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Monday musings on Australian literature: ABC Bookshelf’s top Aussie reads 2019

December 16, 2019

The usual end of year listmania has begun, and I also like to join in, but with a focus on Aussie book lists. This year, I’m starting with the Aussie books subset of the books recommended on ABC’s Bookshelf program. Recommenders, in addition to the show’s presenters, Kate Evans and Cassie McCullough, were Stephen Romei, Literary Editor of The Australian; David Gaunt, independent bookseller of Sydney’s Gleebooks; and Michaela Kalowski, interviewer and moderator for writers and ideas festivals and local libraries. To see the full list of books they recommended, check out their page or, even better, listen to the program (accessible on that page). Do listen to the program if you have time, as they discuss issues like books that are hard to sell (and why) and liking (or not) books that are grim or too close to the bone.

Books from around the world were mentioned, but of course there was an emphasis on Aussie books, and that’s what I’m focusing on here. I like that this list roams across genre (including historical fiction, crime and sci-fi/fantasy) and to some degree across time (including books not out until next year. That’s prescient of them!)

Here are the Aussie books mentioned, separated into fiction and nonfiction, and ordered alphabetically by author.

Fiction (and poetry)

  • J.M. Coetzee, The death of Jesus: novel, coming in May 2020
  • Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe: novel, my review (Also recommended was Dalton’s second novel, All our shimmering skies, coming in June 2020.)
  • Garry Disher, Peace: crime fiction
  • Lexi Freiman, Inappropriation: novel
  • Chris Hammer, The Martin Scarsden seriescrime fiction series
  • Kathryn Hind, Hitch: novel
  • Toni Jordan, The fragments: historical fiction, Lisa’s review
  • Leah Kaminsky, The hollow bones: novel, Theresa’s review
  • Paul Kane, A passing bell: Ghazals for Tina: poetry (by an American poet who spends half his time in Australia)
  • Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff, Aurora rising: YA sci-fi/fantasy novel
  • Melissa Lucashenko, Too much lip: novel, 2019 Miles Franklin Award winner, my review
  • Roslyn McFarland, All the lives we’ve lived: novel
  • Adrian McKinty, The chain, of The Sean Duffy series (Irish really, but lives – or has lived – in Australia, and has won the Ned Kelly Award more than once): crime fiction
  • David Malouf, Ransom: novel, my review
  • Heather Rose, Bruny: novel, on my TBR, Lisa’s and Bill’s reviews
  • Dominic Smith, The electric hotel: novel, Australian-born but now US-based, my review
  • Ilka Tampke, Songwoman: novel, 2019 MUBA winner, Lisa’s review
  • Peter Temple, works: crime fiction, my review of Truth, his 2010 Miles Franklin Award winner
  • Lucy Treloar, Wolfe Island: novel, Lisa’s review
  • Christos Tsiolkas, Damascus: historical fiction, on my TBR
  • Rohan Wilson, Daughter of bad times: speculative fiction, Lisa’s review
  • Rohan Wilson, The roving party: historical fiction, winner of NSW Premier’s Literary prize, Lisa’s review
  • Tara June Winch, The Yield: novel, on my TBR, Lisa’s review
  • Charlotte Wood, The natural way of things: novel, 2016 Stella Prize winner, my review
  • Charlotte Wood, The weekend : novel, on my TBR, Lisa’s review


  • Meera Atkinson, Traumata: creative nonfiction/part memoir
  • Trent Dalton, By sea and stars: nonfiction
  • Helen Garner, Yellow notebook: Diaries Volume I 1978–1987: non-fiction, on my TBR
  • Katharine Murphy, On disruption: essay
  • Cathy Perkins, The shelf life of Zora Cross: biography, on my TBR

This is a lot of books, and there was a good number of non-Australian books mentioned too, many of which I’d love to read, so the program covered a lot of reading in an hour!

By the way, if you really, really, really love end-of-year book lists, you need go no further than Kate’s (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) blog post, Best Books of 2019 – A List of Lists. She will keep adding to it as more lists appear!

Do you use these lists to direct your own reading or – as I suspect many listmakers hope – to help with your gift-shopping?

39 Comments leave one →
  1. December 16, 2019 23:10

    Thanks for all the mentions, Sue, and here’s some more: I’ve read Songwoman, Theresa Smith has reviewed The Hollow Bones, and Nathan Hobby has reviewed Zora Cross:).

    • December 17, 2019 08:25

      Thanks very much Lisa. I knew you’d read Skin, but hadn’t remembered you’d read it too. I’ll try to add the links later. Am on my iPad now and about to go out.

      • December 17, 2019 08:27

        I’ll find them for you, there will be three links so the comment will go to moderation.

        • December 17, 2019 08:32

          Here you go:
          The hollow bones

          but it seems I was wrong about Nathan reviewing it. He’s read it, and enthused about it on Twitter, but I can’t find a review of it on his blog.

        • December 17, 2019 17:25

          Thanks Lisa — have linked them now.

        • December 17, 2019 08:41

          Oh thanks Lisa. That’s lovely of you. I’ll catch them this afternoon.

