The mercury’s rising, and so are our TBR piles. Here’s what we’ll be reading this summer.
I am currently facing not one but FOUR teetering piles of books next to my bed – I need to start chipping away at them before they topple over in the middle of the night and crush me (she died doing what she loved etc). There’s a new Elizabeth Strout (Olive, Again) that is causing me to shriek with excitement every time I glance in its direction. I’m already halfway through Rick Morton’s One Hundred Years of Dirt (I know I’m late) and it is inestimably brilliant. Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia by Marcia Langton is incredibly pertinent since my bittersweet departure from MWF (missing you already) means I have the capacity to explore this wide brown land more – and understand its vivid and rich history.
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (full confession: I’ve already read a proof copy and it’s every bit as good as you’ve heard) sheds some sobering light on grooming and sexual abuse, Interior Chinatown by Charles Yu (2020) tickles me because it’s about diversity (or lack thereof) in film and television and since I’m returning to that world I can always do better. Ottessa Moshfegh’s Death In Her Hands (2020) will likely be thrillingly dark and look, since time is stretching out before me languorously I am going to tackle the somewhat formidable Ducks, Newburyport by Lucy Ellmann. It’s over 1000 pages long and apparently consists of eight meandering sentences (!) but I’m a brave little dude and love a literary challenge so Bring. It. On. Enjoy your summer reading comrade, see you in the beer garden. x
I’ll be finishing up the two final books in Tana French’s pacy and addictive Dublin Murder Squad series: Broken Harbour and The Secret Place. I love a good crime novel and my summer list also includes a few older and darker titles: The Glister by John Burnside, Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane and Hangover Square by Patrick Hamilton (published in 1941).
I have recently devoured three of Marcy Dermansky’s four books in quick succession and will soon finish Bad Marie to become a Dermansky completist and super-fan. I love her funny, wicked characters and the ways they negotiate modern life. Also on my list are Shirley Jackson’s We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Eka Kurniawan’s Man Tiger, and Sigrid Nunez’s The Friend.
I am excited by the prospect of some great non-fiction, albeit on less sunny subjects: Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry, Midnight in Chernobyl by Adam Higginbotham, and Guest House for Young Widows: Among the Women of ISIS by Azadeh Moaveni. The late great Clive James will round out the summer and cheer things up with his Unreliable Memoirs.
Do you know what I did last summer? I lied. I said I would read Anna Burns’ Milkman, but I didn’t. So here it is again, on my 2019/2020 summer reading list. It joins a list of other books I should have read by now though haven’t: Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Raymond Carver’s Cathedral, Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick. I’m very excited by what will no doubt be some snappy homegrown debuts, including Ronnie Scott’s The Adversary and Rawah Arja’s The F Team, both forthcoming in 2020.
The formidable and imaginative Lydia Davis has a recently released a collection of essays that I cannot wait to crack open, and Samantha Shannon’s The Priory of the Orange Tree has been recommended to me as a fix for the embarrassing lack of fantasy in my recently-read pile (I’m waiting patiently for the final Pullman book to be out so I can devour the entire trilogy all at once, in a fell swoop).
Historian Sarah Dry’s latest book is – with stark irony – Waters of the World, a deep dive into the scientific history of water and climate change that I (we) should know more about. Finally, Melissa Lucashenko’s Miles Franklin Award-winning Too Much Lip deserves a re-read.
This summer, nearest to an AC, I’ll be reading: Song Spirals: Sharing Women’s Wisdom of Country Through Songlines by the Gay’wu Group of Women; the master Tony Birch’s The White Girl; Three Women by Lisa Taddeo; and collected poems by Wallace Stevens and Gwendolyn Brooks – I can hear Boy Breaking Glass in my mind as we speak.
I love history and myths, and I’m also keen to read: Lloyd Clark’s definitive account of the greatest land battle of all time, Kursk: The Greatest Battle; Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology; and The Penguin Book of Classical Myths by Jenny March (I’ll admit the last one’s a reread, and my absolute favourite travel companion).
