It’s been one of those years of reading where many books have flown by without me taking a moment to properly register how much of an impact they had on me, or even just how enjoyable they were.
I turned to reading this year as stress relief more than pleasure, while I went through the very exciting but overwhelming experience of my debut book being published (more on No Country Woman here).
Here are five of the books that offered me some excellent escapism from my day-to-day (and all but one from Australian authors!).
Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett
I knew Laura Elizabeth Woollett was an exceptionally talented writer when I read her collection of short stories The Love of a Bad Man. She has the skill of turning her attention to unrelatable topics and drawing the reader into the inner lives of her characters.
Beautiful Revolutionary explores The People’s Temple, the infamous cult behind the eventual Jonestown Massacre. I am quite obsessed with cults (not in a weird way…), but what was really engaging about this book was Woollett’s ability to switch between very diverse perspectives and offer insights into not just the extremes but also the mundane and minutiae of the moment in time she examines.
Close to Home by Alice Pung
Look, it’s no secret that I’m a fan of a good essay collection, but this one is exceptional. Pung is such an incredible writer, able to gently weave her essays from personal insight all the way through to connecting to a bigger social or cultural conundrum in a way that very much takes the reader on a journey.
Her essays about delivering talks about writing in high schools were both funny and poignant, and the book also includes one of my favourite pieces of her writing, on her experience of pregnancy and birth in relation to the tradition in some Asian cultures of confinement.
Educated by Tara Westover
This book has been at the top of the bestsellers lists for a while now, and it’s well-deserved. A memoir, Educated charts Westover’s experiences of growing up in a highly secluded, fundamental survivalist home, without access to a formal education, and her eventual path to educating herself.
It’s also about much more than that – it’s about family, and how fragmented our relationships can become as a result of change; it’s about fundamental beliefs and how they’re entrenched through fear; and it’s about overcoming the odds and being compassionate through that journey.
The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht
I had the utter joy of spending a week with Eleanor at Varuna this year, and I may have fangirled all over her to the point of awkwardness after I read this book, because it is excellent. The Passengers is about so many things, but the best way to summarize it would be that it bridges two generations, as a granddaughter travels to Australia with her grandmother who is returning to her home after she left as a war wife in her 20’s for America.
It’s a beautifully woven story about family, coming of age, and most importantly love. The attention to detail and historical accuracy are incredible. I think we need a movie of this one ASAP.
Prize Fighter by Future D. Fidel
Future is another amazing writer I had the pleasure of meeting earlier this year. He is a very talented playwright, and Prize Fighter is actually based on his award-winning play of the same name. It tells the story of Isa, a young boy who is stolen from his home in the Democratic Republic of Congo and forced to become a child soldier. Years later, as a refugee in Australia, Isa battles the demons from his past in the ring as a boxer.
This book is haunting, and Future’s ability to write both from the perspective of a child and a grown man so seamlessly is one if it’s biggest accomplishments.