Summer Reads: Author Ceridwen Dovey on the books she couldn’t put down


Page turners.

Like many Fashion Journal readers, I love a good book. I love buying them and stacking them on my bedside table and around my fireplace, but obviously, I gain the most joy from actually reading them.

This year’s been a weird one, and often my brain has felt too scrambled and frazzled to focus on any one book for longer than a hot minute, so I’m very much enjoying trips to the beach this summer, primarily because you get a few hours or days of precious, uninterrupted reading time.

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With my reading glasses and sunscreen at the ready, I’m on the lookout for book recommendations, but not just any old books. I want the best of the best, the crème de la crème, which is why I’ve been asking those in the know for their must-reads this summer.

This week, anthropologist and author Ceridwen Dovey reveals the books she couldn’t put down. Ceridwen is a writer of fiction, creative non-fiction and profiles and essays, and has a particular interest in environmental ethics and social justice. The author of four books, her latest novel, Life After Truth, was released last year and has been described as “… an absorbing character assassination of the middle class”. You can find it here, and enjoy her excellent suggestions below.

On Beverley Farmer: Writers on Writers by Josephine Rowe

I now have a row of the lovely, slim, colourful spines of the books in Black Inc.’s Writers on Writers series, and was delighted to read Josephine Rowe’s latest addition to the collection, On Beverley Farmer: Writers on Writers. It’s much more than just an introduction to Farmer’s work (which has set me off on a Farmer binge in response); it’s also an exquisite meditation on what it feels like to be placeless and restless as a writer.

Get it here.

Uncanny Valley: A Memoir by Anna Wiener

Anna Wiener’s Uncanny Valley: A Memoir said all the things I have thought and felt about the influence of Big Tech on our lives but have never been brave enough to say out loud. She has rightly been compared to Joan Didion and Jia Tolentino for her ability to capture the mood of the present moment, and take the pulse of a generation in the grip of an addiction to tech products and services. But the book is also just addictively readable, a portrait and searing critique of the culture of Silicon Valley at a particular time and place, from someone who was – for a while – an insider, looking out.

Get it here.

Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things that Sustain You when the World Goes Dark by Julia Baird

Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder and Things that Sustain You when the World Goes Dark was the perfect read for the dark days of 2020. It’s a gentle, lyrical, hopeful book made even more powerful and moving because Baird’s wisdom and calm in the face of pain and fear are hard-won since she has herself experienced a harrowing battle with cancer. My favourite insight (of so many within the book) is Julia’s coining of the term ‘Freudenfreude’, which she playfully posits as the opposite of Schadenfreude, that impossible-to-say German term for delight in the misfortune of others.

Freudenfreude, instead, is her wonderful term for the joy one can feel for a close friend when you see them take flight in their life: experience success, or a breakthrough, or something good. By putting this emotion into language, she affirms the feeling: another small victory for women in expressing the deeper reality of our experiences and friendships.

Get it here.

Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami

On a visit to Potts Point Bookshop, one of the booksellers urged me to read Breasts and Eggs by the Japanese writer Mieko Kawakami, now translated into English. I am so grateful she did. It’s a revelation, especially if you’ve been left a little cold by books by some of the more macho male writers who have dominated Japan’s literary scene for so long. Mieko Kawakami writes like nobody I’ve read before: she is blazing a feminist trail with every word, every description of modern Japanese women’s lives, bodies, and relationships on the page.

Get it here.

Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir by Deirdre Bair

And finally, another recommendation from a bookseller, Michael, at Woollahra Bookshop, who suggested I try Deirdre Bair’s Parisian Lives: Samuel Beckett, Simone de Beauvoir, and Me: A Memoir. I could not put it down. Bair, who wrote this memoir when she was in her 80s (and sadly recently died), describes the unbelievably difficult, at times absurd, trials she had to endure as the first biographer of Samuel Beckett (and later of de Beauvoir) in the 1970s.

Her resilience in surviving what the male academy threw at her in their disgust that a woman was daring to write about the writer-god Beckett is extraordinary. Yet Bair writes with so much humour, too, about all of the ups and downs of that time – the logistical as well as emotional challenges of doing the work, and the juggling that she had to do in order to do the work at all, as a mother to two kids at a less enlightened time, but she’s also honest and open about the great pleasures of these undertakings, and the way her work as a biographer sustained her meaningfully throughout her life.

Get it here.

Dr Space Junk Vs The Universe: Archaeology and the Future by Alice Gorman

One 2019 throwback I just have to pop in here is the Australian space archaeologist Alice Gorman’s brilliant non-fiction book Dr Space Junk Vs The Universe. Alice is the most interesting voice out there when it comes to making sense of what is happening in outer space right now, with the commercialisation of space activities changing things rapidly. Her book is a must-read for anybody who is keen to understand the current approaches to space in a historical, scientific and cultural context. She writes like a poet but is also never afraid to question the status quo and question some of the (masculinist) grand narratives and assumptions that govern space behaviour, and she’s one of the first people to argue for social and environmental justice in outer space.

Get it here.

Ceridwen’s latest book ‘Life After Truth’ is out now.

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