The Broke and the Bookish host a weekly meme called Top Ten Tuesday.
This week we nominate our Top Ten Autumn reads (or Spring reads if you happen to live on the other side of the world). As per usual my list is top heavy with Australian authors.
The burning question on everybody’s lips is how many of these books will I actually read in the next three months?
My Top Ten 2017 Autumn Reads are:
Dying by Cory Taylor (2016)
Shortlisted for this year’s Stella Prize, I would like to read this before the winner is announced in mid April. Sadly Taylor died not long after this book was published last year.
Cory Taylor is one of Australia’s celebrated novelists, the author of the brilliant Me and Mr Booker (winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Pacific region), and My Beautiful Enemy (shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award).
At the age of sixty, she is dying of melanoma-related brain cancer. Her illness is no longer treatable. As she tells us in her remarkable last book, Dying: A Memoir, she now weighs less than her neighbour’s retriever.
Written in the space of a few weeks, in a tremendous creative surge, this powerful and beautifully written book is a clear-eyed account of what dying has taught Cory: she describes the tangle of her feelings, she reflects on her life, and she remembers the lives and deaths of her parents. She tells us why she would like to be able to choose the circumstances of her own death.
Dying: A Memoir is a breathtaking book about vulnerability and strength, courage and humility, anger and acceptance. It is a deeply affecting meditation on dying, but it is also a funny and wise tribute to life.
4 3 2 1 by Paul Auster (2017)
This one is as heavy as a brick, but I’m so excited to have a new Auster to look forward to and a weight training program all in one!
Astonishing, a masterpiece, Paul Auster’s greatest, most satisfying, most vivid and heartbreaking novel — a sweeping and surprising story of inheritance, family, love and life itself.
Nearly two weeks early, on March 3, 1947, in the maternity ward of Beth Israel Hospital in Newark, New Jersey, Archibald Isaac Ferguson, the one and only child of Rose and Stanley Ferguson, is born. From that single beginning, Ferguson’s life will take four simultaneous and independent fictional paths. Four identical Fergusons made of the same DNA, four boys who are the same boy, go on to lead four parallel and entirely different lives. Family fortunes diverge. Athletic skills and sex lives and friendships and intellectual passions contrast. Each Ferguson falls under the spell of the magnificent Amy Schneiderman, yet each Amy and each Ferguson have a relationship like no other. Meanwhile, readers will take in each Ferguson’s pleasures and ache from each Ferguson’s pains, as the mortal plot of each Ferguson’s life rushes on.
As inventive and dexterously constructed as anything Paul Auster has ever written, yet with a passion for realism and a great tenderness and fierce attachment to history and to life itself that readers have never seen from Auster before. 4 3 2 1 is a marvelous and unforgettably affecting tour de force.
Maybe this might explain some of the random headaches I’ve been getting…
Kate Grenville had always associated perfume with elegance and beauty. Then the headaches started.
Like perhaps a quarter of the population, Grenville reacts badly to the artificial fragrances around us: other people’s perfumes, and all those scented cosmetics, cleaning products and air fresheners. On a book tour in 2015, dogged by ill health, she started wondering: what’s in fragrance? Who tests it for safety? What does it do to people?
The more Grenville investigated, the more she felt this was a story that should be told. The chemicals in fragrance can be linked not only to short-term problems like headaches and asthma, but to long-term ones like hormone disruption and cancer. Yet products can be released onto the market without testing. They’re regulated only by the same people who make and sell them. And the ingredients don’t even have to be named on the label.
This book is based on careful research into the science of scent and the power of the fragrance industry. But, as you’d expect from an acclaimed novelist, it’s also accessible and personal. The Case Against Fragrance will make you see—and smell—the world differently.
A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan (2017)
Squeal! I was sooooo excited when my ARC for this one recently arrived from Text Publishing.
Helen Garner is one of Australia’s most important and most admired writers. She is revered for her fearless honesty in the pursuit of her craft.
But Garner also courts controversy, not least because she refuses to be constrained by the rules of literary form. She has never been afraid to write herself into her nonfiction, and many of her own experiences help to shape her fiction. But who is the ‘I’ in Helen Garner’s work?
Bernadette Brennan’s A Writing Life is the first full-length study of Garner’s forty years of work, a literary portrait that maps all of her books against the different stages of her life.
Brennan has had access to previously unavailable papers in Garner’s archive, and she provides a lively and rigorous reading of the books, journals and correspondence of one of Australia’s most beloved women of letters.
Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (2017)
I’m hearing mixed reviews about this one, but the cover has an autumnal tone, so here it is!
An extraordinary story of love and hope from the bestselling, Man Booker-shortlisted author of The Reluctant Fundamentalist
In a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war, Saeed and Nadia share a cup of coffee, and their story begins. It will be a love story but also a story about war and a world in crisis, about how we live now and how we might live tomorrow. Before too long, the time will come for Nadia and Saeed to leave their homeland. When the streets are no longer useable and all options are exhausted, this young couple will join the great outpouring of those fleeing a collapsing city, hoping against hope, looking for their place in the world . . .
The Patriots by Sana Krasikov (2017)
Another brick of a book, but an epic multi-generational Russian is right up my alley!
