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My reading group’s favourites for 2020

December 24, 2020

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):

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:

  1. Too much lip, by Melissa Lucashenko (10 votes)
  2. Overstory, by Richard Powers; and Griffith Review 68: Getting on (5 votes each)
  3. 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! 

26 Comments leave one →
  1. December 24, 2020 22:30

    Our book club that is run through Fullers bookshop stopped once Covid arrived so I envy you your meetings. I miss it very much. I would love to know what you select for 2021 and hope you share it. I hope you have a lovely Christmas and a better 2021. Happy reading. 🐧🎁🎄🌷

    • December 24, 2020 23:27

      Oh that’s a shame Pam, particularly given like us you got on top of it early in the piece. Will it start up next year?

      • December 25, 2020 06:08

        They don’t know yet. I suppose being a business they need to think about all the people in the various groups they run for legal reasons but I have enough to read and do enjoy hearing about the books all the bloggers write about even if I don’t read them all.

        • December 25, 2020 08:24

          Still, I hope they do! It’s great discussing books in person.

  2. December 24, 2020 23:47

    Oh, The Overstory! I loved that book! Do you think you will read it? I hope you and your family have a safe and happy Christmas!

    • December 24, 2020 23:55

      I bought it Stefanie … but, will I read it? I’d like to think so! Of course I was you and Bookman a great Christmas too.

  3. George permalink
    December 25, 2020 01:13

    I was surprised to find that our book club really didn’t have fewer meetings this year. Out of six books, three seemed worthwhile: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (American, novel); The Door by Magda Szabo (Hungarian, novel); Dirt by Bill Buford (American, memoir).

    • December 25, 2020 08:26

      I must read Colson Whitehead, George. And, I need to read more European and Asian and, well, non-whtie Australian works. I just need more time to read!

  4. December 25, 2020 01:58

    WG,

    Just stopping by to wish you and yours a Merry Christmas! Thanks for all the work you’ve been doing to celebrate Australian literature, especially for us in a land far, far away. All the best in 2021, hopefully a much happier year! 🙂

    • December 25, 2020 08:27

      Oh, lovely to hear from you Arti. Thanks. All the best to you too. I hope you have a wonderful movie-filled 2021 – and good times with those you love too.

  5. December 25, 2020 06:12

    Deeply interesting to read these lists from a group that is obviously comprised of woman who are intelligent and .. thinking (is probably the right word). And who get along.
    I tried twice with a reading group and failed miserably both times. There has to be mutual respect: there was none.
    Very probably intolerant me.
    Sighh ..

    • December 25, 2020 08:29

      We do get along very well M-R, which is not to say we agree on everything because we very definitely don’t, when it comes to reading. But we do respect each other as thinking, decent human beings – and we enjoy each other’s company.

      I’m sure you’d be great fun in a reading group!

      • December 27, 2020 16:27

        Doubt it. I don’t think I’m any better a person than I was back then.
        But thank-you for that nice thought, ST ! 😀

  6. December 25, 2020 16:59

    My Indonesian bookgroup faltered at the beginning and then revived under Zoom, but I was all Zoomed out by the time that happened so I took a break.
    Which means I’ve missed a lot of books and need to catch up!
    However, I can comment on Troppo by Madelaine Dickie (which I think you’ve reviewed too) because they read it after I’d recommended it and enjoyed it very much.
    Merry Christmas Sue!

    • December 26, 2020 11:57

      Yes I can imagine being zoomed out too. Circumstances meant I didn’t take as many Zoom opportunities as I might have but they are hard work.

      How great though that they enjoyed Troppo. That’s wonderful Lisa, thanks.

      • December 27, 2020 22:33

        I read something recently about why Zoom makes us so tired, it has to do with not having all the other body language cues to help us make sense of things. The article said that 50 minutes was the max our brains could take without losing focus.

        • December 27, 2020 23:11

          Yes, that’s exactly what I would have said. It’s harder work reading all the clues on a screen than it is in person. I really hate phone calls for the same reason, I hate not having all the clues to what the other person is thinking and feeling.

  7. December 28, 2020 23:13

    My book group flagged with reading this year – our Zoom meetings were really about what we were eating and what we were watching! That said, I thought both One Hundred Years of Dirt and Phosphorescence were terrific and both great book group picks.

    • December 29, 2020 07:59

      Thanks Kate. We were lucky that we only had 3 meelngs where we couldn’t meet personally. My Californian friend says that much of her group’s meetings are about other things, including Grid which is much closer to them than it is to us (even to you Melburnians at your height.)

      I agree those two were good book group picks.

      BTW do you think it was the Zoom format that created the change in what you discussed, or the stress of such little social interaction caused by the pandemic that you just wanted relaxing social chitchat.

  8. December 29, 2020 12:35

    Such an interesting looking list of books. I generally have so much trouble deciding on favorites. Top three is a good way to vote though.

    I may read The Overstory myself this year.

    • December 29, 2020 22:46

      Yes I think do too Brian. I don’t like doing precise ranking. I have Overstory on my Kindle, but whether I’ll get to it I don’t know.

  9. Meg permalink
    December 30, 2020 17:24

    Hi Sue, a bit late, but I do hope you had a Merry and Safe Christmas. My book group survived with zoom (not that I was always able to participate). Our last two meetings have been face to face, and one was in the park. Our next meeting in January will also be in the park. We have a lovely picnic. There is now 10 members, and I don’t think we have ever, all agreed on one book! Next month is Persuasion and I know already not everyone has enjoyed it as much as me. From your list, later in the year we will read American Dirt.

    • December 30, 2020 18:08

      Better late than never, Meg. I love hearing about other reading groups. I’m so glad yours survived.

      We do agree sometimes on books, though with various degrees of liking or disliking. We’ve never had such agreement though as we seem to have had on Too much lip.

      BTW How can anyone not love Persuasion!! 🙂

      I hope you had an excellent Christmas too.

  10. December 31, 2020 09:34

    Great book, great review 🙂 Happy New Year!

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