Women we’re reading in 2014

To celebrate International Women’s Day this Saturday 8 March, our staff share the books by women we’ve been reading in 2014. (This year also happens to be the Year of Reading Women!)

Annie Condon, Bookseller and Book Club Convenor

One of the most emotionally powerful books I’ve read recently is The Wave by Sonali Deraniyagala. ‘The Wave’ refers to the tsunami of 2004 in which Sonali lost her husband, her two sons and both her parents while holidaying in a beachside resort in Yala, Sri lanka. Somehow she survived the wave by grasping a tree branch while she was being thrown about in the water. I cannot fathom how she survived these massive losses, but she charts her emotional survival – from being closely guarded by extended family members when she was suicidal to having colleagues years later who don’t know she was ever a mother and wife and assume her single status is due to being a career academic.

I highly recommend this book. It is difficult to read, but the author details her grief intricately. A must for anyone who enjoyed Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking or Blue Nights. Deraniyagala is a truly inspiring woman.

Bronte Coates, Online and Readings Monthly Assistant

Over the past few weeks I’ve attended some truly great events featuring female writers as part of the Wheeler Centre program: Eleanor Catton (of The Luminaries) spoke on why being boring in fiction is a sin and shared the first line of a book she wrote as a child (“The moon stepped out from behind a cloud, heedless of oblivion”) and Alison Bechdel (of Fun Home) gave an endearing, inspiring talk about her creative process – her reasoning for being a cartoonist and the physical process of making the comics.

I’ve also read a stack of interesting titles by women this year. Here’s a sample:

  • Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest: An extremely accomplished debut novel; restrained, gentle and deeply moving.
  • Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings: This book is just as good as Nina promised me last year.
  • Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls: A thriller about a time-travelling serial killer that should suit fans of Stephen King, though the heroine is most definitely post The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo era.
  • Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem: An excellent, excellent set of essays.
  • Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children: I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to read this Australian classic, but am now half-way in and am enthralled by Stead’s writing.
  • Lorrie Moore’s Bark: I really love Moore’s short stories and you can read my review of this one here.

Nina Kenwood, Online Manager

I began this year by reading J.K. Rowling’s The Cuckoo’s Calling. While the plot is that of a fairly standard crime novel, her characters are brilliant: funny, charming, sympathetic, flawed and fascinating. It felt comforting to be back in the hands of Rowling so many years after reading the last Harry Potter.

I recently re-read one of my favourite books, Heartburn by Nora Ephron. My re-reading of it began the way it always does – I absently picked it up, flicking through it, reading a line here and there, and then suddenly I found myself on the couch reading the whole thing through from the start. It’s such a warm, funny, entertaining book, one that never fails to reward you on each reading. (And it’s so short it only takes an afternoon to finish.) If you’ve never read it, please do so immediately.

My favourite new novel of the year so far is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. It’s a book that made me laugh and cry, and kept me thinking long after I had finished it. It’s the story of a messy, crazy, secretive family and as I say in my review, the less you know about it before you read it, the better.

This weekend, I hope to start reading one of the big novels of 2013 that I am embarrassed to say I haven’t read yet – Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. A new format has just arrived (and if you buy it online right now, you’ll receive a bookplate signed by Hannah). I also have in my possession an advance copy of an upcoming novel I’m pretty excited about, Astonish Me by Maggie Shipstead – the story of a young American ballet dancer.

Emily Harms, Marketing Manager

One of the perks of working at Readings is getting your hands on some new releases before the publication date. I was lucky enough to recently receive an advance copy of Siri Hustvedt’s eagerly anticipated dissection of the New York art scene, The Blazing World. I suspect the book takes its name from Margaret Cavendish’s 1666 utopian novel of the same name, described as an early forerunner of science fiction.

Siri Hustvedt’s emotionally intense literary novel is equally ground breaking. This provocative story is about the visual artist, Harriet Burden, and how being a woman led to her work being ignored by critics and the art world at large. She sets out to prove this theory by presenting her art from behind three male artists many years later; each leading to opposite results. This is the perfect book to remember the importance of the origins of International Women’s Day by.

Another recent literary joy I’ve had the opportunity to read before release is Foreign Soil by local author Maxine Beneba Clarke – winner of the 2013 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards for an unpublished manuscript. The book takes the form of gritty short stories, set across the globe, written by a black woman from a dilapidated block of flats in Melbourne’s west, and explores the darkest of themes.

Maxine Beneba Clarke is certainly a fascinating new voice to follow …

Chris Gordon, Events Manager

As you all know Anne Summers – author, editor, public commentator – penned the explosive book Damned Whores and God’s Police in 1975. In 1994 the book was republished with a letter from Anne to her readers, and I’d like to quote from this:

I don’t want to wait until I am 98 to try and explain to a 25-year-old what moved me and so many of my generation to activism and revolt. I want, while there is still some chance of communicating, to tell you the story of the modern women’s movement. I want you to know how it started, what we did, and what it did to us. In hearing our story, I hope you will also learn something about yourselves, about where you stand in this great movement of change, and that it might just move some of you to reach out for the torch. It is time for it to be passed.

Happy International Women’s Day, dear Readings people.