2019 Favourites: Wheeler Centre Staff
As is the tradition, we finish the year with a list of books, films, television, podcasts and, really, anything that nourished Wheeler Centre staff during the past 12 months.
Gab Ryan, head of operations
This year I read a lot that played with form and perspective: hybrid genres, and books about how things are seen and who is doing the seeing.
The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell
It’s not a perfect book – I am sure that the way Purcell switches between first and third person within the same character might annoy people. But it meant I couldn’t settle into any one perspective, and made me constantly aware of my gaze, which contributed to my discomfort as I made my way through Purcell’s sinister, violent story. Re-imaginings like this are exactly what we need.
False River by Paula Morris
This from Maori writer Paula Morris is a book of stories about stories, and how they are constructed, written, read. It blurs fact and fiction in really dynamic and innovative ways. And it made me laugh.
Paper is White by Hilary Zaid
A haunting novel about the weight of history and what kind of responsibility we owe its traditions and atrocities. A beautiful love story between two women fighting for their future.
The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins
A Queer, Gothic historical novel – my absolute dream! And it is also a powerful reflection on power and privilege, how race and gender are constructed, and how oppression comes in many forms.
Hearing Maud by Jessica White. A hybrid memoir of Jessica, of Maud Praed, and of deafness itself. A book that asks the reader not just to look, but to listen differently. This is the kind of brave, bold book we’ll really miss if the planned closure of its publisher, UWA, goes ahead.
Honourable mentions to two novels that reflect on the transience of existence and how identity is shaped – 10 Minutes, 38 Seconds in this Strange World by Elif Shafak and On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong.
Emily Harms, head of marketing
Lanny by Max Porter
Sitting in the intimacy of the Athenaeum Theatre while listening to Max Porter in conversation earlier this year was one of my Wheeler Centre highlights. Ethereal, profoundly beautiful and whimsical, Lanny spans such vast emotional terrain – from humans’ connection to the earth and to each other – with such brevity. Lanny is pure literary magic.
Rage Becomes Her: The Power of Women’s Anger by Soraya Chemaly
Our event with Soraya Chemaly earlier this year was also one of my highlights. In Rage Becomes Her, not only does Soraya encourage women to get in touch with their inner rage, but to also fully embrace it. Rage is one of the most important emotions and our sharpest tool against both personal and political oppression. Instead of bottling up our anger as women are universally socialised to do, Soraya encourages releasing your inner rage rather than suppressing it. Suppressing rage will only lead to the corrosion of bodies and minds. Anger is a vital force used to speak out about the many injustices in this world and leads to real change. So what are you waiting for?
Wordslut: A Feminist Guide to Taking Back the English Language by Amanda Montell
Did you know that the word ‘bitch’ originally meant male or female genitalia? Feminist linguist, Amanda Montell, outlines so loudly and clearly why words matter and why it’s important that women embrace their unique relationship with language. She also discusses the rapidly changing nature of language, including how words often transform from female-directed insults to words that are embraced and reclaimed by various communities. Some words that were once perceived as insulting can even become humorous terms of affection.
Paris or Die by Jayne Tuttle
Paris or Die is a coming of age story beginning with Jayne’s first visit to Paris as an au pair in her early 20s. It traces her return when she went to study at the prestigious École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq, fell in love with the Frenchman of her dreams and tried to leave her Australian roots behind to escape her painful recent past. While Paris is the City of Light, for Jayne it was the city where she nearly lost it all … Beautifully written with an unfiltered lens, Paris or Die is gritty, funny and heart-breakingly real.
Michael Williams, director
The word limit constraints of the taskmasters behind the Wheeler Centre’s end of year lists cause a lot of grief in the office, with the booky, eclectic and cultured team here grappling to keep within the brief but do justice to another year of great reading. I’ve gone with a top five, rather than just listing as many titles as I can fit into my allocation, but am sure I’m forgetting brilliant other notables in the process.
Yellow Notebook by Helen Garner
These collected diaries (identified by Helen and Text Publishing as volume one: hooray!) span the years between 1978 and 1987, and are one of our finest writers at her absolute best. Incredibly funny, typically well observed and rapidly moving from a set of writerly fragments to a moving and personal story, this is a masterpiece.
Lanny by Max Porter
I reckon conservatively I’ve bought 20 copies of this book for friends and family at this point. It’s astonishing.
Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Broedesser-Akner
A Trojan horse of a book. What looks like another addition to the canon of Great American Novels devoted to the travails of a misunderstood and noble middle-aged white man is instead something far more subtle and interesting. Plus it’s very funny!
Talkin’ Up to the White Woman by Aileen Moreton-Robinson
Professor Moreton-Robinson was one of the revelations of our inaugural Broadside Festival. It’s a crime that this book and its author have not been household names and integral to our national cultural and intellectual landscape for the 20 years since its publication.
Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
2019’s non-Margaret Atwood Booker winner follows the interconnected lives of 12 characters over the course of several decades. Powerful, distinctive and original, it’s a cracker.
Claire Flynn, ticketing and CRM coordinator
This year I was on Wheeler Centre brand for favourite things. Although I had a lot of fun working the ticketing desk at Broadside, I was a little sad I missed out on attending the sessions in real-time. I’m really glad that I got to listen to Aminatou Sow interviewing Tressie McMilliam Cottom. Having listened to a number of Call Your Girlfriend episodes, I was eager for a discussion on taking up space and being who you are. I read Thick in a day as recovery from working the festival, and was rewarded with a superb collection of essays. Two of my other favourites were catch up reads – Bruce Pascoe’s Dark Emu and Rick Morton’s One Hundred Years of Dirt.
I also look forward to reading my friend Jac Tomlin’s book she self-published for upper primary school kids. It has queer mums in it, so it must be good!
Other highlights included podcasts Tiddas 4 Tiddas and Burn It All Down and TV show Euphoria. In theatre, I loved Selina Jenkins’s show Boobs. Go see it at Midsumma. And Gender Euphoria – hopefully it tours near you soon.
Sallie Butler, publicist
No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani
Working on the publicity for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards brought my attention to this harrowing and gut-wrenching memoir. In 2013, Kurdish journalist Behrouz Boochani was detained on Manus Island. He has only recently been allowed to leave (on a temporary visa). This book is his account of being stuck for a torturous five years with no hope of leaving in sight. Laboriously tapped out on a smuggled mobile phone and translated from Farsi by Omid Tofighian, it is a voice of witness and an act of survival.
Behrouz’s powerful and vivid account of life inside Manus Island detention centre has won both the Prize for Non-fiction, and the overall Victorian Prize for Literature at the 2019 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. If you haven’t read this book yet, stop what you’re doing and read it now.
Fake by Stephanie Wood
This book had me absolutely riveted from the very first chapter. Every woman out there in the dating world should read this. Stephanie Wood has written a beautiful and heart wrenching true story of her own experience of falling in love with someone who turned out to be fake. At first I thought that someone had to be pretty dim-witted to fall for this kind of thing, but as Stephanie told her story it became pretty easy to believe that this kind of thing could happen to everyone – even journalists who have a nose for sniffing out implausibilities and lies. As well as drawing on her personal stories, so writes about other women who have been drawn into relationships based on duplicity and false hope.
Into the Fire by Sonia Orchard
I absolutely loved this book, and devoured it in a day over the summer holidays. Sonia Orchard weaves an insightful tale of friendship, betrayal and loss. At the beginning of the book you know that Lara’s best friend Alice has died in a house fire, leaving her partner Crow and her children behind. The book then examines the friendship between Lara and Alice from the beginning, while interspersing interactions between Lara and Crow in the present day. It’s a compelling story about power, guilt and womanhood from an outstanding voice in Australian fiction. And I did not see the twist coming!
Jon Tjhia, senior digital editor
As we muscle, drift – live – into the future, the idea of a year-end list seems like an increasingly strange construction. What does it mean to assign ‘favourites’ when, online, we might fave a dozen things every hour? Here are some things that I enjoyed, felt enriched or provoked by, or felt compelled to share widely at some moment – and had any recollection of doing so.
Podcast and radio
It’s hard to go past the bracing feat of insight, craft and heart that is Have You Heard George’s Podcast?, especially ‘A Grenfell Story’, which is heartbreaking. The BBC’s sound-forward hybrid-fiction project Forest 404 really pulled me in. The ruling triad of experimental stalwarts, forevermore – Short Cuts, Long Live the New Sound and Constellations.
‘Before the Light’, from the Paris Review podcast, really stuck with me. Listen for Toni Morrison tape on beauty, and Mary Terrier’s beautiful short story, ‘Guests’. Most episodes of the bold Awful Grace project bounced me between great admiration and frustration, which might be healthy.
I finally finished The Sellout by Paul Beatty, a searing, shit-stirring skewering of ‘post-racial’ America. BoJack Horseman creator/cartoonist Lisa Hanawalt’s 2016 book, Hot Dog Taste Test, drags a texta across so many genres – journalism, food writing, memoir, humanoid critters, potty humour. It’s fun and would make a great gift.
I read more art writing than usual this year. Ambitious small publications like Running Dog, Un Magazine, Disclaimer and Runway, and James Parker and Joel Stern’s introductory essay to Eavesdropping: A Reader, are among the things I very much recommend. I also loved reading several of Enjoy Contemporary Art Space’s small art books, and Ellena Savage’s regular Little Throbs newsletter.
Bless Vivian Girls, Chastity Belt and Steve Gunn for releasing great rock records in 2019. Also: first-class albums by Jenny Hval and J. McFarlane’s Reality Guest. Don’t miss Low’s brooding, burnt up 2018 album Double Negative, and this perfect rave nugget.
Stella Charls, programming coordinator
Believe me when I tell you that in 2019 I loved all of the things that I bet you also loved (Succession! Trick Mirror! Parasite! Russian Doll! Cuz I Love You! Fleabag! Yellow Notebook!). I’m obsessed with these TV shows/books/movies/albums, and (equally) with the conversations/tweets/Insta posts/out of context screen grabs they inspired.
Other stand out TV shows for me this year were Pen15, Shrill and Unbelievable (and Season Four of Veronica Mars). Like two million other people, I fell in love with every member of the Bon Appetit Test Kitchen and watched hours of them talk about pizza in excruciating detail to cope with my rising dread.
Barbara and the Camp Dogs at the Malthouse moved me like nothing else I saw this year. I finally caught Chunky Move’s Common Ground, Joel Bray’s Biladurang and appreciated getting to see Patricia Cornelius and Susie Dee’s remounted productions of SHIT and LOVE ahead of their run at the Venice Biennale. My favourite comedian Maria Bamford returned to Melbourne with The Irrelevant Redundancy, and I finished the year on a high with Birrarung: Dada-Desi as part of the inaugural Sangam festival (read Sonia Nair’s incredible review of this festival here).
The slo-mo montages in Booksmart made me feel a lot better about the world, and I still haven’t been able to stop thinking about Pain and Glory, In My Blood It Runs, The Farewell and Portrait of a Lady on Fire.
Published in January, Anne Helen Peterson’s ‘How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation’ was an essay I returned to again and again during the year. Jenny Odell’s How to Do Nothing and Anne Boyer’s The Undying fundamentally changed my thinking, and Nina Kenwood’s It Sounded Better in My Head still might be the only book I’ve ever stayed up until dawn to finish.
There are still two weeks left before 2020 and I feel pretty sure that Greta Gerwig’s Little Women will be my 2019 highlight. And maybe there’s still time to read at least one sentence from Ducks, Newburyport?
Mia-Francesca McAuslan, events manager
As usual, my favourite works this year were published online and were short, sharp and had me thinking about them long after I read them on the 67 tram.
The anxiety of the narrator in Paul Dalla Rosa’s short story ‘Comme‘ in Granta is as palpable as it is relatable. It’s no surprise this piece ended up on the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award shortlist, as it is utterly absorbing.
I have read Evelyn Araluen’s ‘Snugglepot and Cuddlepie in the Ghost Gum‘ in Sydney Review of Books again, and again, and each time found something new and beautiful in the prose.
Jamie Marina Lau’s ‘Explorations of Diamonds, Wearing Them on Your Face‘ was created as part of the Digital Writers’ Festival collaboration with Google Creative Lab, exploring whether Machine Learning (ML) can be used to inspire writers. This piece (and the others in the series) has encouraged me to consider alternative ways of both creating and presenting writing.
Other mentions include Ottessa Moshfegh’s Homesick for Another World, and Aldous Harding’s album Designer – the soundtrack to my year. Lightning Jar Theatre’s production of Mr. Burns, a post-electric play still haunts my nightmares and dreams. Speaking of dreams, I participated in Manisha Anjali’s amazing Surrealist Writing workshop Moon is a Fish at the Incendium Radical Library in West Footscray, and recommend keeping an eye on both her website and IRL for future workshops, conversations and series of this kind.
Scott Limbrick, digital producer
The Other Two, created by Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider
Barely a week went by this year without superlative headlines about a new TV show – a ride including Russian Doll, Succession, Chernobyl, I Think You Should Leave, Fleabag, Watchmen and many others. The Other Two didn’t seem to spark as much discussion, but for me it’s one of the best sitcoms of the last few years. The premise (two older siblings of a virally famous teen star must face their own failure) is great, the cast excellent, the joke rate high. A few key choices – like the younger brother being genuinely lovely – also mean that plots and jokes are fresh, not relying on stale commentary on celebrity culture. Oh, and the writers have been responsible for some of Saturday Night Live’s catchiest songs, so get ready for some earworms.
A special mention to Season Two of Barry for one of the most fun half-hours of TV of the year.
Cher Tan’s Kill Your Darlings column
Cher Tan’s column on the internet and culture has been a must-read for me, unpacking and contextualising trends that are shaping the way we think and interact. One essay, ‘So Much This’ takes on the bland sameness of culture under the algorithm, while ‘Recurring Amnesia’ addresses the problem of information retention when we’re faced with a constant onslaught of data and events. Together these pieces are a formidable collection, analysing digital structures that will continue to affect us all.
Magma by Andy Matthews and Alasdair Tremblay-Birchall
Of the live comedy I saw this year, no show has stuck with me for pure invention as much as Magma. A presentation by two engineers who believe they have created a perfect society thanks to the properties of this molten rock, the pair construct their own bizarre logic and then relentlessly explore the implications of this point of view. Just as you think a premise has been exhausted, a new angle is found – every concept pursued to a twisted end. This show was revived once, so if it ever comes back make sure to get tickets – otherwise keep an eye out for next year’s follow-up.
Shannon Hick, marketing manager
‘The Making of a Millennial Woman‘ by Rebecca Lui in Another Gaze
When tweets about ‘Hot Priest’ started popping up in my feed earlier this year, I have to admit I was intrigued. I loved season one of Fleabag. I think Phoebe Waller-Bridge is a master of her craft and aptly deserves the accolades she’s enjoying. But as the flurry of priest tweets turned into chimes of, ‘It Me!’ cryface emoji, I started to feel a little resistant to dipping into Season Two. In ‘The Making of a Millennial Woman’, published in the feminist film journal Another Gaze, Rebecca Lui eloquently sums up what it was I was feeling, and then some. Yes – we should see stories of messy, dysfunctional women, more of them preferably. Yet ‘only a few women seem to be able to assume the mantle of relatable womanhood.’ Lui adds, ‘by leaning on the flattening, deceptively homogenising framework of relatability, what do you miss?’ This piece definitely made me think a little deeper on issues of race, sexuality, gender identity, class and beauty in the media we consume. And if anything can encourage me to read wider, to seek out voices I’m not seeing, I’m all for it.
I’ve lost count as to how many people I’ve recommended this podcast to. From the writers behind Bring It On, Jessica Bendinger and RuPaul’s Drag Race‘s Michael Seligman, Mob Queens looks at the life of mob wife Anna Genovese who was a pivotal figure in Manhattan’s drag bar scene. It’s all about identity, family truths, the mafia and the legacy people leave. I found it surprisingly touching and was grateful to be taken along for the ride so intimately, as the threads of Anna’s life unravelled in personal ways with hosts Jessica and Michael.
Veronica Sullivan, programming manager
The best book I read this year was Deborah Levy’s memoir The Cost of Living. Levy writes magnificently about solitude and creativity and gender and casual misogyny precisely because she rarely names them as such. Her voice feels effortless, and she burrows into philosophy as lightly as she does the story of a party or her experience fixing a blocked pipe. Everything is connected, the interior and physical and solipsistic worlds pulsing together in tiny but palpable ways.
Ann Patchett’s latest novel The Dutch House is an intimate, epic marvel, featuring the most wonderful sister I’ve read in literature, along with surely the most purely evil stepmother outside the realm of fairytale. And yet there is no reductiveness to any of her characterisations, the dialogue is perfectly attuned to the rhythms of family and power, the devastating emotional terrain she charts is tender and never manipulative. I want to read Ann Patchett novels until I die.
Other reading highlights this year included Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror, Ambelin and Ezekiel Kwaymullina’s Catching Teller Crow, Barbara Pym’s Excellent Women, Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s Fleishman Is in Trouble, Ellena Savage’s Yellow City, Terese Marie Mailhot’s Heart Berries, and (of course) Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook.
In television, the extremely chaotic, messy, glorious protagonists of Fleabag and Russian Doll made me cackle and weep, often in the space of a single episode. While there’s been little to celebrate in real-world Australian politics this year, Deborah Mailman’s portrayal of a passionate, righteous senator in Total Control held a galvanising mirror to some of our most urgent, devastating and fractious national issues. Deb for PM.
In movies, Top End Wedding was a sheer joy. Honourable mention must go to JLo’s fur coat in Hustlers, which I hope to one day live inside of, with her.
Inarguably, one of the most significant cultural events of 2019 was Caroline Calloway’s Instagram stories, and the slew of revealing public responses they provoked about privilege, art, authenticity and toxic female friendships. #wherearetheyaleplates? If you know, you know.
Harry Reid, receptionist
The 2019 AFL Premiership season
What a year. My beautiful Bulldogs stringing together an eleventh hour September campaign only to be absolutely belted in the elimination final. Three coaches sent to the knackery mid-season. Melbourne burning out in spectacular style. The glum inevitably of a Richmond premiership.
There’s no book, film or TV series that will ever get its claws into me as deep as footy has. Nor is there anything else that will so routinely kick me to the curb – but that’s footy baby. I just keep coming back for more.
The Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson
This trilogy rules. It’s also made up of three very, very long books, and wiped out the first four months of this year for me. But they’re unlike any science-fiction I’ve ever read – at once devastating in its plausibility, while maintaining a relentless optimism of what we could achieve if we stood together and looked towards a unified future. It’s Big Serious reading at times, but it’s also just very good sci-fi – you can’t lose.
.Jpeg Artefacts is a Melbourne-based music label that’s put out about half a dozen albums this year, all of which make up my top albums for 2019. .Jpeg are putting out music no-one else is – challenging, thoughtful and just really, really good.
Sally Rosevear, office manager
This year’s books that made me stop reading, look away, and absorb the magnificent sentences I just read were Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, and Ordinary People by Diana Evans. Both described the complexities of love in ways that took my breath away.
I was so happily led by the graphic depiction, and creative meanderings in two very different books exploring their place in their world, their city, their body; I Don’t Understand How Emotions Work by Fury, and Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau.
How To Enjoy Sake was a welcome gift in a sushi bar in Japan as we immersed ourselves in the instructive title while a typhoon was building up outside. However, we broadened our knowledge a little more with the beautiful book, Tokyo, by long time travellers to Japan, Steve Wide and Michelle Mackintosh. The fact that Michelle is an award-winning book designer and illustrator means this book oozed with beauty and delight!
Jose Eveline, technical coordinator
Lealtad y Rebeldía: La vida de Juan Pablo Wainwright by Rina Villars
This book is peak Archival Anxiety. Personal letters, Soviet archives, Guatemalan prison logs from the 30s, declassified U.S. documents at the height of the ‘Banana Republics’ in Central America; Rina Villars attempts to reconstruct the life of Honduras’ most famous revolutionary – the man who, legend has it, spat on Dictator Jorge Ubico’s face before being executed. The book also has this, dare I say it, historical fiction feel to it, as it’s told in this odd second person mode and Villars thinks not only about the political, but also contemplates the intricate and tragic family drama that underpins the last pages of the book.
Reporting on the Moro Leaks in the Intercept Brasil and Bolsonaro’s Brazil by Perry Anderson in the London Review of Books
Perry Anderson’s review of Andre Singer’s Lulism in Crisis: A Puzzle of the Dilma Period, is a magisterial but concise introduction on the recent history of the country. It also lays out why Sergio Moro’s actions as the judge presiding over the arrest of Lula Da Silva (the only candidate strong enough to stop Jair Bolsonaro from obtaining power) were super suss to say the least.
The Intercept Brasil all but confirmed this, revealing in the leaks that they obtained ‘serious ethical violations and legally prohibited collaboration between the judge and prosecutors’. Probably the most important piece of journalism in Latin America this year.
Other highlights included Caravana Migrante, el Síntoma de un País sin Alternativa by Marlon Ochoa and Russell Garay; Sick Leave journal; ‘How to Rest’ by Millie Baylis in Kill Your Darlings; ‘A White Working Man’s Country‘ by Jon Piccini; ‘Rescuing Nelson Mandela from Sainthood‘ by Sisonke Msimang in Africa is a Country; BadEmpanada on YouTube; Nailed It on Netflix and Soleils Noirs by Julien Ellie.