The well regarded and the brave: a winter recommended reading list

Words by Rachael Nielson

I buy most of my books online and read reviews before purchasing. I’m eyeing off Not That Kind of Girl by Lena Dunham, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing by Eimear McBride, and The Prince Lestat by Anne Rice. For those of you who, like me, enjoy a recommendation before buying a book, I have put together a currated list of well regarded contemporary and classic books for a variety of reading moods this season.

A Challenge  

You want to use your intellect during weekends in the blue mountains in amongst bush walking and antiquing. Going on a mini break doesn’t mean you’re not up for an emotional and ideological awakening.

candycoverCandy by Luke Davies
Luke Davies has mastered breezy prose and spot on slang. He builds a sense of place which is tangible and often lacking from contemporary literature. Candy gives the appearance of having been effortlessly written and is equally swift to read, though can be emotionally taxing at times. To read it is to be enraptured by the rapid addiction of Candy, the young beauty with much potential but little direction. You’ll get caught up in the sticky, doomed dilapidation of the unnamed, male narrator as he and Candy twist around each other, breaking, falling back in love and trying to quit over years of misery, crime, prostitution and bliss. What is most striking is how beautiful and everyday these two characters are. They are not caricatures of gross, cruel criminals, but humans riddled with false promises to themselves, and yet dream, despite how stuck they are.

We need to talk about kevinWe Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shrivner
I don’t want to say too much about this one as it must be experienced. But I will introduce it by saying that this is a fictional account of a woman crushed by an inauthentic life, mainstream choices and a school massacre. These three elements are deeply intertwined to create one of the most haunting tales I have ever read. The story is told through Eva Khatchadourian’s letters to her husband Franklin Plaskett. The letters document their life together; raising children and the dwindling of her fulfilling career as she conforms to the expectations around her. The novel explores areas that are not often discussed. Such as, should people be expected to have children? Are all people suited to child rearing? Is there a problem with child bearing being a societal expectation? Is the mother-child bond always a given? Lionel Shrivner has much to say about this as she leads her readers through the once interesting life of Eva which slowly but drastically alters for the worse. She neatly devastates her audience as they follow the eloquent spiral down into a conclusion like no other. There is no way that this book won’t have you sobbing, but equally, powerfully impressed.

Heart Palpitations

It’s the rare soul that isn’t moved by a sophiticated romance tale, and doesn’t at times yearn for the sublime feeling of symbiotic love that comes from reading about an epic, tragic affair.

loveinthetimeofcholeraLove in the the time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
A genuinely epic tale of love sustained over a lifetime. There can be little resistance to the lush, dense descriptions of the Caribbean at the turn of the 19th Century. And yet the construction of the book is not sentimental for all its high romantic, flowery words, lover letters and love sickness. It is as if Gabriel Garcia Marquez is in love with words most of all. Nevertheless, the events and descriptions are real in ways that can be a little shocking and grotesque, but reflect the primacy of reality and human struggle. As much as this story will beguile you, it will also have you questioning much of what we believe about love and passion.

herfeafulsymmetryHer Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
This is a modern tale in that it features romance as part of its narrative but has no neat, easy ending. It is a story with settings and characters which will have you burning and grieved to part with. The story is infused with elements of magic realism that gorgeously exploit the setting of a London apartment by a graveyard. The teen twin protagonists, Julia and Valentina, travel to England from America to explore the apartment they recently inherited from their Aunt. Just like any classic tale involving a deceased estate, the gothic pleasures begin once they arrive. A praise of the plot is that Valentina; craving freedom from being a double doesn’t find cliché solutions, but finds wonderfully odd ones with just the right kind of ghoulishness. Audrey shows off her lustrous smarts once again by writing all her characters with unusual and rich detail. This isn’t just a ghost story but an intellectual treat!

