another year over, a new one just begun

War is Over was my favourite Christmas song as a child. Maybe it still is. I heard it on the radio while I was on the bus to work a few days before Christmas and I might have become a little teary.

The lyrics always confused me. Why, I remember asking my grade two teacher, did the man in the song say a new year had “just begun” when the song says that it’s Christmas?

My teacher had no answer for me. I mentally filed War is Over along with all the other vaguely ridiculous Christmas songs – like the one about “dashing through the snow” I remember singing at a sweltering end of year school assembly, the heat of the asphalt radiating through the soles of my school shoes.

I dread those “Oh, where has the year gone?” conversations that I’m often dragged into around the beginning of December. There’s something about that empty kind of chit-chat that I can’t stand. That, and it makes the feeling of time being dragged away from me worse.

But right at the heart of things, I think that’s what John Lennon was on about in those first few lines of War is Over – the way a year can seemingly whiz by in a flash, leaving you to begin again just as you were finding your way through a year that feels like it’s only “just begun”. Leaving you to ask yourself…so, what have I done?

For me, the answer is always the same: not enough. I’m hoping that at the end of 2015, I’ll have more to show for myself.

Before the New Year runs away from me, there’s some unfinished business I wanted to take care of first. In no particular order, here are five of the books I enjoyed the most in 2014.

The Summer Book – Tove Jansson

The highlight of my reading year was discovering Tove Jansson.

After my beautiful grandma passed away in the final weeks of 2013 – after the funeral, after the strangest Christmas ever – I found myself in the first days of 2014 standing in front of my bookshelf, looking for solace. The calm cerulean blue spine of Tove Jansson’s The Summer Book appealed to me, and I started reading.

The Summer Book is a series of scenes that take place on a remote island in the Gulf of Finland, inhabited only during the summer by one family – a grandmother and Sophia, her granddaughter. There’s also Sophia’s father, an artist, but he plays little part in the plot. In the opening moments of The Summer Book, we learn that Sophia’s mother has recently died. With the link between generations missing, Sophia and her grandmother begin to explore the island they share, as well as the gap left by Sophia’s absent mother.

On the second page, Sophia asks her grandmother:

“When are you going to die?” the child asked.

And Grandmother answered. “Soon. But that is not the least concern of yours.”

“Why?” her grandchild asked.

She didn’t answer.

There was something about seeing that exchange, the directness of it there on the page, that knocked the air from me. I remembered asking my own grandmother the same question when I was very young.

As Sophia’s life is beginning, her grandmother’s life is coming to an end. Over the course of The Summer Book, we watch as Sophia’s grandmother becomes weak, sick, forgetful. And Sophia has no idea it’s happening, because that’s what it’s like to be young.

Beautiful and devastating, The Summer Book is a contradiction; direct and oblique at the same time. It was the first book I read this year, and remains my favourite – a life-changing experience that came along right when I needed it the most.

Also in 2014, I read Jansson’s short story collections Art in Nature, Fair Play and A Winter Book (in the winter, of course). I also read her novel, The True Deceiver and reviewed Tove Jansson: Life, Art, Words, a biography published last year to coincide with the hundredth anniversary of Jansson’s birth. I could make up a top five for the year featuring only Jansson’s books, but I’m restricting myself to just one book per author. The Summer Book will always be special. It was the book that sparked a literary love affair.

Arctic Summer – Damon Galgut

arcticsummercoverOn the subject of literary love affairs, as a devoted fan of E M Forster, when I first heard about Damon Galgut’s Arctic Summer – a fictional look at Forster’s life during the writing of A Passage to India, the last of his masterpieces – I knew I had to read it.

I was always going to have strong feeling about this novel. Arctic Summer didn’t disappoint. From the very beginning, Galgut’s inelegant, introspective Morgan Forster won me over completely. Arctic Summer is an understated, quiet book that left me flailing and defeated in its wake.

Arctic Summer might not be for everyone (last year’s Man Booker judges, for instance – Galgut didn’t even make the Booker longlist) but this novel is definitely for me. You can read my review over at Newtown Review of Books if you like.

The Swimming-Pool Library – Alan Hollinghurst

Talking of the Man Booker prize, I mightn’t have read this year’s winner, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, but at least did I read Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty this year which won the Booker Prize back in 2004. It seems I have ten years to catch up.

