What We're Reading

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Neil

Summerwater, by Sarah Moss (Picador 2020)

This is a short novel which can be read in one sitting, and it probably should be, as it's set on one day. It's mid-summer at a Scottish chalet park, and is raining relentlessly. Each chapter features a different guest of the holiday park, and they inevitably overlap each other. Summerwater explores the rhythms of the natural world alongside the human one, and investigates our capacity for both community and conflict. It's a stunning encapsulation of an entire society, a precise examination of the moral status of a whole nation.

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Neil

Humankind, by Rutger Bregman (Bloomsbury 2020)

Rutger Bregman is a Dutch historian and thinker, who has a reputation for being rather contrarian. His previous book Utopia For Realists was a significant seller, and hugely influential. In this new book he extends his hopeful thinking by reassessing the current belief that humans are by nature selfish, and governed by self interest. Bregman looks back over thousands of years of human history, and pits the pessimism of Thomas Hobbes against the optimism Jean-Jacques Rousseau to establish whether humans are fundamentally good or bad.

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Neil

Honeybee, by Craig Silvey (A&U 2020)

In 2009 Craig Silvey's debut Jasper Jones caused a sensation. It was a brilliant, hilarious and moving book, heavily awarded, made into a movie, and was a massive bestseller. Honeybee is the first full length novel Silvey has published since then. It tells the story of two societal misfits, an older man, Vic, and a 14 year old boy, Sam, who meet in an unlikely fashion, and form a similarly unlikely bond. It's a thrilling book, revealing a dark underbelly of urban life in Australia, but also life-affirming and rather funny. Silvey's great strength is his dialogue, which just sings.

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Neil

In The Time of the Manaroans, by Miro Bilbrough (VUP 2020)

A stylishly presented, and brilliantly written memoir which relates a largely unwritten history of a very particular period in NZ history. Set mostly in the late 1970s in a remote corner of the Marlborough Sounds, the book describes a loose group of hippies and back-to-the landers, in which Miro Bilbrough lived for a period in her adolescence, with her father and sister. It's a colourful book, episodic but cohesive, dark but joyful, powerful and unique. It's a compelling piece of work.

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Neil

This House of Grief, by Helen Garner (Text 2014)

In 2005, three young boys died when their father drove off the road and into a dam. He alone survived, and was subsequently charged with murder. Helen Garner describes the court case as a neutral observer, and examines the character of all the participants. It's an extraordinary achievement, a fascinating and compelling account of family psychology, the process of justice, and everyday grief. More than just true crime, this is a work of great compassion and insight.

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Neil

Year of the Monkey, by Patti Smith (Bloomsbury 2019)

This is the third of Patti Smith's memoir/jounals, following Just Kids and M Train. This is a little different to the earlier two, being briefer, meandering and dreamlike. It's no less powerful for its lack of formal structure. She writes beautifully, intelligently and movingly. It's a very timely book, as our time becomes less certain.