the bookshelf diaries: sonia nair
The Bookshelf Diaries takes a peek into the reading life of writers, readers and book lovers. What do you think of Sonia Nair‘s taste in novels?
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading the latest Overland issue – the 215 Winter Edition – and The Rosie Project (I know I’m extremely late to this!). I just however finished Liam Pieper’s The Feel Good Hit of the Year, which I was extremely keen to read after hearing him speak at the recent Emerging Writers’ Festival about a) having his penis operated on in excruciating detail and b) being busted by the cops when his girlfriend’s mother came over to meet his parents. It was everything I expected it to be – uproarious, upsetting and unflinching in its examination of drug addiction, the inherent aimlessness of being a 20-something, and the ethical contradictions of striving to live a bohemian lifestyle.
Where did you buy it?
This is bad, but I didn’t buy any of those books! I received the latest Overland and The Feel Good Hit of the Year as review copies and my boyfriend’s mother lent me The Rosie Project because she was so enamoured by it and in turn shocked to learn that I hadn’t read it yet. I do buy books though, I promise – usually from Dymocks, Readings or independent bookstore Tim’s Bookshop in Kew. I’m a traditional reader in that I still go to physical storefronts to search out books and pick ones that I like the covers best of.
What’s in your to-read pile?
So many books! I bought Dave Eggers’ The Circle a few weeks back and have yet to start it. I also have to review Jenny Valentish’s Cherry Bomb as well as the autobiographical Surviving Year Zero: My Four Years Under The Khmer Rouge so they’re on top of the to-read pile. Otherwise, I’m keen to explore new local releases such as Eli Glasman’s The Boy’s Own Manual to Being a Proper Jew, Luke Ryan’s A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to Chemo, Angela Meyer’s Captives and Tara Moss’s The Fictional Woman – among others. Also very keen to read the English translation of Murakami’s latest release Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past year?
This is hard – I’m glad I have my Goodreads account to keep track of everything! I only recently read Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar and was blown away by how artfully she encapsulated the malaise of being a woman in the male-dominated world of the mid-20th century and her episodic delineation of slowly losing one’s mind. On a more local (and recent) front, I absolutely loved Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest, which is a tender yet highly suspenseful glimpse into the recesses of an old lady’s diminishing mind as she encounters a sudden visitor in the form of caretaker Frida. I also just finished Meg Wolitzer’s The Interestings, which I absolutely loved for its portrayal of society’s obsession with talent and being special.
Although I veer towards reading fiction, I think Mark Isaacs’ The Undesirables is a raw, honest and incredibly important account in the current political climate of what transpired within the four walls of the Nauru Detention Centre and how exactly asylum seekers are treated in our name.
Where do you like to read?
I like to read on the tram to work because it’s a 40-minute trip, but only when it doesn’t make me nauseous, which is only very occasionally. I like to read at work during my lunch break, although colleagues seem to think this is code for ‘talk to me’ and I’m constantly interrupted so I’ve stopped doing that. Talking to them I mean. Often I just find myself curled up on the couch under a blanket with a book or reading in bed, common ways to cope with the fact that my house does not have central heating.
What’s your favourite book of all time?
It’d be remiss to not talk about my predictably favourite book series of all time – Harry Potter. I started reading the first book Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone when I was slightly younger than Harry and I know this sounds nauseatingly clichéd, but I really do feel like I grew up with these characters.
When it comes to a standalone book, it’d have to be Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things, which is funny because it took me two attempts before I became fully immersed in it. I’m glad I persevered – Roy’s debut novel lends devastating insight into the problems wrought by India’s caste system, the unravelling of traditional hierarchies and the problematic treatment of women in India against the politically charged backdrop of resurgent communism and an underbelly of dissatisfied ‘untouchables’. It is an evocative book with beautiful prose that will never fail to give me goose bumps as Roy fosters an inescapable sense of tension culminating in a terrifying climax. On a personal level, my grandparents originate from Kerala – the very state Roy’s story is set – imbuing my reading with another layer of understanding as much of the culture that is evoked by Roy is deeply ingrained in me from my upbringing.
What do you read to feel inspired?
Maria Popova is a fantastic curator of enriching, empowering, thought-provoking pieces and her blog Brain Pickings is a fantastic collation of material that, in Popova’s words, helps us answer the “grand question of how to live, and how to live well”.
Twitter is a great place to find inspiration. Never a day passes without me reading a sublime piece of writing or insightful commentary which I never would have found if I wasn’t mindlessly trawling through my timeline.
Sonia Nair is a Melbourne-based business journalist, chronic overeater and freelance arts writer. Follow her on Twitter @son_nair