By Claire at Kew Library.
Did you, last year, like me, often look up from your reading to think: what a great book - and it's Australian? Like me did you cry at Rory's funeral in Kylie Ladd's Last Summer ? (This book has been likened to Christos Tsiolkas' The Slap - only with people you actually like) Who were you cheering for in Derek Hansen's a Man You can Bank On? Were you carried away by Caroline Overington's I came to say goodbye? Did you hope against hope that Harry in Favel Pavretti's Past the Shallows would survive his brutish father? From the hilarious Aunts up the Cross by Robyn Dalton to the stirring Worse things happen at sea: tales of life, love, family and the everyday beauty in between by William McInnes and Sarah Watts, published just before Watts' death from cancer, it has been a moving, touching, funny and adventurous year.
Or did you miss this bumper year in Australian books? Never mind, because the great thing about books is that they can still be borrowed this year. They live on the library shelves, calling out "borrow me! Read me!" So this Australia Day - well not on the actual day, as we will be closed for the celebration- get out of the heat and head into your local library branch to make the most of Australian writing .
I started the year with Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, Australia's answer to To kill a Mockingbird. It recalled small town adolescence, and I particularly loved the conversations between Charlie and Jeffrey. Having lived in a small country town myself I knew the joys and the prejudices that lurk in the shadows of people's good intentions. These things could have easily happened where I grew up; although I'm sure most locals would deny it. A bit more fanciful was Ed in Marcus Zusak's The messenger, the local ne'er-do-well righting the wrongs of his small town. As he slobbed around his share house with his equally unmotivated mates I was reminded of the young blokes I knew in my 20s. And the coming of age novel of Me and Mr Booker by Cory Taylor certainly didn't reflect my youth, but it reminded me of the teenage angst. The past really is another country.
And speaking of other countries, one of the great attributes of Australians is that they like to travel. I delighted in the adventures of Jane Paech and her family in A family in Paris: stories of food, life and adventure, more than I can every describe in words. If the story wasn't enough, the photos had me wanting to buy a ticket to Paris on the next plane (although I won't be enrolling my child in a French school anytime soon). Wanting to one day walking the pilgrimage Santiago de Compostela, I read both The year we seized the day: a true story of friendship, fury and sore feet (Elizabeth Best and Colin Bowles) although I confess Elizabeth annoyed me with her cavalier attitude toward her stress fractures and her on-going inner turmoils (relax woman, it's not all about you) - perhaps I am getting a bit old? Much more soothing was A food lover's pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela by Dee Nolan. The photos were as sumptuous as the food. When on a driving holiday to NSW we popped the audio book From Here to There written and read by Jack and John Faine into the CD player. Whilst we weren't driving as far as them it was perfect company on our not quite so long drive, and was also suitable listening for our six year old. And finally for the most eccentric mode of travel, Going postal: the ups and downs of travelling the world on a postie bike by Nathan Millward was a delightful read. Sometimes you can't worry about whether you have all the right equipment and if the time is right. Sometimes you just have to have faith and just go.
But not all the travel was one way - The happiest refugee by Anh Do recounted the journey coming the other way. Other personal stories included Cooking with Baz : how I got to know my father by the birdman himself, Sean Dooley, where he describes looking after his father as he is dying of cancer; Lessons in letting go : confessions of a hoarder by Corinne Grant, and Unbearable lightness : a story of loss and gain by Portia De Rossi. I laughed at The 700 habits of highly ineffective parents by Jonathan Biggins, commiserated with Fifteen percent pregnant : a man, a woman and IVF by Tony Hardy, was inspired to get out and dig with the Kitchen gardens of Australia : eighteen productive gardens for inspiration and practical advice by Kate Herd. Susanna de Vries excelled again with The complete book of heroic Australian women: twenty-one extraordinary women whose stories changed history; she really is the grand dame of Australian women's history.
Australian writing at the moment is as varied, complex, multifaceted as those who make up the population in our wide brown land. There is much joy in the lack of stereotypical-ness, much delight in its originality. From the bush in Our houseless home : a colourful bush childhood during the great depression by Lyle Courtney to the small holding in Tasmania in Four seasons with a grumpy goat by Carol Altmann, to the suburbs in the The Bogan Delusion by David Nichols, every corner of our nation is covered.
Finally, honourable mentions for great fiction reads are: Bereft by Chris Wormsley; Book of lost threads by Tess Evans; Ghost Child by Caroline Overington; At home with the Templetons by Monica Mcinerney (why did I ever think she was Irish?); Six impossible things by Fiona Wood and Fall girl byToni Jordan (although I liked Addition better - really loved it actually - this was still a good read). There should be more dancing by Rosalie Ham was a humorous look at old age, but Last Chance Cafe by Liz Byrski was a celebration of it.
Phew I'm exhausted! What a huge collection of books - and I didn't include all the cookbooks. I think I'd better have a good lie down and a bit of a read but I can't choose between Jane Caro's Just a girl. Or Housewife superstar: the very best of Marjorie Bligh. Decisions, decisions, decisions.
Happy Australia Day!