In our now annual tradition, my reading group once again voted for our favourites from our 2021 schedule – and as has also become tradition (see last year’s if you like), I’m sharing our reading and findings with you.
First, though, here is what we read in the order we read them (with links on titles to my reviews):
- Anthony Trollope, Barchester Towers: classic, British author (this was just after my Dad died, and I clearly didn’t write a post, though I did read)
- Tsitsi Dangarembga, This mournable body: novel, Zimbabwean author
- Bernadine Evaristo, Girl woman other: novel, British author
- Best Australian science writing 2020: nonfiction science anthology, Australian
- Delia Owens, Where the crawdads sing: novel, American author
- Steven Conte, The Tolstoy estate: novel, Australian author
- Nardi Simpson, Song of the crocodile: novel, Australian author (First Nations)
- Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain: novel, Scottish-American author
- Maggie O’Farrell, Hamnet: novel, British-Irish author
- Sofie Laguna, Infinite splendours: novel, Australian author
- Sarah Krasnostein, The believer: creative nonfiction, Australian author
This schedule is very different to last year’s which was was less diverse than usual: nearly all were Australian and we didn’t do a classic. It’s true that our focus always has been Australian – with a special interest in women – but it was never meant to be quite so narrow as it was last year. So, this year … we did a classic; we did just 5 Australian books; and we read three male authors (plus those who had essays in the Best Australian science anthology). The first half of next year will see a continuation of this variety, with not only a classic but a translated book (which has been absent for a couple of years).
The winners …
All twelve of our currently active members voted, and the rules were the same. 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. Last year we had a runaway winner – it received twice the number of votes as the two which shared second place. This year though was completely different. The winning book received 8 votes, second 7 votes, third 6 votes and so on down to fifth with 4 votes. Consequently, we have two Highly Commendeds this year, because after 4 votes we dropped to 2, 1 and none.
- Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart (8 votes)
- The crocodile song, by Nardi Simpson (7 votes)
- Girl, woman, other, by Bernadine Evaristo (6 votes)
Highly commended: Where the Crawdads sing, by Delia Owens (5); Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell (4).
It was a real tussle this year, and I enjoyed watching the votes come in. Until the last two votes, Nardi Simpson was winning – oh, how I would have loved her to win, particularly after Melissa Lucashenko’s win last year – but she was pipped at the post.
Interestingly, last year all three of the nonfiction titles on our list featured among our favourites, while this year the two nonfiction works didn’t get any votes at all, though they both generated excellent discussions. It’s just that we read such strong fiction. Every book but the two nonfiction books received at least one vote.
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 (though most did this year), so different people voted from different “pools”.
Oh, and if you want to know my three picks, they were Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This mournable body, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, woman, other, and Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile. It was a hard decision though, with Shuggie Bain fighting for a place!
Selected comments (accompanying the votes)
Not everyone included comments with their votes, and not all books received comments, but here is a selection of what members said about the top five:
- Shuggie Bain: Commenters used descriptions like “perceptive”, “powerful”, “brilliant evocative writing”.
- Song of the crocodile: Comments included “punchy truth-telling”, “loved the ‘fantastic aspects’ … [like] the crocodile totem”, “edgy and important”, “full of beauty and … I understand intergenerational trauma more”.
- Girl, woman, other: Commenters saw it as a “fabulous evocation of women in complicated relationships”, and “satirical, insightful exploration of diverse women”, while another said “made me feel like I was almost there in London. A great book to read while the borders stopped travel.”
- Where the crawdads sing”: Our one commenter on it called it “evocative and compelling”.
- Hamnet: Commenters agreed it was “powerful”: “powerful story of an invisible woman, and the impact of grief” and “powerful … imagined history. Beautiful descriptive writing”, while another said “engaging, well-plotted and historically plausible”
And a bonus!
As in 2019, a good friend (from my library school days over 45 years ago) sent me her reading group’s schedule from this year (links are to my reviews where I’ve read the book too):
- Kate Grenville, A room made of leaves: novel, Australian author
- Tony Birch, Ghost River: novel, Australian author (First Nations)
- Annabel Crabb, The wife drought: nonfiction, Australian author
- Mark Henshaw, The snow kimono: novel, Australian author
- Richard Fidler, Ghost Empire: nonficton, Australian author
- Clive James, The fire of joy…roughly 80 poems: poetry, Australian author
- Michelle de Kretser, Questions of travel: novel, Australian author
- Kim Mahood, Craft for a dry lake: nonfiction, Australian author
- Behrouz Boochani, No friend but the mountains (on my TBR): nonfiction, Kurdish-Iranian author
- Pip Williams, The dictionary of lost words (on my TBR): fiction, Australian author
My group has read the Henshaw and de Kretser in past years, and we have also read a different book by Kim Mahood (Position doubtful) which we loved.
So, I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you were in a reading group this year. What did your group read and love?