the best books of 2015 (according to Lip)
Putting together a Best Of list isn’t easy, which is especially true when it comes to books. The Lip Crew is a literary bunch, so we’ve put together a list of our best reads of 2015. Did any of your favourites make the cut?
“My attitude toward children is more of an appreciation than a love or deep interest in them. I’m ambivalent about being a mother, but there are few people in my life who share that feeling and so Shallow, Selfish and Self-Absorbed: Sixteen writers on the decision not to have children* was one of my favourite reads this year.
Edited by Meghan Dunn, it includes writing by Lionel Shriver, Anna Holmes, Danielle Henderson, Geoff Dyer and Elliott Holt. This collections of essays – some humorous, others more sobering – affirmed many of my own anxieties about parenting and put into words those feelings I hadn’t yet unpacked. More importantly, it broadens the discussion around childrearing and parenthood in a way that is still needed. Too often the conversation comes down to money, whether one likes kids, (lack of) ambition and maturity (hence the book’s title) and very little acknowledgement that raising kids is just not for everyone and their reasons, while personal, are valid. No one should have to justify the choice to have or not have children – and certainly shouldn’t feel compelled to explain – but the perspectives these writers share is welcome. (*To be clear, these writers are talking about a choice.)” – Shannon Clarke, Writer
“This year I made a conscious effort to focus my reading on books by female authors and my favourite reads were those that depicted femininity as visceral, animal and powerful.
I’m a long-time fan of Miranda July’s short stories and films and I was jumping-up-and-down excited to read her first novel, The First Bad Man. Her narrator’s transformation from passive-aggressive recluse to confident woman is more touching, strange and darkly funny than any of July’s work to date.
I was also excited to read Scarlett Thomas’ latest novel, The Seed Collectors, a story of botany, desire and forbidden fruit. It’s a smart, witty and mind-altering read.
Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things, in which ten “fallen” women are imprisoned on a remote sheep station, is deeply harrowing and utterly compelling. I read it in two sittings.
In YA, I loved Trinity Doyle’s Pieces of Sky, a moving debut about grief, loss and moving on, and also Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff’s genre-defying page-turner, Illuminae.
But my favourite read of the year was Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies. Groff plays out the intimacies of a marriage on an epic scale and her prose is diamonds.” – Margot McGovern, Writer
“A few weeks ago I read about Jamaican author, Marlon James’ frustration with the expectation of writers of colour to pander to white readers. Publishers and media outlets were disappointed he had been raised in comfortable middle-class Jamaica rather than violence-ridden poverty. ‘[It was] reasonably stable, but not much opportunities; lots and lots of boredom…You want stuff about the Jamaican ghetto or crime, you can find stuff. You never hear about the middle class.’
Reading this, I was reminded of Americanah and its depiction of Nigeria, not as African countries are so frequently shown – poor, violent, and underdeveloped – but as a nuanced and complex community, with its own hierarchies and conventions. The story offers a fascinating, critical insight on what the West looks like from the outside. It carefully picks apart and skewers the reception and treatment of non-Westerners in Western countries, including the double-standards and pretenses of the ostensibly progressive liberal elite.
This book introduced me to the idea that not all oppression is equal. That the oppression each individual experiences is a product of their unique intersecting traits. I think this book is so important because it offers a dissection of feminism, gender politics and race relations from a non-Western woman of colour – a perspective so rarely given a platform.” – Arabella Close, Writer
“I read more than my fair share of excellent books this year (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd, The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, The Eye of the Sheep by Sofie Laguna, The Opposite of Loneliness by Marina Keegan – I couldn’t possibly list them all) but the one that resonated with me most is Asking For It by Louise O’Neill. Even though it is a work of fiction, the story’s overarching themes of rape culture and victim blaming in the age of the internet and social media reflects a reality of which many of us are all too aware: the protagonist, Emma, could be any one of the 1 in 6 Australian women who have been a victim of sexual assault; the book’s setting, the fictional town of Ballinatoom, Ireland, whose inhabitants turn on Emma after her assault, could very well be Steubenville, Ohio, or Torrington, Connecticut, or Louisville, Kentucky, or any suburb or town in Melbourne or Sydney or Brisbane where toxic attitudes about rape and victimhood prevail. As readers, we often want works of fiction to end on a positive note; we want situations resolved and tied up in a neat little bow because it makes us feel better, and we want to feel hopeful that somewhere out there, the good guys win and the bad guys get punished. Asking For It doesn’t do that. Its ending is genuine and gritty and real, and while that doesn’t make the story any less heartbreaking, it does make it much more honest. If you haven’t already done so, read this book. You won’t regret it.” – Jo Mandarano, Editor-in-chief
