A middle-aged man still stuck in adolescence gets a wake-up call.
Micah Mortimer runs his own meagre mr fix-it small business, a technical help service for befuddled older clients. He scoots around town, a removable Tech Hermit sign on top of his car, solving computer glitches for the technically illiteratey. The scenes where Micah's mystified yet cheery customers wrestle with their computer outages and breakdowns are hilarious and heartwarming. Who hasn't encountered a parent or grandparent who feels certain technology is playing mischievous tricks on them?
Micah hasn't really got his life in order. In his mid-forties, he still lives like an adolescent in his small apartment, using an outmoded coffee machine from a previous tenant. He has a “woman friend” ( the use of “girlfriend” is deemed too immature) named Cass. She is a teacher, good-hearted and generous, we later learn. Cass is experiencing troubles with her rented apartment and when Micah fails to appreciate the difficulties of her situation, she gets exasperated.
Fans of Anne Tyler won't be disappointed with this charming little gem. All of her special ingredients are present: realistic dialogue, well drawn and believable characters, easily recognisable situations and a general warmth of tone.
Redhead by the Side of the Road is just what a really good book should be: enjoyable, cathartic and uplifting. It will make you happy to be alive.
Redhead by the Side of the Road, by Anne Tyler. Chatto & Windus. $29.99
Release date 15th April
Review by Chris Saliba
In this deeply personal and often harrowing story, journalist Shannon Molloy tells of a year of intense homophobic bullying he experienced during high school.
The time is the year 2000. The AIDS crisis is just in the rear view mirror and marriage equality is a long way off. At school, rampant homophobia is the norm. No one questions the prerogative of boys to beat and bully anyone they think is gay. Being an effeminate boy – marked out by walk, hand gestures and voice – is a red light to bullies. Daily abuse, humiliations and intermittent beatings are to be expected by the victim. To make matters worse, teachers, principals, counselors and religious instructors never call out this homophobia, letting it go unremarked.
Shannon Molloy grew up in the seaside town of Yeppoon, located in Central Queensland and attended an all-boys Catholic school. Fourteen chronicles one year in Molloy's life, the age of fourteen. It's a year of unremitting hell, saved only by the support of a small group of close friends. It's staggering to read of the total lack of school support for someone who is clearly being abused on a daily basis. When an older boys tries to sexually abuse Shannon, figuring he's gay and therefore can be raped, Shannon manages to escape, only to be captured again by a teacher patrolling in her car, who promptly returns him to school. No protocols are in place to allow him to safely explain what had happened. In another harrowing scene Shannon is told to go and see the school counselor. Ostensibly the reason for the meeting is to come up with a strategy to stop the bullying. The counselor goes on to tell Shannon that he has a gay walk and therefore the bullying is his own fault.
Things get so bad that Shannon starts plotting an escape. It's extraordinary that a young man, in the care of a school, should have to think seriously about options for getting out, as a matter of desperate urgency. To remain becomes increasingly untenable, even if most of the adults around him can't see it.
Now a News Limited journalist, Shannon Molloy has written an essential document of the times. This is a book of searing honesty and palpable pain, making clear why school bullying programs are so vital. Read this book to understand the sense of shame and humiliation that goes with being a victim of homophobia.
Fourteen: My Year of Darkness, and the Light That Followed, by Shannon Molloy. Simon & Schuster. $29.99
Review by Chris Saliba
A fun, energetic new installment in Louis Sachar's Wayside School series.
On the thirtieth floor at Wayside School, Mrs Jewls's class continues apace. All sorts of weird and wonderful things are going on. The kids are trying to collect one million nail clippings, Kathy has a bad case of “oppositosis” (she can't help but counter everything with its opposite), Jason is bravely trying to read a book with 999 pages and Mrs Jewls likes to rhapsodise on the wonders of the humble paper clip. There is much consternation when the children are taken to the rooftop to study cloud formations. Mrs Jewls describes the different types of clouds, but suddenly gasps when a dark cloud is spotted. With horror, she pronounces it the "Cloud of Doom".
Acclaimed children's writer Louis Sachar's latest book is a treat. Relentlessly inventive and comic, with 30 quick-moving chapters, it makes for a satisfying holiday read. The broad cast of characters is especially enjoyable: there is the librarian Mrs Surlaw with her giant stuffed walrus students can hug, the eccentric psychiatrist Dr Pickell and the hilariously mean Kathy (“That beard is really ugly. I guess your face must be even worse, huh?”). The school cook, Miss Mush, and her famous Rainbow Stew, should not be missed.
This is the kind of pitch-perfect book that can be safely put into the hands of any child. Adults will get a kick out of it too!
Wayside School Beneath the Cloud of Doom, by Louis Sachar. Bloomsbury. $14.99
Review by Chris Saliba
Hop, Skip, Go: How the Mobility revolution will transform our lives and our planet: John Rossant and Stephen Baker
Two experts explain how we will travel in the future.
Cars are great, as long as everyone doesn't drive. When everyone does, congestion and dangerous emission levels are the result. Commuting by car in some major cities, such as Los Angeles, has become almost impossible. Traffic barely moves, resulting in lost hours better spent elsewhere. What to do?
Mobility expert John Rossant and business journalist Stephen Baker team up to present transport solutions from the future. They visit cities and tech start-ups that are pushing ahead with new, better ways to do travel. There are businesses trying to build cars with less of a carbon footprint, cutting edge ride-share services and apps galore to more efficiently marshal travel services. The authors even look at the possibilities of drones – either to carry online ordered packages or humans.
Most of the future's mobility revolution will be run not on fossil fuels, but on data. Our mobile phones will allow technologists to figure out the most efficient ways for us to get around. The downside, or course, will be the loss of privacy and surrendering so much of our personal data to big business and government.
Hop, Skip, Go is one of those technology books that likes to repeatedly predict how we will live in the future. At best, we're given an array of nascent technologies. Which ones take off, if any, is anyone's guess. Also, there are bound to be “black swans”, those unpredictable events that turn all received wisdom upside down. Having said that, Rossant and Baker have written a valuable book that explains why car travel has become untenable and the possible ways it might be wound back to some degree.
Hop, Skip, Go: How the Mobility Revolution Will Transform Our Lives and Our Planet, by John Rossant & Stephen Baker. Published by HarperCollins. $32.99
North Melbourne Books