I have read some wonderful, interesting, thought provoking books this year - thanks again to my book loving friends, family and superb local library. Here are some highlights:
Metal Fish, Falling Snow by Cath Moore (2021)
A serendipitous find at my local library. I fell in love with the cover and the blurb on the back. While it may be classed as "young adult fiction", I think it's for anyone and everyone - and so beautifully explores the complexities of adolescence, grief, identity and place. The 14-year-old narrator, Dylan, is quirky and refreshing. Highly recommend.
The Age of Surveillance Capitalism by Shoshana Zuboff (2018)
An urgent and important read for our times. What can we do about the myriad ethical, social and political dilemmas amplified by the online spaces we occupy and the digital devices we rely on? Who has the power and what are they doing with it? I found myself disturbed by the details of deceptive and behavior-altering actions of our wealthiest companies and platforms online. It is worth reading for her final essay "Sanctuary" alone.
Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles (2021)
This is an exquisite book. Nina's prose moves like water: caressing your feet, trickling over your hands and at times rushing over your entirely. She transports the reader to beautiful, raw inner landscapes as well as the various places, cities and countries she has called home.
Lila by Marilynne Robinson (2014)
I loved this. I think my favourite novel in her Gilead series so far. I couldn't put it down. It was sad, beautiful. Evocative. Robinson is a master of prose and telling the stories of ordinary, complex human relationships. Lila is my favorite character of hers yet.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (2020)
It took me a while to get into this one - but once I did, I was completely enthralled in the bizarre and magical world of Piranesi. Humorous, dark and intriguing. I won't say anymore, just go and read it!
How to End a Story, Diaries from 1994-1998 by Helen Garner (2021)
I don't think I will ever tire of Helen Garner. This is her most recent collection of excerpts from her personal diaries through the years her marriage was ending. I loved the details of everyday life - food, music, church, swimming, conversations and observations. I recall some of the more hilarious scenes and chuckle!
To the River by Olivia Laing (2017)
This book follows Olivia Laing's journey on foot along the river Ouse in Sussex - where Virginia Wolfe lived and died and many other notable characters from literature, art and history. I enjoyed how she weaved personal memoir with travel notes, mythology, history and poetry. At times it was fast paced and refreshing and at other times meandered slowly, like the river itself.
The Beatryce Prophecy by Kate DiCamillo (2021)
My mum lent this to me and assured me I would love it. Which I did. A whimsical, tragic and beautiful story set in a fantastical, medieval past intended for children (and everyone) about fate, love and power of words. The child at the centre of the story is wise and curious - then there's her fierce protector goat, a kind-faced monk and a brave boy. I look forward to reading this aloud to my boys.
How about you? What have you read this year and loved?
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847)
Read for my bookclub. It was so strange reading slowly and dissecting it with others. I realised how much I had forgotten, or overlooked in past readings. I loved this book so much as a young adult and found such beauty and consolation in Jane's story, and yet now reading it, I was frequently troubled, especially in Jane and Rochester's relationship and romance. Charlotte is a master storyteller. So worth reading if you haven't before.
Assembly by Natasha Brown (2021)
Lent by a friend. This was a fast read - maybe over two nights - and seemed to end too soon! I found it really engrossing, interesting, horrifying and thoughtful. Highly recommend.
Right to Sex by Amia Svinivasen (2021)
I have been wanting to read book of essays for some time. I was delighted when it was lent to me! Svinivasen explores issues of sexuality, consent, pornography, incel movements, desire, racial injustice and more - she looks at how feminist and philosophical theory has sought to understand these issues over time, and where such theories are lacking or unsatisfactory for our times. Her essays are intelligent and personable, thoughtful and arresting. Svinivasen skilfully balances her own views and questions with those of other academics and I was left with much to ponder and examine further. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
Gift From the Sea By Anne Morrow Lindberg (1955)
A re-read after many years. It was the perfect book to take down to the sea side on our holiday in November. I found Anne's reflections on life and shells, on motherhood and faith, as profound, beautiful and timeless as I did the first time. So worth reading.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer (1999)
Read for my studies last semester. I found Palmer's life story fascinating and his thoughts around vocation and coming to more contemplative (yet practical) faith really fresh and compelling. He writes: "Self-care is never a selfish act - it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give the care it requires, we do it not only for ourselves, but for the many others whose lives we touch.”
