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My literary hits and misses of 2020

Best read of 2020: Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

This book was hilarious, moving and important, and I’m sure it will be one that sticks with me. I can’t imagine a better vehicle for building understanding and respect between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, as it explores Australia’s past and present and offers hope for the future. Lucashenko writes beautifully, somehow combining humour with a deadly serious message about generational trauma and its impact on notions of equality.

Tied with

Harry Potter by JK Rowling

These books are as extraordinary as everyone says they are. I started the series in February, and am just about to read the final book. I’m not sure how I’ll live without them in 2021, although I’ve booked tickets to the stage show, which should help.

The rest:

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

This book was fun and flamboyant, just when I needed it. Thank you, Elizabeth Gilbert!

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

As my introduction to the wide and wonderful world of audiobooks, The Nickel Boys was ideal, if heartbreaking and disturbing.

The Trauma Cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein

This book was as enlightening as it was funny and heart wrenching. What a woman.

Mothering Sunday by Graham Swift

I can’t forget the languid day cut short by tragedy in this novella. I listened on a weekend away at the beach, and my restful experience was coloured by this beautiful little work.

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

The sometimes grumpy, always straight-talking Olive was again at her best in the follow up to Olive Kitteridge.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo

Another eye-opening read, this time about identity, feminism and race.

The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid

I’m very late to the party, but this gorgeous read turned many of my assumptions on their head. It was interesting to watch the movie after reading the book, and to see how Hollywood represented the dynamic of the two men speaking in the café.

Educated by Tara Westover

This frightening non-fiction book offered unique insight into a world far from my own, and I relished the opportunity to find out more about life in this extreme religious community in the US. It was as fascinating as it was confronting.

See What You Made Me Do by Jess Hill

Another work of non-fiction, See What You Made Me Do explored domestic abuse in Australia. Harrowing, but necessary.

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent

Speaking of harrowing, the relationship between the father and his teen daughter in My Absolute Darling was horrifying. However, the book was not without its hope and warmth in the face of poverty and neglect.

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Kiley Reid’s bestseller confronts race from a different angle – in the relationship between a white, successful woman and her teen home help. This is a book about power in all its forms – from that of the girl’s youth and social cache to her boss’s obvious power to over her employee.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I know I’m treading very well-trod ground with this one, but I can’t leave out Pride and Prejudice. After having watched the series featuring Colin Firth, I wondered how much better the book could be. Much, as it turns out.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

This is one chilling book – God forbid I encounter my own Heathcliff in a dark alley. I was fascinated by the depiction of obsession and revenge.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche

Race was at the heart of Americanah, as the characters dreamt of escaping their African home for America. The reality of racism is brought home as they realise the land of opportunity is not exactly as advertised for those with dark skin.

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

This light and funny book was a delight, following two sisters as one mopped up after the other’s (huge) mistakes.

The Testaments by Margaret Attwood

There’s not much more to say about this sequel, other than that it was thoroughly enjoyable, although I found it was nowhere near as clever as The Handmaid’s Tale, which I adored. I was lucky enough to see Atwood speak in Melbourne before the lockdown and I’m sure rays of love shone out of my eyes as she was speaking. An extraordinary woman.

The Handmaid’s Tale

See above.

Eggshell Skull by Bri Lee

Bri Lee combines her story of sexual abuse with her experience of the legal system as a judge’s associate. She explores the fallibility of the system by discussing outcomes of different cases, and the results were worrying and more than a little depressing.

The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This beautiful book is a reimagining of the legend of Achilles, taking the reader into the world of Greek mythology. I cried at the end, which is a sign of an excellent read.

My least favourite book of the year:

I know that it’s not a good idea to criticise authors but seeing this one is 1. Dead and 2. Untouchably famous and adored, I think it’s ok.

The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky

It’s not that the book itself wasn’t worthy of its position among the great classics of Western literature, it’s just that I didn’t like it. I struggled, and struggled, and struggled, until I finished it … and it wasn’t worth it. I’m just not smart or patient enough for this tome and I’d love to get every minute I spent on it back again.

There were also many audiobooks that I started listening to, but realised they were too difficult for this format. This had more to do with the format than the content – I easily become distracted when listening to books with complex language and prefer to read these books in a traditional format.

Best literary experience

Going to listen to Margaret Atwood when she visited Melbourne. I loved being in the same room as this literary icon, and all of the like-minded (mainly) women who were listening, in awe of her. It was also one of the last times this year I had the opportunity to meet with a group of beautiful friends who live in Melbourne and who share my love of books.

Best literary gift

My father-in-law gave me a Booktopia voucher my birthday, which I used to buy Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell, Stone Sky Gold Mountain by Mirandi Riwoe, Kokomo by Victoria Hannan and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. It was a bookish shopping spree! These books are now on my tbr pile for 2021. The other great bookish gift was Elena Ferrante’s The Lying Life of Adults, which Mum gave me when I was sick. The perfect get well gift.

My greatest literary discovery

The audiobook. I listened to my first audiobook in March and since then I have been hooked. I love it how audiobooks provide the opportunity to ‘read’ and to walk/drive/cook at the same time. The only problem is that it means that I plough through too many books this way and I can’t keep up with my reviews … not such a bad problem to have!

I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a wonderful year of reading in 2021.

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