MY TOP 10 READS OF 2016
Listings of top 10 reads of the year are everywhere these days, at least if you are on social media. So why add another? For two reasons: 1) In contrast to many of those whose lists are published in the major newspapers, my reading focuses on the work of Australian writers, both because it genuinely excites me, often far more than work by acclaimed American or British authors, and because I believe readers should read ‘their own’ stories and support a ‘Buy Australian’ campaign for books. 2) My interest is in writing and teaching writing, and so my focus in good books is on what you and I can learn from them. The following list does not mean that I read all significant books published in 2016, of course. There may well be great reads to come – which will end up on my list of top ten reads of 2017!
Sacred Trespasses kindly included my four top reads in their Year’s Best Reads 2016:
- My top read of 2016 was Griffith Review 54: Earthly Delights: The Novella Project. If you read my review in Rochford Street Review, you’ll learn why these five novellas can teach you a lot about writing character and place as well as the novella form itself.
- Georgia Blain’s latest – and sadly last (she died earlier this month after suffering from brain cancer for about a year) – novel Between a Wolf and a Dog was my novel of 2016. It is the pinnacle of her career. In a different blog post I wrote about the book in context with the advantages of Using Multiple Points of View for Structure.
- My favourite discovery this year was Rodney Hall and his novel Love Without Hope, which I wrote about in an earlier blog post this year. Love Without Hope excels in many aspects of good writing, including theme, voice and characterisation, and lyrical and rhythmic language.
- My fourth and final top read for Sacred Trespasses was a non-fiction book, Not Just Black and White: A Conversation Between a Mother and Daughter by Lesley and Tammy Williams, which I reviewed in Rochford Street Review and wrote about as a prime example of social history in my blog post Memoir, Social History and Autobiography. This book is on my list not so much for the writing, but for the information about historical issues affecting Aboriginal people that I hadn’t been fully aware of before.
The following are listed in no particular order of preference:
- Joan London is one of my favourite Australian writers and her latest novel, The Golden Age, did not disappoint. The story is set in 1954 in the former real Polio Convalescent Home for children ‘The Golden Age’ in Perth. The use of multiple points of view allows the author to zoom into the heads, emotions and traumas of several characters – two of the children, their parents, and a nurse at the home – a very effective technique to broaden the novel’s scope and complexity and to give more depth to her story. London shows extraordinary empathy for and insight into the lives and emotions of people very different from her own, often in flashbacks. One theme is the trauma of refugees and the bewilderment they may experience on arrival in Australia. Paralysis is not only in the bodies of the children at the home, suffering from polio, but also in the lives of the adults around them.
- The winner of the Miles Franklin award 2016, Black Rock White City by AS Patric includes profound passages about the trauma of refugees and the subtle disrespect as well as outright racism migrants can experience in Australia. I loved the clipped writing style.
- The Teacher’s Secret by Suzanne Leal, set in a small coastal town in New South Wales. For more, see my previous blog post on THEME: CHILD SAFETY AND THE CHILD PROTECTION SYSTEM. I also listed The Teacher’s Secret in my blog post 10 GREAT NOVELS ON COMMUNITY.
- Michael Robotham’s stand-alone novel Life or Death was shortlisted for the two top crime novel awards in the world: the American Edgar Award, so named in honour of Edgar Allan Poe, and the British CWA Gold Dagger Award, which it won. It is a cracker, both for lovers of crime thrillers and for writers. Read more about it in my blog post Michael Robotham’s novel Life or Death: A blueprint for writing a bestseller.
- As I wrote in an earlier blog post, Kei Miller’s latest novel Augustown dazzled and excited me for similar reasons as Rodney Hall’s novel Love Without Hope did: a strong focus on an important theme as a unifying force throughout the novel and the dazzling beauty of Miller’s poetic language and rhythm.
- Hanya Yanigahara’s novel A Little Life was the first book I read in 2016, and it is now part of my top 10 reads of all time. It focuses on four friends who meet at college and all move to New York at the completion of their studies. Its strongest theme is the relentless effect of childhood sexual abuse, which dominates the life of one of the friends, Jude, who becomes the novel’s protagonist. In a series of flashbacks, the reader discovers the full extent of the abuse Jude suffered, which is set off by the novel’s other strong theme: friendship with its possibilities of unwavering loyalty, love and kindness, but also betrayal. Its setting in New York with beautifully evocative descriptions of various suburbs and insightful passages about its culture also makes it a novel about New York. Furthermore, it is one of few novels to incorporate the working lives of the four characters: in law, architecture, experimental art and acting, supplemented by work in restaurants before the first success. What I also love about this novel is Yanigahara’s lack of labelling the characters: some are gay, some are black, yet they are never referred to as such, they are simply people. Some may find A Little Life too emotionally confronting, but for me it is a profoundly moving story because of the tenderness and love Jude receives from those around him.