After a two-month semi-self-imposed hiatus (life got in the way a bit there!) we’re back with another month of recommended reads.
Now, the absence of these articles in June and July is not to suggest there was nothing of note published. On the contrary, there were many great books released in those intervening months. If you haven’t had a chance, I’d certainly recommend you check out There There by Tommy Orange (Penguin), The People’s History of the Vampire Uprising by Raymond A. Villareal (Hachette) and Caitlin Moran’s How To Be Famous (Penguin) to highlight just three. You can even find reviews of the latter two here on the AU review.
This month’s picks offer up a good mixture of fiction and non-fiction, though be warned, it’s a touch political. This month we’ve got three debut releases, an essay collection examining contemporary American politics, and two books that deal with internment on an intimate level. Certainly, all five books featured here should prove to be conversation starters.
As always, I do implore you to venture into your local brick and mortar bookstores to try and source these titles. The good folks that staff your local bookstores do amazing work, and are always a great source of recommendations and bookish knowledge. Of course, you’ll be able to find all five titles on all the usual online retailers. Admittedly, Australian readers might be hard-pressed to find Book #4 on this list anywhere but online for the moment.
Anyway, here are the five books we think you need to be reading this month!
The Second Cure – Margaret Morgan
A pandemic is racing through our world. People are being changed, in subtle but irrevocable ways. Some are losing their faith, others are seeing visions, and some, like scientist Charlotte Zinn, are trying to find a cure! The Second Cure is the provactive and thrilling debut novel from Sydney author and screenwriter Margaret Morgan. Whilst The Second Cure might be billed as science fiction, there is a whole lot that will sound awfully familiar to readers – an increasingly polarised populace, and politicians unafraid to exploit people’s fears and uncertainties. Though, they do say that great fiction allows us to make sense of the world we live in.
Morgan has provided readers with two strong and remarkable central female characters to help us navigate this increasingly turbulent world, the scientist Charlotte Zinn, and reporter Brigid Bayliss. And perhaps, unlike some science fiction that’s out there, The Second Cure is well grounded in reality, with Morgan’s science speckled prose proving to be both authoritative and compelling. She knows what she’s talking about too, having recently completed a Bachelors degree in Advanced Science, and won an international prize for her scientific writing. A striking, little bit frightening, and strong debut, The Second Cure is definitely one to get your hands on!
Morgan is currently touring around Australia promoting the book, check out her website for upcoming dates.
The Second Cure is available now through Penguin Australia
No Friend But The Mountains – Behrouz Boochani
In 2013, Kurdish-Iranian journalist, writer and scholar Behrouz Boochani was detained on Manus Island. He remains detained there. Since the early days of his internment on Manus, Boochani has been documenting his experiences. Laboriously tapped out on a mobile phone, and then translated from Farsi by Dr. Omid Tofighian, No Friend But The Mountains is a vivid eyewitness account of a life in exile. It is a story that very nearly might not have been heard at all; Boochani had his phone confiscated early in the writing process, and felt unsafe commiting his words to paper, fearing he would lose it.
It should go without saying that No Friend But The Mountains is a necessary, and important book. So often discussions of the Australian government’s asylum seeker policy is reducaed to abstract talk of statistics, slogans and talking points. No Friend But The Mountains reminds us once again of the all-to-real human element in this ever unfolding event. It should be required reading, even for those so deeply entrenched in their own way of thinking on the refugee question, it might not necessarily change their minds, but hopefully it’ll open a few eyes, incite some compassion, and reignite some much needed, and hopefully civil, discussion about morality and ethics in this country.
No Friend But The Mountains is available now through Picador Books / PanMacmillan Australia
Notes on a Nervous Planet – Matt Haig
Notes on a Nervous Planet is the new book from that industrious and genre-fluid author Matt Haig. A sequel of sorts to his bestselling Reasons to Stay Alive (2015), Notes on a Nervous Planet explores the effects our messy and increasingly interconnected world can have on our lives, and importantly our mental health. I certainly wouldn’t characterise this one as a self help book, it’s certainly not prescriptive, it’s more a conversation starter, albeit a conversation you’ll have to have with yourself. Do I really need to jump on Twitter first thing when I wake up? Am I placing too much stock in what other people think of me? Really, for me, the message of Notes on a Nervous Planet was simply be more self aware, and try to practice more self care!
As I’ve mentioned, Notes on a Nervous Planet is not prescriptive, Haig is not telling you that you need to do the things he discusses in the book. These are things that he’s found worked for him, or ways he’s dealt with certain situations. Nor is he suggesting that he follows his own advice at times, his active Twitter presence is proof of that. But that doesn’t mean that his advice should be discounted or dismissed, as a few online reviewers have hinted at. Books like Notes on a Nervous Planet, open up the possibility for more open and informed discussion surrounding mental health. At the very least, it’s an informative and well written book that might even help one or two of us navigate this messy and busy world of ours a little easier.
Notes on a Nervous Planet is available now through Allen & Unwin
Cherry – Nico Walker
I can’t say for certain where I first came across mention of Cherry, but it’s safe to say my interest was piqued immediately. Cherry is the debut novel from Nico Walker, and is a fictionialised re-telling of his life story. It’s a story with plenty of twists and turns, from deployment in Iraq, heroin addiction, and two more years of an eleven year prison sentence for bank robbery. Yeah, that’s right, Walker knocked this one out on a prison typewriter.
There is a lot of buzz and hype surrounding Cherry, it’s been described as one of the first great novels of the opioid epidemic, and has been garnering comparisons to American literary heavyweights Denis Johnson and, perhaps naturally, Hunter S. Thompson. There’s even been some mention of Hemingway in some reviews. Cherry is an unflinching, unsentimental and profanity laced confessional that examines the effects of war and addiction. Undoubtedly, this is a title that won’t appeal to everyone. There’ll be some that balk at the idea of supporting the work of a convicted felon. There’ll also likely be some that balk at the subject matter, the language, or the dark humour. But I for one am looking forward to getting stuck into this debut.
Cherry is available now through Knopf Publishing
Rendezvous With Oblivion – Thomas Frank
Rendezvous With Oblivion is a new collection of essays from acclaimed journalist, author and political commentator Thomas Frank. With essays compiled from the years spanning 2011 to 2018, Rendezvous With Oblivion is a scathing examination of contemporary American politics and culture, showing a country in the late stages of disintegration, and an attempt to explain just how Trump; who Frank describes as “the very personification of this low, dishonest age”, ended up elected President in 2016.
Frank who sits on the liberal side of politics (he supported Bernie Sanders in 2016) is an astute and incisive commentator who is equally unafraid to critique those on the Left, as he is those on the Right. For example, he freely acknowledges the reasons for Trump’s appeal to the working class and rural voters the Democratic Party elites had chosen to neglect. The collected essays in Rendezvous show Frank’s commentary to not only be insightful, but more importantly eminently readable. He has a distinctive, sardonic style, that somehow makes even the discussion of the calamities of recent times engaging and entertaining.
Rendezvous With Oblivion is available now through Scribe Publications
Header Image: Joshua James Sandells