What We’re Reading: February
Over the summer break, I read Adele Dumont’s No Man is an Island, a memoir of her time teaching English in the immigration detention camps on Christmas Island and at Curtin, near Derby in WA. Adele did a mentorship at the NSW Writers’ Centre while she was working on the book and it’s great to see it in print. No Man is an Island tells the absorbing story of a young woman, passionately committed to her work as a teacher, but often feeling out of her depth faced with the complexities of her students’ lives and of the detention system. It’s a thought-provoking, moving story that can be surprisingly funny in its keenly observed detail and it certainly brings a human perspective to the question of immigration detention.
I’ve just finished The Moons of Jupiter, a short story collection by Alice Munro, who received the Nobel Prize for literature in 2013. She’s a master of the form, and she has a knack for conveying the richness and complexity of her protagonists’ emotional lives in a short space of time. While each story is perfectly contained, the characters are robust enough to fill novels. These are quiet, reflective stories, for the most part interested in human relationships. What really hooks me is the depth of each story. ‘The Turkey Season’, for instance, isn’t just about unrequited love or coming of age or even gutting turkeys – although it does contain all those things – it’s also about the narrowness of our own perception and the impossibility of fully understanding the minds of others. I truly enjoyed this collection and I’m eager to read everything else she’s written.
Cassie Watson, Administration Officer
I celebrated the start of a new year by going back to something old, picking up Jane Austen’s Emma for the first time. I’d only ever experienced this story through modern adaptations so I was looking forward to reading the original book. The Regency era was, in many ways, light years from our culture. Their traditions around courtship and love were vastly different, and an inordinate fuss was made over a slight breeze entering the room. Yet, like countless other readers of Austen’s work, I found familiarity in the conflicts caused by complex human relationships. Along the way I couldn’t help but develop a soft spot for Emma. Her pride in interfering with her friend’s lives was at times painful to read, knowing what would come of it, but it was worth it to see her stumble, eventually, into maturity.
Sherry Landow, Membership & Development Officer
I decided to transport myself back to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry this summer by rereading JK Rowling’s one and only Harry Potter series. Oh how I’ve missed you, Hogwarts! With your hidden chambers, enchanted objects and horrendously incompetent Defence Against the Dark Arts staff, you’ve reverted me back to my 12-year-old self desperately checking the mailbox daily for a letter of enrolment.
Rereading books that have been so successfully adapted for the screen is an interesting process. The more I read, the more I realise that the films have distorted my memories of the story and its characters. I’ve missed sassy Malfoy, pesky Peeves and the house-elves rights movement in the later books. The novels had a charm that couldn’t fully be captured on screen, and I delight in experiencing them once more.
Here’s my plea, Hogwarts: please consider opening up the school to mature age students. You can reach me here at the Centre and we can finally move past my forgotten enrolment letter back in 2002.
I finally read The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion. This was a step outside my usual fiction reading habits – generally I need several explosions or at least one dead body to sink my teeth into (though not literally). Despite having neither corpses nor explosions, The Rosie Project was an enjoyable read, particularly because of the humour and close attention to character and language on Simsion’s part. Keep in mind that technically, when I say I read this book, I am lying. In fact I had it read to me via audiobook, which added an extra layer to the story: the narrator, Dan O’Grady, successfully brought each of the characters to life. If you’re looking for a fun change from whatever serious texts you’re working through now (genocide narratives, in my case), I recommend having Dan read it to you via the audiobook, or in person if you can get him.
I’ve decided to start my year with the 2016 Man Booker Prize winner, Paul Beatty’s The Sellout. Though I’m yet to read the other nominees, it seems an appropriate pick in the present climate of change and uncertainty that has come with Trump’s recent election to presidency in the US. The inequality experienced between races which is ever-apparent in our ‘post-racial’ world is captured and satirized in this novel – which, set in the LA ‘hood’, pulls references from American classics like Tom Sawyer and To Kill a Mockingbird to current figures like Obama and Kanye West – in a way that seems to foreshadow the days to come. Beatty treats his subject matter with the utmost irreverence, which is funny, fun to read, and which seems like the only appropriate reaction to the outrageous and absurd events that just keep on unraveling across the world.
Compiled by Eliza Auld
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