Thursday, June 13, 2024

‘Ideal for a night in, hiding from the cold’: the best Australian books out in June

Must read

Imperial Harvest by Bruce Pascoe

Fiction, Melbourne Books, $32.99

Yuin, Bunurong and Tasmanian writer (and farmer) Bruce Pascoe has illuminated Indigenous Australian history with his modern classic Dark Emu. Imperial Harvest is a novel set in the 13th century, following Yen Se, a Chinese horse trainer who experiences the trauma and hardship of war, and the loss of his family and home.

Traveling across Asia and Europe, his journey and “witnessing” of many kinds of suffering, is, for Pascoe, a different kind of lens for thinking about Australian history. Despite chronicling war, this book is filled with warmth, humanity, humour and hope for the future. – Joseph Cummins

Psykhe by Kate Forsyth

Fiction, Penguin, $34.99

Psykhe is the perfect winter read. Set against a rich historical backdrop, Forsyth’s latest is full of everything her readers have come to love about her work.

Her attention to detail – early midwifery, herbal lore, Greek myth – brings layers of complexity to a familiar mythological story, and she is an assured storyteller who compellingly brings together the themes of solidarity, witchcraft and love. This a gripping, easy read, ideal for a late night in, hiding from the cold. – Bec Kavanagh

Fragile Creatures by Khin Myint

Memoir, Black Inc, $34.99

There is an admirably clear-eyed and gentle quality to this debut memoir, in spite of – or perhaps because of – the pain that drives it. Australian-Burmese author Khin Myint writes of two personal sagas that overlapped in a singularly difficult period of his life: after his fiancee suddenly left him in Perth to return to the US, he followed her over and was promptly levelled with a stalking charge. While in limbo in the US, waiting for his day in court, back home his sister Theda’s health was declining, after decades of being batted between baffled doctors for her mysterious illness.

A lot of territory is covered in Fragile Creatures, but what emerges most clearly is how this period has shaped Myint today: the anger, grief and betrayal may have left him “profoundly disorientated”, but this book is clearly a vessel for catharsis. – Sian Cain

Everything is Water by Simon Cleary

Nonfiction, UQP, $34.99

Everything is Water is Simon Cleary’s account of his 344km journey by foot along the Brisbane river. I approached this book with some trepidation, given the predictable man v nature tropes that can plague so-called adventurers’ accounts of their expeditions into the “wild”. But Cleary’s is not an ego-driven, gung-ho narrative; it is something far quieter and more intimate.

Throughout, he centres the river as an autonomous, unpredictable and spirited being. He wants to walk with the “river as companion” and to let it guide him, so that he might learn to “see anew”. – Adele Dumont

Blossom by Adriana Picker

Nonfiction, Hardie Grant, $45

Did you know magnolia trees first blossomed more than 95m years ago and their petals can be pickled? Or that all parts of the fuchsia plant are edible and its blossoms and berries go great in granola? In this delicately illustrated tome, artist and self-confessed botanical nut Adriana Picker tells the story of flowers from all around the world in seasonal sequence from spring through to winter.

Accompanying her dainty drawings are colourful floral anecdotes and recipes for herbal medicine, plant dyes, perfumes and edibles. (Nasturtium pesto, anyone?) Whether you live in the city or countryside, there are tips for attracting butterflies, fashioning floral arrangements and creating your own “sensuous night garden”. – Janine Israel

Because I’m Not Myself, You See by Ariane Beeston

Memoir/nonfiction, Black Inc, $36.99

Four days after the birth of her son, Ariane Beeston began experiencing postpartum psychosis: when he developed a nappy rash, she thought welfare agencies would take him away. If she was in a healthy state of mind, Beeston would have been in the best position to spot all the signs: she was a caseworker and psychologist for the Department of Community Services in New South Wales, even taking at-risk children from other mothers and putting them into foster care.

Beeston is a frank and charming writer and has produced a revelatory book – it’s not a stretch to imagine it may even save lives. – SC

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