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Monday musings on Australian literature: Aussie writers name their pick reads of 2016

December 5, 2016

December is, or has certainly become in recent years, the month of lists. As always, I’ll be saving my lists until the end of 2015, which means you won’t see them until January. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t share other people’s lists, does it?

I’ve gleaned the list I’m sharing here from a recent article in the Sydney Morning Herald, a list I particularly enjoy because they ask a wide range of Aussie writers who come up with books crossing a variety of forms and genres. In my report on it, I’ve only included Australian books. I hope that, because of this and because my order of presentation is completely different, I haven’t broken copyright. If I have, I hope they forgive me, in recognition of our shared goal of promoting books and reading.

So, here’s the list of books, with the nominating author/s in parentheses at the end. I’ve used asterisks to denote those books nominated more than once, with the number of asterisks identifying the number of nominations.:

  • Randa Abdel-Fattah’s When Michael met Mina (YA fiction) (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • ***Steven Amsterdam’s The easy way out (fiction) (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Abigail Ulman, Charlotte Wood)
  • Melissa Ashley’s The birdman’s wife (historical fiction) (Robert Adamson)
  • Carmel Bird’s Family skeleton (fiction) (Jacinta Halloran)
  • **Georgia Blain’s Between a wolf and a dog (fiction) (Toni Jordan, Charlotte Wood)
  • Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign soil (short stories) (Clare Wright).
  • Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race (memoir) (Zoe Morrison)
  • Stephanie Bishop’s The other side of the world (fiction) (Katherine Brabon)
  • Stephen Daisley’s Coming rain (fiction) (Clare Wright)
  • Robin Dalton’s Aunts up the Cross (classic memoir, repub. by Text) (Tim Flannery)
  • Catherine de Saint Phalle’s Poum and Alexandre: A Paris memoir (memoir) (Helen Garner)
  • David Dyer’s The midnight watch (historical fiction) (Malcolm Knox)
  • Sarah Engledow’s The popular pet book (non-fiction) (Chris Wallace-Crabbe)
  • Richard Flanagan’s Notes on an exodus (non-fiction) (Katherine Brabon)
  • **David Francis’ Wedding Bush Road (fiction) (Abigail Ulman, Don Watson)
  • Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm (fiction) (Clare Wright)
  • Alice Garner’s A shifting shore (non-fiction) (Gregory Day)
  • Helen Garner, Everywhere I look***Helen Garner’s Everywhere I look (essays) (Lisa Gorton, Jacinta Halloran, Joan London) (my review)
  • Stan Grant’s Talking to my country (non-fiction) (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • Tom Griffiths’ The art of time travel (non-fiction) (Clare Wright)
  • Shirley Hazzard’s Cliffs of fall and other stories (short stories, orig. pub. 1963) (Helen Garner)
  • Toni Jordan’s Our tiny useless hearts (fiction) (Graeme Simsion)
  • Gisela Kaplan’s Bird minds (non-fiction) (Tim Winton)
  • Hannah Kent’s The good people (historical fiction) (Malcolm Knox)
  •  Lee Kofman and Maria Katsonis’ Rebellious daughters (short story anthology) (Clare Wright)
  •  Julie Koh’s Portable curiosities (short stories) (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • Anthony Lawrence’s Headwaters (poetry) (Robert Adamson)
  • Micheline Lee’s The healing party (fiction) (Helen Garner)
  • Cassie Lewis’ The blue decodes (poetry) (Robert Adamson)
  • Tim Low’s Where song began (non-fiction) (Tim Flannery)
  • Thornton McCamish’s Our man elsewhere (biography of Alan Moorehead) (Helen Garner)
  • Adrian McKinty’s Rain dogs (historical crime fiction) (Michael Robotham)
  • ***Kim Mahood’s Position doubtful (memoir) (Lisa Gorton, Jacinta Halloran, Tim Winton)
  • Robert Manne’s The mind of The Islamic State (non-fiction) (Alex Miller)
  • Zoe Morrison’s Music and freedom (memoir) (Graeme Simsion)
  • **Ryan O’Neill’s Their brilliant careers (fiction) (Toni Jordan, AS Patric)
  • Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love (novel) (Hannah Kent)
  • Josephine Rowe, A loving faithful animal** Josephine Rowe’s A loving, faithful animal (novel) (Jacinta Halloran, Fiona Wright) (my review)
  • **Baba Schwartz’s The May beetles (memoir) (Helen Garner, Joan London)
  • Sybille Smith’s Mothertongue (memoir) (Helen Garner)
  • Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the sea (classic fiction) (Jacinta Halloran)
  • **Ellen van Neerven’s Comfort food (poetry) (Maxine Beneba Clarke, Lisa Gorton)
  • Dave Warner’s Before it breaks (crime fiction) (Michael Robotham)
  • Alison Whittaker’s Lemons in the chicken wire (poetry) (Fiona Wright)
  • Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions (fiction) (Charlotte Wood)
  • Peter Wohlleben’s The hidden life of trees (non-fiction) (Tim Flannery)

As with last year’s smh list, there are books and authors I haven’t heard of, but I’m thrilled to see some books appearing multiple times, including a couple of books I loved this year – Garner’s Everywhere I look and Josephine Rowe’s A loving faithful animal – and Kim Mahood’s Position doubtful, which I know I’ll be reading next year.  Tim Winton says of Mahood’s book:

If anyone’s written more beautifully and modestly about this country and its people I’m not aware of it. I think it’s a treasure.

