Upstate by James Wood

Do you ever start a book, notice something peculiar, and then can’t see anything but the repeated peculiartity? Such was the case with Upstate by James Wood (I’ll get to the peculiarity).

Alan Querry is a successful property developer from the north of England. He has two daughters: Vanessa, a philosopher who lives and teaches in upstate New York, and Helen, a record company executive based in London. The women are very different, “…Helen did things while Vanessa thought things”, but neither had ever quite recovered from their parents’ bitter divorce; the early death of their mother; and their disapproval of Candace, Alan’s second wife. Continue reading

A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop

A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop is a quiet, contemplative collection of stories about a brutal topic – the 2009 Victorian Black Saturday bushfires. 

You remember mostly, three a.m.: they found our neighbours in clusters, mostly in amalgam fillings and tyre rims trickled into what looked like snowy earth – silvers, gunmetal greys and blacks so petrol-shiny you’d think of a currawong’s wing… We were comforted, afterwards, that things ended for them together, holding each other under betadine-and-copper-coloured smoke. Under a sky that’d once promised kinder things: maybe Vegemite toast on Sunday morning, maybe a weeknight, after-work kiss. Continue reading

20 Books of Summer (Winter) 2019 – Challenge Complete

The 20 Books of Summer reading challenge drew to a close on Melbourne’s first distinctly-Spring-like day (it was 21 degrees here yesterday and glorious). I don’t have trouble reading 20 books in the allotted time (this year I read 20.5 hard copies and listened to six audiobooks) however I am a bit behind on reviews… Continue reading

Hunger by Roxane Gay

You know when you first begin a book and you can’t put it down, and then other stuff gets in the way and you set the book aside for a few days, and then you pick it up again and wonder, ‘Was this the same book I was engrossed in a few days ago?’ That. With Hunger by Roxane Gay.

The subtitle of the book is ‘A Memoir of (My) Body’. Gay tracks her physical and emotional state from childhood to the present. An important element of Gay’s story is her gang rape at age 12, something she kept secret for decades. From the time of the rape onwards, Gay used food as ‘safety’, saying that she “…ate and ate and ate to build my body into a fortress.”

I don’t know how things got so out of control, or I do. This is my refrain. Losing control of my body was a matter of accretion. I began eating to change my body. I was wilful in this. Some boys had destroyed me, and I barely survived it. I knew I wouldn’t be able to endure another such violation, and so I ate because I thought that if my body became repulsive, I could keep men away. Continue reading

The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory by Corey White

The current thinking in social work circles is that there are better long-term outcomes for children left with their family in an unstable home, than those removed and placed in foster care. This was in the back of my mind as I read comedian Corey White’s recently published memoir, The Prettiest Horse in the Glue Factory.

The details White shares of his childhood made me sick with fear from the first page. His father adored him but belted his wife and daughters. His mother, a drug addict, would disappear for days at a time. White was sexually abused by a ‘friend’ of the family, and as a young child he was violent toward his mother and sisters.

I drink in my father’s anger, see how it makes him glow and other people cower, and I repeat it. I punch my mother in the stomach and call her a stupid slut. Continue reading

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff

A few years ago I read a book that was well-written, demanded conversation, and was extraordinarily memorable. And I didn’t recommend it to a single person. Because it was harrowing and devastating and exhausting – you have to be ready for that. Putney by Sofka Zinovieff falls into the same category. Continue reading

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

I totally understand why Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng was a favourite of reviewers in 2017.

It would be a terrific choice for holiday reading – it’s pacey and easy to read.

I imagine when Ng was writing she had a complex plotting diagram on a whiteboard, or lots of sticky notes on her wall – clearly every word has been thought through. Continue reading

The Psychopath Test by Jon Ronson

Have you ever looked at a copy of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (commonly referred to as the ‘DSM‘)? It’s a reference book published by the American Psychiatric Association, and it is used by clinicians for diagnosing mental illness. Each ‘disorder’ is described using a number of diagnostic criteria, risk factors, cultural and gender considerations, differential diagnoses and so on. It makes for very compelling reading, as Jon Ronson discovered in his exploration of psychopathy, The Psychopath Test.

I was much crazier than I’d imagined. Maybe it was a bad idea to read DSM4 when you’re not a trained professional…

Yes, even on a good day, I could browse through the DSM and slot myself into a whole bunch of disorders (today for instance, sluggish cognitive tempo disorder, otherwise known as lack of motivation). Continue reading

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

Four elements in The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce stood out (and will leave me feeling fondly toward the story) –

01. It’s a book version of The Castle – local shop owners on Unity Street (somewhere in London) battle a property developer, who wants to demolish the existing buildings and replace them with apartments. Furthermore, Frank, who owns the music shop, only stocks vinyl. As CDs begin to take over the music market, Frank holds out.

“CDs aren’t music. They’re toys.” Continue reading