Top 5 Reads of 2016

It is the time of the year for a seemingly never-ending number of “best of” lists, and we are joining the party! These are mine (I only have three because I spent most of the year reading for my thesis) and I’ve asked some of my friends for their suggestions as well.

In no particular order:

  1. Portable Curiosities – Julie Koh
    If Haruki Murakami and Angela Carter had a literary child, this might just be it. Koh writes a brilliant collection of short stories gets right to the heart of the world we live in today, complete with characters and settings that are strange yet relatable.
  2. Ruins – Rajith Savanadasa
    With echoes of Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun, Ruins artfully examines what it means to be part of a family in a country  fractured by violence.
  3. The Hag-Seed – Margaret Atwood
    A fantastic retelling of Shakespeare’s The Tempest by one of the best writers around.

Wendy Chen | fiction, review, and opinion writer:

  1. Outrun the Moon – Stacey Lee
    “I fell in love with Mercy’s incredible narrative voice, the historical setting, and was touched by the thematic focus of the book: on friendship and overcoming differences in times of tragedy.”
  2. My Father’s Daughter – Alice Pung
    “A memoir told in third person from two perspectives, it explores the relationship between Pung and her father, who had survived genocide in Cambodia before he was resettled in Australia.”
  3. It’s Kind of a Funny Story – Ned Vizzini
    “…it’s a book that has helped and had an impact on many young people, me included. I only wish I could have read it when I was in high school.”
  4. Everything I Never Told You – Celeste Ng
    “[Ng explores] the delicate balances of this Chinese American family, their backstories, and the ways gaps and silences have built up in their relationships to prevent them from truly understanding one another.”
  5. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
    “Jane is the quiet girls’ hero indeed, and inspiring in the way she stuck to what she felt was right despite her relative lack of power in society.”

Read more of her thoughts on these books here!

Rajith Savanadasa | author of Ruins

  1. The Sellout – Paul Beatty
    I read a few paras at the bookstore and laughed all the way to the checkout line. Finishing it later I was not disappointed. Radical, scathing and politically incorrect in ways the anti-PC brigade could never match or fathom, yet always speaking truth to power, this has to be the funniest and saddest book about American race relations of the decade.
  2. Portable Curiosities – Julie Koh
    Strange, sharp, hilarious and sneakily political stories that somehow fits whole worlds into a few pages. Filled that George Saunders shaped hole in my life.
  3. Known and Strange Things – Teju Cole
    I read Teju Cole for the precise, elegant writing, his depth of understanding, the unusual paths taken to make complex vistas stunningly clear. I loved dipping in and out, taking time to mull over this wonderful collection of essays.
  4. Our Magic Hour – Jennifer Down
    Devastating emotions accumulate in a familiar Melbourne setting. Beautiful and sensitively written fiction by one of our best young writers.
  5. Lonely City – Olivia Laing
    A hybrid of memoir, biography and reporting this is a superb examination of a number of important New York artists whose work connected with the author’s sense of loneliness in that big city.

Shu-Ling Chua | writer, and 2016 Producer for Noted Festival:

Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung was the first book I identified with. A decade later, The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke took this a step further. It, and Foreign Soil (also by Clarke), taught me how race defines my life and importantly, others. I am learning how to articulate my ideas and that is ok.

My feminist awakening continued this year with Men Explain Things to Me by Rebecca Solnit, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti, Fight Like A Girl by Clementine Ford, and more. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir sits by my bed, biding its time. Ideas might be dangerous; a well-read woman, more so.

  1. Portable Curiosities – Julie Koh
    This short story collection redefined Asian-Australian writing for me. Hilariously dark, heart-breaking and ultra-contemporary, Koh’s short story collection refuses to be pigeon-holed. Stand-outs: ‘Cream Reaper’ (#nomnomnom) and ‘The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man’.
  2. The Near and The Far (ed. David Carlin and Francesca Rendle-Short)
    Featuring fiction, nonfiction and poetry from 21 award-winning writers in the Asia-Pacific region. Stand-outs: ‘Dreamers’ by Melissa Lucashenko, ‘My Two Mothers’ by Suchen Christine Lim and ‘The Illoi of Kantimeral’ by Alvin Pang. Bonus: gleaning extra insight from author notes after each piece.
  3. The Hate Race – Maxine Beneba Clarke
    A memoir tracing the cumulative effect of racism from childhood to adolescence. The cruelty of Clarke’s peers and ineffectual response of her teachers is a never-ending assault that eats away at the essence of her being, yet she endures.
  4. I’m Supposed to Protect You from All This – Nadja Spiegelman
    A memoir of mothers and daughters, traced through four generations. It is also a study of memory, its fallibility and the stories we tell to create (and preserve) our sense of self. Poignant, calculated and self-aware.
  5. My First Lesson (ed. Alice Pung)
    An anthology of stories written by high school students. Far from wide-eyed, the next generation of Australian writers is socially engaged and imaginative. The breadth of themes and voices within this slim volume is impressive; the future is bright.

What have been your top five of the year? Let us know – and let us know what else we should put on our “to read” list!

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