I’ve been in a reading malaise for a while now, and due to some things going on in my personal life, when I have been reading it’s mostly been self-help books which is sort of embarrassing but helpful to me. However, I’m not going to talk about those here! These are the stories that have provoked thought, brought me joy, surprised and delighted me this year.
Jenny Ackland’s Little Gods is a feisty and poignant coming of age tale of a girl who is determined to find out the tragic secret in her family’s past, no matter what the cost. My heart was in my mouth throughout this book and I cried a number of times. But I also laughed a lot and it evoked intense childhood memories.
Jesmyn Ward’s Sing, Unburied, Sing, is a devastating exploration of what it’s like to grow up poor and black in contemporary America, but also how family and a connection to roots might save people. Not an easy read but a very worthwhile one.
Sally Rooney’s Normal People is an intensely observed exploration of the relationship between one very damaged young woman and her first love. It is frank and sometimes shocking, tender and excoriating, and incredibly psychologically perceptive. It blew my little head clean off.
Weird Books that Defy Categorisation
The Drover’s Wives by Ryan O’Neill is a collection of 99 re-tellings of the classic Australian short story, in forms such as a Year 8 essay, a crossword puzzle, a sporting commentary etc. O’Neill’s experimentations with form are both hilarious and insightful. A true delight.
If you have read Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life, you might think her first novel The People in the Trees was written by an entirely different author, so different are the two books. This one is a sort of fake ethnography of a made-up tribe who possess the secret to immortality, written by an unreliable narrator. Intriguing.
I’m late to this but I was so deeply moved by Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love—a profound investigation into the nature of love and the meaning of art.
I had the somewhat intimidating pleasure of interviewing the brilliant Cory Doctorow about his latest novel Walkaway for this year’s Perth Writers Festival. This book is jam-packed with ideas about possible futures and it’s also very plotty and witty.
Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice swept the board when it comes to sci-fi awards. It is a complex subtle narrative about machine intelligence and love between alien species and possibly some other things that went over my head. For the brainiacs.
I am one of those annoying people who has trouble with short story collections so when my friend chose Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body & Other Parties for book club I was not thrilled. But when I read the stories I was deeply thrilled. They straddle the contemporary and the archetypal so cleverly, and with feeling as well as great intellect. Powerful and moving.
It is rare for me to include a kids’ book on my year end list, and this one is almost 30 years old now, but I started reading Phillip Pullman’s Northern Lights to my son and was utterly transfixed by its inventiveness and the characters, who were so alive and important to me.
8 books by women, 3 books by people of colour.