photos COURTESY OF BETTER READ THAN DEAD
If there’s one thing better than curling up in your favourite nook with a page-turner of a book, it’d be gushing about your latest read with your closest friends. As JD Salinger’s protagonist says in The Catcher in the Rye, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much though.”
With the idea of promoting good books, good reading and good conversations, we’ve started a Peppermint Book Club – a space where each month we ask an independent bookstore to curate a list of recommendations and tell us why they love them.
Better Read Than Dead is a Newtown institution bringing to light all the best things about independent bookstores. A hub for the local community – with regular author and community events, and a stack of popular book clubs – we asked buyer Lexie Eatock for her top picks to impress pals in our own reading circles.
At Better Read Than Dead, we run a lot of book clubs and whether it’s with a group of friends or a structured club, there’s a definite art to picking a good book when it’s your turn. You don’t want to pick something everyone adores or that has absolutely nothing to unpack, and you want to pick something propulsive and able to be read in the right time frame. We’re here to help you pick a winner: whether it’s based on a theme, an author (the way Amor Towles does it), or catering to the group of people you’re with. We’ve rounded up some prize picks and recent favourites to give you a head start – even if it’s just a reading party of one.
Chai Time at Cinnamon Gardens by Shankari Chandran
Cinnamon Gardens is set in a family-run Western Sydney retirement home, and while cosy at first, it’s interspersed with a dual timeline showing the family’s immigration from Sri Lanka during the civil war and the harsh reality of systemic racism in contemporary Australia. While this sounds incredibly intense, it’s done with such a deft hand that you don’t even realise what is happening, and all of a sudden you’re contemplating what it means to be a modern-day Australian and the role that politics plays in our day-to-day lives.
Yellowface by Rebecca Kuang
Our main character witnesses her more successful friend dying, then steals her manuscript, turns it in under her own name, and passes as racially ambiguous in order to make the narrative not appropriation. June is the perfect antagonist you’ll love to hate, and her victim mentality is perfectly offset by how sharp, sly and ironic this book is.
Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters
If your ex asked you to raise a baby with them and their new girlfriend, would you? This book should not be anywhere near as fun as it is. But while officially a ‘serious topic’, it’s one you can finish and immediately pass to a friend and have a conversation with them, just hoping they’ll get as emotionally invested in the characters as you did.
Owlish by Dorothy Tse
Set in Hong Kong during the protests of 2019, Professor Q is, well, a professor at a university, while his perfect wife tolerates him. He repays her by… falling in love with a life-size mechanical ballerina doll. The politics, the dysfunctional marriage, the doll? So much to unpack!
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami
The Japanese fiction craze shows no sign of slowing down, and if cosy and twee coffee shops aren’t your speed, then Mieko Kawakami’s analytical descriptions of sexism and womanhood in Japan might do the trick. Split into two parts, ‘Breasts’ follows two sisters as one contemplates getting breast enhancement surgery while her teen daughter grapples with the nature of bodies, and ‘Eggs’ follows contemplations of reproduction. This book touches on so many weighty topics in almost a detached way that it’s the perfect conversation starter – and will give you enough to think about for months to come.
The Late Americans by Brandon Taylor
Brandon Taylor has done it again, by which ‘it’ means literary perfection. Set in the Ohio Writers Workshop, the book features 11 short, interconnected stories as poets and various friends neatly (and not so neatly) tie up ideas of success, love, sex and ambition – and whether they can exist together. Written so beautifully it will make you ache, the emotions stay with you long after the morally grey areas start to fade.
The Underground Railroad by Colton Whitehead
The ultimate book club book. It’s serious. It’s literary. Cora has escaped from slavery in the deep south, and we’re along for the ride as we follow her bid for freedom. False starts, murders, and escapes galore, it’s practically an adventure book, except for the heavy topic matter. Have the tissues handy.
The Colony by Audrey Magee
Warning: this is the antithesis of Sally Rooney. On a tiny island off the coast of Ireland, an Englishman and a Frenchman fight about who gets to be on the island, with a woman and a teenager forced to be their go-between. With the men fighting about the death of the Irish language, who has the right to be there, the rising of the Troubles, and forced migration to the mainland, all set against art and stark writing, this is best consumed alongside a packet of Tim Tams and a cup of tea.
The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Sheen Karunatilaka
Don’t you hate when you’ve died and entered administrative hell? After being forced to queue for much too long after discovering he’s died, Maali Almeida is tasked with solving his own death within a week. A delicious mix of fantasy and fiction with a slight dash of civil war, Maali is such a wonderful character you’ll be devastated when it’s over.
Lonely Castle in the Mirror by Mizuki Tsujimura
While bullying in high school is a bit of a universal experience, dealing with it by disappearing into a mirror might not be the most common anecdote. Definitely the most feel-good book on the list with the most twists and turns, this is simultaneously a heartbreaking story of not fitting in and a scathing indictment of modern schooling, but you just know that everything is going to turn out ok. And sometimes, that’s just what you need.