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Our Antidote book recommendations for lockdown

These are the Antidote 2021 must-reads from the Opera House team

Sydney Opera House staff

In early September, we beam Antidote, our festival of ideas, action and change, directly to your lounge room. Before then, we have six exceptional books courtesy of the festival speakers that are bound to hightail those dull days at home. So cut out the doomscrolling and hit the books.

The book cover of The Shape of Sound by Fiona Murphy

The Shape of Sound by Fiona Murphy

Recommended by Festival Director Edwina Throsby

It’s strange that a book can be simultaneously fierce and delicate, but Fiona Murphy’s The Shape of Sound manages to be both. Murphy gives a brutally personal and deeply sensitive account of the journey by which she “came out” as deaf, which will resonate with anyone who has ever felt insecure, vulnerable, or just different. At the same time, she emerges as a champion for a better understanding of disability, which she comes to see as being an identity, a community, a culture, and a badge of honour. I’m not going to describe it as inspiring – that’s a word that is rightly scorned by many disabled people. Instead, this book reminded me of the battles we all go through, not just to be accepted by the people around us, but, much more difficult, to be accepted by ourselves. 

Fiona Murphy will appear at the Antidote talk Sound and Silence: Deaf Stories.

Book cover for My Year of Living Vulnerably

My Year of Living Vulnerably by Rick Morton

Recommended by Dominic Ellis

My Year of Living Vulnerably seems a relatable title for a readership that has spent much of the last 12 months in caves introspecting.  Rick Morton’s latest is a moving, at times difficult, exploration through the author’s brain. It treads similar thematic ground to his acclaimed first novel, One Hundred Years of Dirt, which told a haunting story of Morton’s farm upbringing – but is formally divergent. It’s a memoir at times, reportage at others, with moments of Gladwellian insight and a splash of self-help.

Recently diagnosed with complex post-traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD), Morton confronts the various dimensions of his illness, framing his chapters – self-standing essays in their own right – around ideas like ‘Touch’, ‘Dysfunction’, ‘Masculinity’, ‘Kindness’. In his mission to ‘figure out’ his trauma, we meet a robot seal, a homeless man in New York, and a Japanese farmer, among others. But for all the interviews, the theories, the experiments and the self-reflection, this book is about journey, not destination - “not finality but progress”, as Morton puts it. And it’s a beautiful, timely journey.

Rick Morton will appear at the Antidote talk The Myth of the Fair Go.

Cover for Minor Feelings

Minor Feelings by Cathy Park Hong

Recommended by Georgia McKay

Minor Feelings: An Asian American Reckoning is the first work of non-fiction by formidable Korean American poet Cathy Park Hong. A Pulitzer finalist, the daughter of Korean immigrants blends memoir and cultural criticism, interspersing family history with humorous, and at times biting, meditations on historical events and culture, including the remarkable insight that the largest mass lynching in American history involved a group of young boys in Chinatown, Los Angeles. 

The title borrows from critical theorist Sianne Ngai, who wrote about “ugly feelings” in 2005, referring to trivial emotions such as irritation, boredom, and anxiety. Experienced as a ‘model minority’, Hong portrays these feelings over a series of essays as explicitly racialized, gas lit and dismissed.

Although written prior to the onset of COVID-19, Hong’s examination of racialized consciousness has taken on heightened resonance since the pandemic and subsequent #StopAsianHate movement. 

Cathy Park Hong will appear at the Antidote talk #StopAsianHate.

The book cover for Humankind by Rutger Bregman

The Believer by Sarah Krasnostein

Recommended by Kate Britton

We meet many characters in Sarah Krasnostein’s The Believer – creationists and ghostbusters, Mennonites and ufologists, people at the end of life, domestic violence survivors and Buddhist death doulas. People with varied and passionately held beliefs, that patiently and generously share these beliefs with Krasnostein – sometimes over several years. People that have something to offer us in understanding our own beliefs and how and why we structure our lives as we do.

The Believer speaks directly to the grand exhilarating unknowability of the universe in which we turn and our deepest instincts to make sense of it. But perhaps what rings most true is Krasnostein herself. Through a series of heart-wrenching, challenging and downright bizarre encounters, she remains open, vulnerable, intelligent, humorous and insightful. Someone you’d invite to dinner – believers welcome. 

Sarah Krasnostein will appear at the Antidote talk Soul Searching in a Post-Truth Age.

The book cover for Humankind by Rutger Bregman

Another Now: Dispatches from an Alternative Present by Yanis Varoufakis

Recommended by Katie Hryce

Hands up who's been dreaming of an alternative situation to lockdown? From those on their third (but not necessarily last) rewatch of Schitt's Creek to emerging armchair social economists and everyone in between, readers seeking a different world should look no further than politician and economist Yanis Varoufakis' first dip into speculative fiction, 2020's Another Now.

Set between the 1970s and 2030s, Varoufakis uses the novel as a controlled environment in which to plot out the potential IRL conclusion of his views, championing the viability of democratic socialism in a post-GFC and post-COVID world. Though, as his characters (including a Marxist-feminist anthropologist, genius techno-futurist and neolibertarian former banker) discover, big caveats, inequality and the pursuit of power may well still reign in paradise. Echoes of anti-authoritarian and anti-crony capitalism critiques from Varoufakis' earlier non-fiction work punctuate this polemic novel and give way to searing questions about our current reality.

It's a quick yet erudite read, slotting nicely between late night YouTube searches of video footage of a young Yanis and half-hearted attempts at reading all three volumes of Marx's Capital while we're confined to our homes.

Yanis Varoufakis will appear at the Antidote talk Alternative Futures.

The book cover for Humankind by Rutger Bregman

Under a White Sky by Elizabeth Kolbert

Recommended by Francesca Breen

Elizabeth Kolbert's new book Under a White Sky suggests we’re standing face-to-face with the ‘Anthropocene’, a ‘geologic epoch’ where human activity is seen to be the most powerful force shaping the Earth’s environment and climate. Kolbert’s book is an urgent study of our impact on the planet, our efforts to save it, and the challenges we face in doing so. 

We meet researchers in Australia desperately attempting to genetically engineer coral reefs that can survive a future in warmer, more acidic oceans; engineers who are turning carbon emissions into stone in Iceland; and physicists who are contemplating shooting diamond dust into the stratosphere to reflect away sunlight and cool the earth. As Kolbert describes in the final chapter, this is “a book about people trying to solve problems caused by people trying to solve problems”. 

Kolbert’s writing is humorous and accessible even for those new to the genre, and she paints detailed portraits of fascinating people – a testament to her skills as a storyteller. A perfect read for anyone concerned about the state of our planet, even if they don’t often dabble in the bookstore's ‘science’ section.

Elizabeth Kolbert will appear at the Antidote talk Racing to the End of the World.

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Antidote – A festival of ideas, action and change

Antidote is a festival of ideas, action and change with a line-up of brilliant thinkers, artists and provocateurs. Rent any talk or enjoy the entire festival on demand on Stream, the new streaming service from Sydney Opera House.