The best books


I had a really good reading year, according to my reading spreadsheet. The vast majority of books I read fell into the ‘really liked it’ category. This list of the ‘best’ ones could have easily been four times as long. But ten is a standard number, so ten it is. As always, and where possible, links are to libraries where you can borrow the book

  • attrib. by Eley Williams (2017 – British) – eclectic, astonishing, heart-breaking and delighting short stories that are in love with words.
  • A tale for the time being by Ruth Ozeki (2013 – Japanese/Canadian) – this book has a lot to say about how you might get through life.
  • The man with the compound eyes by Wu Ming-Yi (2013 – Taiwanese) – super-confusing and weird and great with a magnificent pay off.
  • Flames by Robbie Arnott (2018 – Australian) – a story about Tasmania told by some fire and a water rat who is a god and a woman who might be reincarnated into nature when she dies and a man who writes angry letters and also by almost anyone/thing you can think of who might tell a story about Tasmania.
  • Warlight by Michael Ondaatje (2018 – Sri Lankan/Canadian) – if you don’t already love MO this isn’t going to change your mind. I already love MO.
  • Trieste by Dasa Drndic (2012, Croatian) – thank you to Bram Presser for recommending this incredible book, which is a virulent condemnation of everyone who stands by and lets evil happen.
  • Less by Andrew Sean Greer (2017, American) – the funniest sad book I’ve read maybe ever. An utter gem.
  • Animalia, an edition of Granta (2017, maybe? British) – a collection of stories, essays, poems and pictures about animals, including Nell Zink’s hilarious ‘The Kabul markhor’, Rebecca Giggs’ beautiful essay ‘Loggerheads’, a ferocious look inside slaughterhouses and Elliot Ross’ remarkable photographs.
  • Animals strike curious poses by Elena Passarello (2017, American) – strange insights into animals. Essays, I suppose, but perhaps they’re really non-fiction poems.
  • Songwoman by Ilka Tampke  (2018, Australian)- what is home? Who gets to be home? Whose version of home is the right one? Also, adventure and romance. Songwoman has all the good stuff.

And this year, new to ‘best books’, my most anticipated books of the new year. Or, at least, books I read in manuscript form that are either being published next year or SHOULD be published next year if publishers have any sense at all. Keep your eyes peeled for:

  • Crossings by Alex Landragin, published by Picador Australia late next year.
  • Fled by Meg Keneally, out in April next year.
  • Bushwalking in Tasmania by Ben Walter, which fans of Flames would totally love and which someone should publish.
  • Try a little tenderness by Patrick Allington, the blurb for which – when it is inevitably published – will say something like ‘a stunning work of imagination’, ‘you never knew fiction could do this’ and ‘I wish I wrote it’.

11 thoughts on “The best books

  1. Fascinating list Jane, none of which I’ve read, though I have heard of some, or if not of them of their authors. I’m intrigued about Less. Have heard a little about it and it sounds intriguing. Love your comment on MO. I already like him too – but I haven’t read Warlight yet. I shave yet to read Ozeki, but one day I will.

    BTW Most of the books I’ve read I “really like” too. Otherwise, I tell people who wonder why most of my reviews are positive, why am I reading it? If I were a professional reviewer having to read what’s given to me the balance might be different but I’m not – I can read what I want to, and I only want to read books I like!

    1. I think/hope that I’m getting better at guessing which books might be the kind of books I’d get something out of, though I am still super-prone to hype (but then I ignore something like Less because it sounds over-hyped and it turns out it’s actually just wonderful. So who knows!).

      1. I think I’m pretty good at guessing what I’ll like – but then again, I’m pretty tolerant. The only big sins for me in books is prosaic or cliched writing, and/or stereotypical characters, and/or completely predictable plots with no nuance. If people give things a go, I’m going to find something to enjoy even if there are moments that fall a bit flat. I don’t care if I don’t like the characters or even if I don’t agree with the ideas. I just don’t want to be bored. That’s it really – don’t bore me! Upset me, shock me, distress me, mystify me, make me laugh, make me cry, make me angry – I don’t care – but DON’T bore me. (YOU don’t bore me – but I still have to find time to read After the wreck.)

  2. I enjoyed Less as well but was surprised that it hasn’t really featured on any of the critics top picks for 2018 – wonder why it hasn’t had broader appeal?

      1. Yes, of course, but looking back on last year’s ‘best’ it didn’t rate either. Anyway, I’ve recommended it to quite a few people, if only for the fabulous ‘bad German in Berlin’ scenes – hilarious!

  3. Always interesting to read your annual report Jane. I wouldn’t say I love Michael Ondaatje but I really enjoyed Warlight. The other nine are now on my watching list.

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