What We're Reading 

Hidden gems, hot favourites, slow burners and the odd guest columnist.

October 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Friday, October 05, 2018

The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt & the Golden Age of Journalism by Doris Kearns Goodwin One of the most interesting books on U.S. history I have read. On the one hand it focuses on the lives of two Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt And William H Taft, and their close friendship (which eventually ruptures). On the other hand it explores the birth of investigative journalism through a group of determined reporters. Having already learnt a good deal about Roosevelt, Taft is a revelation here, a larger than life character—although never as dynamic as the whirlwind Roosevelt. And there is the irony of two Republicans fighting rampant capitalism and busting up the huge monopolies; two Presidents who, despite flaws, are decent human beings. But the most fascinating aspect, is the journalism and journalists of McClure’s Magazine, including a brilliant female journalist, who were instrumental in exposing the corruption inherent in the monopolies and in government. I came away certain that someone soon will be making an 8-part Netflix series on these fascinating people. Scott V

The Ninth Hour by Alice Mcdermott A young Irish immigrant finds it impossible to carry on and turns on the gas. The fire that ensues sees Sister St. Saviour, an old nun, appear in the damaged apartment and take over the lives of the widow and her unborn child. Thus, Sally becomes the convent child, growing up in the basement, playing while Sister St. Saviour does the ironing. Sally becomes involved with the work of the nuns, visiting the poor and feeding hungry. She goes to school and is influenced by her teachers to join them. Whether this will happen or whether an action of Sally’s makes this unlikely, we shall see. I like Alice McDermott’s Irish catholic family novels. She is a wonderful writer, her description of the New York slums is vivid and disturbing. I found the nuns, Sally and her mother, very believable, each trying to do the best they can under very difficult circumstances.  Janice 

Mythos: The Greek Myths Retold by Stephen Fry What a pleasure to be told these tales by the amusing and erudite Stephen Fry! It’s all here, from Chaos to Prometheus, with many informative and hilarious footnotes. Zeus’ radiance as a young man almost painful to look upon is footnoted thus: “As is often the case with extraordinarily attractive people. It is incumbent upon us to apologize or look away when our beauty causes discomfort.” The pleasure of the narrator infuses the whole enterprise of Mythos. Judy

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Talent  My Absolute Darling will leave you stranded, gasping, having experienced the trauma imposed on this novel’s young protagonist in an all too visceral way. Talent lures you into his fractured world of emotional dissonance and spits you out a changed reader - an accomplishment all writers aspire to and few achieve. The discord in this novel will haunt you for nights to come. Emma

You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames A short sharp brutal thriller of circulating trauma. Curt prose effortlessly draws the psyche of a veteran bent on purging his emotions, leaving him a hollow hired bludgeon, specialising in rescuing children kidnapped into the child sex trade. Ames’ regular asides on American society push this from pure grime into some sort of gravity.  Jonathan

The Arsonist, Chloe Hooper  A story based on the actions of an arsonist in the Latrobe Valley, during the Black Saturday fires of 2009, which, as you might expect from Hooper, as the author of The Tall Man", is about so much more. In a country understandably obsessed with bushfires, and the nature of of those who would deliberately light fires, the subtitle, "A Mind on Fire", suggests a world of detail and insight.  David

Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

Any new novel by Barbara Kingsolver is eagerly awaited, and Unsheltered  won't disappoint. Kingsolver has consistently, and increasingly as her career progresses, been a fine practitioner of politically engaged fiction, with a keen eye to melding past and present. The human drama of two families' struggles to manage takes place in alternating chapters a century apart (late 19th and 20th) in the same falling-down house in New Jersey. The cultural shifts our main characters are charged with navigating are dramatically different of course, and Kingsolver's sympathies are clearlydetermined by an overt moral compass—but that's ok. There's such an ease and warmth of engagement in her prose that the dual narrative work seamlessly. A big treat for her fans. David

  Two families a century apart live on the same lot with their houses literally and metaphorically falling down upon them. In the 21st century Iano and Willa are members of the collapsing middle class—the class into which Victorian era Thatcher Greenwood is attempting (albeit with disinterest) to rise into. Drowning in technology and its attendant waste Willa and Iano live in a world where scientific fact is labeled fake for political expediency, while science teacher Thatcher fights to teach natural selection in his classroom. I really enjoyed the back and forths and mirroring between the centuries in Kingsolver’s latest, especially when Willa’s scrappy (quietly unfavoured) daughter Tig is holding forth about humans coming to the end of the earth’s carrying capacity—as she says of Willa and her generation: ‘You prepped for the wrong future’. Kingsolver can be a tad earnest or didactic, but she had a pretty good hold on that tendency this outing  - I was disappointed when it finished, which is always a good sign.  Viki

2028 by Ken Saunders  Ken Saunders is a new name in Australian fiction, with a brilliantly funny debut novel: 2028. There's genuine, laugh out-loud humour and at the same time gnash your teeth and groan at the hideous reality of it all. It's a highly risky fictional manoeuvre, but Saunders pulls it off. It's election time, and a cliche-riddled Labor Party face defeat, yet again, to the moribund, complacent Liberals (the Greens are broke and busted). But out of nowhere appears the Ned Ludd Party (all members are named Ned Ludd), a party whose headquarters is at the No Expectations, Charles Dickens themed cafe (where only gruel is on the menu). These Luddites aren't machine smashers, they're simply revolutionary in their insistence on honesty, clarity and personal morality in politics. Unsurprisingly, the satire therein, and the narrative it embodies, is not subtle. But it's very funny and right on the money about the political climate we endure. David

Girl on the Page by John Purcell  Set in London, this is a racy (and sexy)  page-turner that also manages to be be intelligent and brimming with ideas about books, publishing and writing. Purcell contrasts the worlds of popular fiction represented by beautiful young editor Amy and high-end literary fiction as written by Malcolm and Helen. Their worlds collide with big ramifications for all three characters with the story culminating at the Booker prize presentation. A must-read for anyone in the book trade but also for readers who are interested in relationships and literature.  James

The Force by Don Winslow   Wow, Don Winslow does it again, a powerful edge of your seat ride with corrupt NYPD cop Denny Malone. Denny and his crew (of special task-force detectives) are the ‘good guys’ who run protection, sell influence, act as bag men, murder, steal, and much more. Denny is  the cop-king of North Manhattan but his world is crashing down. John

Rosie: Scenes from a Vanished Life, Rose Tremain   Tremain finally turns her novelist’s eye inwards. She exhumes rare pockets of warmth and affection from the emotional Antarctica of her childhood in post WW2 England. The signature subtlety of her prose translates beautifully in this memoir that charts the making of a true artist. James P

Lies You Never Told Me, Jennifer Donaldson On the surface a story of relationships; it’s a masterful circular portrayal of obsession and deception, Shakespearean in scale, with a killer ending! 

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