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The NLA Publishing team has put together a selection of reading recommendations to keep you entertained and inspired over the summer. Many of the suggested titles are available for purchase in the National Library Bookshop.
This was the book I was reading as the year began and Canberra was shrouded in smoke from coastal bush fires. Set in Egypt during the Second World War and Australia, Bodies of Men is a novel about two childhood friends who rediscover each other during fighting in the desert. But it's not really a 'war story'. It's a tender, evocative book about men, masculinity, love, friendship, mothers and sons. It's a novel that my thoughts have returned to all year, a reminder that beautiful things can come from very tough times.
While borders were closed and even interstate travel seemed an impossibility, Kate O'Donnell came to my rescue with her second young adult/all adult novel, This One Is Ours. Student Sofie travels to Paris on an exchange program. As she discovers the city, art, protest, and herself, I rediscovered the Paris I visited 8 years ago. If you need to travel virtually this summer, This One Is Ours is the perfect companion.
No, this isn't a shameless plug for a National Library publication! Well, not entirely. Searching for Charlotte is a biography of Charlotte Waring Atkinson, Australia's first published children's author, and a story about the thrills and challenges of researching your family history, digging deep into the stories handed down the generations to discover whether they hold true. It's also a book about bravery, adventure, love and the difficulties of being an independent woman in colonial Sydney. I couldn't put it down.
After I became accustomed to the poetic sentence structure, I really enjoyed this book, which allowed me to enter the world of twelve black women living different yet interconnected lives in modern Britain. Topics such as race, sexuality and class run seamlessly through the stories of the women as we share their life events and conversations. Each chapter focusses on one or two women, their careers ranging from playwright, teacher, cleaner, investment banker and 93-year old farmer, and their friends and families; yet despite a large cast of characters, the story is tightly controlled right up until the enjoyable ending.
In Ghost Empire, Fidler’s masterly narrative technique allows him to tell not only a sweeping history of the Byzantine empire from the Romans to the present, picking out some great stories and characters for more detailed treatment, but also describe a developing relationship with his son. It is part travel memoir and part history, so of course not comprehensive, but for me Fidler’s gift for storytelling binds it all together into what I found to be a very enjoyable whole.
I’m so grateful to live on this country and can’t wait to read more about its life, beyond the insta-worthy travel sites. What a privilege to access the often-forgotten histories of this land and visit places with newfound respect for all that the land has offered us.
In another life I would have liked to be a scientist. Accessible books like this which explore the world around us make me feel like maybe I could understand the secrets of the universe in this life too.
This was my favourite read of 2020, even though I’m not usually a big non-fiction reader! I found it incredibly moving, with the author giving fascinating yet sensitive insights into both the troubled clients of trauma cleaner Sandra Pankhurst, as well as the woman herself.
As an art lover, I really appreciated this beautiful exploration of a piece of performance art I’ve always found compelling, Marina Abramovic’s The Artist Is Present. The story gives not only an insight into what it might have been like to experience the work first hand, but also muses on larger themes about love, grief and the vital role of art in our lives.
I enjoyed the elegant telling of this tale of a young woman coming to terms with the painful relationship she’d had with her late mother. Written from both perspectives, and set in both twentieth century Japan and modern-day London, this novel felt gentle yet left a powerful mark by its end.