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Top Shelf With Bri Lee

From Rachel Cusk to Egyptian novelists, discover what the bestselling author loves to read

By Laura Brading

Bestselling author Bri Lee rose to prominence with her non-fiction books Eggshell Skull (2018), Beauty (2019) and Who Gets to Be Smart (2021). The books respectively explored sexual abuse, the beauty industry and the elite education system, each paying particular attention to power, sex, gender and class.

And it’s these same preoccupations that are at the heart of Lee’s debut novel The Work, as well as art, love, labour and privilege. Described by Australian novelist Ella Baxter as a “glamorous and dirty capitalist fever dream”, there’s a good chance your book club will be reading it soon.

We caught up with Bri as the book published to find out all about her reading life.

A book you recommend to everyone.
“I didn’t have a favourite book until I read Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead in 2022, and now I won’t shut up about it. It’s a big one, following the entire life trajectory of an Amelia Earhart-esque aviatrix, but I would’ve devoured it even if it was double the length. Shipstead is a fantastic travel writer and the sense of place is so strong. By the end I really felt I’d lived an entire extra life. Extraordinary.”


By the end I really felt I’d lived an entire extra life

An author whose books you will always read.
“Caoilinn Hughes is one of the most exciting writers currently publishing. Her works are always so sharp and they come at me so fast. Her latest is out in April – The Alternatives – and I loved it just as much as I thought I would.”

A book you read in a single sitting.
“Every book in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy. Wham, bam, thank you ma’am.”

A book that changed your perspective.
“I read Noor Naga’s novel, If An Egyptian Cannot Speak English just before travelling to Egypt in February, and it was perfect timing. The way one of the male characters talks about living through the Arab Spring, and the way another talks about the challenges of trying to be a contemporary, independent woman in Cairo… it just blew my mind wide open. Books really are the best way to prepare for travel.”

Lee's debut novel is about the biggest intersections of life: art and commerce, of intimacy and distance, of talent and entitlement, and of labour and privilege.

Do you have a reading ritual?
“Nope! Anywhere, anytime. Although I’ve started something at home this year where I no longer have my mobile phone in the bedroom and read purely for pleasure at night in bed. It’s taken me straight back to childhood. Great vibes. Highly recommend.”

Five words that sum up your approach to reading.
“Ravenous. Judgmental. Impatient. Enthusiastic. Nerd.”

The Work by Bri Lee by Winnie Dunn is published by Allen & Unwin and is out now.

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BY Laura Brading

Laura is PRIMER's books editor

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