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Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie writers name their pick reads of 2015

December 14, 2015

It’s the month of the lists, and so, while I’ll be saving my lists until the END of 2015, I thought today I’d share some of the lists that have already been published. I appreciate that there’s value in publishing these lists now, as they might just help people with their Christmas shopping (or with compiling their Santa lists for other people’s shopping!).

Because my Monday Musings series is about Australian literature, I’m only going to list the favourite Australian books chosen by Australian writers. Most of the books nominated were published in the last 12 months or so, but writers were allowed to choose the best of what they’d read during the year, so some have chosen older books.

So, here’s the list of books, in alphabetical order (with the nominating author/s in parentheses at the end):

  • ***Robert Adamson’s Net needle (poetry) (Luke Davies, Jennifer Maiden, Gig Ryan)
  • Debra Adelaide’s Letter to George Clooney (short stories) (Christos Tsiolkas)
  • Nigel Bartlett’s King of the road (crime novel) (Debra Adelaide)
  • Tony Birch’s Ghost river (novel) (Omar Musa) (reviewed 2016)
  • Stephanie Bishop’s The other side of the world (novel) Susan Johnson)
  • Frank Bongiorno’s The eighties (non-fiction) (Tom Keneally)
  • Margaret Bowman’s (comp. & ed.) Every hill got a story (history) (Alexis Wright)
  • James Bradley’s Clade (novel) (Luke Davies)
  • Tania Chandler’s Please don’t leave me (novel) Graeme Simsion)
  • **Tegan Bennett Daylight’s short story collection, Six bedrooms (Susan Johnson, Charlotte Wood) (reviewed later) (reviewed 2016)
  • Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the animals (novel) (Chris Wallace-Crabbe)
  • Peter Doyle’s The big whatever (crime novel) (Debra Adelaide)
  • **Ali Cobby Eckermann’s, Inside my mother (poetry) (Robert Adamson, Jennifer Maiden)
  • Delia Falconer’s The lost thoughts of soldiers (novel) (Luke Davies)
  • Michael Farrell’s Cocky’s joy (poetry) (Gig Ryan)
  • **Martin Flanagan’s The short long book (biography) (Anita Heiss, Favel Parrett)
  • Bill Garner’s Born in a tent (non-fiction) (Don Watson)
  • Lisa Gorton’s The life of houses (novel) (Chris Wallace-Crabbe)
  • Barbara Hanrahan’s The scent of eucalyptus (novel) (Peter Goldsworthy) (my review)
  • Lesley Harding and Kenneth Morgan’s Modern love (biography) (Steven Carroll)
  • Natalie Harkin’s Dirty words (poetry) (Anita Heiss)
  • **Martin Harrison’s Happiness (poetry) (Robert Adamson, Lisa Gorton)
  • Elizabeth Harrower’s A few days in the country and Other stories (short stories) (Joan London) (reviewed 2016)
  • Sonya Hartnett’s Golden boys (novel) (Robert Adamson) (reviewed 2016)
  • John Hawke’s Aurelia (poetry) (Gig Ryan)
  • Antonia Hayes’ Relativity (memoir) (Graeme Simsion)
  • Lisa Heidke’s The Callahan split (self-published novel) (Anita Heiss)
  • Marty Hiatt’s Hard-line (poetry) Gig Ryan)
  • **Sarah Holland-Batt’s The hazards (poetry) (Chris Wallace-Crabbe, Fiona Wright)
  • Chloe Hooper’s The tall man (non-fiction) (Abigail Ulman) (read before blogging)
  • Clive James’ Poetry notebook (essays) (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Karen James’ On purpose: Why great leaders start with the PLOT (non-fiction) (Anita Heiss)
  • **Gail Jones’ A guide to Berlin (novel) (Debra Adelaide, Fiona Wright)
  • Mireilla Juchau’s The world without us (novel) (Fiona Wright)
  • **Leah Kaminsky’s The waiting room (novel) (Graeme Simsion, Clare Wright)
  • Krissy Kneen’s Eating my grandmother (poetry) (Kristina Olsson)
  • **Malcolm Knox’s The wonder lover (novel) (Christos Tsiolkas, Don Watson)
  • Lee Kofman’s The dangerous bride (Clare Wright)
  • **Ramona Koval’s Bloodhound (memoir) (Shane Maloney, Clare Wright)
  • Anna Krien’s Night games (non-fiction) (Abigail Ulman) (my review)
  • Chip Le Grand’s The straight dope (non-fiction) (Steven Carroll)
  • Joan London’s The golden age (novel) (Don Watson)
  • Alan Loney’s Crankhandle (poetry) (Gig Ryan)
  • Tim Low’s Where song began (non-fiction) (Don Watson)
  • Helen Macrae’s Dinner with the devil (history) (Favel Parrett)
  • Jennifer Maiden’s The fox petition (poetry) (Fiona Wright)
  • Chris Mansell’s avian triptych, Aves (poetry) (Jennifer Maiden)
  • Drusilla Modjeska’s Second half first (memoir) (Joan London)
  • Gerald Murnane’s Something for the pain (memoir – and on my actual TBR) (Gregory Day) (reviewed 2016)
  • Les Murray’s On bunyah (poetry) (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • **Pi O’s Fitzroy: The biography (poetry) (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Gig Ryan)
  • Kerry O’Brien’s Keating (biography) (Tom Keneally)
  • Anthony Reid’s Southeast Asia in the Age of Commerce, 1450-1680 (non-fiction) (Omar Musa)
  • Michael Robotham’s Life or death (crime novel) (Shane Maloney)
  • Margaret Simons’ Six square metres (gardening, with reflections) (Helen Garner)
  • Rebecca Starford’s Bad behaviour (memoir) (Abigail Ulman)
  • TGH Strehlow’s Journey to Horseshoe Bend (memoir) (Lisa Gorton)
  • **Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning (memoir) (Graeme Simsion, Christos Tsiolkas)
  • **John Tranter’s Heart starter (poetry collection) (Jennifer Maiden, Gig Ryan)
  • Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and light (fiction/short stories) (Omar Musa) (my review)
  • Abigail Ulman’s Hot little hands (short stories) (Omar Musa)
  • Ann Vickery’s The complete pocketbook of swoon (poetry) (Gig Ryan)
  • Susan Whelan’s Don’t think about purple elephants (children’s) (Anita Heiss)
  • Petra White’s A hunger (poetry) (Chris Wallace-Crabbe)
  • Anne Whitehead’s Betsy and the emperor (history) (Tom Keneally)
  • Jessica L Wilkinson’s Suite for Percy Grainger (poetry) (Jennifer Maiden)
  • WoodNatural*****Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (novel) (James Bradley, Maxine Beneba Clarke, Susan Johnson, Kristina Olsson, Fiona Wright) (reviewed 2016)
  • Fiona Wright’s Small acts of disappearance (essays) (Luke Davies) (reviewed 2016)
  • Beth Yahp’s Eat first, talk later (memoir) (Drusilla Modjeska)
  • Ouyang Yu’s Fainting with freedom (poetry) (Alex Miller)

