Friday, 13 December 2019

Minerva's Top Picks for 2019

In what has now become a tradition - if three years in a row can be called a tradition - we Minervans once again voted for our Top Picks of the year. As before, each member was asked to nominate her three top picks of the books we read as a group this year ... and here is the outcome ...

Twelve of our thirteen currently active members took part. Eleven nominated three books, and one chose just one, resulting in 34 "votes" cast. This is not a "proper" survey. Votes were all given equal weight, as was advised in the email request, even if some members ranked their choices. Also, not everyone read every book, meaning different people voted from different "pools". So, the results are indicative rather than, hmm, authoritative, but it's all meant to be fun and it does convey some sense of what we all liked.

Unlike, last year which was pretty close, this year the winners were clearer. Four books occupied the top three positions, and did so by using 27 of the 34 votes cast, or 80% of the votes cast. Last year, the top three used 75%, and the previous year just 56%. What does this say? No idea really!

Anyhow, here are the results:

  1. Boy swallows universe, by Trent Dalton (our review) (8 votes)
  2. A gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles (our review); and The shepherd’s hut, by Tim Winton (our review) (7 votes each)
  3. Convenience store woman, by Sayaka Murata (our review) (6 votes)

Highly commended: The bridge, by Enza Gandolfo (our review).

These results are less varied than last year, as the first three books are novels by men! However, the third place-getter is not only by a woman, but is a translated novel proving that there is some diversity in our mix!

One member, Sue B, voted for the three most voted for books (as did past member and parallel reader, Marie, whose vote came in late and was not included in the count, but still she deserves a mention!)

All but two of the books we read last year - Anita Heiss's Growing up Aboriginal in Australia and Anton Chekhov's The lady and the dog - received votes or special mentions. These two exceptions, produced good discussions but, being an anthology and a short story, they were probably handicapped! Interestingly, though, one member voted for our Les Murray night.

Some comments on our top picks

Note that not everyone commented on their choices ...

  • "Such an energetic, raw, observant, funny book, not like anything I’ve read." (Kate)
  • "A brave new novel by a gifted new novelist." (Denise)
  • "It captures a difficult childhood with such verve and generosity for its flawed characters." (Sue T)
  • "Edgy, unusual, funny, sad and of course bizarre." (Janet)

  • "Beautifully written, fascinating premise, and thoroughly engaging, while hinting at the dramas around." (Kate)
  • "I became totally immersed in the gracious world of the hotel in another era on a background of communist horror. Beautiful writing." (Denise)
  • "Playful, different, great character and unusual." (Sylvia)
  • "It was intriguing I thought, and amongst other things I enjoyed the glimpses of a disappearing lifestyle (for some)." (Judith) 
  • "A classy read. Sometimes hilarious whilst also full of dignity and the unexpected. And for its historical interest." (Janet)

  • "It sustains such a tricky first person voice so convincingly, and deals so uncompromisingly with the implications of a violent upbringing for a young men." (Sue T)
  •  "Despite the language I am amazed at how Tim Winton can make so much from so little -- and with wonderful landscape descriptions." (Sylvia) 
  • "What a tale ...  Characters are strongly drawn." (Judith)

  • "A quirky different novel." (Denise)
  • "I love Japanese literature; I love the unusual voice; and I love its questioning of the drive for homogeniety and meeting societal expectations." (Sue T)
  • "Quirky, also with glimpses, this time, of Japanese life." (Judith)
  • "Gives a voice to someone who is normally excluded. Love the relentless logic of the narrator." (Helen)

  • "Absolutely riveting, poignant, compelling, well written and a gripping story and thoroughly believable and human characters." (Sylvia)

Members (Janet, Anne and Celeste, respectively) also commented on Gilead ("for something different"), The group ("a surprise that it was such a good read") and The orchardist's daughter ("a tight contender"). Our member, Kate, who voted for the Les Murray night, said it was "so great to find out more about possibly Australia’s best poet, and to read a few of his evocative, confronting, amazing poems".

Other recommendations

This year, several members took up the request to share some other favourite books from their reading year. Here are their suggestions (alphabetically by author), for those looking for other recommendations:

  • Maxine Beneba Clarke's The hate race (Kate)
  • Louise Erdrich's The bingo palace (Sue T)
  • Robert Galbraith's (aka J K Rowling) Lethal white (Syliva)
  • Gail Honeyman's Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine (Marie)
  • Melissa Lucashenko's Too much lip (Sue T)
  • Ian McEwan's Machines like me (Anne)
  • Liane Moriarty's The husband’s secret (Sue B)
  • Liane Moriarty's Truly madly guilty (Sue B)
  • Liane Moriarty's Big little lies (Sue B)
  • Michelle Obama's Becoming (Sylvia)
  • Henry Handel Richardson's The getting of wisdom (Anne)
  • Jock Serong's On the Java Ridge (Marie)
  • Jock Serong's Preservation (Marie)
  • Jock Serong's Quota (Marie) 
  • Tara Westover's Educated (Anne)

Let us know what you think, in the comments!