Things are heating up here in more than the literal sense. A bunch of us are just back from an invigorating National Young Writers’ Festival, and our own Creative Non-Fiction Festival is fast approaching. The program showcases a huge range of non-fiction writers who will turn up on the 7th of November with their best anecdotes and advice for aspiring writers. Still, even with the promise of all these great conversations, we’ve got to get our lit fix. Here’s what some of the staff have been reading lately.
Julia Tsalis, Program Manager
The standout for me this month was Tom Doig’s The Coal Face about the Hazelwood mine fire that burned for 45 days and was one of Victoria’s worst industrial disasters. It is a powerful recounting of the decisions that led to the fire and the environmental and personal effect it had on the community. The appalling effects of the disaster are made even more painful in light of Tom’s observation: “The fire was foreseeable. The disaster was preventable.” The Coal Face is part of the new Penguin Specials series, which are very handsomely produced short works of Australian non-fiction and fiction. From the series I also read Sonya Hartnett’s reflective Life in Ten Houses and Liam Pieper’s Mistakes Were Made. Well worth the $9.99, or $3.99 for an ebook, but I really like the actual book. It’s a beautiful little thing: traditional Penguin cover style on matte paper, with banners of colour and sometimes accompanied by a simple line drawing.
My book-crush of the month is We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. Powerful, intelligent and unsentimental, this story caught me off-guard and swept me away instantly. Best read with comfort food and no prior knowledge of the story. Once my emotions recovered, I started The Day of the Triffids with my book club. This classic sci-fi will have me frowning suspiciously at plants for a while to come.
I’ve been wandering through Wandering by Hermann Hesse, a book of meditations on nature he wrote after settling in the Ticino region of Switzerland. I was interested in this book because apparently most of my family originates from that region. I also rediscovered a childhood favourite, Betsy Byars’ The Cartoonist, thanks to membership officer Sherry Landow.
I’ve just finished reading The Eye of the Sheep by Sophie Laguna, which I found tremendously affecting. It’s a portrayal of family violence and the total vulnerability it wreaks on the family unit. It’s told from the from the perspective of a young boy, Jimmy Flick, and the narrative voice is highly original – with it’s own language unique to the character. It also won the Miles Franklin. Definitely worth a read!
I’ve just read Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World [Ellen read this a couple of months ago], an evocative description of the ambivalence of motherhood: how someone can simultaneously love her children and feel desperate to be free of them. Set in 1960s’ Western Australia, it is the story of Charlotte and Henry who migrate from the UK as “10 pound Poms” and both, in their different ways, find themselves feeling alienated by their new lives.