A Spacious Life: Trading Hustle and Hurry for the Goodness of Limits by Ashley Hayles (2021)
Mum gifted me this book and I took it away on holiday. I savoured it slowly, and appreciated Ashley's honesty and vulnerability. She weaves in personal stories, scripture, reflection and practical suggestions carefully and beautifully. We are not called to lives of hustle and hurry, of stress and bitterness Ashley argues - but to spaciousness and healthy limits, to healing through play and rest, community and connection, to faith that renews and refreshes our whole beings - body, soul and mind, Highly recommend.
The Last Guests by J P Pomare (2021)
I don't usually read this genre (suspense, crime, thriller), but after reading an interview with the New Zealand born author I was intrigued and requested a copy from my local library. I ended up reading it over the two days I was stuck in bed with a stomach bug at the beginning of December. It was the perfect escape - a thrilling, quick read with rather unexpected twists and intriguing characters. It definitely made me think twice about air bnb's and house surveillance~
The Power of the Dog by Thomas Savage (1967)
I loved this. It was a quick and thrilling read over a couple of nights. The language is spare and evocative. It makes me want to delve into the world of American gothic westerns! The dialogue seamlessly slips from spoken words to thoughts and stream of consciousness in the main characters. It is as much a portrait of personal relationships and family as much as it is a thrilling Western. I read it after watching the film (which is beautifully composed and acted) - but definitely enjoyed reading the book and getting so much more from the characters and back stories.
Top 9 books of 2021:
1. The Tall Man
2. You Are Not a Gadget
3. Adam Bede
5. Hold Your Fire
6. This Golden Fleece
7. The Year of Magical Thinking
8, Right to Sex
9. The Power of the Dog
Find more details of books read this year in the posts below.
A Short History of the World According to Sheep by Sally Coultard (2020)
A friend lent me this. A wonderful read, refreshing in it's brevity and attention holding. Sally Coultard writes with wit and detail as she explores a global history of sheep farming and the development of wool as a fibre, and the many crafts and trades, political unrest and culture formation that arose from it. From breeds of sheep in ancient Mesopotamia to the hand-spun sails of anicent Norwegian ships, export of royal stockings to agriculture in Australia - the stories and historic records are fascinating. Not to mention the section all about sheep and wool derived words and idioms: warp, weave, fleeced, spinster, dyed-in-the-wool, spin a yarn, pull the wool over one's eyes, moral fibre, bellwether, sheepish, wolf in sheep's clothing, black sheep!
This Golden Fleece by Esther Rutter (2020)
Following on my sheep theme, I read this one by Esther Rutter exploring Britain's history and love of wool. She travels around the countryside and isles, visiting sheep farms, woollen mills, museums and markets - weaving personal stories with history and folklore about the craft. She also documents her own progress knitting some special projects for herself and loved ones. I enjoyed this so much!
Madam Bovary by Gustav Flaubert (1856)
Read and dissected slowly in my book club (with my sister, sister's partner, and mum). Such a rich and provocative work. Originally written in French, it was interesting to compare our various English translations. I have read MB before - in high school, but didn't get nearly as much out of it as I did re-reading it in this season of life. It raises so many questions around femininity, sexuality, marriage, class, narrative, faith. So worth reading.
I thought it was just me (but it isn't) by Brene Brown (2007)
I listened to this as an audiobook while I cleaned the eggs over a week or two, and appreciated the time and space to reflect in-between sessions. I ended up buying a hard copy I enjoyed it so much - although enjoy isn't the right word, more that I valued it's insight and wisdom greatly. Brené does a great job unpacking the devastating social, emotional, and physical effects of shame through her 6-year study with women of varying ages and ethnicities. “Nothing silences us more effectively than shame" she writes. I found her case studies and personal stories heart breaking and sadly familiar. She shares lots of practical suggestions and ideas for identifying and abandoning shame and finding life-giving and compassionate alternatives. “If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process.”
Anti-Social: Online Extremists, Techno-Utopians and the Hijacking of the American Conversation by Andrew Marantz (2019)
My beautiful library purchased this one after I requested it. I have followed Andrew Marantz's writing for the New Yorker for a few years with great interest and respect. His book explores the rise (and rise) of political extremism and white supremcey made possible through digital media and social networking. An engrossing, disturbing, important read.
