“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.
- I read all the shortlisted titles for the Stella Prize and all the shortlisted titles for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.
- For the first time ever, I read more books by women than men, thanks to my participation in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. (Click to see the 35 titles I reviewed.)
- 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.
- 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.
- ‘Fear is the Rider’ by Kenneth Cook
- ‘Viral’ by Helen FitzGerald
- ‘What Came Before’ by Anna George
- ‘Hush, Little Bird’ by Nicole Trope
- ‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper*
- ‘Crucifixion Creek’ by Barry Maitland
- ‘Line of Sight’ by David Whish-Wilson
- ‘Floundering’ by Romy Ash*
- ‘Drylands’ by Thea Astley
- ‘It’s Raining in Mango’ by Thea Astley
- ‘The Other Side of the World’ by Stephanie Bishop
- ‘Hope Farm’ by Peggy Frew
- ‘Goodbye Sweetheart’ by Marion Halligan
- ‘Snake’ by Kate Jennings
- ‘The Landing’ by Susan Johnson
- ‘A Guide to Berlin’ by Gail Jones
- ‘Leap’ by Myfanwy Jones
- ‘The World Without Us’ by Mireille Juchau
- ‘Harland’s Half Acre’ by David Malouf
- ‘The Mint Lawn’ by Gillian Mears
- ‘The Hands: An Australian Pastoral” by Stephen Orr*
- ‘Black Rock White City’ by A.S. Patrić
- ‘When the Night Comes’ by Favel Parrett
- ‘True Country’ by Kim Scott*
- ‘The Last Painting of Sara de Vos’ by Dominic Smith*
- ‘A Pure Clear Light’ by Madeleine St John
- ‘Dirt Music’ by Tim Winton
- ‘Elemental’ by Amanda Curtin
- ‘The Daughters of Mars’ by Thomas Keneally
- ‘The Golden Age’ by Joan London
- ‘Salt Creek’ by Lucy Treloar
- ‘Six Bedrooms’ by Tegan Bennett Daylight
- ‘A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories’ by Elizabeth Harrower
- ‘Merciless Gods’ by Christos Tsiolkas
- ‘Hot Little Hands’ by Abigail Ulman
- ‘The Family’ by Chris Johnston and Rosie Jones
- ‘A Murder Without Motive: The Killing of Rebecca Ryle’ by Martin McKenzie-Murray
- ‘Wild Man’ by Alecia Simmonds
- ‘Eugenia: A True Story of Adversity, Tragedy, Crime and Courage’ by Mark Tedeschi QC
- ‘The Media and the Massacre’ by Sonya Voumard
- ‘Walking Free’ by Dr Munjed Al Muderis (with Patrick Weaver)
- ‘Aunts Up the Cross’ by Robin Dalton*
- ‘Big Blue Sky: A Memoir’ by Peter Garrett
- ‘Talking to My Country’ by Stan Grant*
- ‘The Latte Years’ by Philippa Moore
- ‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski*
- ‘Dying: A Memoir’ by Cory Taylor
- ‘Island Home: A Landscape Memoir’ by Tim Winton