PHOTOGRAPHY BY SASKIA WILSON
WORDS BY JULIETTE CAPOMOLLA
*Presses add to cart on all books*
Meet Bri Lee, bona fide book fanatic. If you’re looking for book recommendations, there’s probably no one better to go to. Author, freelance writer, State Library of New South Wales’ B List Book Club host and just generally an avid reader, Bri knew exactly how to sell me a book.
Her elevator pitches were next-level good, so much so, I’ve basically committed to buying all eight of the below recommendations (perhaps over 10 books in total with her sneaky additional recommendations).
According to Bri, she’s pretty much reading all of the time, everywhere, whenever she can. She’s either reading for research for her own writing, scouting book club books, educating herself or merely reading for her own enjoyment.
But it’s safe to say that Bri is never book-less. She’s usually got a few nonfiction books on the go, with one fiction book to allow her to properly immerse herself in the story.
Very eloquently, Bri told me: “I guess it’s my belief that reading properly and reading widely is a writer’s most important and valuable practise.” Without further ado, here are Bri’s top eight books for your summer reading list, very neatly sorted into four categories thanks to Bri herself.
Octopus and I by Erin Hortle
The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott
It’s just sort of a fluke that they both happen to be Tasmanian authors or certainly with content that is really beautifully set in and around that area. They both have these really unusual but beautifully written elements about the interaction between humans and nature. They’re both just really extraordinary works of fiction that make me really excited for the future of Australian fiction specifically.
The Future of Us: Demography Gets a Makeover by Liz Allen
My two picks for Australian nonfiction are also books that I ended up doing for the B List Book Club! The first one is by Liz Allen and it’s called The Future of Us: Demography Gets a Makeover. She is a demographer and the thing that’s fantastic about this book is that it gives you all the stats but in a really compelling storytelling style so that you can actually understand this country, you know our recent history, where we came from and where we’re going.
It’s a really easy to read, great introduction that I think would really help people who want to try and kind of keep up with current affairs and want to try and be informed but can often feel overwhelmed. It’s great for people if they possibly want to start getting themselves educated about this stuff.
Upturn: A Better Normal After COVID-19 by Tanya Plibersek
The other one – it only just came out – is called Upturn: A Better Normal After COVID-19. It’s a collection of 30 essays by a whole range of really great thinkers, some of them politicians, some of them writers, some of them kind of professionals with relevant experience. It just goes across all of these really different areas of Australian society talking about how COVID turned things upside down and, as the title suggests, what we can learn from that and the lessons we might be able to take into 2021.
Basically, once we are ‘back to normal’, how can we do normal better? I don’t necessarily agree with every single piece, but there is a sentiment in the book that I’m calling pragmatic optimism, which is like ‘Okay, how can we be practical and specific about the things that we hope and think will improve from here on in?’.
The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes
The first international fiction pick is The Wild Laughter by Caoilinn Hughes. In my opinion, she is one of the most original and exciting writers in the English language at present. It’s not an easy read but it’s just so, so good. I also strongly recommend her first book called Orchid and the Wasp.
Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam
My other international fiction pick is called Leave the World Behind by Rumaan Alam, which is short and sharp. It’s a combination of an eery thriller meets socio-economic and race commentary. It’s funny and it’s kind of spooky, and you can read it in like two sittings. The author is just super smart and also really lovely.
Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall
Finally to international nonfiction picks. The first is Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall. It’s a collection of essays about – well, it is in the tagline of the book, which is ‘Notes from the women White feminists forgot’ and that’s pretty self-explanatory.
It goes through a whole lot of different areas. Some of the essays are more America specific, like the one about gun control which makes interesting reading, but I think other essays about education and housing are completely relevant to the Australian situation.
Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini
My final pick is also phenomenal but is also kind of a plug for my next book because I reference it so much. That’s because it’s excellent, but also because it’s super important. It’s called Superior: The Return of Race Science by Angela Saini. It is super fantastic. I guess technically it’s science writing but it’s where science writing and social issues writing meet.
It’s all about how society can’t seem to get past these really outdated and scientifically incorrect ideas of race and eugenics. It’s a fascinating read historically. It makes you really angry about the history of race science, but it also really hits home how racism enabled by academia is always just in our rear vision mirror. Without constant vigilance, White supremacy will always turn up at the driver’s side door. That’s something I talk about in my next book.
Saini is just a truly fantastic writer. I basically have a Google alert set for her name so I can read everything she writes because she talks about what I think are the most important issues of our time in a really engaging and easy to understand way, which is the gold standard of nonfiction writing for me.
Bri will be releasing her third book in June 2021. In the meantime, you’ve got plenty of time to get through these eight recs, as well as Bri’s first two books ‘Beauty’ and ‘Eggshell Skull’.