This week, the Sydney Writers' Festival staff recommend a brief yet powerful essay on the art of the still life, and the first book in a YA series that happens to be penned by an indie rock star. 

Still Life with Oysters and Lemon by Mark Doty

A slim volume, clocking in at a modest 70 pages, the kind of book you could read in an afternoon — and yet one that carries a weight and resonance beyond what its brevity might suggest. Mark Doty's Still Life with Oysters and Lemon is, framed in the simplest of terms, an essay about a painting — but it's also much more than that. It's also a wide-ranging study on the genre of still-life painting, about beauty and aesthetics, about death and grief, about our urge to collect objects, about memory and the passage of time, and about love.

Doty is a poet first, and you can tell when you read the book: he writes lyrically and precisely, delighting in the shape and feel of words. Take, for example, Doty on the titular fruit: 'Lemons: all freedom, all ego, all vanity, fragrant with scent we can't help but imagine when we look at them, the little pucker in the mouth.' If there was ever a nicer sentence written about lemons, I have yet to find it. This is a quiet, quietly powerful book that, like poetry, delivers new nuances on each re-reading. I think I will return to it often.

Good for: a brief, lovely fling with the beauty of language.

— Nadia Bailey, Digital Marketing Coordinator




Wildwood by Colin Meloy

Lately, it seems that every time I start a book, the thought that I could be reading something else weighs over me. I usually go on to keep it bookmarked but unread and promise myself I'll come back to it later. I suppose that's the somewhat glorious curse of spending five days a week with some of Sydney's biggest bookworms at the Writers' Festival office — where the computers are propped up with a selection of excellent reads and every second conversation revolves around who's reading what.

At the time of writing, I'm in Yulara in the Northern Territory, reading Colin Meloy's — frontman of the indie-rock band, The Decemberists — New York Times bestseller, Wildwood. It's a young adult fantasy novel reminiscent of the Chronicles of Narnia, set in a fictionalised version of Meloy's hometown of Portland, Oregon. Wildwood, as he names it, is known by Portland locals as the 'Impassable Wilderness' — no one's ever gone in and returned to tell the tale, until 13-year old Prue McKneel's baby brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken deep into the fantastical world that is Wildwood.

I can't tell you how refreshing it is to sink into a story where the problems its characters face are not ones based in the somewhat overwhelming reality we all try our best to navigate. Plus, I'm a sucker for illustrations and artist Carson Ellis's perfectly curated drawings further bring this spirited world to life. Get a copy for yourself or your favourite young person if you don't believe me.

Good for: a break from reality, into the comforting danger of a fantasy world.

— Daniela Baldry, Programming and Administration Assistant