I read Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library and The Line of Beauty in quick succession early last year and utterly lost myself in Hollinghurst’s immersive prose. I enjoyed both novels, but because I have to choose just one book per author, I’m putting Hollinghurst’s debut on this list.

The deliberately archaic register of The Swimming-Pool Library immediately had me feeling as if I was reading something set in another alternative existence – which, in a way, I guess I was. Hollinghurst’s characters inhabit a risky world of double meanings, codes and glances; a world where every action speaks of a hidden desire. It’s irresistibly dark and inviting, and I was drawn under its spell.

The Woman Upstairs – Claire Messud

Every time one of those “best opening sentences of all time” articles makes its way around literary Twitter, I can’t stop myself from rolling my eyes. I hate the way these articles reduce books to just a few words, when a book is about so much more than that.

the-woman-upstairsThat said, Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs has one of the best opening pages I’ve ever read. As far as I’m concerned, any novel that opens with the sentence “How angry am I?” and rounds off its first page with the words “FUCK YOU ALL” gets my vote.

Messud takes this initial momentum, this anger, and carries it over 301 furious pages. It’s the literary equivalent of a raised middle finger and from the very first page, I was swept up, tumbled over and over like being caught by a wave.

But as triumphantly, deliciously angry as the novel is, there’s a lingering sadness at work in The Woman Upstairs. It’s this element of frailty that binds this novel together and adds yet another dimension to this story of a vulnerable woman betrayed by art and by life.

Messud’s novel is twisted and seething and incandescently brilliant – and I couldn’t get enough of it.

The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

Ruth, an elderly woman, wakes in the early hours of morning to the unmistakable sounds of a tiger moving about her house. The next day, the tiger has gone and Frida arrives, sent by the government to look after Ruth.

I really admire The Night Guest – possibly because this is the kind of book I’d love to have written myself. The psychological tug of war that takes place between the two women; the way we watch, helplessly as Ruth’s memory slowly begins to unravel and retreat from her; even the beach setting, the way the sand dunes begin to invade Ruth’s home – all of the elements that make up this novel come together in such a perfect way that I was left in awe.

The Night Guest is close to flawless. If you haven’t already picked it up, add it to your list.


Anyone who knows me will know by now that I can’t possibly write a list of five books without naming a heap of honourable mentions, so here are another a few other books that I loved this year…don’t tempt me to keep going, or I’ll just list everything I read…

Trumpet – Jackie Kay

trumpetWhen the love of your life dies, the problem is not that some part of you dies too, which it does, but that some part of you is still alive.

Millie’s husband, famous jazz musician, Joss Moody has died, leaving a scandal in his wake. Distraught and grieving, Millie retreats to the holiday house she and Joss shared in Scotland to hide from the paparazzi while she begins to deal with her husband’s loss. Meanwhile, the son she and her husband adopted is processing his grief in a different way.

If you don’t already know what Trumpet is about, it’s best to keep it that way. Don’t read reviews. Don’t read the blurb. Just read this book.

Trumpet is a love story like no other – though doubtless there are many more love stories like it, just waiting to be told.

Cracking the Spine

Each of the short stories in this collection from Spineless Wonders is accompanied by an essay by the author. Some authors explain the story – how it came to be, how it was written, the thought process behind it – while other authors take am entirely different approach. In Cracking the Spine, fiction and non-fiction blend with fascinating results. I’ve got a half-written review of this sitting on my computer’s desktop – I’ll get to finishing it soon.

The Neighbour – Julie Proudfoot

Will I ever forget this chilling novella? I sincerely doubt it. More on The Neighbour soon – it’s another review-in-progress.

Captives – Angela Meyer

These tiny little stories have been carefully pared down to the barest of bones, but they’re still incredibly effective. I reviewed Captives for Newtown Review of Books and I’m quietly crossing my fingers that Meyer has Captives part two in progress, because I’m eager for more.

And because I really can’t resist adding even more names to this already lengthy list, I also really enjoyed Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders (which I also reviewed) and Ellen van Neerven’s Heat and Light.


I’m only one week into the New Year and already my schedule’s looking excitingly, terrifyingly crowded. I worked through Christmas and the New Year, so I’ll be taking some time off soon. I’m hoping to catch up on a few of the titles I’ve been eager to read for a long time, like Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle series, Ali Smith’s How to be Both and Lorelei Vashti’s Dress, Memory, which has been sitting patiently next to my bed for the longest time. I’d also like to read more current science fiction, so if you’ve got any recommendations, let me know.

