THIS MONTH I’VE GONE LOOKING FOR SOMETHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY.
THE MAN WHO CLIMBS TREES
James Aldred, W.H. Allen, $29.99
Fabulously different from anything you’ve read before, Aldred’s memoir of climbing and inhabiting the world’s tallest and most unyielding redwoods and eucalypts reveals him not only as a brilliant writer but a true mensch. High winds, insects, snakes, crotch rot, maggots in the scrotum — nothing will deter him. And the fact that no one told HM the Queen that the BBC was going to film Aldred climbing the plane tree tapping at her window, thus exposing him to a right royal scowl and not a wave — well he could grin and bear it.
WHO THOUGHT THIS WAS A GOOD IDEA?
Alyssa Mastromonaco, Little Brown, $29.99
“Go get me a diet Coke, would you?” said a junior staffer to baby-faced, pint-sized Alyssa Mastromonaco, who just happened to be deputy chief of staff to the Obama administration. It’s her own fault. She buys cast-offs from the op shop and wore denim to Buckingham Palace. In her riveting memoir she spares the reader nothing — poo and vomit feature in her story as the overworked team gorge on junk food and dodgy drinks at all hours. Alyssa is top notch at her job. She manages to buy a second-hand plane for the president for a mere $3 million, in the middle of nowhere and without a credit card. And there are some real scoops, for example, what happened at the Copenhagen climate talks with Obama bursting in on the meeting they tried to exclude him from. But there’s far too much about Alyssa’s IBS, which strikes at the worst moments, placing a pall over meetings with the Pope and other important people. A tell-all view from the top of the mountain.
Christopher Wilson, Faber And Faber, $24.99
Stalin’s corpse lies in state but Yuri spots that it is not the tyrant but one of his stand-ins who has been killed for the occasion. As a result of a traffic accident, 12-year-old Yuri is an idiot savant and also chronically cheerful. His parents are dead on Stalin’s orders but he does not know it and gratefully accepted the job of Stalin’s food taster. There are laughs galore in this noir novel. A must-read.
Elizabeth Day, 4th Estate, $29.99
Harder to bear — surely — than unrequited love, is love that is almost but not quite unrequited. The three characters whose POVS dominate this stylish tragi-comedy are Martin, whose love for his best friend far exceeds what he feels for his wife, Lucy, who kids herself that very little attention is better than none, and Keith, her well-meaning psychotherapist. As in Shakespeare (the porter in Macbeth, the gravedigger in Hamlet, and Caliban in The Tempest) the tensions of the main drama are relieved by bouts of buffoonery. These take place in a fictional village police station not far out from London.
Steven Lang, UQP, $29.95
This could turn out to be the best novel I’ve read all year. In dairy country in Queensland, Peter Mayska, a mining megamogul, plans to build a dam. This divides the community. Mayska expects local politicians to do his bidding. My favourite character dies unexpectedly but his replacement — local doctor Nick — picks up the baton and helps Eugenie, the leader of the anti-dam campaign. Wry glimpses of accursed youth tug at the heart. We — or at least those who educate and guide — have erred somewhere along the line. Very moving.
Toby Walsh, La Trobe, $34.99
The 2016 US elections revealed the potential for artificial intelligence (AI) to outflank democracy. Whether it’s bots driving Twitter and Facebook or cyber programs hacking top-secret files, we need to be aware. Walsh, a professor at University of NSW, guides us through the history, the present and the future of AI. When the last Country Style flesh and blood artist or journalist trots off to retirement, gorgeous images and lively interviews, sometimes in holographic form, will still reach subscribers. Seriously.