What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

September 2018

 - Thursday, August 30, 2018
Sophie: Hunger by Roxane Gay—The heart-wrenching memoir of one of my favourite feminist writers. It reveals the physical effects sexual trauma can have on your body, and the complicated relationship between food, hunger and self-image. I love this book because it doesn’t have the predictable ending of ‘weight loss triumph’, and it doesn’t command you to make peace with your body. Gay is still struggling with her unruly body, and that is refreshing to read.

Scott D: To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann—The carnage and cruelty of battle seen through the eyes of two German teenage friends conscripted during the final weeks of World War 2. A fast paced and moving narrative of a most terrible coming of age. Follow with Günter Grass’s Peeling the Onion, a true account of the author’s experiences as a young SS soldier, his dramatic escape from the front and his uneasy relationship with the past as an old man looking back.

Jonathon: The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner—Something like Orange is the New Black. A prison novel of confinement and consequence. Kushner’s cast of female inmates is wonderful, as is the counterpoint of past and present—particularly her scenes of 1980s San Francisco.

James: Sabrina by Nick Drnaso—The first graphic novel to be longlisted on the Man Booker, and rightfully so. Drnaso channels the malaise of our times through a story about murder, those left behind, and conspiracy theories in the wake of a national crisis. It’s touching, sad, and sometimes disturbing—much like life, I guess. (I’m also reading Sabrina. I agree with James. Drnaso piles on page after page of uneasy paranoid silence—in both word and image ... I wish I hadn’t chosen it for my bedtime reading, but am glad to see the Man Bookers acknowledging the graphic novel. Ed)

Andrew: The Outline Trilogy by Rachel Cusk— Kudos, published last month, is the last of a  wonderful trilogy that starts with Outline . Basically the erudite narrator, Fay, sits and listens to people; often complete strangers, and in her relaying what they tell her, lays out a myriad of discursive, philosophical commentaries on the state of being alive.  Lorrie Moore in a review describes them as akin to babushka dolls; Cusk refers to her technique as ‘annihilated perspective’. Charming and addictive, these books are rabbit warrens lined with  mirrors.

John: Scrublands by Chris Hammer—Sent by his editor to a dusty Riverland town 12 months after a mass shooting, a journalist with his own demons, asks why a priest murdered parishioners on the forecourt of the church? There is some great writing here. My pick for best Aussie crime novel this year.

David M: Hotel Silence by AuðurAva Ólafsdóttir—A sympathetic portrait, by a woman, of a man who feels that he has become terminally useless, and the story of his regeneration. A consideration of choices and their context in the lives of ordinary mortals. Small in scale, light of touch, spare and apt in its use of metaphor. A pleasure.


Scott V: Oppy: The Life of Sir Hubert Opperman by Daniel Oakman— A warts-and-all biography of the legendary cyclist who eventually became a politician in the Menzies era. Fascinating to learn just how huge cycling was in Australia and Europe (especially in the 20s and 30s) and the almost inhumane endurance Oppy and his contemporaries displayed. Great read.

Viki: Dictator Literature by Daniel Kalder—Daniel Kalder really does seem to have consumed the sum total tedium of all of the opuses written by the publishing-mad dictator fraternity of the 20th C. His book is a fantastic combination of history & literary criticism—laced with a liberal dose of sharp wit —with which Kalder does a particularly good job of skewering father of the canon, the logorrheic Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov aka Lenin. I’d recommend this to anyone who is interested in history, politics or literature.