Thursday, January 31, 2013

What Have You Been Reading?

There's always a question that gets asked around our lunch room table and that's 'what have you been reading?' Being the book nerds that we are, we've always got something new on the bedside table and our diverse reading tastes always ensure that the answer to that question is varied. Of course, there are always our own excellent Black Inc. titles which get enjoyed too: from The Best 100 Poems of Les Murray to Catherine Deveny's fantastic debut novel The Happiness Show.

But, in answer to the question 'what have you been reading' - here's what some Black Inc. staffers have been dipping into over the Summer:


I’ve been making my way through the series A Song of Ice and Fire by George R. R. Martin since joining the Black Inc. team in September. Over Summer, I began the fourth book in the series A Feast for Crows but felt that it was probably healthy to have a break from its ‘adult themes’. So, I signed up for an online lit course on fantasy fiction and SF, and began Grimm’s Household Stories. I also read the first chapter of 1835 by James Boyce and found it fascinating.


I finished off Helen Garner’s The First Stone and spent the rest of the Summer debating feminist politics in my head. She raises so many uncomfortable questions about the nature of sex and power that, judging by recent online reviews, that are still causing outrage and argument. I also started working my way through Sergio De La Pava’s brilliant and challenging The Naked Singularity – which started life as an online self-published novel and is now being talked about in the same sentence as Infinite Jest and White Noise. It’s pretty great.


I’m having a decidedly bloke-free summer. Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel is a majestic offering, both inside and out. I was lucky enough to get a sneak preview of Anna Krien’s Night Games. This will surely throw a grenade into the locker room! Zadie Smith’s NW is beckoning from my bedside table.


I’ve just emerged from The Millstone by Margaret Drabble. A cerebral, spikily funny young literature student gets pregnant in early-60s London and decides to keep the baby (well, “decides” after her DIY abortion – drinking a bottle of gin in the bath – fails). A reminder why the tight, short novels of mid-century England are so great. I also caught up with Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. Dark and disturbing, shamelessly manipulative – I’ve thrown it across the room more than once but always picked it up again, surely a sign of a skillful writer at work. I’m not sure I like it but I sure want to discuss it with someone.


I read The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, the first novel by 25-year-old Shani Boianjiu. It's an often hilarious coming-of-age story that tracks three girls through their Israeli military service. The book is breathtaking when depicting the casual violence the girls encounter during service, and those passages have stayed with me even though some of the book's scenes were a little humdrum.


I read Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain, a novel told from the perspective of Billy Lynn, a 19-year old American soldier who has been stationed with the Bravo squad in Iraq. The book takes place during one day at a Cowboys football game in Houston, where the Bravos are guests of honour. It’s the last stop in the Bravo’s American heroes tour, organised by the US government in an aim to bolster falling morale and support for the war. Set in 2004, it's a subtle, intriguing and well-played skewering of propaganda, patriotism, and the ways that heroism can be used by governments to advance support for a war, with little regard for those who are actually involved.


Romy Ash's Floundering broke my heart over the summer. Brothers Tom and Jordy are taken on a trip by their mother that at first just seems like an irresponsible bonding activity but gets increasingly dark and dangerous. I wanted to climb into the story and give the boys some healthy food and cold drinks, and a big hug -- not that they would have let me hug them. Floundering was a hot, sticky, sweaty and claustrophobic summer read, vivid and unforgettable.


A Handful of Dust by Evelyn Waugh was sheer bliss to read. Alone in Berlin by Hans Fallada was extremely tense – a novel about life under the Nazis written by someone who knew everything about suspense. Standing in Another Man’s Grave by Ian Rankin was quietly and consistently funny, with the assurance of a master of his genre. Anatomy of a Moment by Javier Cercas was a brilliant book that shows what writing about politics can be at its best.

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