Reading highlights for 2016
And so we finally say goodbye to a year many of us would like to forget, but before we do, I would like to share my 2016 reading highlights. As usual, I won’t be naming top picks, because I’m a wuss. It’s too hard. So, instead, I’ll be sharing highlights which combine best reads with those that were interesting for some reason or another.
First, though, this year’s …
By literary highlights I primarily mean literary events. I went to a smaller number this year but they were good ones:
- Tenth anniversary celebration for regional publisher, Finlay Lloyd. Held at the National Library of Australia, this was a most enjoyable occasion, with several authors, including Carmel Bird, Alan Gould and Paul McDermott, speaking about their FL books.
- Canberra Writers Festival on which I wrote four posts (Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Recap): What a thrill to have a writers festival here again after a very long hiatus. Although my messy year meant I didn’t plan well enough in advance for the event, it was great being part of the buzz. What I attended was excellent, and I understand funding is guaranteed for another couple of years. Woo hoo.
- The annual Seymour Biography Lecture, given this year by David Marr. Titled Here I stand, it was a fascinating talk which provided much for me, and commenters on my blog, to ponder on, particularly regarding Marr’s exhortation for the biographer to keep out of the biography.
As in previous years, I’m going to discuss this year’s reading under categories which reflect this year’s experience.
The reading …
- Debut novels: I enjoy including debut works in my reading diet. This year I read around six, of which my two favourites would probably be Josephine Rowe’s A loving faithful animal for tackling the Vietnam War and the devastating impact of PTSD on a family, and Julie Proudfoot’s tight, powerful novella, The neighbour, which still has me thinking months after reading it.
- Memoir/Autobiography: This was the surprise trend of the year (as Historical Fiction was last year). It certainly wasn’t planned but I ended up reading 8 memoirs/autobiographies, plus Anna Rosner Blay’s Sister, sister which, while mostly biography, had a touch of memoir about it too. I can’t possibly describe them all here but I do want to mention the three World War 2 mother-daughter stories, Blay’s book, Halina Rubin’s Journeys with my mother, and Susan Varga’s Heddy and me. I liked the way these daughters blended the forms of biography and memoir to produce something substantial yet engagingly personal. Then there were the two essay-collection-memoirs, Fiona Wright’s Small acts of disappearance and Georgia Blain’s Births deaths marriages, which played with the form in a different way. And oh dear, I loved them all, but I’ll name just one more, Gerald Murnane’s Something for the pain. My how I loved the sly way he told us about his wider life through describing his love of the turf.
- Indigenous Australian writers: Shamefully, I only read four works by indigenous Australians, but at least I continued my education into indigenous Australian life and culture. I’ll name just two: Ali Cobby Eckermann’s beautiful and generous historical fiction verse novel Ruby Moonlight, and Bruce Pascoe’s more overtly political Dark emu.
- Short stories galore: As always, I read a goodly number of short stories this year, though fewer complete collections than in 2015. The standout collection was Elizabeth Harrower’s A few days in the country and other stories. Such a great read, I’d recommend it to anyone. Debut author Cassie Flanagan Willanski’s Here where we live was also an excellent read particularly for telling about life in remoter parts of Australia. My favourite individual short stories included Ted Chiang’s “The story of your life” (adapted to the film Arrival) and the group of stories I read from Christina Stead’s Ocean of story for Lisa’s Christina Stead Reading Week.
- From elsewhere: I read only two overseas works this year that weren’t English or American, but both were truly excellent. One was the African classic, Chinua Achebe’s Things fall apart, which I’ve been wanting to read for years. The other was Pierre Lemaitre’s contemporary Prix Goncourt winning novel, The great swindle. Excellent as they were, I must try to do better next year. My other favourite book from elsewhere was American author Anthony Doerr’s All the light we cannot see. Amazing how many stories can still be told, differently, about the Second World War.
- Biggest surprise: I hadn’t read Stephen Orr before, but his pastoral novel The hands, which was one of my first reads of the year, is still vividly with me as the year closes. The way he captures the relationship, particularly through dialogue, between father and sons just bowled me over.
- Biggest disappointment: This was a surprise for one who loves classics, but I really wouldn’t have been sorry not to have read William Makepeace Thackeray’s The luck of Barry Lyndon.
- The ones that got away: As always there were books I wanted to read during the year but just didn’t get to. Prime among them are Jenny Ackland’s The secret son, Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza, Carmel Bird’s Family skeleton, and Kim Mahood’s Position doubtful (another memoir!) Roll on 2017.
Some stats …
For my interest really:
- 65% of the authors I read were women (2% less than 2015)
- 32% of the works I read were not by Australian writers (5% more than 2015!)
- 63% of my reading was fiction (short, long or in-between!) (10% less than 2015)
- 35% of the works I read were published before 2000 (a whopping 15% more than 2015)
A couple of interesting trends here. There’s the significant reduction in fiction, which is partly due to the big jump in memoirs (about which see above!) And, while I like to read contemporary authors, I also love delving into the past, so I’m pleased to see the increased number of works before 2000. Surprisingly, I managed to read more works overall than last year – a big plus. However, once again, I made woeful inroads into my TBR so, to get me off to a good start, I hereby proclaim that my first 2017 review WILL be for a TBR book. I hope you like it. I’m sure enjoying reading it.
Overall, it was a good reading year, made especially so by you who joined me here. So, a big thankyou for reading my posts, engaging in discussion, recommending more books and, generally, being all-round great people to talk with. I hope 2017 is good to you, and look forward to seeing you here again whenever something takes your fancy.
What were your reading or literary highlights for the year?