Blogging highlights for 2021

Finally, the last of my traditional, self-indulgent year-end trifecta (which includes my Australian Women Writers’ Challenge wrap-up and Reading highlights posts).

But, like last year, before I launch into my usual analysis, I must send another big shout-out to Bill (The Australian Legend) who continued to curated his Bill curates series of reblogged posts from my blog’s early days to help me over the doldrums in the months after my father’s death. I know I didn’t have to keep posting during that time, but I so appreciated being able to keep up the continuity. Thanks a bunch Bill.

Top posts for 2021

Gradually over the last few years my top posts have shifted to include more posts on recent Australian books. However, a few “usual suspects” posts keep hanging around, and it’s still true that most of the posts are over 5 years old. Regardless of whatever the top posts are, though, they raise the question, why them? They are such a motley lot.

Here is my 2021 Top Ten, in popularity order:

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe

None of these, as usual, were actually published in the reporting year (2021). Other observations:

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  • Mark Twain’s “A presidential candidate” joined the Top Ten in 2018 and reached 2nd spot in 2020. This year it gained the Top Spot! Curious.
  • Three works made their Top Ten debut, and they are all Australian: Fergus W. Hume’s The mystery of a hansom cab, Tara June Winch’s The yield, and Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence.
  • Five of the Top Ten are for Australian works, one less than 2019’s record of 6.
  • Wallace Stegner’s Crossing to safety, a post from 2014, suddenly appeared in 2020’s Top Ten, and remained there? Why now?
  • Barbara Baynton, who has been in the Top Ten for as long as I have been doing this, has slipped out, with “The chosen vessel” slipping from 2020’s no. 5 to no. 15.
  • Red Dog (posted in 2011) was a Top Ten regular until last year when it moved to the Top Twenty, where it remained this year.
  • Seven of the top ten posts were published over 5 years ago.
  • Short stories and essays still feature strongly, but are decreasing – to just three this year.
  • My little post on English language usage in restaurant ordering keeps getting hits!

Five Australian posts appear in the next ten, one more than in 2019 and 2020, and are similar to last year’s: ABR’s Top Twenty Aussie Novels of the Twentieth Century (11) which was a Top Ten last year; Delicious descriptions: Clare Wright’s sources on the Australian landscape (12); Barbara Baynton’s “The chosen vessel” (15); Shaun Tan’s Eric (19); and Red dog (20).

As for posts actually written in 2021? Where did they fit? Well, as usually happens, they appear quite low in the list, with the first one ranking 32. Here are the Top Ten 2021-published review posts (excluding Monday Musings and meme posts):

Two from last year’s published-in-the-year Top Ten – Tara June Winch and Julia Baird – made it into the “real” Top Ten this year. Will any of these achieve the same in 2022?

My most popular Monday Musings posts were:

None of these were in the Top Three last year, except that the 2020 new releases post was. My Australian Gothic (19th century) post, which had been in the Top Three for a few years, wasn’t even in the Top Five this year. Maybe life has been too Gothic recently for people to want to read about it?

Random blogging stats

The searches

Help Books Clker.com
(Courtesy OCAL, via clker.com)

I love sharing some of the search terms used to reach my blog, even though changes to Google a few years ago dramatically reduced search term visibility. However, some still get through, and some find me despite some aberrant spelling at times.

  • there are always some searches that truly make me laugh, or mystify me: jane austen corner laughing; new panjabi sexy stories; chinese gym “guest post”
  • as last year, several searches seemed to be for a school or college assignment about Sherwood Anderson’s short story “Adventure”. Some hopefuls type in the whole question: explain the significance of the title ‘adventure’ by anderson; adventure by sherwood anderson 4. who should be blame for alice’s tragedy [I wonder what the previous three questions were?]
  • I have mentioned Austen scholar Gillian Russell, but my post wouldn’t have helped this searcher: “gillian russell” husband canberra
  • some searches are so general, I’m amazed they found my blog. I have no idea if they find what they want. Try this one: winner announced OR erotic story

Other stats

I wrote 154 posts, one more than in 2020, and just under my long term average of 158. This represents an average of nearly 13 posts per month..

Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair woman

Australia, the USA, Britain, in that order, continue to be the top three countries visiting my blog. The next three slots mirrored last year’s: India, the Philippines and Canada. The Philippines seems to be here primarily because of continued interest in my post on Philippine-born Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman. I think she’d be pleased. Anyhow, Germany, France, Mexico and China, in that order, round out the Top Ten.

