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Love Your Bookshop Day 2021

Love Your Bookshop Day

Happy Saturday. Today is Love Your Bookshop Day, and the occasion couldn’t be timelier after many bookshops in some parts of Australia have had to keep their doors closed for months, and contend with a series of lengthy lockdowns that have affected everyone.

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In Moonland, by Miles Allinson

Afterlives, by Abdulrazak Gurnah, book cover

The birth of a child seems a strange time to start delving into the past, but that’s what happens in the second novel of Melbourne based Australian novelist Miles Allinson, In Moonland (published by Scribe Publications, August 2021). Rather than think about his new born daughter Sylvie, Joe is intent on finding out more about his father, Vincent, who died when Joe was seventeen.

Vincent was a temperamental man, kind one minute, aggressive the next, who once spent time at a spiritual retreat in India. After catching up with Vincent’s surviving friends, Joe discovers something happened in India which had a profound impact on Vincent. Despite what Joe learns though, many questions about his father’s life remain unanswered.

At the time of his death, it was suggested Vincent was trying to stage a car accident so he could make an insurance claim, but Joe discovers that may not have been the case after all. In later years, Sylvie narrates the story, as she travels to meet her estranged father Joe, in a country since ravaged by climate change, and governed by an authoritarian leader.

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The Luminous Solution, by Charlotte Wood

The Luminous Solution (published by Allen & Unwin, September 2021) is new work – non-fiction this time – from Sydney based Australian Stella Prize winning author Charlotte Wood, she of The Weekend fame.

A rich inner life is not just the preserve of the arts. The joys, fears and profound self-discoveries of creativity – through making or building anything that wasn’t there before, any imaginative exploration or attempt to invent – I believe to be the birthright of every person on this earth. If you live your life with curiosity and intention – or would like to – this book is for you.

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Now and Then: Ten Years of Stella

Although the inaugural award was not made until 2013, it is ten years since the inception of the Stella Prize. To mark the occasion, Stella co-founder Chris Gordon will host an online discussion with past winners and shortlisted authors about the impact the award has had, and its outlook over the next decade, this evening at 6:30PM (AEST). Details on how to be involved are here.

Join Stella co-founder Chris Gordon in conversation with Carrie Tiffany (winner of the inaugural Prize in 2013 for Mateship with Birds), Emily Bitto (winner of the 2015 Prize for The Strays), and Claire G Coleman (shortlisted in 2018 for Terra Nullius) as they discuss Stella’s impact thus far, and what might be achieved over the next decade.

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The Animals in That Country, by Laura Jean McKay

The Animals in That Country, by Laura Jean McKay, book cover

A flu of pandemic proportions is sweeping the country, and there seems to be little humanity can do to quell it, try as we might. That’s the somewhat familiar premise of The Animals in That Country (published by Scribe Publications, March 2020), the debut novel of New Zealand based Australian writer Laura Jean McKay.

But this disease had an odd symptom: those who become infected are possessed of the ability to understand the languages of animals. While having a conversation with their pets is probably something many people would cherish, that’s not quite the way this flu works. The infected become privy to the thoughts of every last creature. And for some people the result is an unbearable form of information overload. They die a slow death by madness, from an avalanche of once mute voices.

For straight-talking grandmother Jean, who works in a remote Australian wildlife park, the illness is a blessing in disguise. With the exception of Kimberly, her granddaughter, she much prefers the company of animals anyway. But when Lee, her son, leaves with Kimberly, in a bid to escape the outbreak, Jean, accompanied by a dingo named Sue, sees little choice but to go in search of them.

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It’s time to think twice about Facebook, right?

Tim Biggs, writing for the Sydney Morning Herald, on yesterday’s Facebook outage:

The fact that the impact was so wide may cause you to ponder what we all already know, that Facebook has inserted itself into as many facets of our online lives as possible, for the purposes of the collection and cross-referencing of our data, to drive its experimental advertising machine. And though outages like this are rare and the hyper-connectedness of Facebook services is unlikely to become an ongoing problem in the sense that they’re falling over all the time, it is timely that we’ve been forced to reckon with just how ubiquitous the company is, if only for a few hours.

I don’t use Facebook too much, but was alarmed I couldn’t access Instagram for several hours yesterday. But am I going to look for alternatives? Yeah, right…

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Coffee prices are on the rise

International Coffee Day was last Friday, 1 October 2021, but with it came word that coffee prices are on the rise, and may even double in the next year. While increases are hopefully welcome news to some bean growers who have been struggling with low margins, consumers can expect to pay more for a cuppa in the near future. The current catalyst for rising prices are lower than usual yields on coffee farms in Brazil, one of the world’s largest producers. As a result of severe droughts and then frosts, Arabica harvests may be their lowest in twelve years.

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The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig, book cover

If we live in an infinite universe, or an infinite collection of universes, then all things are possible. There may be alternate versions of you and me, somewhere out there, living lives completely different to the ones we recognise as our present reality. Relative to this universe, that is.

The Midnight Library (published by Allen & Unwin, September 2020), the seventh novel of British author Matt Haig concerns itself with similar themes. In the absence, perhaps, of a multiverse, there is the Midnight Library. It is a place located on the edge of our universe, containing an infinite number of books.

One book is an account of the life you currently lead. Then there is another title, where you can read how your life might be, had you made different choices. It is to this far-flung story repository that Nora, a troubled young woman comes to, after she attempts to end her life. Nora has the chance to read the many stories her life could have been, had she decided to do something else.

