Last Summer in the City by Gianfranco Calligarich
This Italian Great Gatsby was written half a century ago but reads so alla moda. It is beguilingly simple and sad. Leo, 30, moves to Rome, fails at journalism, fails at love, then fails at life. But not without some joyful decadence, some classy drinking and carousing in the Eternal City. This is a fresh translation of a beautiful nostalgic classic.
Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller
This is a heartbreaking memoir that is as understated, unsentimental and powerfully affecting as Tara Westover's Educated (2018). When Danielle's Navajo mother dies homeless and destitute, she leaves behind a suitcase of photographs, diaries and letters that are clues to her life. Danielle, as a trained archivist, thoughtfully intersperses these throughout the book, and the documentation is at once fascinating and unsettling. Her honesty about herself and her family is compelling.
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The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthy
Is Tom McCarthy the smartest writer alive? I hope this genius gets to write, and be read, prolifically. This awesome new novel is chock full of time/motion study, IT, cybernetics, military technology, the universal order of what used to be termed 'reality', and a sci-fi movie. McCarthy's Derrida-esque quest within The Making of Incarnation to redundify the artificial aspect of simulation makes this fiction very “real”. In the words of his publisher, he seeks to reveal no less than the underlying symbolic structures of human existence.
Wild Abandon by Emily Bitto
Twenty-something Will flees a broken relationship in Melbourne for America, with no plan other than to have an “experience”. After a lost week of drugs and self-indulgence in New York he flees again, this time to small-town America, where, down on his luck, he takes a job on a private zoo full of exotic wild animals. Will is naive, immature and unable to make sense of himself or the world around him, and his journey through the novel is riven with missteps. Told in lyrical, baroque prose that never falters, Bitto unwinds the strands of Will’s character and gives us someone who, for all his shortcomings, is strangely appealing and memorable. One of the best Australian novels I’ve read for years.
Homecoming by Elfie Shiosaki
Four generations of women’s lives surface and weave through this beautiful and piercing memoir/history of a Noongar family, told through stories held in spoken histories, letters unearthed from archival research and imagined lives. The spaces between these alternating forms of writing speak of the loss and mourning of connections that run through Shiosaki’s family. What resonates through the generations and through the threads of storytelling, though, is the continuity and supple strength of a culture and worldview that was done such violence by the coming of the Europeans. These are words that feel a privilege to read and writing that can’t be forgotten.
Moth to a Flame by Stig Dagerman
From the Penguin European Writers series, this 1948 psychological novel recounts in narrative and letters the emotional conflict between a father, a son and their fiancées after the death of the family’s wife and mother. In a darkly comical fashion Dagerman makes much of the hypocrisy and strife we are prey to when we deny humanism in favour of strict ideals and social mores. A great find from the vault of European writing and a perfect 2021 read.
When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
I could read and recommend this book 100 times over, and that still wouldn't begin to measure just how much this book means to me. A gut-wrenching, beautifully written memoir of a man hitting the peak of his career as a neurosurgeon, only to suddenly become the patient instead of the doctor. No doctor’s scribble here; this man wrote like a poet.
Out of Africa by Karen Blixen
A memoir that feels endlessly like fiction. (Yes, it was a book before it was a movie – aren't all the best ones?) The perfect book for escapism. Karen Blixen was a force to be reckoned with – a woman ahead of her time. I wish I could call Blixen a friend.
Pure Gold by John Patrick McHugh
Irish writers are having a moment, and we're here for it. This is a must-read this summer; McHugh is tipped as the new Sally Rooney. This collection of short stories brings together a collective of characters you'll both love and hate. McHugh’s prose is perfect. We never wanted this to end.
Cold Coast by Robyn Mundy
What better way to get through another Australian summer than with a novel set during winter in the Arctic Circle – a novel so atmospheric it will send an icy chill down your veins and trigger a yearning for snowy mountains. Based on the real-life diaries of Wanny Woldstad, the first woman hunter on the secluded island of Svalbard in the Norwegian archipelago, over the 1932 to 1933 season. Wanny goes with Sæterdal, an experienced and hardened – yet surprisingly open-minded – trapper who has agreed to take her as a partner and show her the ropes in surviving the harsh and bloody work. Brutal and evocative, the story is balanced with alternating chapters following a rare blue arctic fox, which comes of age in this wild world and must also survive her first winter.
Today a Woman Went Mad in the Supermarket by Hilma Wolitzer
A cult-favourite author who is ripe for rediscovery, Wolitzer returns after too long with this short and easily readable selection of short stories, some originally published in magazines in the 1960s and 1970s. Keenly observed moments of everyday life – full of wit and rage that feels very contemporary – these funny and insightful stories turn the ordinary into something charming and wonderful. A time capsule of daily life that is sure to satisfy.
Nina Simone's Gum by Warren Ellis
In July of 1999, at London’s Meltdown music festival (that year was curated by Nick Cave), Nina Simone left a piece of chewing gum on her piano as she played to a raptured audience. In the fifth row sat Warren Ellis (of Dirty Three and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds fame), who afterwards snuck on stage and swiped the piece of gum, which he kept safe – tucked away in his studio – for 20 years before he offered it as part of Cave's Stranger Than Kindness exhibition. Preparing for the exhibition set Ellis on a strange journey, documented here alongside memories and reflections on art, friendship, and the reverence that can be given to objects that mean something more than their materiality.
How to End a Story Diaries: 1995-1998 by Helen Garner
Diaries are like dreams – only interesting if you’re part of the story. Unless, they’re diaries belonging to great writers and artists. It’s a privilege when writers like David Sedaris and Helen Garner offer up their diaries – diaries that are so fascinating. As readers we’re very lucky to get insight to an artist’s thought process. Garner’s sentences can be so precise, so short – but no extra words are needed. Every writer’s dilemma can be summed up by her entry, “I would like to write something but what?” Even the best still asks that question.
Kid A Mnesia, A Book Of Radiohead Artwork by Thom Yorke and Stanley Donwood
While we wait for, hopefully, another Radiohead album, lead singer-songwriter Thom Yorke has been busy with two new books celebrating the art of the band’s Kid A and Amnesiac albums. This coffee table book is part art book, part graphic design tome, part interview. Yes, this is one for hardcore fans of Radiohead who have every album (and there’s plenty of them). The book is a beautiful collaboration between Yorke and artist and writer Stanley Donwood, the man behind all of Radiohead’s artwork. (Their other book Fear Stalks The Land! shares correspondence between the pair across 1999 and 2000, including faxes, lyrics, sketches and ideas for the creation of the two albums.)