Then, of course, I’ve got a heap of excellent books to review. There’s also the small matter of rethinking my blog’s focus and working out what I really want to do with this space in the year ahead. So, you know, no pressure at all…

Welcome to 2015. Let’s hope it’s a good one.

…and to all a good night



Festive greetings! I hope today has been kind to you.

I know – it’s been a while between posts. Writing time has been scarce lately. I’m working on that. Another thing I’m working on? A list of my favourite five books of the year. Or maybe my favourite ten books. I’m still deciding. And there are so many worthy books…

More as soon as I’ve made up my mind.

the books of 2012 ~ part two

In case you missed yesterday’s post, here’s a quick recap.

Due to my complete failure to read and review a reasonable number of books this year, I emailed a few of my favourite bloggers, tweeters and people I admire and asked them to contribute a couple of their most memorable books for the past twelve months.

With that out of the way, allow me to introduce part two of the Books of 2012. Enjoy!


I’m a huge fan of Read in a Single Sitting. Stephanie writes witty, discerning reviews of novels she can read – as the name of her blog implies – in a single sitting. She’s also a freelance writer, as well as a YA and middle grade author. I don’t know how she finds time! Go and take a look at some of Stephanie’s other favourite reads for 2012 here – and make sure you click on the links below to read Stephanie’s reviews!

theglamourI’ve had Christopher Priest’s The Prestige on my shelves for years now, but for some reason I haven’t yet got around to reading it. One of the dangers of watching the film adaptation first, perhaps. But although The Prestige has languished on my shelves for ages, when I picked up a copy of The Glamour on sale a few months back I started reading it right away.

There are books that entirely change the way that you think, and which also influence the way that you read. The Glamour is one of them. It’s a strange narrative focusing on a man recovering from an accident and his interactions with a woman called Susan, who professes to be his girlfriend—even though he has no recollection of her. Slowly the man begins to recall various aspects of the events leading up to his present state, and yet, when Susan relates the same, the stories differ in many, many ways.

The Glamour is a novel that takes the unreliable narrator idea to a devastating extreme, and it’s a chilling, frankly terrifying book that has had me questioning the truth of any fictional character’s experiences. It’s a book whose strange half-truths and fancies see it re-write itself as the story progresses, and there’s a twist at the end that does the same again. Perhaps fittingly, Priest himself rewrote the ending to the book some years after it was first published, giving the book yet another layer of possible subterfuge. Just what is real and true, and how can we possibly tell? This is a question that has tapped me on the shoulder during my reading many times this year.

Kazuo Ishiguro’s The Remains of the Day, which I read not long after The Glamour, looks remainsofthedaysimilarly at the strange beast of truth and how readily anything can be twisted to ring true to ears that want it to be so. This is a novel that’s very much an embodiment of that old saw of history being an argument rather than a series of facts, and which eerily examines the idea of where culpability should rest.

Our protagonist Stevens is an ageing butler who is becoming increasingly irrelevant both personally and in terms of his career. He clings desperately to ideas of dignity and service, desperately averring how a true butler must always go along with their employer’s wishes, no matter how odd or transgressive. And yet, as the narrative begins to unfold and Stevens reflects on his past service, we begin to see the astonishing degree of self-deception that is on display here. Stevens’ employer turns out to be a man whose political sympathies are abhorrent, and although Stevens is aware of the issue, does nothing, telling himself that it is not his place to do so.

It’s a beautifully written and extremely quiet book, and yet under its thick veneer of dignity and respectability is something truly eerie: the denial of personal responsibility in a terrible situation. It’s a book that will leave you thinking about all of those times when you’ve avoided speaking out, or when you’ve been removed enough from whoever’s making the decisions that you feel safe and without guilt. Like The Glamour, it’s a book that lingers and haunts, and any book that does that is well worth the read.

My second guest today is Jeremy Earl. He’s a Perth-based librarian who blogs about books over at Excelsior, and his love of records at Closed Groove. Here are his choices – click the titles and go and read his reviews!

Carson McCullers’ The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is one of the most fully realised novels I lonelyhunterhave ever read. The writing is economical but engaging and the ensemble of characters are perfectly drawn and psychologically nuanced. The novel tackles big issues, but is subtle in the rendering of its underlying subtext.

Ostensibly the tale of a lonely mute called John Singer, the novel expands to cover racism, isolation, sexuality, alcoholism, politics and small town prejudice. The book has hardly dated, despite being set during the mid 1940s. Its themes are universal and its humanity is profound. I thought about this book for weeks after finishing it and recommend it to anyone who is yearning for a novel that is both technically perfect and emotionally engaging. Definitely the book of the year!

