Ultimate Reading List
FOR YOUR SOCIAL ISOLATION HIBERNATION
2020 seems to be the year sent to test us. Drought, fire, flood and now this. To make the social distancing and isolation that *little* bit easier we’ve compiled all the books recommended throughout the last 6 issues of Swell. So, drumroll please, here’s… Swell’s Ultimate Reading List (so far)!
We’ve had the pleasure of Amy and Laura of Secret Book Stuff fame, and Amanda from the ah-mazing Maclean’s Booksellers recommend some banging books for us. Both of these wonderful local businesses have excellent online stores, so even if you can’t venture out into the big wide world at the moment, a good book isn’t out of reach. So, without further ado, here are 17 of the best to work your way through during this crazy time.
Hold Your Own
Look, I know what you’re thinking. Poetry… really? But hear me out. This isn’t the poetry you were made to read out loud in some dusty classroom and asked why the grass was green or something like that. Nor is it the bite-sized #blessed quotes that pass by your eyes when you’re scrolling through the gram on the daily. Kate Tempest is in a class of her own and her collection Hold Your Own made me fall in love with not only the power of words but with the way they dance on the page. Hearing every phrase and reading every line makes you feel as though each word is brought to life. Start with On Clapton Pond at Dawn and Remembering the Way You Kissed Me Once and watch all of your misconceptions about poetry fly out the window. This may be my favourite book in all the land.
Bill Hayes carried a journal everywhere he went after moving from San Francisco to New York City. Grieving the death of his long-term partner, he walked the streets at all hours, insomniac and observing the world around him. He captures moments of life in NYC, snippets of random conversations, and encounters that are simultaneously banal and yet life-changing. We get to follow his journey to wholeness again, and the rising love story that emerges when he meets the late Oliver Sacks (the famous British neurologist and author). Insomniac City is like a lilting meditation; like the gentle ebb and flow of thoughts we encounter in our daily lives that most of us don’t stop to write down. It is full of moments of humanity in a crowded place; how our lives twist around those of strangers. At the heart of it all is Bill’s portrait of Oliver. Tears will flow.
The Artist’s Way
This book saved my creative life. Look, yes, that’s a dramatic statement, but also not far from the truth. Julia Cameron is a writer, poet, filmmaker, artist, and all-round legend who has been teaching courses about creativity in NYC and around the world for more than twenty years. The Artist’s Way is a twelve week course designed to help people work through their blocks, find inspiration, and unleash their creative selves. Confession: I’ve never done the whole course, but it doesn’t matter, because the number one lesson that helped me finish my PhD, and my novel, and has also been a source of comfort and routine during periods of shaky mental health, is “the morning pages”. I recommend it to my students at the uni and to everyone I meet on the street. You’ll just have to read the book (or, you know, use Google) to find out why it’s so great.
I’ll Tell You In Person
Chloe Caldwell is one of my favourite authors, and her latest collection I’ll Tell You In Person cemented to me exactly why I love her writing so much. She’s crass and fierce and unapologetic in a way we wish we all could be, and the candid audacity of her writing will leave you searching for details and explanations with each turn of the page. Her personal essays are ridiculously relatable but yet (somehow) manage to push the boundaries just enough to make you question exactly what it is you’re doing and how it is you’re doing it. I’ll Tell You In Person is inappropriate, spontaneous, and a fantastic collection of a (young) life well lived.
The Lost Man
This bestselling Australian author has done it again. With the huge success of both the Dry and Forces of Nature, Harper’s third book The Lost Man might be her best yet. Readers may be disappointed to learn this is not an Aaron Falk, but this is an intense and atmospheric thriller that will have you guessing to the end “What happened to Cameron Bright?”
Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the relentless sun of outback Queensland. They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron.
Full disclosure, I only read this book because I had a massive crush on Amy at the time and I would have read the yellow pages by moonlight if she so much as whispered about it. But now that the romance is gone (just kidding, darl), I can safely say it is one of my all-time faves. This is the book that restored my faith in fiction and every time I think about the ending I literally get goosebumps. Charlotte Wood is a phenomenal Australian writer and Animal People is remarkable. The story focuses on a twenty-four hour period in Stephen’s life. He’s a partner, stepfather, zoo employee, and pretty normal guy, but he’s having one of those days. Don’t get me wrong though, it’s not one of those rom-com novels where the whole world falls apart and then everything is all fine and dandy once the book ends. It’s not like that at all. I can promise you that you will live through this day with Stephen, you’ll miss this day with Stephen, and probably want to turn back to page one, right after you’ve thrown the book and yelled in public while the last line washes over you in a cold sweat of panic. (Apologies for anyone who happened to be at the Newcastle Baths that day).
A little (personal) story for you all. High Fidelity is one of Amy’s favourite books of all time, which has now become the most sentimental item in our relationship full of letters, tickets, snippets of gross love stuff. When the idea of Amy+Laura was just a glint in the eye of the universe, Laura’s sister ordered her a secret book for Christmas. Amy chose one of her favourite books of all time, High Fidelity, because it’s clever and the humour is dry and it’s full of Rob’s “Top 5” life lists, and it has heaps of ‘90s music references and a character named Laura. So, the real-life Laura read it. Loved it. Discussed it with Amy. They ‘bonded’. Next minute, we’re married with three children. (Obviously kidding.) Happy reading, folks.
