It’s been a great month for books, so I’m going to get straight into matters.
It’s not often I can tally how long a book will take me to complete but I can in this case: I read This House of Grief by Helen Garner cover to cover in the nine-and-a-bit hour car journey from Melbourne to Dubbo last month. I don’t get carsick when reading while we’re on the Hume Freeway – it’s so straight and smooth. This is why I was able to knock the bulk of it over quickly, because the situation changed once we got onto the twisty back roads, around Young and Grenfell, which then required concentration and I would get a start whenever a truck suddenly flashed past my periphery as it headed in the opposite direction. At those points, I would close the book because I would be reminded of the dangers car of travel, be they accidental or, in this case, deliberate. If you’re unfamiliar with the book, it covers the case of Robert Farquharson, charged with the murder of his three sons by intentionally driving his car off the road and into a dam in Victoria. It’s classic Garner: intelligent, observant, empathetic and unflinching.
While we were travelling in New Zealand, I discovered something marvellous about the majority of the camping parks: they have swap boxes for books, holiday reading material you could leave behind for someone else once you’d finished. I left A Little Life at Clarks Beach (I hope the next person enjoys it – sorry about the ripped back cover) and picked up In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. The recent movie release based on this title didn’t go over well with critics, so I was curious to see what the book was like. It was enjoyable – very commercial. Easy to read, covered the basics of the history and culture without becoming boring or heavy-handed, with a terrific hook: the true story of the shipwreck that inspired Moby Dick. If you like survival stories, this is up there with the best.
Okay, so we’ve reached The First Bad Man by Miranda July. I’ll admit, by about the halfway point, I didn’t know know what to make of it and this confusion was compounded by remarks other people made about their positive feelings for it. Am I reading the same book? I wondered. Then, by the end, and that tender conclusion, it clicked.
I picked up The Best Australian Essays 2015, edited by Geordie Williamson, from the library shelf in one of those spot-it-and-grab-it moments. I’ll be honest: I didn’t read it very thoroughly. Most pieces I concentrated on were those I was enjoying for a second time, like Tim Winton’s, Karen Hitchcock’s and Helen Garner’s essays from The Monthly.
I finished Reckoning, Magda Szubanski’s memoir, on the weekend. I can see why it has struck a chord among readers (and won a few literary awards along the way). I had tears in my eyes on at least three occasions and was overcome with the wish that I could just give her a great big hug. Recommended.
What are you reading this month?