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Critics' Picks - Top reads for spring

There are thousands of new books to browse and read in our Critics’ Picks collection in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Every book has been reviewed by top critics in literary review publications.

It’s been a challenging year for all of us, but even as the weather turns a little warmer, one of our favourite activities is still diving into a good book.

With our doors wide open again, there are some terrific reads to be found in the Critics’ Picks collection at the Library. Our librarians have selected eight books to spring into the season.

Whether you crave a literary dissection of our eventful times, some local stories, or just pure fabulous escapism, there is bound to be something that piques your interest here. All these books are available in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room and several are also available to read online from home — or wherever you are. Whatever you are interested in, we guarantee that there’s something there for you.

Have you made any surprising discoveries on our shelves? What are some of your favourites right now? Let us know and be sure to tag us @statelibrarynsw and #criticspicks

Spring Reading List - Summer

by Ali Smith

The calendar says spring, but Summer is already here. The pandemic is present in Ali Smith’s final instalment in a quartet of seasonal offerings. Like Spring before it, here’s a book that never feels anything less than present. The darker realities of the previous entries in the series — internment camps, Brexit and contemporary politics — are still present, but Smith manages to remain cautiously optimistic about the future. ‘As a body of work it’s remarkable’, comments librarian Richard Gray. 

Spring Reading List - Confession with Blue Horses

Confession with blue horses
by Sophie Hardach

Librarian Jane Gibian recommends this intriguing novel about coming to terms with personal and political pasts in the former East Germany. Sophie Hardach gradually reveals what the protagonist, Ella, thinks she knows about her mother’s experience in Stasi prisons after their young family were caught trying to escape over the Hungarian border. This is interspersed with Ella’s happy childhood in East Berlin, her current life in England, and her research in the Stasi Archive looking for clues about her mother’s life. ‘The novel vividly evokes the destructive consequences of a divided country’, says Jane.

Spring Reading List - Australian Code Breakers

Australian code breakers
by James Phelps

Not only did Australia fire the first shot in the First World War, but our codebreaker Frederick Wheatley and his team of female assistants encrypted the German Code Book HVB after it was captured. A feat of ingenuity and bravery by an Australian naval officer, learn how the Melbourne Cup helped crack the code! Be on the edge of your seat as you follow the chase of the German navy squadron by our then-new Royal Australian Navy ships. ‘Normally “war” books send me to sleep by the first page’, says librarian Kathi Spinks, ‘but this one, written by a journalist, is fast-paced. The characters — even the German Commander Von Spee — are sympathetically portrayed.’

Spring Reading List - Top End Girl

Top End Girl
by Miranda Tapsell

In the months that staff were working from home, many took the opportunity to engage in a course of core cultural learning activities with AIATSIS. ‘In doing so’, says staff member Margarita Peloche, ‘I came across a very engaging memoir written by none other than Australian actress Miranda Tapsell.’ In her autobiography, the Larrakia Tiwi woman and star of stage and screen shows her passion for Darwin and the Top End, her love of acting and romantic comedies, and shares her realisation that if you want something done you need to do it yourself. ‘From Kakadu to Cannes, this engaging and well-written memoir will keep you laughing, crying and entertained to the end’, concludes Margarita.  

Spring Reading List - Trixie and Katya

Trixie and Katya's Guide to Modern Womanhood
by Trixie Mattel & Katya Zamolodchikova

If you’re already a fan of Trixie and Katya from their appearances on RuPaul’s Drag Race, UNHhhh, or their stage shows, you know what you’re getting into here. It’s a fun piece, filled with essays, asides and lots of glossy photographs on body image, personal pampering, food and sex. ‘The book shines in the transcripts of conversations between the dynamic drag duo’, adds Richard. ‘It’s like watching one of their YouTube clips. There’s just as many asides, but fewer interstitial graphics.’

Spring Reading List - Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

Kim Ji-Young, Born 1982
by Cho Nam-Joo

Originally released in its native South Korea in 2016, a new English translation this year coincides with the wider release of the film adaptation. Ostensibly about indoctrinated misogyny in South Korea, there’s a universality to the titular Kim Jiyoung’s experience. Written as a case study, Kim Jiyoung’s life is framed as something extraordinary but the truth is that it’s the cumulative and systemic aggressions that determine her fate. ‘A quick read that speaks volumes’, says one of our librarians.

Spring Reading List - The Yield

The Yield
by Tara June Winch

The winner of the 2020 Miles Frank Literary Award, and shortlisted for the Stella Prize, Winch’s book has already made many lists. ‘This wonderfully ambitious and exciting book is this reader’s first exposure to Wiradjuri language’, says librarian Philippa Stevens. ‘It tells a heartbreaking story with strength and resilience displayed at every turn. The scenes of Poppy learning culture from his Elders will stay in my mindscape for a long time.’

Cover image of the book The White Girl.

White Girl
by Tony Birch

Writer, historian, poet and activist Tony Birch presents a book with a strong Indigenous woman at its core. ‘This book draws you to the absolute edge of your seat’, says Philippa ‘barracking for the main character Odette as she tries to keep her granddaughter Sissy safe amongst all the institutionalised and individual racism present in their lives’. It’s a story of strength and triumph over dark forces and a real page-turner that takes very difficult societal themes of colonialism and violence and oppression and threads them through this very personal setting.