The Details: On Love, Death and Reading

Tegan Bennett Daylight

The Details: On Love, Death and Reading
Simon & Schuster Australia
8 July 2020

The Details: On Love, Death and Reading

Tegan Bennett Daylight

Tegan Bennett Daylight has led a life in books - as a writer, a teacher and a critic, but first and foremost as a reader. Reading has been her inspiration and solace, her recreation and profession, her poison and her medicine. In this deeply intimate and insightful work, Daylight describes how her rich storehouse of reading has nourished her life, and how her life informs her reading.

In both, she shows us that it’s the small points of connection - the details - that really matter: what we see when someone close to us dies, when we give birth, when we fall in love, when we make friends. The details are what we can share and compare and carry with us. Daylight writes with invigorating candour and compassion about her mother’s last days; her own experiences of childbearing and its aftermath (in her celebrated essay ‘Vagina’); her long admiration of Helen Garner and George Saunders; and her great loves and friendships. Each chapter is a revelation, and a celebration of how books offer not an escape from ‘real life’ but a richer engagement with the business of living.

The result is a work that will truly deepen your relationship with books, and with other readers. The delight is in the details.   


Reading a book written about reading books involves a certain doubled type of readerly attention and produces an equally doubled readerly experience. That is, you have to keep track of at least two registers and how they interact – the first is the book that you are reading, the second is made up of the books that first book is reading. Okay, this sounds complex. But then, think again, and realise that this is just the reality of a ‘readerly life’ – a life in which the books you read are not just delineated moments but composed in part by, and in constant interaction with, the very texture of life itself.

Novelist and short-story writer Tegan Bennett Daylight’s new memoir, The Details: On Love, Death and Reading, is undeniably a book for readers. There are incisive essays on Helen Garner, George Saunders, J.D. Salinger, Brian Dillon, Charlotte Wood and Jane Austen. Reading Bennett Daylight read these writers, however – and this is why The Details is in no way a straightforward example of literary criticism – is about so much more than books.

Rather, The Details gives us a window to a life organised through books and writing: as a teacher striving to show students why books are important further to their place on the curriculum; as a parent explaining how books can help influence that impossible choice of the person you want to become; as a lover in dialogue with certain books, learning that perhaps love is the promise of a future for a part of ourselves we do not possess in the present. Books are centred as the present and the future of life – the still point of the turning world.

Books are the past in life, too. Death and grief certainly form a not inconsiderable part of The Details. But what do books do better than bridge that gap between the present and history? A life lived and a life remembered? Bennett Daylight writes with such care, perception and intelligence on this link between what we read and the life we lead – it will be impossible for the readers amongst us not to recognise its significance.

Jeremy George works as a bookseller at Readings Malvern.

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