Highlights of 2012: Notable reads for 2012
To complete my 2012 round-up triumvirate, which started with my blogging highlights and was followed by my Australian Women Writers challenge wrap-up, this post documents my notable reads of the year. If you are sick of me and my round-ups, I won’t be offended if you click away now!
Like last year, I’m not doing a top 10, because I find defining “top” reads such a movable feast. I would really like to list almost everything I read! So, again, I’m listing my notable reads under categories to give a flavour of this year’s reading life. Last year’s categories were based on review clichés and jargon, but this year I’m going to just make up my own, as whim takes me. Here goes, in no particular order:
Most disappointing read: PD James’ Death comes to Pemberley. It’s not that it was a bad book, exactly, but I’m not much of a crime reader and I don’t tend to read Jane Austen sequels/spin-offs, and I just felt this didn’t cut it, mainly because Elizabeth and Darcy didn’t ring true. They were flat, there was no chemistry. Without that, it was lost.
Most surprising read: Fergus Hume’s The mystery of a hansom cab. What did I say about not reading crime? Well, that’s partly why this was my most surprising read, because it is a late nineteenth century Australian crime novel and I loved it. It provided such a great social history of Melbourne of the period – and was a rollicking good read as well. Quite coincidentally a new telemovie adaptation was broadcast late in the year, and I enjoyed that too.
Bravest book: Francesca Rendle-Short’s Bite your tongue. I loved the creative way Rendle-Short went about telling her uncomfortable story via a fictional-memoir. This book is an example of what Rebecca Giggs meant when she talked about writers finding new modes of authority by which they can describe (and we can find valid) how the world “actually” is.
Most inspiring book: Izzeldin Abuelaish’s I shall not hate. What can I say? Abuelaish’s ability to rise above a pain that no parent should face, the death of his daughters in a targeted terrorist attack, and continue to argue for peace and reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis should be a lesson to us all. I have never liked the idea of revenge, but also have never had my philosophy seriously tested. He has and shows that it is possible to see things a different way.
Favourite e-Book: Willa Cather’s My Antonia. I didn’t read many e-Books this year, but this e-notated version of an American classic was special. While I had some reservations about a couple of the features, overall the e-notation enhanced my reading and, anyhow, it’s a great novel. A re-read for me, and I’d read it again (if I had the time!)
Book scoring most “hits”: Julian Barnes’ The sense of an ending. This popularity was quite a surprise. I was fairly late – given its 2011 Man Booker Prize win – to read and review it, and yet my post seems to score high in Google searches. Why, I have no idea, but there you go! I’m happy to list it in my “notable reads” because, besides its being popular with the search engines, I liked it.
Favourite classic: Elizabeth Harrower’s The watch tower. I read a few “classics” this year – novels and short stories – and enjoyed them all. There’s something about reading good writers from the past – for learning about the world they were writing in, and for providing a different perspective on our own world (if that makes sense). Harrower’s novel is so of its time and place and yet is absolutely universal in its study of power and control in intimate relationships.
Favourite translated novel: Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village. This was one of the books I read for the Shadow Man Asian prize earlier in the year. I also liked the winning book Kyung-Sook Shin’s Please look after mother and several others but, as time has gone on, it’s Ding Village that most often comes back to me. A great study of power and greed, with personal and political implications.
Favourite recent Australian book: Gillian Mears’ Foals’ bread. What can I say? This is one of those books that hits you in the guts. It’s about character, passion (of all sorts), and the ambiguities in human relationships – and Mears nails it.
Favourite short story: Paddy O’Reilly’s “The salesman”. This was very hard, so much so that I nearly decided not to create a category for it. I read several great short stories in 2012 but I had not read O’Reilly before and I was impressed by her control of the form. It’s a powerful story about deprivation, racism and the violence that lies just, only just, below the surface. It’s both subtle and unsubtle at the same time.
That’s 10. I could go on with more categories but I won’t bore you any further. Before I go, though, I’ll just, because I can, give a special mention to those writers who are published by the little presses and who deserve wider notice: Nigel Featherstone (Blemish Books), Catherine McNamara (Indigo Dreams) who has a collection of literary short stories coming out in 2013 to follow her 2012 commercial novel, and Michael Sala (Affirm Press).