Notable reads and highlights from 2013
Last year I wrote two highlights posts – a general one on blogging and reading, and a specific one targeting books. This year, I think I’ll revert to one post and combine the two. (I’ll provide links to my posts where relevant – not to promote myself, but to make it easy for those of you who’d like to check out anything I refer to that you missed first time around).
Literary event highlights
I managed to get to a few literary events this year – including some great book launches – but the three that most stood out for me were:
- Woven Words: an inspired and inspiring night, associated with The invisible thread anthology, that blended words with music chosen by the guest authors.
- Writing the Australian Landscape Seminar: a wonderful weekend of speakers organised by and held at the National Library of Australia. Not only was it wonderful to hear some favourite writers in person but the content gave me much to think about. Two ideas that have remained with me are Murray Bail’s suggestion that Australians rely too much on the strangeness of our landscape to construct our identity, and the wider issue regarding reconciling settler Australians’ experience of landscape with indigenous Australians’ relationship to country.
- Childers Group’s forum on The role of the public arts critic. I particularly loved the idea that the critic is “a trader in ideas”, It takes away the notion of assessment and judgement and focuses us on what the arts are really about – which for me is to provide us with an opportunity to reflect on who we are, what we think, where we’ve come from and/or where we are going.
Aussie reading highlights
- The classics: I read a few Aussie classics this year and all were well worthwhile reading, but the two highlights were being able to read Patrick White’s first (buried) novel Happy Valley, which was published by Text Australian Classics, and finally reading a Christina Stead, For love alone.
- A debut: I haven’t yet read this year’s most touted debut, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites. That pleasure, as I’m assured it will be, is coming this year. But I did read a few debut novels. Courtney Collins’ The burial was a standout for me. I loved the unusual and confronting narrative voice, the strong descriptions, and the fact that it was inspired by the story of a little-known Australian woman bushranger.
- Awards: While I couldn’t tell you who won all the major literary awards in Australia this year – and have been slack about maintaining my sidebar awards list – two winners were standout novels for me this year: Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds which won the inaugural Stella Prize and Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of travel which won the Miles Franklin award (among others).
- Canberra Centenary anthologies: Canberra’s centenary year has ended but we have two wonderful books – The invisible thread edited by Irma Gold and Meanjin’s The Canberra issue – to dip into again and again when we want to think about what Canberra means to us, its residents, and the wider us, Australians.
- Small presses: I’ve read so many excellent books from small presses, books that just don’t get the exposure they deserve. Dorothy Johnston’s e-book Eight pieces on prostitution published via the Australian Society of Authors website, Lesley Lebkowicz’s The Petrov poems (Pitt Street Poetry), Rachel Hennessy’s The heaven I swallowed (Wakefield Press), Gabrielle Gouch’s Once, only the swallows were free (Hybrid) and Susan Hawthorne’s Limen (Spinifex Press) are just a few of this year’s small press treasures.
Other reading highlights
- Hilary Mantel’s Bring up the bodies. What can I say? I loved how Mantel continued Cromwell’s story but with a different theme to the first novel in the trilogy. Can’t wait for the third book. What will she explore in it?
- Diego Marani’s The last of the Vostyachs which was not only a great read but synchronised well with what turned out to be a major theme of my reading this year – the relationship between language and culture.
- Bill McKibben’s Oil and honey: the education of an unlikely activist. McKibben does a great job of chronicling his transition from writer on activist issues to an activist who also writes, and he beautifully articulates the development of his activist strategies, making this book work both as memoir and how-to.
- Australian Women Writers’ Challenge: this is such a positive project to be part of, and I am proud of what we as a team are achieving in terms of promoting Australian women writers. I’d love to know whether those writers who are living are seeing any increase in sales or, even, wider recognition, since the challenge started in 2011.
- Commenters: I’d love to name you all because you have made blogging this year such a positive experience for me. I’ve enjoyed all the thoughtful and honest comments you’ve posted – asking questions, posing different ways of looking at issues, adding your experiences to the conversation. Thank you so much.
Short stories rule: Top posts for 2013
WordPress consistently tells me that the most popular topics I write about – according to my tags and categories – are Australian literature, Australian writers, Women writers, 21st century literature and Review-Novels. However, my most “hit” post last year was a short story by an English woman: Virginia Woolf’s “The mark on the wall“ (reviewed in March 2012). I presume, partly because of the sorts of searches that find it, that this is because it’s a set text for schools/universities, but still, it’s great seeing short stories being read.
Interestingly, my top “hit” Australian post (and third on my Top Posts for 2013) is also for a short story: Barbara Baynton’s The chosen vessel (reviewed in November 2012). This one I find more intriguing. Is this a set text too? If you can throw light on this, I’d love to know.
Searches that reached my blog in 2013
- non living elements that help a echidna (I have no idea what post this one found as I can’t replicate the search to find me)
- what significance does “whitaker’s table of precedency” have in “the mark on the wall”? (From the very specific wording of this one, I’m guessing this was a test/essay question?)
- my sporty.com in sex gum girl (I can’t help thinking he/she was disappointed to find me!)
- what page of midnight empire does drone attacks start (From someone else reviewing Croome’s book?)