    • December 17, 2019 18:26

      Thanks for the mention Sue. I do love The Hollow Bones.

      • December 17, 2019 21:17

        Thanks Theresa. As you can see, Lisa pointed me to it. It’s a book I’d like to read.

        • December 17, 2019 22:18

          I hope you do Sue. I’d be interested in your thoughts, particularly regarding a certain non-human narrator. I’ll leave it at that.

        • December 18, 2019 08:11

          Now you’ve tempted me. I’m always intrigued by different narrators.

        • December 18, 2019 09:01

          I remembered that about you. See my sneaky way of getting you to slide that book closer to the top of your reading list? 😁

        • December 18, 2019 20:43

          Haha, Theresa. I’m impressed!

    • December 17, 2019 18:26

      Thanks Lisa!

  2. December 16, 2019 23:52

    I need a present for Ms 16 so she might get Aurora Rising. Thanks for mentioning my review of Bruny. I reviewed The Weekend too. Lisa and I disagreed, and interestingly commenters split largely on age lines. My (our!) generation (except Lisa) agreed with me and the forties and fifties, which is Wood’s generation, agreed with her.

    • December 17, 2019 08:03

      See, LOL, I’m young at heart!

    • December 17, 2019 08:27

      Thanks Bill. My group is reading it in January. One member – our age – loved it! Was determined that we read it. I’ll try to remember to let you know!

    • December 17, 2019 08:30

      Oops, meant to say Bill, that that’s great re Aurora rising. Hope that if you do, she likes it.

  3. December 17, 2019 06:17

    I do not.
    You know, finding audiobooks ain’t easy: it’s a matter of clicking on things that look as if they might be good, maybe selecting one – but always with a view to giving it back to swap for something else. (This part of Audible’s service is VITAL !)
    I recently bought – and bloody paid for, as I was out of my current allowance – a crime novel by an Aussie, Katherine Howell; and 20′ in came to an understanding that there was NO WAY I could listen to the narrator’s voice for a whole book’s-worth.
    This is where I wish I could read books again !!!

    • December 17, 2019 08:23

      I hear you. I used to listen to audio books nearly every day on the daily commute, but I always borrowed them from the library, they were much too expensive to buy. Because, as you say, a narrator can make or break a book, I used to borrow two or three at a time and have them in the car with me, so that if I found the narration unendurable, I could switch to something else.
      #Musing, of course that was in the days of CD players in cars. Now, you can’t buy a car with a CD player, you have to use your phone or an iPod or whatever. I don’t do it. I only make short trips these days, and I walk to most places anyway. But you can borrow digital audiobooks from the library: I tried it once… you download it from a link they send you, and somehow it expires after your borrowing time is up.

      • December 17, 2019 08:35

        I am going to try the library when we do our next road trip Lisa, because I just don’t listen enough to subscribe to a service. I’m looking forward to seeing how it works.

        • December 17, 2019 08:41

          I have an idea you’ll need the Audible ap to be able to listen. I prefer mp3 format because then I can listen via usb or cd (curmudgeons still have cd players).

          I don’t know how patient MR is but I am enjoying working my way through the classics on Project Gutenberg/Librivox. Yes some of the readers are terrible, but some aren’t.

        • December 17, 2019 08:44

          Haha Bill, who said I was referring to you!!

          Thanks for the tip. I’d better check it out. I’m thinking for my Mallee trip, which may be February unless it’s too hot!

        • December 17, 2019 09:50

          It’s a long time since I considered Audible so maybe things have changed, but when I looked at it, they didn’t have enough Australian content of the types I like to read, and when I sent them a query about it, they didn’t respond. So that was that!

      • December 17, 2019 09:10

        You know, I keep meaning to do this, Lisa ! – but for unfathomable reasons I never do. I shall make this my NY resolution ! 😀

        • December 17, 2019 09:48

          LOL I hope you’re better at keeping NY resolutions than me. I made one the other day (book-related, of course) and already I’ve forgotten what it was…

        • December 17, 2019 17:05

          Haha Lisa … love it!

        • December 17, 2019 16:55

          Woo hoo – I do love a good NY resolution!

    • December 17, 2019 08:29

      I agree M-R that sometimes narrator’s voices can be very off-putting. It’s a real shame when that happens.

  4. Meg permalink
    December 17, 2019 07:53

    Hi Sue, I do look at lists, and the books that I would like to read I check to see if they are available at my library. I bought Helen Garner’s The Yellow Notebook. It took me awhile to get in to it but in the end thoroughly loved it. Her thoughts are wild and honest. Like Bill, I will buy Aurora Rising for one of my grandsons.

    • December 17, 2019 08:31

      Oh good, Meg. Then clearly lists can help with Christmas shopping!

      • Meg permalink
        December 17, 2019 14:37

        Hi Sue, I bought it today and only $12.00 at BigW. Which grandson or me will read it first – that is the big question!.

  5. December 19, 2019 15:03

    Jane would have approved, posting such a long list of books to celebrate her birthday. 🙂


  1. Monday musings on Australian literature: ABC Bookshelf’s top Aussie reads 2019 — Whispering Gums – readme

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