Looking for a book recommendation? Staff from Readings bookshop share what they’ve been reading this month.
Mark Rubbo, Managing Director
I’ve travelled to Indonesia this month and read a remarkable novel by Eka Kurniawan, Beauty Is A Wound. At 498 pages, it’s a monster but I finished it in a few days. Kurniawan tells the story of modern Indonesia through the eyes of a prostitute, Dewi Ayu, and her children, and his telling has all the hope and violence of the country’s history. The book is full of magic, ghosts, horror and humour. For some idea of what to expect, think Gabriel García Márquez or Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children, though really, Beauty Is A Wound is quite unlike anything I’ve read before.
Leanne Hall, Grants officer for the Readings Foundation
It’s made me extremely happy that there seem to be more Chinese books appearing in English translations in recent years, making it much easier to keep up with contemporary Chinese voices. I’ve had my eye on Xiaolu Guo, a young Chinese-British novelist, for a while, and I Am China finally crept to the top of my to-be-read pile this month.
Ironically, Guo has now shifted to writing in English, partly in response to the frustrations involved in getting her Chinese-language work translated into English. It’s fitting then that the novel follows Scottish translator, Iona, as she grapples with a baffling pile of letters and diary entries handed to her by a publishing company. From these disordered documents, Iona gradually teases out a patchy story of separated Chinese lovers. I Am China shifts across cultures, countries and time in a beguiling way, with the reader following Iona closely on her search for the truth. Iona works in London, Mu travels from Shanghai to Beijing to America and back, and the pseudonymous Kublai Jian desperately seeks asylum in any country that will take him.
At the time of writing this, I’m right in the middle of I Am China, and the romantic in me is desperate to know what happens to performance poet Mu and exiled punk musician Kublai Jian! Apart from the love story, though, there are many reasons to read this book – the nuances of translation, the role of politics in art, the differing aims of the punk movements in Britain and China, and dislocation and alienation within families are all on the table, to name a few!
Lian Hingee, Digital marketing manager
The late, great Mal Peet has been one of my favourite authors since his award-winning YA novel Keeper unexpectedly managed to instil an interest in football in this decidedly non-sporty reader. He started writing at 52, went on to win numerous awards including the Carnegie and the Guardian, before tragically passing away earlier this year at the age of 67. The Murdstone Trilogy is both his final book, and his first written for the adult’s market.
It’s the story of Philip Murdstone, an author whose preferred genre of ‘Sensitive Dippy Boy’ books are languishing on the shelves at bookshops in favour of blockbuster fantasy novels with Quests and Realms and Names-With-Unexpected-Apostrophes. After penning the dream that came to him after spending a drunken night in a stone circle Philip finds himself the author of the newest publishing sensation, but has he unknowingly entered into some kind of Faustian deal? And how on earth will he write books two and three?
The Murdstone Trilogy is an affectionate, but genuinely funny satire of the fantasy genre and is full of sly sideways nudges for genre readers, publishing peeps, and book-lovers in general.
Alan Vaarwerk, Editorial assistant for Readings Monthly
Without really meaning to, I’ve found myself reading a fair bit of short fiction recently around technology and climate change. The stories I’ve found most effective are those that aren’t didactic or bogged down in science, but rather treat their various dystopian scenarios as given, almost tangential to the plot itself. Sonja Dechian’s An Astronaut’s Life is an excellent example of this – covering disease epidemics, a future of endless rain and a theme park for extinct species, it’s by no means a science fiction collection – I heard Dechian speak about her book recently at a Readings event, and she emphasised her goal foremost was to explore the very familiar ways her characters grapple for normality and connection in a changing world. Like other debut collections such as Nic Low’s Arms Raceand Steven Amsterdam’s Things We Didn’t See Coming, An Astronaut’s Life is sharp, innovative, and remarkably sure-footed.
Stella Charls, Marketing and events coordinator
I’m losing sleep because of Megan Abbott. A few weeks ago, a colleague was raving about this author’s work and I was prompted to pick up one of Abbott’s books. I’ve never really read thrillers, but once I started The End of Everything I stayed up almost through the night, physically unable to put the book down, my heart beating twice as fast as usual. I inhaled this novel, which masterfully deals with themes of sexual awakening, female friendship and family relationships, anchored around the case of a missing schoolgirl.
This intense, claustrophobic book is laced with intrigue and burgeoning sexuality. Abbott is incredibly skilled in capturing the incoherent desires and longing of adolescence. I found myself absolutely mesmerized by the voice of the protagonist, thirteen-year-old Lizzie, and deeply unsettled by her story.
As soon as I finished the final page I picked up Abbott’s next novel, Dare Me. Thematically, this novel reads like a sequel – a noir psychological thriller about suburban teenage girls wrestling with the politics of their friendship circles – but here the stakes feel higher. Dare Me is set in the present day, each teenage girl armed with a mobile phone that ‘never leaves my curled palm, a live thing that… beats instead of my heart’, which makes the events that transpire feel even closer to home than the mid-80s America depicted in The End of Everything.
Amy Vuleta, Shop manager at St Kilda
Jesse Eisenberg, star of a whole lot of cool movies you’ve probably seen, has written a collection of stories, Bream Gives Me Hiccups and other stories. And it’s really good!
I admit to being a little dubious at first, and some of the stories seem light and maybe even a bit too frivolous on the surface, but as I read on, they gathered the kind of momentum and depth that can only be achieved by a writer who knows precisely what they’re doing. Also, the stories are funny! The opening section, ‘Restaurant Reviews by a Privileged Nine Year Old’, reveals an insightful and bold young character and the nuances of his relationships with his friends and parents. Moreover, it does this with such humour and tenderness delivered with deliberate irony.
The stories are all quite short, and they vary in form from letters, to text-message or e-mail exchanges, to first-person stream-of-consciousness and narrative stories, so it’s an easy book to read all at once, or to dip in and out of. Eisenberg writes characters with really strong voices and has put together an impressive and really quite unique collection of stories here that will make you laugh!
Illuminae is the YA book everyone is talking about right now. Written by a talented Melbourne duo, and set in space (and the future), it’s a story told very cleverly through a series of documents, chat forums and more. I’d heard the book was addictive, fast-paced and fun to read (which it is!) but no one had told me how scary it is. I’ve stayed up late reading Illuminae for the past two nights, and I’ve had stressful dreams for two nights running. There’s some seriously creepy stuff in here. I’m about halfway through and feeling very concerned for the two main protagonists (both of whom I love.) When I first started reading, I thought I would struggle to connect to the characters because of the unorthodox format, but that hasn’t been the case at all. The buzz around this terrific novel is completely justified.