For a few years now, I’ve shared ABC book journalists’ top Aussie reads of the year, but this year I’m doing something a little different. I’m sharing picks from three different sources. Most of these include non-Australian books, but I like to share them in a Monday Musings post and focus on the Aussie books among them. So, here goes.
Readings staff actually shared their favourite Australian books of the year, which is really great of them so they get first billing here. Their list is called “the best Aussie fiction books of 2020” but in fact the text describes the list as their “favourite” books, which puts a different, and better, slant on it I think.
Here’s their list, reorganised into alphabetical order. I don’t know whether their order was by popularity vote, but alphabetical is easier for people to look for their favourites…
- Steven Conte’s The Tolstoy Estate
- Kate Grenville’s A room made of leaves
- Victoria Hannan’s Kokomo
- Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country
- Kate Mildenhall’s The mother fault
- Sean O’Beirne’s A couple of things before the end
- Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
- Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile
- Elizabeth Tan’s Smart ovens for lonely people
- Jessie Tu A lonely girl is a dangerous thing
- Pip Williams’ The dictionary of lost words
I like this selection because, although I’ve not yet read one of them, I have given some as gifts during the year, and I have a couple on my current TBR. Whether I’ll get to them in summer is another thing, but I will get to some …
ABC RN’s Bookshow and The Book Shelf presenters
Claire Nichols, Sarah L’Estrange, Kate Evans and Cassie McCullagh put together a list they call “The best books of 2020 for your summer reading list”. It includes books from around the world, but, as I explained above, I’m just going to share their Aussie picks, which are but few!
- Erin Hortle’s The octopus and I
- Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country, which Kate Evans describes as “Surprising and surprisingly-convincing characters, and a well-realised, inventive premise”.
- Jessica Tu’s A lonely girl is a dangerous thing, of which Claire Nichols says “the passion and the obsession drips off the page”
- Pip Williams’ The dictionary of lost words, of which Sarah L’Estrange says, “For lovers of language and the power of words, this story has everything you want”.
Interesting that three of the four here also featured in Readings’ list. Are these the books we are likely to see on awards long and shortlists next year? Interesting too that all are women writers (as were the selectors. I can live with that!)
ANU English Department picks
Now this list – on the ANU website, but shared with me by retired University Librarian Colin Steele (thankyou Colin) – is an unusual one, partly because it has very few contemporary (or any other) Australian books. The Aussies are:
- Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here, her biography of Elizabeth von Arnim, though, weirdly, the description doesn’t mention that at all. It just says “a literary sensation of the early twentieth century weaves a wonderful tale of love, pleasure, gratitude and survival that is written beautifully, perfect for the history buffs and women’s literature lovers among us”. Why not mention the name of the “literary sensation” or that it’s a “biography”? It could sound like a novel?
- Sarah Hopkins’ The subjects, which is on the Small Press Network’s Book of the Year shortlist, is described as “a gripping read, which follows a gifted teenage delinquent down an uncertain path”
- Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come, which came out a couple of years ago now, is described as “a wickely [sic] funny novel about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations”.
On lists …
When is a list not a list? Regular readers here know that I don’t tend to produce my own annual “best of” or “top reads” lists. I prefer to write a Reading Highlights post (which I will do again in early January for 2020). In this post, I don’t rank books or even talk about best books. Instead, I talk about the books and events that made my reading year worthwhile – and, already, I know I will have some interesting trends to comment on for this year. It is, though, still a list, I suppose! Just a very loose, porous one.
For a thoughtful piece on lists, you might like to check out an article written by one of my 2019 New Territorians, Rosalind Moran. Titled “Against best-of lists” it’s available at Overland Literary Journal. While much of it covers thoughts I’ve had myself, it’s beautifully and clearly expressed – and it did give me some additional points to ponder! (Thanks for Lisa for the heads-up).
What do you think about lists? Are some useful, despite their failings? Or, would you prefer to eschew them altogether?