What we’re reading: Wendy Orr, Hans Fallada and Julie Koh

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.


Mark Rubbo is reading Nightmare in Berlin by Hans Fallada

Interest in Hans Fallada was re-ignited with the republication of his great anti-fascist novel, Alone in Berlin, a few years ago. His new work, Nightmare in Berlin, is partly autobiographical and set just as Germany is falling to the Russian troops. Fallada’s disgust with himself and his countrymen is evident in this powerful and mesmerising story. It’s terrific that local publisher, Scribe, have brought this book into print in English. I’ve always been interested in how a highly-civilised and cultured society could have sunk to the depths of cruelty and depravity that Nazi Germany did, and Fallada shares unique insight into the minds of ordinary people that has frightening lessons for us now. Nightmare in Berlin is an amazing book.


Leanne Hall is reading Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

I’ve just finished barrelling through Julie Koh’s excellent short-story collection. Koh has a knack for irresistible titles, so I naturally turned to ‘Fantastic Breasts’ first and was not disappointed. If you like pithy, strange, cutting and hilarious stories that skewer modern-day living, then this is the collection for you. I loved the takedown of foodie culture in ‘Cream Reaper’ and was mightily unsettled by the uncanny therapist in ‘The Sister Company’.

The writing ranges from satirical to gently speculative, and Koh deliberately and relentlessly presses on sore points of racism, misogyny, corporate torpor and emotional cruelty, all to extreme (and extremely funny) effect.


Annie Condon is reading Quiet Power by Susan Cain

Susan Cain is the author of the bestselling Quiet and her subsequent book, Quiet Power is aimed at young people. It’s simply set out and really speaks to adolescents who may be wondering why they don’t enjoy big group events, or the increased use of group work in school and further education.

Cain is highly personable, and refers to her own adolescence, and how if she’d known she was an introvert she would have relaxed a lot more and been happier within herself. If you’re interested, it’s worth checking out her TED talk where she describes her nightmare at summer camp!

I’m reading this because I have an introverted pre-teen, and I would also have loved this book when I was younger. Cain champions introverts, their creativity, innovation and ability to listen. In an age that values self-promotion, YouTube stars and international talent shows, this book is the perfect unassuming antidote.


Holly Harper is reading Dragonfly Song by Wendy Orr

I loved Wendy Orr’s Nim’s Island, so I was excited to pick up her latest offering, Dragonfly Song. It’s a very different novel to Nim’s Island; Dragonfly Song is a 400 page epic set in the Bronze Age, told partly in prose and partly in verse. It follows the life of Aissa, the young daughter of a high priestess who has been sent to live with a goat herder family. After an attack in which she’s the only survivor, Aissa tries to find her way in a society that has branded her a ‘cursed child’.

Orr has well and truly brought this ancient world to life – the whole novel is rich with historical detail. The sections of prose work perfectly in tandem with the lyrical poetry; the result is a fascinating tale that is an absolute pleasure to read. I’d highly recommend it to confident readers 10 and up, particularly if they have an interest in history and mythology.


Isobel Moore has been cuddled up on the couch, binge-watching crime shows

I’ve been sick for the past week, and when I’m sick I like to hang out on my couch, forcing my housemate’s reluctant and oft-grumpy cat to cuddle with me, and watch back-to-back episodes of light-hearted crime shows. This time around, I’ve mostly been watching Rosemary and Thyme which follows two gardeners-cum-detectives – played by Felicity Kendall and Pam Ferris. It’s very soothing to watch these two towers of British TV potter around garden beds and other peoples' business.

Other perennial favourites for sick/grumpy couch time include Jonathan Creek (Alan Davies lives in a windmill and solves crimes while creating magic tricks!) and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (Essie Davies lives in the 1920s and solves crimes while glamorously seducing whoever she wants to seduce!).


Marie Matteson has been following Shore to Shore tour diary from the Guardian

It has been a busy few weeks in the morning news cycle and my morning break from the storm has been an online series over at the Guardian website: Shore to Shore tour diary. Four UK poets – Carol Ann Duffy (pictured here), Jackie Kay, Imtiaz Dharker, and Gillian Clarke – are touring Britain on a minibus. Each day one of these poets takes the reigns and recounts a trip to town cathedral or country hall where a night of poetry with local poets is enthusiastically held and people speak of the importance of poetry and the state of Britain. It’s been going for a couple of weeks and what started out as quite a lighthearted chronicle has taken on the shadow of Brexit. Still, there is no more interesting way to contemplate each new day at the moment than in the company of a minibus of travelling poets.

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Portable Curiosities

Portable Curiosities

Julie Koh

$19.95Buy now

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