In what is becoming a tradition, my reading group once again voted for our top picks from our 2019 schedule. Given many of us like hearing about what other reading groups do, I’m sharing the results as I did last year.
First, though, here is what we read in the order we read them (with links to my reviews):
- Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe (my review): debut novel, Australian author
- Anita Heiss, Growing up Aboriginal in Australia (my review): memoir anthology, Indigenous Australian editor
- Marilynne Robinson, Gilead (my review): novel, American author
- Amor Towles, A gentleman in Moscow (my review): novel, American author
- Sayaka Murata, Convenience store woman (my review): translated novel, Japanese author
- Mary McCarthy, The group (my review): novel, American author
- Anton Chekhov, The lady and the dog (my review): translated short story, Russian author
- Enza Gandolfo, The bridge (my review); novel, Australian author
- Les Murray night: read any book by or about him (I was in Japan, so did not contribute): Australian poet
- Karen Viggers, The orchardist’s daughter (my review): novel, Australian author
- Tim Winton, The shepherd’s hut (my review): novel, Australian author
So, five men and six women; six Australian writers and five non-Australian; two translated works; three works written before 2000 (plus much of Les Murray’s work); an anthology of Indigenous Australian writing; nine fiction works plus a poet and a collection of memoirs. A decent mix, I think, given our focus always has been women and Australian writing but not exclusively so.
The winners …
Twelve of our thirteen currently active members voted. We had to name our top three picks, which resulted in 34 votes being cast (one member casting just one vote). The results were:
1. Boy swallows universe, by Trent Dalton (8 votes)
2. A gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles, and The shepherd’s hut, by Tim Winton (7 votes, each)
3. Convenience store woman, by Sayaka Murata (6 votes)
So, four of our eleven books received 28 of the 34 votes cast, that is, 80%, which is an interesting concentration, given that none of our reads this year were actively disliked. Despite the overall variety in our reading this year, our top books were not as varied as last year: the top three were books were all by men, with just the fourth being by a woman, and all four are novels.
Highly commended was The bridge, by Enza Gandolfo, but, various members also made special mentions of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, Mary McCarthy’s The group, and Karen Viggers’ The orchardist’s daughter.
Of course, this is not a scientific survey. Votes were all given equal weight, even where people indicated an order of preference, and not everyone read every book, so different people voted from different “pools”.
Selected comments (accompanying the votes)
- Boy swallows universe: Commenters used words like “brave”, “raw”, “edgy”, “energetic”, “unusual”, with one noting its “generosity for its flawed characters.”
- A gentleman in Moscow: Two commenters captured the gist of our responses with “Beautifully written, fascinating premise, and thoroughly engaging, while hinting at the dramas around” and “A classy read. Sometimes hilarious whilst also full of dignity and the unexpected.”
- The shepherd’s hut: Commenters on this in-your-face book used rather different words, like “strong”, “despite the language” and “uncompromisingly”, but the book clearly made an impact on us to share equal second favourite for the year. As one of us said, “what a tale”!
- Convenience store woman: Our commenters emphasised its quirkiness and its very different voice – though, in fact, most of our top books had rather different voices. However, one commenter nailed what was particular about this one, with “Gives a voice to someone who is normally excluded. Love the relentless logic of the narrator.”
And a bonus!
As last year, a good friend (from my library school days 45 years ago) has agreed for me to share her reading group’s schedule from this year:
- Circe, by Madeleine Miller (novel, American author)
- Bridge of clay, by Markus Zusak (novel, Australian author)
- Dark emu, by Bruce Pascoe (non-fiction, indigenous Australian author)
- The lover, by Marguerite Duras (novel, French author)
- Little fires everywhere, by Celeste Ng (novel, American author of Chinese descent)
- On the Java Ridge, by Jock Serong (novel, Australian author)
- Anything is possible, by Elizabeth Strout (novel, American author)
- The Romanov sisters, by Helen Rappaport (novel, British author)
- The buried giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro (novel, Japanese-English author)
- Dear Mrs Bird, by AJ Pearce (novel, English author)
My group has read one of the above books – Dark emu – but a few years ago. This wasn’t the case with their list last year, where we had read none.
I don’t think this group did a formal top pick list this year, but my friend’s favourite was Circe, which she described as such “a rewarding read”. Her second choice, she said, would “perhaps” be On the Java Ridge. She said that “although the writing was uneven, we in the group thought the content was significant”. Her least favourite, by far, was Dear Mrs Bird. Many of you, I know will have read and agree with her about Circe. I would like to read it, but I am particularly interested in Jock Serong, because his books keep popping up in Australian readers’ lists.
But wait, there’s more!
This year, some members of my group named other (ie non bookgroup) favourite reads of the year, and I share them with you (with links to my reviews if I have read them, regardless of whether I nominated them for this list!):
- Maxine Beneba Clarke’s The hate race (my review)
- Louise Erdrich’s The bingo palace (my review)
- Robert Galbraith’s (aka J K Rowling) Lethal white
- Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine
- Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (my review)
- Ian McEwan’s Machines like me
- Liane Moriarty’s The husband’s secret
- Liane Moriarty’s Truly madly guilty
- Liane Moriarty’s Big little lies
- Michelle Obama’s Becoming
- Henry Handel Richardson’s The getting of wisdom
- Jock Serong’s On the Java Ridge
- Jock Serong’s Preservation
- Jock Serong’s Quota
- Tara Westover’s Educated
If you are in a reading group – face-to-face or online – would you care to share your 2019 highlights?