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Top 5 Tips for How to Read More Books

Do you wish you had more time to read? Life is hectic and most of us feel as though we could do with more downtime in our days. The all too easy distractions of social media and streaming services mean that even with the best intentions, many of us don’t read as much as we’d like too. Reading is great for broadening the mind, entertainment, relaxation and practicing mindfulness. Here are the top five tips to read more books.

Tip #5 Join a Book Club

Book clubs are a fantastic way for people who share a love of books and reading to get together, share insights and compare reads on a regular basis. The added bonus is that the structure of book club and the expectation that everyone will have read the book by the next meeting is a great motivator to prioritise your reading. Starting a book club can be as easy as getting a group of friends together who have a shared interest in reading and agreeing to get together once a month or every six weeks – whatever timeframe is realistic for everyone. Set some ground rules and be prepared that like anything worthwhile, book clubs require some work and a level of commitment from everyone in the group in order to be successful.  The benefits are that you are reading more regularly, extending your reading interests and have a great excuse for regular, social catch ups with a group of like-minded people.

Funny meme which reads 'At my book club we drink so much that nobody has noticed I'm completely illiterate'. Image of a lady holding a cocktail and looking to one side. Meme accompanies tip on joining a book club as a way to read more books.

Tip #4 What to Read

Sometimes just finding a book you want to read is half the battle. Subscribe to a book blog (such as The Reading Edit http://www.thereadingedit.com) and follow The Reading Edit and other #bookstagrammers on social media (@the.reading.edit). Search Instagram using popular tags to find a Bookstagrammer with similar reading interests to you and follow them for recommendations:

#newrelease
#whattoreadnext
#bookstagramaustralia
#fiction
#thriller

Pop into a bookshop and support independent book sellers! As well as loving to chat all things books, independent book sellers often have a wall of best sellers or popular fiction in store. Alternatively, you can browse their websites for details on new releases and sign up to receive their newsletter. Don’t forget your local library is a great resource too.

Tip #3 Eliminate Distractions

Be prepared to put the phone down and turn the TV off. Leave your phone in a different room if you have too. At night, use the Settings app on your phone and set a regular, pre-determined time for the Do Not Disturb function. On the subject of eliminating distractions, it’s important to acknowledge that there will rarely be a time when there are no distractions at all, so don’t wait for the conditions to be perfect or you’ll never get to that book. Try to unwind at regular intervals of 10 – 20minutes throughout the day (or even longer if you can). Think of all the times during the day when you are scrolling through your phone. What if you picked up a book at some of those times instead? What a great example we would set for our children if they saw us picking up a book instead of picking up our phone.

A funny meme to accompany an article on how to read more books. The meme features a lady relaxing on a couch with the words 'The quickest way for a mother to get her children's attention is to sit down and look comfortable'.

Tip #2 Try to fit some reading into every day – and don’t wait until bed time!

Do you get into bed exhausted at the end of the day, pick up your book, read two paragraphs and fall asleep? Time to move that book off the bedside table, take it out into the world and show it a good time! Carry a book with you throughout the day and you’ll be surprised how many opportunities present to do some reading. Even a 10minute window can be an opportunity for a few quick pages. Don’t begrudge only reading two or three pages at a sitting. Each time your brain switches into reading mode, you are also switching it into mindfulness mode and the more you practise this, not only will you get better at reading, but you’ll reap the benefits of mindfulness practise. In addition, taking the opportunity to read several times throughout the day is also great for keeping you engaged with the story. Try these tips to get more reading into every day:

  • Set the alarm 20 minutes earlier in the morning, make yourself a tea or coffee and enjoy the serenity of sitting outside with the birds and a book to start your day.
  • Go to bed half an hour earlier, make sure you phone is on Do Not Disturb and enjoy unwinding with a book. You’ll sleep much better and have better engagement with the story.

Reading is like running. It might seem hard at first – you can’t concentrate, you have trouble finding the time, there’s too many distractions – but like running, the more often you do it, the easier it gets.

