What We're Reading 

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

September 2016

Gleebooks Bookshop - Wednesday, September 07, 2016
John: I really enjoy William Boyd’s books. Any Human Heart ($22.95) published about 15 years ago is one of my favourite books (admittedly I have a long list of favourites.) Sweet Caress ($18), his latest novel follows the model of Any Human Heart in being a fictional memoir. We follow the life of Amory Clay from 1908 to the late 1970s. Her life is framed by her work as a photographer and three wars, WW1, WW2 & Vietnam, and Boyd deftly makes her life both ordinary and extraordinary. Sweet Caress is a new favourite to ad to the list.

Andrew: I’m reading The North Water by Ian McGuire ($33) which has been flying out the door at our Glebe shop owing to a marvellous confluence of publicity leg-ups; effusive praise on the ABC’s Book Club, positive reviews from Colm Tóibín and Hilary Mantel, and a place on this year’s Booker longlist. I will admit my heart sank when I began this book. Set as it is, in Victorian England, it has an opening chapter full of scene-setting clichés; all that piss and prostitute stuff. I thought I had wandered onto the storyboard of a remake of Oliver. It is also written in the present tense (a pet grievance of mine unless you have the finesse of someone like Mantel herself). But... It’s actually marvellous. It shook off its clichés within pages, and has me hooked. Set on a whaling ship in the icy Arctic, with a pair of unsettlingly flawed and engaging protagonists it is a pageturning thiller, with a dark sexual undercurrent. I don’t reckon it is high literature, but it has me gripped. And it is not going to finish well for somebody.

Viki: Think of the long trip home./ Should we have stayed at home and thought of here?/ Where should we be today? ... Continent, city, country, society:/ the choice is never wide and never free./ And here, or there ... No. Should we have stayed at home,/ wherever that may be? Andrew Solomon quotes Elizabeth Bishop at the head of his new (and hefty) collection of essays Far and Away: Reporting from the Brink of Change—Seven Continents, Twenty-Five Years ($35). When he was 7 Solomon’s father told him about the Holocaust. When he posed the question,‘Why didn’t those Jews just leave when things got bad?’, his father answered that ‘They had nowhere to go’. From that moment on Solomon decided he would always have somewhere to go—’If genocide ever threatened midtown Manhattan, I would be all set to gather up my passport and head for some place where they’d be glad to have me’. This, married to a pre-gay sense of difference that manifested itself in a youthful Anglophobia, and a mother who loved travel and made sure the kids were well read on the culture and history of their destination, created a man with seriously itchy feet. It is amazing how Solomon has managed to write all those weighty award-winning books like Far From the Tree and The Noonday Demon given the places he’s been and the adventures he’s had. This book collects articles he’s written over 25 years, reporting from the frontlines of political and cultural change all over the world. At 500 pages, it’s the perfect bedside book to take your time with.

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