article images

Top Shelf With Michaela McGuire

Discover what the Melbourne Writers’ Festival Director loves to read

By Laura Brading

We are counting down the days until the Melbourne Writers’ Festival kicks off next week. In the lineup are PRIMER favourites Ann Patchett, Lauren Groff and Leslie Jamison, as well as local legends Daniel Browning, Mykaela Saunders and Charlotte Wood.

This year’s festival has been programmed around the theme of ‘ghosts’.

“Old and new favourites come together in smart and surprising combinations to discuss the ghosts of history, past mistakes, past selves and the stories that haunt them,” says artistic director Michaela McGuire.

We caught up with Michaela to get her picks for the festival and to find out what she loves to read.

Which event are you most looking forward to?
Let It Bring Hope, an incredible session curated by Mykaela Saunders featuring three pairs of Aboriginal and Palestinian poets – Tony Birch and Samah Sabawi, Jeanine Leane and Micaela Sahhar and Nayuka Gorrie and Sara Saleh – who will each read an original work to each other. These writers and activists have demonstrated so much compassion, dignity, love and intelligence in the months leading up to Melbourne Writers Festival, and I fully expect to cry both from grief and intense gratitude when this event finally takes place.”

A book you recommend to everyone.
“I’ve been pushing Christos Tsiolkas’ The In-Between on everyone. There’s something so beautifully relaxed about his writing. Yes, of course it’s still Christos as there’s the erotic, graphic descriptions of how sex not only feels but smells and tastes and sounds, but these scenes seem less written for shock value than in his earlier work; here, they read as honest and tender. Shame, despair, anger and lust are all given weight as the emotions that drive relationships as much as love. A long dinner party set piece in the middle of the novel is Christos’ writing at its best: propulsive, political, intelligent and wry.”



A book you return to or have re-read.
“I’ve been saving this until right before the festival on purpose, and am re-reading The Hours by Michael Cunningham. I first read it while on holiday in Budapest when I was 25 and I still remember walking around the city with Michael’s sentences lodged in my brain. Line by line, it’s a masterpiece. It’s flooring me all over again.”

How do you choose what to read?
“Work usually guides what I read, but happily there’s lots of overlap between what I feel as though I should read and what I’d love to be reading anyway. Last August there was a lot of hype about Paul Murray’s The Bee Sting and I felt like I had to read it immediately, see if it was as good as everyone was saying and within 50 pages I knew this was the huge, addictive, totally original novel I’d been looking for to highlight at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival. I sent an invitation to Paul as soon as I finished the book, and he’ll be discussing it on stage next month.”

The book you’ve loved the longest
Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman. I went through a phase when I was 9 or 10 where I was only interested in horror and vampire fiction – Fear Street, Christopher Pike, lots of books about women being murdered, now that I think about it – and my mum went to a great independent bookstore in Brisbane and asked what she could get me to read instead. I’ve read His Dark Materials again and again, and my mum loves them too. The Book of Dust being published a few years ago was a huge event in our family.”

I first read it while on holiday in Budapest when I was 25 and I still remember walking around the city with Michael’s sentences lodged in my brain

A book that made you cry.
“Leslie Jamison’s memoir, Splinters. It documents the year that her daughter was born and that she separated from her husband, and Leslie invites the reader right into that cocoon of love that she and her daughter had during this time – it’s so intimate, revealing and lovely. It’s one of those books that teaches you about how to be and love and learn in the world and I’m so grateful Leslie wrote it.”

Want more stories like this? Sign up to PRIMER’s weekly newsletter.


BY Laura Brading

Laura is PRIMER's books editor

view more Books

No Comments