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Top Shelf With Nadine J. Cohen

The writer and refugee advocate on trashy rock band bios that make her cry, meeting literary heroes, and the comfort book she returns to

By Laura Brading

For this week’s instalment of Top Shelf, we caught up with the writer and refugee advocate Nadine J. Cohen to chat all things books. Including her own. Cohen’s debut novel Everyone and Everything published this week and is already garnering glowing reviews from the likes of Sarah Krasnostein and Emily Maguire.

As funny as it is poignant, and as witty as it is wise, the novel explores grief and the things that offer solace when we’re in the depths of it (friendship, ocean pools, an unsettling amount of dairy, truly terrible erotic literature).

Add to your to-be-read pile immediately if you loved Sorrow and Bliss and believe that comedy and tragedy are always in closer proximity than we imagine.

Now, to the book chat…

A book that made you cry
I’m laughing because the first thing that came to mind was The Dirt: Confessions of the World’s Most Notorious Rock Band. The book is a horrifying misogynist nightmare but I didn’t think that when it first came out, which is wild to me now. So one day in the mid-2000s, I was reading it at the hairdresser’s and when I got to the bit when lead singer Vince Neil’s four-year-old son died of cancer, I started bawling. Then I had to explain why the trashy rock band biography had made me cry.


Then I had to explain why the trashy rock band biography had made me cry.

A book you return to or have re-read
One of my comfort books is Like Water for Chocolate. It’s not the most literary of books but it’s such a lovely story and so beautifully told. Reading it is like a big, nourishing hug and I return to it when that’s just what I need. Magical realism isn’t generally my vibe unless written by Latin-American writers, who do it so poetically and so powerfully.

An author whose books you will always read
David Sedaris. The man can pen a humorist essay like no other and he’s the only author I’ve ever had sign a book. He’s known for the thought and care he puts into each inscription, with book signing queues lasting well into the early hours as he chats to each fan. In one of my books, he drew my vintage Chanel handbag and wrote “The lovely purse of an orphan”. I was fortunate to get to interview him late last year and he was a sheer delight. Sometimes it’s okay to meet your heroes.

Cohen's debut novel Everyone and Everything - a funny and tender story about friendship, grief and the deep, frustrating bond between sisters.

A book you’re looking forward to reading
I’m really keen to get stuck into Yellowface about racism, diversity and cultural appropriation in the American publishing industry and beyond, which came out earlier this year to rave reviews. Friends and people I follow on social media cannot sing its praises enough and it’s sitting on my bedside table ready to read. I just need to find the time. 

You’re going on a week-long holiday. What is the correct number of books to take with you?
A holiday would be nice, it’s been a while! For a week I would probably tell myself to pack five, stupidly take seven and actually read three.

Contemporary or classic?
I really wish I could be all fancy and say classic but it’s contemporary by a mile. I’ve read and enjoyed many of the classics and attempted to read many more, but my heart is squarely in the last 100 years. Then again, many modern classics were released in that time period, so I guess both?


BY Laura Brading

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

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