What We're Reading 

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

July 2015

 - Wednesday, July 01, 2015

I'm rereading To Kill a Mockingbird while awaiting the 14th of July release of Harper Lee's sequel (or is it presequel?), Go Set a Watchman. Mockingbird is as good as it was when I first read it at age 12, so I have high hopes for Watchman. I'm also on a manga binge of epic proportions—catching up with two manga masters, Osamu Tezuka and Shigeru Mizuki, and their takes on pre and post WW2 Japan. First, Mizuki's encyclopaedic 3 volume account of Japan from the 1923 great Kanto earthquake through the war to 1953, occupation & reconstruction, Showa. The historical countdown is told in great detail with accompanying photorealist images, while Mizuki's autobiography is interwoven with manga-style goofiness. Mizuki, was an Imperial Japanese Army grunt, sent to New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea, and he lost his arm in an allied air raid. He wrote the Showa (referring to the imperial era of Emperor Hirohito) trilogy 'to convey what really happened to younger generations of Japanese for whom war is now only an abstraction'. I would say it is a timely, and absolutely gripping account, for younger generations of any nationality. As are Osamu Tezuka's fictions. Message to Adolf involves three Adolf's—one you can guess, the second is a German Jew living in Japan, the third is a Hitler Youth recruit fighting against indoctrination. Ayako is set in post-war/cold war Japan using the lens of a dark family saga to view the US occupation and Japan's cultural revolution. Fantastic reading! I also can't recommend Tezuka's 8 volume biography of Buddha highly enough. I do hope to meet all you gleeclubbers at the 40th bash—if I can't convince you to read comics, maybe I can convince you to buy them for the kids! Viki

QE 58: Blood Year: Terror & the Islamic State—I will admit to not having gone anywhere near current affairs or politics in my reading in the last year. Too depressing, too venal, too hopeless on every level—on both a domestic and international level. So I surprised myself by picking this up, and surprised myself even more by how utterly absorbing I found it. My introduction to David Kilcullen was through his interview with Leigh Sales on the 7.30 Report, and I was taken aback by how sensible he sounded and how 'real' and 'imaginable' he makes a scenario that is presented by our federal government only through a prism of the phantasmagorical, the xenophobic, and the paranoid.
So, comfortable with the imprimatur of Black Inc and the Quarterly Essay, I thought I would give it a go, and finally stare the Islamic State beast in the face. It is a powerful and persuasive essay. And if, like me, you have stuck your head in the sand for too long around the issue, he is pretty adept at an 80 page overview. Kilcullen is quite the hawk in many respects—which took me aback somewhat—but he is so upfront, his writing free of dogma and his 'field' experience so impressive, that it is pretty hard not to come away from the essay without the utmost respect for him and his views. Most importantly, I can now come at a discussion of Islamic extremism without the echoes of dog whistles and hysteria bouncing around my head. Andy

The Spectre of Alexander Wolf by Gaito Gazdanov—In his fine essay, Some Notes on the Novella, Ian McEwan observes 'to sit with a novella is analogous to watching a play or a longish movie. Both operate within the same useful constraints of economy: space for a subplot (two at a stretch), characters to be established with quick strokes, and the central idea, even if it is just below the horizon, always exerting its gravitational pull.'  Published in 1947, Gazdanov's novella has an opening sentence so forceful that nothing can escape it: 'Of all my memories, of all my life's innumerable sensations, the most onerous was that of the single murder I had committed.' Throw in an irresistible affaire de coeur (with irresistible Yelena) and you have sex, death, love and a good read. What else is there? Jack


1. The Brain's Way of Healing by Norman Doidge
2. H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald
3. Not My Father's Son: A Family Memoir by Alan Cumming
4. One Life: My Mother's Story by Kate Grenville
5. Being Mortal: Illness, Medicine & What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
6. The Bush by Don Watson
7. QE 57: Dear Life: On Caring for the Elderly by Karen Hitchcock
8. Happiness by Design: Finding Pleasure and Purpose in Everyday Life by Paul Dolan
9. Farewell Kabul: How the West Ignored Pakistan and Lost Afghanistan by Christina Lamb
10. The Wife Drought: Why Women Need Wives and Men Need Lives by Annabel Crabb

1. In the Light of What We Know by Zia Haider Rahman
2. The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid
3. The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
4. Clade by James Bradley
5. Quicksand by Steve Toltz
6. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
7. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
8. Waiting For the Past by Les Murray
9. Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel
10. All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld