What We're Reading / February 2023

Take a look at what we’ve read in February – a recent Victorian Premier’s award-winner, a moving literary novel, a bestseller soon to be translated for the stage, a charming Aussie kids book and more!


Cold Enough for Snow by Jessica Au

Rowena Tuziak, Membership & Operations Manager

Cold Enough for Snow
Jessica Au

Winner of the inaugural Novel Prize, Jessica Au’s Cold Enough for Snow is a literary novella that considers the way we interpret all that is external to us, including other people. It explores the alienation and unease that comes with not knowing something or someone, and the ways we seek certainty to ease that discomfort.

As a mother and daughter travel together in Japan, their experiences of galleries, food, culture, and history spark memories and contemplations. Au masterfully lays these observations and reflections side by side, leaving the reader to see the parallel and draw conclusions the narrator has not consciously processed. Au skilfully plays with her readers, drawing out our discomfort as we guess at the meaning behind the narrator’s experiences.

I was particularly moved by Au’s elegant prose and keen eye for detail in this beautifully written novella.

Jessica Au was also the recipient of the 2023 Victorian Premier’s Prize for Literature.

Cold Enough for Snow, Giramondo

This Devastating Fever by Sophie Cunningham

Julia Tsalis, Program Director

This Devastating Fever- Sophie Cunningham

I kept putting aside Sophie Cunningham’s This Devastating Fever because I thought it was going to be about the pandemic and I just didn’t feel up to it. Even when I found out it was about Leonard Woolf I would forget again and when I remembered I wasn’t that excited about Leonard Woolf anyway. It is about Leonard Woolf and he is far more interesting than I, and just about everyone realise, and it is also about the pandemic and not just the recent one. Most unexpectedly it is funny. Who would have thought you could write a book about the pandemic, environmental devastation, uncertain times, and Leonard Woolf that is funny, and moving, and creative, and structurally exciting. Sophie Cunningham can.

The book moves between the present (2020/21 lockdown in Melbourne) where the author Alice is trying to write a book about Leonard Woolf and a book about Leonard’s life as a colonial administrator, publisher, and carer of his wife Virginia Woolf. Alice has trouble completing her book because she is distracted by all of the wonderful information she gathers about Leonard and Virginia and the Bloomsbury set and can’t figure out how to weave them into her book, so she adds footnotes to her novel, which drives her long suffering literary agent crazy. She is also dealing with caring for a significant family member, facing a politically and environmentally uncertain world while living through the pandemic in Melbourne all while being visited by the ghosts of Leonard and Virginia!

I loved this brilliant and moving book that captures these dark, strange, beautiful times.

This Devastating Fever, Ultimo Press

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Amy Lovat, Professional Development Officer

The dictionary of lost words

After the last few years of people thrusting this book into my hands, and seeing it on all bestseller lists since its publication in 2020, I finally read The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams. It was the second book I read in 2023, and I’m already calling it early as the best book I’ll read all year. (Disclaimer: I’m allowed to change my mind.)

This book is set in the early 1900s, following protagonist Esme’s life from childhood through to adulthood, alongside the development of the Oxford English Dictionary. Esme is raised by her father, who is a lexicographer (person who compiles dictionaries) and so she grows up surrounded by words from a young age. Over time, Esme discovers and compiles in secret many words that are dis-included from the dictionary, especially those used by women.

The Dictionary of Lost Words is a stunning blend of history and fiction, set in Oxford, one of my favourite places on earth, and against the backdrop of historical events like World War 1. It’s fascinating, heartbreaking and uplifting, and a true must-read for any book-lover or wordsmith.

Pip Williams’ follow-up book, The Bookbinder of Jericho, comes out in April this year and is set in the same time period. I’ve also just discovered that Sydney Theatre Company is putting on The Dictionary of Lost Words as a stage play in Oct—Dec 2023, adapted by Verity Laughton and directed by Jessica Arthur. Find out more here.


Runt by Craig Silvey

Keira Baker, Project and Communications Officer

Runt by Craig Silvey

Following the success of Jasper Jones and Honeybee, Runt is Craig Silvey’s first title for kids, set in the fictional country town of Upson Downs.

The book follows eleven-year old Annie, who lives on a sheep farm with her best friend, an adopted stray dog called Runt. When her parents’ farm is threatened, the pair begin a journey that takes them from drought-stricken country Australia all the way to the grand Krumpett’s Dog Show in London. There’s just one catch – Runt will only use his talents when no one else is watching.

Runt is written for kids and adults alike – it’s a charming portrayal of the eccentrics and oddities of small town Australia. Earl Robert-Barron is a delightfully wicked villain, and Silvey has taken great pleasure in the whimsical, Roald Dahl-esque cast of characters that inhabit Annie and Runt’s world. I particularly loved Annie’s little brother Max, a (largely unsuccessful) youtube stuntman.

While Runt doesn’t push the happy ending formula, that’s almost what makes it so lovely – it’s quirky and sincere, and already feels like a classic. The simple, scribbly illustrations by Sara Acton add to Silvey’s dry charm.

I loved this (literal) underdog adventure and would definitely recommend it for younger middle grade readers.

Runt, Allen & Unwin

What we're Reading February

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