The Magus by John Fowles is one of those books that can polarize readers. Some regard it as pretentious and indulgent, others, like myself, regard it as fascinating, adventurous themagusand beautiful. I did not merely read this book; it took a hold of me and I became drawn into it and had difficulty putting it down. I don’t regret one moment I spent with this intense novel and although it didn’t provide me with any answers, it made it clearer as to what questions to ask.

The Magus is the tale of an Englishman called Nicholas Urfe who takes up a teaching post on a remote Greek island post-WWII and becomes involved with master manipulator Maurice Conchis. The Magus takes you on a journey to who knows where and doesn’t let go till the very end. Mystifying and existentially expansive, it’s a novel best read across hot afternoons when you can give it the attention it deserves. It took Fowles ten years to write and I can tell you that it was worth the effort. Only the perfection of The Heart is a Lonely Hunter beats The Magus as the book of the year.

Rose Powell has excellent taste in books, as evidenced by her eloquent guest appearances on Channel Ten’s Breakfast Show this year. Rose is the driving force behind the Australian Writers’ Centre’s Best Australian Blogs competition, which will be returning for its third year next year. With a new job and her studies, Rose is super-busy, but managed to find time to send me the titles of two of her favourite reads for the year. Click on the images below to find out more about each title:

theusesofenchantment theyellowbirds









Next up is James Tierney. James writes about books and art and more at A Long, Slow Goodbye. His reviews are breathtaking…and, to my delight, they’re beginning to pop up all over the place, including the Wheeler Centre, as well as the Newtown Review of Books. I’m looking forward to discovering what treats James has in store for us in 2013!

There’s a half-serious argument that I try and rationalize to myself in quiet moments. It goes a little something like this: as an art form, the character-driven literary novel is almost uniquely suited to the introverted experience.

OK, yep – you got me. A glass of good red wine is likely to be my co-theorist in these moments, but just go with me here –

What other art form so precisely takes the intelligences of life, under-tussled by conversation, and pins them to a truthful, effecting narrative?AnimalPeople

Two of my favourite reads during 2012 each looked at an introverted man and woman

Charlotte Wood’s Animal People (published in 2011 but a book I returned to again in 2012) is a tactile and beautifully paced novel focusing on Stephen, a man whose first strategy is the mistaken simplicity of withdrawal. Animal People is a portrait of masculinity that plays one of the best tricks of fiction: netting those many, oscillating thoughts about ourselves and others into a tightly inflected story, bringing a wisdom hazily at the back of our minds into a sharp, present focus.

Chris Ware’s Building Stories is a complete contrast in form. A graphic novel that comes in a Monopoly-sized box, it contains 7 separate pieces: an SMH-sized broadsheet, two hardbacks, a large board-game fold-out and smaller booklets. They are in no determined buildingstoriesorder. The stories within spiral out of the inhabitants of a three-story apartment building in Chicago, with most focus on an unnamed woman struggling with a life of quiet disconnection. Pieces of hers and other character’s narratives throw different contrasts depending on the path the reader picks amongst the fragments. In this, Building Stories replicates the approximate way of memory, in that events otherwise insignificant and perhaps years apart, may be drawn together by a creative remembering.

Writing is a social act, one that reaches out, but exactly how it is experienced varies slightly with every set of eyes. Whether shy or showgirl, every type of reader matters – whatever my glass of red says.

They call Booktopia’s John Purcell the Book Guru for a very, very good reason. As the voice behind @booktopia, John’s one of my favourite people on Twitter, He’s also a stellar blogger. His book recommendations are like a treasure map: when John recommends a book, I add it to my collection, no questions necessary. In fact, I was so curious about John’s favourite books for the year that I pestered him constantly and unashamedly until he agreed to write this for me (sorry!). Click on the titles to find out more. 

My Hundred Lovers. I recommend it to anyone who feels a little pale and dusty. It is a great tragedy this gorgeous book was published in our year of fifty shames.NW

NW. I read this twice in a year when I seldom found time to read the books I was meant to read once. Why? Because it seemed to say on its first page – fuck off if you’re too lazy to think. Sadly this included the entire reading public. NW sold very few copies. Which is a testament to its quality.

Love and Hunger. Puts food back in its place as the means and not the end for people coming together.

