The Best Non-Fiction of 2012
This year we’ve seen a bumper crop of books, music and film and we’re pleased to present a series of our favourites, voted for and selected by Readings staff.
Here, we share our top ten picks for best non-fiction from the past year.
Empathetic, entertaining and, above all, genuine, Benjamin Law’s Gaysia investigates the lives, experiences and people of the social fringes and hidden undergrounds of Asia. Insightfully recounted while objectively presented, Law’s experiences and reflections make Gaysia essential reading for all people with an interest in social equality.
**Kara Nicholson recommends Quarter Essay 45: Us and Them: The Importance of Animals by Anna Krien**
Anna Krien writes about the relationship between animals and humans with intelligence and sensitivity. She provides original insight into the contradictory choices we make. If you don’t usually read non-fiction, make an exception for this concise Quarterly Essay – Krien’s prose is as eloquent as it is engaging.
James Wood is a true appreciator of the modern novel. He is both erudite and eloquent, effortlessly entwining his encyclopedic knowledge of the literary canon with passionate, in-depth analyses of the most important authors today. His latest collection of essays is indispensible reading for every zealous admirer of contemporary literature.
**Nicole also recommends Living, Thinking, Looking by Siri Hustvedt**
Full of Hustvedt’s customary intelligence and wit, this provocative collection of essays share her curiosity for a variety of complex ideas and emotions: everything from psychology and philosophy to art and literature. Thought-provoking and involving, Hustvedt’s book takes a refreshing look at the dialogues between both the humanities and sciences.
**Will Heyward recommends As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-1980 by Susan Sontag**
There’s a story by Jorge Luis Borges called ‘Shakespeare’s Memory’, in which a Shakespeare devotee gains access to the memory of the playwright himself. For the infatuated reader, what could be better? This is how I felt buying a copy of As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh, Susan Sontag’s diary from 1964 to 1980, during which she wrote some of her best work: Against Interpretation and Other Essays, Styles of Radical Will, On Photography and so on. The trace of a brilliant mind.
Journalist Katherine Boo spent three years living and working off and on in a Mumbai slum. There’s harshness and poverty there, but also the beauty of people trying to make their lives work. Winner of the 2012 National Book Award for non-fiction.
The porn and censorship debate in Australia (and everywhere else, for that matter) is too easily polarised into reductive positions. Jeff Sparrow unravels the complexities and contradictions of its moral, political and technological issues, and, with intelligence and wit, questions what is really at stake.
David Foster Wallace was a literary tornado, sucking everything in and spitting it out broken. Art pulls us apart so that we can discover fresh beauty and new meaning. D.T. Max is a perfect storm chaser: fleet-footed, clear-eyed and courageous. In the first DFW bio, he takes us into the eye of this furiously propulsive, self-imploding, glorious genius.
Neil Young: musician, activist, model train collector. His autobiography is rambling and cantankerous – similar to the meandering solos that flow unfettered in songs like ‘Cortez the Killer’. At the same time, it is a revealing look at an artist who has achieved astounding success while remaining fiercely defiant of the musical norm.
**Tom also recommends Speechless: A Year In My Father’s Business by James Button**
A moving tribute from a son to his father, told inside the framework of a year working as the speechwriter for Kevin Rudd. Unflinching in his criticisms of the current state of both the Labor Party and the Australian public service, Button mourns both the party’s loss of direction and his father’s passing. The book is not without hope, however, and is graceful and intelligent in its execution.
If you’re stuck for gift ideas this Christmas please come visit us in-store. We love recommending books!
Speechless: A Year in My Father’s Business
Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream
Money Shot: A Journey into Porn and Censorship
Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace
As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh: Diaries 1964-1980
Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East
Living, Thinking, Looking
Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity