Like a number of people I know, I stayed home a lot this year. And I read a lot. Re-read some old favourites and bought more books than I recall buying in any other year. Sometimes the world became less scary as I was transported into language, worlds and scenarios that provided respite from the multiple global disasters appearing daily on our screens. I was a mostly uncritical reader this year, except when I was reviewing a book. So, it’s fair to say I loved most of what I read, and these are the books that made it to the top of the pile. I still have another 6 which I’m not allowed to access before Christmas (a deal I made with my husband, in an attempt to be practical about gifts!) I bought them, he hid them; and it will be a surprise when I receive them.
It is hard to pick a favourite, although three come close. Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, Woman, Other, Barbara Kingsolver’s Unsheltered and Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere. Together, all three attest to the power of story, strangeness, family and politics. Other favourites were Tara June Winch’s The Yield, Megha Majumdar’s A Burning, Avni Doshi’s Burnt Sugar and three brilliant anthologies – After Australia, which has a stunning story by Omar Sakr who has just won the Prime Minister’s Award for Poetry, To Hold The Clouds by the Centre for Stories and a collection of essays called The Gifts of Reading about the joy of reading, receiving and giving books. I read books on how to be anti racist, books on Aboriginal culture and history and books by women of colour, in a year that seemed to ask for something more, something confronting, something that would lead to learning.
I tried (and failed) to read two brand new books by two highly anticipated Australian writers and forgave myself the aberration. Instead I returned to old favourites and read them instead; The Sinkings by Amanda Curtin and Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides. Second readings always delight me, and these two are no exception. I also read Anne Tyler’s Redhead by the side of the road and Carys Davies’ The Mission House. Anne Tyler is a favourite writer but this book seemed to be about nothing and Carys Davies lost me when her ‘research’ into Indian culture did not include a quick lesson on the importance of matching names and religious affiliations.