Five more great reads for your TBR pile

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.”

Non-fiction

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

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

Cover of A Carnival of Snackery by David Sedaris, featuring an elephant balancing on a ball

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.’

Non-fiction

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I’ve compiled my ever-growing list of great reads here.

Ep 60 How to write a prize-winning novel with James McKenzie Watson, author of Denizen

When he was 22 years old, James McKenzie Watson began to experience the first symptoms of what doctors suspected was Guillain–Barré syndrome. To test for this, they gave him a spinal tap (not the rock and roll kind). After the procedure he had to lie on his back for two hours. In that time, he typed out his initial plan for what would become his prize-winning novel, Denizen.

James McKenzie Watson writes fiction with a focus on health and rural Australia. His novel Denizen won the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. Denizen also received a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship and a 2021 KSP Residential Fellowship. His writing has appeared in Meanjin and the Newtown Review of Books.

James was eventually diagnosed with chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), the relapsing form of Guillain–Barré syndrome, and lives with the condition today. Born in Coonabarabran and a past resident of Sydney, he now works as a nurse in regional New South Wales.

I realised early on that the idea I felt very strongly about was probably not marketable or readable in the form it was in. I do believe passionately about the issues that I’m addressing … but I have to have more consideration for the reader.

In episode 60 of James and Ashley Stay at Home, James opens up about the hurt and mentally unwell 22-year-old he was when he started the novel, and the 29-year-old author he’s become.

He also tells us about the process of writing the novel, how it developed over a series of drafts and through feedback from other emerging writers, and why he decided to enter it into the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize. James shares his number one tip for aspiring writers.

I feel very lucky to have a physical, tangible thing that people who know me can read and know that I am okay in a way that I’m sure a lot of them were worried I never would be, when I was a teenager.

He also shares what his mum thinks about the book!

Plus, are James and Ashley married?! Or did they just not think through their podcast name? Find out in episode 60, along with the alternative (and even worse!) name they ultimately rejected.

Join us for the the launch of Denizen!
Thursday 28 July, 6:00pm
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe
Tickets $0-12

A gothic thriller from the winner of the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize, exploring rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points. Join me for an in-conversation to launch one of the best books of the year! Get your ticket here >>

You can find all of James’s upcoming events on his website.

Books and authors discussed in this episode
– David Vann (of course);
– Dirt Town by Hayley Scrivenor;
The Liars by Petronella McGovern (from ep 12), out in September 2022;
– The Writer Laid Bare by Lee Kofman (from ep 4);
– RWR McDonald (from ep 32);
– Lyn Yeowart (from ep 39)

Listen to this episode of James and Ashley Stay at Home here, or on Apple podcasts, SpotifyStitcher, or your favourite podcast app, and find out about past episodes here.

Join me for these upcoming events!

I’ve been raving about the award-winning novel Denzien, written by my podcast co-host and friend James McKenzie Watson, and now I get to launch his book!

This event is going to be one of my highlights of the year, so if you’re in Sydney, please join us!

Authors James McKenzie Watson and Ashley Kalagain Blunt

Launch of Denizen by James McKenzie Watson
Thursday 28 July, 6:00pm
Gleebooks, 49 Glebe Point Road Glebe
Tickets $0-12

A gothic thriller from the winner of the 2021 Penguin Literary Prize, exploring rural Australia’s simultaneous celebration of harsh country and stoic people – a tension that forces its inhabitants to dangerous breaking points. Join me for an in-conversation to launch one of the best books of the year! Get your ticket here >>

(And if you’re not in Sydney, you can join James, Dani Vee, Petronella McGovern and Lyn Yeowart for the online launch on Thursday 21 July, or for his upcoming events in Dubbo, Melbourne and Aireys Inlet.)

Man and woman in Australian woods

Plus, I’m delivering my popular online creative workshop via Zoom again in July.

The Joy of Creative Writing
Monday 25 July, 7:45-9 pm
 AEST
Online via Zoom
Tix $9-14

Whether you haven’t written creatively since high school or you’re the author of 12 books, this fun class will help you get your creativity flowing.

Through a series of short, timed writing exercises, we’ll explore different ways to access the creative recesses of our minds and surprise ourselves!

You might be a writer working on a specific project, a poet searching for new ideas, or someone who just wants to give creative writing a try for the first time in years – wherever you’re at, this is the class for you. Get your ticket here >>

Writers Unleashed writing festival 3 September 2022

And if you’re in Sydney, you can join both James and me for the Writers Unleashed festival, happening in Septmeber.

Writers Unleashed
Saturday 3 September, 9am-5:30pm
Tradies Gymea

Tickets $120
Subverting the Tropes: Women in Crime
9-10am
Domestic noir and flawed women characters have become a mainstay of contemporary crime fiction. Join authors Felicity McLean, Rae Cairns, Petronella McGovern, and Anna Downes as they discuss centring women’s stories and exploring female characters beyond the norm in crime fiction. Panel convener: Ashley Kalagian Blunt

Tell Me Where It Hurts: Writing about Mental Health
11am-12pm
Mental health can be a difficult subject to tackle, both in real life and on paper. Join authors Helena Fox, Jack Ellis, and Katharine Pollock as they discuss their own experience grappling with mental health issues in their writing and what writers need to think about when dealing with sensitive topics on the page. Panel Convener: Ashley Kalagian Blunt

See the full program and get your Writers Unleashed tickets here >>

Online or in person, I hope to see you soon!
xo