What We're Reading / January 2021

Welcome to 2021, writers! Fingers crossed that this year will be better than the last. Looking for something to add to your to-read list for the year? We’ve come out of the holiday season with some great recommendations.

An Isolated Incident
by Emily Maguire

Jane McCredie, CEO

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, tutor of Writing NSW Year of the Novel course in 2020, a writing course in Sydney

The summer break was an opportunity to catch up on a few books I’d been meaning to read for a while. One of those was Emily Maguire’s An Unfortunate Incident. Emily of course teaches our Year of the Novel course and I’ve long admired her writing. The thing I most like about this book is the way it flips the conventions of the crime novel, avoiding the fetishisation of the murdered woman’s body that is so common in the genre and allowing us to better see the structural misogyny that underlies violence against women. For me, the absence of gory description actually increased the impact of the crime at the heart of the book, bringing home the lasting pain inflicted on those who are left. Not an easy read, but worth the effort.

Group by Christie Tate

Claire Thompson, Program Officer

One of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2021 is to read more books, the goal is 24, which is just two a month, which should be manageable. So far I have read The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides and Group by Christie Tate. Out of the two, I enjoyed Group more. (The Silent Patient was gripping but I didn’t love the ending). Group is a memoir which focuses on Tate’s experience of finding a psychologist, joining a therapy group and learning ways to overcome past trauma. Her goal for therapy is to learn how to find (and maintain) a fulfilling relationship, as she constantly goes for emotionally unavailable men who are alcoholics or stoners. We meet a cast of characters through the group, each with their own struggles, and Tate shows us how she goes from being convinced it isn’t okay to share your ‘business’ with anyone (as her mum told her when she was a child) to detailing her sex life, her eating habits (as a recovering bulimic) and even screaming on the floor and ripping out her hair (literally) when frustrated. The book explores mental illness in a raw and real way, leaving nothing out. Tate’s considered, self-deprecating and often humorous prose makes you think about vulnerability, and what it truly means to be intimate with others. Group makes you realise therapy is an ongoing journey, not a quick-fix, and how everyone should probably be in therapy. 

Tiny Moons:
A Year of Eating in Shanghai
by Nina Mingya Powles

Annie Zhang, Acting Project and Communications Officer

I’ve been reading Tiny Moons by Nina Mingya Powles and illustrated by Emma Dai’an Wright. This is a beautiful little collection of food essays that document a year spent eating in Shanghai. The author is a poet too, which shows in the tender, lyrical honesty of her writing. Shanghai is where my paternal family resides, and this book made me miss it very much. She captures many familiar details of the city, like the ginko trees and the construction on the roads. There are also many details that are unfamiliar to me, like how humid it is in summer. Her life in Shanghai is interspersed with times spent in Wellington and Kota Kinabalu. Her experiences across these places are all framed by the comforting acts of cooking or eating. Many of the foods she discusses are very dear and familiar to me—pineapple buns, wonton noodle soup, zongzi, jianbing. This book made me very hungry, and also very wistful.

Timebends by Arthur Miller and Sharing A House with the
Never-Ending Man by Steve Alpert

Anita Mathews, Administration and Memberships Officer

To be expected Miller has written his autobiography beautifully, if at times densely. I suspect readers of his generation would be able to keep up with some of his meatier sentences that had me re-reading more than once.Miller has many insights into his own life and extended family, his much publicised marriage with Marilyn Monroe, as well the politics spanning his lifetime. (Miller stood up to the House Un-American Activities Committee during the McCarthy ‘witch hunt’ which inspired him to write The Crucible.)

I also just finished reading Sharing a House with the Never-Ending Man by Steve Alpert (Stone Bridge Press, 2020), about Alpert’s experience working at Studio Ghibli for legendary Japanese filmmaker Hiyao Miyazaki amongst others.

I have a personal connection with this subject matter as my brother has lived in the neighbourhood where the Ghibli Studio is located and I have seen sights from around the neighbourhood that are included in their Oscar Winning animation Spirited Away.

The book is light, anecdotal and will interest fans of Studio Ghibli and the animation industry generally.

These Precious Days by Ann Patchett and Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

Julia Tsalis, Program Manager

I was very moved by the essay ‘These Precious Days‘ by Ann Patchett, the brilliant author of Bel Canto and Commonwealth (both of which I highly recommend). Written during the pandemic from her home in Nashville while running her bookshop Parnassus Books, she writes about how Tom Hank’s assistant came to live with her. It is an ode to friendship, the small acts of kindness that are world changing, and also the limits of our ability to full understand another.

For me, it was also about what has been hard and also great during this time – the narrowing of our horizons keeping us away from people, but also keeping us closer to home and the people we want to be with. Life has been concentrated, the good and the bad.

I also had the great pleasure of reading Nardi Simpson’s Song of the Crocodile. This beautifully written book chronicles the lives of the Billymil family who have to contend with the racist white settler town of Darnmoor, but are guided and given strength from the ancestors who watch over them. It is a moving story filled with great characters given life by Nardi’s fine lyrical writing.

Eye of a Rook by Josephine Taylor

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Senior Program Officer

This debut novel from Australian author Josephine Taylor draws on her personal experiences with vulvodynia to explore the condition and its varied treatments and impacts on the lives of two women, one in contemporary Perth, the other in 1860s England. Drawing on Taylor’s research into the historic treatments and conceptualisations (formed by male doctors and researchers) of this still unexplained chronic condition, the two narratives offer compelling portraits of lives marred by physical pain and medical gaslighting. 


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