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7 FJ contributors tell us what’s on their reading list

PHOTOGRAPHY BY GEORGIA SMEDLEY

WORDS BY EVANGELINE POLYMENEAS

Add these to your list.

Now that we’re creeping into the colder months, I’m trading my hot summer nights out for warm nights in. And nothing screams winter more than a piping hot cup of tea, a woolly blanket and a good book. 

But as the daylight decreases, so does my patience for finding said book. When you’re trying to contend with the often overwhelming selection of books out there, a recommendation from a trusted source is worth its weight in gold.  


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Looking to streamline the process and line up my reads for the next few months, I asked seven FJ contributors for their best book recommendations.

Jasmine Wallis

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating: 4/5

As mentioned on Culture Club podcast, I have been loving Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s an American novel I found at the airport as I frantically looked for a last-minute holiday read. Hence, the TV adaptation cover. The story follows two families in America’s midwest, both living in the affluent suburb of Shaker Heights. It’s the mid-1990s and Elena Richardson, a mother who thrives on rules and structure, meets the creative and nomadic photographer, Mia Warren through their children. 

When a friend of the Richardson’s becomes embroiled in a custody battle, Mia’s mysterious past begins to unravel as journalist Elena is determined to find out just who Mia is. It’s a gripping page-turner about class, race, and privilege and Celeste’s writing is so descriptive it makes you feel like you’re right in the middle of the story. I’d recommend it to anyone who wants to get back on the reading train (it’s so addictive you’ll be reading instead of TikTok-ing every night) and people who enjoy a good drama-mystery book.

@jasmineeskye

Rachael Akhidenor

Tiny Beautiful Things by Cheryl Strayed

Rating: 5/5

I have been a long-time fan of the New York Times’ column (and podcast), Dear Sugars, where Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond give compassionate advice to the everyday human beings who write in with their grievances, frustrations, sadness and questions. So, I was absolutely delighted to discover, a few months back, that Strayed had compiled some of her favourite letters and responses into a book. 

In short, Tiny Beautiful Things explores what it means to be human. More specifically, the everyday trials and tribulations that connect us to our humanity. From women grappling with whether to leave their husbands, to a father crippled with grief over his son’s recent death, to a young man who has been ostracised from his family due to his sexual orientation, to a recent graduate who is overcome with jealousy because of her wealthy friends’ abundant career options, Strayed provides heart-warming insight, advice and consolation to all that ails us. 

Just like the column and podcast, I devoured this book in a single day. It has become my holy grail. The book I return to again and again; the one that cracks my heart open. I’ve recommended it to just about every person who asks me for a book recommendation. It never disappoints.

@rachakhidenor

Sunny Chisholm

Semi-Gloss by Justine Cullen

Rating: 4.5/5

For those of you who grew up dreaming of working in magazines, Justine Cullen needs no introduction. In fact, she was the first editor I fell in love with and the woman who made me want to become a writer, so you better believe I bought this book the day it hit the shelves and devoured it in two glorious sittings. It’s exactly what I hoped it would be – basically a 250-page editor’s letter that feels honest, heartfelt and humble – peppered with delightful parentheses throughout. 

Her intimate collection of autobiographical essays cover many magical and glamorous career highlights (think champagne breakfasts, helicopters to private islands, sipping cocktails in Christian Dior’s family home, sunbaking on the French Riviera with Natalie Portman and other money-can’t-buy experiences) and the sacrifices she had to make along the way (a lot of missed bedtime stories and children’s birthdays) to get there. She candidly speaks of heartache, miscarriage, the downfall of the industry that she loved and the fact that there’s no such thing as mastering the motherfucking ‘juggle’.

Her book serves as a reminder that we can live a thousand lives in a single lifetime and that nobody is as put together as they may have you think. It made me laugh, cry (twice) and feel completely seen, as all the very best books do.

