What We're Reading 

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

July 2017

Gleebooks Bookshop - Thursday, July 06, 2017
Andrew: What I am not reading is Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. When various overviews of the anticipated year in fiction were published at the beginning of 2017, I was excited to see the third volume in Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy touted as the highlight. Sadly it now looks like she doesn’t anticipate finishing the book until the end of this year, which pushes publication back to 2018. Bugger. Mantel is, however, currently delivering the Reith Lectures on BBC4—and I strongly recommend them. It is a breeze to stream them on your computer or phone, and Mantel is a wonderful and erudite speaker, tackling the role of history in literature. Anybody who followed the debate between novelist Kate Grenville and historian Inga Clendinnen (played out in the Quarterly Essay letters pages) concerning the respective roles and responsibilities of novelists and historians won’t want to miss Mantel’s take. For myself, I am biding my time reading (the sadly recently deceased) Helen Dunmore’s Birdcage Walk, set in 1792 Bristol. Featuring a property developer and a housing boom, it is an apposite reminder that historical fiction can be at its best speaking to modern themes. 

Roger: I’m halfway through the new Brunetti novel by Donna Leon, Earthly Remains—gosh it’s good. She’s so relaxed with her characters and her setting, and her descriptions of the lagoon where Brunetti is holidaying solus are grippingly detailed and real. When I was in Venice with my friend in November last year we went past the buildings where she reckons Brunetti lives and imagined we could catch the odours of Paola’s lunch preparations for the family. Venice was marvellous. The only disappointment, apart from the gargantuan ocean liners dwarfing the city, was Acqua Alta—a bookshop that must be the worst in the world. I know it’s hard, but if you can imagine a level of disorder greater than Gould’s in its heyday. Then add damp from the adjacent canal to the premises, second-hand books that are not only strewn all over the place, but are also piled up inside rowing boats and in the featured gondola (the real thing)—and you have something of the atmosphere of the place. It has outside courtyards where books are piled up deteriorating in the rain—some used as stepping stones to a view of the canal. It’s awful, I had to quickly leave to suppress an urgent desire to start tidying it up. On the more serious side I have just finished Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides—a marvellous tour-de-force of the 20th century migrant experience in Detroit, full of incident, character and love. And I am also halfway through Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons—for the second time. I read it when I was twenty and thought it one of the best books. I’m not so sure this time, but we’ll see how it develops. The first time was so long ago that it’s all fresh to me again—and I’m certainly much more a father than a son now!

Stef: Beauty in Thorns
by Kate Forsyth is truly a delight.  Forsyth has brought to life the rich and colourful world of the Pre-Raphaelite artists—their day to day, their unconventional bohemian lifestyles and their ability to shock and delight their Victorian patrons and society at large. Having turned the last page I am feeling a little sad and lost—I won’t be able to quite shake off the ghosts of the people who populated this story for a while.

Mike: Get Poor Slow by David Free: A Sydney crime noir, set against the backdrop of the murky world of Australian publishing. Ray Saint is a book reviewer. A tough one. He thinks that all writing should be literature and is well known for his scathing rebukes of anything of lesser quality. That is when he meets Jade Howe, the beautiful publicity dame who drops a big, fat, cash-filled proposition right in his lap. How could he resist? Just pretend to like a book, write a glowing review and collect the notes. Easy, right? It is easy, until Jade turns up dead, and Ray is public enemy (and suspect) numero uno.... Saint is pretty sure he didn’t kill her, hell, he liked pretty much every part of her. It’s just that he can’t quite remember.....This is a face-paced thriller filled with books, booze, shifty characters, a hero who could turn out to be a killer and more dodgy one-liners than a Sydney New Titles sales meeting.

Viki: I had a phone call the other day from a customer wanting E. H Gombrich’s The Story of Art—unfortunately we didn’t have the pocket edition, which she needed for what I imagine was her soon to be Grand Tour of Europe, but once the unwanted larger edition Gleebooks did have was in my hands I was unable to say no. So now I’m reading a chapter a day, working my way through Gombrich’s evolution of art and having a great time. I’d highly recommend this to parents of children expressing an interest in art—it’s a great introduction, and I feel tempted to make attempts at recreating works and styles from every step along the way. Speaking of which, I’m also reading A Forger’s Tale by Shaun Greenhalgh. Written from prison Shaun details his legendary forger’s career, and the ‘forger’s ring’ (including co-conspirators, the ‘artful codgers’, his 80 year old parents) that operated out of a garden shed in Bolton, UK. As art critic (and dupe of one of Greenhalgh’s fakes) Waldemar Januszczak says in his introduction, ‘Shaun is funny, charming, self-deprecating, warm-hearted and, above all, instructive’. And he is all of those things—utterly obsessed with making things—he’s a fascinating character.

I imagine there must be a good deal of rivalry at the ABC. Not just for the plum high profile jobs at AM, 7.30, Lateline, Q&A etc, but about the sheer number of books that these high profile journalists find time to write. From Julia Baird’s Victoria and Mark Colvin’s wonderful memoir of his father to the political thrillers penned by Chris Uhlmann and Steve Lewis. Two-time Walkley Award winner Michael Brissenden takes time off 4 Corners to join their ranks this month with a tightly plotted thriller set mainly in Sydney. The List has a team of specialist officers struggling to prevent a large scale terrorist plot in Sydney. Brissenden’s experience as a journalist comes through and the book has less politics and more action than I had expected. With this entertaining read in the vein of Terry Hayes’ (another journo) I Am Pilgrim, Brissenden joins the long list of ABC journos who are also successful novelists. The List is a real page turner.

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