In what is becoming a tradition, my reading group once again voted for our favourites from our 2020 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 on titles to my reviews):
- Charlotte Wood, The weekend: novel, Australian author
- Carmel Bird, Field of poppies: novel, Australian author
- Rick Morton, One hundred years of dirt: memoir Australian author
- Melissa Lucashenko, Too much lip: novel, Indigenous Australian author
- Favel Parrett, There was still love: novel, Australian author
- Richard Powers, The overstory: novel, American author (the month my mother died, so I did not read)
- Chris Flynn, Mammoth: novel, Australian author
- Griffith Review 68: Getting on: literary journal, Australian
- Balli Kaur Jaswal, Erotic stories for Punjabi widows: novel, Singaporean author
- Julia Baird, Phosphorescence: non-fiction, Australian author
- Anna Goldsworthy, Melting moments: debut novel, Australian author
I really don’t know what came over us this year, as this is way less diverse than we our usual schedule. Almost all are Australian; all but three are novels; there’s not one translated novel; there’s no classic and indeed all were published in 2017 or later. Fortunately, the first half of next year will see us reading a much greater variety, which is good. Our focus always has been Australian – with a special interest in women – but it was never meant to be quite so narrow as this year.
The winners …
All twelve of our currently active members voted. We had to name our three favourite works, which resulted in 36 votes being cast. No weighting was given to one over another in those three, even where some members did rank their choices. Unlike the last couple of years which saw the the favourite books bunched quite closely to each other, there was a runaway favourite this year:
- Too much lip, by Melissa Lucashenko (10 votes)
- Overstory, by Richard Powers; and Griffith Review 68: Getting on (5 votes each)
- One hundred years of dirt, by Rick Morton, Mammoth, by Chris Flynn, and Phosphorescence, by Julia Baird (3 votes each)
I love that Lucashenko’s book was so enjoyed and appreciated (partly because it was one of my recommendations!) It’s interesting that all three of the non-novels on our list featured among our favourites. What does that say about us, or about this year, or about our time of life? Anything? Nothing? Last year, four books (as against 6 this year) made our top three positions, and all were novels by men!
Every book but one received at least one vote, and that one, Anna Goldsworthy’s Melting moments, got an honourable mention (ie, a sneaky extra vote!) from one member.
Of course, this is not a scientific survey (and it’s a very small 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)
- Too much lip: Commenters used words like “engaging” and “authentic” next to “flawed characters”. Several also commented on the humour, and the originality and freshness of its writing and story-telling.
- Overstory: Most commented on what they learnt about trees, nature, and wildlife activists. One wrote that in this pandemic year, it pulled her into “trees and nature … at a time when I particularly needed to be there”.
- Griffith Review 68: Getting on: It’s not surprising that a group of women who are “getting on” liked this read. Commenters said things like “essential reading”, “eye-opening” and “thoughtful ideas on a depressing subject”.
One hundred years of dirt: Commenters appreciated Morton’s “heart-rending” honesty about his family’s challenges, and his “tribute to his mum”.
Mammoth: Commenters loved that it’s “quirky”, “original”, or, as one member said, “a real work of imaginative and stimulating writing”.
Phosphorescence: One member, in particular, “adored” it, calling it “a thought-provoking and thoughtful reflection on life, friendship, children, getting old, nature… a book to keep dipping into” while another said, simply, that “Julia helped me find some truths.”
But wait, there’s more!
As last 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 for those I’ve read):
- Robbie Arnott’s Flame
- Thea Astley’s An item from the late news (my review)
- Elisabeth Tova Bailey’s The sound of a wild snail eating
- John Clanchy’s In whom we trust (my review)
- Jeanine Cummins’ American dirt
- Trent Dalton’s All our shimmering skies
- Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl woman other (scheduled for 2021)
- Robert Galbraith’s Troubled blood
- Vicki Hastrich’s Night fishing
- Christy Lefteri’s The beekeeper of Aleppo
- David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue
- Sharon Pincott’s Elephant tracks
- Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island
- Edith Wharton’s The custom of the country (read, and loved, but long before blogging)
- Tara June Winch’s The yield (my review)
If you are in a reading group – face-to-face or online – would you care to share your 2020 highlights?
And whether you do or not, here’s to you all for the best sort of Christmas you can muster this year. Hope you can make it a good one. Now’s the time to make good stories of our lives if we possibly can. Look forward to catching you on the other side!