There are some surprises for me here, that is, some books and/or writers I’ve never heard of, such as Abigail Ulman, not to mention some of the poets. I was also surprised – or, perhaps just interested – in the variety of books chosen, that not only is there fiction and poetry, but also quite a diverse selection of non-fiction. I had never heard of Anne Whitehead, for example, until I did some research on the New Australia movement in Paraguay, during which I discovered that she’d written a book about Mary Gilmore, and now, here’s Tom Keneally nominating a recent book of hers. Hmmm … poor TBR.

Unless I’ve made a mistake, a few Australian writers didn’t choose any Aussie books – Geraldine Brooks, Jessie Cole (though she did mention several Australian literary journals), Malcolm Knox, Tim Flannery, and Michael Robotham. I’m naming them to shame them! Well, not really, but still … I do hope they read their peer Aussie writers.

On the other hand, there’s Alex Miller who only chose ONE book, and that was Chinese-born Australian writer Ouyang Yu’s poetry collection, Fainting with freedom. Miller describes it as “some of the finest poetry ever written this century”. No beating about the bush there, no feet in multiple camps as I’ll do with my list – when I get to it! I love such bravery!

Finally, it’s very clear I need to read Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things.

And now, over to you: Do you read top pick lists in your neck of the woods (no pun intended!)? And if so, have you been surprised, delighted, or perhaps, shocked?


Source: Panorama section, The Canberra Times, 12/12/2015

* Asterisks denote those books nominated more than once – the number of asterisks identify the number of nominations.

29 Comments leave one →
  1. December 14, 2015 20:16

    Yes, the Charlotte Wood is the one book that has consistently been recommended to me. And I’m afraid I’ve read no new fiction so can’t make any recommendations of my own.