Through these books, Nora goes on a tour of her mistakes and regrets, and sees where she went wrong. We all know the drill. Should I have taken the other job? Married someone else instead? It’s a charming, enviable, premise. To be able to undo all those bad decisions, and do the “right” thing. If only it were that simple. But if such a notion does appeal to you, maybe The Midnight Library will too.

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Barbara, by Mathieu Amalric… will the real Barbara stand up?

How best to describe French actor and filmmaker Mathieu Amalric’s 2017 feature Barbara? A movie within a movie? So frequently do the lines between the real and the portrayed blur, it’s not always easy to tell.

Amalric, who also stars as a director making a bio-pic about a cabaret singer named Barbara, becomes enamoured with Brigitte, the actor portraying Barbara. But is it really Brigitte (Jeanne Balibar) he’s obsessed with, or her representation of Barbara? But he’s not the only person on set who’s confused. Brigitte, in learning what she can about Barbara, almost comes to believe she is the late cabaret singer.

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Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi, book cover

Homegoing (published by Penguin Books Australia, June 2017), by Brooklyn, New York based Ghanaian-American writer Yaa Gyasi, is a story spanning seven generations and two continents. In the eighteenth century Effia marries an Englishman, and they move into his Cape Coast mansion in Ghana.

Unbeknownst to Effia, her half-sister Esi, who was born in another village in Ghana, is being held captive in the cells below the house, waiting to be sold into slavery. Esi is later sent to a plantation in America. As time moves forward, the stories of both branches of the family are explored through the descendants of Effia and Esi.

Effia’s side of the family contends with long-running wars in Ghana, while Esi’s children and descendants manage to escape slavery, eventually making their way into the jazz clubs of twentieth century Harlem. The violence, hardships, and racism that both sides of the family confront are narrated by Effia and Esi, and six descendants of each.

Despite spanning several centuries, and being seen through the eyes of fourteen different people, Homegoing weighs in at a none too hefty three hundred and twenty pages. It is a brilliance that has seen the book nominated for a slew of literary awards, including the American Book Award, and the International Dublin Literary Award.

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Nitram, the new feature from Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel

Nitram, is acclaimed Australian filmmaker Justin Kurzel’s (Snowtown, Macbeth, True History of the Kelly Gang) controversial portrayal of events leading up to the Port Arthur massacre in the Australian state of Tasmania in 1996.

With a cast that includes Caleb Landry Jones, Essie Davis, Judy Davis, and Anthony LaPaglia, Nitram tells the story of an isolated, troubled young man (Caleb Landry Jones). When an unlikely friendship with Helen (Essie Davis), a reclusive heiress, comes to a tragic end, his anger and frustration spirals out of control.

Nitram opened in selected cinemas across Australia yesterday, in areas not subject to COVID lockdown restrictions.

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Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton

Ghosts, by Dolly Alderton, book cover

When I first heard the term ghosting, almost ten years ago, it referred to leaving social gatherings without saying goodbye to anyone present, even the host. A person might mutter they were going outside to make a “quick phone call” as a pretext for leaving the room, and bang, they were gone. While ghosting’s context is wider today, it is most commonly applied to situations where someone abruptly ends an intimate relationship, without warning or explanation.

It is a phenomenon that strikes thirty-something Nina, a successful food writer, with everything going for her, in Ghosts (published by Penguin Books Australia, July 2021), the second book by London based journalist and author Dolly Alderton. While her friends are marrying and settling down with families, single Nina feels left behind until she meets Max, the man who seemingly has it all, and wants – so he says – to make a life with her.

But minutes after declaring their love for each other, Max vanishes without a trace. He doesn’t offer a goodbye, nor any reason for breaking off the relationship. But when Nina goes looking for support from her friends and family, no-one’s there. Her friends are distracted by their children, her mother is busy making a new life for herself, while her father is tragically slipping into the mist of dementia.

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The Midnight Watch, by David Dyer

The Midnight Watch, by David Dyer, book cover

The tragic 1912 sinking of the RMS Titanic has intrigued and fascinated me for as long as I can remember. At age ten or eleven I found a battered copy of the late Clive Cussler’s 1976 novel Raise the Titanic!, in a box of books left out on the street, and then a short time later saw the 1953 film of the vessel’s sinking, although all I recall of that now is its haunting ending.

While it’s been sometime since I watched or read anything Titanic related, The Midnight Watch (published by Penguin Books Australia, February 2017), by Sydney based Australian former ship’s officer, and lawyer, turned teacher and writer David Dyer, recently caught my eye. The story is a fictionalised recounting of events on board the SS Californian, one of the ships in the vicinity of the ill-fated Titanic as it was sinking.

While the captain and senior officers of the Californian were aware the Titanic was in distress – it fired numerous distress flares into the night – they chose to keep their distance, even though they were close enough to see the stricken vessel. Why the Californian stayed put is a question The Midnight Watch attempts to resolve, and it is difficult not to wonder how many lives might have been saved had it rendered assistance.

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Titane by Julia Ducournau, buckle in for a wild ride

Titane, the latest feature from French filmmaker Julia Ducournau, has been described by the BBC as the most shocking film of 2021. Yes, that make me look too.

As a child, Alexia is badly injured in a car accident, and needs a titanium plate fitted in her head. On her release from hospital she snubs her parents and instead hugs their car. From there Alexia develops what could only be called an obsession with cars, one eventually resulting in her becoming pregnant to… a car.

It’s a violent, gory, blood-soaked, utterly implausible ride, but that didn’t stop Titane from taking out the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival.

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