Read This

FAME’s “Read This” is where you can keep up to date with what FAME’s committee and members are reading, as well as see reviews of books and articles. Have a favourite new book you’d like to review? Or a classic you can’t help but reread? Submit it to us via http://bit.ly/FAMEContent – we’d love to hear you’re reading!

The Cloudspotters Guide by Gavin-Prector Pinney

Review by Xiao-Xiao Kingham

It is so easy in life to get swept up by the slew of demands and deadlines that are constantly demanding attention. The university semester can often feel like an anxious cycle of study, assignments, exams and results. In his book The Cloudspotter’s Guide, Gavin-Prector Pinney promotes the idea of taking time to slow down and be mindful of the present, simply through the act of looking up. As he puts it, cloud-gazing is the legitimisation of doing nothing and in the chaos, worry and constant pressure that comes with living in the digital age, the aimlessness of doing nothing can truly feel like a much needed breath of fresh air.

I loved the mindfulness that the Cloud-Spotters Guide promotes and its call to live life with your head in the clouds. The book itself is separated into chapters that detail the different classifications of clouds and the science behind their existence. Though natural history books can tend to become a bit dry, Pinney prevents this through fun anecdotes, stories and intriguing facts all about clouds. Ultimately, there is something almost grounding (pardon the pun) about going outside after reading this book, no matter where you are in the world, and being able to look up and somehow understand the pointless natural wonders that command the sky above.

Normal People by Sally Rooney

Review by Leah Alysandratos

I may be late to the party with Sally Rooney’s ‘Normal People’, but my goodness, what an amazing party.

Within the story fuelled with sex, friendships, family struggles and years of self-realisation, Rooney’s refreshingly simple trademark of writing works to tell a new-age story without being cryptic. She just tells it as it is. In anticipation for the series adaptation (Stan, Hulu and BBC Three: https://youtu.be/fsKmjOuPq9A), I finally retrieved the novel from my overflowing bookshelf and found myself devouring it in one evening. There is an infinite amount of discussion within this story, but I find myself not wanting to divulge too much to the world. As a fictional story about unmoving love, fragile relationships and a connection between two people that extended beyond the confines of self-awareness, I found so much more then I believed possible. Essentially, I discovered myself having my own journey as the novel progressed.

The principal characters, seemingly to the world whom are meant to be ‘normal people’ (but yet still find themselves simultaneously always isolated, picked out, ignored or the subject of gossip), Marianne and Connell epitomise the growth of teenage relationships into that of one of young adults in a 2000s Ireland. Their connection is clearly something distinctly special when Rooney launches straight into the story, both characters expressing their curiosity in the deeper meaning behind each other’s existence, rather than taking them in for who they seemed to be, or what the worlds of high school and college wanted to define them as. With Rooney’s blunt and well-paced story-telling, launching from close timeframes, to flashbacks, back to the “current scene”, as readers, we are given a chance for a greater appreciation (or if you like, disgust), for how quickly the world moves around us; how easily a moment can become a memory for Marianne and Connell, or us, learning about their relationship. As soon as we think we understand their struggles, we are launched into a different moment in time, disorienting our comprehension once again.

It’s all so simple though, really. We are at-the-bat given a time, setting and characters without having it spelled out for us; forced in the middle of these people’s lives. We are never truly told what our characters look like, it being left up to us to decide how we want to envision our fictional stars and starlets. We are thrown back and forth between moments in the timeframe, having to piece together how irrelevant some facets of life in-between can be in Marianne and Connell’s self-discovery, whether they may be together or apart this time. We are made to willingly accept the circumstances that have made these people who they are, rather than reject them for the choices they make that defy the norms of young adult/adult literature. We, as readers, can do this because Rooney has created real people, not one-dimensional characters. True, there is nothing overly innovative (spoilers ahead) about the young boy growing up with a single mother, who was pregnant at young, scrambling to make ends meet, or the girl who is born into privilege and money, but is also struggling, this time to garner attention, affection or any sort of ‘love’ from her family (also missing a father who used to be abusive, attending to and possibly explaining some of her private, sexual desires). The popular, well-liked boy and the weird, loney girl (these social positions changing later on when they transition from high school to college) is, again, not a new feat.

You could even find yourself sighing at this shift, wondering why Rooney would apply such an inane change, but it’s important. It is really vital that Marianne and Connell go through so many changes in their lives because they otherwise wouldn’t have grown and found some sense of self-identity they approach at the end. Connell was well-loved, and well-lost, at the commencement of the novel, but he leaves us with a certainty in his future — who he truly loves, and how his next choice in life will play out. As readers, we’ve learnt what to expect from the couple, and we don’t need Rooney to tell us what will happen to them after the novel ends, because, if they have truly become the people they believe they are now, we already know how it will eventuate. As someone who really detests stories that involve what I like to call ‘characters wasting time apart when they could be together’, Rooney’s story made me feel like that this time, it was going to be okay. Instead of screwing it up all over again, they end finally at the stage when we know that they will do right this time, not just by each other, but for themselves too.

Love across disparate social class, and mental health, as well, aren’t new topics to be discussed in modern, or traditional, literature, but the relevance, and the way Rooney elegantly, yet also brashly, ventures through the moments that describe these themes, is really well done. She finds ways to discuss delicate (yet, very important) topics; suicide, mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, domestic abuse, insecurities, and so, so much more. I found myself holding on to the pages of this book because of the hope embedded within me that Rooney could heal her world (and mine) of all of these problems. But she didn’t. What she did assure me was that despite living in this flawed macrocosm, where racism, socio-economic class differences, confusing sexuality, politics, and more, abound, Marianne and Connell turned out okay. So maybe we all can too.