Challenges, memes and other things

I only do one challenge, the AWW Challenge, which I wrapped up last week, and one regular meme, #sixdegreesofseparation run by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). I occasionally do others, which you can find on my “memes” category link.

I also took part in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Indigenous Literature week, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) AWW Gen 3 Week Part 2, and Nonfiction November. More casually, I toyed with Novellas in November (Cathy of 746 books and Rebecca of Bookish Beck), the #YEAR Club (Karen of Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling and Simon of Stuck in a Book), and Brona’s Aus Reading Month.

All of these align with my reading practice, and frequently give me a welcome opportunity to delve into the TBR.

Being blogging mentor for the New Territory program (2017-2019) was a highlight, until the pandemic struck. Now, online communications have moved on, and thus, I’d argue, also the original impetus for this program. However, I want to report on the activities of its “alumni”. Angharad continues to actively blog at Tinted Edges and has had some wins in short fiction competitions, while continuing to work on her novel. Emma Gibson is now based in Melbourne, and following her dual interests of playwriting and writing about place. Amy Walters is building her excellent criticism cv. You can find a list on her blog, including several published in 2021. This year I reviewed These strange outcrops, a special edition of Rosalind Moran’s Cicerone journal. Rosalind continues to write poetry and reviews from her current homebase in Cambridge, UK. Shelley Burr, as I reported last year, won a Debut Dagger for her Aussie noir unpublished manuscript, Wake. It is now set for publication this year with Hachette. I will be reading it. Watch this space.

And so, 2022 …

As I say every year, a big thanks to all of you who commented on my blog this year – the regulars who have hung in with me year in year out, and the newbies who have taken the time to visit and comment. I do hope you stay, because, for me, the conversations are one of blogging’s biggest delights. They help us, I think, grow as readers. Also, as I wrote last year, the friendly but fearless sharing of sometimes opposing ideas demonstrates that social media can be positive and respectful, that communications technology can be used for good. I love being part of proving that.

Beyond the commenters, though, I also want to thank all you wonderful bloggers out there. I apologise for not always managing to visit everyone as much as I’d like. I wish you all good reading and great book talk in 2022.

Finally, huge thanks to the authors, publishers and booksellers who make it all possible (and who have put up with my extreme tardiness this year, but I am catching up). Roll on 2022 …

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Challenge logo

For the last time, I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge ( in its current form at least, see below). What a couple of years we’ve had. It’s hard to know whether it has affected the challenge or not but, anecdotally, our numbers did not increase over a period when more people were stuck at home. Were we too discombobulated to focus on reading or were many of our participants too tired from the challenges of working from home and home-schooling to read and review as well? I look forward in the future to seeing what sociologists and other researchers make of these years and how we behaved.

Anyhow, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,700 different books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2021 by nearly 700 books, less than the number added last year, but still a healthy 10% increase to the database.

My personal round-up for the year

These last two years have not been stellar ones for me, so my posting to the challenge was down (mirroring the overall trajectory for the challenge!) I posted only 23 reviews to the Challenge over the year, a few less than last year, but I did also read three essays I didn’t post to the challenge. I will include them here as they were by women and appeared in a book edited by a woman, Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer. I’m disappointed in my reading achievements this year, but it is what it is! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Anthologies/Essays

This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 53% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little less than last year’s 61%, and only two were classics by my loose definitions. One, Elizabeth Harrower’s, was read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 4 week (Part 1). As always, I appreciate the impetus to read books from the past, because they do not deserve to be forgotten! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read four books by First Nations Australia women.

My non-fiction reading was even more heavily slanted towards memoir/life-writing than usual, though the essays shift the balance a little, with a focus there on writing about writing.

Finally, as always, a big thanks to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I have loved being part of this challenge, partly of course because it equates with my reading goals so has never really been a challenge, but also because it’s been a generous and supportive team working on an important goal.

And so, 2022

Challenge logo

Most of you will know that this challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been involved as a volunteer since 2013. In many ways, we feel that ten years on, the goal has been achieved, as women writers seem to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures.

Partly for this reason, the challenge will change tack in 2022 and focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. The new team overseeing this new phase comprises Elizabeth, Bill (The Australian Legend) and me. We plan to offer articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate. We three feel that Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing hasn’t been fully explored and we’re keen to nudge it a bit more into the limelight.

This does not mean that the always popular contemporary aspect of the challenge will cease, but it will now be carried through our Facebook groups, Love Reading Books by Aussie Women and Australian Women Writers News and Events. Please join those groups if you are interested and haven’t already joined them.

Meanwhile, you will hear more about AWW 2022, when we get going in February.

