Due to lots of very boring reasons, this year I read fewer books than I ever have before. Horrifying but true. I was even worse than I usually am at critiquing friends’ manuscripts, for which I am truly and abjectly sorry. I regret, too, all the books people sent me that I didn’t read. I suck. And, yes, I was also a horrible, horrible, horrible correspondent this year. I really hope next year will be better.
So here are some of the books I did read this year and highly recommend (you’ll notice I don’t give away much in the way of plot—that’s because I hate knowing too much about books before I read them. I like surprises, me, and I’m assuming you do, too!):
M. T. Anderson‘s The Astonishing Life of Octavian Nothing, Traitor to the Nation, Vol. 1: The Pox Party. I’m not sure I can add anything to what everyone else has said. This book is unbelievably good. Astonishingly so.
March by Geraldine Brooks is another book that’s been hyped so much I became deathly afraid of actually reading it. Not to worry. Believe the hype!
Ursula Dubosarsky‘s The Red Shoe and Theodora’s Gift have been winning every award going in Australia this year. Deservedly. Dubosarsky is the author of more than twenty books for children and young adults. She is a flawless writer whose mastery of storytelling leaves me breathless. I wish I could write like that! She’s not nearly as well-known outside Australia as she deserves to be. You must track down her books. I also particularly recommend The First Book of Samuel to which Theodora’s Gift is a completely standalone sequel.
Xavier Herbert Capricornia. Kind of embarrassing that I’d never read this Australian classic before. Maybe because the words “Australian classic” fill my heart with fear—despite having loved so many of them (My Brilliant Career, anyone? Or The Getting of Wisdom? Or Ride on Stranger? Not to mention Come in Spinner). Capricornia is a wild and unruly mess. It’s bleak and depressing and funny and searing and one of the most compelling examinations of race relations in Australia (or anywhere else for that matter) that I’ve ever read. I may even be brave enough to tackle the 40 million page Poor Fellow My Country now. Or maybe not. Four bazillion million pages is an awful lot!
It’s hard to believe that Notes from the Teenage Underground by Simmone Howell is a debut novel. The voice is so assured, the plotting flawless. It has none of the usual first novel lumps and bumps. I felt like I was reading an account of my school days even though the book is set in Melbourne, not Sydney. I’ve since talked to other readers and they said the same thing even though they went to school in Montreal and Los Angeles. Me thinks Howell has hit some universals in a very readable local way.
The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie by Jaclyn Moriarty. Moriarty is a genius. Pure and simple. She writes fast-paced, hilarious, heart-breaking and shudder-inducing books that are entirely made up of letters, dairy entries, legal depositions, shopping lists. You name it—she throws it into the mix. I don’t know how she does it. Bindy Mackenzie is her most recent and best book to date. Awesome.
The Ghost with Trembling Wings: Science, Wishful Thinking and the Search for Lost Species by Scott Weidensaul is one of the most beautifully written and compellingly readable natural history books I’ve ever read. Every single page gave me a new idea for a novel, but I couldn’t pause to jot my ideas down because I was too desperate to see what would happen, to follow his arguments, and get lost in the wilds of Tasmania trying to find evidence of the continuing existence of Thylacines.
I strongly recommend every single one of these books. Have any of you read them? What did you think?
Also if you have any recommendations for excellent and idea-giving non-fiction books, please do share. No fiction recommendations, though. I got way too many novels and short story collections to catch up on. And frankly all I want to do is read Georgette Heyer.