Reading is something to be encouraged, particularly when we are so obsessed by the immediacy of the digital world. We asked some of our contributors to recommend their favourite books for summer, and to include at least one book with a Hellenic theme or author. Here is a list of their most interesting, arresting, entertaining and life-altering picks. So kick back, stir a long cool drink and read on!
George Papadopoulos is respected as someone with a deep and historical involvement and leadership in Greek and community affairs. He headed the Victorian Multicultural Commission, Multicultural Arts Victoria and was a founding father of the Australian Greek Welfare Society.
Modern Greece – by Vangelis Calotychos
Berg Publishers 2003
This work is described as Cultural Poetics. It contains discussions of Hellenism and Neohellenism as seen though culturally derived literary forms. Names such as Rhigas Velestinis, Karyotakis, Elytis and Seferis are discussed amongst major Greek writers, as are non-Greeks Henry Miller and Lawrence Durrell.
Twice a Stranger – by Bruce Clark
Granta Books 2006
This deals with the exchange of populations in 1923 and following years between Greece and Turkey following the Greco-Turkish war which culminated in the Turkish victory and the Treaty of Lausanne. The book treats the actual exchanges and the resettlement in Greece and Turkey of the displaced populations. It is necessary reading for those interested in the arrival in Greece of the Pontians and Micrasiates. Importantly he deals also with the Turks of Northern Greece and Crete who were part of this tragedy.
Sea of Many Returns – by Arnold Zable
Text Publishing 2008
This is a semi-fictional account of Ithacans migrating to Australia and returning to Ithaca. Semi-fictional because of Zable’s great ability to listen to people and then recount what he has heard into top-class writing. Zable also has good Ithacan contacts and his work and words ring true to one who has also spent a lifetime with Ithacans.
Jeana Vithoulkas, herself a published author, is one of NKEE’s most formidable writers. Jeana is controversial, direct, connected and honest and a tough critic of injustice.
Deer Hunting with Jesus – By Joe Bageant
Deer Hunting with Jesus is an insightful analysis of the American working class, particularly in the southern states of the USA. The author returns to his home town after years away to find a community battered and bruised by neo-liberal economics, while at the same time ready to swallow the conservative social agenda of the Republicans. Bageant delivers a number of reasons for this state of affairs among him people, all of them compelling and devastating.
A Mercy – by Toni Morrison
Chatto & Windus 2008
I first read Toni Morrison’s Beloved many years ago and I was hooked. Recently I finished another Morrison novel – The Bluest Eye which tells the story about black self-hatred through the eyes of a young rejected girl who longs for blue eyes to feel beautiful. A Mercy is a novel set at a time when slavery was not colour-specific. I am looking forward to being enthralled by the winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature once again.
The Turnaround< - by George Pelecanos
I didn’t start reading crime fiction until a few years ago when somebody gave me a Michael Dibdin book based on the Italian policeman Aurelio Zen. Since then I have embraced George Pellecanos (a Greek American whose crime hero is a black American) and Henning Mankell, in whose books Swedish police officer Kurt Wallander is a kind of shabby hero. The Turnaround is based on events that take place in 1972 and two survivors from those events 35 years later. The book takes us on a journey from the rock-and-soul streets of the ’70s to the changing neighbourhoods of DC today. Pelecanos is a race-conscious writer and his books are filled with images of Greek Americans and black Americans in Washington DC.
Mike Sweet is our man in Athens, he is a writer for Athens News, he loves life to the full and as a dinky die Aussie knows more about Athens than most Athenians.
Stencil in Athens – by Pafsanias Karathanasis
Oxy Publications 2008
A timely study of guerilla street art in Athens. Researcher and author Karathanasis unpicks the meanings behind the Greek capital’s current, most politically charged ‘wall culture’. The relationship between the stencil art and the Athenian artists that create it is central to the book, with most of the artworks emanating from Athens’ anarchist community. Written in Greek and English, Stencil in Athens places the art in the context of the history of street art and graffiti culture globally. The anti-establishment message is clear in much of the work shown, but there’s a poetic quality to many of the agit-prop images that ensures that the city walls are a living space of imagination and artistic creation, as well as protest and resistance.
In Sfakia – by Peter Trudgill
Lycabettus Press 2007
An affectionate and personal account of the Cretan region of Sfakia and Chora Sfakion. Trudgill first visited Sfakia in the 1970s, and after 60 or so visits later the book distils Trudgill and his wife’s encounters with the Sfakian people. Trudgill’s relationship with key village elders, developed over time, was crucial to the author gaining intimate access to the Sfakian community. This allows for a fascinating insight into Cretan village life, and a people renowned for their heroism, fierceness, dignity and independence, though remaining, as the author puts it ‘hospitable to the point of insanity.’
Around Greece in 80 stays – by Jacoline Vinke
Road Editions 2008
Vinke’s coffee table book, with exquisite photography by fellow Dutch national Andre Bakker, showcases some of the most desirable small hotels and guesthouses in Greece. Exceptional accommodation for the discerning traveller, the 80 destinations on the mainland and islands depict idyllic retreats removed from the centres of mass tourism. Vinke’s thorough research and descriptions of small details, for example, the appropriateness of taking children to some of the more adult-only locations, is hugely helpful. The sumptuous photography beckons in a way that standard travel guides find impossible to compete with. Required reading for those visiting Greece and wanting to find something more than the standard ‘rooms’.
Dr John Vasilakakos
We are keen as mustard to have another author and thinker in our stables: Dr John Vasilakakos, an award-winning writer and academic from RMIT .
To Hellas and Back – by Lana Penrose,
What does reverse migration – say from Australia to Greece – feel like? A young Australian woman soon finds out, after deciding to follow the Greek-Australian young man she’s in love with to Athens, where he moves to take up his dream job. This experience proves to be for the protagonist a modern Greek tragedy, as she is called to deal with the culture shock of being uprooted but also the alienation of her beloved’s affection as he becomes devoted to his work, a situation that signals the end of their liaison. An interesting autobiographical chronicle on the ups and downs of interpersonal relations in a cross-cutural setting, seen through a kaleidoscope akin to that in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, without – alas! – a wedding in sight, or even a happy ending…
Hello TV! – by Alexandros M. Assonitis,
A novel about the kidnapping, imprisonment and torture of four Greek celebrity TV news presenters by a terrorist organisation. A novel in the thriller genre, in which TV is divested of whatever supposed social role it may be said to have, and is transformed into what it really is according to the writer: one of the most insidious, dangerous, sadistic and unfeeling tools of mass stupefaction and violence ever devised by humanity. This is an original and cleverly conceived and written novel that shakes up our unthinking daily reality, passivity and stagnation.
Recollections of Mr Manolis Laskaris – by Vrasidas Karalis
Brandl & Schlesinger 2008
However charismatic a person Manolis Laskaris may have been, nobody would be interested in him were he not the faithful and devoted companion of Patrick White for some 50 years. Besides, it was as White’s translator that Karalis got to know Laskaris. But in the course of this acquaintance, Karalis finds out that Laskaris wasn’t just White’s other half, but a completely independent and fascinating personality of his own meriting particular attention, and thus the publication of this book. An engaging read, which also manages to challenge the reader in many ways.
Chris Fotinopoulos is a philosopher, a working a teacher, the NKEE guru of urban mythology and harbouring unfufilled dreams of being a rock god – clearly a man deeply influenced by Soctrates and touched by the Gonzo.
The Last Days of Socrates – by Plato
Penguin Classics (various editions)
This philosophy text appeared on my form 5 (year 11) Greek History reading list. Although Socrates’ Apologia was a little challenging for me at the time, the statement uttered by Socrates prior to taking hemlock resonates with me to this day, as it does with western culture.
“I tell you that…examining both myself and others is really the very best thing that a man can do, and that life without this sort of examination is not worth living.” If you wish to lead an examined life, Socrates’ Apologia will serve as a reliable guide.
Ego and Soul: the modern West in search of meaning – by John Carroll
Scribe 2008 (revised edition)
I recently heard John Carroll, Professor of Sociology at La Trobe University, suggest that western civilization inherited its cultural genes from the Greeks. His book, Ego and Soul: the modern West in search of meaning appeals to the Greek classics, as well as the great western writers and artists in an attempt to make sense of a post-Christian church world. In this project, you sense a spiritual pulse that beats strong in the ordinary. In Carroll’s search for meaning, he identifies the spiritual significance of modern western secular rituals associated with sport, work, the home, consumerism and the modern university.
The Paris Review Book of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travel.
This book commemorates The Paris Review golden anniversary by reprinting the writings and interviews from the world’s most brilliant authors of the last half-century: John Updike on Sex, Gabriel Garcia Marquez on God, Ted Hughes on Love, Harold Pinter on War, Hunter S Thompson on Intoxication, Anthony Burgess on Dinner, Norman Mailer on Death, Jack Kerouac on Travels and Ernest Hemingway on The Art of Writing. A great book to dip into while lazing on the beach or sipping a G&T on a balmy Melbourne evening.
Nick Economou is one of Australia’s leading and most astute political analysts. He has a blood hound’s accuracy, sniffing out underlying meanings in Australian political processes and events.
The Longest Decade (revised edition) – by George Megalogenis
Once upon a time, not so long ago and before the Global Financial Crisis, Australia was governed by the Liberal and National parties under the leadership of John Winston Howard. Mr Howard took over from Paul Keating, a prominent media commentator who was once treasurer and Prime Minister of Australia in the Labor years. Both Keating and Howard presided over what will, in retrospect, look like the good old days when the Australian economy appeared to transform itself into a post-modern outfit generating wealth from services while, way out west, up north or out back, transnational mining companies were digging up coal, iron and nickel and shipping it off to China as fast as Australia’s dilapidated rail and port infrastructure could move it. Megalogenis’ book deals with these salad days and is worth reading for the warning he gave about the flimsy pretexts upon which the Australian economy was based. He also alerts us to the dangers of governments trying to spend their way out of political trouble with tax payers’ money. A must read this Christmas, especially for Mr Swan and Mr Rudd.
Deaf Sentence: A Novel – by David Lodge
Harvill Secker 2008
Are you a university lecturer who has got a bit long in the tooth, whose hearing is going, whose university has pensioned you off, and who gets entrapped in the bizarre research obsessions of a young and beautiful female post-graduate student? If so, you are the subject matter of David Lodge’s latest university-based novel. In the tradition of Nice Work and Small World, Deaf Sentence is a well written and extremely humorous account of life in the intellectual slow lane overlaid with brilliant insights into human frailty.
Van Diemen’s Land – by James Boyce
Black Inc 2008
Quite simply, this is a stunning book about the early colonial history of Tasmania when it was called Van Diemen’s land and when there was an almighty power struggle between the four emerging social groups of the time – the British aristocracy decamped to the colonies to run a penal colony, British convicts, freed British convicts and Tasmania’s indigenous people – for control of the Tasmanian land mass. Boyce’s book is part of the intellectual response to John Howard’s ‘history wars’ and its meticulous research and superb narrative makes it a sublime offering. Boyce also reminds us about the extension of the race wars from Tasmania to Victoria with the annexation of the Port Phillip district by the men from Launceston.
Theo Giantos is a special NKEE find! Theo is a union official and secret rock and roll inspired, cricket-loving social commentator.