    • December 15, 2015 00:17

      Interesting Bill how some people read almost no new fiction and others almost no old. I try very hard to read a mix, though new certainly gets the upper hand.

  2. December 14, 2015 20:20

    I’m glad you decided to do this: I was going to, but just couldn’t get my act together to do it.
    Couldn’t agree more about some Aussie writers not managing to find an Aussie title to recommend. That’s a reading failure IMO because there is something great to suit every taste IMO.
    But no, I don’t take any notice of these lists. I have to have a trust relationship with the person who’s recommending a book. The fact that someone is a good writer doesn’t mean that I will like the same books as them, and they don’t get enough space in these lists for me to see why they liked the book/s they chose. The recommendations that I trust come from the reviewers that I trust, your good self among them!

    • December 15, 2015 00:28

      Haha, Lisa, it did take quite a long time – I started to wonder why I was doing it, except that I wanted to see how it fell out, because the article presented it my choosing author of course.

      I always look at such lists, mainly to see if something different pops up that I hadn’t heard of. It’s also interesting to think about the psychology and politics behind them – e.g. the poets really support each other, though of course being poets it could also be that that’s what they love to read, and some of the “diverse background” authors choose other diverse authors. And then there’s Tom Keneally who chose, for example, a book relevant to his most recent release.

      In the article, which I’m guessing appeared in The Age and SMH, some of the authors described why they chose their books in some detail, which as you say, is where our real interest often lies.

      But yes, like you, the main recommendations I follow are other favourite bloggers (like you of course). In fact, I drafted a few days ago another post – which may or may not get published – in which I say that when it comes to books it’s blogger reviews that I note.

      • December 15, 2015 06:51

        Yes, and that’s such a change from a few years ago!
        Do you have many such articles unpublished?

        • December 15, 2015 07:22

          A few actually … I get ideas and start them but, unlike straight reviews, they need that bit of research or additional thinking to finish them off to a reasonable level, and finding the space to do that sometimes defeats me.

        • December 15, 2015 07:48

          Do you do much research?

        • December 15, 2015 13:12

          Not for straight reviews, but for other posts, like Monday Musings and the odd commentary post, yes, I can do, depending on the topic.

  3. December 15, 2015 04:54

    I do read those top pick lists mostly out of curiosity to see what books are on them I have not heard of, those are usually the ones I find most interesting. Though I admit I also get delighted when the books I have read and really liked turn up on the lists too 🙂

    • December 15, 2015 07:18

      Exactly, Stefanie … And I was surprised by how few I’d read in this list, which speaks well, I think, to the current diversity in publishing here at the moment OR to my slack reading!

  4. December 15, 2015 20:05

    About Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things: SNAP! I had exactly the same thought. That is, it is recommended so often that I really must read it. I currently have it on hold at the library (it’s pretty popular, I may be waiting some time…). And, like Stefanie, I’m always pleased (often in a weirdly proprietal way) when I book I like is recommended in these end of year lists.

    • ian darling permalink
      December 15, 2015 21:32

      Private Eye always takes the mickey out of these end of the year booklists, showing them up as a mixture of showing off and log rolling for writer/publisher pals. I don’t know how fair that is and , taken in the right spirit, a good list can be useful.

      • December 15, 2015 23:20

        I think a bit of mickey taking doesn’t hurt, Ian. If you know a bit about the environment you can see some of the “politics” or values or influences that might be coming into play BUT I reckon that if you look at them in that light – or, in the right spirit, as you say – they can be interesting or useful.It doesn’t hurt to be cautious but I don’t like to be too cynical, if that makes sense.

    • December 15, 2015 23:17

      Oh, you’re a step ahead of me, Michelle … I just have it on my virtual TBR i.e. I’m thinking of it!

  5. December 16, 2015 14:57

    I see I’ve been named and shamed!

    Even though I did read some excellent 2015 Australian releases, like James Bradley’s Clade, Eliza Henry Jones’ In the Quiet, and Tim Winton’s Island Home, when I really thought about what Australian texts I most wanted to mention it was the literary journals like Kill Your Darlings, Meanjin, The Lifted Brow, Griffith Review and others who so often go unacknowledged. For me, these journals provide an impressive array of writing from very varied Australian voices. They do so much to create cultural conversations of depth that desperately need to happen. They also often provide space for more experimental or risky writing that would be hard to sell in a traditional publishing space. Most of these Australian journals run on the smell of an oily rag, but they fight hard to pay their contributors. For emerging writers, being paid builds confidence and self-worth, as does having your work treated with care and respect during the editing process. Literary journals are a really important part of nurturing the next generation of Australian writers and novelists, and they deserve our support.