The Hanging Garden is a story of adolescent love, with all of its latent complications, its beauty and its disquiet. There is a startlingly raw truth to this story which conjured up in me long forgotten memories. This is great writing for our time.

The Conversation. This is a book for lovers of ideas, of good conversation, of impossible loves and for those intellectuals who still enjoy having heated arguments in cafes.

My final guest is novelist Charlotte Wood. She’s the author of The Submerged Cathedral, The Children, Animal People and more. This year, she published part-memoir, part-cookbook Love and Hunger, and Animal People made the shortlist for the Kibble Award, as well as the Miles Franklin longlist. She blogs about food at How to Shuck An Oyster. Earlier this year, I saw her deliver a brilliant speech on writing, which I now have stuck to the wall next to my desk.

Damon Young’s Distraction: A Philosopher’s Guide to Being Free was a real find for me at philosophyinthegardenthe start of this year, so when I heard about his new one, Philosophy in the Garden, I was excited. Part philosophy lesson, part literary companion, it’s a contemplative stroll through writers’ relationships with their gardens. It might sound beautiful and it is, but it’s also more challenging than that – there’s as much war and decay in a garden as fruit and flowers, and Young doesn’t shy from the darker aspects of philosophy’s relationship with nature.

A writer friend, Tegan Bennett Daylight, led me this year to the bitingly sharp, intimate works of the late Alice Thomas Ellis. I have devoured four of them now – The Birds of the Air and Unexplained Laughter first; then The 27th Kingdom, my favourite so far, and the strange beast of The Sin Eater. Thomas Ellis is weird, very funny, acutely observant and black as black. They’re mostly out of print but I ordered a second-hand stash from the UK and am eking them out for the rest of my life.

thewatchtowerSpeaking of black, Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower is my other favourite from this year. Re-released after more than 40 years, it’s an incredible piece of work. She sure does know how to harrow – and how to write.

The most satisfying re-read of the year was the brilliant Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner, which I read for the third time and, I am enormously proud to say, led a sales revival for this book by choosing it for the First Tuesday Book Club on ABC TV. Every single panellist adored it, and it’s been going gangbusters since, I am told. I have even had booksellers hug me in the street because of it. So my work on earth is done.


Now that my guests have all discussed their favourite books of the year, that means it must be my turn. I love writing about books, but I hate having to choose between them!

While I readily admit 2012 has been a slow year, I’ve never claimed it was dull. I’ve had the fortune to read some stunning novels over the past twelve months.

As I’m allowing myself only two choices, I’m justifying my decision by selecting two very different novels. One is a classic from the Sixties; the other was released earlier this year.

mateshipwithbirdsMy first choice is Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds. I have to confess – I’ve read it three times this year.

Mateship with Birds is like its own perfect, self-contained little bubble. It’s set in the Fifties, on the outskirts of Cohuna, a small town in the north of Victoria. Harry, a middle-aged farmer and birdwatching enthusiast observes a family of kookaburras that’s taken up residence in a gumtree by the dairy…but his binoculars also seek out Betty, a single mother with two children who rents the house next door.  As the seasons change, the fledgling attraction between Harry and Betty cautiously begins to take wing.

I loved the pace of this novel, its slow, subtle – but unmistakably relentless – seduction. From the hypnotic opening passage to the final sentence, Tiffany’s writing is sure-footed and perfectly understated.

revolutionaryroadFor my second choice, I’ve selected Revolutionary Road, Richard Yates’ first novel, published in 1961. There’s nothing subtle or shy about Revolutionary Road – it’s brash and bold and gets straight to the point – and that’s precisely what I loved about it.

Revolutionary Road is the story of a marriage held together only by the vaguest promise of happiness that always remains conveniently out of reach, Revolutionary Road is more than three hundred pages of constant discomfort. There’s an unforgettable scene towards the beginning of the novel in which Frank and April Wheeler, Yates’ main characters, abandon their car during a night drive and argue by the side of the road – a scene that tore me to shreds to read. This visceral novel left me stunned in its wake. Its a good thing I’ve always had a soft spot for the books that leave me with scars.

