The summer break is the best time to get started on our ‘to read’ piles that have been collecting dust throughout the year. Here are some of our holiday favourites from other publishers.
Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny (HarperCollins) was an absolute joy. It follows Graham Cavanaugh as he fumbles through life with his Origami-obsessed young son and second wife, Audra, a Duracell Bunny of a character. When Audra decides to befriend Graham’s first wife, Elspeth, Graham begins to wonder about the shape of his life, and all the paths not taken. A totally charming read (and Audra is one of the best characters I’ve come across in a long time).
The recently translated YA fantasy novel A Winter’s Promise (Text Publishing) is the first book in the bestselling French series The Mirror Visitor Quartet, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the next one. It has a captivating cast of characters and excellent world-building, and is packed full of fascinating magic, political intrigue and a main character who stays true to herself when put in difficult and dangerous circumstances. This is fresh, fun and completely absorbing.
I couldn’t put down Sally Rooney’s Normal People (Allen & Unwin) (just as I couldn’t stop watching Younger). When I read Conversations With Friends in 2017 I wasn’t sure if I loved it or hated it (I’m still not) but I definitely really enjoyed Normal People – it’s just so digestible! Honourable mention to Less by Andrew Sean Greer, which was charming.
The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright (Giramondo) explores what it is to feel at home – or not – in our city, suburb, house and body. Overheard snippets of conversation and lines from poems pepper the book to build a deeper understanding of Wright’s experience of a chronic illness. I was particularly touched by her relationship with her dog (named Virginia Woolf).
I loved The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton (Penguin). It’s his best book for some time, in my humble opinion. My wife bemoaned the characterless plot, but I just love Winton’s command of language. (He should really cut his hair though.)
Since I moved to Tassie in November I wanted to start my summer with something local, so I picked up a copy of Flames by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing). This book is completely mad – a wild trip across the island that includes resurrections, a river god, a murderous cormorant and magical fire powers. I loved seeing the landscapes I was exploring brought to life (literally!), and the reminder of how the strange – and sometimes scary – beauty of nature can make an imagination run riot.
Milkman by Anna Burns (Allen & Unwin) was my standout of the holidays. What some see as a strange and oblique style I felt was familiar and playful, a contemporary cross between James Joyce and Samuel Beckett, swinging between hard truths and the absurd. ‘Geez, you’re not selling it to me,’ Coco said when I mentioned these writers. I don’t know how I’d feel about Milkman if I wasn’t Irish and acquainted with the political landscape of the time and the rhythm of the language, but I really loved this dark, brave, inventive and funny book.
It’s easy to see why Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine (HarperCollins) cropped up in bestseller lists across the world in 2018. Despite the hype, this book caught me off guard. I loved Gail Honeyman’s characterisation of the delightful but disturbed Eleanor, who struggles with her loneliness and social ineptitude. The ending left me an emotional wreck, but an ultimately hopeful emotional wreck. I suspect I’ll be thinking about Eleanor for a long time to come.
I had a great time reading Less (Hachette), the 2018 winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It’s clever and very funny, following a middle-aged, moderately successful author’s elaborate attempt to avoid a wedding invitation, which sees him unenthusiastically head off on a trip around the world. It keeps a great pace, which is necessary to excuse the slightly frustrating protagonist. I also appreciated the comment on publishing – the insecurity that can plague writers and the industry’s sometimes brutal commerciality.
When you think ‘beach read’, do you think ‘dense 700-page Pulitzer Prize-winning memoir weighing nearly a kilogram’? Me neither. Which is why A Personal History by Katharine Graham (Hachette) was such a delightful surprise. If you saw the movie The Post, Graham = Meryl Streep, publisher of the Washington Post when the Pentagon Papers scandal blew up. I’m now obsessed with ‘Kay’, who’s as charming and flawed and real to me as my own (equally slightly narcissistic) aunt. Truman Capote! Watergate! Jackie O! First-wave feminism! Obscene wealth! It’s all in here, along with the most mind-blowing insights into the nexus between the media and US politics across the 20th-century. Kaboom.
I loved An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Hachette). It was the perfect holiday read – compelling, a bit silly and original.
The Single Ladies of Jacaranda Retirement Village by Joanna Nell (Hachette) caught my eye – I came for the title and stayed for the feel-good story. This was a fun, uplifting book about two women rekindling their friendship after decades apart and causing all sorts of hijinks at their retirement village. My ideal read for a relaxed afternoon.