Tip #1 It’s a Matter of Priorities

How do some people get up at 5am to go to the gym before work? How do people find time to volunteer? To play club sport? To study as well as work a full-time job? It must be because they’re not as busy as the rest of us, right? They must have help – grandparents, cleaners, a better boss etc.
WRONG.
Everyone is busy. And yes, some people are busier than others, but how we spend our time each day is a matter of PRIORITIES. You get up an hour earlier to go to the gym because exercise and good health is a PRIORITY for you. You study while working full time with a young family because obtaining that qualification to get a better job, earn more money and potentially have a more successful career is a PRIORITY to you.
It’s the same with reading. People who read a lot of books do so because reading and the escapism, relaxation, broadening of the mind and the entertainment they get from reading is important to them.
So, if you want to make more time for reading in your life, it has to be a priority over other things, such as scrolling through your phone, mindlessly watching tv for hours and doing boring chores like cleaning the house. We are always told to make time for ourselves and the things we love and the various benefits that result when we do so such as improved mental health, better sleep and increased productivity. It can be as simple as picking up a book.

A funny meme to accompany an article on how to read more books. The meme features an image of a woman relaxing in an armchair and reading a book with the words 'I was going to clean the house, but then I realized...this book isn't going to read itself.

So there you have the top five tips to read more books. Now, if only I could get up at 5am to go to the gym….
Happy reading!

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen

by Sasha Wasley

Listen to The Reading Edit’s review on ‘Recommended Reading’ on Drive with Julie Clift, ABC Gold Coast, 27 April 2021.

This book is such a delight! Thirty-year-old Lottie Bentz left her hometown 12 years ago, soon after she was crowned ‘Peach Queen’ at the annual Harvest Ball. Now, her celebrity career is in tatters, she’s in the middle of a media scandal and her agent is in crisis mode. All Lottie wants to do is go home to the orchard town of Bonnievale and wait until the whole thing blows over.

But, following her recent, well-publicised indiscretions, she arrives back in Bonnievale to discover her feminist mother is furious with her. Lottie is broke and determined to declutter her life and start afresh with a clean slate. She lands herself a place to stay at the Brooker’s farm, living in a dusty old caravan with no electricity and embarking on a Marie Kondo-style declutter of both her life as well as the long-held Brooker farm. But as Lottie’s declutter begins to stir up long buried memories and half-truths, the very private Angus Brooker – former Peach King to Lottie’s Queen and heir to the Brooker farm – makes it clear she’s not welcome.

Nonetheless, Lottie is soon swept up in small town life, avoiding her mother at the family newsagency and even finding herself on the organising committee for the recently reinstated Harvest Ball. As kind Mrs Brooker’s health deteriorates, Angus starts to appreciate Lottie and even begins to enjoy having her around. It seems the Brookers and Bonnievale may need Lottie as much as Lottie needs them.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen is funny, warm and modern, but brimming with good old fashioned country charm. I really liked how the story confronted complex family relationships and didn’t shy away from the challenges faced by small towns and farming communities. I loved the characterisation of the various folk in the small country town of Bonnievale. Lottie especially is just so darn likeable! Anyone who goes out on a limb to save an unwell chicken, nurse it back to health and then eventually release it back into the chook pen while singing ‘Survivor’ by Destiny’s Child, is a kindred spirit of mine.

At 472 pages, it’s not a short story and it wasn’t exactly one of those books that you can’t put down. It’s more like a freshly made batch of homemade scones (with jam and cream) cooling in a country kitchen. You don’t want to eat all the scones in one go, rather, you can’t resist popping back for one more because they’re so warm, comforting and delicious.

The ‘Marie Kondo-style’ decluttering that Lottie embarks on refers to the Japanese tidying and decluttering sensation, Marie Kondo. In 2010, Marie Kondo authored the book ‘The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up’. Her method of tidying, known as the KonMari Method is based on determining which items to keep. You simply pick up an item one at a time and if it sparks joy, you keep it! If it doesn’t, you thank it for its service and let it go. Whilst it is a highly effective tidying practice, the actual goal of tidying using the KonMari Method is to clear away clutter so you are free to live the life you want.

Although I don’t have any actual practical experience with the KonMarie Method, I am constantly decluttering. My husband worries that if he sits in any one place too long, I’ll throw him out too. It’s partly because we have a small, but character filled home with little storage, but I also love the idea of living simply and decluttering our lives to bring calm and contentment.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen has been described as a ‘spring clean for the soul’ (Joanna Nell). There’s romance, it’s funny, the country setting and characters are so real and honest, and at it’s heart, it’s a book about discovering the sort of contentment you feel when you are truly happy just being yourself. If that sounds like something you’d enjoy reading, I’m sure that, like me, you’ll be happy spending time in the town of Bonnievale too.

Spring Clean for the Peach Queen. Published by Pantera Press, 2021. 471 pages.