Blogging highlights for 2020

Finally, the last of my traditional and very self-indulgent year-end trifecta (which includes my Australian Women Writers’ Challenge wrap-up and Reading highlights posts).

But, before I launch into my usual analysis, I must send a huge shout-out to Bill (The Australian Legend) for the astonishing effort he put in this year to help me keep my blog going during the sad months of my mother’s late-diagnosed illness and death. He coordinated four Monday Musings guest posts (from Lisa, Kate and Michelle, as well as himself, even proposing topics in case they needed inspiration). And, inspired by Karen’s (BookerTalk) post on reblogging, he curated a series of reblogged posts from my early days, which we titled Bill curates. It was a stellar effort and I’m immensely grateful to him (and to Lisa, Michelle and Kate) for helping me out during those times. It may sound silly but it significantly helped my well-being to have these posts lined up to keep my beloved blog ticking along. Thanks Bill.

Top posts for 2020

Until last year, my top posts have changed minimally, but last year’s little shift has held – a little! However, there is still a set of “usual suspects” posts reappearing year after year, and it’s still true that most of the posts are over 5 years old. Whatever these top posts are, though, I always wonder why them? Some are probably set school texts, but the rest?

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universe

Here’s my 2020 Top Ten, ordered by number of hits:

None of these were actually published in 2020, which is the norm except for last year’s little aberration when Trent Dalton hit the top spot. What other observations can I make?

  • Red Dog has slipped out of the Top Ten (into the Top Twenty) for the first time since it was published in 2011.
  • Last year’s record of six Australian posts in the Top Ten did not last, but Australians still make a showing!
  • Barbara Baynton continues to be an established Top Ten regular.
  • Why is ABR’s Top Twenty list here? Were locked-down readers looking for reading recommendations? And, old Stegner and Greene posts are new here. Why them? Good lockdown reading?
  • Mark Twain’s “A presidential candidate”, which popped into the Top Ten in 2018 and remained there in 2019, appears again, but has risen to 2nd spot! I wonder why?!
  • Short stories and essays still feature strongly, with four again this year.

Four Australian posts appear in the next ten, as in 2019, but they are all different. Barbara Baynton remains, just with a different story, “A dreamer”! The others are Shaun Tan’s Eric, the slowly-slipping Red dog, and, out-of-the-blue it seems to me, a 2014 Delicious descriptions: Clare Wright’s sources on the Australian landscape.

Book cover

But what about posts actually written in 2020? How did they fare? After last year’s little aberration, this year returned to normal (whatever that is) with my top-ranked 2020-written post coming quite down the list. Here are the Top Ten 2020-published posts (excluding Monday Musings) – an eclectic bunch that tells us, what?:

My most popular Monday Musings posts were:

My New Releases posts seem popular, having featured the last two years. Australian Gothic has also featured in the top three for a few years. But, I’m surprised to see Allen & Unwin’s House of Books, which was only published in July, appearing as the third most popular Monday Musings this year.

Random blogging stats

The searches

One of my favourite parts of this highlights post is sharing some of the search terms used to reach my blog, but this year that aspect of the end-of-year stats has been flakey. However, I did glean a few that might interest – and hopefully, entertain – you.

Book Cover
  • several searches seemed to be for a school or college assignment about Sherwood Anderson’s short story “Adventure”. The searches included: who should be blame for alice’s tragedy; alice is the one to be blamed for her tragedy. do you agree?; explain. adventure sherwood anderson; and explain the significance of the title ‘adventure’ by anderson. Don’t you love how some have just typed in the whole question?
  • I have reviewed an essay by Sebastian Smee but I don’t think that will have helped this searcher: does wellesley have a non-credit on-line course taught by sebastian smee
  • relevant to this year’s second top post, here is one search: what type of satire is mark twain’s a presidential candidates 
  • and, my favourite: word association. what comes into your mind about australian literature? You know what I’m going to ask: What words come to your mind when you think about Aussie lit?

Other stats

I wrote thirteen (nearly 8%) fewer posts in 2020 than in 2019, averaging under 13 posts per month. This resulted in a small drop in my blog traffic.

Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair woman

Australia, the USA, Britain, in that order, continue to be the top three countries visiting my blog. The next three slots went, respectively, to India, the Philippines and Canada. India has been fourth for two of the last three years but, this year, the Philippines jumped from its usual 6th place to 5th, edging out Canada. This is largely due to Philippine-born Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman.

I’d like to thank all of you who commented on my blog this year. I’m thrilled that, although my blog traffic dropped a little this year, my comments count increased by 12%, which is heart-warming because the conversations have to be one of blogging’s biggest delights. The friendly but fearless sharing of sometimes opposing ideas – you know who you are! – demonstrates that social media can be positive and respectful.

