Books of the Year

This year I have read too many American political quickies, and large numbers of somewhat more satisfying detective stories. Amid the revelations about Hillary Clinton’s childhood, and the equally fictitious accounts of intrigue in Istanbul and Venice, a couple of books stand out. Andrew Wilson’s The Lying Tongue (Text) and Stephen Eldred-Grigg’s Shanghai Boy (Vintage) are ‘gay books’ that speak to themes other than sexuality, and deserve to be better known. Although ultimately too improbable, Andrew McGahan’s Underground (Allen & Unwin) evokes rather well a left-wing dystopia, centred on a Howard-like government. As for nonfiction, Tony Judt’s Postwar: Europe since 1945 (Heinemann), while telling us more about Poland and less about Spain than we need know, is a fascinating reminder of the Cold War era, evoked for the other side of the Atlantic in Thomas Mallon’s novel Fellow Travellers (Pantheon).

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In today's episode, Peter Rose talks to writers Beejay Silcox and Billy Griffiths about what they’ve been reading during this tumultuous year. They also speculate about some highlights of 2021. For those looking for a more extensive listing of this year's finest works, our Books of the Year features more than 30 different ABR critics nominating their favourite releases.

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Books of the Year

by Sarah Holland-Batt et al.
December 2020, no. 427

After years of anticipation, I was thrilled to finally read Jaya Savige’s dazzling third volume, Change Machine (UQP, reviewed in ABR, October 2020): an intoxicatingly inventive and erudite collection rife with anagrams, puns, and mondegreens that ricochets from Westminster to Los Angeles to Marrakesh, remixing multicultural linguistic detritus into forms of the poet’s own invention. Yet for all the book’s global sweep, it’s the quiet poems about fatherhood that stay with me, especially Savige’s immensely moving elegy for a premature son, ‘Tristan’s Ascension’, with its devastating simplicity: ‘Oh, son. You stepped off one stop too soon. / Your mother has flown // all the way to Titan / to look for you.’ I also loved Prithvi Varatharajan’s Entries (Cordite), an introspective and deeply intelligent collection of mostly prose poems whose overriding note is one of ambivalence: a welcome antidote to the sea of certitude we seem to swim in these days.

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Read the books of the year as selected by ABR's leading writers and critics.

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To celebrate the best books of 2018, Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser

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To celebrate the best books of 2017 Australian Book Review invited nearly forty contributors to nominate their favourite titles. Contributors include Michelle de Kretser, Susan Wyndham, James Ley, Geordie Williamson, Jane Sullivan, Tom Griffiths, Mark Edele, and Brenda Niall.

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Originally published in German, Albrecht Dümling’s The Vanished Musicians: Jewish refugees in Australia (Peter Lang), a fascinating compendium of Jewish musicians who found refuge in Australia in the 1930s and 1940s, is now available in Australian Diana K. Weekes’s excellent translation ...

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Jennifer Maiden's The Fox Petition: New Poems (Giramondo) conjures foxes 'whose eyes were ghosts with pity' and foxes of language that transform the world's headlines

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Books of the Year is always one our most popular features. Find out what our 41 contributors liked most this year – and why.

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Books of the Year is always one our most popular features of the year. Find out what 30 senior contributors liked most this year – and why.

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