Finally (I’m about to drop a literary bomb), I’m apparently the only human on earth who hasn’t read the Harry Potter series, so I’ll be reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Having spent the year studying my masters as well as working full time I have quite a large backlog of books to read over the summer. On the top of my pile is Boy Swallows Universe. I knew Trent Dalton as journalist so I’m interested to read his debut novel, which attracted a lot of attention this year. I love journalism and read as much news media as I can. Given all of the coverage in recent years I didn’t think I wanted to read anything more about the Pell case. But after seeing Louise Milligan electrify Storey Hall during MWF19, I am keen read her book Cardinal: The Rise and Fall of George Pell (famously taken off the shelves during the trial).
I spent my childhood Easter holidays with my Dad while he worked with students from Melbourne University on the Biosphere Reserve near Renmark. A new book called Mallee Country has just been released which explores the land, people and history of this unique region. I might give it to my Dad as a Christmas present and then ask to borrow it, or is that too cheeky?
This summer I have no plans except cooking, eating and reading, so I think it’s time I actually sit down and properly read Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat, rather than just flicking through a section here or there. I’ve heard wonders about On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous so that’s high on the list, and I’m surprised at my self-control for holding out on The Surprising Power of a Good Dumpling – I already know I’ll read it in one sitting, so it’s perfect for summer. The second and third book in Tade Thompson’s Wormwood trilogy came out this year, so I have blocked out some time in my calendar to reread the first one, and then inhale the next two, because if they’re anything like number one, I won’t be able to put it down. Finally, I’m going to try and read the original of Happening (“L’Événement”) because I haven’t been able to find the time to sit down and dedicate a significant portion of time to it yet; got to find my trusty French dictionary for this one.
When my mother-in-law asked me which books I wanted for Christmas this year, I panicked. How to choose? ‘More than one?’ I asked. ‘Are you sure?’ (Say yes, say yes.)
‘Of course, darling,’ said Nonna. ‘They’re books!’ I scribbled my wish-list on a piece of paper and gave it to her. Then I took it back and took a photo of it and texted the photo to her in case she lost the paper.
I wrote: The Glad Shout by Alice Robinson, Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout, and The Weekend by Charlotte Woods (because I like Charlotte’s writing and because I heard her say it’s about ageing, which I’m mostly not okay with). I’m just finishing Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo. Brilliant. Before that I was intrigued by The Friend by Susan Nunez, and one I will never forget, so bleak and so clever, is The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner.
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Whether this summer turns out to be stinking hot or sleeting, windy and cold as Melbourne is threatening to be, books will be my constant. Climate change is absolutely top of my mind, with fires burning across the nation and drought ruining Christmas for those who make their livings off the land. As such, Wolfe Island by Lucy Treloar, who spins a fictional tale about two determined women of different generations, to explore the climate crisis. I’m also excited to finally have space in my diary to properly sit down and devour Charlotte Wood’s, The Weekend, which is a tale of female friendships, ageing and how we grapple with the summation of small changes in life.
Turning to my usual non-fiction reading diet, I am looking forward to Peter Harcher’s Quarterly Essay on the Australia-China relationship. Top of everyone’s reading list over the break seems to be Finding the Heart of the Nation by Thomas Mayor, an interview-based work about how the Uluru Statement was created and then basically discarded by Australia’s politicians. Ceridwen Dovey’s Inner World Outer Spaces is another book of conversations, where she profiles people with extraordinary jobs, whose choice to pursue a passion has paid off.
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Where would be in summer without fiction? Anna Krien’s Act of Grace is an extraordinary debut from one of Australia’s best journalists; it is both an emotive and cerebral read. Tara June Winch explores the limits of words and meaning in The Yield, a beautiful mediation on family, belonging and coming home. Tony Birch’s The White Girl is a devastating yet hopeful read, and I suspect it will be nominated for many awards in 2020. If you love short stories you shouldn’t miss Alice Bishop’s collection about the Black Saturday Fires, A Constant Hum. And if like me speculative fiction is your thing, check out Claire G. Coleman’s The Old Lie (and while you are at it, read Terra Nullius if you haven’t already).
In terms of non-fiction, Jess Hill’s See What You Made Me Do: Power, Control and Domestic Abuse is a book that should never have had to be written, but we should all be thankful it has been. And moving from one current crisis to another, I find myself unable to stop thinking about the climate. The Uninhabitable Earth: A Story of the Future by David Wallace-Wells and a collection of Greta Thunberg’s public speeches, No One Is Too Small To Make A Difference, both confront and ease my climate anxiety.
Feeling inspired? Visit a Readings store near you or browse online at readings.com.au