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Bookin’ bookin’ booky books

Zoo City – Lauren Beukes

Holy crap what a good book! I read Beukes’ Moxyland while overseas, and it really fizzed my wizz, if you know what I mean; I was so excited to have another of her books all queued up on the Kindle. And I think I like Zoo City even more: I suspect it has to do with my long-standing impulse to just prefer books with more animals (however darkly beautiful they may be). Zoo City is a murder mystery on the top level, but it’s one of the most beautiful stories of redemption, recovery and facing one’s regrettable deeds I’ve ever read. The main character, Zinzi, is in a pretty gritty place at the point the book opens: making a living the best way she can, given her past crimes. But in Zoo City, everyone has done something: that’s where the animals come from. And the relationship between an animalled and their animal is a deep, sharp and complex thing. A standard lost-things job takes a frightening new direction and Zinzi is sent into some of the most grim areas of the city and of humanity. This book is fantastic: exciting and gripping, with compelling and real characters (who are rarely everything they seem) and a wonderful sense of danger, beauty, and strength.

The Song Of Achilles – Madeline Miller

Miller’s novelisation of the relationship between Achilles and Patroclus is one of the most powerful and beautiful books I’ve read this year. If you’re at all familiar with your Greek history legend, or even just the story of the Trojan war, there won’t be a lot of surprises in the plot for you, but that shouldn’t stop you. Miller writes with a restrained hand, without gushing or sensationalising, and gives the love between the two characters all the tenderness and respect it deserves. The tragedy, seriousness and stupidity of war is not glossed over, and the pride and arrogance that drove it are treated justly. There’s a lot of sadness odds this story, as well as a lot of beauty. Overall, it’s great. Really, really great.

In the Kingdom of the Ditch – Todd Davis

I love random finds in the library. My workplace has recently moved offices, from the Asia-Pacific/Social Sciences library to the Humanities/Social Sciences library and I am very happy. Sometimes in my break I go upstairs and visit the books, just to read the blurbs and see how everyone’s doing. Other times, I scoop up books like they’re lost puppies. In the Kingdom of the Ditch was a book I scored on one such puppy-scooping mission. In the Kingdom of the Ditch is Todd Davis’ fourth full-length collection of poetry, published this year, and it is pretty awesome. His poetry sings of rural America, where farm and wildlife meet, where grace and serentiy reside for the troubled mind. He writes eloquently on the coyote, the deer, the birds, the blackberries: the human world trying to grow and make peace with the wilderness, harsh and beautiful. The collection is deeply intimate; he writes on his role in the death of animals as a hunter, on his communion with God, the death of his father, on his fears and loves, on his relationship with his wife, on the country that thrives fearsomely around him. It’s a wonderful book. (Also there is a cow on the cover, which I trust everyone will like.)

The Brooklyn Follies – Paul Auster

Ahh, a life-affirming novel of human connection, foible, and love despite faults. Nathan, a divorced retiree in remission from lung cancer moves to Brooklyn “looking for a quiet place to die.” There he settles into the gentle rhythm of life, and unexpectedly meets his nephew, Tom, in a rare and second-hand book shop. Tom is similarly adrift in life: he’s abandoned his once-glittering prospective academic career and now is lost and unhappy. Tom and Nathan rekindle their friendship and together begin to open themselves up to all life has to offer. Nathan’s narrative voice is just great: it crackles along with dry wit and self-honesty. Tom and Nathan grow stronger through their friendship, encouraging each other, and gradually begin to make new friends, forge new dreams, and reconnect with drifting family. Through their recovery — I can’t think of a better word for it: they recover their lives and their happiness — they begin to heal others who have been hurt by life. It’s a book about not giving up in the truest and most profound sense: the sense of continuing to find joy in life (and bring it to others) when all the things your happiness previously rested on have left. A good book, definitely. h

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