As I’ve done for a few years now, I am sharing my reading group’s top picks of 2022. This is, after all, the season of lists, but also, I know that some people, besides me, enjoy hearing about other reading groups.
I’ll start, though, by sharing what we read in the order we read them (with links on titles to my reviews):
- Amy Witting, Isobel on the way to the corner shop: novel, Australian author
- Ida Vitale, Byobu: novel, Uruguayan author
- Elizabeth von Arnim. Vera: classic, British author
- Mark McKenna, Return to Uluru: nonfiction, Australian author
- Damon Galgut, The promise: novel, South African author
- Marion Frith, Here in the after: novel, Australian author (I was in Melbourne, with COVID, and didn’t manage to read this)
- Larissa Behrendt, After story: novel, Australian First Nations author
- Audrey Magee, The colony: novel, Irish author
- Julian Barnes, Elizabeth Finch: novel, British author
- Biff Ward, The third chopstick: nonfiction/part-memoir, Australian author
- Nell Pierce, A place near Eden: novel, Australian debut author (review coming)
This year’s schedule was reasonably diverse. Our overriding interest is Australian women writers but not exclusively. We also like to challenge and broaden our tastes. So, this year’s list included a classic (or two, if you include Amy Witting’s 1999 novel); a translated novel from Uruguay; a First Nations novel; five non-Australian books; two works of nonfiction; and three by male authors. Politics and social justice featured strongly in both the fiction and nonfiction, looking at such issues as coercive control, racism and dispossession, colonialism, war and PTSD.
The winners …
This year only 10 of our twelve active members managed to vote – one was travelling and one moving house, so their excuses were accepted! The rules were the same. We had to name our three favourite works, and all were given equal weighting. It’s interesting how the years vary. In 2020, we had a runaway winner, while last year our favourites were more bunched, with the winning book receiving 8 votes, the second 7 votes, the third 6 and so on down to fifth with 4 votes. This year, however, we returned to the runaway winner mode, with 5 more books, a few votes behind, vying for 2nd and 3rd spots.
- The promise by Damon Galgut (8 votes)
- Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim and Return to Uluru by Mark McKenna (4 votes each)
- Here in the after by Marion Frith, The colony by Audrey Magee and The third chopstick by Biff Ward (3 votes each)
Interestingly, two years ago, all three of the nonfiction titles on our list featured among our favourites, while last year, neither of our two nonfiction works received any votes at all. This year, both nonfiction works appeared among the favourites. I’m not sure this tells you (or us) anything.
Anyhow, if you want to know my three picks, they were Damon Galgut’s The promise, Elizabeth von Arnim’s Vera and Audrey Magee’s The colony. But, it was a great year and I found it truly hard to choose. In the end, although I greatly enjoyed the two nonfiction works, I stuck with my main love, fiction, for my choices. I really wanted to include Byobu, but something had to give!
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 most liked:
- The promise: Commenters used descriptions like “insightful”, “compelling”, and “enlightening”.
- Vera: Comments included “a truly chilling tale”, with a few noting how relevant this 1921 book still is.
- Return to Uluru: Commenters saw it as a “timely and interesting attempt to balance the record of a sad episode in Australian history”, “a terrific uncovering of history and treatment of First Nations Australians”.
- Here in the after: One called it “insightful”, while another noted its “many social comments”.
- The colony: Commenters used terms like “multilayered”, and “subversive, acerbic”. Its sense of place was also mentioned.
- The third chopstick: One called it “a moving journey” while another focused on the author’s “talent for delving” into a painful time in Australian history.
And, a bonus again
As in 2019 and 2021, a good friend (from my library school days over 45 years ago and who lives on the outskirts of Canberra) sent me her reading group’s schedule for the year:
- Jock Serong, Preservation (on my TBR)
- Amor Towles, A gentleman in Moscow
- Xinran, Buy me the sky
- Bri Lee, Eggshell skull
- Don Watson, The bush (on my TBR)
- Joshua Hammer, The bad-ass librarians of Timbuktu (never heard of this one)
- John Grogan, Marley and me
- John Clanchy, Vincenzo’s garden (love John Clanchy but haven’t read this)
- Amanda Lohrey, The labyrinth (on my TBR)
- Jane Harper, Force of nature
- Douglas Stuart, Shuggie Bain
- Geraldine Brooks, Horse
Links are to my reviews where I’ve read the book too. The two I’ve read are, coincidentally, ones I read with my reading group in previous years. In fact, Shuggie Bain was our top pick last year.
I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you were in a reading group this year. What did your group read and love?