And then we came to the end of Reading Australia 2016

Reading Australia 2016

“How’s your Australian reading year going?”

“Are you sick of reading Australian books yet?”

“Don’t you miss reading books from other places?”

During 2016 these questions hounded me every time I caught up with friends and bloggers who knew I had challenged myself to read Australian literature all year.

My response was always the same. I was enjoying the project so much that even I was surprised at how easy and fun it was proving to be. I did not feel like I was missing out. If anything, I was overwhelmed by the sheer scope and range of books available to me.

Now, looking back on an entire year’s worth of reading, I can chalk it up as one of the best reading years of my life.

Depth and breadth

I read such a diverse range of books, from psychological thrillers to personal essays about eating disorders, that I never once became bored. I was discovering some great new-to-me writers and reacquainting myself with ones I knew from long ago. It made me reassess my opinion that Australian writing was dull and obsessed with its colonial past — an opinion I formed more than 20 years ago when I worked in a book store and shunned the “convict fiction”, as I’d dubbed it, to spend all my money on a steady diet of (predictable) US fiction instead.

Back then I didn’t realise there were Australian writers pumping out edgy crime novels, mind-bending experimental fiction and glorious literary fiction set in contemporary times, or that essay writing could be so intriguing and readable, or that memoirs could be so thoroughly engaging and, occasionally, jaw dropping.

Perhaps in the early 1990s, the publishing industry wasn’t publishing those kinds of books (in 1991 I can safely say that I read just two Australian books that year — Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet and Ben Hills’ Blue Murder), or maybe I was too young and naive to realise there was more to the homegrown literary scene than I imagined.

Whatever the case, this past year of “reading Australia” has reignited a passion for reading books from my homeland. By year’s end I had read a total of 53 Australian books (I also read six British titles and six Canadian titles) and know that I will continue to read many more in the year to come.

Some highlights

  • I read a surprising number of memoirs (eight in total) and a surprising number of short story collections (four).
  • I read a diverse range of true crime, all of it fascinating, well researched and written in an engaging novelistic fashion.
  • I discovered Stephen Orr and now want to read everything he’s ever written.

Some lowlights

  • I did not make a very big dent in my TBR. At the beginning of 2016, the number of Australian titles in that pile was 128. It soon swelled thanks to a few review copies coming my way and the very many purchases I made (well, I had to buy the shortlisted titles for the Stella and Miles Franklin, didn’t I). By year’s end it stood at 116. Oops.
  • I did not read any pre-mid-20th century classics (I had to abandon Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children in the summer when I changed jobs and no longer had the bandwidth to cope with it).
  • I did not read any books by Kate Grenville, Alex Miller or Randolph Stow,  all Australian writers listed on my favourite authors page.

All up it was a brilliant year of reading, and I hope you had as much fun following along as I did in reading and reviewing so many fabulous books. I thought it might be useful to provide a list of everything I read, so here it is. The books marked * made my top 10 favourite reads of the year.

FICTION

PSYCHOLOGICAL THRILLER
CRIME
LITERARY FICTION
HISTORICAL FICTION
DYSTOPIAN FICTION
EXPERIMENTAL FICTION
SHORT STORIES

NON-FICTION

TRUE CRIME
ESSAYS
MEMOIR

Reading Australia 2016

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25 thoughts on “And then we came to the end of Reading Australia 2016

  1. Well done! It’s vaguely insulting to any nation to assume that they only produce one kind of book and that a reader is going to get bored. And you obviously found a great variety of reading from your Australian year!

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    • The variety was what impressed me most, I think. If the books were all just lit fic after lit fic I might have got bored, but the different genres made for an eclectic choice.

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  2. I’ve enjoyed your year of Australian discovery too, Kim. My first review this year was for an Australian debut – Jennifer Down’s Our Magic Hour which I loved. It was published between Christmas and New Year, not an ideal time for review coverage sadly. I hope it won’t disappear into UK obscurity. It deserves to be noticed.

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  3. If Cloudstreet was all I read I might have given up on Aust.Lit too. I forget what else I read back then – I was very busy with my (first) mid-life crisis.
    Sorry you didn’t like Black Rock White City enough to include it in your top ten – I checked out your review – but I really loved the way that Jovan’s poetry reasserted itself in his consciousness to symbolize his gradual healing.

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    • You didn’t like Cloudstreet I take it? I have very fond memories of reading it… and I planned to re-read it in 2016 but just never got around to it. Part of me is a little scared I won’t enjoy it as much second time round.

      I enjoyed Black Rock White City, but as you will have seen from my review I thought it was slightly uneven. I like your suggestion that Jovan recalling his poetry was a symbol of his gradual healing. I hadn’t thought of it like that.

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  4. An excellent summary of your reading year Kim, I’m not surprised to hear there is such a breadth of literature coming out of Australia now, and its good to hear about the reading initiatives that promote. I read The Dry last year which I enjoyed, but admit, I steer away from literature that dominated my reading youth in favour of voices that are even lesser heard, I’m not much of a patriot, although can be enticed by a particularly favourable review!

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      • I do keep an eye out for them and have read a couple of Fiona Kidman novels recently, and follow the Booksellers blog, but I don’t think I could survive being constrained to just one country, no matter where it was, I need the freedom to change my reading plans regularly. 🙂

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  5. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed following your year reading Australian literature Kim… and the diverse range you covered. Certainly made me appreciate there’s plenty authors worth exploring.
    What’s your plans for this year? Will you maintain a portion of your reading for Oz or have you a new project?

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  6. I know exactly what you mean – the more CanLit I read, the more I want to read, and I honestly have a hard time fitting in any of the other stuff! There is everything and anything a reader could want (except books from other countries!). I suspect Australian literature is similar. So glad you had a great year! Would you do it again?

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  7. Ive very much enjoyed reading your blog especially your australian challenge. Ive read 15 australian books in 2016 thanks to you including charlotte wood and elizabeth harrower who were new to me. I am interested to see what you are reading this year.

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  8. Pingback: Literary Linking #9 | Literasaurus

  9. Sorry I’m a bit late to the party Kim, but I was in Thredbo for 6 days and didn’t read many blogs while there. Am trying to catch up now. A lovely summary of your year. I remember being impressed when you announced your project – a big commitment – but I would never have thought you could become bored through such a focus, particularly given around 2/3 of my reading is Australian and, as you say, I find it wonderfully varied.

    And again, thanks so much for your wonderful contributions to the AWW challenge this year. It was such a pleasure seeing your posts come through.

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    • Thanks, Sue. It was an amazingly varied reading year and I really loved reading so many great books by women writers especially. I’m going to sign up for the AWW challenge again but will aim for a much lower figure (probably 10) because I want to get back into reading/catching up with translated fiction and Irish fiction.

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