Challenges, memes and other things

I only do one challenge, the AWW Challenge, which I wrapped up last week, and one regular meme, #sixdegreesofseparation run by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). I occasionally do others, which you can find on my “memes” category link.

I also took part in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Indigenous Literature and Thea Astley weeks, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) AWW Gen 3 Week, and, more casually, in Nonfiction November, because all these align with my reading practice.

Each year, I like to host some guest posts but I have already mentioned these in my opening paragraph. You can find them at this link.

Being blogging mentor for the New Territory  program has been a major highlight over recent years. It was set to continue, until you-know-what. I don’t know whether it will return next year. Meanwhile, I have enjoyed following the writings of several “alumni” who are continuing their literary reviewing and criticism journeys. Rosalind Moran’s well-timed Overland post on the value (or not) of lists, caught the eye of several bloggers over the last month! Amy Walters has revamped her website to include links to her other writings, and Angharad has continued to be an active blogger as well as occasionally writing other articles. Shelley Burr, on the other hand, won a Debut Dagger for her Aussie noir unpublished manuscript, Wake. How lucky am I to know these great young women.

And so, 2021 …

As I say every year, a big thanks to everyone who read, commented on and/or “liked” my blog last year – and to all you other wonderful bloggers out there. I’m really sorry that I don’t always manage to visit everyone as much as I’d like. I wish you all good reading in 2021, and look forward to discussing books with you at your place or mine!

Finally, huge thanks to the authors, publishers and booksellers who make it all possible (and who have put up with my extreme tardiness this year). Let’s hope 2021 will be better for us all.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2020

AWW Challenge 2019 Badge

Once again I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge*. Last year in my opening paragraph, I wrote that I loved the sound of 2020 – and I wished you all a wonderful year to come in whatever form you would like that to take. My, oh my, little did we expect what was going to eventuate (which for me included a personal loss in addition to the impacts of the pandemic and other catastrophes). I no longer like the sound of 2020, and fervently hope 2021 turns out much better for us all. And so, may you all have a positive and fulfilling 2021.

Now, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,000 books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2020 by 900 books, which is about the same number added as last year, or just under 15%.

My personal round-up for the year

This year, for obvious reasons, was not my best Challenge year. I posted only 26 reviews relevant to the Challenge over the year, about the same as last year which was also a strange year (but differently). I feel disappointed about all this, but such is life. Anyhow, here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

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Short stories

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Anthologies/Essays

Non-fiction

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This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 61% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little more than last year and a bit closer to my preferred ratio. I read three Classics. Two were novels and one a memoir, and they were read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 3 week and Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Thea Astley week. Thanks to Bill and Lisa for the impetus to read these books, because they added a special depth ! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read two novels by Indigenous Australian women, and one translated novel by an Iranian-born Australian writer.

Chloe Hooper, The Arsonist

My non-fiction reading was eclectic, featuring biography and memoir of course, a work of creative or narrative nonfiction, a beautiful collaboration between an artist and a poet, and, unusually for me, also two books that could be seen to be in the self-help vein.

If you’d like to know more about the Challenge, check it out here. We are also on Facebook, Twitter (@auswomenwriters), and GoodReads. Do consider joining us. All readers are welcome.

Finally, as always, a big thanks again to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I (still) love being part of this challenge, partly because equating with my reading goals it is not really a challenge, and also because I enjoy working with the people involved. See you in 2021.

And so, 2021

Challenge logo

The 2021 sign up form is ready, so this is also my Sign Up post for next year. As always, I’m nominating myself for the Franklin level, which is to read 10 books by Australian women and post reviews for at least 6 of those. I expect, of course, to exceed this.

Do you plan to sign up?

* This challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been one of the challenge’s volunteers since 2013. Theresa Smith (of Theresa Smith writes) now oversees the day-to-day management of the blog, but Elizabeth is still an active presence.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Nonfiction November

Every November for a few years now, a group of bloggers have coordinated a focus on nonfiction for bloggers in November. They set up a plan of topics, one per week, with a different blogger being responsible for each week, as follows: Leann (Week 1) (Shelf Aware), Julie (Week 2) (Julz Reads),  Rennie (Week 3) (What’s Nonfiction), and Katie (week 4) (Doing Dewey).

