Book recommendations from the Festival's programming team.
Trick Mirror by Jia Tolentino
I heard Jia Tolentino goes to barre class, so I signed up to take barre classes. I heard Jia Tolentino likes to obsess over things, so I attempted to read everything ever written by/about Jia Tolentinto. I heard Jia Tolentino is appearing at the inaugural Broadside Festival, so I booked a weekend pass. Previously Deputy Editor of Jezebel, and currently a staff-writer at The New Yorker, Jia’s debut essay collection Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion has just hit bookstores, and believe me, all the hype is absolutely justified. If it hasn’t hit your radar just yet, it will do any moment now, especially after her Australian appearance. Zadie Smith has called it “a whip smart, challenging book” and I couldn’t agree more. In Trick Mirror, Jia expertly dissects everything from the history of the internet itself, to the concept of “optimization” – whereby the ‘ideal woman’ is one who “looks like an Instagram” – which is to say, “an ordinary woman reproducing the lessons of the marketplace, which is how an ordinary woman evolves into an ideal”. No one wants to pick a favourite child, but if I had to, 'The Story of a Generation in Seven Scams' is one of my favourite essays in the collection. Who doesn’t love a scam? Go on, have a read, pick a favourite, and let’s discuss it over a barre class.
– Daniela Baldry, Program Coordinator
The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
For the last few months I’ve been counting down the days until the publication of Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth – Book 2 in The Book of Dust trilogy. It hit shelves a couple of weeks ago and I’ve been racing through it since then. I read Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in early high school, and remember them being some of the first books I read that didn’t feel simplified in order to appeal to a younger audience. I raved about them with friends my age, my teachers and my parents’ friends, and remember how validating it felt to be a part of conversations with older readers who were just as gripped as I was by the stories of Lyra & Will, and the incredible worlds of daemons, witches and armoured polar bears. His Dark Materials broke down the sense I had of a barrier between childrens & adults literature – it encouraged me to broaden my reading sphere and to place greater value in my own literary opinions.
Having read His Dark Materials on the page, I’m now listening to The Book of Dust trilogy on audiobook and coming in just under 20 hours The Secret Commonwealth is a lengthy commitment, but worth every second so far. And I do have to say, I am extremely picky about narrators, but Michael Sheen’s animated narration of both La Belle Sauvage and The Secret Commonwealth is spot on – playful and chatty at times, and then terrifyingly ominous at all the right moments. Gripping, atmospheric and completely absorbing, The Secret Commonwealth is a brilliant return to the incredible world Pullman created in His Dark Materials all those years ago.
– Lydia Tasker, Program Manager
Beside Myself by Sasha Marianna Salzmann
I picked up a copy of this book after being fortunate enough to see Sasha Marianna Salzmann speak in conversation with Krissy Kneen a few weeks ago at Melbourne Writers Festival. Their conversation was intelligent, expansive and riveting and I launched into reading this poetic novel with enthusiasm and very high expectations, all of which were met absolutely. In essence, this novel is the story of Alissa (Ali) whose brother has gone missing, but it is also so much more. Traversing language, identity, country and the complexities of a family history littered with intergenerational trauma, this novel is made more extraordinary when you consider that it is Salzmann’s debut work of prose fiction. Already a highly-acclaimed and award winning playwright, Salzmann showcases both their talent for voice and character and their unwillingness to adhere to traditional structure or perspective.
– Amelia Lush, Head of Children's and YA Programs
I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by Emily Nussbaum
I like to pretend I have no shame when it comes to admitting how much television I actually watch. While I like to consider myself more of a reader than a viewer, if I’m actually honest with myself, I spend a great deal of my week watching television – sometimes, a lot more. Yet, I still hesitate to spend too much time mulling over the hours I could be reading, while I’m alternatively opting to ‘mindlessly’ binge-watch episode after episode of TV. Television critic for The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize winner Emily Nussbaum has spent the better part of her career defying the notion that television is any less of a medium than say, film or literature. Instead, she considers television like you might a loved one – unconditionally – despite its flaws, and sometimes because of them.
Her new anthology, I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution charts television’s critical and cultural reception since shows like The Sopranos and Buffy the Vampire Slayer first hit our screens, to more recent events, as the effects of the #metoo movement, the making of independent web series, and streaming services like Netflix began to change the television industry – and our status anxiety around it.
Emily makes me grateful to have access to so much television – from the shows considered truly great, to all the ‘guilty-pleasures’ I devour, and everything in between. She also makes me feel a whole lot less embarrassed about those so-called ‘guilty-pleasures’ by removing the distinction between the high-brow and low-brow. By considering The Wire just as seriously as she does Jane The Virgin – that is, those shows considered solely for women, who, we’ve all long been told, ‘just wanna have fun’.
Since ripping through her erudite, considered and sharp collection, I’ve ended up with a to-watch list that could very well take me a lifetime. Like most of you reading this I’m sure, I hate to think of all the books I won’t ever have time to read. Despite this collection adding a whole lot more content to our ever-expanding lists, we can all rest assured that television is a medium worthy of our attention. I Like to Watch proves that television can challenge us, entertain us, and sometimes even change us (and us, it).
Some might even argue that we're living in television’s Golden Age – and I remind myself of this, every time I turn away from my bookshelf and inch ever closer to the light.
– Daniela Baldry, Program Coordinator