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Summer Reads

Looking for the perfect beach read? Small towns, secrets, heartbreaks, heat and happy vegetables, there’s a holiday story for everyone in these three recommended reads from Artistic Director Michaela McGuire.


Now Is Not the Time to Panic
Kevin Wilson

Now Is Not the Time to Panic is a sweet story about self-discovery, growth, secrets, mistakes and the radical, transformative power of art. Its setting will be familiar to many: a small town, during one of those long, teenage summer in the 1990s where you were stunned by boredom. Sixteen-year-old aspiring writer Frankie Budge meets a fellow aspiring artist, Zeke, who has just moved to Coalfield, Tennessee. Awkward, bored and frustrated, they embark on a creative and romantic partnership and make an unsigned piece of street art that they photocopy and hang up all over town.   

Wilson perfectly evokes how complicated it was to navigate culture before the internet, before you have any real confidence about what you liked, during those never-to-be-repeated years where “every single thing that you loved became a source of both intense obsession and possible shame.” Frankie and Zeke’s poster is beautiful, scary and strange, inscribed with a phrase that reads like an incantation, that years later will be replicated in high-end fashion, stickers on skateboards, appropriated by punk bands and subject to wild speculations.  

“We didn’t know about Xerox art or Andy Warhol or anything like that,” Frankie tells us. “We thought we’d made it up. And I guess, for us, we had.”  

The citizens of Coalfield lose their minds over this poster, offering theories that it was made by Satanists, criminals, kidnappers. Mass hysteria and chaos ensue. Frankie and Zeke’s art is transformed by the town’s reaction to it, and threatens to destroy their friendship. Then, twenty years later, Frankie gets a call from a journalist at The New Yorker who is writing a story about the Coalfield Panic of 1996.  


Seeing Other People
Diana Reid

Few authors have had such prolific pandemics as Diana Reid, whose new novel Seeing Other People has been published just a year after her debut, the wildly successful Love & Virtue. Not all of the best summer novels are set in the specific season, but a good many of them are, and Seeing Other People takes place in Sydney’s hottest months, after two years of lockdowns. It’s a clever period to set the novel in, when many are familiar with the particularly urgent and complicated recalibration of ambitions and desires that characterised this time, including our relationships to work, friends, family and lovers. Reid’s novel takes all of the traditional end-of-year emotions about accomplishments and failures and ratchets the tension and theatricality of this season right up.  

The story opens with a dramatic breakup in a CBD food court. Eleanor is in her early 20s, working a high-stress corporate job, and has just dumped her boring boyfriend of 2 years after learning that he “almost” hooked up with someone after visiting a strip club. Eleanor is smart and spiky and has a marvellous capacity for judgement, which in the wake of this break up, she turns inwards and reassesses her life and herself. She falls in more closely than usual with her younger sister, Charlie, an actress who lives in an Enmore share house with a theatre director, stand-up comic and under-employed DJ. Charming, chaotic and impulsive, Charlie is nothing like Eleanor, but the two sisters are each other’s biggest supporters and admirers and enjoy a deep, complicated friendship. As the summer gets properly underway it becomes clear that they have one major thing in common: they both desire Helen, the theatre director that Charlie has already started seeing.  


Hetty Lui McKinnon

Almost 10 years ago Hetty Lui McKinnon forever changed the way that people in this country regard vegetables – not as a token side dish, but as a glorious main event – with the publication of Community: Salad Recipes from Arthur Street Kitchen. Since then, she’s published three more cookbooks, moved from Surry Hills to Brooklyn and now publishes new recipes regularly with New York Times Cooking. Nobody other than Yotam Ottolenghi has done more for the humble brassica than Hetty McKinnon.  

I own all her cookbooks and my broken, gamified brain is addicted to adding Hetty’s new recipes to my NY Times Cooking recipe box and marking them off upon completion. I have access to several hundred recipes of hers that I’ve never had the chance to make, so I absolutely did not need to buy her newest offering Tenderheart, but still grabbed a copy within days of it being published. One of the first recipes to go viral from it was irresistible: a ‘broccoli forest loaf’. Whole florets of broccoli sprout adorably out of the top of this savoury, cheesy cake-like bread that also contains a kick of turmeric and chilli and secret olives. It’s a savoury snacking cake, perfect for picnics or office lunches (the Melbourne Writers Festival team agree), and a childlike magic trick of a dish.

There’s 180 recipes in Tenderheart, arranged into 22 chapters that each feature one of Hetty’s favourite everyday vegetables, from Asian greens through to zucchini. This cookbook is the perfect antidote to seasonal over-indulgence and I can’t wait to cook my way through the rest of it this summer.