I can’t resist a few honourable mentions. Charlotte Wood’s Animal People – though I have a sneaking suspicion that I might have read this in the final days of 2011. I devoured Zadie Smith’s NW over the course of a single weekend, unable to do anything else until I’d turned the final page. NW is clever and devastating and I uttely adored it. I’m adding my voice to the chorus who read and adored Wallace Stegner’s sublime Crossing to Safety this year. And I can’t forget Patricia Highsmith’s amazing The Talented Mr. Ripley – or Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread, which struck me like lightning and ‘m afraid I haven’t been quite the same since.

ornamentFinally, I’d like to express my thanks to all the talented writers who have helped me put this post together. An odd thing happens to time around Christmas – it disappears at a staggering rate, slipping between fingers and pouring through the cracks between hours. You’ve all taken a moment out of your hectic schedules to help me, and I’m grateful to you all.

I write because I love to read – it’s that simple. The fact that other readers have joined me along the way never ceases to amaze me. To everyone who’s read one of my reviews, written a comment, connected with me via Twitter, sent me an email, my heartfelt thanks.

Have yourselves a bookish little Christmas!


PS. Which books made an impression on you this year? Let me know in the comments below!

the books of 2012 ~ part one

christmasbooksThere’s no point dancing around the truth. 2012 hasn’t been my most productive year.

Every other year I’ve been writing Book to the Future, I’ve written a list of my favourite novels for the year. But this year, I haven’t read anywhere near the number of books I normally read…and I’ve reviewed even fewer. Complete disaster.

After spending an embarrassing few days wailing, I took to my keyboard and started frantically writing emails.

I emailed some of my favourite bloggers, I emailed people I admire; people I enjoy following on Twitter. I even found the temerity to email a few of my favourite Australian writers.

I asked them if they could take a moment to write a few words about their favourite two (or more!) books for the year. Not necessarily books that have been released this year, but books they’ve read this year and enjoyed.

In the days following my email frenzy, my inbox began to fill with their insightful, intelligent responses. Every email has made me smile.

Here, presented in no particular order, are my guests’ selections…

My first guest is Elizabeth Lhuede. 2012 has been a busy year for Elizabeth. Her brainchild, the Australian Women Writers Challenge, has been a roaring success. Just the other week, the challenge was named in a list by Daily Life as one of the twenty greatest moments for women this year. You can join me in signing up for the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge right here.

Hornung_DogBoyB-FINALI’m assuming someone else will choose Margo Lanagan’s Sea Hearts, a magical, provocative story that has had loads of attention. So I’ll go instead for Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy because it, like Sea Hearts, challenges what it means to be human. Despite winning the Fiction category of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in 2010, it wasn’t in stock at my local bookshop when I went hunting for it. It moved me both emotionally and intellectually more than any other book I’ve read this year. You can read my long, personal response to Dog Boy here.

The other book I’d mention, one I haven’t reviewed, is Western Australian poet Jacqueline Stewart’s One Bite of the Cherry. It’s a cheeky selection as Jacqui is known to me via an email group I belong to, and this is her self-published memoir. It’s about her life in Bangkok in the late 50s and early 60s as an army wife with a young family. Jacqui, now in her eighties, submitted the memoir to several publishers and had it rejected. The story is beautifully written, evoking the time, place and culture of a pre-tourist era in Thailand with a poet’s eye and ear. Apart from its literary merit and emotional range, the story provides a valuable piece of a much larger mosaic, a history from a domestic, woman’s point of view of Australia’s involvement in Asia in the mid-twentieth-century. It’s a tale that, without self-publishing, could have been lost forever, and deserves a wider audience.

Next, here’s Anna Maguire from Digireado. I might be a bit of a digital dunce, but Anna is the expert on all things digital. She blogs about digital publishing and her first book, Crowdfund It! has just been published – digitally, of course.

I made the decision this year to only read books by Australian women writers and it has been an absolute pleasure. I’ve also been reading by recommendation, which has taken me to writers and genres I may not have discovered on my own. I found that this fell by the wayside when I got busy near the launch of my own book, so I plan to continue my reading of Australian women writers into 2013.

whenwehavewingsMy absolute favourites? So hard to pick but I’m choosing these ones:

When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett because I saw her book not just read it and was totally immersed.

All That I Am by Anna Funder because I would read at night, turn out the light and hear the boots on the stairs and feel what the characters were living through.

The Mistake by Wendy James because I love her writing, her thought process in taking what seems a familiar story and turning it around and I will always read her books.

Am I Black Enough for You by Anita Heiss because I needed to understand more and I find it has opened my eyes in ways that were needed – and she’s a bit of a personal hero as well.

