What we’re reading: Sandra Pankhurst, Sandhya Menon & Steve Erickson
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.
Ellen Cregan is reading two memoirs that explore dark territory
I recently read The Trauma Cleaner, an amazing biography due to hit shelves in October. It tells the story of Sandra Pankhurst, a woman who runs a cleaning business. Except this isn’t any ordinary cleaning business – it is one that deals in astronomical messes.
Sandra’s company cleans up after extreme hoarding, death and neglect. Black mould, maggots and dead animals are as part of her everyday life as responding to emails. In between depictions of the homes Sandra cleans, Krasnostein tells the stories of Sandra’s past. Assigned male at birth, Sandra experienced great cruelty and neglect from her adoptive parents, and trauma followed her well into adulthood.
Sandra’s history is remarkable – she has worked in funeral homes, brothels, hardware stores, and taxi depots. Her patience and empathy when dealing with the people whose homes she cleans (who are often mentally or physically unwell) is also totally remarkable. I couldn’t put this book down, and I can’t wait to recommend it to everyone I know.
After finishing The Trauma Cleaner, I got major book withdrawal so I moved onto a book with similarly dark themes. Smoke Gets in Your Eyes is a humourous and heartfelt take on the American funeral industry. Doughty writes about her time working in a Californian crematory.
Despite it’s subject matter, this is a very funny book. Doughty is candid about her interactions with the dead. I could feel her anxiety as she shaved the face of her first corpse (or, in her words, her first ‘victim’), her horror and embarrassment at being berated by a group of Chinese mourners for wearing red to their father’s wake, her panic as she ponders her parents' eventual deaths. My favourite part of the book so far has been the mini-history of the American funerary and embalming business, which dates back to the Civil War and is very fascinating.
If you enjoy memoirs that are equal parts hilarious, morbid and informative, this is a must-read.
Bronte Coates is reading When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
My colleague Leanne Hall recently wrote about five young adult books she felt compelled to rave about including this funny, joyful teen romance from first-time author Sandhya Menon. I picked up a copy after reading her recommendation, and I’m so glad I did.
When Dimple Met Rishi is a thoroughly entertaining, feel-good read that brims over with heart. Set during an intense web development competition held at San Francisco State University, the sparks fly between ambitious, straight-shooting Dimple and dreamy, hopeless romantic Rishi. These two Indian-American teens have very different relationships to their shared culture – Dimple wants to break free of tradition, while Rishi has always been the respectful older son –and as they work to find their own way amid differing expectations, they soon discover that they have more in common than first appears. This novel is definitely worth seeking out if you’re in the mood for a character-driven romance that’s certain to leave you feeling happy.
Chris Somerville is reading Zeroville by Steve Erickson
If you were ever searching for a novel set in the Hollywood film industry at the end of the sixties, featuring a protagonist with Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor tattooed on his head, then this is probably the book for you. Told in a little over 400 tiny chapters, some less than half a page long, Zeroville focuses on a paranoid film editor, the ups and downs of his career from set builder to director, and a lost film that only appears subliminally.
Unfortunately I’m a sucker for a book like this, and its wide array of film references, set pieces, and puzzling logic make it one of the best ones I’ve read this year.