Controversial or Captivating?

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Image of the cover of the book American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features a repeated pattern of blue birds and barbed wire against a white background.

Right from the very first chapter, American Dirt is a thrilling and captivating read. It begins in Acapulco, Mexico as Lydia and her family host a backyard party to celebrate her niece’s 15th birthday. During the celebrations, while Lydia and her son cower in the bathroom, all 16 members of their family are gunned down by a notorious drug cartel, seeking to make an example of her journalist husband. 

Immediately following the brutal attack, Lydia and her eight-year-old son Luca are on the run, fleeing for their lives with targets on their back and no idea where to head next. Lydia soon learns that the reach of the cartels runs deep, with roadblocks on every highway and police and migration officers in their pay. She quickly realises that in order to make it to the Mexico/United States border as quickly as possible, the most dangerous route is also the only route. And so begins a heart-stopping journey riding illegally atop the freight trains, known as la bestia, with thousands of other migrants just like them who will risk everything in the desperate hope of starting a new life in the United States. 

Despite its harrowing storyline, American Dirt was nowhere near as violent or confronting as I was expecting. There is a constant thread of fear and sense of urgency throughout as Lyndia and her son struggle to flee Mexico to the assumed safety of the United States. Lydia’s fear of the cartel discovering them propels her and Luca forward into dangerous, unknown territory daily. At every turn, Lydia is forced to make hasty decisions that rely on instinct rather than careful consideration and rationale. Together as they flee for their lives, Lydia and Luca must suppress their grief for the loved ones they have lost, their only goal each day is to stay together and survive.  

Upon the release of American Dirt in 2020, the hype machine went into over-drive. The author earned a much publicised seven-figure advance from the publisher, it was endorsed by high profile authors such as Stephen King, it was selected as an Oprah Book Club pick and the film rights were sold to Imperative Entertainment, the studio responsible for Sierra Leone civil war drama, Blood Diamond. But the hype was soon followed by extensive criticism. It was labelled as stereotypical and culturally insensitive and there was much pushback from Chicana writers about the author, Jeanine Cummins, who identifies as white, writing a story about a Mexican migrant experience. Chicana writer, Myriam Gurba, expressed that with American Dirt, Cummins has ‘‘identified the gringo appetite for Mexican pain and found a way to exploit it’’. Ouch. 

Cummins insists her intention was to put a human face to the story of the Mexican/US border and to give a voice to the marginalised migrant community. She acknowledges in the author’s note at the beginning of American Dirt:  

“I was worried that, as a non-immigrant and non-Mexican, I had no business writing a book set almost entirely in Mexico, set entirely among immigrants. I wished someone slightly browner than me would write it.” 

Jeanine Cummins, American Dirt

In American Dirt, Cummins reminds the reader that migrants are human beings, not criminals and their reasons for fleeing are diverse and complicated. For reasons good and bad, American Dirt has certainly got people talking. Ultimately, if it makes people aware of the danger and desperation faced by so many migrants, not just in Mexico, but all over the world, then stereotyping or not, it is an important book.  

Despite all the criticism, American Dirt is a compelling, entertaining and thought-provoking read. I was right beside Lydia every step of her heart-stopping journey to freedom. 

Reference: Jane Sullivan, Sydney Morning Herald, February 11 2020

Published 2020 by Hachette Australia, 352 pages. 

Scandal and Glamour in Old Hollywood

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Tara Jenkins Reid

The cover of the book The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by author Taylor Jenkins Reid to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features a blonde woman wearing a green gown with a pearl necklace set against a rich red background.

Ageing Hollywood icon, Evelyn Hugo, is finally ready to tell the truth about her glamorous and scandalous life. When she personally selects unknown magazine reporter Monique Grant to write her life story, no one is more surprised than Monique herself.

Evelyn Hugo’s life as an actress and Hollywood icon through the 50s, 60s and 70s, has been a string of scandals, marriages and divorces. It’s sure to be one hell of a story and Monique is determined that this opportunity will be the one that jump starts her career. After all, she didn’t choose to stay in Los Angeles while her husband moved to New York so she could stay on the editing desk at Vivant magazine forever. But as Evelyn’s story nears its end, it becomes clear exactly why Ms Hugo sought out this unknown writer, as the lives of the two women intersect in tragic and irreversible ways.

