What We're Reading / August 2021

Take a look at the great things we’ve read in August — a moving book that eloquently blends history and memoir, a piece of short fiction by Kavita Bedford, a thrilling gothic fantasy and more!

Threads of Life: A history of the world through the eye of a needle by Clare Hunter

Julia Tsalis, Program Manager

I have been reading a book my mother leant to me, Threads of Life: A history of the world through the eye of a needle by Clare Hunter. It’s very appropriate that the book came from my mum as she is a maker of many beautiful handmade things and the person who taught me (and many others) to sew, knit, and embroider. The author, Clare Hunter is a textile artist and curator who works with communities to create textiles as political protest, healing, and communal gathering. She wanted to write the book as ‘an emotional, social, and political history of sewing’.

It begins with the Bayeaux Tapestry, a piece of political propaganda documenting the Battle of Hastings, made at a time when tapestry was considered a high art and held a greater value than gold.  Under themes such as power, protest, value, and art the book explores different works from the banners made by women for the suffragette campaign, Hmong story clothes, the AIDS quilt, and post WW2 soldiers sewing as a way to cope with PTSD. Hunter weaves into these fascinating explorations her personal story and experiences working with community groups.

This is a beautifully written, powerful book that respects sewing and embroidery as an intensely personal act that is often a shared, inter-generational experience, but establishes it as an artform with a rich social and political history. As she says: “Sewing is a way to mark our existence on cloth: patterning out place in the world, voicing our identity, sharing something of ourselves with others and leaving an indelible evidence of our presence in stitches held fast by our touch.”

The Wolf by Kavita Bedford for Guernica Magazine 

Martyn Reyes, Project and Communications Officer

I first came across Kavita Bedford, Australian-Indian author of Friends & Dark Shapes, when she appeared as a guest speaker for our online course, Year of the Novel with Emily Maguire in June. I found her piece of short fiction, The Wolf, published by Guernica Magazine, to be a refreshing example of great storytelling. It blurs the anthropomorphism of our childhood fairytales with the realities of grief and familial loss. The work frightens as much as it does provoke, and left me inspired by the possibilities of fiction writing. 

All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter

Nikole Evans, Administration Officer

I’m currently reading All the Murmuring Bones by Angela Slatter. Published in March this year, this gothic fantasy does not disappoint. Dark and quippy, it’s full of creepy creatures and complex characters. The writing style is reminiscent of Naomi Novik (dripping with sarcasm and intricate observation) and this is a big draw for me. Halfway through and I’m struggling to put it down or think about anything else save speculating on where the story is heading. One element of Slatter’s writing that brings me such joy is her vivid description of characters and landscapes. Without overdoing it, she paints a scene with each word on the page that brings up images in my mind’s eye as if I’m there.

Set in a world that is reminiscent of 19th century Ireland, this tale is full of gothic manors, corseted dresses, tales of merfolk and sinister mystery. The story follows Miren, a not-so-damsel-in-distress as she uncovers family secrets and sets out to right the wrongs of generations of O’Malley’s. This is a must read for anyone who is interested in gothic literature, magical realism and dark fantasy. The acclaimed world of the Sourdough and Bitterwood collections (the world in which All the Murmuring Bones is set) is a world I love to escape to and demonstrates a deft hand in world building – I’m excited to continue my journey through Slatter’s other creative works.

The Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

Rowena Tuziak, Membership and Operations Manager

In a drab town in country Australia, the settler narrative, with all its erasure and amnesia, is part of the town’s collective consciousness. On its edges are the campgrounds of the Yuwaalaraay people, evicted from their Custodial lands, the place where the town of Darnmoor now stands. It is here that the story of three generations of the Billymil family unfolds, traumatic and beautiful, heart-wrenching yet warm, and ultimately, incredibly absorbing.

Yuwaalaraay storyteller, Nardi Simpson has created a work of lyrical beauty, rich with nuanced characters, skilfully exposing the overt and covert racism and violence that fuels intergenerational trauma.

Longlisted for the 2021 Stella Prize and Miles Franklin Award, plus a host of many more literary awards, The Song of the Crocodile is a must-read for all Australians. Be prepared, it may not be an easy read.

It blows me away to think this is the work of a debut novelist!


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