Best Books 2013: Michael Williams’ picks
Obviously nobody needs a best of list for 2013 when they have the Victorian Premiers' Literary Award shortlist as the best guide they could hope for.
Liquid Nitrogen, Jennifer Maiden
Autoethnographic, Michael Brennan
Travelling Through the Family, Brendan Ryan
Burial Rites, Hannah Kent
The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan
Coal Creek, Alex Miller
The Swan Book, Alexis Wright
Eyrie, Tim Winton
Questions of Travel, Michelle de Kretser
Gardens of Fire: An Investigative Memoir, Robert Kenny
White Beech, Germaine Greer
Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir, Kristina Olsson
Forgotten War, Henry Reynolds
Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John, Helen Trinca
On Warne, Gideon Haigh
Friday Brown, Vikki Wakefield
Wildlife, Fiona Wood
My Life as an Alphabet, Barry Jonsberg
Savages, Patricia Cornelius
The Secret River, Andrew Bovell
Medea, Anne-Louise Sarks and Kate Mulvany
Those 21 titles could and should form a basis for your summer reading plans. There’s many wonderful words and hours waiting for you there. It is worth noting though that it’s been an absolute cracker of a year for Australian writing and publishing.
Once you’ve worked your way through the 21 shortlisted titles (so by some time late on Boxing Day) you could start on the following list of 21 great Australian books from this year. They’re all terrific and I recommend them utterly.
Lexicon by Max Barry
Boomer and Me by Jo Case
The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee
Splitsville by Sean Condon
Things I Didn’t Expect (When I Was Expecting) by Monica Dux
Girt by David Hunt
Nine Days by Toni Jordan
Boom by Malcolm Knox
By the Book by Ramona Koval
Night Games by Anna Krien
Gaysia by Benjamin Law
The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane
A Story of Grief by Michaela McGuire
Watching You by Michael Robotham
Belomor by Nicolas Rothwell
Murder in Mississippi by John Safran
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
Money Shot by Jeff Sparrow
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas
The Zigzag Effect by Lili Wilkinson
The Burning Library by Geordie Williamson
Cairo by Chris Womersley
The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Claire Wright
Or you could discover an Australian classic that you’d forgotten about or never discovered (The Young Desire It by Kenneth MacKenzie for example, re-released this year).
Or you could look internationally, for the wealth of great other books that hit this year:
The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer - I’d never read Wolitzer before, but on the basis of her elegant and satirical descriptions of growing up and growing old in this terrific novel, I’ll seek out whatever else she’s done.
The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner - Vividly drawn portrait of a young woman exploring art, revolution and motorbikes between New York and Italy in the mid-1950s.
Dissident Gardens by Jonathan Lethem - One of those big, sweeping, cross-generational, state-of-the-nation novels that Americans excel at, that still creates singular and indelible characters. Lethem in fine form.
A Girl is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride - Anne Enright called this debut Irish novel an ‘instant classic’. It’s hard to disagree. Utterly extraordinary, not always easy going with its experimental, ‘stream-of-unconciousness’ style but unforgettable.
Tenth of December by George Saunders - Way back at the start of the year, this sublime collection of short stories showed off Saunders' trademark playfulness and mordant wit at its very best.
All That Is by James Salter - In a year of massive doorstop books, Salter condenses an entire life into under 300 pages. He’s in his late-eighties and this is as good as anything he’s written before.
I know that’s an arbitrary six, but I’ll be honest, I’m having a bastard of a time cutting my list down to five. And I’m sure I’m forgetting things.
In addition to the 42+ Australian titles you should seek out, and the above personal international stand-outs, here are five additional reasons I’ve been hanging out for a Christmas break:
Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
The Lowland Jhumpa Lahiri
Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
The Son by Philipp Meyer
What a year for reading.