– Amy & Laura
The Children’s House
Marina and her husband, Jacob, were each born on a kibbutz in Israel. They meet years later at a university in California, when Jacob is a successful psychiatrist with a young son, Ben, from a disastrous marriage. The family moves to a brownstone in Harlem, formerly a convent inhabited by elderly nuns.
Outside the house one day Marina encounters Constance, a young refugee from Rwanda, and her toddler, Gabriel. Unmoored and devastated, Constance and Gabriel quickly come to depend on Marina; and her bond with the little boy intensifies. The pure, blinding love that it is possible to feel for children not our own is the thread that weaves through The Children’s House.
This is a heartbreaking but hopeful story, of family and connections filled with light and dark and memorable characters.
Hot Little Hands
Hot Little Hands is a collection of short stories I randomly picked up at an airport five years ago. I chose it for the fun cover (classic) and it quickly became one of my all-time favourite reads that I’ve revisited time and again. Abigail Ulman exquisitely captures that liminal space between adolescence and adulthood, when you’re kind of like a Destiny’s-Child-independent-woman, but also totally floundering in the murky waters of becoming an adult (seriously, what does that even mean?). The stories cover a range of both relatable and existential topics, such as ‘Should I have a baby with my gay best friend so that I don’t have to finish writing this book that I’m supposed to be publishing because I accidentally became a famous blogger?’ It sounds flippant on the surface, but these nine stories present an exploration of the fluidity of human existence: what we know, what we don’t understand, how to be an adult, and what it means to be a woman in the twenty-first century.
Between a Wolf and a Dog
This book completely took me by surprise but has since become one of my favourite reads of all time. Told from the perspective of many different and intertwining characters, Between a Wolf and a Dog focuses on the intricate wonder of human relationships. The language is so beautiful it will wash over you like cool waves on a Sunday afternoon. Every character has a story, and feel like they will continue living, breathing and existing long after you turn the last page.
Bridge of Clay
Marcus has delivered another classic story with honest, well developed characters that will stay with you long after you have finished the story. Raw emotion powers his words and he delivers once again an original story that has so many layers, one that has tenderness, heartache, guts and glory with a bit of wry humour thrown in to complete this fabulous story.
It’s a story of five brothers, abandoned by their father after the death of their mother, living alone in the suburbs of Sydney. Told from the perspective of the eldest brother, with story focused on Clay the fourth boy who is trying to build a bridge.
Well worth waiting thirteen years.
I really, really wanted to hate this book (yes, I am a book snob), but two hours later I was ignoring all of my responsibilities and refusing to talk to anyone until I’d finished the entire thing. Joe is the kind of guy you love to hate, and as you follow his relentless pursuit of Beck, I can promise that you will second guess right and wrong and above all else, everything that is good in the world. You is the kind of book that will have your stomach doing backflips right down to the very last page. It’s creepy, weird, and will stretch and test your empathy bone until you feel like you’re about to implode. Wild, huh?
The Beach is a story of one young man’s gap year when he hangs out in Thailand, meets new friends and strangers, and is introduced to a mysterious island. You must swim to get there, the waters are pristine, and the vibes are high… until they’re not. It’s thrilling and adventurous and creepy. The best thing is that you can nab one of those orange penguin classics and impress your friends with how literary you are.
You’ve seen the Handmaid’s Tale series and you’re ready for your next fix. Look no further than Atwood’s long (loooong) awaited sequel to the story. Released in September 2019, The Testaments is already on everyone’s to-read list. It’s electrifying, dystopian and at times feels more like fact than fiction, which only makes the whole thing more addictive to sink your teeth into.
A beautifully written book. Set in Sydney in the early sixties, at a time of change. The ballot for conscription to the Vietnam war is happening, the Sydney Opera House is being built to much opposition, the city is in the middle of great change.
The story is told from the perspective of two main characters. Pearl one of few female journalists has been relegated to the papers woman’s pages, after participating in a protest. Axel is an artist commissioned by Utzon to design a glass art piece for the Opera House.
With the announcement of conscription Pearl is frantically searching for her two brothers that have been missing since running away from an orphanage years before, and Axel is a new immigrant trying to fit into this changing community. This is a novel about family, art, past and future. Highly recommended.
That’s Not How You Wash a Squirrel
Sometimes what you really need from your next great read is a hearty LOL, or in the case of this next title, a lolololol. Thankfully, satirist and all-round pest David Thorne is here to provide you with the goods. That’s Not How You Wash A Squirrel is a collection of personal essays, emails and assorted re-tellings of office antics. Basically, it’s a way for you to metaphorically extract revenge on your least favourite co-workers, without even leaving your chair.
Daisy Jones and the Six
Taylor Jenkins Reid
The guarantee of a good read in 2019 is whether Reese Witherspoon’s production company has snapped it up for a TV series or movie release. Daisy Jones and the Six is one such book – full of strong female characters, troubled rock stars, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll. It’s told from the perspective of all the former members of a fictional band fronted by the glorious Hollywood starlet singer-songwriter Daisy Jones. Their lives intertwine through the free love era of the 1960s and beyond. This book is seriously a good time.