I set myself a challenge of reading more non-fiction books in 2019, so when I saw Anna Funder’s Stasiland at the Perth Festival Writers Week bookshop (run by the terrific team at Boffins Books), I had to buy it. My mother’s parents migrated to Australia from Germany after WW2, leaving behind family, friends, a language, and a history. Many of my maternal grandmother’s family members lived in what became East Germany, and I remember how excited Mum was when a letter arrived with a GDR stamp on it. But there was so much they couldn’t say, and so much we didn’t know. With Stasiland I’ve finally been given insight to what it was like behind the Wall. By turns gut-punching and heartbreaking, this account gleaned from interviews with activists, former Stasi operators, victims, and perpetrators, forms a powerful and confronting whole that will stay with me for a long time. If you like journalistic-style non-fiction and you haven’t read Stasiland yet, find yourself a copy and dive in.
Thought-provoking and confronting in a different way, Imperfect by Lee Kofman is the book I’ve been recommending to anyone who asks lately. Imperfect (clever cover design makes the title read I’m Perfect, sans apostrophe) skillfully weaves memoir with interviews in a compelling and heart-tugging way. Reading this was like a good kick up the bum for complaining about minor “flaws” that really don’t affect my quality of life. But even more so, it challenged me to ask myself, “What preconceived notions do I – and the society I live in – have about the way people should look?”. And why are these notions there? Why are we fearful when we see someone who looks different? Is this something we can control (perhaps outwardly we can) or are these fears innate within? What I appreciated about this book was the honest and raw writing – the sharing of pieces of Lee that have long been hidden – as well as the sensitive and compassionate insight into people who choose extreme modification or scarification, even when Lee herself was left wondering why.
Brimming with curiosity, Imperfect is for anyone who has ever worried about their appearance or who struggles with low self-esteem or self-confidence due to their looks. It’s not about the kick up the bum, but about learning – with Lee – to accept our judgements of others, our prejudice and ignorance, and to discover new ways of looking at, understanding, and accepting others.
Thanks to Affirm Press for my copy.
Read Lee Kofman’s letter to her unpublished self here.
My warm and fuzzy book of the month would have to be Lenny’s Book of Everything by Karen Foxlee – I knew from the moment I read the first line that I would love this book: “Our mother had a dark heart feeling.” The story of a young girl who misses her dad, her younger brother who can’t stop growing, and a weekly delivery of build-it-yourself encyclopaedia issues, Lenny’s Book of Everything is everything I want in a children’s book. It’s big-hearted, it’s tender and it’s memorable; the characters burrow into your heart and you can’t help wanting to give them all a big hug. Highly recommended!
PS. Heather Zubek, thanks for the recommendation.
The Sisters by Kate Forster is a racy and pacy feel-good read, perfect for unwinding with a glass of excellent champagne or two. Naturellement! Kate brings her love of fashion into this steamy story of wealth and privilege, dark secrets, and fashion triumphs and fails, but despite the glitzy (and for most of us unattainable) lifestyles of the three heiresses, at its heart the desire to love and be loved rings true.
If comedy is your thing, try How to be Second Best by Jessica Dettman. It’s a light-hearted, if implausible, take on modern parenting, whereby the first wife, Emma, does her best to co-parent with her ex and his new wife. Emma’s somewhat of a doormat though, which is frustrating at times, but that makes for a good character arc in which Emma shakes off her self-doubt and reclaims her life. And don’t we all need to do that sometimes? I shook my head, laughed out loud, and in the end, felt satisfied that all would be well.
Thanks to Harper Collins for my copy.
Lastly, new release The Van Apfel Girls are Gone by Felicity McLean hooked me in with its all-too-familiar north-west of Sydney 1990s setting and the missing girls premise reminiscent of Joan Lindsay’s classic Picnic at Hanging Rock. The tension is so tight you can snap it; the hot, summery childhood backdrop simmers with exasperation, longing, boredom and mystery. The story moves cleverly between past and present, seeking answers to questions both past and present, but one warning: Don’t expect them all to be answered.
Thanks to Harper Collins for my copy.
That’s all from me – what have you been reading? Which of these books have you read or do you want to read?