 A Swell Time

You’re not liking the decrease in sunlight and all the solemn staring into the heater that you’re doing of late. You need a delightful romp of a book.

the last werewolfThe Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
Written like a movie and as entertaining as a big budget action movie. Don’t be put off though. This book has the usual guilty pleasures of true love, people eating and prostitutes mixed together to make it uncomfortable, but what you would expect? There’s a flavour of earnest philosophical musings though, that at times, drags it out of the luscious muck of gratuitous sex and supernatural verve. It’s not a book demonstrating how fourth wave, intersectional feminism and entertainment can happily marry, but do expect it to hook you in. There’s delectable, horrific images that you will not soon forget.

fearandloathingFear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson
There’s a disturbing edge to the narrative of this one. It’s suited to those with a darker sense of humour who are not offended by drugs and exceedingly liberal amounts of them featuring in their literature. If you like word play and are partial to the bizarre and absurd, then you’ll be laughing out loud the whole way through.

Sad by the Sea

 Your heart is broken again. The answer seems to be: drive to the cold coast and be sad by the sea. You’ll be needing a companion though; a bitter book.

BonjourBonjour Tristesse by Francoise Sagan
If you are a little cynical about love and deplore sentimental romance plots, but still relish what romance feels like, then this is ideal. Bonjour Tristesse is a novella from the perspective of Cécile, a seventeen year old girl as she holidays with her philandering father and his current lover, Elsa, in the French Riviera. Elsa is soon replaced by the structured and sophisticated Anne, who alters their carefree and indulgent lives. Cécile enacts a plot to get rid of her with tragic results. You’ll get plenty of warm feelings from reading about young love unfold in summer, but still have your darker suspicions about love confirmed.

essaysinloveEssays in Love by Alain de Botton
Alain takes his readers through a charming and at times, difficult romance of his own as a way of illustrating how to deal with love going wrong. His world view is realistic and advocates being courageous enough to start over (upon plenty of reflection of the past). He doesn’t suggest hiding from relationships as this is no solution to heart break, mistakes and betrayal. This is a book to build you up and make you realistically reconsider love again.

Young Adult

It occurred to you, after you picked up your daughters copy of How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff, that YA literature isn’t just for teenagers. You’ve found the worlds you’ve encountered engrossing and you want more.

shiverThe Shiver Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
A young adult series about kids turning into wolves, overbearing parents and teen struggles with identity. This is a well written series with likeable and realistic teen characters whose trials may not be super gritty, but are absorbing none the less. The protagonists are not typically traditional in their ideas of gender which is a nice change from a lot of other YA literature. Their search for meaning and comfort in an alienating world where they have little power is relatable and yet still enjoyable to read. This is a warm series though, that rewards you with beauty and a supernatural element that is tragic and beguiling.

dangerousangelsThe Weetzie Bat books: Dangerous Angels by Francesca Lia Block
With five books in the collection that centre around Weetzie Bat and her beloveds, there is much to relish. These modern fairy tales are quickly read but have a grit that belies the light prose. Weetzie Bat is a Hollywood girl surrounded by magic realism and intricately dressed friends. The stories are driven by progressive values and alternative ways of living. This in its self makes it a unique read. The plot is also interesting in that it makes room for descriptions of food, aesthetics and alternative style which mesh well with the flaky, bright writing. The tone and the world feels sparse and alienating in a specifically modern way, yet there is a certain decadence too. The Weetzie Bat books are not the most realistic story lines because of their fairy tale style, but Weetzie Bat’s unique personality and cobbled together family are charming and deeply endearing.

RachaelHSRachael Nielson was born in Melbourne but has given up claiming it as the reason she is genetically predisposed to being cool, and now claims Canberra as her home. She finished a Bachelor of Writing at the University of Canberra in 2014. She has also studied literature at Oxford University in the UK. She often gets asked what she writes but the nuances of feminist politics and doomed relationships are not so easily summed up. But they are nevertheless her undying focus. She can say that she writes fiction short stories and non-fiction works. Rachael currently writes and reviews for Verity La. She has been published by Feminartsy, Curio and Lip.

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