James by Percival Everett

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James

The other side of Huckleberry Finn's adventure

Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a classic in American juvenile fiction. Set in 1880s Missouri, it’s the story of the friendship between a young white boy and a black slave, both on the run, from a violent father and a slave owner. Much loved for its portrayal of youthful adventure, Huckleberry Finn, packed with racial stereotypes and the N-word, makes for uncomfortable reading today. In James by Percival Everett, we get the story from the black man’s perspective, and it’s far cry from the charming adventure story so many readers have come to love.

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All the Beauty in the World by Patrick Bringley

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All the Beauty in the World

Life, death, and the art of seeing

A stand-out read of the year to date, All the Beauty in the World by Patrick Bringley is a finely understated combination of memoir, lessons on the art of seeing, and a  glorious and very personal tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Capturing a transformative period in Bringley’s life, the book focuses on the months and years after his brother Tom’s untimely death, when poleaxed by grief, Bringley drops out of his relentless New York life and takes a job as a museum guard at the Met. Here, with a broken heart, he gets to just stand still awhile and let the art and life of the museum work its healing magic.

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Cinema Love by Jiaming Tang

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Cinema Love

Striking debut tale of immigrant dreams and secret lives

It’s the mid 1980’s in Mawei, a district in the Fujian province of China. Nestled within its humdrum streets is the Workers Cinema, a smoky, graffitied haven for gay men seeking illicit love. Here, against a backdrop of old war movies, liaisons are enjoyed and the pause button pressed on reality. In Cinema Love by Jiaming Tang, we meet regular punter, Old Second, and his future wife, Bao Mei, who runs the box office. Tang’s bold, heartfelt debut spans forty years and two continents, as the couple build a new life together but continue to be haunted by the secrets of their cinema days.

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Doppler by Erlend Loe

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Doppler

A tent, an elk, and an existential crisis

Doppler is sick of his nice life with his nice wife and nice children. Sick of toeing the line and being a passive consumer in Oslo society, chasing money in a city bloated with oil wealth. Also, his father is dead and it hurts. A bump on the head from a cycling accident prompts an epiphany, and in a clever, satirical skewering of modern life, Doppler by Erlend Loe chronicles Doppler’s desertion of his family, in exchange for a tent in the Norwegian forest, where he will take up contemplation of modern existence in the devoted company of a very small elk.

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Table for Two by Amor Towles

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Table for Two

A magnificent short story collection

Anyone wary of short stories should put their doubts to rest and dive into the utterly magnificent Table for Two by Amor Towles. I’ve been chuckling through his stories which range from a neurotic wife convinced her husband is having an affair to a Russian peasant turned opportunistic capitalist by the Russian revolution; from a high-strung Goldman Sachs banker suspicious of a fellow concert goer to the incompetent aspiring author whose skills at forging puts him on a new career path and many more. Once again, Towles’ superb storytelling skills shine.

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My Husband by Maud Ventura

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My Husband

Crazy in love

A French publishing sensation and winner of the Prix du Premier Roman, My Husband by Maud Ventura is an unnerving tale of manipulation and control. Narrated by a seemingly devoted wife, it gives us seven days in her marital life, a rollercoaster of a week as she veers between doting on her beloved husband, setting traps to test his love, and punishing him when he falls short of her lofty romantic ideals. Occasionally creepy, often crazy, Ventura’s page-turner imagines the potential pitfalls of a scenario where the intensity of one (unbalanced) spouse’s love burns as brightly as it did on their honeymoon night a full fifteen years before.

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You Are Here by David Nicholls

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You Are Here

Having just finished watching the lovable Netflix series One Day, I went straight for newly published You Are Here by David Nicholls. It’s not that Nicholls’ plots are that different from other romcom novels. Where he stands out is in his incredible skill at making it all so very relatable. It’s impossible to read his books without nodding, smiling, even shedding a tear with recognition. You Are Here, is the story of not-so-young-anymore Michael and Marnie finding love (no spoiler, it’s in the blurb) and it’s the way there that makes this such a special read. The perfect funny and uplifting summer novel.

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Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig

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The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows

Bringing order to the wilderness inside our heads

Curiously beautiful and unique, The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows by John Koenig is that rare thing, a book you didn’t know you needed but one destined to bag a lifelong space on your bookshelf. A dictionary in six parts, Koenig’s labour of love is a compendium of new words for emotions. Woven from fragments of a hundred different languages, these are words that give expression to those thoughts and feelings that hover ‘on the cusp of language.’ In the vein of established words like schadenfreude and hygge, they convey the universal experiences that we cannot adequately articulate alone.

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Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

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Let the Great World Spin

On edge in New York City

In August 1974, a tightrope walker crossed between the World Trade Center towers as police and pedestrians watched incredulously from below. It’s the starting point for Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, a novel which follows the lives of different New Yorkers, all living on the edge one way or another. Their lives intersect in unexpected ways that day in August, weaving together destinies and showing how we’re all connected. It’s as much a novel about New York as it is about New Yorkers and a moving love letter to a city which was just emerging from the trauma of the 9/11 terror attacks when McCann wrote it.

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The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt

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The Librarianist

Our misshapen and imperfect stories

Bob Comet is an unassuming retired librarian in his eighth decade, belying his surname with a distinctly sedate life. With no family or friends to speak of, Bob connects with the world through reading about it and taking long walks through his community. Plodding into an old age that is not, we’re assured, unhappy, Bob is unprepared for the life-changing turn of events waiting for him at his local senior citizens centre. In The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt, a quietly bookish man re-evaluates his life in the light of momentous revelation, aided by a cast of curious and colourful characters.

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