Bookseller’s Journal: Stay Safe … and Read If You Can
One weekend ago I cycled to work through a fog so thick it materialized in shiny stripes on the sleeves of my winter coat. In the bookstore, we leaned over cardboard coffee mugs, waving to patrons as they stepped out of a gauze-covered Hindley Street.
Sailors fresh out of their Saturday nights, with all the weather in the world. Weekend revelers rush to pick up birthday presents. Old friends, refreshing their shelves and remembering days gone by. A brave soul who dared to mention that she had never been able to watch it all Twin peaks, then underwent my advice on the ideal sequence to watch it.
And regular customers in their afternoon ballet finery – bespoke suits and rich velvet – rave about the counter for the performers, laying out the printed program for us to inspect.
All – all of us – in the world. To move forward, we thought (if we thought about it), after winter 2020.
Today the bookstore – all bookstores in Adelaide – is closed to the public. I would make a joke here about how the books are really essential, if the situation were less serious. Instead, I’m going to share some of the intriguing and excellent new releases that you can buy from your favorite bookstore… on the other side of things.
The Shut Ins, through Catherine brabon (Allen & Unwin), is an isolated novel with a twist: it explores the world of hikikomori, a (rare) Japanese social phenomenon where young people withdraw from all social contact, not leaving their homes (or sometimes just their rooms) for months, or even years, at a time.
In this novel set in Japan, Brabon, a former Vogel laureate, tells four connected stories. Mai went to school with hikikomori Hikaru; 10 years later, her mother hires her as a “rental sister” to write her letters to coax her from her room. Her conservative new husband, J, regularly visits a hostess at a Tokyo bar, seeing her as the perfect woman he desires. We also have the stories of Hiromi, Hikaru’s mother, ashamed of his social failure, and Hiromi himself, who plunges us into his envy for the safety of his room, and explains why he doesn’t feel as popular representations of hikikomori represent his life.
Approved by Hannah Kent and Emily Bitto, this understated and elegant novel is inspired by the author’s actual encounters in Japan and his fascination with achiragawa, “A place of dreams, death and possibility”.
If you’d rather escape reality than commit to it, the Crime Queen of Baltimore Laura Lippmanthe new novel by, Dream girl (Faber), has been compared to Stephen King’s poisonous fandom masterpiece Misery (King is a Lippman fan, as is Gillian Flynn). Writer Gerry Andersen has never gone beyond his bestselling novel Dream girl, and it’s been stuck for quite a while. In Baltimore, after caring for his mother in his last days, he has a debilitating fall and is cared for by two women: his night nurse and his personal assistant. Meanwhile, he is harassed by phone calls from a woman claiming to be the first Dream Girl. But there is no such person … and to find his stalker, he must understand the blurring line between fact and fiction.
Lippman, who was a journalist before becoming a novelist, has just published a book of personal essays (her first), also brilliantly titled My bad life (Faber) and presented as a nice little card. In it, she shifts the focus from the imperfect and complicated women she writes about in her novels to one in particular: herself.
Her voice is ironic, harsh and vulnerable, as she explores learning to love her aging and technically imperfect body (after many years of punishing it), being mistaken for her daughter’s grandmother, growing up in Waco, Texas, write detective novels, a friendship with Anthony Bourdain, and an excellent essay that I will better explain by telling you that her husband is David Simon and that it is called “The men explain the thread to me”. If you’re a fan of Lippman’s fiction – or the personal essay form – it’s worth a visit.
Pop culture critic and screenwriter Clem Bastow‘s Late Bloomer: How an autism diagnosis saved my life (Hardie Grant) is a book I’ve been waiting to read since I first heard about it – and one that has the potential to transform the general understanding of how autism presents itself in women and men. people of various genders.
In this candid, witty and generously vulnerable memoir, Bastow talks about her autism diagnosis at the age of 36 and looks back on the great challenges and achievements of her life to understand how it shaped her. From his childhood obsession with dinosaurs to channeling his passion for music into a self-taught career as a music critic (modeled after Lester Bangs after watching Almost known), then her obsession with the cinema of being a screenwriter, then a screen speaker, she is wonderful – and inspiring – to write down her autistic strengths. Equally important, she shares her continued difficulty in adapting to social environments, from school to workplaces, with visceral details that take the reader behind the “mask” that many autistic women learn to wear.
Memories of autistic women are rare – and those of Australian women even more so. And this is the first memoir I have found written by an autistic woman whose special interests are related to pop culture. It is therefore a precious resource simply because it exists. But because Bastow is a writer first and foremost, it’s also a very, very good read (as Christos Tsiolkas, Clem’s longtime Triple R co-host, confirms on the cover), and I highly recommend it. to all those who even have a marked interest in this subject.
Amani Haydarmemory of Mother’s injury (Macmillan) is another vitally important contribution to Australian literature; she fills a gap by writing about the experience of domestic violence from the perspective of a Muslim woman. Haydar’s story is unique and heartbreaking: While pregnant with her first child, her mother was murdered by her father in front of one of her sisters, who was injured while trying to defend her mother.
His mother had long complained about his father’s emotional abuse, but he had never been physically abusive. Haydar had always viewed her parents’ arranged marriage (her mother was 17 at the time) as a bad match, and although she sympathized with her mother’s misfortune, she had never viewed her as a victim of violence. domestic or endangered. In retrospect, she gathers the evidence she didn’t know how to see as danger signs.
This story is set against the backdrop of two other key events – the murder trial of Haydar’s father, in which he is supported by his family (who harass Haydar and his sisters for making statements against him), and the death of her beloved grandmother in Lebanon, as she fled an Israeli civilian strike. Both events made international headlines; she and her family learned of her grandmother’s death while watching television.
Another common thread – from the first sentence of the first chapter – is Haydar’s loving and supportive marriage to her own husband, Moey, a Lebanese Muslim whom she met and fell in love with in college. His unwavering love, empathy, and unconditional prioritization of his needs through his mother’s death and his father’s trial are a deliberate counterpoint to his father’s toxic masculinity (whose ego was “fragile against failure or insubordination ”), his brother and his paternal family. “I know that a better kind of masculinity exists because my partner filled the empty shoes left by several men in my life without hesitation.”
Haydar, lawyer and Archibald Prize-winning artist, writes incisively and intelligently about her experience of losing her mother and grandmother to (respectively) domestic and state violence, blending her personal experience with knowledge that she has accumulated through research, reading, therapy and working with other survivors. The result is a compelling read.
I just read the group’s text confirming that of course Imprints is closed for the next seven days. “Stay safe, say sane, and read if you can.”
Great advice for all of us, I think.
Jo Case is a bookseller at Imprints Booksellers on Hindley Street and associate editor at Wakefield Press.
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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.