SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
December 22, 2022

CityMag’s summer book club

Reading recommendations for your summer break, courtesy of your good friends at CityMag.

Charmian Clift — Mermaid Singing & Peel Me a Lotus

Recommended by Angela Skujins, CityMag reporter

This travel book fortuitously came into my life right before I started a one-month-long holiday in Greece. My next-door neighbour Jan — a very cool older lady, who calls me bella — dropped it on my doorstep in June. (We have a habit of lending each other literature and magazines.) Although the book has a lot of through-lines with my life, it’s a body of work for anyone who wants to dive head-first into the unknown. Charmian Clift, an Australian journalist-turned-author-turned-layabout, wrote these two novels in the 1950s on the islands of Kalymnos and Hydra. She quit her London reporting job and moved her family to a place filled with ripe tomatoes and scraggly trees. The former was once populated by sponge divers, stray cats and poverty, and the latter occupied by bohemian creatives such as Leonard Cohen, who allegedly heard about Greece in London after inquiring about the source of a bank teller’s tan. Read these two books, which come as a package, if you need inspiration to dive into something different — or to simply book a holiday to the sun-soaked Peloponnese. Oupa!

Mermaid Singing & Peel Me a Lotus are available at Dymocks.


Too Much LipMeshi and Greta & Valdin

Recommended by Suzie Keen, InReview editor

Goori writer Melissa Lucashenko’s 2019 Miles Franklin Prize-winning novel Too Much Lip had been on my teetering to-read pile for way too long before I decided to listen to the audiobook this year. The story, set against a backdrop of intergenerational trauma in a fictional small town on Bundjalung Country, is gritty and unflinching, yet taps a rich vein of dark humour. Australian actor Tamala Shelton’s narration of the audiobook, which includes words in Bundjalung language, gives an authentic voice to Too Much Lip’s hard-bitten characters – especially Harley-riding, bullshit-intolerant Kerry Salter, whose arrival back in her home town leads to the unravelling of deeply-buried secrets but also ultimately galvanises her family in their battle to save a sacred place. My delicious second pick is Adelaide author Katherine Tamiko Arguile’s Japanese food memoir Meshi, a book full of stories and recollections that beautifully capture Japanese culture and the power of cuisine as a means of expressing love and identity. Best of all, it also includes dozens of mouth-watering recipes. And, because you can never read too many books, I’m also recommending Kiwi author Rebecca K Riley’s Greta & Valdin – a quirky tale of two 20-something siblings sharing a flat in Auckland while navigating complicated same-sex relationships and their eccentric Maori-Russian-Catalonian family. It’s charming, fun and a perfect summer read.

Too Much Lip and Meshi are available at Imprints. Greta & Valdin is available at Dymocks.


Min Jin Lee — Pachinko

Recommended by Kate Robinson, CityMag account manager

Pachinko follows the life of a Korean family across four generations in a sharply observed work of fiction. The story begins in the late 1800s with Hoonie, the only surviving child of a poor fishing family, on an island just off Busan, South Korea. Despite their financial circumstances and a distinctive birth deformity, Hoonie’s family situation is considered more stable than most and he’s quickly thrust in to a – not unlovable – arranged marriage. Sunja, the only daughter of this union, becomes the pivotal character for the remainder of the 400-page epic. A chance meeting with a wealthy older man sets Sunja’s life on an unexpected and compelling trajectory, much of which takes place in Japan, which in the mid-1900s is not a pleasant place for Korean people. The story covers – in heartbreaking detail – the complex dynamics of family, culture and power and how no matter how much effort one makes to keep these separate, they’ll forever be connected.

Pachinko is available at Imprints, or try your luck at a local Street Library.


Hanya Yanagihara — A Little Life

Recommended by Jayde Vandborg, CityMag designer

As a self-proclaimed ‘I must finish what I start’ type of reader, I struggled this year to find a large read that had me invested from the get-go – until I was given A Little Life as a gift. It had me invested within the first twenty pages, and suddenly amongst the lives of the main four characters in even fewer. It’s a long haul, but it does a great job of flowing from one character’s retrospect to the next. One recollection will be riddled with holes to speculate, and the next perspective will fill them in with much-wanted answers. It has easily swept me up, and I predict it will do so until its final pages and leave me absolutely shattered, as the rumours claim.

A Little Life is available at Dymocks. A theatre adaptation directed by Ivo van Hove will be part of the Adelaide Festival in March next year — if you want incentive to power through the novel and compare the two, like me.


Batman: The Long Halloween & Year One

Recommended by Johnny von Einem, CityMag editor

Suzie nominated multiple books, so I’m going to taking her lead – albeit in a nerdy direction. I’ve been fascinated with Batman since childhood. I watched the ‘90s animated series and wore thin my VHS of Scooby-Doo crossover The Caped Crusader Caper. Tim Burton’s films were regular selections at sleepovers, and Heath Ledger’s Joker dropped at exactly the right moment in the formation of my brain (age 20, still impressionable) for the world of the Dark Knight to feel significant. I saw The Batman this year and was sad to walk out having not connected with the film. Following its release, I saw a lot of positive reviews, which made me feel worse for not getting it. Some reviews referenced earlier source material, specifically the comic compendiums Year One and The Long Halloween. I decided to dive in. Written by Frank Miller, illustrated by David Mazzuchelli and published in 1987, Year One depicts Bruce Wayne’s first year as Batman, when Gotham’s criminal underworld doesn’t yet know whether to fear the light in the sky. Matt Reeves’ film similarly picks up early in Batman’s career, and features key Year One characters Selina Kyle and Carmine Falcone. The Long Halloween, written by Jeph Loeb, illustrated by Tim Sale and published in 1996—97, is a longer story, also early on in Batman’s adventures. It follows the year-long crime spree of the Holiday killer. In his investigation, Batman throws suspicion on several of Gotham’s most-deranged criminals. I haven’t revisited the film since reading these collections, so I don’t know if I’m any closer to getting it. But this journey has reignited in me another tradition of my youth: picking up a couple of comics to read at the beach over summer.

I got my copies of The Long Halloween and Year One at Greenlight Comics, and it’s very possible you could too (if they’re in stock).


Share —