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My reading list highlights for 2017

Last year was a bumper year of reading for me, and just look at how many Australian books are in my highlights list (nine out of 14, including four debuts). The short grabs in this post should tempt you to investigate the books further. Many of the grabs are also linked to longer A Bigger Brighter World reviews if you’re keen to know more about what I think.

Museum of Words by Georgia Blain – Blain had not long finished her novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, about a woman who has a brain tumour, when she was diagnosed with a tumour herself. Her (last) moving memoir explores language and loss.

The Vegetarian by Han Kang – Haunting writing from a South Korean novelist exploring shame, desire and how bodies can imprison. Trees are ‘the flanks of a massive animal, wild and savage’. (Man Booker International Prize winner 2016.)

If This Is a Woman: Inside Ravensbruck, Hitler’s Concentration Camp for Women by Sarah Helm – I agree with Maria Tumarkin who says this history of Ravensbrück is a masterpiece. Helm spoke to survivors and their pain comes through starkly.

Wood Green by Sean Rabin – Rabin’s debut novel is a shimmering work, with expansive ideas about literature and living. Rather than collecting his memories in photo albums, Lucian (a protagonist) has been marking out his life in books. Yes!

A New England Affair by Steven Carroll – Carroll is a wonderful writer and keen observer of human nature. I recommend you read this and the other two novels in his Eliot (as in T. S. Eliot the poet) Quartet series. Go to the bookshop now.

The High Places by Fiona McFarlane – McFarlane’s is only the third short story collection to win the International Dylan Thomas Prize, worth $52,000. The title story about a drought-wracked sheep farmer and his strange son is amazing. Others too.

A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter – Turns out I can read James Salter’s perfectly formed sentences no matter his subject. This one’s about a love affair (and a voyeur) set in France—so it’s steamy, disturbing, and fraught.

My Life & Other Fictions by Michael Giacometti – Giacometti’s debut short story collection broaches entrapment, suffering and desire with insight. One to mull …

Fragments by Antigone Kefala – Kefala’s first collection in 20 years contains alabaster-smooth poetry—sparsely beautiful. Fragments won the 2017 Queensland Literary Award for Poetry and was shortlisted in the 2017 NSW Premier’s Awards.

Between Them by Richard Ford – this touching portrait of Ford’s parents, sings with love, and reveals the graciousness of one of the world’s greatest writers.

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan – Brennan’s comprehensive overview of Garner’s life and work pays great respect to a writer who has given a significant gift to Australian life and literature over the last four decades.

Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahill – Cahill’s complex short story collection shines a light on the comforts and limitations of language and the effect of trauma, transitions, and discontinuities. It won a 2017 NSW Premier’s Award for new writing.

The Dry by Jane Harper –‘Did Luke give you that alibi to protect you, Aaron? Or was he lying to protect himself?’ Aaron Falk is a smart Aussie cop under pressure, and Harper’s book has taken the world by storm. Top rate crime fiction!

Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann – This concise, candid and beautifully made hardback shares wisdom from the marvellous Colum McCann about ‘How to write’. It’s so encouraging. The chapter heading, ‘Don’t be a dick’ is the best.

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