There’s something so satisfying in holding a hard copy of words that inspire, challenge, and encourage. A thoughtfully chosen book can also show that you really know a person. Find the perfect gift for each book lover on your Christmas list as Australian Arts Review presents its book guide for 2021-2022.
Matthew Abbott: A Fire Inside
Documenting the 2019-2020 bushfires, this is a compelling account of one of Australia’s most challenging times, revealing the power and resilience of the human spirit and a nation galvanised to help. If this book is about the events of Australia’s Black Summer bush fires, it is also about the nature and resilience of the Australian people. The devastation was there for all to see. What was harder to capture was the way every Australian responded. A nation forged by fire and defined by help. Award-winning photojournalist Matthew Abbott spent months on location capturing the catastrophic events as they unfolded firsthand, and his compelling images made headlines around the world. His photographs have etched themselves into our collective memory, as have the stories behind them: first-person accounts from the people on the ground – firefighters and wildlife rescuers, bystanders who became upstanders, doing what they could to help – reveal a nation galvanised to help.
Miles Allinson: In Moonland
In present-day Melbourne, a man attempts to piece together the mystery of his father’s apparent suicide as his young family slowly implodes. At the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in 1976, a man searching for salvation must confront his capacity for violence and darkness. And in a not-too-distant future, a woman with a life-altering decision to make travels through a climate-ravaged landscape to visit her estranged father. Miles Allinson’s In Moonland is a portrait of three generations, each grappling with their own mortality. Spanning the wild idealism of the 70s through to the fragile hope of the future, it is a novel about the struggle for transcendence and the reverberating effects of family bonds.
Emily Bitto: Wild Abandon
In the fall of 2011, a heartbroken young man flees Australia for the USA. Landing in the excessive, uncanny-familiar glamour and plenitude of New York City, Will makes a vow to say yes to everything that comes his way. By fate or random chance, Will’s journey takes him deep into the American heartland where he meets Wayne Gage, a fast-living, troubled Vietnam veteran, would-be spirit guide and collector of exotic animals. These two men in crisis form an unlikely friendship, but Will has no idea just how close to the edge Wayne truly is. Emily Bitto’s Wild Abandon is a headlong tumble through the falling world of end-days capitalism, a haunting, hyperreal snapshot of our own strange times. We read with increasing horror and denial as we approach the cataclysmic conclusion of Will’s American odyssey, dreading what is galloping towards us, but utterly unable to look away. This lyrical and devastating new novel from the Stella Prize-winning author of The Strays offers us startling and profound visions of the world and our place in it.
Maxine Beneba Clarke: How Decent Folks Behave
On a daylight street in Minneapolis Minnesota, a Black man is asphyxiated – by callous knee of an officer, by cruel might of state, and under crushing weight of colony. In Melbourne the body of another woman has been found – this time, after catching a late tram home. The Atlantic has run out of the English alphabet, when christening hurricanes this season. The earth is on fire – from the redwoods of California, to Australia’s east coast. The sea draws back, and tsunamis lash out in Samoa and Sumatra. Water rises in Sulawesi and Nagasaki. Bloated cod are surfacing, all along the Murray Darling. The virus arrives, and the virus thrives. Authorities seal the public housing towers up, and truck in one cop to every five residents. Notre Dame is ablaze – the cathedral spire blackened, and teetering. Out in Biloela, the deportation vans have arrived. Every Friday, in cities all across the world, children are walking out of school. The wolves are circling. The wolves are circling. A vibrant, thought-provoking collection from the ABIA and Indie award-winning author of The Hate Race and Carrying the World. These poems speak of the world that is, and sing for a world that may one day be!
Trent Dalton: Love Stories
Inspired by a personal moment of profound love and generosity, Trent Dalton, bestselling author and one of Australia’s finest journalists, spent two months in 2021 speaking to people from all walks of life, asking them one simple and direct question: Can you please tell me a love story? The result is an immensely warm, poignant, funny and moving book about love in all its guises, including observations, reflections and stories of people falling into love, falling out of love, and never letting go of the loved ones in their hearts. A heartfelt, deep, wise and tingly tribute to the greatest thing we will never understand and the only thing we will ever really need: love.
Shane Jenek: Caught In The Act
Boy, girl, artist, advocate. Courtney is more than the sum of her parts. Meet Shane Jenek: Raised in the Brisbane suburbs by loving parents, Shane realises from a young age that he’s not like all the other boys. He finds his tribe at a performing arts agency, where he discovers his passion for song, dance and performance. Shane makes a promise to himself- to find a bigger stage. Meet Courtney Act: Born in Sydney around the turn of the millennium, Courtney makes her name in the gay bars of Oxford Street and then on Australian Idol. Over ten years later, she makes star turns on RuPaul’s Drag Race and Celebrity Big Brother UK, bringing her unique take on drag and gender to the world. Behind this rise to national and global fame is a story of searching for and finding oneself. Told with Courtney’s trademark candour and wit, Caught in the Act is about our journey towards understanding gender, sexuality and identity. It’s an often hilarious and at times heartbreaking memoir from a beloved drag and entertainment icon. Most of all, it’s a bloody good time!
