Welcome to this month’s round up of the books we think you need to be reading.
This month’s collection is once again a mixture of fiction and non-fiction, with Billy Bragg’s new treatise on the history and influence of skiffle music taking out the top spot. Beyond that we’ve got the latest book from Mexico’s greatest writer, a new graphic novel, and two releases from Australian writers.
As always you should be able to find all five of this month’s books in all the usual places both online and offline. And whilst we recognise the convenience and ease of places like Booktopia, we do hope you’ll go and check out your local independent bookstore or local chain bookstore. They’re staffed with well-read people who will enthusiastically recommend your next favourite book to you.
Anyway, here is July’s five books.
Roots, Radicals and Rockers – Billy Bragg
Skiffle! The genre that helped kick start a musical revolution. If it wasn’t for skiffle we’d likely never have gotten The Beatles, The Rolling Stones or The Who. It was in skiffle bands that the likes of Lennon and McCartney cut their teeth. Skiffle, has however, become a somewhat maligned genre, its influence on popular music understated or overlooked, thanks in part perhaps to the DIY nature of it all. But skiffle was one of, if the not the first, youth music. It was music made by teenagers for teenagers. It was the precursor to rock, and it put guitars into the hands of teenagers and changed the face of British popular music. And now acclaimed performer and activist Billy Bragg is attempting to put the record straight with his new book Roots, Radicals and Rockers: How Skiffle Changed the World.
Whilst Bragg may be best known for his politically charged music and his activism, he’s not unknown to the publishing world either. In 2015 he published a collection of lyrics under the title A Lover Sings: Selected Lyrics and further back in 2006 Bragg released The Progressive Patriot, a book that was part memoir, part exploration of what the hell “englishness” even is. Even just flicking through Roots, Radicals and Rockers it is clear that skiffle is a topic close to Bragg’s heart and it shows through the meticulous research that has gone into its creation, with Bragg interviewing a number of the key players from the skiffle scene. Interestingly too Bragg draws on his own insights from his experiences within the burgeoning punk scene of 1970’s UK to explore how skiffle spread and developed. Roots, Radicals and Rockers is a wonderful look at an almost forgotten slice of British musical history, and well worth delving into.
Roots, Radicals and Rockers is available now through Allen & Unwin
Kingdom Cons – Yuri Herrera
If you’ve been following these monthly features for a while you may remember me mentioning my love of Latin American literature. Well Yuri Herrera has been described as “Mexico’s greatest novelist” so it would be majorly remiss of me not to let you all know about his latest novel Kingdom Cons. The novel follows the story of Lobo, a young street musician, who finds himself drawn into the company of drug barons and their ‘court’ of followers and hangers on. The novel is part surrealist fable and part crime romance, with Herrara questioning the price of integrity in a world ruled by patronage and power. Will Lobo’s proximity to both power and patronage corrupt him?
Kingdom Cons is the third book in Herrara’s loosely connected border trilogy to be translated into English; with Signs Preceding the End of the World and The Transmigration of Bodies published last year to great critical acclaim. Whilst Herrara’s books are loosely based in North Mexico and the area around the US/Mexican border, the “borders” in his work at not always literal but often metaphorical – Kingdom Cons, for example is as much interested in the borders between rich and poor, powerful and powerless as it is with any geographical borders. Kingdom Cons is another great novel from a writer at the top of his game, and is a must read for any fans of Latin American or world literature.
Kingdom Cons is available now through Text Publishing
The Park Bench – Chabouté
Hopefully by now the arguments over the merits of graphic novels are over and done with. Graphic novels are not simply the realm of superheroes and comic book characters, but are home to a great deal of quality storytelling. You need look no further than The Park Bench by French artist Chabouté for an example of the medium’s ability to portray a story with real emotional depth. The Park Bench is an exploration of a community from the perspective of a shared, but often overlooked, object – the park bench.
There is an intimacy to Chabouté’s story – these are the small quiet moments in our lives often overlooked or missed by those hurrying pass, but captured here in beautiful illustrative detail. There is also a wonderful universality to it – the community depicted within its pages could so easily be our own. The park bench could be found anywhere in the world, it’s community of young lovers, old friends, homeless men and women, and initial scratchers can and could be found anywhere. The Park Bench is a meditation on the passage of time, our changing world, and the life of our communities. The Park Bench is a wonderful reminder of the story telling power of the graphic novel.
The Park Bench is available now through Allen and Unwin
No Way! Okay Fine – Brodie Lancaster
It’s practically impossible not to look at the world around us through the lens of popular culture, you’d basically have to be a lock yourself away in a dark cave, with no mobile reception of wifi, not to have your world view influenced in some way by the world of movies, television or the internet. There’s a reason why things like the interracial kiss on Star Trek way back when were a big deal! No Way! Okay, Fine, the debut release from Melbourne writer, editor and occasional DJ, Brodie Lancaster, is an exploration of self, made through the lens of popular culture.
Sure, No Way! Okay, Fine is a memoir, the stories are personal to Lancaster, but there is also a universality to it as well. It may be a memoir, but it’s also more broadly an interrogation of the identities we construct for ourselves based upon what we watch, listen to, and read online. In all likelihood I’m not within this books ideal demographic, but it seems to me that it’s important that all of us show a little more self awareness and realise the influence – both good and bad – of popular media. So many things are the way they are in the world is because we just accept what we’re shown or told, but we do have the power to change that. Books like No Way! Okay, Fine should hopefully help us realise that we have the power to change things, even if it’s just our own feelings about ourselves. No Way! Okay, Fine is insightful, well written, and packed with more pop culture references than you can keep track of.
No Way! Okay, Fine is available now through Hachette Australia
The Student – Iain Ryan
The Student is the fourth novel from author and former touring musician Iain Ryan, his first released through a traditional publisher. The Student follows Nate, a university student and small time weed dealer, who finds himself way over his head when his supplier Jesse goes missing. Next thing you know Nate, and the reader, are entering the dark criminal underbelly of small town Gatton, QLD.
The Student is fast paced and gritty, with Ryan not shying away from the sex or violence – but then it is a hard-boiled crime novel. You don’t go in expecting saintly characters. Ryan’s prose is sparing, punchy and ultimately compelling, it’s pretty hard not to get drawn in quickly as the story unfolds. Don’t believe me, have a read of an extract we published a couple of weeks ago. Ryan has already begun to make a name for himself within crime writing circles, his first novel Four Days was shortlisted for the Australian Crime Writing Association’s Ned Kelly Award (Best Debut Fiction), and with The Student he seems to be on to a winner.
The Student is available now through Echo / Bonnier Publishing