    I didn’t know when I wrote my 120 words for the Age that many of these journals would not receive funding in the next round of OZ Co grants, so giving a shout out to them now seems even more imperative.

    In terms of reading Australian novels, I must admit I am always a few years behind! I did catch up with some wonderful books, such as – Jane Rawson’s A Wrong Turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, Gillian Mears’ The Foal’s Bread, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds Singing, Tracy Farr’s The Lives and Loves of Lena Gaunt, Ali Cobby Eckermann’s Too Afraid to Cry, all of the early novels of Helen Garner that I’d somehow missed, Felicity Castagna’s The Incredible Here and Now, P.A O’Reily’s The Fine Colour of Rust, Ellen Van Neerven’s Heat and Light, and Craig Silvy’s Jasper Jones. But obviously none of them were 2015 releases, and talking about 2015 releases was the brief. I’ve never been asked before to talk about which books I read, so throughout the year I wasn’t trying to keep current, I was just enjoying the journey!

    I am very much looking forward to reading many of the above recommended books. Hopefully I’ll get there in 2016!

    • December 16, 2015 19:09

      Haha, thanks Jessie, for taking it all in good spirit – and I did note your reference to those wonderful journals. I love them too, but I love your statement of support for them here. Thanks.

      You’ve read some great books, some of which I’ve read, but a couple I haven’t, so thanks for your contribution.

      That’s interesting about the brief being 2015 releases. The article as published in The Canberra Times didn’t specifically say that. A few books nominated were published in 2014 or earlier, though it was clear to me that most were recent releases.

    • Annette Marfording permalink
      December 17, 2015 16:37

      Your mention of magazines is spot on, Jessie. Each year two of my favourite books are The Best Australian Stories and The Best Australian Essays which always have pieces from the major literary magazines, I wish I had the money to subscribe! I can read books only because publishers send them to me – or else I get them from the library…

      • December 17, 2015 18:27

        I wish I had the time to read these Best ofs, Annette. I often drool over them but rarely manage to read them right through so have sort of given up getting them now. I’m particularly interested in the Essays because I don’t often get to read essays otherwise.

  6. December 16, 2015 15:01

    *Tracy Farr’s The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. Whoops!

  7. Annette Marfording permalink
    December 16, 2015 16:03

    Absolutely agree with your comment on authors not recommending any Australian books!!! One reason may be related to authors’ policies on book reviewing: some of the authors I interviewed for my book Celebrating Australian Writing suggested that they don’t do any reviews of fellow Australian authors because it’s a smallish community and implied it would make it difficult to be honest if they dislike a book.
    Alex Miller is probably not reading much his year because he’s in the midst of writing his next book…
    It was interesting to me that so may people lauded Charlotte Wood’s novel, which I felt was a missed opportunity – it could have been very powerful, but not as it is…

    • December 16, 2015 19:12

      Thanks Annette – and thanks for that perspective. I have heard that said. Still, naming some favourites isn’t quite reviewing (though I’ll admit that in the same circumstances I’d probably prefer to opt out too!)

      I’ll clearly have to read Wood’s book – but I also have to read yours which is here on the table next to my laptop. It’s been such a year.

  8. December 16, 2015 20:46

    Actually I don’t blame Aussie authors not recommending Aussie books and I did concur with some of those authors choices of International writers.

    And I must admit I didn’t read a single Australian book all year. I find myself rather jaded with what is on offer generally and have hardly been wowed by any books this year. I’ve been doing a lot of rereading of old favourites interspersed with current novels. Enjoyed the new Margaret Atwood though, and David Mitchell’s spooky Slade House.

    • December 16, 2015 20:59

      Fair enough Anne – I certainly don’t think we should only read Aussie books. It’s a shame about your being jaded with Aussie books, though. Given you liked Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell, and given what I think you like, you might to look at Jane Rawson’s A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists.

  9. January 14, 2018 06:16

    Hey Gummie: have you read Stephanie Bishop’s Singing?

    • January 14, 2018 08:55

      No, I’m afraid I haven’t read her at all yet, Guy. Have you? Or are you wondering whether to?

  10. January 15, 2018 07:41

    I read The other Side of the World. I liked the premise a lot but the main female character pissed me off.

    • January 15, 2018 07:57

      Ah, Guy. Care to tell me why? Or, no, I’m guessing you reviewed it. I’ll come and look.


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