Dreams from My Father – by Barack Obama
Text Publishing Co 1995
Arguably the best book ever written by a politician, Obama’s book reveals a young man of frightening intelligence, a man seeking to understand how, why and where he fits in, from a societal perspective, given that his biological father was Kenyan and his mother was a white woman from Kansas. Obama recounts his one meeting with his Kenyan father, who decides to make a perfunctory visit to Hawaii then vanishes from Barack’s life forever. His mother remarries and transports a disoriented young Barack to a village in Indonesia. Barack establishes friendships with the village kids but, after a year or two, is shipped back to Hawaii to be raised by his white grandparents. Read this book and you will realise that Obama may not be the Messiah, but he will certainly become the greatest American President since Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Redemption Song: The Definitive Biography of Joe Strummer – by Chris Salewicz
Harper Collins 2007
A great book that reveals little known facts about John Mellor, the son of a British diplomat born in India and known by all as Joe Strummer, the lead of Britain’s most impressive punk band The Clash. Along with his brother David, Johnny is transported from one embassy post to another until he is finally abandoned by his parents.
Mellor and David are dumped by their parents into a secondary college boarding school where their sole contact with their parents amounts to an annual visit. Young David loses his way in secondary school, becoming increasingly enamoured of Nazi paraphernalia , and eventually committing suicide. Mellor realises that he is alone in the world and bravely throws his chips into the direction of music and art. His brother’s suicide provokes strong feelings of anti-racism within young Johnny and by the mid 70s a chance meeting with future manager, Bernie Rhodes, along with an encounter with a brilliant guitarist named Mick Jones, leads to the release of the first official recordings by The Clash in March 1977. From now on as Joe Strummer he will dedicate his life to anti-racism projects, acting , raising a family and to a growing fascination with world music.
Strummer makes an impressive comeback and releases three absorbing albums in a row in 1999 to 2002 until he is cruelly cut down by congenital heart failure, a condition that could have killed him at any stage during his life.
Byzantium The Surprising Life of A Medieval Empire – by Judith Herrin
Penguin Books 2007
Judith Herrin is the Professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King’s College in England. The great thing about Herrin is that she is not just an Ivory Tower academic.
It is refreshing to note that Herrin has spent her life literally digging for artifacts and tracing historical clues throughout Greece, Turkey and Cyprus. I confess that I purchased this book on the basis that it name-checked the cities of Kastoria (and Ohrid) in the index but, more importantly for me, as someone who grew up believing that Constantinople rivalled Athens as arguably an alternative capital city to Greece, Herrin convincingly makes the case that the concept and reality of Byzantium and Byzantine life is one that straddles way beyond Greek culture, incorporating strong Roman influences and many other hybrid nationalist, cultural and religious Orthodox Christian elements. I would argue that this is an informative and myth-busting book.
Melissa Chrys is your muse as NKEE fashionista. Melissa reveals through her selection of books that style and grace are only valued when real intelligence is the gel.
The Slap – by Christos Tsiolkas
Allen & Unwin 2008
When a man slaps someone else’s child at a barbeque, things start to unravel. Tsiolkas’ latest novel is a compelling read. It’s full of drama, angst and lust and while it’s sometimes uncomfortable, you won’t want to put it down. The characters are real and whole, some likeable and others hateful. However, Tsiolkas is such a powerful writer you find yourself sympathising with even the most wretched of them. He is a writer who really is in touch with the present and that makes this book a truly good read.
A Thousand Splendid Suns – by Khaled Hosseini
This is the second novel from the author of The Kite Runner, and while his last book was a tale of men and redemption, this is a story of women, sacrifice and love. A Thousand Splendid Suns tells the story of two women bound together through violence, war and oppression. Books like these are important because they give you perspective. When you start getting caught up in all of life’s meaningless crap, it’s good to read a book like this and realise how lucky you really are.
Casino Royale – by Ian Fleming
Penguin Classics 1962
Get back to basics with the real James Bond. Yes, before the movies, the special effects and Daniel Craig, there were just the books. Begin at the beginning and find out about the real Bond; he’s a darker, deeper character with some serious issues and an obsession with his gun. He’s also very fond of suits, owns a house and has a man-servant. Sexy and full of action, they’re the perfect beach read.