Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
I loved this debut novel from US author Kiley Reid. Her writing explores race and class in America in an engaging, distinctive voice. The protagonist, Emira, and the young girl she babysits, are the kind of endearing, vibrant characters that have stayed with me. You can hear me discuss the novel on The Bookshelf podcast from Radio National.
Fiction | debut
The Bomber Mafia by Malcolm Gladwell
The Bomber Mafia: A Dream, a Temptation, and the Longest Night of the Second World War came out in 2021, and like always, Gladwell narrates the audiobook splendidly. This is a book for anyone who enjoys deep dives into how history shapes the world we know today. Gladwell pulls together many tangents to explore how the US Airforce developed its strategy in WWII, culminating in the bombing of Tokyo on 10 March 1945. I’ve read all of Gladwell’s books and I’d include this among my favourites.
“I like the idea that someone could push away all the concerns and details that make up everyday life and just zero on on one thing – the thing that fits the contours of their imagination.”
“I also don’t think we get progress or innovation or joy or beauty without obsessives.”
“Transactive memory … is the observation that we don’t just store information in our minds or in specific places. We store memories and understanding in the minds of the people we love. … Little bits of ourselves reside in other people’s minds.”
Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-joo
South Korean author Cho Nam-joo’s short, punchy novel at times reads like non-fiction, especially because of the occasional footnotes drawn from news articles, government sources and academic papers. The story follows the life of the fictional Kim Jiyoung, opening in her 30s, when she’s started slipping into the personas of other women. The circumstances of her life, and in particular the restrictions she faces as a woman in a hierarchical and patriarchal culture, are all too real, however. Jiyoung is a woman of the modern era, but as Cho notes, ‘The world has changed a great deal, but the little rules, contracts and custom had not, which meant the world hadn’t actually changed at all.’
Fiction | debut
Denizen by James McKenzie Watson
A new Australian talent for fans of David Vann and Cormac McCarthy, James McKenzie Watson started his literary career by winning the Penguin Literary Prize in 2021. And yes I’m biased because he’s my podcast co-host and very good friend, but this bullet-train of a novel is already getting fantastic reviews. Set on a remote property in western NSW, drawn from where James himself grew up, the story unravels the disastrous consequences of the main character’s chaotic childhood.
Fiction | Australian debut
A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris
The second volume of David Sedaris’s diaries covers 2003 to 2020. Achieving career success at the end of volume one hasn’t left him anywhere to go, except all around the world to meet his fans and shop for human skeletons (as a gift), and to upgrade from first class to a private jet (but only a hired one). When a fellow grocery shopper suggests how he can save money on brussels sprouts, Sedaris replies, ‘That’s okay. I’m rich.’ What drives Snackery is a melancholy truth. Despite immense wealth and success – the American Academy of Arts and Letters invited him into its exclusive fold in 2019 – Sedaris is stuck being himself. Teens whack him in the head as they pass on their bikes and he’s too cowardly to shout at them. A pool lifeguard’s scolding makes him want to cry. And despite talking to fans and strangers around the world, he lacks confidence: ‘I just can’t for the life of me figure out what to say to people.’
I’ve compiled my ever-growing list of great reads here.