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Top Shelf With Charlotte Wood

The award-winning author on her reading life and how books lead us serendipitously to another.

By Laura Brading

Charlotte Wood is the author of 10 books – seven novels and three non-fiction works. You’ve no doubt read at least one of them. The Natural Way of Things won both the 2016 Prime Minister’s Literary Award and Stella Prize, and The Weekend was surely the most read title amongst Australian book clubs in 2019.

Wood’s latest book, Stone Yard Devotional – a deeply moving novel about forgiveness, grief, and what it means to be ‘good’, publishes in October. We caught up with the author before its release to find out about her reading life: how she chooses what to read; the book she consumed in a single sitting (which happens to be one of our recent favourites); and the one she recommends to everyone.

A book you recommend to everyone
Night Fishing: Stingrays, Goya and the Singular Life by Vicki Hastrich
A memoir of sorts, this collection of breathtakingly original essays is one of the best and least well-known Australian works of recent years. Moving through the author’s childhood and family, grief, love and solitude – and her spellbinding twin obsessions with visual art and the natural world – it’s simply stunning. I always say Hastrich is like an antipodean Annie Dillard: intellect, artistry, humanity all coming together in the sharpest, most beautiful prose. 


That’s my favourite way of reading – one book leading in a serendipitous, meandering way to another.

A book that made you cry
Beloved by Toni Morrison. Tears for the visceral experience of racial hatred, but secondarily for the majesty of Morrison’s imagination and soaring language.

A book you return to or have re-read
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner. First published in 1987, it’s a semi-autobiographical portrait of several decades of close friendship between two American couples, the Langs and the Morgans. The sometimes dangerous currents of long friendship are beautifully, unflinchingly described – and the character of charismatic, superb, infuriating Charity Lang is unforgettable.

Wood's latest novel is about a woman who abandons her city life and marriage to return to the place of her childhood. (Allen & Unwin), RRP $32.99, 3 October

A book you read in a single sitting
A new one! Lioness by New Zealander Emily Perkins. I’ve loved Perkins’ work for ages (The Forrests is a long-time favourite) and this one is a cracker – a novel about families, money, and the implosions that happen when the good-girl mask so many women wear is finally torn off. It’s thrilling writing. 

How do you choose what to read?
A mixture of recommendations from particular friends; the occasional long, well-written review. If I love a book I’ll go internet snooping to read everything I can about the author, as well as their other books of course. Often in interviews they’ll mention writers they admire, thus leading to new discoveries and delights. That’s my favourite way of reading – one book leading in a serendipitous, meandering way to another.

You read everything this author writes. Who is it?
Another relatively recent discovery – Sigrid Nunez. I read The Friend in 2019, then immediately ordered everything else I could get my hands on. All of her fiction is completely brilliant and I can’t wait for her forthcoming novel, The Vulnerables. But she is also the author of slender, surprising masterpieces like Sempre Susan, a memoir of her time living in Susan Sontag’s home, and Mitz, a ‘mock biography’ of Leonard Woolf’s sickly pet marmoset monkey, which is of course by sly default a portrait of the Bloomsbury set. Nunez is the business

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BY Laura Brading

Laura is part of the PRIMER team. She also runs WellRead, a book subscription service.

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