A sweeping multigenerational debut novel about idealism, betrayal, and family secrets that takes us from Brooklyn in the 1930s to Soviet Russia to post-Cold War America
When the Great Depression hits, Florence Fein leaves Brooklyn College for what appears to be a plum job in Moscow—and the promise of love and independence. But once in Russia, she quickly becomes entangled in a country she can’t escape. Many years later, Florence’s son, Julian, will make the opposite journey, immigrating back to the United States. His work in the oil industry takes him on frequent visits to Moscow, and when he learns that Florence’s KGB file has been opened, he arranges a business trip to uncover the truth about his mother, and to convince his son, Lenny, who is trying to make his fortune in the new Russia, to return home. What he discovers is both chilling and heartbreaking: an untold story of what happened to a generation of Americans abandoned by their country.
The Patriots is a riveting evocation of the Cold War years, told with brilliant insight and extraordinary skill. Alternating between Florence’s and Julian’s perspectives, it is at once a mother-son story and a tale of two countries bound in a dialectic dance; a love story and a spy story; both a grand, old-fashioned epic and a contemporary novel of ideas. Through the history of one family moving back and forth between continents over three generations, The Patriots is a poignant tale of the power of love, the rewards and risks of friendship, and the secrets parents and children keep from one another.
The Birdman’s Wife by Melissa Ashley (2016)
This one is getting lots of lovely reviews here in Australia. And it has a gorgeous cover to boot!
Inspired by a letter found tucked inside her famous husband’s papers, The Birdman’s Wife imagines the fascinating inner life of Elizabeth Gould, who was so much more than just the woman behind the man.
Elizabeth was a woman ahead of her time, juggling the demands of her artistic life with her roles as wife, lover and helpmate to a passionate and demanding genius, and as a devoted mother who gave birth to eight children. In a society obsessed with natural history and the discovery of new species, the birdman’s wife was at its glittering epicentre. Her artistry breathed life into hundreds of exotic finds, from her husband’s celebrated collections to Charles Darwin’s famous Galapagos finches.
Fired by Darwin’s discoveries, in 1838 Elizabeth defied convention by joining John on a trailblazing expedition to the untamed wilderness of Van Diemen’s Land and New South Wales to collect and illustrate Australia’s ‘curious’ birdlife.
From a naïve and uncertain young girl to a bold adventurer determined to find her own voice and place in the world, The Birdman’s Wife paints an indelible portrait of an extraordinary woman overlooked by history, until now.
The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne (2017)
It has been a while since I read a book by Boyne. The autumn colour scheme on the cover as well as my married name being referenced by the main character has me intrigued enough to include it here today.
Cyril Avery is not a real Avery or at least that’s what his adoptive parents tell him. And he never will be. But if he isn’t a real Avery, then who is he?
Born out of wedlock to a teenage girl cast out from her rural Irish community and adopted by a well-to-do if eccentric Dublin couple via the intervention of a hunchbacked Redemptorist nun, Cyril is adrift in the world, anchored only tenuously by his heartfelt friendship with the infinitely more glamourous and dangerous Julian Woodbead.
At the mercy of fortune and coincidence, he will spend a lifetime coming to know himself and where he came from – and over his three score years and ten, will struggle to discover an identity, a home, a country and much more.
In this, Boyne’s most transcendent work to date, we are shown the story of Ireland from the 1940s to today through the eyes of one ordinary man. The Heart’s Invisible Furies is a novel to make you laugh and cry while reminding us all of the redemptive power of the human spirit.
Nutshell by Ian McEwen (2016)
More autumnal colours and another book with mixed reviews.
Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She’s still in the marital home – a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse – but not with John. Instead, she’s with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy’s womb.
Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.
Havana: A Subtropical Delirium by Mark Kurlanski (2017)
After our trip to Cuba in January, Mr Books and I are constantly on the lookout for more books to feed our fascination. Kurlansky is an Australian journalist and I’m looking forward to reading about his impressions.
Award-winning author Mark Kurlansky presents an insider’s view of Havana: the elegant, tattered city he has come to know over more than thirty years. Part cultural history, part travelogue, with recipes, historic engravings, photographs, and Kurlansky’s own pen-and-ink drawings throughout, Havana celebrates the city’s singular music, literature, baseball, and food; its five centuries of outstanding, neglected architecture; and its extraordinary blend of cultures.
Like all great cities, Havana has a rich history that informs the vibrant place it is today–from the native Taino to Columbus’s landing, from Cuba’s status as a U.S. protectorate to Batista’s dictatorship and Castro’s revolution, from Soviet presence to the welcoming of capitalist tourism. Havana is a place of extremes: a beautifully restored colonial city whose cobblestone streets pass through areas that have not been painted or repaired since the revolution.
Kurlansky shows Havana through the eyes of Cuban writers, such as Alejo Carpentier and José Martí, and foreigners, including Graham Greene and Hemingway. He introduces us to Cuban baseball and its highly opinionated fans; the city’s music scene, alive with the rhythm of Son; its culinary legacy. Once the only country Americans couldn’t visit, Cuba is now opening to us, as is Havana, not only by plane or boat but also through Mark Kurlansky’s multilayered and electrifying portrait of the long-elusive city.
I’ve just started 4 3 2 1 and I’m loving it so far. I can feel myself settling into this epic family story and can’t wait for the parallel universe/stories to start.
What do you hope to read this autumn?