I have read 72 books this year. I only know this because I have begun keeping a 'reading journal' late last year, after I interviewed a bibliotherapist who recommended that people write notes on their reading habits in order to get the most out of it. I actually read fewer books this year than in previous years, as I stopped reading for a while in late October after the stillbirth of my daughter. Instead, I watched a lot of superhero movies and Broad City, and got addicted to true crime podcasts. Anything else was too much.
I tend to trash books, so I will often borrow from the library then buy copies of the ones I really like. I am a voracious note taker and scribble in the margins, dog ear the corners, stick post-its on the inside covers of books. Sometimes I buy two copies, one to trash and one to keep pristine.
Here are my top few books from the past year. They aren't all books that have been published this year, nor are they in any particular order, but they are all books which have moved me in some way.
Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down
Okay so I only finished it recently, but it is goooood. At a sentence level, the prose gets the perfect blend of florid and spare. Plus she describes both Melbourne and Sydney so perfectly, and captures the messiness of being young, living in sharehouses, dealing with families and death and life. I just ordered her collection of short stories, Pulse Points, too.
Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain
Oh god, Georgia Blain. I cried in the opening pages. This is probably in my top three books of all time. Her use of metaphor, of allegory, in capturing both domestic minutia and the fragility of life and relationships, is exquisite.
The kicker is that one of the characters is dying from brain cancer, and Georgia herself was diagnosed with brain cancer while she was editing the book. Georgia's mother Anne Deveson, herself a brilliant writer and journalist, died in December 2016, and Georgia died three days later.
The Dry by Jane Harper
I read this in the hospital room while I was waiting to give birth to my daughter. The book is captivating, and easy to read, and very Australian. It was just distracting enough that I could forget where I was, but light enough to be genuinely enjoyable. I've since read another of her books, and it was okay, but nowhere as good as The Dry.
The Seven Principles of Making Marriage Work by John Gottman
A bit of a random inclusion, but I am a firm believer that good relationships take work. Lee and I have been together 10 years, and we are not perfect – far from it – but after a year bookended by a miscarriage and a stillbirth, plus a renovation (always) and job changes for both of us, a tune up was in order. This book is regarded as one of the best on the topic, and for good reason. There is no waffly crap, just helpful suggestions to make sure both partners feel heard, supported and whole in the relationship.
The Rules Do Not Apply by Ariel Levy
I read this earlier in the year, before even getting pregnant, and good lord did it turn out to be prophetic. Levy is a staff writer at the New Yorker and I've read her previous book Female Chauvinist Pigs, which is a feminist examination and critique of raunch culture, and kind of expected this book to be similar. It is actually a memoir of her relationship with her ex-husband, an affair, and a miscarriage. She writes brilliantly.
The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood
I first read this in year 11 when we were studying Cat's Eye, and liked it then but probably didn't really understand a lot of the meaning behind it. So when the Hulu show came out, I re-read the book and was reminded at how powerful the language is. It is one of the rare TV adaptions where the show is on par, and perhaps even better, than the book.
The World Beneath by Cate Kennedy
Kennedy is primarily a short story writer, and a very accomplished one. This is her first novel, and while in some ways it reads like a series of short stories, the characters and sense of place are so vivid that I couldn't put it down. The book manages to be funny, and warm, and very Australian, while the language still slays.
The Gulf by Anna Spargo-Ryan
One of my top three for the year. I had read Anna's first novel, The Paper House, last year, and bloody loved it, but this book really is something else. It is a work of art. It is about a teenage girl in an unstable family, trying to protect her little brother, and the sense of impending dread and sadness builds through the story so much that I found myself gnawing my fingernails in worry over the little boy in the book. It didn't help that he reminded me so much of my own brother, and my sons.
The writing is perfect: spare, and balanced, without being melodramatic or overly florid.
A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan
I have a genuine fear the Helen Garner will die before publishing another book. She turned 75 recently, and I hope to god she's got at least another 20 years in her. I would read her shopping list, such is the genius of the woman. She is frank, and funny, and fierce (alliteration!) and doesn't pretend to be above vulnerability or doubt. This book offered an insight into her writing life, the stories behind each of her books, and how she came to be such a behemoth of Australian literature.
Other notable mentions include Jessica Friedmann's Things That Helped, a collection of essays about postnatal depression; The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose, a story based on Marina Abravonic's The Artist is Present performance art piece; The Good People by Hannah Kent, which I think is as good as her first novel Burial Rites; and both Rupi Kaur's books of poetry. Rupi Kaur cops heaps of flack for being an Instagram poet but just like IKEA makes good design accessible to the world even thought the quality of the products is usually fairly shite, Rupi Kaur has almost singlehandedly made poetry accessible to a generation of Instagram kids who are otherwise taking selfies and sexting.