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.

Emily is reading The Fault In Our Stars

Most of my reading time is devoted to new releases but every so often - when I feel like I’m on a publishing treadmill and need to get off for a while - I let myself read something older. I’d bought a copy of John Green’s The Fault In Our Stars the week it was released, back in 2012, but then probably because it demanded to be read in a way that sometimes irritates me, I didn’t. That is, until last weekend. Although John Green already had thousands of fans, this is a book that has taken him to new heights internationally in the Young Adult market and has reinvigorated his entire backlist, with no signs of slowing. What had he done this time that had made such an impact?

I went in cautiously – like a lot of people, I suspect, I didn’t know if I really wanted to read a story about two teenagers with terminal cancer who fall in love. With that kind of information before you even get into the story it felt a bit like saying: “yes, I want to feel utterly distraught, please, here’s $16.99”. It took me a little while to settle into the teen character’s voice and I think that’s because Green is such a big personality in the Young Adult world that I was hearing the author instead of the character. But it wasn’t long before I could see exactly why this book is enjoying such widespread success. I’d finished it in two sittings – with Green’s easy style it’s a breeze to read. It’s compelling, smart, funny, thoughtful and somehow – and this is the really clever part – somehow consoling.

I was back to new releases the next day – look out for The Sky So Heavy next month. This debut Australian YA novel about a nuclear winter is set in the Blue Mountains. It’s a gripping and very realistic imagining with a voice that I think will have wide appeal for teen boys and girls.


Nina is watching Orange is the New Black

I binge-watched the first season of the Netflix show Orange is the New Black this week. There’s not much to say except I LOVE THIS SHOW. It’s my favourite new TV series of the year.

Based on the memoir Orange Is the New Black: My Year in a Women’s Prison by Piper Kerman, the TV series is a comedy/drama about Piper Chapman, a thirty-something, Mad Men watching, NPR listening, artisan soap-making New Yorker who is unexpectedly sent to prison for her involvement in a drug deal that happened ten years earlier. Back then, Piper had a drug-dealing girlfriend and traveled the world looking for adventure. Now she has a fiancé, a new business and a settled life.

The show starts out focusing heavily on Piper and keeping the tone fairly light, but by episode three or four, the mood gets slowly darker and the plot delves more into the lives of the other inmates at the prison.

The show’s greatest strength is its huge cast of talented women. Orange is the New Black does something no other scripted TV show is doing right now – over the course of a season, it intimately tells the stories of fifteen to twenty different woman, from all ages, races, backgrounds and walks of life. It looks at female friendships, rivalries, romances, betrayals, alliances and heartbreak. Every character is taken seriously – inmates that might seem one dimensional in the pilot episode, there to simply prop up a joke, will make you cry by season’s end. The entire Supporting Actress category at next year’s Emmys – for both comedy and drama – could be taken up just with actresses from this show.

I now intend to go back and read Piper Kerman’s memoir to see the real life inspiration behind this fabulous series.


Robbie is reading Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere

I am currently reading an advance proof of a book called Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere by American author Poe Ballantine. It is a curious hybrid of biography and true crime mystery, set in Chadron Nebraska, where the author lives (and fights) with his beautiful Mexican wife and their autistic son.

Ballantine is peripatetic by nature, and settling down to family life is a difficult gig. He writes and cleans the local supermarket, a career far from his wife’s imaginings of life in America. His observations of small town life and the harshness of the surrounding landscape are expertly written – a kind of highly readable William Vollman – and the short chapters subtly build upon layers of accumulated meaning. Struggling to write his next book, Ballantine has his story abruptly thrust upon him: a quiet, introverted local academic goes missing (not unusual in nowhere Nebraska) who is later discovered burnt and tied up to a tree. The author is drawn in, and the amateur detective work begins.

This is a fine book, one that I can’t wait to get into bed at night and read, and I am already tracking down the author’s earlier works. The title is due for release in September.


Bronte is reading Was She Pretty?

Last week I wrote about Heidi Julavits and mentioned that she was working on a project with Shelia Heti and Leanne Shapton. This week I bought a copy of both their books and while I haven’t yet started Heti’s How Should A Person Be, I’ve already been sharing around Shapton’s Was She Pretty?, a book that explore a very particular aspect of modern relationships: our obsessions and paranoias with our current lover’s former lovers.

Shapton’s rough black and white sketches coupled with vignettes are charming and revealing. Her imaginings of the stories about these ‘almost-strangers’ are suggestive, slyly implicating the dangers of having this information at your disposal. What does your partner’s ex partners say about you? This book grapples with this question and more, and is endlessly fascinating.


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