What to read this spring

As the days become longer, it’s the little things that put a spring in our step: backstreets lined with jasmine, the slow hum of coffee percolating on the stove, and books arriving in the mail.

Here’s what we recommend this season:

Michaela, Artistic Director

Megan Hunter’s The Harpy is an eerie, modern fairytale that has a killer premise: a cheating husband agrees that in retribution, his wife may hurt him three times, and he’ll never know how or when until it happens. Hunter explores the emotional complexities of a modern marriage with the skilled nuance of Jenny Offill or Taffy Brodesser-Akner, but with a macabre bent that would make Kristen Roupenian and Carmen Maria Machado proud.

Yaa Gyasi has followed her acclaimed, epic debut Homegoing with another stunning and layered account of the big themes that wrack a family for generations. Transcendent Kingdom is a more modern novel, following the immigration of a Ghanaian family to Alabama, where the son and father struggle to adapt, leaving the daughter, Gifty, alone to reconcile the forces of addiction, grief, religion and love that have reverberated through her family.

Anyone who’s already devoured Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age will love this sharp and funny account of a well-intentioned white family in the suburbs trying to navigate the complexities of racial and sexual politics. Edie, a twenty-something artist stuck in a dead-end job in publishing, starts seeing Eric, a middle-aged white guy in an open marriage with an adopted Black daughter. The already tricky situation becomes infinitely more complex when, after losing her job, Edie is invited to move in with the family.

Next up, I’ve got copies of Andrew O’Hagan’s Mayflies, Ewa Ramsey’s The Morbids, Yoko Ogawa’s The Memory Police and Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar waiting on my bedside table. I’m eager to get my hands on Kate Mildenhall’s The Mother Fault, Meg Mason’s Sorrow and Bliss and Hetty McKinnon’s new cookbook To Asia, With Love. Finally, I’m a Tana French completist, and can’t wait until The Searcher is published on 6 October.

Gene, Associate Director

Ahead of his Melbourne Writers Festival event on Wednesday 7 October, I’m meandering my way through Robert Dessaix’s anticipated new book The Time of Our Lives. Characteristically witty and wise, this collection of essays considers ageing and its abounding possibilities. Dessaix draws on intimate conversations with friends and reflections on the influence of art and writing on his life to answer his own questions about death, friendship and the business of living richly.

I’ve recently finished Samanta Schweblin’s latest unsettling yet excellent novel Little Eyes, in which she fills the world with kentukis — robotic stuffed animal toys that are bought by ‘keepers’ and controlled remotely by random strangers — or ‘dwellers’ — from anywhere in the world. The dwellers can move the kentukis and see through the cameras in their eyes; they are a literal anonymous lens into the world of their keepers. Little Eyes raises questions about human connection, privacy and technology, all relevant themes to ponder given our current state of lockdown and how we now connect with others. I can’t recommend it enough. Next on my TBR is another of Schweblin’s books: Mouthful of Birds, a short story collection described as the ‘stuff of nightmares’. I can’t wait.

Once I’m finished with Mouthful of Birds, I’ll be reading Sigrid Nunez’s latest, What Are You Going Through. This New York Times review tells me I’ll love it, and they don’t often let me down. The story’s premise is: if a terminally ill friend asked you to be with them while they ended their own life, would you say yes or no? No doubt Nunez will treat this dramatic question with the precise insight into all facets of human feeling that she is so well known for (not to mention her trademark observational humour). I suspect this book will be a natural companion to Dessaix’s The Time of Our Lives.

Sonia, Program Manager

I am deep in the throes of Northern Irish literature after finally getting around to finishing our closing night artist Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, an expansive book where the complexities of The Troubles are presented in an accessible rapid-fire narrative style, more reminiscent of a novel in how the compelling story centres on four people — Dolours Price, Brendan Hughes, Jean McConville and Gerry Adams — than a straight piece of reportage. Keefe reaches back into history and forwards to the present to raise difficult questions about the vestiges of British colonialism, mythmaking and the stories we tell ourselves, the monopoly of memory, and collective denial.

I’ve since started reading The Fire Starters, a fantastical book with glimpses of the absurd, written by Jan Carson — another exceptional storyteller who was part of MWF Digital. Set in Belfast, it explores fatherhood, masculinity and violence with a sort of gallows humour I’ve read is characteristic of Northern Ireland and elements of magic realism.

Next on my list is Anna Burns’ Milkman, which I’ve wanted to read for the longest time, and whose political and social context I’ll no doubt grasp more easily after having finished both The Fire Starters and Say Nothing.

Jessica, Business & Operations Coordinator

I’m on team ‘Life Is Too Short To Read Books You Don’t Enjoy’, and as such, I’ve recently DNFed quite a few books, which is sad. No-one likes a reading slump. Kate Stayman-London’s One To Watch has been a delightful change to my reading slump, with an engaging story, fun format and solid characters.

I’m reading Amelia Mellor’s The Grandest Bookshop in The World, and so far it’s everything you want from a book when the first line of the blurb is ‘A Magical Bookshop’. Some friends roped me into a new book club where we only read spec fic by people of colour, so I’m doubling up and reading multiple books at the same time, to meet that deadline. We are reading NK Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, and it’s quite addictive, so I may be exaggerating my concern for finishing it on time.

My preorder list is becoming slightly overwhelming, with so many books coming out in September: with the second book in Luke Arnold’s Fetch Phillips series (magic! fantasy! detectives!); Kylie Maslen’s collection of essays about living with invisible illnesses, Show Me Where It Hurts; Ellie Marney’s new book None Shall Sleep (kids in the FBI working with serial killers); and a promising contemporary debut novel called Poly, from a Melbourne local, Paul Dalgarno.

Winnie, Development Coordinator

In the lead-up to MWF Digital, I read Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing which elevated my entire festival experience. I loved Odell’s take on ‘attention’ as a resource and tool to empower our communities. Her philosophy helps us unravel our habits and rethink our attitudes shaped by a profit-driven economy.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is a fitting title for Jessie Tu’s debut novel — I fell asleep to some wild, dark dreams after finishing the book late one night. This coming-of-age story about an Asian-Australian musical prodigy and her downfall is reckless, engrossing and melancholic. The character’s underlying drive for atonement and independence is affecting to anyone who once felt, or feels, estranged and lost.

Next, Chris Flynn’s Mammoth is an imaginative novel that transports us into the past millennia through the narration of a charming 13,000-year-old fossilised American mastodon. Examining critical points of modern history, Flynn’s deft account of prehistoric extinction and exhumation urges us to reflect on our relationship with nature, and the violence we inflict on the environment.

Gemma, Marketing Coordinator

From the nineteenth-century textile mills of Massachusetts to the globalised workplaces of today, Philip Dray’s There is Power in a Union surveys the history of the American labour movement, documenting the rise and fall of unions, the ongoing struggle for worker’s rights, and how modern conveniences like mobile internet technology exploit workers by holding them ‘accountable twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.’

Next on my list is Lola Olufemi’s Feminism, Interrupted: Disrupting Power. When mainstream feminism is no more than a white, neoliberal product, Olufemi reclaims feminism by examining abuse against women, reproductive justice, transmisogyny, sex work and gendered Islamophobia, to demonstrate the potential for radical change.

Yesterday in the mail I received Rachel Long’s debut poetry collection My Darling from the Lions. Described by Mary Jean Chan, author of Flèche, as ‘sensual and breathless at the tempo of desire’, I’m holding out for Long’s lucid and luminous poems about family idiosyncrasies, dating, religion, and sexual awakening.


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