This year’s schedule was:

  • Week 1: Your Year in nonfiction, involves looking at our nonfiction reading this year, thinking about our favourites or topics that have particularly interest us or books we’ve most recommended.
  • Week 2: Book pairing, involves pairing a nonfiction book with a fiction title (on whatever criteria you like).
  • Week 3: Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert, involves, as it sounds, reflecting our own expertise, asking others to help with books about something we’d like to know, or choosing our own reading plan for something we’d like to learn.
  • Week 4: New to my TBR, involves – well, it’s obvious isn’t it, except the idea is that they’re books that participating bloggers have posted about.

Now, I have taken part in this week – in a sporadic sort of way – before, writing two combination posts in the Novembers of the last three years. I planned to do the same this year, but haven’t! So, instead, I’ve decided to do one post for my last Monday Musings of the month, which means of course that I’ve added an extra criterion: all the nonfiction I talk about has to be Australian. Here goes.

Your year in nonfiction

Chloe Hooper, The Arsonist

I haven’t read a lot of nonfiction this year – I haven’t read a lot this year, full stop – but most of the nonfiction I’ve read has been by Australian writers. For Week 1, I’m going to choose three books, that I have already or would thoroughly recommend to others.

  • Chloe Hooper’s The arsonist (my review): another excellent sociopolitical true-crime exploration by Hooper, this time of an arsonist behind Victoira’s catastrophic Black Saturday fires in 2009.
  • Rick Morton’s One hundred years of dirt (my review): I have since taken more interest in his journalistic writings in The Saturday Paper.
  • Helen Garner’s Yellow notebooks: Diaries, Volume 1, 1978-1987 (my review): the first volume of Garner’s edited diaries that will be published over the coming years. I loved the insights it provides into her writing practice, her way of seeing the world, and her thoughts about all manner of subjects (including herself!)

Book pairing

Book cover

This one was easy because I paired them in my blog post for the second book in this pairing. I paired Gay Lynch’s historical novel, Unsettled (my review), with poet John Kinsella’s memoir Displaced (my review).

This pairing is both superficial and complex. It’s superficial because both have single-word titles which encompass multiple meanings, that are both literal and metaphorical. However, it is complex because these are very different books – in form and subject matter. But, fundamentally, both deal with colonialism, with the settlement of Australia by Britain, and with the ramifications of that for both the colonisers and the colonised.

Be/Ask/Become the expert

Regular readers here will know something of my year and will not be surprised that ageing is the topic of most interest to me this year. It’s one that I’ve been interested in for a while but that has become a matter of rather more immediate relevance this year, with the death of my lovely nonagenarian mother and the move of my centenarian father into aged care. So, for this section I feel I’m a bit of an expert, but would like to become more of an expert too!

Book cover

Consequently, I was one of those who supported adding Griffith Review’s issue on ageing, Getting on (issue no. 68) (my review) to my reading group’s schedule this year. The book, as I’ve come to expect from Griffith Reviews, did not disappoint with its excellent collection of thoughtful and informative reportage, alongside memoirs and fictional responses to the subject.

I do of course want to increase my knowledge of this subject, which is also becoming closer to me personally! Consequently, I would like to read Robert Dessaix’s latest book, The time of our lives, about which I posted recently after zoom-attending a Yarra Valley Writers Festival event on this book.

I would love to hear of any other nonfiction books you’ve read on the subject that you would recommend.

New to my TBR

I don’t read a lot of biographies, though every year I read a few, including, this year, Desley Deacon’s thoroughly researched and beautifully produced book on Judith Anderson (my review). My main biographical interest, however, are literary biographies, and a few have been published this year that interest me. They have been posted on by bloggers but I didn’t notice them in Nonfiction November posts:

And, Lisa (ANZLitLovers), in her My Year in Nonfiction post, mentioned a couple of books that interest me: Danielle Clode’s The woman who sailed the world, and Debra Adelaide’s Innocent reader (which is already on my TBR).

And that, in the nick of time, is my contribution to Nonfiction November 2020.

I’d love to hear about your nonfiction interests and highlights this year.

Australian Women Writers 2020 Challenge completed

I’m very late with my traditional completion post for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge – it’s been a weird and difficult year all round. As always, I will continue to contribute until the year’s end, and do a final round-up then, but I do like to get the completion admin done!