Love Objects by Emily Maguire (2021)
This was a random library borrow based on the back (and front) cover. I felt like reading fiction and was intrigued by the synopsis and her exploration of hoarding as a mental health condition, as well as the complicated nature of extended families in times of crisis. It held my attention mostly, though some parts are quite graphic and disturbing. Always strange and wonderful to read a book set in my birth city, Sydney and in neighborhoods I know well.
Things I don't want to know by Deborah Levy (2018)
This was the first installment of her "living autobiography trilogy" and my favourite of them. It is the shortest in length but felt the most intimate and revealing. Beautifully written. Levy delves into her childhood growing up in apartheid South Africa, and later moving across to England. Highly recommend.
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion (2005)
A friend lent me this. I have long wanted to read it. So beautiful, so heart-breaking. I couldn't put it down, and thought about it long after the last page ended. Highly recommend. “We are not idealized wild things.
We are imperfect mortal beings, aware of that mortality even as we push it away, failed by our very complication, so wired that when we mourn our losses we also mourn, for better or for worse, ourselves. As we were. As we are no longer. As we will one day not be at all.”
Read my autumn reading here
Read my summer reading here
Much Loved by Mark Nixon (2013)
This is a book of photography and storytelling - of much loved soft toys and teddies and the memories they hold for us. I stumbled across this book by accident at the library and brought it home with the intention of reading it with the boys - some of the toys are so quirky, loved and threadbare that they are barely hanging together. It was later when I read it by myself in bed that I was moved to tears by the stories behind the much loved items. Mark Nixon's photography is simple and sublime.
Adam Bede by George Eliot (1859)
I have read some of Eliot's other works (Silas Marner being one of my favourite novels of all time) but never Adam Bede. It was her first novel written. I actually read it in a bookclub with my mum, sister and her partner and we shared our thoughts and feelings on it every few weeks via zoom. Who would have ever thought of a zoom bookclub a few years ago?! I found the story deeply engrossing and moving. Eliot is a master storyteller and she sets the pastoral scene and nuanced characters and conversations so well. So many of the issues she raises can relate to today - this quote stood out: " Falsehood is so easy, truth so difficult... Examine your words well, and you will find that even when you have no motive to be false, it is a very hard thing to say the exact truth, even about your own immediate feelings - much harder than to say something fine about them which is not the exact truth"
Quarterly Essay 72: Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age by Sebastian Smee (2018)
Does a long essay count as serious reading? I think so. I was able to access a digital copy of the magazine through my library. Critic Sebastian Smee writes with wit and insight on the idea of "the inner life" as explored in art and culture and how it has been changed or lost in the wake of digitisation. He writes: “Every day I spend hours and hours on my phone . . . We are all doing it, aren’t we? It has come to feel completely normal. Even when I put my device aside and attach it to a charger, it pulses away in my mind, like the throat of a toad, full of blind, amphibian appetite.”
Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (2019)
Reading the Smee's essay promoted my interest in reading this one by Cal Newport. Instead of reading the pages, I borrowed the audiobook from my library and listened to it, slowly, over two weeks while I cleaned the eggs. There is something appropriate, I felt, to digest this one carefully - to listen to it an hour at a time with ample space afterwards to contemplate his ideas. Cal Newport is not dismissive of the benefits of digital technology, but calls for a more holistic (and minimalist) approach to using it: one that places more emphasis on developing a sense of self, of leisure and rest, deep work and building relationship over mere connectedness, and aligning our choices about digital tools with our deeper values at the fore. He writes: "How much of your time and attention must be sacrificed to earn the small profit of occasional connections and new ideas that is earned by cultivating a significant presence on social media platforms?"
Wild Light by Robyn Mundy (2016)
An engaging, fast-paced novel set on a remote Tasmanian Island. I enjoyed the descriptions of the wild weather, lighthouse keeping and local flora and fauna best of all.
Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison (2019)
I requested my library to buy a copy of this book and was so delighted when they did. I've been listening to nutritionist and journalist Christy Harrison's podcast "Food Psych" for a few years now and always found her conversations around food, shame, diet culture, intuitive eating and mental health really fascinating and insightful. She draws on so much good research and evidence to explore the perils of our modern obsession with diets, weight loss and wellness. It made me angry and sad, empowered and energised - so much better informed. She also draws on personal stories including her own and her clients, and offers practical suggestions for deconstructing the unjust and unfounded beliefs that proliferate about bodies and food. I cannot recommend this book enough.
