Now to set the scene, you’ll have to imagine the red carpet, the glorious frocks and the tedious speeches…
The nominees for my favourite non-fiction read of 2015:
- H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Remarkable, compelling, lyrical, insightful)
- The Invisible History of the Human Race – Christine Kenneally (Brilliant)
- Six Square Metres – Margaret Simon (Excellent)
- Wild – Cheryl Strayed (Couldn’t put it down – complex dual narrative of grief and life on the trail)
- Hello Beautiful – Hannie Rayson (Lovely, like an extended conversation with a warm and funny friend)
And the winner is (drum roll please):
- The Invisible History of the Human Race – Christine Kenneally
With H is for Hawk a very close second. I chose Keneally partly because she is an Australian writer (from Melbourne, no less), partly because The Invisible History of the Human Race is an important book about issues that impact us all but mainly because it is an absolutely fascinating and compelling read.
The nominees for my favourite fiction read of 2015:
- Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty (Top quality commercial fiction, funny and true)
- Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar (Layered and complex, compelling and harshly beautiful)
- Long Bay – Eleanor Limprecht (Superb, raw, compelling)
- Coming Rain – Stephen Daisley (Surely the best author I’d never heard of)
- Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (Hilarious, rollicking, ‘Lace’ for the modern era)
- The Earthsea series – Ursula Le Guin (The Earthsea series spoke to me of love, life, death and self. Not really kids books at all).
And the winner is: Coming Rain by Stephen Daisley (or Traitor, his first novel – they are both excellent). Daisley is simply a superb writer and I’m embarrassed that he hitherto slipped under my radar, despite winning some big prizes. That said, it was much harder to choose a favourite novel because the nominees varied so widely. Frankly, and probably depending on your mood, any of the nominees are worth reading.
Best book for a Christmas gift: Six Square Metres by Margaret Simons. A beautiful little book, beautifully written.
The wooden spoon for my most disappointing read of the year goes to Harper Lee for Go Set A Watchman. Plenty of people far more erudite than me have voiced their opinions about this one, but for my money Ursula Le Guin’s review is the most even-handed and insightful.
To follow is my reading list (so far) for 2015. The notes are simply what I jotted down at the time… Links are to the books I reviewed on this blog. This list is probably more for my benefit than yours because writing them all down like this allows me to look at some numbers.
Books read and recorded:
- Non-fiction 23 (16 women authors, 7 male authors)
- Fiction 35 (25 women authors, 10 male authors)
Unrecorded books include those I turn to (often again and again) for my Elizabeth Macarthur research, a few novels that I picked up but never really got my teeth into, and possibly a few that I forgot to record. What were you expecting – the ABS?
All in all it feels like I’ve had a pretty rich and rewarding reading year. I hope you have too.
Last Woman Hanged – Caroline Overington (Failed to capture me – was it because I knew the ending?)
The Practical Australian Gardener – Peter Cundall (Excellent – must buy my own copy)
H is for Hawk – Helen Macdonald (Remarkable, compelling, lyrical, insightful)
The Invisible History of the Human Race – Christine Kenneally (Brilliant)
How to be a Heroine – Samantha Ellis (Engaging narrative voice)
Wild – Cheryl Strayed (Couldn’t put it down – complex dual narrative of grief and life on the trail)
Hello Beautiful – Hannie Rayson (Lovely, like an extended conversation with a warm and funny friend)
Shy: A Memoir – Sian Prior (Clunky, neither fish nor fowl, writing pedestrian)
Lost Relations: fortunes of my family in Australia’s Golden Age – Graeme Davison
The Rum Rebellion – HV Evatt (Polemic, clearly takes sides)
Am I Black Enough For You? – Anita Heiss (Didactic, wrong tone and yet still I learned things)
The Strangest Family: the private lives of George III, Queen Charlotte and the Hanoverians (fascinating but under-edited prose, repetitive)
First People: The Eastern Kulin of Melbourne, Port Phillip and Central Victoria – Gary Presland
Aboriginal Melbourne – Gary Presland
Latest Readings – Clive James (Very Clive James: funny, intelligent, rambling and in the end I’m not sure he said anything useful)
Prick With a Fork – Larissa Dubecki (Better as a magazine article)
You Can’t Make This Stuff Up – Lee Gutkind
The Lamb Enters the Dreaming – Robert Kenny
The Girl from Botany Bay – Carolly Erickson
Six Square Metres – Margaret Simon (Excellent)
A Steady Hand: Governor Hunter & His First Fleet Sketch Book – Linda Groom
Best Australian Science Writing – Bianca Nogrady (ed)
Dear Fatty – Dawn French
The Emperor’s Children – Clare Messud (Stylish, compelling, intricate)
A Wizard of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin (Far more to it than I remembered)
The Tombs of Atuan – – Ursula Le Guin
The Farthest Shore – Ursula Le Guin
Tehanu – Ursula Le Guin
Tales of Earthsea – Ursula Le Guin
The Other Wind – Ursula Le Guin (The Earthsea series spoke to me of love, life, death and self. Not really kids books at all).
The Family Men – Catherine Harris (Did not finish – lost interest)
Eragon – Christopher Paolini (Struggled to finish)
The Commodore – Patrick O’Brian (Still the best)
Go Set A Watchman – Harper Lee (Awful. Several hours of my life that I’ll never see again).
Balancing Act – Joanna Trollope (Comfort fiction, although the characters are unrealistic in how well they articulate their feelings)
Man Drought – Rachael Johns (Good fun, awful dialogue)
The Girl from the South – Joanna Trollope
The Golden Age – Joan London (Joyous, despite the dour subject – polio)
A Spool of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler (Struck me as very American. Very enjoyable too)
The Strays – Emily Bitto (Beautiful)
The Yellow Admiral – Patrick O’Brian (Never gets old)
Crazy Rich Asians – Kevin Kwan (Hilarious, rollicking, ‘Lace’ for the modern era)
China Rich Girlfriend – Kevin Kwan (As above but not quite as good)
Disclaimer – Renee Knight (Gripping, secrets and shocks in every chapter, excellent ending)
The Hundred Days – Patrick O’Brian (Still able to surprise me)
Traitor – Stephen Daisley (Beautiful paean to lives wrecked by war, a wonderful book)
Coming Rain – Stephen Daisley (Surely the best author I’d never heard of)
The Anchoress – Robyn Cadwaller (Good, but not quite a 12th century voice?)
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty (Top quality commercial fiction, funny and true)
Salt Creek – Lucy Treloar (Layered and complex, compelling and harshly beautiful)
Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett (Whaling in Eden)
The Landing – Susan Johnson
Persuasion – Jane Austen (my favourite Austen novel, after Pride and Prejudice)
Secret Keeping for Beginners – Maggie Alderson
Dying to Tell – Robert Goddard
Mothers Grimm – Danielle Wood (Left me ambivalent, funny given it’s all about ambivalent mothers)
The Children Act – Ian McEwan (Fantastic – a moral Gordian knot)