Set in Los Angeles and steeped in old Hollywood glamour, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is everything we love about the lives of the rich and famous. It’s gossipy, scandalous, sexy and has a surprising twist. This makes the story sound frivolous, but in terms of storytelling, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is no lightweight. It weaves themes of ambition and success, love and friendship, loyalty and betrayal. Evelyn herself is glamorous, sultry, ambitious and formidable. One cannot help but be seduced by the famous Ms Hugo. Her seven husbands were only ever extras in the story of her extraordinary life.

Me, I’ve always gone after what I wanted with everything in me. Others fall into happiness. Sometimes I wish I was like them. I’m sure sometimes they wish they were like me.

Evelyn, page 344

I loved how the story was interspersed with news, tabloid and blog articles to give the reader a perspective of Evelyn from the outside world at that particular time. I also loved how each section of the book devoted to a particular husband opens with an illustrative moniker, such as ‘Poor Ernie Diaz‘, ‘Goddamn Don Adler‘ and ‘Gullible Mick Riva‘. It really set the tone for the character of that particular husband that was to follow.

I hope they make this book into a movie! It would be stunning on screen – from Evelyn’s early years growing up poor in New York, through her successful years as a famous Hollywood actress in the 50s, 60s and 70s, the marriages, the love affairs, the celebrity, all set against a backdrop of Old Hollywood glamour and an enthralling tale of what one woman was prepared to do and the sacrifices she would make to ensure the longevity of her own success.

Published 2018 by Simon & Schuster, 385 pages.

Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason

Cover of the book Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features a woman wearing an apricot colored dress lying on her back on a green couch. Her head is hanging over one arm of the couch with her hands placed over her head. Cover is the same green as the couch.

Sorrow and Bliss is the story of a woman called Martha. As described on the back of the book, ‘It is sad and funny’ and so much more.

The story is narrated in the aftermath of Martha’s separation from her husband, as she reflects on her life, trying to better understand it and herself. For Martha has always known there is something wrong with her, she just doesn’t know what it is. Martha is a vivacious and intelligent character and her narration is laced with acerbic wit that makes the story so endearing and very funny.

But at the heart of the novel is the crushing mental illness that Martha has lived with since childhood. At age 17, she has a complete breakdown and spends the summer in her father’s study. Even when Martha is well, her fear and anticipation of a recurrence is never far from mind and, more importantly, she lives with information a doctor told her at one of the many interventions during her teenage years: that falling pregnant while on the medication would not be safe for a developing baby. Because of this, from a young age, Martha has convinced herself that she doesn’t want children, despite her adoration and desire to have them.

Over the years, Martha tries to manage her condition through varying diagnoses and prescriptions, but ultimately believes she is just bad at being a person. Her eventual full and correct diagnosis brings clarity, understanding and anger. The fallout from this revelation is utterly absorbing, heartbreaking and sad, as Martha finally navigates her way to uncovering who she really is and admitting what is important to her.

I loved how the story is told through a series of linked vignettes on Martha’s life, from childhood, through to her early 40s. Each of these vignettes typically give a short description of what happened, laced with witty asides, and is then finished with a final crucial line to hint at the wider tragedy of that particular anecdote.

The story is set in London and Oxford (with a short time spent in Paris), giving it a quirky Notting Hill vibe.

There are so many great characters in this novel. Martha has been fortunate to grow up surrounded by people who care, support and love her, including her family (both immediate and extended) and a much-loved work colleague. She has a strong bond with her sister Ingrid, so strong that others describe it as a ‘force-field’. Their father, an aspiring poet, is dependable, strong and kind. Their mother is largely absent, devoting her time to creating sculptures out of repurposed materials in the garden shed and prone to throwing huge parties at their Goldhawk Road flat. (I loved that Martha grew up on Goldhawk Road. It’s the same road I lived on when I lived in London. But ‘Sorrow and Bliss’ isn’t the story of 12 expats living together in a three bedroom flat in Shepherd’s Bush. Back to Martha.) Her Aunt Winsome hosts Christmas every year in her central London home. One year, Martha’s cousin brings his friend, Patrick, home to celebrate Christmas with the family, after Patrick’s own family neglect to book him a flight home from boarding school. This begins a tradition whereby Patrick joins them for Christmas every year, becoming a welcome addition to the extended family.

