since it was Booker shortlisted); and My Brilliant Friend (my colleague Bronte raves about Elena Ferrante’s work).