Top Reads 2016

And just like that, we’re back here discussing another year in books. It’s been a busy year (aren’t they all) but I’ve made plenty of time for reading.

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Wish I had shares in Booktopia

I love a biography so I was pleased to see a number of promising memoirs published late 2015, which set me up for a great summer holiday and early half of the year. Sadly, the shelves are light on good memoirs this summer, and I’m left with just one in my summer reading stack. Similarly, I started the year with some exciting non-fiction, but found fewer titles of interest in that category as the year went on.

The good news is that the non-fiction drought has left me with plenty of time for fiction, which I embraced much more enthusiastically this year than last.

There’ve been books I’ve literally hugged upon finishing, and others I’ve shelved mid-way for boredom. If you’re wondering what to read this summer, I’ve pulled together a list of my favourite reads of 2016 in the hope that they may give you some ideas.  Here we go…

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Top Memoir
Elon Musk
Ashlee Vance (2015)

If you’ve been in my physical or digital vicinity this year, you’ll know how I feel about this book. Evangelical comes to mind.

Elon Musk is the man behind Tesla, SpaceX and SolarCity. He gave these businesses the Silicon Valley treatment and in doing so he disrupted three of the most traditionalist industries in the world. Musk’s style is unusual, but one can’t help but see the benefits. Read all about it in my earlier post – Cars and Space.

If the Muskian world isn’t your thing, I can fondly recommend two alternative memoirs:
Reckoning, Magda Szubanksi (2015)
Plain Speaking Jane, Jane Caro (2015)

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Top Non-Fiction: Work
Leaders Eat Last
Simon Sinek (2014)

Until I read this book, I had no grasp on the network of neurochemicals that colour our every day. I’m not sure if this is common knowledge, and I was away that day, or if this is special information known only to psychiatrists and Simon Sinek. Either way, it should be common knowledge. We should all have an awareness of the ingredients that mix together to flavour our moods at different times. This book teaches us about “EDSO” – the bundle of feel-good neurochemicals that make us tick. Really, we’re all just neanderthals in suits, or so says Sinek.

Read the book or get the short version of “EDSO” in life and business in my first post of the year – Holidays and the Mystery of Happiness.

Top Non-Fiction: Self
Everywhere I Look
Helen Garner (2016)

You don’t read this book, you feel it.

Garner is known for her intimate accounts of true crime (The First Stone, Joe Cinque’s Consolation, This House of Grief). She writes the content of a journalist, in the style of a literarian. Unlike Garner’s true crime novels, this book is an intimate account of her own life. Musings about the mundane, written with extraordinary grace.

Garner dedicates one chapter (“My Dear Lift-Rat”) to an account of her long-distance friendship with writer Elizabeth Jolley. She recounts passages from Jolley’s novels and tells of how much they mean to her (“the spasms of mad laughter they provoke, the quiet tears of recognition and relief”). I feel a sense of irony, or poetry, in writing about Garner, writing about Jolley.  To add to the circuitry, Garner quotes a favourite Jolley line, “It is a privilege to prepare the place where someone else will sleep”, a line that also serves as the opening phrase to another Garner novel, “Spare Room”. Still here?

I just love the way Garner treats words like precious jewels. Each one carefully selected, and worn just so. She makes it seem effortless, but reveals it does not come without effort – “No one but another writer understands it – the heaving about of great boulders into a stable arrangement so that you can bound up them and plant your little flag at the top.” Yes.

This book gave me the word “intelligentsia” and the phrase “noxious exhalation of inauthenticity” and the most pointlessly beautiful description of ballet I have ever consumed. For all of that, I am grateful. Another reason I love this book is because just after I finished it, I learnt that both my grandparents had been reading it too. That I am now reading at their level is a joyful revelation to me.

If Garner is not your thing, I also adored:
The Course of Love, Alain de Botton (2016) which I wrote about in my post Love is a skill, not just an enthusiasm.

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Top Fiction
The One Who Got Away
Caroline Overington (2016)

You know when your book aligns perfectly with your circumstance? This happened to me. I had a rare week-day at home mid-year, and I had just started this book. It’s the perfect storm of voyeurism and total surprise, so you’ll have no choice but to read it right through. Clear a day, stay in bed and read it front to back. You won’t regret it.

Top Classic 
Burial Rites
Hannah Kent (2013)

Of course, not a classic by the usual definition, but something pre-dating the last couple of publication years. Burial Rites was a hit a few years ago. It passed by me at the time and sat, unread, on my “To Read” Wunderlist for years until I finally got to it on a lazy holiday this year. As my friend Lauren and I concluded the other day, this is a holiday read. Slow, detailed and other-worldly, it requires the head space and time that only a holiday can supply. In the right context it’s a beautiful read. Descriptive, with a compelling story that will leave you hoping and guessing until the end. I took Burial Rites off my Wunderlist and swiftly replaced it will Hannah Kent’s next one – “The Good People” which I will tackle this summer.

Bonus category: Not for the faint hearted…
The Natural Way of Things
Charlotte Wood

I’m not sure if I even liked this book. It was sort of like exercise. I don’t like exercise, but I like having exercised. I didn’t love reading this book, but I like having read it. It’s a novel-length metaphor for a feminine dystopia, portrayed as a hellish prison in the Australian bush. Weird, I know. This book challenged me, hence the dopamine-fuelled relief when it ended.

The Natural Way of Things is described as “a starkly imaginative exploration of contemporary mysogyny and corporate control”. Once I got past my disbelief (that can’t be real? that’s too weird? that would never happen?) and gave over to the metaphor, I started to understand the message. It’s confronting and weird, and not my usual thing, but I kept coming back for more. Which is why I say this is not for the faint hearted, but a good one if you are looking to challenge yourself and try something new.

And that concludes my top reads for this year. If you’re still wondering what to read this summer, perhaps you’ll find something in last year’s post – Top Reads 2015.

As for me, I have a Booktopia package on the way with a few final gems to complete my summer reading stack. You’ll find me horizontal somewhere, with one of these:

Alibaba – The House that Jack Ma Built, Duncan Clark (2016)
Leaving Time, Jodi Picuolt (2016)
Small Great Things, Jodi Picuolt (2016)
Purity, Jonathan Franzen (2015)
The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, Alain de Botton (2009)
Middlemarch, George Eliot (1863)

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Joy.

What will you be reading?

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