Yes, July might traditionally have been a slow time for new releases, but this year – thank Covid! – some truly brilliant books have hit the shelves. So we asked some of our favourite PRIMER contributors to tell us the new, and new-ish, books they’d recommend we read this lockdown.
Recommended by Laura Brading, co-founder of book subscription service WellRead
We’ve done this enough times to know that not everyone approaches lockdown as an opportunity to read Infinite Jest. With that in mind, I recommend this beautifully evocative debut that, despite being only 200-odd pages in length, reads like a multigenerational saga.
Of Women and Salt follows a collection of mothers and daughters across five generations through Cuba, Mexico, Texas and Miami, and explores ideas around immigration, addiction, memory, the mother-daughter bond and the tenacity it takes to tell a story that others wish to silence. Garcia’s women are the beating heart of this novel, and I’m still thinking about them months later.
My Father, The Murderer by Nina Young and Denise Young
Recommended by writer and editor Alley Pascoe
“They fuck you up, your mum and dad,” is a much-quoted line from the English poet Phillip Larkin – and it’s also the underlying theme of Nina Young’s memoir about family secrets and lies.
Nina’s mum Denise spent her life trying to shelter her daughter from her father’s brutal past, but in her mid-twenties, Nina discovered the truth: her dad had strangled a woman to death before she was born. Yet this isn’t the tale of a father’s crime as much as the story of a daughter’s journey, a mother’s fight for survival and their unbreakable bond. As far as stories go, this one is a ripper. “They fuck you up, your mum and dad. They may not mean to, but they do.”
Early Morning Riser by Katherine Heiny
Picked by PRIMER co-founder Anna Saunders
Early Morning Riser is a big-hearted book about a small town. It follows 26-year-old Jane, a teacher in Boyne City, Michigan, who falls in love with the town’s most handsome man, Duncan – only to realise that he’s already slept with half the town.
But this isn’t your standard romance. There are no declarations of love or dramatic plot twists; in fact, there’s very little in the way of drama or action at all. Instead it’s Heiny’s perceptive observations, which expose the quiet beauty of daily life that make Early Morning Riser so compelling.
It took me a long time to open this book – I couldn’t quite understand, from the book’s back cover, what it was actually about. But in the end my timing was perfect; in the face of confronting Covid-related news, the gentle pace of this book was like a balm.
Power Play by Julia Banks
Recommended by PRIMER’s other co-founder, Felicity Robinson
When former MP Julia Banks’ memoir came out last month, it received a lot of attention – and rightly so. Her account of the way she was treated by the Liberal party, and Prime Minister Scott Morrison in particular, was shocking.
But Power Play is more than a takedown of some noxious men; it’s a thoughtful, honest, at times forensic examination of who wields power in the workplace, and what needs to happen for women to achieve the leadership positions they deserve. The final chapter, on finding your own leadership style, is beautifully written.
Other People’s Clothes by Calla Henkel
Recommended by PRIMER’s book reviewer Rain Francis
Two American art students move to Berlin; one is grieving for her dead best friend, the other is determined to become some sort of Warholian It Girl at any cost. Disillusioned with their new art school, they spend their time bouncing through Berlin’s club scene and throwing epic parties of their own, until it all goes dramatically wrong.
You could categorise Other People’s Clothes as ‘mystery’, but it’s also quite unique, with a strong voice and some larger-than-life characters. This is dark, gritty, thrilling fun.
My Year Abroad by Chang-rae Lee
Picked by Maeve Galea
Fans of Haruki Murakami will recognise Lee’s laidback and often naive protagonist Tiller, a 20-year-old university student grappling with his past while he forges his future.
Set between New Jersey suburbia and south-eastern China’s megacities, this is a sprawling coming-of-age story. The narrative alternates between the astonishing trip Tiller takes with Pong, a boisterous American-Chinese entrepreneur who’s convinced he has discovered a life-extending elixir, and the strange domestic existence he shares with Val, a 30-something single mother hiding out in a witness protection program.
Having just returned from my own year abroad, I loved Lee’s observations about the surprising and long-lasting effects of cultural immersion.
She Is Haunted by Paige Clark
Recommended by Hannah-Rose Yee
A confession. I am not a short stories kind of girl. I like my stories like I like my baths: long, deep, able to be luxuriated in. And yet I was so absorbed by this collection of short stories that I completely forgot my reservations about the genre.
Clark is a phenomenal writer, who works with precision and clarity, and her stories about identity and connection really moved me. She is part-Chinese, like me, and some of the stories really resonated with me, particularly ‘In A Room Of Chinese Women’, which I think will be something that I return to read, over and over again, for years to come. If you’re also a short-stories agnostic, I think you’ll be converted by this collection.
The Other Side Of Beautiful by Kim Lock
Perhaps Kim Lock didn’t intend to release a book about a woman deathly afraid to go outside while readers are, well, in lockdown and barely allowed to go outside, but here we are. The Other Side Of Beautiful is a wonderfully heartfelt book about overcoming fear and finding home wherever you are.
Mercy Blain is forced out into the world by circumstances beyond her control (her house burns down), and anxiety threatens to overwhelm her mind and body. Still, with her ever-faithful sidekick Wasabi the sausage dog by her side, Mercy overcomes the obstacles that life has thrown her way – in one of the best books I’ve read this year.