What is really liberating about this story is that Martha’s illness is never named, even once she receives a diagnosis. In her writing, Mason simply refers to it as ‘— —’. Despite this being somewhat of a frustration for the reader who is well and truly invested in Martha by the time of her diagnosis, by refusing to label her condition, the author removes the medical prognosis and any preconceived notions of a particular condition. After all, the name itself is not important. What is important is Martha’s ability to finally understand and know herself, and to see herself for who she really is after decades of that being compromised by false information and advice from doctors, by loved ones who have turned the other way, and by her own fear of what besets her.

So much of Sorrow and Bliss is about Martha trying to reimagine her past and the person that she is, and to redeem the hurt and loss at its centre. It is tender, sad, heartbreaking and funny throughout, thanks to the author’s sharp writing and intelligent wit. It is a revealing look at family, relationships and navigating life with serious mental health challenges. Finally, it’s about finding yourself and starting again from nothing, if you can find something else to want.

Published in 2020 by HarperCollins Publishers; 341 pages.

Brilliant First Nations Debut

Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

Image of the cover of the book Song of the Crocodile by author Nardi Simpson to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover image features the bare branches of a lone tree against a starry night sky. There is a black crow on one of the branches.

Song of the Crocodile is the debut novel by First Nations author, Nardi Simpson. It is set in the fictional ‘gateway’ town of Darnmoor, home to the Billymil family. The story is told through three generations of women from the Billymil family. Along with the rest of the Indigenous community of the town of Darnmoor, the Billymil’s live in the Campgrounds – makeshift camps that are located out of town, past the dump, with no running water or electricity.

Meanwhile, in town, the white settler families live comfortably in their homes, with their neatly manicured gardens and watered green lawns. The differences between the black Indigenous community in the Campgrounds and the white settlers in town are stark and uncompromising.

As the town of Darnmoor marches towards ‘progress’, the divide between the white settlers and the Indigenous community widens. Though the rigid status quo is mainly upheld through threats and soft power, rather than the overt violence of yesteryear. The inhabitants of the Campgrounds struggle to navigate a world that doesn’t want them. Some of the Indigenous community bravely try to affect change, others survive by keeping their heads down. There is deep segregation, discrimination, racism and violence inflicted on the Indigenous men, women and children.

The story culminates in a violent act that shakes the town to it’s core. Nardi Simpson heightens the suspense in this multi-layered story by intertwining the legend of the mighty crocodile into the final shocking events.

Reading the story of the three generations of Billymil women, I felt deep sadness and shame for the treatment of our First Nations people. But the shame and sadness that I felt sat alongside me as I read and never took over from the story itself.

Yes, Song of the Crocodile is an emotional read, but it is also wise, warm and gentle. It is an astonishing and brilliant read with great depth, a compelling storyline and beautifully written.

I would encourage everyone to read, not just Song of the Crocodile, but any book written by First Nations authors. It is so important that we search out and continue to read books about First Nations people, told in their own voice. When you do, you are rewarded with stories that are contemporary, wise, warm, brilliantly written and brimming with First Nations people’s culture, sense of community, spirituality and connection to the land.

Song of the Crocodile was read in Yugambeh Country, Gold Coast, Australia.

Other notable books by First Nations authors:

Swallow the Air and The Yield by Tara June Winch (Fiction)
Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko (Fiction)
Talking to My Country by Stan Grant (Non-fiction)
Loving Country, A Guide to Sacred Australia by Bruce Pascoe (Non-fiction)
Ghost Bird by Lisa Fuller (Young Adult Fiction)
Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy (Children’s Non-fiction)
Bindi by Kirli Saunders (Middle School Readers)

Alright, alright, alright!

Greenlights by Matthew McConaughey

Image of the cover of the book Greenlights by author Matthew McConaughey to accompany the book review by The Reading Edit on the same page. Cover features a headshot of the author deep in thought.

Alright, alright, alright!

Greenlights isthe memoir of Academy Award winning actor, Matthew McConaughey. I listened to the audiobook of Greenlights, narrated by the man himself. I wouldn’t typically be drawn to anything by Matthew McConaughey (movie, book or otherwise), so I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed his memoir. It is candid, intelligent, insightful and highly entertaining. The truth is, I couldn’t put it down!

This isn’t a memoir of some wild Hollywood playboy or a rags to riches story. Greenlights is Matthew McConaughey’s thoughtful retelling of his most pivotal, life-affirming or life-changing stories and adventures. Along the way, he offers his bumper stickers and prescriptions for life, poems, notes to self and ‘green light’ moments. 

