With the post-Christmas lull out of the way, March has proven to be a great month for new releases. In fact it was pretty hard to whittle the list down to just five this month, with plenty of titles catching my eye. But here are our five picks for the books you absolutely must read this month!
This month we’re featuring two debut releases, including one from a new and exciting voice in Australian literature. We’ve also got books about, and written by, forgotten or at least under appreciated African American artists.
As always you should be able to find all these books in the usual places, both online and on the high street. I would again recommend you hit up your local independent bookstores; they need your support, and those booksellers are great at recommendations!
Anyway, here are this month’s five books…
Down the Hume – Peter Polites
Down the Hume is the debut novel from Western Sydney author Peter Polites, and it has already attracted some pretty serious buzz, with Polites work being compared to the likes of Christos Tsiolkas and Luke Davies. It’s a gritty, and at times confronting book, but ultimately compelling; I finished it over two or threes days, only putting it down when the guilt of neglecting other work finally kicked in.
There are lot of different aspects at play in Down the Hume. There are questions of identity, with Bux, the main character, trying to reconcile his position as a gay Australian of Greek descent, both within his family, and within competing cultures. For me the novel also dealt with the changing nature of the city, Sydney, and perhaps the wider country, exploring the effects of gentrification, immigration and multiculturalism can have on a community.
Down the Hume is the introduction of a bold and exciting new voice onto the Australian literary landscape; and I for one can’t wait to hear more from Polites.
Down the Hume is available now through Hachette
No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson – Jeff Sparrow
Paul Robeson was a prize-winning scholar, the best footballer of his era, and achieved global stardom as both a singer and an actor. Yet today Robeson’s name is only known to a certain select few. In No Way But This, writer, editor and broadcaster Jeff Sparrow (you might know him from the Guardian, or 3RRR) sets out to trace the tumultuous, but extraordinary life and career of Robeson.
The book is not simply a biography, it’s also part travel diary, with Sparrow travelling to places that Robeson lived and places which had an impact on his life. Sparrow then goes everywhere from the United States, to the mining towns in North Wales, to Russia. No Way But This also offers interesting insights into contemporary times where race still holds great importance not only in America, but also across the world.
I attended Sparrow’s talk on Robeson at the Perth Writers Festival at the end of February, and his passion for this project was unequivocal and clear to see. No Way But This, is a illuminating look at the life of a frankly remarkable man – one who should be better known.
No Way But This: In Search of Paul Robeson is available now through Scribe
The Animators – Kayla Rae Whitaker
The Animators, the debut novel from Kentuckian Kayla Rae Whitaker, follows the lives and careers of Sharon and Mel, outsiders, college friends and partners in animation. It’s a “buddy” novel, tracing Sharon and Mel’s friendship from its beginnings in college through to awards and success as animators a decade later – but what is the cost of this great success? Will their friendship survive?
There are certainly some familiar elements at play in the novel – a mysterious or locked past, the small town vs big city narrative – but if all the reviews are to be believed Whitaker has managed to put her own spin on these familiar tropes, and created a compelling debut – filled with strong and interesting women. Speaking of reviews, The Animators has been getting some great ones, from writers and critics alike, praising Whitaker for her depictions of female friendship, the artistic process and her ability to write brilliant dialogue; a recent Guardian review referenced both Aaron Sorkin and HBO’s Girls when talking about the novel’s dialogue. High praise indeed.
The Animators is available now through Scribe
Bright Air Black – David Vann
Bright Air Black is the latest novel from acclaimed bestselling writer David Vann. Vann has been described as “one of the most exciting writers at work today”, who for me, like Cormac McCarthy, is unafraid to explore the darkest aspects of the human condition.
This new novel, Bright Air Black, is in fact a retelling of one of civilisation’s oldest stories, that of Medea. Unlike many retellings that have appeared of late, Vann does not bring the action up to contemporary times, but instead reimagines the story through the eyes of Medea, a woman often cast as both sorceress and monster. For anyone with knowledge of Greek mythology, the story of Medea is a familiar one, but Vann’s retelling promises to get to the hear of Medea’s character. Vann is an author often highly praised for the quality of his prose, and Bright Air Black will hopefully see that trend continue. This is definitely one for readers with a love of Greek mythology, but also those that just enjoy great writing – even if it can at times be a little “dark”.
Bright Air Black is available March 20th through Text Publishing
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? – Kathleen Collins
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? is the first collection of short stories from the African-American filmmaker, playwright and civil rights activist Kathleen Collins. Though she has now been recognised as a pioneer, Collins’ work was often overlooked during her lifetime, and her fiction work has gone unpublished until now.
The collection has been described as erotic and dazzling, and is populated by a cast of lovers of differing creeds and colour. They meet at sit-ins, at church, at art galleries and at civil rights marches. The romances contained within this collection, defy the confines of race and class. Given the rebellious nature of Collins characters (at least for the time of writing, though perhaps even still in some parts of America) it is perhaps unsurprising, though incredibly disappointing, that these stories remained unpublished during Collins’ lifetime, and in the intervening years since her death. But at least we have them now.
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love? is available now through Allen & Unwin
Header Image by Joshua James Sandells