Explore the 2024 Program

Book Club: Writers Talking Writers

Book Club with Tony Birch and Vivian Pham

What better remedy for isolation than a great read that takes you places? 

We’re celebrating the writers and thinkers who didn’t get to share their stories at the Festival we had planned to put on at the end of April. This week, Tony Birch (The White Girl) and Vivian Pham (The Coconut Children) share what they're reading right now. 

Add these picks to your book club reading list, and let us know what you think. To quote George Saunders at the 2017 Festival, “even in dark times, human beings can come together through those holy acts of reading and writing”.

Check out Gleebooks to get your (sanitised) hands on many of these excellent reads. Gleebooks is currently offering free delivery to all addresses within the Inner West Council and City of Sydney Council boundary areas, and free delivery for orders totalling $50 or more to other locations across Australia.

A recent read

I’ve just finished There Was Still Love by Favel Parrett, who I believe is one of Australia’s great writers. I wish more people read her work. There Was Still Love is – not surprisingly – a story of love. It is also a story about a journey across time and place, the experience and impact of migration, and the memories we privilege.

– Tony Birch 

The books they can't wait to read

Mammoth by Chris Flynn and Ghost Species by James Bradley

I’m eagerly awaiting the release of two new Australian novels by writers I have great respect for, both as novelists and people. Chris Flynn’s Mammoth and James Bradley’s Ghost Species deal with the new world we must confront if we are to survive as a global community.

– Tony Birch 

Sharks by Kawai Strong Washburn

I think the premise of Kawai Strong Washburn’s debut novel, Sharks in the Time of Saviours, sounds awesome. As soon as I read ‘magical realism’ and melding of ‘Hawaiian myth with the broken American dream’, I was sold. The archipelago has always been emblematic of eternal summertime in my imagination, and I’ve unwittingly wondered what a dream it must be to grow up there. I suspect the novel has much to teach me about tradition, the legacy of American colonialism and how difficult it is to be a seven-year-old with supernatural powers absolutely anywhere.

– Vivian Pham

A favourite

A Good Man is Hard to Find, Flannery O’Connor

The book I have returned to more than any other is Flannery O’Connor’s short story collection, A Good Man is Hard to Find, first published in 1953. A book of stories in the tradition of Southern Gothic, it’s a wild ride – as is real life.

– Tony Birch

Pluck the Living Flower, Daniel Carrington 

Whenever I feel uninspired by my own thoughts, I leaf through Daniel Carrington’s, which are conveniently arranged in a slim collection of wide-ranging aphorisms called Pluck the Living Flower. Carrington fathoms the unfathomable in few words. Clarity is his trademark. While I am tempted to describe the collection as accessible, a book’s accessibility largely depends on publishers who decide what readers have access to. The ancient aphoristic style seems misunderstood, but more often totally ignored in today’s publishing culture – not quite prose, not quite poetry, neither traditional nor avant-garde. Pluck the Living Flower is a gift that deserves many more receivers.

– Vivian Pham