Hold Your Fire by Chloe Wilson (2021)
Oh I just loved this one. It was one of those books I saw the cover of at the library and wanted to borrow on impulse alone. I stayed up way too late reading it bed because I just couldn't put it down. It reminded me how much I love short stories, and these ones by Australian writer Chloe Wilson are absurd, funny, dark and beautiful. Go and read!
Read my summer reading here //
Summer tends to be the season with the most reading for me - something perhaps about those long, light-filled days and the prickle of heat that makes me want to put my knitting away and stare at pages with the fan gently humming. Maybe there's a part of me, a learnt pattern in my body, that associates summer with reading - as mum would always gift us books for Christmas. Reading never feels like a chore in summer, a bit like walking at night: the very air of summer ushers permission to be consumed with words and breeze.
There, there by Tommy Orange (2018)
Christmas book from my sister, the first novel by Tommy Orange. It read almost like a play, dramatic and atmospheric. I found it a refreshing read and haunting in some scenes and dialogue that have stayed with me long after finishing. Highly recommend.
The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper (2008)
I wanted to read this as soon as I finished Chloe Hooper's other brilliant book The Arsonist. Hooper writes masterfully, poetically, with such clarity, sensitivity and humanity around issues that are so difficult - like this: the death of a young Aboriginal man in custody on an island I'd vaguely heard of. She paints the landscape and the characters of Palm Island with nuance and freshness that help you feel it all deeply, and not easily forget. The Tall Man is investigative writing on crime, racism, policing, history and mythology in Australia of the highest calibre. I didn't want it to end, and I longed for an ending that never came. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.
10 Reasons to quit your social media right now by Jaron Lanier (2018)
I had to read this even though I could think of thirty of my own reasons to quit. Jaron Lanier is a computer engineer, philosopher and musician. His "reasons" for quitting are sensible and intelligent and is definitely worth reading and pondering on.
You are not a gadget by Jaron Lanier (2010)
I enjoyed this longer manifesto of Lanier's even more than the one above. He wrote it almost a decade ago and is uncanny in his accurate predictions and concerns for what social media platforms and technologies were becoming - and have become - forces for immense social, cultural, political and economic upheaval. Highly recommend.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall (2020)
A speedy and enjoyable read. The plot is quite thrilling and fascinating, and while I didn't feel totally convinced by the main characters and the ending felt a bit clunky - there was something very poignant and timely about the near-future reality in which we are all micro-chipped and answerable to a global governmental system, as well as the over-reliance on digital devices, threats of constant surveillance. Critics mentioned a likeness to Atwood and I felt that too. Definitely worth a go.
The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer (1997)
Have you ever begun a book only to fall in love with it on the first few pages, only to struggle to finish it half way and then fall out with it completely by the ending? I guess my reactions with this one was as capricious and changing as the clouds. Yes, there are some really clever, beautiful sentences, and the descriptions of the Blue Mountains at the turn of the 20th century is quite mesmerising, but something fell flat and unsatisfying half-way through. If you love Ondaatje you will probably enjoy this one...
The Twilight of Democracy by Applebaum (2020)
Oh this was a fascinating read. Insightful and frightening. I asked my local library to purchase a copy of Applebaum's book after I heard her interviewed on the New Yorker politics and more podcast. I'm glad they were able to get it in. Applebaum has been watching and writing about (and living) politics in Central Europe for decades, but has much to say about her place of origin USA too. Highly recommend.
Water my Soul by Luci Shaw (2003)
A re-read. Shaw explores the rich, interior life of faith through the seasons of the garden. Beautiful, wise, timeless. Highly recommend.
Into the Silent Land by Martin Laird (2006)
Read for my course in contemplative faith. I'd never heard of it before. I love the way Laird weaves in personal stories, poetry, literature and wisdom by the great Christian mystics along with more practical tips and exercises for cultivating a prayer-filled awareness of God's loving presence in everyday life. I would definitely recommend this one for anyone starting out on the contemplative journey //
What have you been reading lately?
ABOUT the author
Emily Clare Sims is a farmer and mama to three young boys. Each day she looks for ways to notice beauty, contemplate her faith and savour the seasons...