The Best Books of 2011 as Chosen by Australian Authors
For the past few weeks, Readings staff have been hard at work rounding up their best books of 2011. But for this post, we’ve decided to hand it over to some of our favourite Australian authors to tell us which fiction and non-fiction titles really made their year, from sci-fi to politics, translated literature, memoir and beyond.
This book is a mesmerising contemplation on New York, and on modern life. A young psychiatrist walks the streets of New York City to lose and to find himself, to escape and to see. Highly original and beautiful.
This is the kind of writing that is so brave it makes you flinch, so profound it makes you examine yourself, and so moving it makes you see life afresh. I was entranced as usual by Rai Gaita’s limpid style, and his signature combination of philosophical intellect and warm heart.
Anna Funder’s latest book is *All That I Am*.
Embassytown, the latest book from the absurdly prolific and imaginative China Miéville, is perhaps his most literary yet, and at times the most intimate and moving: a classic sci-fi genre novel that is also an obsessive meditation on language, trauma, metaphor and narrative.
I’m more and more in love with the spectacularly gorgeous, big new edition of Helen O’Neill’s Florence Broadhurst: Her Secret and Extraordinary Lives. It’s a fascinating biography of this brilliant, extroverted woman artist and is itself an object of extraordinary beauty, filled with reproductions of Broadhurst’s bold, visionary wallpaper designs.
Kirsten Tranter’s new novel, A Common Loss is out in January.
The Best American Non-Required Reading 2011
Dave Eggers (ed.)
This annual collection of fiction, non-fiction and amusing lists always spurs me forward (and isn’t completely America-centric). The anthology is edgy and heartfelt, with tendersmart stories from Neil Gaiman, Anthony Doerr and Henrietta Rose-Innes, and even sharper articles about a teenager’s detention in America, a compulsive’s art heist in Vienna, a people finder in Baja, a volunteer’s report of genocide in Burma, and a deported family’s look back at America as a still-shining dream.
Jenny Erpenbeck’s stellar novel Visitation is a ‘story of a house’ and its inhabitants over decades. In the small details, it evokes the history of Germany in the twentieth century and in the cumulative details, it offers a humbling meditation on impermanence. It also happens to be a real house that once belonged to her family.
Steven Amsterdam’s latest book is *What the Family Needed*.
Worse Things Happen At Sea
Sarah Watts & William McInnes
While reading this beautiful book, and pausing with the wonderful photographs of family and places visited, I felt I’d been generously transported to the backyard and kitchen table of Sarah, William and their children, Clem and Stella. It is a story of love, courage and a celebration of life.
Blue Monday introduces readers to psychotherapist Frieda Klein, who suspects that one of her own patients may be involved in the abduction of a five-year-old boy, and perhaps a hauntingly similar crime from London’s past. This is a terrific, riveting read. The shock twist in the tale was truly heart-thumping.
Tony Birch’s latest book is Blood.
You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead
Marieke Hardy’s debut book is as ripsnortingly funny as her columns, blog and TV shows. But in between all the killer jokes – and there are enough to permanently damage your spleen – the book is also a goddamned song to everyone Hardy has ever loved: friends, parents, lovers and, of course, Bob Ellis. Exceptional.
If you plan to read only one book in which a woman has sex with a dog, pony and octopus, make it *Triptych*. Kneen’s interconnected erotic stories happily transgress every sexual taboo, but *Triptych* doesn’t just intend to shock. It’s also unexpectedly tender, funny, disturbingly relatable and very, very readable.
Benjamin Law’s latest book is The Family Law.
Lord of Misrule
A tight-packed, muscular American story about people and racehorses on the bottom rung of the Baltimore racetrack scene in the early 1970s. Tough young Maggie Koederer and ancient horseman ‘Medicine Ed’ walk on a shifting ledge between hope and disaster, surrounded by malevolent and desperate forces. Soaked in Baltimore slang, it won the National Book Award above many bigger names.
Very different but of equal quality is Gillian Mears’s first novel in 16 years. Centred on the country show-jumping circuit of northern NSW in the mid-twentieth century, recreating the grain of that place and time, this novel tapped straight into my emotional well. You’d have to have a hard heart not to be moved by it. These are both novels of rare power and beauty.
