2017 has been a lot of things. On a global and personal scale: overwhelming, challenging, harrowing. There have also been truly good things. We measure out one year on the calendar and give meaning to the passage of time. It’s always swings and roundabouts. I’d like to talk about one of the things I enjoyed about 2017, which is the reading I did. You can find my reading list here, unfortunately it doesn’t include any essays, which is an oversight. Next year I’ll be keeping track of those as well. One of the most satisfying things that can happen as a reader is when you find an author that is new to you, someone whose writing resonates, moves you. It’s happened a few times for me this year, which means my book wish list is rapidly growing as I add all their novels. It’s also inspiring to me as a writer; it’s true that to write you have to read widely.
I’ve been strict with narrowing down the novelists I want to talk about here, since I want to finish this post before the new year. Michelle de Kretser and Charlotte Wood are two authors who I read for the first time this year. I had the pleasure of seeing Michelle de Kretser in conversation for the release of her most recent novel ‘The Life to Come’, which I now have a signed copy of. Her writing is beautiful, without fail. It’s also crisp and clean, the story laid before you without fuss. Frequently I would pause to let a sentence settle, just appreciating the yumminess of the language used. Her characters feel effortless and true.
Charlotte Wood doesn’t pull any punches, a trait I love. Her novel ‘The Natural Way of Things’ won the 2016 Stella Prize, which is how I heard about it. I glanced through a couple of reviews and was immediately sure that it was a book I desperately wanted to read. I expected it to be a visceral experience, and it was. Deeply evocative, masterfully written, and personally painful. I can’t recommend it enough, as it stayed with me long after reading. I suspect it always will.
I won’t go into a synopsis of these books, those can be found easily. I do want to reflect on the kinds of books I gravitated towards this year. Character driven over plot driven stories, women authors, Australian writers. More non-fiction and essays than I’d read in a long time. Some old favourites revisited as well. I picked up what I wanted when I wanted, with no sense of obligation. Early in the year I re-read some Roald Dahl, responding to an urge to retreat into worlds I enjoyed as a child. ‘The Witches’ is still chilling and wickedly funny. I read Italian chemist and author Primo Levi’s books ‘If This is a Man’ and ‘The Truce’ one after the other, and grew deeply attached. A Jewish Italian, Levi spent eleven months in a camp at Auschwitz where he survived the most unimaginable suffering. He wrote about this time in simple, honest prose. His voice is tender, the man himself intensely endearing. A collection of his complete translated works is at the head of my wish list. I read and enjoyed two début novels, Gail Honeyman’s ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine’ and Shaun Prescott’s ‘The Town’. I compulsively devoured poetry, and still can’t wait for more. Books and I got along well this year, and for that I am so very grateful.