NOW, READ THIS
Literary editor Stephen Romei tries to find something for every book lover in Review’s annual summer reading and Christmas gift guide
DO people read different kinds of books at different times of the year? The very existence of summer reading guides — produced by newspapers such as this one, literary bloggers, booksellers and publishers — suggests the answer is yes.
As someone beholden to the next book that must be read for work reasons, I’m not a seasonal reader. Indeed, if I have any spare time during the summer I plan finally to tackle Vasily Grossman’s battle of Stalingrad novel, Life and Fate. Not especially sunny I know, but there you have it.
Given this, I thought it would be a good idea to consult an expert: Mark Rubbo of the Melbourne-based Readings bookstores.
Rubbo’s first point is that summer coincides with Christmas, so ‘‘ a lot of summer reading decisions are made for people by other people’’. Christmas is a time when we are willing to lash out on a book if it’s a gift. While you may baulk at springing $45 for a hardback novel, you don’t think twice about spending that much on the new Peter FitzSimons for dad or Jamie Oliver’s latest cookbook for mum (or the other way around).
Publishers know this, of course, which is why there are lots of brick-sized popular histories and sports biographies and lavish cookbooks and gardening guides published in the lead-up to Christmas.
Rubbo says there certainly is a more ‘‘ recreational focus’’ at this time of year, and in fiction this means the annual Bryce Courtenay (though, sadly, this year’s is the last, as the bestselling author died last month) and a new Ian Rankin, to name two of the most popular examples. Rubbo says humour also sells well, as people look for ‘‘ something to chuckle over’’ as they wind down from the working year.
As for last-minute purchases, he says the bookseller’s nightmare is the ‘‘ proselytiser’’: the customer who comes into the shop three days before Christmas and says, ‘‘ Andre Brink’s A Dry White Season (or something like that) changed my life and I must buy it for my son/mother/father/lover.’’ ‘‘ Certainly it’s a wonderful book,’’ Rubbo says, ‘‘ but we haven’t sold one in five years.’’
With all this in mind I have compiled the following summer reading and Christmas gift guide. I have tried to cover as many genres as possible, limiting each to a handful of books. The idea is there will be at least a couple of books for everyone somewhere on this list.
These recommendations are based on books I’ve read, reviews of books I haven’t read, general chatter with book-loving friends, sales, industry buzz and so on. With few exceptions I’ve limited the list to books published in the past two years or about to be published, so you can buy them in time for the Christmas holidays. To save space I have not included publishing details. The books here should be readily available, but if you do have trouble finding one, email me at romeis@ theaustralian.com.au. Here goes: