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.