Welcome to this month’s round up of the books we think you need to be reading. It’s a bit of an eclectic mix this month, with a mixture of fiction, poetry and some non-fiction. We’ve got monsters, deplorables, teenagers and NDNs’. We move from the Hindu Kush, to Brooklyn, to Prague and to Australia. So hopefully there will be something on the list that catches your eye, ends up on your TBR pile, and hopefully on your bedside table.
All of the books mentioned should be available from your local bookstores, indie or otherwise. Though you might need to venture to Booktopia for the second on the list, if you local bookstore can’t order from the states. But, yeah, if you can shop local, shop independent, and chat to your booksellers – they’re a terrific source of recommendations.
So here then are this month’s five books… happy reading!
In The Land of Giants – Gabi Martínez (trans. Daniel Hahn)
In August 2002 Spanish zoologist and cryptozoologist Jordi Magraner was found dead, presumed assassinated, in his home in the north of Pakistan. Magraner, born in Casablanca in 1958, had spent the previous twelve years high in the Hindu Kush on the Pakistan/Afghanistan border, conducting field research on the barmanu – the Pakistani equivalent of Bigfoot.
In the Land of Giants: Hunting Monsters in the Hindu Kush sees author and acclaimed literary & travel journalist Gabi Martínez follow in Magraner’s footsteps in an attempt to try and solve the mystery of his murder, and of Jordi’s life. Martinez tracks Magraner’s story across the mountain ranges of the Hindu Kush Himalayas, a place where the Taliban are known to have made a home. In The Land of Giants is part biography, with Martinez interviewing Magraner’s family and friends, and also a vivid profile of the Hindu Kush region, and the local people trying to make a life in what has become one of the most troubled regions.
Whether the monsters found In The Land of Giants are those of myth and ‘legend’ remains to be seen – you’ll have to read Martinez’ account to find out.
In The Land of Giants: Hunting Monsters in the Hindu Kush is available now through Scribe Publications.
Nature Poem – Tommy Pico
Nature Poem is the latest long-form release from Tommy Pico, an acclaimed Brooklyn-based poet who hails from the the Viejas Indian reservation of the Kumeyaay Nation. Nature Poem is Pico’s second piece of long-form poetry to be published, and follows on from 2016’s IRL which caught the attention of the literary world and introduced readers to Teebs – a young, queer, American Indian (NDN) poet and Pico’s fictional alter-ego.
Teebs returns in Nature Poem and attempts to reconcile his heritage – and all the colonial-white stereotypical baggage that comes with it – with his own identity as young, queer, urban-dwelling hipster poet. Nature Poem, then, is an attempt to understand and counter some of the more commonly held images of the American Indian in popular culture, especially the view of the American Indian as “noble savage” and being one with nature. It’s safe to say Teebs would not be at home camping in a national park somewhere.
Pico is a talented and witty writer, part of a new generation of poets, who operate with a new sense of style – tweets, status updates, DMs and hashtags all find a way into Pico’s writing, as does a whole heap of pop culture and queer culture references – basically expect some Beyonce at some point.
Nature Poem is available now from Tin House Books
The Lost Pages – Marija Peričić
The Lost Pages by Marija Peričić was announced earlier this month as the winner of the 2017 Australian/Vogel Literary Award. For those not in the know, the Vogel, is Australia’s richest and most prestigious literary prize for an unpublished manuscript, one which has supported, encouraged and introduced to the country, and the world, young writers. It was the Vogel after all that helped kick start the careers of Tim Winton, Kate Grenville and Gillian Mears.
The Lost Pages, a novel of friendship, fraud and betrayal, follows the story of Max Brod, a rising star in Prague’s literary circles. Fame, respect and adulation are all finally within his grasp until a new rival appears from stage left – newcomer Franz Kafka. Peričić details their unfolding and increasingly complicated relationship, whilst offering up a rich reimagining of Prague’s literary community as seen from Brod’s perspective.
Peričić’s novel garnered some substantial praise from the judging panel, with BooksPlus’ Jenny Barry describing the book as “such a witty and incredibly wise work”, whilst according to author Rohan Wilson “the strain between Kafka and Brod is hugely entertaining. Brod is anti-social and prefers his own company, just like the best of Kafka’s characters.”
The Lost Pages is available now through Allen and Unwin
The Impossible Fortress – Jason Rekulak
The Impossible Fortress, the debut novel from writer and publisher Jason Rekulak, is a love letter to the 1980’s and a wonderful coming-of-age story set in the age of the 8-bit computer. In many ways The Impossible Fortress is the literary equivalent of Stranger Things – not the whole shady government organisations and monsters thing – but rather the whole 80’s nostalgia fest of friendship and adolescence thing.
The novel follows teenager Billy Marvin, and his two friends Alf and Clark, as they attempt to steal the May 1987 issue of Playboy magazine featuring scandalous photographs of Wheel of Fortune hostess Vanna White. A feat which would undoubtedly change their lives for ever! … though perhaps in a way it does (for one of them). The Impossible Fortress has racked up some solid early reviews from critics and fellow authors, with many celebrating the novel’s humour, unabashed retro charms and its charm. It’s even had a video game created in its honour, in which you have to rescue the Princess from the impossible fortress – all whilst deftly avoiding ogres and wolves. You can give it a go on Rekulak’s website. Just try not to get stuck in the Impossible Fortress for all eternity! (Let us know on social media how you got on!)
The Impossible Fortress is available now through Allen and Unwin
Depends What You Mean By Extremist – John Safran
Depends What You Mean By Extremist is the new book from award-winning author, satirist, radio personality and documentary filmmaker (and saviour of the Australian national soccer team?) John Safran. Nationalism and the Alt/Far Right have become increasingly prominent in media discourses around the world in the last year or so. There was Brexit, there was Trump, but before all that there was Pauline Hanson! In Depends What You Mean By Extremist, Safran dives headfirst into Australia’s community of radicals and “deplorables” and comes out the other side with a confronting and perhaps surprising portrait of contemporary ‘ordinary’ Australia.
There are any number of books out there on the market trying to make sense of Trump’s victory, or why Brexit happened, and why these shifts in politics are happening. So what sets Safran’s apart? Partly it’s down to accessibility. Safran, like his contemporaries Louis Theroux and Jon Ronson, has the ability to approach the big issues with a great deal of wit and humour, and therefore able to get people to talk about and think about the big issues perhaps without even realising it. Likewise he seems to be able to get into places, and talk to people, that other more “establishment” folks might be able to. Depends… is definitely a must read for Safran fans as well as fans of Ronson and Theroux, or indeed just anyone who wants to try and make a little sense out of the crazy world we’re currently finding ourselves in.
Depends What You Mean By Extremist is available now through Penguin