A book I should clearly consider reading is three-asterisked Stephen Amsterdam’s The easy way out. Charlotte Wood describes it as “a sharp, snappy novel about assisted dying. Blackly witty but never glib, it’s humane and moving.”

It’s lovely to see Patrick White award-winner, Carmel Bird, in the list with her new novel Family skeleton, alongside older books by Shirley Hazzard and Randolph Stow. And it’s interesting to see the variety of memoirs admired by our authors.

While this year there are several books with two or three recommendations, last year had a runaway winner with five recommendations – Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things. I noted then that I clearly needed to read it – and I did. In fact, I reviewed, in 2016, 7 books from last year’s list. I wonder if I’ll do something similar in 2017.

Meanwhile, do you enjoy end of year lists – and, more significantly, do they guide your reading choices in any way? If they do I’d love to know how.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. December 5, 2016 11:42 pm

    To be honest, I dread doing what now seems to be the obligatory EOY list. I do it for the same reason as you, to promote the books I like, but I hate choosing. It’s just like having to choose the students who win EOY prizes!

    • December 6, 2016 8:03 am

      Yes, I agree, Lisa, so I try not to phrase mine as Top Tens or whatever, but by categories. Still a choice though I know and I’m always uncomfortable about it.

  2. December 6, 2016 3:09 am

    I can recommend Rain Dogs, and I have a copy of Aunts Up the Cross already.

  3. Meg permalink
    December 6, 2016 6:41 am

    I think it was Saturday’s Age which had the same list, and of course I added a few books from the collection to my list for next year reads. Position Doubtful will be top of the list.

    • December 6, 2016 8:08 am

      Yes, Meg I think it’s a Fairfax thing. It was in our Canberra Times last year and probably was this year too but I didn’t see it.

  4. carmelbird permalink
    December 6, 2016 9:30 am

    Dear Miss Gums, I will never understand where you find the time to do all your reading, analysing, wonderful writing, and posting. There must be more than twenty-four hours in your day. Or do you have several servants about the place cooking the dinner and sweeping the floor? You must also have big bookshelves. Thank you for the break-down of the SMH list. ❤️

  5. December 6, 2016 5:20 pm

    “…do you enjoy end of year lists – and, more significantly, do they guide your reading choices in any way?”
    Thanks for asking, Sue! I do enjoy them and they do guide my reading choices. On my phone I keep a list of books I’d definitely like to read and it helps me make choices at the library and in shops. But there must be a file in my brain called ‘Books I might read one day but am not keen enough about to list on my phone.’ The EOY reading guides definitely help books to move from the list in my brain to the list on the phone, but probably don’t prompt me to read books I’ve never heard of before. Your blog does, though (prompt me to read books I’d never otherwise heard of, I mean.)

    • December 7, 2016 8:12 am

      Haha loved this response Michelle, particularly the last qualification. I knew what you meant! I too have that list in my brain… But I just call them my virtual TBR as against the physical one. I don’t really keep any other list these days because the physical TBR is too big for me to ever go hunting for books to read in shops and libraries. (It contains review books, gift books, books bought at launches, and reading group selections. That’s more than I can keep up with.)

  6. December 7, 2016 4:28 am

    You are going to post your list at the end of 2015? Do you have a time machine? If so, how do I get one? I know you meant 2016, but it did make me giggle 🙂 I enjoy end of year lists, but like you , I enjoy them best when they actually come at the end of the year. The end of November and beginning of December is too soon! What’s the rush? Oh, wait I know, holiday shopping. Bah humbug!

    • December 7, 2016 8:15 am

      Oh did I do that? I’m clearly in denial about 2016!

      Yes holiday shopping accounts for the media doing these lists, but we don’t have that pressure do we?

  7. December 8, 2016 9:50 pm

    I love checking out the lists – I think it has become a form of readers validation for me though! I gain a lot of (slightly book snobbish) pleasure from realising that some of my favourite books of the year were also loved by some of my favourite authors.

    I do pay attention to my fav authors reads and if they were books that I was already considering, their recommendation bumps it up the TBR pile.

    At work, we’ve had a run on Tim Winton’s rec reads, Bird Minds and Position Doubtful, which highlights just how influential he is my suburb 🙂

    I was pleased to see both Ruins and The Midnight Watch rate a mention.

    • December 8, 2016 10:09 pm

      Thanks Brona – love your “slightly book snobbish” admission! I suspect we all have a bit of that.

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