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Yearly Round-Up: Wheeler Centre Staff 2023 Favourites

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Before we say farewell to 2023, we’re sharing a list of some of the things Wheeler Centre staff have loved reading, seeing, watching and listening to this year, from books to tv shows, podcasts, music and more!

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Bec Kavanagh, Youth Programming Manager

2023 has had some absolute intellectual highlights, but honestly all I want at this point in the year is brain candy. I’ve found it in the form of the Kates podcast, Only Wrong Answers, which is snarky, hectic and pitch perfect. I’ve devoured every episode faster than a $2 bag of sour brite crawlies. They’re also responsible of course for the standout TV highlight of the year, Deadloch, which is funny, smart, feminist and if you haven’t already binged it then snap to it immediately. 

Some easy culture faves that barely need any explanation are the new Jen Cloher album, I Am the River, The River is Me, which found its way to the top of my Spotify Wrapped; Tony Birch’s new novel Women and Children is his most intimate work yet and brings together many of the obsessions he’s explored in earlier novels; Art Monsters by Laura Elkin is a galvanising, smart and very readable exploration of feminist art, bodies and power. 

Diem Nguyen, Program Coordinator

2023 had some excellent Australian debut fiction and a personal standout is But the Girl by Jessica Zhan Mei Yu. It is an incisive and moving story about family, creativity, and Asian girlhood. As a former teenage Sylvia Plath tragic, I enjoyed reading the homages to Plath’s writing as well as the interrogation of her legacy. A book I inhaled in one breathless gulp was Rebecca F. Kuang’s Yellowface. A poem I revisited many times is Panda Wong’s sad and playful pop-up love poem about her schnoodle Toulouse.   

I regularly refresh my podcast feed waiting for a new episode of Normal Gossip to drop. The earlier seasons are my preferred re-listens, but the twist in ‘I Love All Corgis’ had me shrieking and landed itself a spot in my top five gossip stories from this podcast.    

My ultimate K-pop group is Seventeen and they made the Album of the Year with FML (Seventeen recently received a Grand Prize so it’s not just my extremely biased opinion!). It’s a no-skip album and their powerful title song ‘Super’ showcases all the reasons why they’re a powerhouse group and at the height of their popularity and success. 

Joe Toohey, Head of Finance

My favourite read this year was definitely The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shenan Karunatilaka, but there are a bunch of honourable mentions in the mix too, including The Visitors by Jane Harrison, Green Dot by Madeleine Gray, the Batman & The Joker: The Deadly Duo series by Marc Silvestri and this year’s Batgirls run from Becky Cloonan and Jorge Corona.  

On TV, it was Ahsoka, Succession and Sort Of making a late run for the most enjoyable this year. My Spotify Wrapped is telling me I stuck to a lot of classics this year but new albums that made the cut included The Rot that Grows inside my Chest by Teenage Joans, Sweet Justice by Tkay Maidza and an endless stream of fun kids TV show covers from Punk Rock Factory. 

Daniel Scaffidi, Web and Ticketing Coordinator

2023 was the year I finally immersed myself in the Neapolitan Novels by Elena Ferrante, including the magnificent HBO TV adaptation. Across this four-book series, Ferrante focuses on the sixty-year friendship of its’ two protagonists, against the backdrop of a Naples grappling with the mafia, cultural change, and gender oppression. Rounding out my fictional journey through Italy was the novel Still Life by Sarah Winman, a beautifully humorous story of love and friendship, set in the Tuscan hills. 

This was an incredible year for films, with Killers of the Flower Moon, Oppenheimer and Spiderman: Across the Spider-Verse being my standout favourites, all with exceptional storytelling. A special mention to the delightfully and surprisingly enjoyable Super Mario Bros. Movie (I think this counts towards my journey through Italian characters…).  

We also got new music from The Beatles this year which is something I never thought I would be able to say in my lifetime. And my album of the year goes to the genre-defying, psych-rock/R&B mashup Let’s Start Here by Lil Yachty. 

Lauren Taylor, Senior Program and Podcast Producer

Standout podcasts in the headphones this year have included Jen Cloher’s new series Everybody’s Trying to Find Their Way Home. Featuring Māori and First Nations songwriters including Emma Donovan, Breanne Peters and Dr Lou Bennett, the series is a gorgeous celebration of music, language and culture that explores what is feels like to make the journey towards ancestral languages and traditions. Listen out for an upcoming special live episode recorded as part of our Spring Fling series!

I’ve also been loving Amy Poehler’s hilarious new podcast Say More with Dr? Shelia. It’s couples therapy in the style of Esther Perel, all completely improvised by fellow comedians and actors including Kate Berlant, John Early, Ilana Glazer, Abbi Jacobson and more. Amy Poehler guides the sessions brilliantly as Dr? Shelia (Dr with a question mark for legal reasons). Don’t worry about her credentials.

Like many this year, I devoured Curtis Sittenfeld’s new book Romantic Comedy. I can highly recommend adding this one to your summer reading stack if you’re looking for a super fun read to take poolside. I also enjoyed Saving Time by Jenny Odell, a thought-provoking look at our relationship with the clock and ways to experience time beyond work and profit. 

Musical highlights have included The Map and the Territory, the latest from local post-punk sextet EXEK, as well as the new one from Aotearoa via Naarm/Melbourne electronic musician Vanessa Worm, Mosaics, which blends punk and dance/rave elements. Another fave on high rotation has been the new album from UK producer and DJ Nabihah Iqbal, Dreamer. Looking forward to seeing Nabihah returning to Australia over summer in January where she’ll be performing these songs for the first time with her full live band!

Indi Wild, Executive Coordinator

The full list of my 2023 cultural diet is shamelessly retrospective, but I’ve tried to balance the old and the new below, for appearances’ sake.  

Earlier this year, I had the pleasure of reading E. M. Forster’s A Room With a View in my backyard on a warm, breezy Sunday. I emerged from the book sometime in the afternoon, sunburnt and in a stuporous rapture over what I’d just read, and immediately watched the 1985 film adaptation. I loved the movie so much that, upon finishing it, I opened up eBay and bought a DVD player and a copy of the film (completely disregarding the fact that I didn’t have a TV). The film lacks violets but makes up for it with an incredible cast and the most joyful depiction of nudity you could ask for. 

I also watched Succession, finally. I don’t think I can say anything about this show that hasn’t already been said – unlikeable characters parade around in expensive clothes, spewing pain and greed and wit indiscriminately, and it’s somehow completely fascinating. The Sydney Morning Herald’s ‘The Drop’ podcast released an amazing run of Succession recap episodes as the fourth season was coming out, which perfectly satisfy the average Succession-viewer’s most desperate need: to talk about the show. Osman Faruqi leads a weekly conversation that covers the plot, winners and losers, and best lines of each episode. 

Xanthea O’Connor, Program and Special Projects Producer

I started off this year with Ling Ma’s Severance, a dystopian pandemic novel that made my skin crawl with eerie familiarity. I quickly followed it up with her new short story collection Bliss Montage and continued to be in awe of Ma’s ability to put such a dark, uneasy slant on people and places.  

I picked up Jennifer Down’s Bodies of Light one weekend in November and did nothing else until I’d read the final page. A quietly devastating, flawlessly written work that made me gasp and sob. I knew I’d love this book but wasn’t expecting to feel so fully immersed in and compelled by the story it told. 

I was lucky enough to nab an advanced copy of The Next Chapter alumni Sharlene Allsopp’s transportive debut novel The Great Undoing, which you’re able to preorder now for some late summer reading. I’m also so looking forward to reading other alumni’s work next year including Sam Elklin’s Detachable Penis and hasib hourani’s debut poetry collection out later in 2024.  

My music streaming service told me that I listened to Mitski’s The Land Is Inhospitable and So Are We a few hundred times and who am I to question this statistic. 

Caraline Douglas, Head of Marketing and Engagement

This year I’ve thrown all my anxieties about having a short attention span into the bin (thanks TikTok) and have been channelling that into reading Substacks from a selection of talented writers. I can highly recommend Rick Morton’s Nervous Laughter, News & Reviews by Bri Lee, Back Row from Amy Odell  and The Paris End for everything Melbourne and chic. 

I think I’m not alone in shouting adoration for Past Lives by Celine Song. Honest, thoughtful, touching – the tears would not stop rolling down my face at the end. Watch it with a close friend on a quiet evening. Greta Lee’s range is unmatched.  

Eternal Daughter by Joanna Hogg is haunting and stunning – every single moment and aesthetic element of this film is well considered. The foley operator in this film was working overtime and, oh boy, does it make a difference. 

Yellowface is the page-turning surprise thriller that I needed. I could not put this book down. Rebecca F Kuang writes about the publishing industry and Twitter meltdowns with such accuracy that you will feel right in the fray (in the best way possible). I can’t wait to hear Kuang at The Wheeler Centre next year.

And for a niche recommendation, I suggest following Merriam-Webster’s Instagram account. I have cackled out loud more times than I can count – and we’re talking about a Dictionary’s social media account here. Their social media manager deserves a raise. 

Veronica Sullivan, Head of Programming

This year, as ever, I was drawn to culture that made me laugh, made me cry, and challenged me.

Ellen van Neerven’s Personal Score is deeply personal, thoroughly researched narrative nonfiction that spoke to my soul with its equally fierce love for, and critique of, sporting culture on this continent. I will forever read everything Curtis Sittenfeld writes, and Romantic Comedy was a balm. Eleanor Catton’s Birnam Wood was propulsive, political and astute. Stunning debut poetry collections from Susie Anderson (the body country) and Madison Godfrey (Dress Rehearsals) took me on journeys of bodies and place. 

2023 was indisputably the year of Barbie and Greta Gerwig delivered all that we could have hoped for. Natasha Lyonne is my smoky queen, and Poker Face was a total delight. Rose Matafeo’s Starstruck is still criminally underrated. Deadloch brilliantly threaded the tonal needle of Taswegian comedic noir. I feel so lucky to have seen and heard Camp Cope’s rise and indelible impact on the Australian music scene over the past decade, and their Melbourne farewell concert was magic. RIP Camp Cope. 

Jamila Djafar Khodja, Programming Manager

My cultural intake in 2023 has been a real mix of high and low. I’ve broken up news podcasts with some much-needed Sentimental Garbage listening – highly rate the Pride & Prejudice episode (THE FILM ONE, I won’t hear a word against Keira Knightley) and the episode about Bring it On. I also raced through The Girlfriends – a true story about women coming together against their creepy ex – and Connie Walker’s Stolen series. 

Books-wise, it’s been more of an international fiction year. Zadie Smith’s The Fraud was often a bit beyond my reach but felt like exciting new territory for historical fiction; the new Lauren Groff, The Vaster Wilds, caused some heated debate in book club; and I am pushing Demon Copperhead by Barbara Kingsolver onto everyone I know. My Spotify Wrapped featured Harry Styles, Taylor Swift’s Anti-Hero and a healthy dose of The Wiggles – all courtesy of my very pop-culture-savvy three-year-old. 

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