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Your bookshelf is packed and the Tsundoku (Japanese for ‘your neglected bedside library’) is piled high but it takes a certain kind of read to provide comfort, escape or inspiration in a Covid-19 era.
We asked some of the most fervent readers in the Future Women community about the books they are turning to now, at a time when the art of attention is a daily struggle. Here are their recommendations.
Creating a book podcast for Future Women means that suddenly reading is my job, as well as a personal and private joy. Recently I have been curled up with Booker Prize winner (shared with Margaret Atwood) Bernadine Evaristo and her masterpiece Girl, Woman, Other which tells the stories of multiple women of colour living in modern Britain. As the blurb promises, this is truly Britain, as you’ve never read it before and it is brilliant. I’ve also really enjoyed Three Apples Fell From the Sky, an almost fable-like novel about an isolated Armenian mountain community and the human detail behind it’s seemingly endless local gossip.
I read to escape real life and now is an excellent time to escape. Ottessa Moshfegh may have unwittingly written the ultimate isolation novel with My Year of Rest and Relaxation. The narrator uses a cocktail of drugs in her attempt to sleep for a year, avoiding dealing with her life – quite an attractive prospect. Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail takes a more sensible approach and is a reminder that there is comfort to take in things going wrong. For pure joy, my perennial favourite is Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. It’s whimsy never fails to charm and delight.
Like much of the population I have been drawn to cookbooks: Food Family and Feelings by Kate Berry, Family by Hetty McKinnon and Cornersmith: Recipes from the Cafe and Picklery (although the sterilising jars is one step too far for me right now). Not straying far from the culinary theme, the one novel to sneak through is Braised Pork. I’ll grant you, Orange and Rosemary Olive Oil Cake can be a spiritual experience, but An Yu’s debut novel will take you on a journey through the meaning and importance of life, love and death in a way most cookbooks can’t.
I’ve been reflecting on the way in which Australians have embraced social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic, largely with patience and resilience, and other times in recent history where these same qualities were demonstrated time and again. Stasiland recounts stories of people in East Germany who withstood the intense scrutiny of the Stasi (the State Security Police) and the construction of the Berlin wall, having already lived through the privations of the Second World War. Recounted by the Australian author Anna Funder, the stories are both heart-warming and heart-breaking, and remind us of the power of humanity in the face of things beyond our control.
Cookbooks and fiction is all my mind can handle right now. Iso has spawned a new family activity of watching Nigella Lawson cooking shows so I’ve been rediscovering her Kitchen and Express books. The domestic goddess’s writing and recipes provide an instant soothe. Alison Roman’s Dining In has a couple of excellent seafood stews and I love her unapologetic approach to food and eating. For a timely reminder that there is always someone else worse off than you, albeit a fictional character, read Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. It takes a while to get into but persevere and be rewarded.
I’ve made it my mission to read as many debuts from Australian authors as I can, because never has there been a tougher time to launch a first book baby. Blueberries by Ellena Savage is what has utterly wowed me. It is either a collection of personal essays, or a wholly unorthodox memoir: file it under Essays, Cultural Studies, Feminism, Memoir, Criticism. Experimental and playful in form and structure, but not a brainy ego-flex. Savage is intellectually rigorous in her examination of herself, and her place in the world. This book broke my brain apart and then lovingly rebuilt it.
Alone in his bedroom a young Robert Webb dreamed of stardom while conforming to the masculinity required of young men growing up in small town England. Webb poignantly reflects on the stereotypes and gender expectations that shaped his adolescence and understanding of what it meant to be a “man”. In the final chapter he teaches his young daughters about the patriarchy. They call it ‘The Trick’ because it “…makes men sad and women get rubbish jobs.” How Not To Be A Boy is an interesting style of memoir that will stay with you.
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