As the end of the year looms closer, I thought it would be good to catch up with Sue Terry of Whispering Gums to compare notes on our favourite reads of 2018. We have both read a selection of new and older books over the year, and we also chatted about the highlights of our summer reading lists. Sue has reviewed some of her books (and many more!) on her blog.
To cap it off we have also included some reflections on the ACT Writers Centre’s New Territory program.
Sue’s highlights are below. You can read mine on Sue’s blog.
Best Fiction of 2018:
I’ll be doing my top reads of 2018 in early January as I always do, and I’ll admit right up front that I find it very hard to choose Bests. Consequently, I’m going to choose three books representing different “categories” in my fiction reading for the year:
For translated fiction: Raphaël Jerusalmy’s Evacuation: I loved this for its imagination, its clever “road trip” form, its Tel Aviv setting, and its exploration of art, war, and personal choices.
For contemporary Australian: Sofie Laguna’s The choke: Very hard to choose because I’ve read a lot of great Australian fiction. The choke may not be perfect, requiring some suspension of disbelief in its denouement, but it moved me immensely. Not only are its characters, subject matter, and setting so beautifully evoked, but it avoids sentimentality and judgement. And, I loved Justine’s voice.
For my classic: EM Forster’s Howard’s End. I read a few good classics this year, but it was so good to read EM Forster again, and to see how relevant it still is, that I just had to choose this one.
Best Non-Fiction of 2018:
Again, I’m going to choose three (well, four, actually) books representing three different categories:
Biography: Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner, and Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A life lived at the edge of the world. I’ve chosen Krasnostein’s book for the warmth and generosity of its writer and subject, and for its clever structure; and Scott Tucker’s because, although it is a more traditional biography, it manages also to be an exciting, engrossing tale.
Memoir: Marie Munkara’s Of Ashes and rivers that run to the sea. It’s hard to make a serious story about dispossession and the Stolen Generations funny, but Munkara pulls it off – without undermining the seriousness of, and conflicting emotions within, her story.
Non-fiction: Rebecca Skloot’s The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks. This is a bit of a cheat I suppose because it is partly biography, but it is also a study of the history, science and ethics of cell culture, and it manages to do all of this with a great deal of aplomb.
What has New Territory meant for me?
This was my second year as the blogging mentor for the ACT Writers Centre’s litblogging program, and I have enjoyed it thoroughly again. The best part is meeting other bloggers, and Amy has been an absolute delight to work with over the last few months. I loved that she was open to exploring her blogging goals and keen to learn what she could, that she came with definite ideas about what she wanted to achieve, and that she took the initiative in organising a couple of meetings to which she then invited me. In addition, there’s the fact that the best mentor relationships involve learning on both sides. At least, I hope Amy feels she’s learnt some things! I certainly have, particularly in terms of Amy’s way of thinking about and interrogating the arts. I look toward to continuing to read her thoughts when our formal mentorship ends. I wish her well with her longer-term writing goals.
Besides this connection with the bloggers I mentor, the program has also provided me with an opportunity to get to know a little better some of Canberra’s cultural movers and shakers – at the Writers Centre and the National Library of Australia, in particular. It’s a two-edged sword, that, because I rather like lying low, but I also like to meet warm, interesting, enthusiastic people, and that’s what they are.
I’m not a big on making reading plans, partly because the majority of my reading tends to be driven by the review copies I’m sent, and my reading group schedule. But, in January, there is always just a little sense of having the time and freedom to break a bit loose, and so, if time permits, my priorities would be:
- Elizabeth Kleinhenz’s biography Germaine: the life of Germaine Greer, which I bought at the Conversation event I attended and am keen to read as Germaine is, well, Germaine.
- Fiona Wright’s book of essays The world was whole, a follow-up to her Stella Prize shortlisted first book of essays, Small acts of disappearance, which impressed me for its openness, thoughtfulness, and stylish writing.
- Gerald Murnane’s latest novel Border districts, which has just won the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction though, as Amy can attest, I already had it on my list. Just saying!
- my first reading group book for 2019, Trent Dalton’s debut novel Boy swallows universe, which was highly recommended by my brother and an ex-reading group member.
However, please don’t keep me to this. Who knows what January (not to mention Santa) will bring?