Listening to a recent RN book chat show the topic of hard copy versus online books came up. Without hesitation the participants gave the thumbs up to “the real deal” books, the ones you could smell and feel, and enjoy browsing through at a real book shop. Indeed, if it wasn’t for the touch-and-feel variety our annual “book tasting” at Avid Reader bookshop in West End, with resident guru Fiona Stager, wouldn’t be nearly as pleasurable.
This year’s selection revealed a botanical emphasis, coincidental because earlier this year I had my own “botanical immersion” through German forester Peter Wohllben’s fascinating The Hidden Life of Trees. First on Fiona’s list was The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, by Queensland writer Holly Ringland. Set in Queensland’s canefields, the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and Central Australia the novel communicates its domestic violence theme through the dramatic beauty of Australia’s wildflowers. “You’ll never think of the Australian landscape the same way again,” our host advised.
Next, The Botanist’s Daughter, by Kayte Nunn, an colourful story of a race to find a life-saving plant involving two female botanists, set across more than a century. The Overstory a lengthy and complicated tale by American Richard Powers connects people through trees – “it takes reader commitment but is well worth it”, was Fiona’s advice. In Unsheltered veteran Barbara Kingsolver, long-time writer on topics like social justice, biodiversity and the interaction between communities and environments, tells the tale of a now-destitute middle-class American family who inherit a tumble-down house originally owned by a botanist. Warlight, Michael Ondjaate’s spy-themed novel set around post-Second World War London, follows the elusive struggles of 14-year-old Nathaniel and his older sister to piece together the mysterious life of his parents. A key character leading a double life as a natural history radio presenter adds a strong natural history component.
Moving away from the botanical, Edward Carey’s Little shines a light on the founder of Madame Tussauds, the diminutive Swiss orphan Marie Grosholtz. In Less this year’s Pulitzer Prize for Fiction winner, Andrew Sean Greer, takes a humorous look at literary life and the gay scene. “Funny is hard to write,” said Fiona. “This is funny without being cruel”. Avid Bookshop regular, Krissy Kneen, switches from her previous erotica in Wintering to tell the story of a woman whose husband goes missing: “It is strong in landscape and has received good reviews”, said Fiona. Cryptic crossword king David Astle offers mental exercise with Rewording the Brain; and in The Golden Thread – How Fabric Changed History Kassia St Clair reveals the magical power of textiles. For food-lovers – or those who just love leafing through luscious celebrity cookbooks – Simple, Israeli Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest offering, promises straight-forward, Middle Eastern-inspired treats. “I’m obsessed with it,” Fiona confided.
Tips from other staff: Boy Swallows Universe, a debut novel by Australian journalist Trent Dalton – “a book that speaks to all people”; Normal People by talented young Irish writer Sally Rooney is this staff member’s “favourite book of the year; The Children’s House, by Alice Nelson, set in America, Israel and Rwanda, references an upbringing in a kibbutz children’s house and the author’s life in the various countries.
A Gentleman in Moscow is described as “a must read”; Man out of Time, the experience of living in a family where one parent is a severe depressive, offers “exquisite writing”; Prague Spring, by Simon Mawer, is set in 1968 when Russian tanks rolled into Prague; Sally Piper’s The Geography of Friendship is “an enjoyable read …. a vehicle for exploring female friendship”; Eggshell Skull is judge’s associate Bri Lee’s account of her work experience, including many rape cases, for which she shared the 2018 Queensland Premier’s Young Publishers and Writers Awards prize; and for the kids, the crowd-sourced Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo; the Little People Big Dreams series about extraordinary women; and finally Kate DiCamillio’s latest adventure with her Louisana Elephante character, Louisana’s Way Home.
Happy reading in 2019!