I’ll Have What She’s Having by Rebecca Harrington

In my late teens, my rowing crew decided to go lightweight. It was my introduction to the TJ Miracle Diet. Also known as the cabbage soup diet. Also known as the Dolly Parton diet. I don’t know how successful cabbage soup was for Dolly but for me, during regatta weeks, the diet worked alarmingly well (like 3-5kgs well). I’m quite sure that within twelve months I had done irreparable damage to my metabolism.My crew never had any success in the lightweight division.

Any time I see the details of diets that cut out whole food groups, or put foods in bizarre combinations, I’m taken back to the TJ Miracle Soup and the vile smell of overcooked cabbage. So it was with morbid curiosity that I read Rebecca Harrington’s I’ll Have What She’s Having. Harrington spent several months trialling celebrity diets, eating like Gwyneth, Beyoncé, Marilyn, Karl Lagerfield and more. Continue reading

The Nix by Nathan Hill

Any kind of comparison to John Irving? Lock me in. An endorsement from John Irving? Sign me up. It’s how I came to read The Nix by Nathan Hill.

At 640 pages, there’s a lot to The Nix but essentially, it is the story of Samuel Andresen-Anderson and his mother, Faye. Shifting between the present (Samuel is a stalled writer, bored teacher at a local college, and obsessive player of an online video game, Elfscape); Samuel’s childhood; and Faye’s college years, the story unravels why Faye walked out on Samuel when he was a child. Having known nothing about her whereabouts for years, Faye shows up on the evening news, throwing rocks at a presidential candidate. The media paints her as a militant radical with a sordid past, quite different to what Samuel remembers. Continue reading

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

You’ve either already got Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb on your shelf or you know you will never read a ‘therapy’ book. Never ever.

Therapy books (is ‘therapy-porn’ a genre?) sit right alongside misery-memoirs for me – I love them both. And if you favour these kinds of books, I’m certain you’ll enjoy Gottlieb’s insightful case studies and her own experience in therapy. Her compassion and honesty, combined with solid writing makes this book a page-turner. Truly. Continue reading

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

Mischling by Affinity Konar

I vividly recall one of my lecturers responding to a student’s complaint about their mark for an essay – the lecturer said that if the student thought he started at 100% and deducted marks for errors as he read, the student was mistaken – “You start with no marks and earn them as I read…” It comes to mind because like the lecturer, I go into every book hoping for five stars but stating with just one. Half stars and whole stars accrue (and sometimes fall) as I read. By the end, I settle on a score – it’s arbitrary, but is useful measure when I look back on my reading. 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