@sunnychis

Bianca O’Neill

Cosmopolis by Don DeLillo

Rating: 5/5

I’ll admit it, I’m a total sci-fi nerd (or speculative fiction as it’s now known, for all the writers out there). Although I haven’t read many of the classics – the Mars trilogy is still sitting on my bookshelf, gathering dust – I tend to gravitate towards niche, cult, and unpopular SF writers. I’d say, based on his pretty poor rating across the board on Goodreads, Don DeLillo sits under that umbrella. However, despite the ratings, Cosmopolis was one of the most personally impactful SF novels I’ve ever read. DeLillo has said he writes about these “dangerous times”, and his anti-heroes often represent a rallying cry against the powers that be, mostly as an allegory for the overarching power of big government.

Cosmopolis sees its protagonist – a rich, young, paranoid businessman – traverse the city in the calm microcosm of his limousine as an anti-capitalist uprising crescendos upon the streets outside. As a character novel, it’s brilliant, but as a novel with a deeper meaning about the eroding disease of money and power, it’s even better. Fascinating ’til the end – and a huge inspiration for my own SF novel, currently on draft three, and likely many years away from seeing a publishing date. You see, I keep reading novels like this, and realising that there are many more brilliant minds throwing my paltry attempts at literature into the metaphorical dustbin.

@bianca.oneill

Maeve Kerr-Crowley

The Sundial by Shirley Jackson

Rating: 4/5

Shirley Jackson is one of my favourite authors, and while her greatest hits like The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle are top tier literature, I’ve found some real gems in the rest of her oeuvre. The Sundial is one of her less talked about novels, but is up there with my favourite reads. It follows a disgustingly rich, borderline irredeemable family and their staff after the ghost of an ancestor tells them the world is ending and only the people in their huge, gaudy and artfully described house will survive. It’s weird as hell, darkly funny and spooky without falling into a typical haunted house narrative. If you like doomsday cults, stories that are a little divorced from reality, delightfully creepy little girls and houses that are characters in their own right, I wholeheartedly recommend The Sundial.

@harrietthespineless

Ruby Staley

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Rating: 4.5/5

A book I loved to read and equally love to recommend is Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe. Having chewed through it mid last year, the fast-paced and fantastical storyline was just the thing to take my mind of the hellish social climate at the time. Although I’m hesitant to commit to saying it’s my favourite book, it’s definitely up there for me with the best of the best. For those who haven’t had the joy of reading it, the story basically follows a young Australian boy, Eli, throughout various familial conflicts and traumatic events and then into his eventual development to an investigative journalist.

Loosely based on circumstances in Dalton’s own life, the novel reads like a thrilling crime story mixed in with a healthy dose of coming of age archetypes. For me, it has it all; wit, humour, complexity and impeccable character development. For a book that – on the surface – may seem similar to other Australian teen stories, it was one of the most surprising and gripping books I’ve ever read. I’ve already forced many of my family and friends to read it, and particularly for anyone who, like me, enjoys writing and appreciates great storytelling, I urge you to give it a chance.

@rubystaley_

Genevieve Phelan

 

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Insatiable by Daisy Buchanan

Rating: 4.5/5

A girlfriend told me this book was “one massive orgy”. And it is, but it’s also so much more than that. The cover aptly describes it a little more G-rated as “a love story for greedy girls”. It’s a saucy work of fiction, following misfit protagonist Violet’s journey from a dead-end art job to prospects of thriving at an exciting new startup with a sexy older husband-and-wife duo. She’s fallen out with her bezzie mate, destroyed her own engagement and just generally has the whole self-saboteur thing down-pat. The catch is, her potential future employers run unofficial sex parties with a group of older art people and want to recruit Violet as the bright young thing. Ensnared by the weird, unchartered eroticism of it all, Violet begins to lose herself and her way. It’s gritty, funny and at times vulgar, but speaks to some truths on trusting your instincts and rediscovering your worth when others attempt to diminish it.

@genevieve.phelan

Read them all? Check out this list of books to read before you die.

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