Image courtesy Readings.
The theme of this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival is ‘When we talk about love’ and it all kicks off this Friday 30 August. Inspired by the event Love Letter to a Book, the Affirm Press team shares a heartfelt note to a book from our past, thanking it for the way it shaped and moved us.
I read Anna Krien’s Night Games for my book club in 2015 and it forever changed the way I think about consent and power and how the law interprets them both. Although Night Games looks at these concepts through the lens of footy culture, the lessons it teaches are broadly transferrable. Anna is such an intelligent writer and I loved her involvement in the narrative – she a made a hard subject extremely relatable. Her ability to question the ‘grey’ area of consent as defined by the law opened my eyes to the impossible nature of writing hard-and-fast laws about consent. In this particular moment of #metoo and heightened awareness of what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour, I think Night Games stands up as a must-read for men and women everywhere.
I loved every second of the film version of A River Runs Through It (you know, the one with the ridiculously handsome Brad Pitt), so imagine my sheer delight when I discovered it was originally a book – not only that but a book bashed out by Norman Maclean at 74 years young. Reading it for the first time was pure delight, and with subsequent readings I’ve grown quite attached to Macleans’ words. My dear Aunty, who took me to the movie, has long since passed. A few years back her brother, my father, also passed. The family had Dad cremated and his ashes spread in the many rivers we fished together. The final paragraph of the book includes the line ‘eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it’. When I fish I think of Dad, and these words, and the water, and the fish, and life truly is beautiful.
When I finished reading the original manuscript of Alice Robinson’s second novel The Glad Shout I cried for a good 20 minutes. It was a full body cry – think Emma Thompson at the end of Sense and Sensibility. Of course then I had to get my shit together and read the book a dozen more times as I went through the editing process with Alice. I cried during every single read. The story burrowed deep inside my psyche and did what only the best books can do: changed the way I viewed the world. The Glad Shout made me hyper alert to the climate change crisis we’re dealing with and the grim future we face. It made me reconsider my priorities and my lifestyle from the small things, like riding my bike to work instead of driving, to the large things, like whether or not I should bring a child into this world. It’s an incredible book; read it and weep.
Firestarter by Stephen King was the first really LONG book I read, at age 11. Because I was so desperate to finish it, I had to get crafty at night when it was ‘lights out’ in our house. With the help of a torch, and a doona cover over my head, Firestarter sparked the very idea of reading under the covers late at night, and over the years I developed a real knack for switching the light off just as Mum came in to check I was asleep. Joke’s on her; I had no chance of sleeping once I got my hands on this 400-pager.
Melina Marchetta’s On the Jellicoe Road was released when I was in high school, and I’ve counted it as one of my favourite books ever since. It’s full of romance and heartache, 80s pub rock, unbreakable friendships, intergenerational family trauma and secret prank warfare, all set at a boarding school in rural NSW. What’s not to love? But part of what has kept this book so close to my heart is that the original experience of reading it was shared with friends. We took turns borrowing it from the school library. We discussed scenes in vivid detail. We listened to Cold Chisel. We were obsessed, but we were obsessed together. Reading is usually a solitary activity, but On the Jellicoe Road taught me that it can also be an incredibly meaningful social experience.
I’d like to thank Sebastian Barry’s Days Without End. A great big whopping contradiction of a book, it’s full of horrors and regrets as well as love and soaring humanity. It’s beautifully written, poetic, particularly to an Irish ear. I’ve been a fan of Barry’s for a long time but this book really moved me in ways I’ll never forget. It also made me realise how we can’t really learn wisdom and it must be acquired by experience but we must open ourselves up to being taught. And that’s something I learned from a book so yeah, a big contradiction.
This year it was definitely one of our own, Alice Robinson’s The Glad Shout. It’s a haunting portrayal of Melbourne in 2045, a place ravaged by the very likely outcomes of climate change. It achieves what only fiction can and places you right there in the situation that we can merely try to imagine when reading scientific predictions in the news. But a book I read hundreds of times as a kid was My Place by Donna Rawlins and Nadia Wheatley. Starting in 1987, it looks back on the life of a beautiful Morton Bay fig tree in Sydney over the last 200 years, through the eyes of generations of 10-year-old kids who have found a special hangout in this tree. My Place introduced me to the horrors of displacement of First Nations cultures as well as the migrant experience, and the effects of colonisation and urbanisation on the environment – and skilfully achieves this without being didactic.
Window by Jeannie Baker is a book I ‘read’ hundreds of times as a kid, though is it still called reading if it’s a wordless picture book? It’s a simple concept brilliantly executed: each page looks through the same window of a house inhabited by a young family. The first spread shows a mother holding a baby, and as he grows into a boy and then a young man the landscape seen through the window also changes – what begins as spacious green bushland over time becomes more and more urban. Jeannie’s incredibly detailed collage illustrations are so enthralling – even now it seems like there are previously unseen details to be discovered on each page – and the underlying environmental message encourages readers to consider the impact we have on the world we live in.