Angela Meyer is a literary superhero. She blogs at LiteraryMinded, she interviews authors for her own literary show, A Drink With…, she writes short stories and, most importantly, whenever she writes a positive review, I sit up and pay attention – and my To Be Read pile gains an extra storey…

richardmahonyThe two books that stand out for me in my 2012 reading are The Fortunes of Richard Mahony by Henry Handel Richardson, and The Forrests by Emily Perkins. Mahony is an absolutely massive book, so perhaps wouldn’t be many people’s first choice on the shelf. When I read it I decided to put other books aside (I normally have a few on the go). It was completely absorbing. I found myself thinking: this is what a novel is and can be. If you don’t mind, I’m going to quote my own blog post on the book:

Mahony is such a fulfilling read mainly due to the character of Richard Mahony and his self-induced tribulations, and the intimate details of his marriage to Polly (later known as Mary). But it is also due to the historical aspects: Mahony provides complete immersion in the experience of the past, through the eyes of just a few characters. It’s also an incredibly compassionate novel. I only read afterwards that the character of Mahony was partly inspired by Richardson’s father, and that just broke my heart all over again.

I reviewed The Forrests by Emily Perkins for Bookseller+Publisher early in 2012. I was theforrestsblown away by Perkins’ insightful prose and the way she created a whole, beautifully complex life, between the front and back cover. I was lucky enough to meet Perkins at two festivals this year, and I also read her wonderful Novel About My Wife, which, tonally, is very different to The Forrests. I think she must be one of the best writers working today. I’ll quote from my review:

The Forrests is partly about survival, not just how we survive the often difficult and tragic events in our lives, but how we survive each other: our parents, our lovers, our children. It’s also about how we survive ourselves; how we deal with remnants of the past that remain with us, and how we deal with new fears that crop up and change us.

Both of these books provided a rich and stimulating reading experience, which is so pleasurable to me and is really what I look for.

Louise Bassett is a philosopher, a writer – and a mum. Over at Stella Orbit’s Blog, she documents her unique perspective on parenthood, life, love and all the things in between.

In spite of what I thought about being time-poor, I did manage to read a fair number of books this year. Two bouts of sickness brought the unexpected bonus of uninterrupted reading time.

The standouts for me this year are Foal’s Bread, Gillian Mears, and Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner. They could not be set further apart but I love them equally ferociously.

Foal’s Bread is a tour de force for Mears. It is full of beautiful writing; a classically-told foalsbreadAustralian story. The imagery is vivid enough to make you believe you are sitting by the side of the show ring smelling the horses and sawdust and sweat. This book is a story of love and loss, but also of hope. Noah Childs is a stunning character rendered with a piercing clarity. From the moment at the river when fourteen-year-old Noah, without too much ceremony, farewells her premature infant until she realises her own child is better than her, she is striving to get out of herself. Noah throughout the book is tormented that she has an underlying tenderness that her toughness will not overwhelm, not matter how hard she tries. The impossible sadness takes a while to absorb, but you must if you are to witness the denouement. I have struggled for seven months with the review I want to write, and I still haven’t written it. Foal’s Bread is the book I have recommended this year, time and time again.

crossingtosafetyMy other favorite is Crossing to Safety. This book was featured on First Tuesday Book Club by guest Charlotte Wood. Her description clearly made an impression on a number of people, for a while it was sold out everywhere – not a copy was to be had in Australia for love nor money. It was worth waiting for a copy to arrive. This is a wonderful American novel, interestingly, to me at least,  set around the same time as Foal’s Bread. The story of two couples set during the Depression, Crossing to Safety spans decades of the lives of the four characters. Again, this is a book about love and loyalty, of jealousy and making do with what you have. This is the novel that convinced me to seriously fill the gaps in my reading of Twentieth Century American literature. The writing is as good as a writer at the end of his writing career and life should be.

I also want to give an honourable mention to John Foulcher and his new book of poems The Sunset Assumption. This is a wonderful book of poems published by a new poetry imprint, Pitt Street Poetry that launched in 2011. This is a special book for me, as the poet is a friend. Nevertheless it is brilliant. These poems were written during a sabbatical trip to Paris, and are full of the stuff of life, told by a poet who knows what really matters.

