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.
Nina is watching Blue Jasmine
I’ve gone on a bit of a film binge of late, inspired by the Oscar nominations and the film award season in general. I saw Woody Allen’s Blue Jasmine, which I found difficult to watch but agree with everyone else in the world when I say that Cate Blanchett’s performance is mesmerising. Sally Hawkins also does a fine job as Blanchett’s adoptive sister.
Other films I’ve seen include Enough Said (funny, heartfelt and enjoyable); Dallas Buyer’s Club (believe the hype – Matthew McConaughey is fantastic, and Jared Leto is pretty great too); American Hustle (I liked it but not as much as I thought I would – perhaps my expectations were too high); and Her (absolutely brilliant, and my favourite of all movies mentioned so far).
Speaking of Hollywood, I have also recently finished Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter, a novel filled with film stars, big shot producers and wannabe screenwriters. It’s an entertaining, well-written book that plays with different ways to present a narrative – there are lots of time jumps, and novel excerpts and screenplays combine with traditional prose to tell the story. It was a fun read, and I liked it. A solid B+.
Belle is reading A Death in the Family by Karl Ove Knausgaard
Lately, much of my reading is in preparation for the year ahead. I am swiftly getting through the first two volumes of Norwegian author Karl Ove Knausgaard’s autobiographical series, My Struggle, ahead of the release of the third.
Volume one, A Death in the Family, was everything promised, startlingly exact and transfixing in its candour. If you’re patiently waiting for the third book, which will detail Knausgaard’s teenagehood, Sheila Heti has reviewed the first two volumes in the London Review of Books, which makes for good reading in the meantime (subscriber only content).
Another author with a new book coming this year is Emma Donoghue, the Irish writer who stunned readers with Room, her quite astounding novel from 2010. I recently picked it off the shelf again and have quickly settled into the five-year-old protagonist’s fractured, unique voice. This story of a woman and her son held captive in a room is no less haunting, even knowing the outcome.
Finally, I have been enjoying Impresario: Paul Taylor, The Melbourne Years, 1981–1984, a collection of texts focused on Paul Taylor, the influential Australian editor, writer and curator, who notably established Art and Text in the early eighties. The book is edited and introduced by Melbourne-based Helen Hughes and Nicholas Croggon, and is a clever, insightful assembly of gathered and commissioned works, including essays, interviews and lecture transcripts, which illustrate Taylor’s flex and influence on Australia’s art history and still today, thirty years on.
Ingrid is reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
<— Ingrid with Markus Zusak at a recent Readings event
Right now, I’m re-reading The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, which I first read soon after it was published in 2005. I’d previously read and enjoyed The Messenger by Markus Zusak and I had been handed a copy of The Book Thief, which I suppose I had to read under the guise of work, to proofread some book club discussion notes.
That weekend when I cracked the pages of the book, I was physically unable to tear myself away from the story and I was immediately struck by how much I was enjoying, no, actually loving reading about such a harrowing time in our world’s history, particularly because my father was enlisted to fight in the German army during WW2, a fate which to me is abhorrent and unthinkable. Set in Nazi Germany, narrated by Death, and fairly long at over 550 pages, The Book Thief is a tricky one to describe as a winner to a friend, especially since all the characters, bar one, dies. I found the way I was responding to the story peculiar, and I think this is testament to Markus Zusak’s skill as a writer. There is a particular magic in the story that contains so much beauty and joy despite the ugly historical events in the background. I particularly enjoyed the descriptive passages by Death about the myriad of colours in the world, and his pragmatic, dark humour – again, bringing some lightness to an awful time.
The facts are – The Book Thief has sold over 8 million copies worldwide, it is currently in the Australian bestsellers list twice - currently #1 (film tie in edition) and #7 (new paperback edition) and it spent over 230 weeks (that’s over 4 years!) on the New York Times bestseller list. It was originally published as a young adult novel, but I think it has a readership beyond teenagers – if you like a great story or if you are a fan of historical fiction you won’t find that this is too ‘easy’ a read. You can take these figures or leave them, but I think you should just pick up a copy for yourself and see, as The Book Thief is one of the best books I have ever read, and it is a real pleasure to read it again.
(We have signed copies of The Book Thief available now!)