During the few months of California summer I enjoyed and the following months of Melbourne winter that I endured (it actually wasn't too bad), I did a lot of reading. Reading for me always comes with travelling and a journey that went from California to Haiti, back to California, then home to Melbourne via Hawaii certainly involved a lot of moving around. Although winter is nearly over (for the southern hemisphere that is) I figured there was still time to compile a quick list of some of the books, articles and websites that I've been enjoying. Disclaimer: They are all non-fiction at the moment.
Behind the Beautiful Forevers, Katherine Boo
About six months ago I read Katherine Boo's New Yorker article, The Marriage Cure. Needless to say I was blown away. I had read a Guernica interview with Boo some time ago and immediately thought -- "this is what I want to do, I want this woman's job." Behind the Beautiful Forevers is just a Katherine Boo dream. Set in India, the book follows the lives of people -- mainly rubbish pickers and sorters -- in a Mumbai slum called Annawadi. As usual, the prose is perfect and Boo's depiction of characters reflects the true complexity of the human experience. Behind the Beautiful Forevers is a perfect example of nuanced and thoughtful poverty reporting so much so, I kind of wish I hadn't read it so quickly.
Darwin Slept Here, Eric Simons
Eric Simons is my former editor and an all round great journalist and guy so reading Darwin Slept Here was very much like having a chat with him over a coffee on a Monday morning. Probably more eloquent, but just as funny and insightful. If you don't know the author personally, the book is just as great. A twenty-something Simons backpacks through South America visiting sites and following in the footsteps of Charles Darwin. Simons makes a good point that we always consider Darwin to be this stuffy old man with a beard and an idea that revolutionised science. But before that he was a young adventurer and naturalist who essentially traipsed around South America via boat, foot and maybe mule. If you are a Darwin nut, the novel is an interesting look at Darwin before he was the more famous version of himself. And if you are a travel fan, the book is a funny and very relatable read with some science and natural history thrown in for good measure.
Immediately after reading The Best of Outside, I picked up a copy of current Outside. The former I loved. The latter I thought was okay. Not terrible but certainly no Outside magazine of the 1980s to 1990s. Some of my favourites from the book include Susan Orlean's La Matadora Revisa Su Maquillaje (The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup) and Bob Shacochis' There Must Be a God in Haiti. One of the results of reading the Best Of was also a bit of an obsession with Susan Orlean's work: beware.
Anything and everything from Matthew Power
Power is one of those writers who I wish I could sit down with and ask: what are you thinking when you write something like this, or describe someone like that. Unfortunately, that will never be possible. So it is through his writing, through the reading and the re-reading of some of my favourite articles, that I hope in some small way to get closer to a writer I never even knew. For me, his stories are not only great works of journalism but they are inspiring and they are motivating and although in no way are our talents matched, they sometimes remind me that yes, you can do this.
Say Hello To My Little Friend, Outside Magazine, Susan Roach
Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide to the Modern American Boomtown, Buzzfeed, Susan Elizabeth Shepard
The American Male at Age Ten, Susan Orlean, Esquire
On the Market, n+1, Alice Gregory
Netherland, the New Yorker, Rachel Aviv
Sleeping with Cannibals, Smithsonian Magazine, Paul Raffaele
The Wells of Memory, National Geographic, Paul Salopek
The Last American Man, Elizabeth Gilbert, GQ (I am no Eat, Pray, Love fan but I really enjoyed this. The lady can write.)
Journalism and travel, together at last. And they are so right. Roads and Kingdoms is the kind of travel writing that is interesting, challenging and engaging. My biggest gripe about a lot of travel writing is that it is either cliche,' about getting drunk in [insert country] or there is no narrative, no characters, no real point. Of course I like to read the FAQs sometimes, the go here and the eat this, but I also think a lot of travel writing can be better than it is. Roads and Kingdoms is one very big step closer to that.
Flint magazine is a new Australian venture that already has a solid reputation for great photography and has featured some pretty outstanding stories and photographers. Although it is relatively new I think it's well on its way to becoming a much needed addition to the Australian media scene. Check out Flint Magazine in the next month or so for a feature from yours truly.
What's on your winter/spring/summer/any season reading list?