What we’re reading: Jennifer Down, Ben Aaronovitch & Les Twentyman
Each week we bring you a sample of the books we’re reading, the films and TV shows we’re watching, and the music we’re listening to.
Jo Case is reading The Mouth that Roared by Les Twentyman with Robert Hillman
I initially picked up a copy of Les Twentyman’s memoir, written with award-winning author Robert Hillman, because it was on my desk. But I’m now carrying it around because it’s so compelling, charismatic and full of rough-hewn heart.
Les is that rare thing, a social worker with a profile. He’s made it his life’s work to speak out for the young people he works with in Melbourne’s west, to make visible the poverty that so many of us are largely segregated from by postcode. At a time when homelessness (which often has its roots in the kinds of problems Les works with every day – addiction, abuse, mental health issues) is in the news almost daily, and is increasingly visible in our CBD and surrounds, his perspective is more important than ever. I don’t mean to suggest that this book is a lecture; it’s told in Les’s inimitable voice, with the quality of a very well crafted and informed pub yarn. ‘I was an entrepreneur for the muddled and homeless, never out of my K-Mart jeans…’ ‘In a way, the skills you’d use to stage a tour for the Rolling Stones were the same skills needed to get a four-unit accommodation block built for the homeless.’
Over lunch yesterday, I also read a terrifically smart, compassionate and informed Guardian article on Melbourne’s homelessness problem by Meg Mundell, former deputy editor of The Big Issue. Did you know that the percentage of people sleeping rough in Melbourne grew 74% in the two years 2014–2016? That in the past decade, Australia’s population has grown by 17.9%, while social housing dwellings have grown just 6.4%?
For the piece, Mundell spoke to our own Mark Rubbo about Readings’ work with Connect Respect, a project which trains city workers to respond to homelessness on their doorsteps. Read it in full here.
Stella Charls is reading Pulse Points by Jennifer Down
I haven’t been able to stop talking about young Melbourne-based writer Jennifer Down’s incredible short story collection since I finished it a month ago. I similarly haven’t been able to shake her cast of characters from my head. When I go back to the places where I read each story – sitting on the 19 tram, my favourite dumplings place in Chinatown, the bench seat outside La Mama where I sometimes spend lunch breaks – I find myself thinking back to the group of boys getting up to no good in ‘Dogs’, the woman driving across the U.S. with her ex-fiance to visit his dying mother in ‘Vox Clamantis’, the middle aged man getting a massage for the first time in ‘Pressure Okay’.
I honestly couldn’t recommend Pulse Points more highly. These are snapshots of ordinary people grappling with the small joys and deeper heartaches of ordinary lives, and the result is a powerful and deeply affecting collection. You can read my review here, and I also greatly enjoyed Anna Spargo-Ryan’s perceptive take on the book over at Kill Your Darlings.
Lian Hingee is rereading Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch
I have this friend who lives in the US. We first met on a bus tour around Ireland where we bonded over our mutual love of books and Star Wars, and for the last (oh god) 20 years, we’ve been pen-pals, exchanging our favourite books in the mail. She’s introduced me to some of my favourite writers – she gave me my first Neil Gaiman – an I’m proud to have done the same for her. I recently bundled up a new parcel to send her, and included the first book in Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant series, Rivers of London. I was idly flicking through the first few pages while I was in line at the post office, and was immediately hooked – again. So I went home, dusted off my well-worn copy, and I’m delighted to be revisiting this great series.
Peter Grant is a probationary constable with the Metropolitan Police in London. One night, while standing guard outside a murder scene in Covent Garden, he’s approached by a witness who insists he saw the murder but unfortunately can’t give a statement… because he’s a ghost. Grant soon discovers that the claim isn’t as ridiculous as it sounds, and when he’s hastily recruited into a secret department that deals with witches, fairies, ghosts, and deities (but not aliens) he finds himself on a steep learning curve as he tries to get a handle on magic and police procedure in time to catch an otherworldly murderer.
The best way to describe this series is The X-Files meets The Bill, as written by Neil Gaiman. It’s smart, witty, unexpected, and bloody addictive. Plus, the seventh book in the series, The Furthest Station is due for release in a few months time, so if you start now you’ll be ready for it.
Bronte Coates is reading the internet
I feel like we’ve been gifted so many wonderful online articles this week. Jia Tolentino wrote on the phenomena of the large adult son for the New Yorker. Lauren Michele Jackson wrote on the existence of digital blackface in reaction GIFs for Teen Vogue. John Lanchester wrote about Facebook, Google and data footprints for London Review of Books. Kat Rosenfield wrote about call-out culture in the young adult book community for Vulture. All these articles make for compelling and important reading.
I’m also about to start reading Colson Whitehead’s much-hyped, multiple award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad which is my book club’s pick this month. I’ve heard only good things about this book, and am sure there’ll be plenty to discuss.
Danielle Roche is reading One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest is written and told from a very unique perspective: the story is told from the inside of a psychiatric ward in a hospital; everything is observed through the eyes of one of the patients, Chief, who frequently states the unreality as reality, as he himself can not tell the difference. The ward is under the rule of the 'big nurse’ Miss Ratched, and the arrival of the boisterous new patient, Randle Mcmurphy, and the rivalry between the two, causes a tidal wave of disruption to the usual quiet and dismal regime. The voice and dialogue of this book transports the reader back to the 1960s and the atmosphere surrounding that era.
Danielle has been a participant in our work experience program which sees students from high schools across Melbourne come spend a week at Readings. We loved having Danielle at our St Kilda shop, and you can read her thoughts on book-to-film adaptions here.