From a wide-ranging, finely crafted and joyous study on endings (of games, performances and works), to Diana Reid’s hotly anticipated second novel. Here’s what our Balmain bookshop staff are reading this month.
Tim is reading…
A book on Roger Federer and a local author’s novel
In a brief interlude as my head rises above the rabbit hole of books I’ve worked through on the situation in Russia and Ukraine, and the USA, I’ve looked into a few other books and here jot down a few thoughts on the ongoing reading.
As books inform and build our personal narratives so that we can live in relative harmony with those who have read different books and lived different lives, there’s a generosity within literature, a sense of deeper time that constantly evolves like the fractal patterns of Benoit Mandelbrot. A generosity that the deep time of reading allows us to think now and then that we don’t have to try and keep up with what is new. What is new is unstoppable. Books will keep being released.
Still, when Geoff Dyer’s new book The Last Days of Roger Federer and other endings arrived in the shop recently, those of us at the counter who’d read some of his considerable backlist experienced a rare excitement. A better kind of new than the usual. A new Geoff Dyer. Wow! You must read him, we said to our colleagues. A new book by someone who feels like an old friend who wants me to read his book at my own pace in my own time.
My mind went back nearly thirty years ago to when I first encountered his writing in But Beautiful: A Book About Jazz, a series of short pieces featuring the giants of jazz that remains one of my most enjoyable reading experiences. I’m yet to start his new book, but I already feel at ease and comfortable with this new companion on my shelves. Just a glimpse of the object is enough to make of the everyday something transformed by art and perhaps, if my memory serves me correctly, like reading the New Order album Technique that played back as I read But Beautiful for the first time; or as an old colleague, Maddie, said, having eaten her first laksa at the sorely missed local restaurant Miss Saigon: “It was like drinking velvet”. The effect as I begin reading reminds me of the sensation when I read Alan Lightman’s ‘Einstein’s Dreams’, each short piece a unique Einsteinian universe.
A few days later and I’m marvelling at how relaxing Dyer’s writing is and how his free-flowing observations on pretty much everything don’t overwhelm but feel like they add substance to the reader’s own experience – that gift that Dyer has to help his readers enjoy and articulate their own thoughts, observations and ideas through the history of art, literature and music as he shares his mind with us. He’s a good listener of music, and to a quite deaf person, as I am, he writes about sound and creativity as deeply personal components of the culture-maker’s and culture-experiencer’s mode of life such that the divide is shattered. For a book about endings, Dyer’s ability to almost effortlessly move from one topic to another and then back again is quite joyous. Endings become art much as moments of stillness engineered by an ingenious drum beat play a startling and enjoyable role, a kind of pause and then life resumes in Wire’s excellent song ‘In the Art of Stopping’. I feel that I’m learning in a fun way and that his writing is, in many ways, a masterclass. Thanks, Geoff.
Local teacher, playwright and author Ned Manning’s Painting the Light, set in Australia and overseas during the build-up to World War II, its course and aftermath, is a joy to read and very moving. The characters are real with hopes and dreams and aspirations and a commitment to society and each other that I find inspiring. The dreariness and horror of imminent war create impossible futures that his characters must face in combat and in a different way at home. These experiences are rendered with such empathy that they provide solace to the reader of this present time, perhaps fearful of such things as well.
There’s a quality to Ned’s writing that reminds me of a vibrant naive art painting. Deep evolving emotion paints the strands connecting the central characters whilst the wider cast are no less alive and seem to me as extras on a stage lit by the novel’s clear and articulate expression of ideas. A character experiences a moment where ‘He wondered what had happened to his own capacity to express himself.’ That’s a sentence I’m glad for and grateful to have read.
Kate is reading…
Diana Reid’s new book
Diana Reid’s Love & Virtue – her first novel – was one of the books published in 2021 I most enjoyed last year. Reid subjects her cast of flawed, human characters with a darkly wry, unsparing analysis. A student of philosophy, her interest is in the ethics of everyday relationships: motives and intentions, subconscious and conscious.
She’s especially good in her study of female relationships. In Love & Virtue, this relationship was one of rival frenemies at college. In her new book, Seeing Other People, the tensions and moral entanglements are mainly between two sisters (corporate older sister Eleanor and aspiring actress Charlie) and Helen, a love interest and theatre director.
As with her literary debut, Seeing Other People is a compulsive consumption kind of book. Reading feels like listening in on the most articulate, analytical, juicy gossip. We get to rove through all three of our main characters’ thoughts through her use of third person, peeling open weaknesses, desires and complexities. Set in sharehouses, beaches, apartment flats and theatres, not a whole lot happens in a dramatic plot sense; the events happen on the emotional domain of the interior. A fascinating country, really.
Next up: Bon and Lesley by Shaun Prescott (author of the bestselling The Town) and… I really don’t know yet. Very interested to read Life & Decisions after heading Dr Lachlan McIver talk about it at a September author event.