I signed up, of course, for the top-level, Franklin, which involves reading 10 books and reviewing at least 6, and of course I’ve exceeded this. In fact, by June 30, my usual marker for my completion post, I’d contributed 13 reviews to the challenge,

Here’s my list in alphabetical order (by author), with the links on the titles being to my reviews:

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Challenge logo

I don’t set myself specific reading goals, but I do keep in mind a wish to read more indigenous and diverse writers, more classics, and more from my TBR pile. As I wrote last year, these continue to be my non-goal goals. So, how did I go? Well, I read just one Indigenous Australian writer, an Iranian Australian writer, two classics (thanks to Bill’s AWW Gen 3 week), and four (Hooper, Park, Thirkell and Azar) from my TBR*. This is not too bad out of 13 books (I think!), particularly given this weird year. However, I’d like to do more. Let’s see how I go by the end of the year.

Book coverNot included in the above list is Heidi Sze’s book Nurturing your new life, which I have not specifically reviewed. However, I have read a significant proportion of it, and did write up the author event I attended.

Watch out for my 2020 AWW Challenge wrap-up post for the year’s full story!

* All books I read are, by definition, on my TBR, but in terms of my book management, I define my TBR pile as those I’ve had for more than 12 months!

Monday musings on Australian literature: Autumn Book Binge 2020

A big thanks to Lisa (ANZLitLovers) whose post on the Autumn Book Binge brought it to my attention. I knew immediately that I had to post on it – albeit with a little change, as you will see.

The Autumn Book Binge (love the wordplay on “bingo”) is being run by the State Library of Victoria. It involves reading (or listening to) a book of your choice for each of the categories on the bingo (oops, binge) card. What a great idea for this autumn (or, northern spring) given COVID-19 and the consequent encouragement for us all to social distance – no punishment for readers!

The Binge is explained here. Victorians can pick up a Challenge Card from participating libraries, while anyone can download it here. The formal “game” runs over our downunder autumn, that is, from 1 March to 31 May 2020.

As Lisa has done in her post (linked in my opening sentence), I am going to list the categories with suggestions from books I have read (with links to my reviews on the titles). I’m limiting myself to five options for each. Here goes …

Set in the ACT

This is where I’ve made my change. This Book Binge is a Victorian challenge, so its category is “set in Victoria”. To play the game to win the prizes, you need to choose a Victorian-set book, but you must be Victorian-based to win. If you’re not, I suggest you make this box your own jurisdiction. (Sorry Victoria!)

Recent releases (published in the last 12 months, more or less!)

I’m nominating only Australian writers because they need all the airing they can get:

Other lives (biography about someone who inspires you)

In translation

Fact to fiction (fiction based on true stories)

Sawako Ariyoshi, The doctor's wifeAs with translation above, I have aimed here to traverse the globe.

Book to screen

  • Jane Austen, Emma, PenguinJane Austen’s Emma (my posts, one, two and three): this category could be filled with Austens but I’ve just chosen Emma because it’s the most recent adaptation I’ve seen.
  • Alan Bennett’s The lady in the van: adapted beautifully with Maggie Smith in the title role
  • EM Forster’s Howard’s End: adapted to film in 1992 and a more recent television miniseries in 2017
  • Pierre Lemaitre’s The great swindle: English film title, See you up there
  • Madeleine St John’s The women in black: filmed as The ladies in black

Beastly titles (with animals in the title)

Other worlds (set in an alternate world to your own)

Jamil Ahmad Wandering falcon coverI think I can interpreted this to mean anything not my contemporary Australia, so I’ve chosen a wide variety of worlds, from the mythical past to dystopian futures.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander writers

Ali Cobby Eckermann, Ruby Moonlight

I’ve focused on fiction for this list, but click here for all my posts on Indigenous Australian literature.

And there you have the nine categories, with selected recommendations from me. (Not all are Australian, but this is an Australian library’s initiative, qualifying it for Monday Musings!) You can take part in the discussion, whether or not you are Victorian, but if you do, please use the hashtag #AutumnBookBinge.

Will you take part in any way?

Blogging highlights for 2019

Here is the last of my traditional year-end trifecta (the others being my Australian Women Writers’ Challenge wrap-up and Reading highlights posts). This is very self-indulgent, I know, but it interests me!

Top posts for 2019

There hasn’t been a huge change in my top posts – several posts have remained in the list for several years now, and seven of the ten were published over 5 years ago. However, this year has seen a bit of shift, as you’ll see in my comments below.

Trent Dalton, Boy swallows universeHere’s my 2019 Top Ten, by number of hits:

So, the shift. Mainly it’s that I have a new record with six Australian posts appearing in the Top Ten, four more than last year, and two more than the previous record of four. Barbara Baynton is an established regular, though which work/s change from year to year. Last year it was “Squeaker’s mate” while this year “The chosen vessel” returns to the Top Ten. Meanwhile, Red Dog, is here yet again, proving itself to be true blue! However, the BIG news is that for the first time an Australian book has actually topped the Top Ten, Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe. This is the same book that was my reading group’s top pick of the year.