Alice Grundy is editor-in-chief of Seizure magazine, a bi-annual journal showcasing everything that’s new and brilliant in the world of Australian writing. Seizure’s latest Music edition is out now – if it’s not already sitting on your coffee table (or wrapped up under your Christmas tree, ready to give to someone with impeccable taste) go and take a look.

thisishowyouloseherNarrowing a year’s worth of reading to two titles means I’m going to have to cushion my picks in some context. My first choice is because it was one of the most pleasurable reads I had during the year. This Is How You Lose Her is Junot Diaz’s latest collection of short stories and his mastery of patois, of showing the difficulty in simply making it from one day to another as a conscious being and his impeccable portrayal of teenagers is on par with The Brief and Mysterious Life of Oscar Wao. If only Diaz could spend less time teaching and more time writing, we wouldn’t need to wait so long between books.

The Man Who Loved Children is my second pick, even though I haven’t yet finished it. I was encouraged to plug some gaps in my reading, in part by the campaigns run by the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge and the Stella Prize, and the handsome Miegunyah Press reissues of Christina Stead caught my eye – as did the strapline about an introduction from Jonathan Franzen. Funny without being glib themanwholovedchildrenand emotionally affecting without getting sappy, The Man Who Loved Children is proving an excellent rounding out to a year and Stead has certainly exceeded my expectations. Sam’s neologisms and his thoroughly complicated relationships with his wife and children along Louisa’s artfully rendered childhood and Henny’s end-of-tether mothering make this feel timeless, despite being first published in 1940.

And if you’ll permit me a small cheat, some of my other notables for this year include: Foal’s Bread, Gillian Mears; A History of Books, Gerald Murnane; The Art of Fielding, Chad Harbach and Open City, Teju Cole.

I was fortunate enough to hear the fascinating Walter Mason speak at the New South Wales Writers’ Centre Emerging Writers’ Festival Roadshow earlier this year. His first book, Destination Saigon, was named one of the best travel books of 2010 by the Sydney Morning Herald. Walter’s next book, Destination Cambodia will be published by Allen and Unwin some time in 2013. You can take a look at some of Walter’s other favourite books for the year here.

chelseachelseabangbangThere are two books that I loved in 2012 and it excites me to put them together because they couldn’t be more different. The first is Chelsea Handler’s trash-tastic Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang. Handler is very funny and very naughty, and her annual books, collections of Sedaris-esque amusing anecdotes from her past and present, have become so successful that her editors are obviously just letting her put whatever she wants into them. This produces a quite surreal collection of funny stories, psycho-sexual musings and plain meandering stream-of-consciousness stories about beach holidays. And they’re all wonderful!

The second book that took my breath away is a quiet and mystical collection of new poems by young Australian poet Lachlan Brown. Limited Cities is published by Giramondo, that hyper-literary house that probably wouldn’t even answer Chelsea Handler’s emails. Brown’s poems are exquisite in their meditative mood, and I was surprised and fascinated by some explicitly religious content, particularly in series written for Advent and for Lent. I think he is a poet to watch, as he manages to combine a great depth of feeling and content with a crisp ear for accessible language.

My final guest for today is Kylie Ladd. The author of After the Fall and Last Summer (Highly Commended in the prestigious Christina Stead Award for Fiction), Kylie’s third novel, Into My Arms, is set to hit the shelves mid 2013. I can’t wait – I’m planning on camping overnight outside the nearest bookshop in order to be one of the first to get my hands on a copy!

I was going to say Foal’s Bread – but when I checked my diary I actually read that in December 2010. Drats!

Bring Up The BodiesBringUpTheBodies – Mantel. A rare case of the sequel outdoing the original- and the original was good enough to win a Booker too. Amazing prose, iron control over her story, and gripping-my-seat tension, even though everyone knows how the Anne Boleyn story ended up. Honestly, just an incredible, beautiful, luminous book.  The last page alone is a master class in writing. The winner by miles.

Salvage the Bones – Ward. Earthy, raw, in-your-face story of Esch, a black teenager living in grinding poverty in Mississippi discovering she is pregnant as Hurricane Katrina appears on the radar. Again, the tension in this novel as the storm moves closer and Esch has to make some hard choices is outstanding. Not relaxing reading, but very rewarding.

Honourable mention to The Song Of Achilles – Miller. Fabulous re-telling of the story of Achilles, as told by his dear companion (and here lover) Patroclus. Lyrically and movingly told, and much more accessible than The Iliad. Particularly enjoyable if you picture Brad Pitt as Achilles (cf. the movie Troy) throughout.

Make sure you return tomorrow for the second and final part of the Books of 2012, with selections from many more special guests – as well as my picks for the year. See you then!