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Lenny’s Book of Everything

Karen Foxlee     Recommended by Sharon    

Our mother had a dark heart feeling. Lenny’s younger brother has a rare form of gigantism and while Lenny’s fiercely protective, it isn’t always easy being the sister of ‘the giant’. A book about finding good in the bad that will break your heart while raising your spirits in the way that only a classic novel can.

Lenny, small and sharp, has a younger brother Davey who won’t stop growing – and at seven is as tall as a man. Raised by their mother, they have food and a roof over their heads, but not much else.

The bright spot every week is the arrival of the latest issue of the Burrell’s Build-It-at-Home Encyclopedia. Through the encyclopedia, Lenny and Davey experience the wonders of the world – beetles, birds, quasars, quartz – and dream about a life of freedom and adventure. But as Davey’s health deteriorates, Lenny realises that some wonders can’t be named.

A wonderful book for children and adults alike.
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Less

Andrew Sean Greer     Recommended by Sharon    

Who says you can’t run away from your problems? You are a failed novelist about to turn fifty. A wedding invitation arrives in the mail: your boyfriend of the past nine years is engaged to someone else. You can’t say yes–it would be too awkward–and you can’t say no–it would look like defeat. On your desk are a series of invitations to half-baked literary events around the world. QUESTION – How do you arrange to skip town? ANSWER – You accept them all. What would possibly go wrong?

Arthur Less will almost fall in love in Paris, almost fall to his death in Berlin, barely escape to a Moroccan ski chalet from a Saharan sandstorm, accidentally book himself as the (only) writer-in-residence at a Christian Retreat Center in Southern India, and encounter, on a desert island in the Arabian Sea, the last person on Earth he wants to face. Somewhere in there: he will turn fifty. Through it all, there is his first love. And there is his last.Because, despite all these mishaps, missteps, misunderstandings and mistakes, Less is, above all, a love story.

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Normal People

Sally Rooney     Recommended by Sharon    

Connell and Marianne grow up in the same small town in rural Ireland. The similarities end there; they are from very different worlds. When they both earn places at Trinity College in Dublin, a connection that has grown between them lasts long into the following years.

This is an exquisite love story about how a person can change another person’s life – a simple yet profound realisation that unfolds beautifully over the course of the novel. It tells us how difficult it is to talk about how we feel and it tells us – blazingly – about cycles of domination, legitimacy and privilege. Alternating menace with overwhelming tenderness, Sally Rooney’s second novel breathes fiction with new life.

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Like Nothing on this Earth: a Literary History of the Wheatbelt

Tony Hughes-d'Aeth     Recommended by Alan    

As much a history of the wheatbelt as it is a literary history.

During the twentieth century, the southwestern corner of Australia was cleared for intensive agriculture. In the space of several decades, an arc from Esperance to Geraldton, an area of land larger than England, was cleared of native flora for the farming of grain and livestock. Today, satellite maps show a sharp line ringing Perth. Inside that line, tan-coloured land is the most visible sign from space of human impact on the planet. Where once there was a vast mosaic of scrub and forest, there is now the Western Australian wheatbelt. Hughes-d’Aeth examines the creation of the wheatbelt through its creative writing. Some of Australia’s most well-known and significant writers – Facey, Cowan, Hewett, Davis, Jolley, and Kinsella – wrote about their experience of the wheatbelt. Each gives insight into the human and environmental effects of this massive-scale agriculture.

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Looking at Pictures

Robert Walser     Recommended by Alan    

“…a good-humoured, sweet Beckett, Walser is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer.” —Susan Sontag

An elegant collection, with gorgeous full-color art reproductions, Looking at Pictures presents a little-known aspect of the eccentric Swiss writer’s genius. Somewhere between short-story and criticism, these essays consider Van Gogh, Manet, Rembrandt, Cranach, Watteau, Fragonard, Bruegel, and his own brother Karl, as well as the character of the artist and of the dilettante and the differences between painters and poets. Each piece is marked by Walser’s unique eye, his delicate sensitivity, and his very particular sensibilities—and all are touched by his magic screwball wit.

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Ema the Captive

Cesar Aira     Recommended by Alan    

In nineteenth-century Argentina, Ema, a delicate woman of indeterminate origins, is captured by soldiers and taken to live as a concubine in a crude fort on the very edges of civilization. The trip is appalling (deprivations and rapes prevail along the way), yet the real story commences once Ema arrives at the fort. There she takes on a succession of lovers among the soldiers and Indians, before launching a grand and brave business— an enterprise never before conceived—there in the wilds. As is usual with Aira’s work, the wonder if Ema, The Captive emanates from the wonderful details of customs, beauty, and language, and the curious, perplexing reality of human nature.

In typically unpredictable Aira fashion, Ema emerges triumphant.

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The Golden Age

Joan London     Recommended by Alan    

Reading The Golden Age felt like experiencing a piece of music, London’s writing is so beautifully balanced and euphoric.
With tenderness and humor, The Golden Age tells a deeply moving story about illness and recovery. It is a book about learning to navigate the unfamiliar, about embracing music, poetry, death, and, most importantly, life.

Frank Gold, 13yo refugee from wartime Hungary, is learning to walk again after contracting polio in Australia. At the Golden Age Polio Home in Leederville, he sees Elsa, a fellow patient, and they form a forbidden, passionate bond. The Golden Age becomes the micro-world that reflects the larger one, where everything occurs- love and desire, music, death, and poetry. It is a place where children must learn they’re alone, even within their families.

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The Last Wolf & Herman

Laszlo Krasznahorkai     Recommended by Alan    

These intense, perfect novellas, full of Krasznhorkai’s signature sense of foreboding and dark irony, are perfect examples of his craft. Often considered difficult this beautiful edition demonstrates Krasznahorkai’s underlying humour.

In Herman, a master trapper is asked to clear a forest’s last ‘noxious beasts.’ Herman begins with great zeal, although in time he switches sides, deciding to track entirely new game. The same events are then related from the perspective of strange visitors to the region, a group of hyper-sexualised aristocrats who interrupt their orgies to pitch in with the manhunt of poor Herman…

In The Last Wolf, a philosophy professor is mistakenly hired to write the true tale of the last wolf of Extremadura, a barren stretch of Spain. His miserable experience is narrated in a single, rolling sentence to a patently bored bartender in a dreary Berlin bar.

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Cigarette Girl

Masahiko Matsumoto     Recommended by Alan    

Welcome to the quiet, evocative urban dramas of Masahiko Matsumoto, one of the leading lights of the Japanese alternative-comics movement known as “gekiga.” Originally published in 1974, these eleven stories now form the first English-language collection of Matsumoto’s mature work. His shy, uncertain heroes face broken hearts, changing families, money troubles, sexual anxiety, and the pressures of tradition, but with a whimsy and lightness of touch that is Matsumoto’s trademark.

Beautifully published collection. No big eyes, big boobs, robots or action.

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Human Acts

Han Kang     Recommended by Alan    

South Korea’s emergence from military dictatorship in the late 70s is little-known in Australia. This great novel set around the Gwangju uprising gives some idea of the sacrifices many ordinary Koreans made to achieve democracy.
Gwangju, South Korea, 1980. In the wake of a viciously suppressed student uprising, a boy searches for his friend’s corpse, a consciousness searches for its abandoned body, and a brutalised country searches for a voice. In a sequence of interconnected chapters the victims and the bereaved encounter censorship, denial, forgiveness and the echoing agony of the original trauma. Human Acts is a universal book, utterly modern and profoundly timeless. A controversial bestseller and award-winning book in Korea.

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