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NOVEL
Big Ray
Michael Kimball
Bloomsbury, $29.95

Most fictionalised memoirs are irritating: what is factual, what is not? Kimball proves a rare exception. Big Ray depicts his father, who was morbidly obese. For each of his 500 pounds, Kimball dedicates a vignette. Ray plainly loathed himself and his family, being physically, verbally and even sexually abusive. His son hates him, and yet still seeks his approval, even after death. Stark prose; nary a word is wasted.


NON-FICTION
Madness: A Memoir
Kate Richards
Penguin, $29.99

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The psychiatric memoir began in the 1800s, before modern chemical treatment. Even now, to write about madness is to venture into the unknowable and appalling. Richards suffered mental illness, depression and psychosis for 20 years. She heard voices and self-harmed. Her disorder could not be identified, but made her life chaos. She writes with great clarity and vividness - the book demands to be read.


CHICK LIT
Lifesaving For Beginners
Ciara Geraghty
Hodder, $27.99

Milo is a 10-year-old boy in England. Kat is a middle-aged writer in Ireland. Their narratives form this book, and eventually meet. Milo grieves the death of his mother, but otherwise deals well with life. Kat is hopeless, wilfully thwarting herself. She has two big secrets. The obvious comparison is Marian Keyes. Geraghty is good, but not up to the same level.


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BOOK THAT CHANGED ME: Austen Tayshus

Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier

This was a text I read in high school. It kick-started a lifelong interest in the thriller and suspense genres. Hitchcock's movie of this book is still one of my favourites of his films. I loved the idea of the new wife naively believing that Maximilian could never get over Rebecca, when, in reality, he couldn't stand her.

Comedian Austen Tayshus is touring to mark the 30th anniversary of his recording Australiana. His biography, Austen Tayshus: Merchant of Menace, by Rick Murphy and Ross Fitzgerald, is now available as an e-book.