GREAT AUSTRALIAN WRITING
Charlotte Wood’s The Weekend (Allen & Unwin, $30) is about the 40-year friendship of four women in their 70s, which is put to the test when one dies and the remaining three spend a weekend at her beach house, tidying up and reminiscing. A witty, convincing portrayal of the ebbs and flows of female friendship and the challenges of growing old.
Salt (Black Inc, $35) by Bruce Pascoe, the award-winning author of Dark Emu, is a collection of his best short stories and essays. Pascoe writes passionately about the richness of Aboriginal culture, especially the long history of land cultivation, and uses words such as “justice” and “decency” to explain the need to understand Aboriginal history. Powerful, stimulating writing.
The Death of Jesus (Text Publishing, $30), the third book in the “Jesus” trilogy by Nobel Prize-winning author J.M. Coetzee, completes the fable-like story of David, a young refugee adopted by Simon and Ines. Here David leaves their home to live in an orphanage, with dire consequences. A hauntingly beautiful work by the South African-born author who now lives in Adelaide.
On Shirley Hazzard by Michelle de Kretser (Black Inc, $18) is an exquisite, nuanced homage to the renowned writer. It makes you want to return to Hazzard’s earlier books, starting with The Transit of Venus.
The Best Australian Science Writing 2019, a collection of essays edited by science journalist Bianca Nogrady (NewSouth, $30), will tell you, among other things, why we need to send artists into space and whether coffee is carcinogenic. Fascinating.
What could be more enticing for the time-poor than recipes for delicious one-pot meals? That (and more) is delivered by popular British food writer Diana Henry in From the Oven to the Table (Mitchell Beazley, $40). With an emphasis on simplicity and speed, there are recipes for weeknight meals as well as for entertaining, plus lots of vegies, grains and very pretty desserts.
The Commons (Hardie Grant, $60), by journalist turned farmer Matthew Evans, chronicles a year in the life of his Tasmanian property Fat Pig Farm, where Evans and his partner run cooking classes and serve home-cooked meals. Divided up by season, it’s a beautifully produced combination of food diary and recipe book.
If you want to impress your friends, understand fish better and eat seafood in a more sustainable way, try seafood chef Josh Niland’s The Whole Fish Cookbook (Hardie Grant, $55).
INTERNATIONAL LITERARY FICTION
It’s hard to go past the co-winners of this year’s Booker Prize, The Testaments by Canadian novelist Margaret Atwood (Chatto & Windus, $43) and Girl, Woman, Other by British writer Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton, $35). Atwood returns to Gilead and the women-hating fundamentalist regime of The Handmaid’s Tale, this time telling the story from the perspective of three women. Evaristo’s clever, boldly original novel tells the interconnected stories of 12 British women, mainly black, weaving issues of race, class and gender through a compelling narrative.
In American writer Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House (Bloomsbury, $27), young Danny and older sister Maeve have been deserted by their mother and are being raised by their emotionally distant father in a grand home in Pennsylvania. When he marries the avaricious Andrea, all hell breaks loose. Patchett explores family dynamics, forgiveness and revenge with her usual skill.
Olive Kitteridge, the unconventional heroine of US novelist Elizabeth Strout’s book of the same name, returns in Olive, Again (Viking, $30). Here, straight-talking Olive negotiates her relationship with Jack Kennison and continues to involve herself in the lives of others. Strout is an acute observer of the human condition who writes with humour, warmth and wisdom.
American writer Julia Phillips’ haunting debut, The Disappearing Earth (Scribner UK, $45), about two young sisters who are abducted from a remote town in Russia, is a standout.
Dead Man Walking (Vintage, $35), from award-winning The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age journalist Kate McClymont, is an Underbelly-style exposé of the relationship between Sydney businessmen Michael McGurk and Ron Medich, which ended with Medich arranging for McGurk to be shot dead in Sydney’s well-to-do Cremorne. A frightening insight into the murky nexus between crime and business.
Catch and Kill (Fleet, $35) is American journalist Ronan Farrow’s behind-the-scenes account of his exposé of Harvey Weinstein. The lengths the film producer went to to try to shut down Farrow (including hiring former Mossad spies) and the efforts by Farrow’s then-employer, NBC, to muzzle him are mind-boggling. The story underlines the bravery of the women who came forward, and of Farrow himself.
Prize-winning historian Frank Dikötter’s How to Be a Dictator (Bloomsbury, $30) is a chilling and timely analysis of the way in which 20th-century tyrants such as Mussolini, Stalin and Mao retained power through a cult of personality. Mussolini received 1500 letters a day in his heyday, Stalin had railways named after him, and Mao had factories churning out 50 million badges with his image on them every month.
British historian Simon Sebag Montefiore’s Voices of History: Speeches that Changed the World (Hachette, $35) includes inspiring speeches by leaders such as Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and Cleopatra, as well as terrifying ones by Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Osama bin Laden. Grouped thematically under headings such as “Resistance”, “Good v Evil” and “Decency”, they provide a reminder of the power of words.
Irish-American diplomat and academic Samantha Power has had an extraordinary career trajectory, from war correspondent in Bosnia to president Barack Obama’s human-rights adviser and US ambassador to the United Nations, which she describes in The Education of an Idealist (William Collins, $33). The result is a great read for anyone who’s interested in the place where realpolitik meets ideology.
Australian journalist Juliet Rieden was driven to discover what happened to her Czech father’s family during World War II when she saw her surname on the wall of a Holocaust memorial in Prague. In her deeply moving memoir, The Writing on the Wall (Pan Macmillan, $33), she describes what she found. A powerful personal account of unspeakable horror, courage and survival.
Tell Me Why (Simon & Schuster, $50) is Indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach’s uplifting story of his lifelong search for identity and how music healed him.
Jenny Rose-Innes interviewed 20 designers for her beautifully illustrated book, Australian Designers at Home (Thames & Hudson, $60). Be inspired by Michael Love’s antique-filled Sydney harbourside house, Anna Spiro’s 1880s Brisbane residence, with its bright walls and bold fabrics, and the timeless elegance of Adelaide Bragg’s Melbourne family home.
For a different perspective on interior decorating, stylist Jessica Belief’s Individual (Murdoch Books, $50) showcases the homes of 15 ordinary Australians who have used wit and ingenuity as they trawl beaches, vintage stores and garage sales to create original home environments. The owners’ love and pride shine through on every page.
What better way to capture the chaos of recent politics than a book by Australian Financial Review cartoonist David Rowe, Politics Now (Scribe, $33)? It’s all in the detail with Rowe: the harder you look, the more hilarity you discover. Australian politicians are not his only targets; he also turns his pitiless gaze on George Pell, Donald Trump and our banks. Genius.