Paul Kennedy: Funkytown
A vivid true story of a year in the life of a teenager leaping into manhood. It is 1993: a serial killer is loose on the streets of Frankston, Victoria. The community is paralysed by fear and a state’s police force and national media come to find a killer. Meanwhile, seventeen-year-old Paul Kennedy is searching for something else entirely. He is focused on finishing school, getting drafted into the AFL and falling in love. So much can change in a year. The rites of passage for many Australian teenage boys – blackout drinking, simmering violence and emotional suppression – take their toll, and the year that starts with so much promise ends with Kennedy expelled, arrested and undrafted. But one teacher sees Kennedy self-destructing, and becomes determined to set him on another path. Told with poignancy, humour and evoking the brilliant, dusty haze of late Australian summer, Funkytown is a love letter to adolescence, football, family, and outer suburbia.
Kate Langbroek: Ciao Bella! Six Take Italy
Kate Langbroek’s deliciously funny, irreverent and inspiring memoir about moving to Bologna with her family to seek la dolce vita is a glorious reminder of what we can learn from the Italians about living life to the full – and what really matters when the world goes to hell in a handbasket. While juggling a frenetic career, marriage and parenthood, Kate and her husband Peter decided to make life even more interesting by packing up their four kids and moving to Bologna in Italy. Ciao Bella! is about having a dream and living it as Kate shares the sublime joys and utter chaos of adapting to a new life in a foreign country, what you discover about yourself when you are a stranger in a strange land, and how she fell in love.
James Lapine: Putting It Together – How Stephen Sondheim and I Created Sunday in the Park with George
A behind-the-scenes look at the making of the iconic musical Sunday in the Park with George. Putting It Together chronicles the two-year odyssey of creating the iconic Broadway musical Sunday in the Park with George. In 1982, James Lapine, at the beginning of his career as a playwright and director, met the late Stephen Sondheim, nineteen years his senior and already a legendary Broadway composer and lyricist. Shortly thereafter, the two decided to write a musical inspired by Georges Seurat’s nineteenth-century painting A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. Through conversations between Lapine and Sondheim, as well as most of the production team, and with a treasure trove of personal photographs, sketches, script notes, and sheet music, the two Broadway icons lift the curtain on their beloved musical. Putting It Together is a deeply personal remembrance of their collaboration and friendship and the highs and lows of that journey – one that resulted in the beloved Pulitzer Prize-winning classic.
Miriam Margolyes: This Much is True
BAFTA-winning actor, voice of everything from Monkey to the Cadbury’s Caramel Rabbit, creator of a myriad of unforgettable characters from Lady Whiteadder to Professor Sprout, Miriam Margolyes, OBE, is the nation’s favourite (and naughtiest) treasure. Now, at the age of 80, she has finally decided to tell her extraordinary life story – and it’s well worth the wait. Find out how being conceived in an air-raid gave her curly hair; what pranks led to her being known as the naughtiest girl Oxford High School ever had; and how she ended up posing nude for Augustus John as a teenager. From declaring her love to Vanessa Redgrave to being told to be quiet by the Queen, this book is packed with brilliant, hilarious stories. With a cast list stretching from Scorsese to Streisand, a cross-dressing Leonardo di Caprio to Isaiah Berlin, This Much Is True is as warm and honest, as full of life and surprises, as its inimitable author.
Allee Richards: Small Joys of Real Life
A poignant and unpredictable debut from an exciting new literary talent. Shortlisted for both The Richell Prize for Emerging Writers and the Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. Allee Richards’ Small Joys of Real Life is Sally Rooney meets Helen Garner. The night Eva shared a smile with Pat, something started. Two weeks later, lying together in her bed, Pat said, ‘You can’t live your life saying you’ll get around to doing something you know will make you happy. You just have to do it.’ Eva didn’t know how devastating those words would turn out to be. Pat dies and the aftershock leaves Eva on unsteady ground. She is pregnant. And she has to make a choice. Suddenly, the world that she at times already questioned, her career, her roommates and friends, and life in the inner-city are all even harder to navigate. Small Joys of Real Life is a poignant and unpredictable novel from an exciting new literary talent about how the life you have can change in an instant. It’s about friendship, desire, loss and growing up to accept that all you can do is be in the moment and look to find the joys in between.
Christos Tsiolkas: Seven and a Half
A man arrives at a house on the coast to write a book. Separated from his lover and family and friends, he finds the solitude he craves in the pyrotechnic beauty of nature, just as the world he has shut out is experiencing a cataclysmic shift. The preoccupations that have galvanised him and his work fall away, and he becomes lost in memory and beauty … He also begins to tell us a story … A retired porn star is made an offer he can’t refuse for the sake of his family and future. So he returns to the world he fled years before, all too aware of the danger of opening the door to past temptations and long-buried desires. Can he resist the oblivion and bliss they promise? An audacious and transformative novel about the past, the present and the power of writing and imagination from the award-winning author of Damascus and The Slap.
Image: Australian Arts Review Book Guide 2021 – 2022 (all covers courtesy of their respective publishers)
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