The books by women we read in 2014: Part II

We recently published a blog post about the books by women we’d read in 2014 (as a celebration of the #readwomen2014 campaign). You can find it here.

In response to our post, a customer tweeted back saying it would be nice to hear a male perspective on reading women too… So, here are some of the books by women that our male staff loved in 2014.


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Martin Shaw, Books Division Manager:

I must admit that this year there were times when I thought: ‘Australian women’s writing is just rocking the joint at the moment, we practically need to send out a search party to find some blokes!’. But although I did find some of the latter as the year progressed, I’d still have to say that I now have come to expect the majority of the most brilliant writing that comes my way to be by women.

2014 brought us simply incandescent writing from the likes of Maxine Beneba Clarke and Ceridwen Dovey for instance, whilst Fiona McFarlane, on debut, offered up a prose style that many much more seasoned practitioners would swoon for. And what a thrill it was too to read some outstanding indigenous writing this year from Ellen van Neerven – if only we lived in a country that produced more of it (male or female)! I could go on…

So already I have a 2015 book in my hands that looks like yet another outstanding debut from the Penguin stable – a story collection from Abigail Ulman – so, my advice would be: if you’re not reading Australian women’s writing, you’re missing out so badly.


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Mark Rubbo, Managing Director:

There were some terrific books written by female politicians this year including Elizabeth Warren’s A Fighting Chance, Hillary Clinton’s Hard Choices and our own Julia Gillard’s My Story. One of my favourite reads for the year was Mary Delahunty’s insider account of Gillard’s days in office, Gravity.

I was also gripped by Helen Garner’s latest work of non-fiction, This House of Grief – possibly her best yet. And in fiction, I particularly enjoyed Christine Piper’s After Darkness along with another debut, The Strays by Emily Bitto.


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Gerard Elson, Bookseller:

After sixty years, dozens of books and sumless humane yet scathing words, Margaret Atwood remains a vital vivisector of Western lives and times. Stone Mattress, her newly published short story collection, proves that the ‘quiet Mati-Hari’ of Canadian letters has still got it, and then some: at turns trenchant and touching and dripping with caustic wit, it’s the most entertaining book I’ve read this year.

Presented as a sort of feminist riposte to George Orwell’s classic essay ‘Why I Write’, Deborah Levy’s Things I Don’t Want to Know finds the writer considering the crushing aggregate of often subtle, socially entrenched opposition that women need to overcome in order to feel validated to write. Most of this slim but powerful volume centres on Levy’s childhood in apartheid South Africa. No mere tract, in her unflappable prose Levy uses memoir to beautifully underscore and elevate her case. Read it in conjunction with Tara Moss’ The Fictional Woman, another noteworthy book of 2014.

Like everyone else with eyes in their skull and a mind to interpret the words they take in, I became enamoured of Elena Ferrante’s astonishing Neapolitan novels. It’s no hyperbole to say that My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name and Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay are collectively one of the greatest literary undertakings I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. I revere them.

Finally, presented in no particular order, here are a few of the other books by women, both new and old, that captured my mind and imagination this year: The Empathy Exams by Leslie Jamison, The Flamethrowers by Rachel Kushner, Foreign Soil by Maxine Beneba Clarke, Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey, The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, Valerie Solanas’ SCUM Manifesto, the works of Can Xue, Mystery and Manners by Flannery O’Connor, Drunk Mum by Jowita Bydlowska and The Dangerous Bride by Lee Kofman.


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Jason Austin, Buyer:

I recently wrote about five books that made an impression on me this year – two of which came from female authors. Both are debuts and both are brilliant. From American author Laura McBride, We are Called to Rise is told through four disparate narratives which intersect with devastating force. And from Australian Anna George, the literary thriller What Came Before which is a powerful and unsettling novel based in Melbourne’s inner western suburbs.

Ed note: You can read Jason’s full write-up on both these books (and three more!) here.


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Chris Somerville, Bookseller:

My favourite book of the past year was The Last Days of California by Mary Miller, which is funny and weird and sad. I’d picked up this book as had previously read and enjoyed Miller’s short-story collection Big World. In The Last Days of California Jess, the fifteen-year-old narrator, drives across America with her family because her evangelical father is convinced the rapture is coming.

Ceridwen Dovey’s Only The Animals was another great read. Dovey skilfully brings energy and pathos to a risky concept. I also liked Bobcat and other stores by Rebecca Lee, which stayed with me for far longer than I expected it to.


You can also find 50 great reads by Australian women in 2014 here!

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Foreign Soil

Foreign Soil

Maxine Beneba Clarke

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