The Age Book of the Year 2021 shortlist announced

A few weeks ago, I wrote a Monday Musings on the revival of The Age Book of the Year award. Back then, there was no information about when the shortlist would be announced. Suddenly, however, with no fanfare, it was announced yesterday afternoon – at least that’s when the announcement I saw was posted.

The judging panel comprised Jason Steger (The Age’s literary editor); Susan Wyndham (author and former The Sydney Morning Herald literary editor), and Thuy On (poet and critic).

The shortlist was drawn from books published between 1 June last year and 31 May this year.

The shortlist

I’ve included a brief excerpt for each book of Steger’s (the judging panel’s?) comments:

  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron (Kim’s review): “Its separate but connected narratives are beguiling, beautiful and violent”.
  • Steven Conte’s The Tolstoy Estate (my review): “restrained, elegant prose that crackles with sexual, moral and political tension”.
  • Richard Flanagan’s The living sea of waking dreams (Lisa’s review): “provocative story [that] taps into our anxieties with an urgent plea and hopeful flashes of beauty”.
  • Kate Grenville’s A room made of leaves: “a witty voice that blends echoes of Jane Austen with a contemporary perspective”.
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The labyrinth (Lisa’s review): “explores the contradictions of human nature and community with wry wisdom”.
  • Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile (my review): “its lyricism and attentiveness to language are testament to Simpson’s musicality”.
  • Adam Thompson’s Born into this (my review): “the past is never far from the present in these nuanced glimpses of complex lives”.

A lucky seven, eh? It’s not a particularly provocative or surprising list. It largely reflects the books currently doing the awards rounds, which is not to say it’s not a reasonable list. It contains four male to three female writers; two First Nations writers; a short story collection; two debut books; two works of historical fiction; four by previous winners of major literary awards. Something for everyone?

I’m thrilled that I’ve actually read – and greatly enjoyed – three of these.

The winner, who will receive $10,000, will be announced on September 3, at the opening of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

Now, my usual question. Thoughts anyone?

22 thoughts on “The Age Book of the Year 2021 shortlist announced

  1. No, I’ve had it ever since it first came out, amongst the books I bought to support authors and bookshops throughout the lockdown using the money that would normally have been spent on lunches with friends &c. To give you some idea, my ‘Australian’ bookshelves expanded from two to three over this time, and I’ve barely made a dent in them except for the ones I bought for #ILW. (Though TBH I’ve been pretty brutal with some that failed to engage and my trust in a certain bookseller’s recommendations has faltered. So a good dozen or more went straight to recycling when I couldn’t get past the first 25 pages. I usually give books at least 50 pages, but really, some commercial women’s fiction is just unbearable IMO).
    Anyway, in general I prioritised debut authors struggling for recognition when they couldn’t have launches, and after that, authors who get less publicity for one reason or another. Authors who were getting reviews elsewhere tended to be lower down my list of priorities, even if their books were ones I really wanted to read, and Rain Heron was in that category.

    • Yes, I agree re prioritising authors who get fewer reviews, though it often means I don’t get beyond them. I rarely try works that would be defined as commercial fiction (though there’s always the grey area) because of the time I have for reading, so I don’t have your problem!

      It’s interesting about the money we are saving due to the pandemic. Because we’ve had very few lockdown restrictions, our meals out have continued, but we are certainly spending less on travel. I think we are eating out more, donating more, and I have bought more books too.

        • Often Kindle will provide a free s ample, the first 5 or 10%. Might be enough for you to work out whether you want to purchase the physical book.

        • It’s not usually a problem. It was really because I’d set myself a dollar target to spend and then looked for books to spend it on. I don’t normally do that: I read my friends’ reviews (because I trust them) and then I buy the book, or I read the press releases from publishers who want me to review their books and they send them to me. I’m pretty good at decoding the blurbs and am rarely disappointed.
          Where I went wrong was to allow myself to be swayed by the booksellers’ reviews when I had previously decided that the book was not going to be one that I would like. Good intentions trumped my own common sense!
          But there’s no real harm done. My intention was to help the bookseller (tick) and to support the authors doing it tough (tick). Since I didn’t review it myself or give it a crappy rating at Goodreads It makes no difference to them that the book didn’t suit my taste!

        • Yes I feel I’m pretty good at decoding blurbs too. I almost never don’t finish books because if I’ve chosen to read it, it uduslly ends up offering me something. But I completely understand that this last year or so has resulted in done different behaviours and decisions.

          I love that you set yourself a dollar target. We record all our spending but we don’t tend to set targets. It’s a good practice.

        • I’m actually quite proud of our neighbourhood: not one shop went out of business because we all supported them. I’d be interested to know if anyone’s analysed how the suburbs got on compared to the CBD… I suspect that we escaped a lot of the worst of it.

        • That’s great Lisa. I suspect neighbourhood shops did do better than the CDs because people were working from home. But it’s great to see people loving their local communities isn’t it.

        • No, that’s tricky … the trick might be to look at the e-Book version if there is one because sometimes they give you a peek inside and the beginning of the book?

      • Yes, we’ve been eating out more when we’ve been out of lockdown. When we’re out of lockdown we make a point of having lunch out every Friday in local eateries, and we buy take away which we wouldn’t normally do when we’re in lockdown!

        • I have organised a family Friday lunch club since 1994. First it was just my lovely MIL and me, and then in 1997 my parents moved here and joined us. In 2011 Mr Gums retired and joined us. That was our peak because his Mum died later that year. Now of course with my parents’ recent deaths, it’s just Darby and Joan here but we love our tradition. It has become particularly important in the last year of course. We did get takeaways from some during our lockdown last year… They were working so hard to keep going. My heart went out to them.

        • You may find, as we did, that among your friends there are others similarly bereft who would love to join you. Without meaning to, we’ve started a new Christmas tradition with friends who are orphaned like we are, and it’s become very precious to all of us.

  2. I must have missed this announcement, but I haven’t been on the internet / social media much this past week. Anyway, it looks like a strong list (thanks for linking to my review) and I’m surprised to see I have read 4 of the titles and have 2 more on my TBR! (The only one I don’t have is the Conte.) I would be happy to see any one of those books I have read win the prize.

  3. I have read all of these except for ‘Born into This’. I really enjoyed five of them (was less impressed by ‘A Room Made of Leaves’. If I had to pick just one, it would be ‘The Song of the Crocodile’.

    • Thanks Jennifer. I love it when people are prepared to stick their neck out and make a prediction. I haven’t read enough of course, but I did like Song of the crocodile very much.

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