A favourite haunt back in the ’90s when we lived in inner-city Brisbane was the original Mary Ryan Bookshop in Latrobe Terrace. Apart from its laden shelves there was a welcoming coffee shop on the lower level where I would take my mother for our fix of caffeine and to enjoy its treed garden sloping down one of Paddington’s many gullies. Mary Ryan was one of the first bookshops to incorporate a coffee shop and the genial owner Phil Ryan a pleasant and knowledgable source of advice on what to buy.
Alas, Mary Ryan Paddington was one of many such book-lover-friendly enterprises that succumbed to the competitive forces unleashed by the internet in the 2000s. Those that have survived are much treasured. In Brisbane the best known of these are Riverbend Books in Bulimba and Avid Reader in West End. As a end-of-year treat my bookclub facilitator had the prescience to reserve a spot with the latter’s knowledgable owner Fiona Stager, a much-sought-after presence at such talks because of her wealth of knowledge of the latest publications and her well regarded opinions. Apart from her status as an avid and discerning reader Fiona has a wealth of knowledge of the publishing industry as a lecturer on the subject at the University of Queensland.
Over glasses of wine and tempting snacks she talked through her reading suggestions from the latest publishers’ offerings. Interestingly a number were by Australian writers, underscoring the health of our literary scene. Her recommendations:
Not Just Black and White, by Lesley and Tammy Williams, which tells Lesley’s story of being an Aboriginal girl from Cherbourg settlement forced from home to work as a domestic servant; Ghost Empire, beloved ABC Conversations host Richard Fidler’s rich telling of the history of old Constantinople; The Riviera Set, the rollicking bed-hopping and partying history of the monied and famous at the Chateau de l’Horizon near Cannes over a period of 40 years; The Atomic Weight of Love, Elizabeth J Church’s story of an ornithologist who marries a much older physics professor recruited to work on the Los Alamos Project and her battle to retain her own academic identify; The Birdman’s Wife in which Melissa Ashley gives artist Elizabeth Gould the credit she deserves as the true genius behind John Gould’s famous early sketches of Australia’s unique bird life; To the Bright Edge of the World, an Alaskan explorer’s story extracted by Eowyn Ivey from journal entries, military reports, letters and documents; Our Souls at Night, a tender account by Kent Haruf of a widow who asks her widower neighbour if he’d consider sharing her bed – not for sex but for warmth and comfort; My Name is Lucy Barton, Elizabeth Stroud’s telling of a hospital-bedside reconciliation between a long-estranged mother and daughter; Between a Wolf and a Dog, the heartfelt account by Georgia Blain, daughter of acclaimed journalist Anne Deveson and broadcaster Ellis Blain, of a woman dying from a brain tumour, and written at a time when Blain herself was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer; Truly, Madly, Guilty, world top-seller Australian Liane Moriarty’s latest pot boiler and suggested by Fiona as the perfect beach holiday read; One, Patrick Holland’s well researched account of the demise of Australia’s last bushrangers, the Kenniffs, in western Queensland; in Tell the Truth, Shame the Devil, popular writer of young adult novels, Melina Marchetta, makes a provocative move to crime fiction to reviewer approval; Midsomer Murders screenwriter Anthony Horowitz has fun with the vintage crime novel genre in Magpie Murders; nature writer Simon Barnes tells how birds help us understand the world we live in, in The Meaning of Birds; and finally,The Memory Stones, Caroline Brothers’ harrowing account of the Disappeared of Argentina’s military coup in 1976 and the ongoing devastation down the generations.