We asked some of our favourite readers and writers to recommend the book they’ve loved best during this long, long winter…
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi
Chosen by Mykaela Saunders, winner of the Jolley Short Story Prize (2020) for River Story
Boy, Snow, Bird dusts off an old story and makes it fresh. Hung on the framework of Snow White, and told through the voices of historically-sidelined characters, Oyeyemi’s keen eye is focussed on the fraught racial and gendered politics of ‘passing’. Yet she never sacrifices style for substance: her writing is absolutely beautiful, rendering this a surprising, skilled and delicious piece of work in every way.
(This book is set in a pre-Covid world, and I loved not reading about pandemics and coronavirus for a while.)
Anxious People by Fredrik Backman
Chosen by Sephora Scott, aka The Antisocial Influencer
Set in Backman’s native Sweden, Anxious People is about an ill-planned bank robbery that becomes a hostage situation. Eight random strangers (including a pregnant lesbian, an unhappy couple and a man in a rabbit costume) get to know one another over Capricciosa pizza (the hostages’ demand from local police) and some hidden wine found, rather strangely, in a closet. Friendships form as the hostages plot their escape.
Funny and poignant, this novel shows the importance of empathy in everyday situations (such as a bank robbery turned hostage situation turned pizza party).
The Overstory by Richard Powers
Chosen by Rain Francis, PRIMER’s new book reviewer
A beautiful, brilliant epic; environmental fiction with a dose of magical realism. This Pulitzer-winning novel will make you see trees as if for the first time, through characters whose lives have been shaped by their relationship with them. So much went on in this book that I’ll be processing it for weeks to come. Don’t read it if you’re depressed about the state of the planet and the demise of wildlife… or do, and consider your own footprint.
How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference by Rebecca Huntley
Chosen by Jamila Rizvi
Rather than diving into the culture wars about climate, with which we’re painfully familiar, Huntley explores what motivates Australians’ climate politics – and how we change hearts and minds. Her thesis is that those who believe action is needed to save the planet need to harness emotion and language over facts and figures to win this debate.
Living in lockdown in Melbourne it’s easy to become preoccupied with only coronavirus news. Her book has helped me stay focused on broader issues facing our world.
Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Chosen by Beverly Goh
A skewering of white, middle-class anxieties, Riley’s debut is a novel that would make Oscar Wilde smirk in approval. Such a Fun Age satirises the strange, unwritten rules around how we navigate our privileges, as Brooklyn mother-of-two Alix tries to befriend her black babysitter, Emira. Opening on a racial profiling incident at an upscale supermarket, Reid serves up incisive commentary on not only race but friendship, love and even capitalism in a biting comedy of manners.
Paris Or Die by Jayne Tuttle
Chosen by Felicity Robinson, PRIMER co-founder
In the opening chapter of her evocative memoir, Jayne Tuttle is almost decapitated by an ancient Parisian lift. And while this is certainly the most arresting moment of the book, the following pages are just as memorable. As a dance student at the Lecoq theatre school, Tuttle lives in a converted convent, roams the streets on her bicycle, enjoys a passionate relationship with a hot French actor and describes Paris with such vivid precision that I could close my eyes and imagine myself there. I still can. And in the midst of all this, Tuttle asks a deeper question, too: How much of yourself are you prepared to sacrifice for love?
Becoming by Michelle Obama
Chosen by Maddy Constantine
As we were reminded once again by her speech at the Democratic Convention this week, Michelle Obama has the rare ability to seem both supremely authoritative and disarmingly approachable. In Becoming, she recounts the story of her childhood, early career and experience as First Lady, normalising her struggles in dealing with the enormity of her husband’s political career in relation to her own identity. With grace and a touch of that cheekiness we all love, she encourages all women to be who they are.
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Chosen by PRIMER co-founder Anna Saunders
It could have been the pandemic… or the fact that I have two kids under five, including one who doesn’t sleep. Whatever the reason, for months I’d been struggling to concentrate enough to finish a book – until I read Rodham.
This novel reimagines Hilary Clinton’s life if she hadn’t married Bill. It’s been described as fan fiction, and at times, Rodham did feel shamefully voyeuristic, even gossipy – but for me, this easy-to-read yet thought-provoking book was just the thing to get me back on track.
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