Malcolm Knox’s latest book is The Life.
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating
Elizabeth Tova Bailey
After a devastating illness, Bailey finds out what life in the slow lane is really like. She discovers companionship in a snail that arrives with a bunch of violets. A fantastic investigation into both snails and the human condition.
The Corpse Walker
To Westerners, China is a mysterious place. The Corpse Walker brings to life so many bizarre professions and practices that it reads like fiction. It is the only book I’ve read in recent years that keeps me reading late into the night. I have given away more copies of this than there are courses at a yum cha restaurant.
Tim Flannery’s latest book is Among the Islands.
It feels odd to read a Peter Robinson book with no Alan Banks or Annie Cabot, but his most recent work, based in the familiar setting of the Yorkshire Dales, is just as good as his previous books. Chris Lowndes, a Yorkshire native who has spent a couple of decades writing music scores in Hollywood, moves into a remote, bleak mansion that has a history: the wife of the local doctor who lived there murdered him, and was hanged for the crime. Chris, fascinated, resolves to find out more.
The Origins of Political Order
I am a longstanding fan of Fukuyama, and this book is another outstanding example of why he should be considered the world’s leading public intellectual. He takes on an incredible task – explaining how modern political organisation evolved in human societies – and discharges it with his customary diligence and élan. If you want to understand the very deep forces that drive political behaviour, this book is essential.
Lindsay Tanner’s latest book is Sideshow.
You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead
Hardy covers football, Bob Ellis, letter-writing and life as a child actor in these collected writings. Unafraid to mine the more tawdry aspects of personal experience – encounters with prostitutes; a night at a swingers’ club – for humour, she is also fearless in her examination of the emotional side of things. Funny, honest, surprisingly moving.
Cargo follows three characters moving into adulthood in a small New South Wales coastal town during the 90s.. Au’s writing has a decisive beauty, and this book lives and breathes within the cradle of its harbour setting, where ever-present waves by turns comfort, smother and liberate.
Peggy Frew’s latest book is House of Sticks.
The Monsoon Bride
Michelle Aung Thin
A beautiful, dark and psychologically complex love story set in Burma where the characters unfold layer by layer as a result of not only their individual pasts but the past of a colonised country.
The Psychopath Test
I read it, as most people did, to affirm my deep-seated suspicions that some people I knew were psychopaths by checking them off against the Hare Psychopathy Checklist. Instead I discovered that the line between sanity and insanity is a very fine one, and Ronson treats his subjects with good-hearted curiosity and humour.
Alice Pung’s latest book is Her Father’s Daughter.
ONE best book? Are you kidding me? After spending months working through hundreds of short stories for Best Australian Stories 2011 and then getting to travel and meet so many writers with great new books, particularly in Canada, I have a seriously long Christmas want-list. While my non-fiction favourite for 2011 was actually published in 2010 - (The Hare with Amber Eyes, Edmund de Waal - as marvellous as everybody says) I can’t wait to get further into One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina, which I can already tell is going to effortlessly trump anything else I’ve read this year.
In fiction, I’m again late with my pick, February, by Lisa Moore, also published 2010 - a lyrical, aching novel of loss and consequences, but I’m already itching to begin Daniel Orozco’s short story collection Orientation, which I’m certain is going to be an absolute cracker. I’ll be reading this one over summer while everyone else is immersed in 1Q84, Before I Go To Sleep, and the Steve Jobs biography…
Cate Kennedy’s latest collection of poetry is The Taste Of River Water.
Other ‘best of 2011’ lists:
- the best fashion and craft of 2011
- the best albums of 2011
- the best food and cooking books of 2011
- the best kids' books of 2011
- the best young adult fiction of 2011
- the best crime fiction of 2011
- the best foreign/translated fiction of 2011
- the best classical music of 2011
- the best short story collections of 2011
- the best overlooked books of 2011
- the best titles of 2011
- the best covers of 2011
- the best DVDs of 2011