Fascinatingly, Mark Twain’s “A presidential candidate”, which popped into the Top Ten last year, has remained there this year. As I said last year, does this have anything to do with you know who? Short stories and essays still feature strongly, but there are just four this year, versus seven last.

Four Australian posts appear in the next ten, and they are an eclectic lot. Two are for works, Barbara Baynton’s “Squeaker’s mate” and Vicki-Laveau-Harvie’s The erratics, and two are author-based posts, Vale Andrew McGahn (1966-2019) and Helen Garner on writers and writing.

Book coverI also like to note how well the posts actually written in the year ranked. Last year the first one came in at 23. This year, the winner, my Boy swallows universe post, romped in at number 1, with more than double the hits of the second ranked post. My next most popular 2019-written posts ranked 15th (Vale Andrew McGahan (1966-2019)) and 18th (Vicki Laveau-Harvie, The erratics). So, three from 2019 in the top 20. Unheard of!

For the Monday Musings fans amongst you, my most popular Monday Musings posts were:

Australian Gothic and Novels set in Sydney were second and first, respectively last year, with 2018’s new release post being third! Not a big change in substance, then. This suggests that our blogs are long-term resources, as well as places for current discussion.

Random blogging stats

The searches

Here’s a selection of 2019’s searches that found my blog:

  • many searches, not surprisingly, related to this year’s top post: the searches included (in order of frequency) boy swallows universe discussion questions, your end is a dead blue wrenboy swallows universe quotes, and boy swallows universe meaning. There were also various permutations of wording searching the meaning of red phone in the book! It’s interesting to see what people might be looking for besides straight reviews.
  • last year I noted that the word “summary” was popular in searches, more so than the previous year’s popular word “analysis“. This year, however, they were more neck and neck.
  • there are people out there clearly looking to prove Dark emu wrong, as some of the more popular searches had wording like dark emu debunked, critics of dark emu and, would you believe, critical reviews of black emu book. This last one suggests that people didn’t know exactly what they are searching for but had been told the work is no good. I don’t think my post would have satisfied them. Anyhow, I’m guessing it’s all these people who helped push this post into the Top Ten this year.
  • although my post on What to say when you order food at a restaurant is still among my Top Posts, there were fewer actual searches recorded for this one. A couple, however, are entertaining. One is: what to do if food is not the way you ordered. I’m not sure my post would have helped that person either. And another: why to say hi at restaurant. Why indeed!
  • I think I can guess what Australian poetry fraud was looking for, the Ern Malley affair.
  • and then, there are always the homework questions like: do you think that john muir made an effective argument for saving the redwoods? why or why not?

I should add the proviso here that many many search terms are not exposed to us bloggers, so the terms I’m sharing above are a small subset.

Other stats

I wrote four fewer posts in 2019 than in 2018, averaging just under 14 posts per month – and yet the traffic on my blog increased by more than 20% over last year. (Then again, last year’s traffic was somewhat lower than the previous year. It’s all a mystery to me!)

Merlinda Bobis Fish-hair womanAustralia, the USA, and Britain, in that order, were the top three countries visiting my blog, as in 2018. In 2017, India was fourth and Canada fifth, while in 2018, the order was reversed. This year, India regained its upper hand over Canada! The Philippines remains 6th for at least the third year, largely, I think, because of interest in Merlinda Bobis’ Fish-hair woman.

I’d like to thank all of you who commented on my blog this year. My comments count increased by around 7% in 2019, which is satisfying because the respectful conversations we have here are very special to me. I particularly want to thank Lisa (ANZLitLovers) and Bill (The Australian Legend) who tolerate, both on my blog and theirs, much contrariness from me. Their tolerance and forbearance (not to mention that of the rest of you who come back here again and again) is a true measure of how positive and respectful social media can be.

Challenges, memes and other things

I only do one challenge, the AWW Challenge, which I wrapped up this week. And I only do one regular Meme, #sixdegreesofseparation run by Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest), but I occasionally do others. You can see all the memes I’ve done on my “memes” category link.

I also took part in Lisa’s (ANZLitLovers) Indigenous Literature Week, Bill’s (The Australian Legend) AWW Gen 1 Week, and, more casually, in Nonfiction November run by a group of bloggers, because these all relate closely to my reading interests.

Each year I like to host some guest posts with this year’s coming from Amanda who mostly reviewed titles that were missing from the AWW challenge database, and my brother Ian, who wrote two posts on his attendance at the Hobart Writers’ Festival. To read them, click this link and look at those posted in 2019. A big thanks to Amanda and Ian for their contributions.