The word ‘bittersweet’ (one that I’ve learned not to hate, for as sad as stories that define this word make me feel, I’ve grown to deeply appreciate the rawness, the emotion and the realness behind what it means to be ‘bittersweet’) truly encapsulates the main themes and concepts of ‘Normal People’. If this book was the first swish of that new red wine that Rooney poured into my glass, upon that sip, there’d an acrid taste left on my tongue, with notes of rejection, undertones of insecurity, a coating of self-loathing on my gums and a loneliness from the feeling of self-rejected worth. But as the wine travels down my throat, it warms my lungs with sweet hope and love. It fills my chest with a new-found belief in destiny and the prospect that sometimes, the journey we go on will be worth the pain that comes along with it.

Rooney, ‘Normal People’ is a really damn good wine and I cannot wait to drink it again.

The End of the World is Bigger Than Love by Davina Bell

Review by Xiao-Xiao Kingham

The End of the World is Bigger Than Love by Melbourne author, Davina Bell is a post-apocalyptic read like no other. It takes place on a remote island where identical twin sisters, Summer and Winter, spend their days gorging on canned delicacies and reading through their mothers literature collection. Through their shifting perspectives, the book slowly hints at the mysterious course of events that led to their lonely seclusion and the end of humanity.

This book is definitely one for any Murukami fan, with a dream-like narrative that features utterly intriguing characters (Mikie, the beached whale who spouts deep truths is a particular delight). Summer and Winter are complete opposites that both complement and clash against each other’s personalities in the way only siblings can. Their detailed narration of past and present day events read deeply poetic and surreal yet oftentimes prove frustratingly unreliable. What results is a hauntingly beautiful work that will stay with you long after you’ve finished it.

Lockdown Library

By Daniel Lopez

Being stuck at home doesn’t have to suck. The human imagination — the ability to think beyond one’s own time and place, and to dream about the future and to reflect on the past — is what brings us together as a human family. So, transcend the walls of your room/house and take a break from Netflix/Stan. Grab a book and have an adventure. Not sure where to start? Then check out this handy little list.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Escape to a different place — Eastern Nigeria. Escape to a different time — the late 1960s. And enter a bloody and tragic time period when a young country, ravaged by colonialism, was tearing itself apart in the Nigerian Civil War. Ngozi Adichie weaves together the stories of three distinct but intimately connected characters to capture the sense of despair, chaos and lost opportunity that imbues her novel. Her characters try to escape this brutal war, but at the cost of their love for one another and their hope for the future. This narrative-driven story is one that you surely won’t be able to put down.

Image Credit: Cover of Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie from Penguin Random House

Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. Murakami is a master storyteller and this brilliant and beguiling novel exemplifies the very best of his imagination. A lonely portrait painter moves into a mysterious home nestled in the Japanese forests. But the home is filled with sinister secrets and unsatisfied desires, and the painter is put on a path that he neither chose nor can escape. The surrealism that Murakami is so known for then takes hold, with endless plot twists, mythical characters and a hint of horror. The novel explores the themes of parenthood, alienation, bravery, and above all — art. It is an exploration into the world of an artist, whether it be music or portraits, and what happens when that fragile world is turned upside down.

Image credit: Cover of Killing Commendatore by Haruki Murakami. Murakami from Penguin Books

No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani. While we put up social walls to keep people alive, walls have also been used as instruments to keep people out. This book is a penetrating meditation on the deliberate exclusion of asylum seekers and refugees from Australia’s political concern and moral life. Boochani exposes the horrors of Australia’s overseas detention centres in its rawest form. He describes in excruciating detail everything from its putrid and revolting living conditions to the invisible systems of insidious control that strip away one’s own sense of identity. The narrative is punctuated with stanzas of poetry written in the Kurdish-Iranian tradition, giving it a surreal and almost magical quality. This is a consciousness raising autobiographical fiction book that captures its characters’ futile attempt to transcend the walls imposed around them.

Image Credit: Cover of No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani from Pan Macmillan Australia

Who Owns History? by Geoffrey Robertson QC. Colonialism is one of the few historical processes that continues to have an enduring impact. Geoffrey Robertson brings this to the fore in his new book, where he lays bare the ahistorical, unsubstantiated and illogical justifications of almost-exclusively Western and wealthy museums which refuse to return stolen artefacts to their rightful owners. He takes as his central case study the British Museum’s refusal to repatriate the marbles of the Athenian Parthenon to Greece. While he focuses on this act of blatant vandalism and unconscionable theft to demonstrate the injustices of the past, he also looks towards the creation of a human rights approach to the repatriation of stolen artefacts and the creation of a more just world where institutions such as the British Museum cease to be instruments in the process of recolonisation.

Image Credit: Cover of Who Owns History by Geoffrey Robertson QC from Goodreads

Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman. While the Earth cannot speak out, there is a firm of lawyers who are speaking up. Enter ClientEarth — a global legal charity that holds governments and companies to account on behalf of the Earth and the environment. This book, co-written by ClientEarth’s CEO and founder, traces the development of global environmental law and advocacy from the 1970s to the present. It is filled in intriguing anecdotes about small local campaigns to larger reflections on the global structures that place profits above the environment. This is compulsory reading for anyone who wants to understand how the law can be used to effect positive change in favour of those without a voice — whether it be the Earth or its future and yet-to-be-born inhabitants.

Image Credit: Cover of Client Earth by James Thornton and Martin Goodman from Scribe Publications