So what are ‘green lights’? In the words of McConaughey, green lights mean go, advance, continue. They give us what we want and don’t interfere with our direction. Sometimes green lights can be disguised as a yellow or a red light – they might present as a caution, a detour, an interruption, a death, sickness on merely a thoughtful pause. They slow us down or stop our flow, but somehow, they give us what we need. McConaughey suggests that throughout life we can identify where the yellow and red lights are and engineer our course to catch more green lights, the path of least resistance. 

This is not a conventional memoir. Nor is it an advice book. McConaughey, aged 50, describes it as an ‘approach book’. The content for his memoir is based on 35 years of journal entries, poems and prescriptions for life. 

“I haven’t made all A’s in the art of livin, but I give a damn. And I’ll take an experienced C over an ignorant A any day.”

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

McConaughey was studying law before he diverted to film school (green light!) and later got his first movie role in ‘Dazed and Confused‘ (1993) (green light!) where the legendary line ‘Alright, alright, alright’ was born (green light!).

His early family life in Texas and a life spent travelling the world (including a gap year in Australia as a Rotary exchange student) make up much of the book, rather than his Hollywood exploits. He readily admits that he gets more inner growth and satisfaction from his travels than his career. 

McConaughey candidly shares the green lights that lead to his most successful movies, as well as his decision to turn his back on a highly successful rom-com career. Ultimately, this red light became a green light when after nearly two years without work, declining some of the biggest and most lucrative roles in Hollywood, he ultimately landed the role of Ron Woodroof in Dallas Buyers Club (2014) for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor.

Greenlights gave me everything I want from a memoir. I laughed, I learnt, I was inspired and I was always entertained. 

“Greenlights – here’s to catching more of them. Just keep livin”

Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey

Published 2020 by Headline, 304 pages (audiobook 6 hours, 42 minutes)

An Australian Epic by the Author of The Book Thief

Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak

Cover of the book Bridge of Clay by Markus Zusak featuring the silhouette of a boy sitting on a roof and behind him is an orange sky. Image is to accompany the book review on the same page.

Bridge of Clay is Zusak’s next novel following the huge success of his international best-seller The Book Thief, and it couldn’t be more different. It is an Australian epic of family, love and loss – and it’s an absolute ripper.

At 579 pages, you can really immerse yourself in this sprawling family saga, set largely in the outer suburbs of Sydney. The story revolves around five brothers – the Dunbar boys – Matthew (the eldest and the narrator of the story), Rory, Henry, Clay and Tommy. Their mother is dead, their father has fled. The five boys, aged in their teens and early 20s, are growing up together in the family home.

A family of ramshackle tragedy. A comic book kapow of boys and blood and beasts.

Matthew Dunbar, Bridge of Clay (page 9)

They live with an assortment of pets collected by the youngest brother, animal lover, Tommy. The pets are each named after characters from the great Greek literary works, The Illiad and The Odyssey. So named perhaps in tribute to their mother, Penny Dunbar, who carried the books as a young immigrant from the Eastern Bloc and went on to lovingly read the stories to her sons, just as her father had read them to her.

Following the death of the boys’ mother, their father has retreated to the outback, in a house beside a river that overflows in big rain and isolates him from the town.

Our protagonist, Clay, is 16 years old and the fourth Dunbar boy. He is quiet and sensitive, yet also extremely physical. Always training for something, but none of them, including Clay, know what that is. All they know is that whatever it is, when that day comes, he’ll be ready.

And that may just be the day their father (only ever referred to as ‘The Murderer’ throughout the book) returns to ask the boys for their help to build a bridge over the river by his home. The sudden, unexpected return of their father is not welcomed by the boys; Clay, the only one who agrees to take their father up on his offer.

As the story unfolds, the building of the bridge provides a metaphor for the slow, rebuilding of the relationship between Clay and his father and the healing from grief following the death of their mother.

Clay will absolutely work his way into your heart. His young life has been marred by immense loss, tragedy and grief, but also love. As Matthew writes on page 10

“Let me tell you about our brother. The fourth Dunbar boy named Clay. Everything happened to him. We were all of us changed through him.”

Matthew Dunbar, Bridge of Clay (page 10)

Bridge of Clay will have you laughing out loud at unexpected moments. Equally, there will be times when your heart will swell with sadness and grief for the Dunbar boys, particularly Clay. With both scenarios, Zusak often catches the reader off-guard with his trademark laconic style.

Bridge of Clay took Zusak over ten years to write, and I for one am so glad he persevered.

Published 2019 by Pan Macmillan Australia, 592 pages.