A major highlight of the year, though, was my continued involvement as blogging mentor for the New Territory  program sponsored by the ACT Writers Centre, the National Library of Australia, the Canberra Writers Festival and the Street Theatre. The program’s aim is primarily “to stoke cultural conversations in the ACT”. I enjoyed working with Shelley Burr and Rosalind Moran over the second half of the year.

And so, 2020 …

To conclude, a big thanks again to everyone who read, commented on and/or “liked” my blog last year – and to all the other wonderful bloggers out there, even though I don’t always manage to visit everyone as much as I’d like. I wish you all good reading in 2020, and look forward to discussing books with you here or there!

Finally, as I say every year, a very big thanks to the authors who write the books, and to the publishers and booksellers who get the books out there. I hope 2020 will be positive for us all.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019

AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeFor some years now, I have devoted my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge* – and this year I am continuing that tradition! Sorry, if you hoped for something else. With the New Year – I love the sound of 2020 – just two days away, I wish all you wonderful Whispering Gums followers a wonderful year to come in whatever form you would like that to take.Thank you, too, for supporting my blog with your visits and comments.

Now, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 6,100 books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2019 by 900 books, or 17%, which is about the same increase as last year. In my area of Literary and Classics, we had roughly the same number of reviews posted as last year.

My personal round-up for the year

It was not, I have to say, my best Challenge year, as I posted only 25 reviews over the year, about 25% less than last year. I’m not sure how that happened, but c’est la vie. It was clearly a different sort of reading year. Anyhow, here they are, with links to my reviews:

Book coverFICTION

Book coverSHORT STORIES

ANTHOLOGIES

Book coverCHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

  • Nhulunbuy Primary School, with Ann James and Ann Haddon, I saw, we saw (picture book)

NON-FICTION

Book coverThis year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 57% of my AWW challenge reading, which is similar to last year. I read no poetry or verse novels again this year, and I read fewer Classics than last. However, I did read three classic short stories by Capel Boake for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 2 week as well as Louise Mack’s novel. On the plus side, I read more indigenous writing this year – two anthologies, a picture book, and Melissa Lucashenko’s Miles Franklin award-winning Too much lip (as well as some male authors who shall not be mentioned here!)

If you’d like to know more about the Challenge, check it out here. We are also on Facebook, Twitter (@auswomenwriters), and GoodReads. Do consider joining us. All readers are welcome.

Finally, a big thanks again to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I love being part of this challenge, not only because it equates with my reading goals but also because the people involved are such a pleasure to work with. See you in 2020.

And so, 2020

Challenge logoThe 2020 sign up form is ready, so this is also my Sign Up post for next year. As always, I’m nominating myself for the Franklin level, which is to read 10 books by Australian women and post reviews for at least 6 of those. I expect, of course, to exceed this.

Do you plan to sign up?

* This challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been one of the challenge’s volunteers since 2013. Theresa Smith (of Theresa Smith writes) now oversees the day-to-day management of the blog, but Elizabeth is still an active presence.

Australian Women Writers 2019 Challenge completed

As has become tradition, I’m writing my completion post for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge, around the middle of the year, though I will continue to contribute until the year’s end, and do a final round-up then.

I signed up, as always, for the top-level, Franklin, which involves reading 10 books and reviewing at least 6, and as always I’ve exceeded this. In fact, by June 30, I had contributed 16 reviews to the challenge, including 3 guest posts by Amanda.

Here’s my list in alphabetical order (by author), with the links on the titles being to my reviews:

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AWW Challenge 2019 BadgeIn last year’s completion post, I said that I didn’t have specific goals for the rest of that year but that I’d like to read more indigenous writers, more classics, and more from my TBR pile. These continue to be my non-goal goals, but I’ve not done particularly well with them so far this year, but I have read two classic writers (Capel Boake and Louise Mack) and I’ve also read three works by indigenous writers, two of which are anthologies. I’m pleased with all this, and hope to read more indigenous authors, in particular, men as well as women, as the year progresses. And, I’ve returned to my preferred fiction/non-fiction ratio, with 9 of my 13 being novels and short stories. Around 2/3 is my comfort zone!

I’m also pleased to include, this year, three guest posts by Amanda who offered to do these reviews to fill gaps in the Challenge. As Amanda doesn’t have her own blog, and didn’t want to review on GoodReads (another option for our participants), I happily offered her my blog for the purpose.

Watch out for my 2019 AWW Challenge wrap-up post for the year’s full story!