“It was a bumper year for Australian memoir – Magda Szubanski’s Reckoning, Kate Grenville’s One Life: My Mother’s Story, Amanda Keller’s Natural Born Keller, to name a few – and Ramona Koval’s Bloodhound is no exception. Bloodhound details Koval’s strained relationship with the man who raised her, a curmudgeonly Polish Holocaust survivor, and a person for whom she never felt any love. The memoir details the decade-long pursuit of the true identity of her biological father. Those familiar with Koval’s career as a bibliophile broadcaster should know what to expect: I found her writing as sharp, cerebral, and insightful as her interviews, and the same curiosity that underpins her success as a journalist is a large driving force behind the digging into family history. The book is littered with literary references, from Ogden Nash to Austen; broad in historical and geographical scope, from Ötzi the Iceman (Italy circa 3300 BCE) to a present-day Queensland horse whisperer; and both funny and profound. Koval recounts with aplomb the horrors of history, strained family dynamics, and a search for both answers and her own identity. Do some digging of your own, and look for Bloodhound in your local bookshop, stat.” – Donna Lu, Books Editor
“For someone who is as enthusiastic about buying books as they are about reading them, there is nothing more satisfying than when a cover buy – a book you pick up just because it looks pretty – comes through. Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies was my cover buy of the year: its electric pink and purple tartan background with lightning bolt motif was bold and alluring, qualities shared by Groff’s idiosyncratic prose – her sentences are poetic and hard to pin down, much like its narrators. Fates and Furies is a portrait of a marriage, divided into two sections: the first is told from the perspective of Lotto, an actor-turned-playwright with a penchant for bedding young women that is tamed by his young marriage; the second is narrated by Mathilde, Lotto’s wife. The format plays with the concept of unreliable narration to great effect, and the switch halfway through prompts the reader to examine their unconscious biases. An explicitly feminist text, Fates and Furies is a must-read for Lipsters.” – Lauren Strickland, Film Editor
“It’s been a very quick year for me. I think everyone has felt this as well. With the ever-increasing need for instant gratification and accessible technology, each passing year is getting blurrier and blurrier. I had to do a lot of slowing down this year, and reading books was one huge way that I accomplished this. With adult colouring in books becoming all the rage, I was meditating and relaxing the old-fashioned way – by cuddling up with my cats, a cup of tea, and a pile of new reads. So just what was I reading and enjoy the most during 2015? Well, I’m glad you asked, because I’ve made a short list of the best, the brightest, and the most influential books I’ve read this year (in no particular order).
1. Worthless by Robyn Hennessy
This book is definitely worth your time. Worthless follows the true story of the author’s harrowing and heart-wrenching childhood. Hennessy pens the difficult tale of her life in an honest and raw style. Her story is one of courage and tenacity in the face of sexual abuse, rape, drug and alcohol addiction, eating disorders, and, ultimately, mental illness. I couldn’t turn away from Worthless, as difficult as Robyn’s story was, because I wanted to follow her path of healing and forgiveness. Robyn has made it through to the light at the end of a long and difficult tunnel, and is an inspiration to all.
2. Running Like China by Sophie Hardcastle
Following in a similar vein to Worthless, Aussie author Sophie Hardcastle took the emerging writer world by storm with the release of Running Like China. Hardcastle is a stunningly talented and intelligent writer. Couple this with her ability to put the almost indescribable experience of having an undiagnosed and misunderstood mental illness to paper and you’ve got a soaring novel that lifts your spirits. Hardcastle smashes the stigma of mental illness by tackling every issue associated with mental illness head-on; such as attending hospital, attempting suicide, getting professional support, dealing with friends and family, and rebuilding your life whilst retraining your brain. This young writer is one to watch!
3. A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones
Jones is an accomplished Australian author who has an elegant and poetic style. Her latest novel, A Guide to Berlin, showcases her talents with an easy and professional flair. We are taken on an emotionally haunting journey as we follow the lives of six foreigners who meet in Berlin, Germany. We feel at one with the characters, although they are all unique and different in their own way, and so, through the tumultuous events that unfold we feel as if we are along for the ride ourselves. The result is a spellbinding novel that is at times more poetry than prose, more dreamlike than reality, more subconscious thought than logical thinking.
4. Not Just Black and White: Conversations between a mother and a daughter by Lesley and Tammy Williams
Not Just Black and White is an important read for any Australian: black, white, and everything in between. The novel follows the lives of Lesley and her daughter Tammy, two Murri (Aboriginal) women. Written in the form of written between the mother and daughter, the novel is thus given a light tone on a scarily poignant and honest piece of work, making the heartbreaking tales of these two women all the more personal, all the more real, all the more close.
5. In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume
Blume makes a triumphant return in her first adult novel in almost 20 years with In The Unlikely Event. Part non-fiction, part fiction, and wholly dramatic and moving, we follow the true story of when Blume’s hometown of Elizabeth, New Jersey, was littered with 3 plane crashes during the early 1950s. At the centre of the novel is Miri Ammerman, a young girl who has the same naïve look on life as most of Blume’s protagonists. We learn with her and grow with her, and through it all, our hearts are made fuller. Nostalgia played a big part in how much I enjoyed this book, but Blume proved that she’s more than just her name; she’s a writer and she’s here to stay.” — Bridget Conway, Art, Theatre + Fashion Editor