Holiday Reads for the Grown-Ups
Over the recent school holidays I actually read some books aimed at my age group! I know. Surprised even myself. I mostly stick to YA and children’s books for recreational and work reading, but I had been reading about a number of adult books of late that really interested me (what does one call adult books without making it sound like you’re reading a book that needs a brown paper cover?). My favourite ‘grown up’ books of the past few months are below, along with my absolute favourite magazines. I’m aware I am out of the age-range for Frankie magazine these days, but truly it’s just so darned pretty that I can’t not buy it.
To read more about or purchase any of the books below, click on title links or cover images.
‘Jean Harley was Here’ by Heather Taylor Johnson
Jean Harley has died, victim of a cycling accident. Jean herself is not in this book, nor is this her story, but we come to know her so very well through the stories of those who formed the fabric of her life and through the story of the man who accidentally caused her death. One after another, each character narrates their own chapter, allowing author Heather Taylor Johnson scope to explore the many manifestations of grief and the stories of those left behind. Each voice is strong and their story adds weight to the growing narrative of the novel, with Johnson cleverly weaving each story together, and throughout, each other. A compelling read which focuses not on the untimely death of Jean Harley, but on how we remember and honour someone, flaws and all, and appreciate life and laughter following loss.
‘The Geography of Friendship’ by Sally Piper
When three adolescent girls set off on a hike through the wilderness they are anticipating the adventure of a lifetime but are faced instead with danger. Fast forward, these women are now in their forties, and estranged from other, but decide to revisit their original hike in an attempt to salvage what they lost. As geography and history collide, they are forced to come to terms with the differences that have grown between them and the true value of friendship. The tension of the narrative kept me awake long into the night but this is more than suspenseful adventure; there is serious exploration of the depths and complexities of friendship, feminism and revenge.
‘Boy Swallows Universe’ by Trent Dalton
For many years now I have greatly enjoyed the writing of journalist Trent Dalton. I remember fondly the long Sunday mornings pre-children when I would set myself up with coffee and a Trent Dalton article. ‘Boy Swallows Universe’ is Dalton’s first novel and the second I spied it at Avid Reader I started pondering how early I could put my children to bed so I could start reading. Based in Brisbane, ‘Boy Swallows Universe’, is a snapshot of a boys’ life growing up in Brisbane in the 80’s with a lost father, a mute brother, a junkie mum, a heroin dealer for a stepfather and a notorious crim for a babysitter. The novel seems to have captured the attention of literary critics and ‘the rest of us’ alike and, in my mind anyway, this one really lives up to the hype. Excited that we have Trent Dalton coming to St Aidan’s as part of our speaker series, ‘The Living Room’, you can secure a ticket to this public event here.
‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend. Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything. What can I say? It lived up to the hype but it did take me ages to get into so I do recommend persisting.
‘The Power of Hope’ by Kon Karapanagiotidis
Just finished this one in time for the launch in Brisbane! This is a powerful memoir from Kon Karapanagiotidis, founder of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, which argues that by putting community, love and compassion at the centre of our lives, we have the power to change our world.
‘The Love That I Have’ by James Moloney
Margot Baumann has left school to take up her sister’s job in the mailroom of a large prison. But this is Germany in 1944, and the prison is Sachsenhausen concentration camp near Berlin. From award-winning Australian author James Moloney, comes a fresh and compelling story about love, loss and profound bravery.
Published as an adult novel, to me this one sits on the fence between YA and adult fiction and will be equally enjoyed by both. Moloney stays true to his origins as an accomplished children’s/YA writer and teacher librarian (he was Dan’s TL back in the day), focusing on the humanity and the hope in the story rather than descending into the territory of bleak, as I find many adult novels can. Give me YA writing anyday; all the power and poignancy of adult writing, but with every extraneous word removed and a dash more hope.
‘In Danger’ by Josepha Dietrich
I was not at all sure I was in the right frame of mind to deal with this powerful memoir, but ‘In Danger’ by Josepha Dietrich was actually exactly what I needed; a story of a family in crisis who, despite it all, live with hope. Josepha Dietrich was 21 when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. At the age of 35, with a baby with high-needs and following the death of her mother, cancer reared up in Josepha’s own cells. ‘In Danger’ chronicles Josepha’s journey through breast cancer, her deep love for her son, surviving the *&(@#)&6** that life throws at how to live with hope, always hope, for the future.
‘Trick of the Light’ by Laura Elvery
Not in many years have I read a short story collection quite this captivating. An art teacher sends four of her students on a guerrilla mission. A young runner struggles to make sense of his best friend’s death. A health-food company adopts a farcical promotional strategy. A factory worker spends her days applying radioactive paint to watches, while dreaming of a future with her new suitor (this particular story has stayed in my psyche since reading it and I’ve re-read it twice now to try and work out just how Elvery managed such poignancy in so few words). Just some of the 24 stories in this remarkable collection from debut author Laura Elvery.
‘Butterfly on a Pin’ by Alannah Hill
I was very fortunate to attend one of Alannah Hill’s talks recently, as part of her publicity tour for this book. Having now heard her speak, this book meant even more, she writes exactly as she speaks. This extraordinary book is the fierce and intelligent account of how a freckle-faced teenage runaway metamorphosed into a trailblazer and true original.