Happy new year! In no particular order, these were my favourite reads from the last 12 months (not necessarily published in 2020). I would love to know which you have read, would like to read, or what were your favourite books of last year.
The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich*
Erdrich is one of my favourite living writers. Of Chippewa origin, she seamlessly blends stories of the lives of contemporary Native Americans with their myths and traditions, and her characters feel so real to me I can hardly believe they don’t exist. This is an incredible story of the courage and tenacity of a severely oppressed minority, based on real events.
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli*
A phenomenal, heartbreaking, deeply moving and beautifully written book which connects the political story of Mexican migrants crossing the border into the US, with the story of two parents and two children, taking a final road trip together as their family falls apart. Written by a Mexican writer, this is the book that should have got the attention that was taken up by a white person telling this story (I’m looking at you, American Dirt).
Honeybee by Craig Silvey
Absolutely loved this story of a young trans-gender character and the colourful (and sometimes unsavoury) characters that surround them. By god, Silvey can tell a tale, and I was heartened to read about hoe he wrote this book in consultation with the trans community. Couldn’t put it down.
The Friend by Sigrid Nuñez*
This is a very intellectual book, but it really tickled my funny bone. There are lots of wry jokes about writing, and teaching writing which I particularly enjoyed, but I suspect they are sort of inside jokes. There isn’t a whole lot of story here. It’s more a comedy of manners.
Conversations with Friends by Sally Rooney
Rooney writes the absolute best dialogue and she captures so accurately and excruciatingly the self-consciousness of being young and trying to find a sense of your place in the world, as well as the complexities of modern relationships, including polyamory and fluid sexuality. I love her work!
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Ackner
This book started out hilarious and then got really depressing but I think it really spoke to me as it is the portrait of someone navigating divorce, something I have been going through myself and I found it uncannily accurate and relatable.
Father of the Lost Boys by Yuot Alaak*
The absolutely mind-blowing story of the man who marched 20,000 South Sudanese children orphaned by the civil war to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya, across 600kms of the most hostile terrain you could dream of. Attacked by lions and hyenas, crossing deserts and rivers, at risk from militia, and the North Sudanese military, and pursued by the South Sudanese freedom fighters who wanted them as child solders, this story beggars belief. I had the wonderful privilege of interviewing the author at Geraldton’s Big Sky Festival, about this book, which tells the story of his father, a truly remarkable human.
How to be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X Kendi*
Kendi leaves no stone unturned, no label unexamined in this rigorous précis of racism in America, which is also an unflinching memoir of his own journey out of racist beliefs. Heavy-going but incredibly powerful and enlightening.
Permission to Feel by Marc Brackett+
I bought this after hearing Brackett interviewed by Brene Brown on her awesome podcast Unlocking Us. Fantastic read about the impact of our feelings on our lives and the workings of our minds. Nurturing and empowering.
Women Don’t Owe You Pretty by Florence Given+
A badass manifesto on how to respect yourself, avoid toxic relationships and SMASH THE GODAMN PATRIARCHY. Can I get a hell, yes?
*Writers of colour
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Annabel Smith is the author of US bestseller Whiskey & Charlie (published in Australia as Whisky Charlie Foxtrot), digital interactive novel/app The Ark, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. I am currently working on Monkey See, an epic quest with a sci-fi twist featuring a monkey, an evil priestess and the mother of all tsunamis.