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 …

Literary highlights

By literary highlights I primarily mean literary events. I went to a smaller number this year but they were good ones:

  • Carmel Bird, Fair gameTenth 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.

Reading highlights

As in previous years, I’m going to discuss this year’s reading under categories which reflect this year’s experience.

The reading …

  • Julie Proudfoot, The neighbourDebut 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.
  • Elizabeth Harrower, A few days in the country and other storiesShort 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?

40 thoughts on “Reading highlights for 2016

  1. So pleased to see that A Loving Faithful Animal and The Neighbour get a mention here, I thought they were both excellent debuts by writers of great promise. Anna Blay’s book made it into my Best Books too. It made me realise that for all I’ve read about the Holocaust, women’s experiences of it were different, and the book was a catalyst for me to read If This is a Woman by Sarah Helm.
    And yes, The Hands. One of my absolute favourites, it made it onto Kim (Reading Matters) Forrester’s list as well. BTW Did you know that Stephen has a novella in the Griffith Review’s Novella Project IV? (I can call him Stephen now, because I went to the launch and meet him there, such a nice man!)

  2. I enjoyed reading the novels of Liane Moriarty. Strong characters, intriguing plots, plenty of action, interweaving of contemporary issues, made in Australia. I also enjoyed Bill Bryson’s “Mother Tongue, The Story of the English Language”, and James Gleik “The Information; A History, A Theory, A Flood”. The latter two should be compulsory high school reading!

    • Thanks Neil. Lovely to hear from you again. I’ve heard good things about Liane Moriarty. She does amazingly well in the US I believe. I know of Bill Bryson’s book, but haven’t heard of the James Gleik. It sounds worthwhile (and not just because you say so, though that helps!)

    • The Bryson and Gleik are a bit geeky, but I think it important to understand our technical history, especially since a lot is recent, and we tend to take it for granted. And Gleik features Ava Lovelace, one of my favourite characters.

  3. I read 130 books this year. Of these 25 were non fiction and overall they had the best reviews from me. Fifty-eight were Australian, and the rest were a mixture from overseas. It was difficult to choose which books were my favourites but I wrote beside 4 books VVG. Two fiction reads, The North Water by Ian McGuire, (English), and An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire, (Australian), and both still haunt me. The other two were non fiction, and no surprises here, Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton, and Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner.

    • Thanks for sharing your stats, Meg. So you read about a half Australian to my two-thirds, which is probably partly explained by my accepting books for review. I haven’t heard of Ian McGuire at all, but you clearly agree with Lisa on the Emily Maguire. (How strangely close your two favourites’ last names are!)

      I was going to mention Helen Garner, because I loved it too, but I thought I’d included so many “categories” already that I’d just let it go. I’m glad you mentioned it. I’d love to read Behind the curtain.

  4. Hi Sue, sorry, Tim Winton’s book is The Boy Behind the Curtain. I too laughed when I realised that the two surnames of the fiction books were very similar. Happy new year and good reading.

  5. Such a good idea to include your literary highlights in your round-up of the the year – I should have done the same as I went to some terrific author talks and festival events this year.

    I’ve read a few of the books you’ve listed – the standouts for me were Small Acts of Disappearance (a fascinating book) and All the Light We Cannot See (so beautifully and carefully written).

    Your mention of Barry Lyndon caught my eye because, bizarrely, I was reading a novel today about filmmakers in the 80s and the character keeps referring to particular films, producers etc – the mix of fact and fiction in this book is difficult to distinguish so I am constantly googling stuff to understand where it fits in. In the section I read this morning the characters were obsessing over Barry Lyndon – I had never heard of it, hit the internet and was surprised to discover that it was a ‘classic’ novel by Thackeray – what are the chances of coming across two references to this book in one day?!

  6. Thank you, WG, for all your informative, insightful and entertaining posts. It would be hard to begin to match you in the amount of reading you’ve done, or even to list the stand-out books for me, but I’ll try. The Art of Time Travel by Tom Griffiths would be up there, as is Talking to My Country by Stan Grant, The Biggest Estate on Earth by Bill Gammage. So far these have had a greater impact for me than the fiction I’ve read, but I’d like to give a plug to Michael Robotham, a local crime fiction writer who in my opinion is among the very best of any nationality. Happy New Year and happy reading.

    • Thanks Sara. There are many bloggers who read way way more than I do. I have no idea how they do that!

      I understand what you say about those works of non-fiction. I have two of them on my TBR, and want to put the third one there, the Tom Griffiths.

      Thanks for the heads up re Rowbotham. I’m not really a crime ready but many who come to this blog are.

      I hope you have a wonderful and healthy 2017. The latter seems to be becoming a serious wish rather than a throwaway line as we get older doesn’t it?

  7. I really like your keeping track of non-Australian authors as well as Native authors. I’ve been keeping track of translated works, but that leaves out places like Nigeria or Malaysia and so on. But if I include non-US books which are written in English I’d have about 100% more because I read a lot from the UK and India (and Australia!) And one of my fictions was by a South African woman translated from the Afrikaners. I could just track both – no biggie. I could simply distinguish the original language.

    I should keep track of Native authors too, but there are usually only a couple 😦

    I read 172 books read in 2016. My monthly totals ranged between a high of 21 in April to a low of 4 in July – lol. Of the total, 26 (15%) were nonfiction and 44 (25%) were by women authors and 16 books (11%) were translated into English. (And those sometimes overlap for instance Svetlana Alexievich is a Russian woman journalist who writes nonfiction which is translated.)

    This is a few down from 2015 overall as well as in each category, but that’s okay – I remember the days when I was a young teacher and did very well to get 100. Now retired I have more time and should really be going to the gym or out for lunch with friends – stuff like that.

    Next year I hope to read more women authors, international works – especially translated – and nonfiction. But I’ll probably still just read what I strikes my fancy and see how it all sifts out. lol

    Thanks for your post and I look for Aussie novels

  8. I was fascinated by your ‘greatest surprise’ – Stephen Orr’s novel The Hands, because that’s exactly how I referred to it in my list of top reads of last year. How could I not have come across this author before??? And this year my top read was the Griffith Review Novella Project IV that Lisa referred you to, in part because of Stephen Orr’s marvellous novella in it. Another primary reaction to the top reads of others is always how many books I’ve yet to read, even though I read at least 95% Australian and read all the time… Doerr’s novel is next on my pile though, and I look forward to it! Happy New Year and happy reading!

    • That’s fascinating Annette re Orr. I tried to get my reading group to do it last year but without success, though I admit I didn’t PUSH it excessively because I prefer to do books I haven’t read. But, really, I think they’d all love it.

      I hope you like the Doerr too.

  9. A very good reading year indeed! I only read two books that I owned in 2016. Most of my reading came from the library. I’m thinking I should go through my shelves and just start requesting books I haven’t read yet from the library since it seems like that might be the only way I get to them! Happy New Year! I hope 2017 is filled will all sorts of yet to be read great books!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s