It's fair to say that here at the Lifted Brow, we like books.
To get in on the fun of end of year lists, we asked TLB Staff to share their favourite book/s of 2017, which we've compiled here in a handy list for your reading pleasure.
If you're looking for a new summertime read, have a gander at some of these titles, handpicked by the coolest people ever (with the most impeccable taste in books).
My favourite book this year was Alexis Wright's riveting Tracker. I'm beyond grateful that Wright invested what must have been a huge amount of time, energy, creativity and labour into writing it, though you hardly notice her presence as you're reading—she keeps offstage, instead switching in and out of the voices of 49 interviewees whose recollections and anecdotes build this multifaceted picture of the charismatic Aboriginal leader, political thinker and entrepreneur Tracker Tilmouth. I can't stop thinking about it.
And if I can sneak in an honourable mention, that goes to Agota Kristof's The Notebook Trilogy, translated by Alan Sheridan, David Watson and Marc Romano—so brilliant and brutal, and each subsequent book makes you go a bit crazy as you try to nut out how the new perspective fits with, or transforms, what you've already read about the events.
— Elizabeth Bryer, TLB Translation Editor
Not a lot of my reading this year has been new releases and most of the 2017 titles I’ve wanted to read are sitting in my summer reading stack, including Jon McGregor’s Reservoir 13, Gwendoline Riley’s First Love, Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts, and Yiyun Li’s Dear Friend, From My Life I Write to You in Yours.
But of the books released this year I’ve actually read, I loved The Town by Shaun Prescott, All My Goodbyes by Mariana Dimópulos, Stories: The Collected Short Fiction by Helen Garner, and Blind Spot by Teju Cole.
— Luke Horton, TLB Review of Books Editor
I came into 2017 armed with high expectations, already anticipating the arrival of books such as The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen, The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, and Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang. The Guardian reccently wrote that these writers represent an exciting new wave of American literature, and I couldn't agree more.
Closer to home, I really loved Bella Li's Argosy and Claire Coleman's debut novel, Terra Nullius. Terra Nullius is a dazzling feat, masterful in its execution and brutal in its impact. Argosy is less a book of poetry than it is a literary artefact; a multi-modal, form-bending collision of poetics, image, collage and photography. Encountering these pages can be a confounding and surreal experience. As Li says in an interview with Peril : "everything, when you look closely, is strange: people, history, language—language most of all. The more I think about poetry as a genre, the more I see it as a space for estrangement: where language—that which ostensibly provides a common ground on which to stand—can be most thoroughly interrogated."
— Linh Nguyen, TLB Online Editor
It feels a tad disingenuous to write about my hands-down favourite book to be published in 2017, Tracker by Alexis Wright, because I’m only halfway through. So instead let me recommend Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett. An odd and utterly compelling fiction about a woman, alone, on the west coast of Ireland, Pond is a book I read in a greedy, giddy rush last summer, and then came back to again and again across this year, unable to shake it. Its twenty interlinked ‘stories’ – a term that insufficiently conveys Bennett’s unusual form – map her narrator’s life with a care that is excessive to the point of absurdity. Her reflections on food are particularly gleeful – binned dinners, the joys of eating Spanish oranges after sex, almond flakes that one must use cautiously lest they resemble fingernails and ruin an otherwise delicious breakfast. Across the book, everyday objects take on great significance; perhaps my favourite story in Pond is the one devoted to the three knobs of the narrator’s cooker, which are each broken or in the process of breaking, promising calamity.
— Annabel Brady-Brown, TLB Co-Editor
Transit is the inverse of Knausgaard's My Struggle, which is to say it's just as intricately detailed, but skips the ego and self-mythology and is instead calmly and patiently brilliant. The prose is easy, captivating, tantalising: it feels like nothing is happening but it's full of intricate observations. It produces a philosophy, I think, of living with constant change: the narrator doesn't seem perturbed by the ongoing fluctuations in her life, doesn't wish for stasis – in fact she seems to thrive on instability, which is encouraging!
— Justin Wolfers, TLB Co-Editor + Book Editor
Two books that I really loved this year were Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come and Jenny Zhang’s Sour Heart. Both are split into long chapters/short stories which are tangentially connected but don’t intersect, and both refuse a narrative centre or plot, instead following characters for a spell and then moving on. Nothing is tied up or resolved, which I found refreshingly true to life. Both books are also full of these casual, wry observations that are not only laugh-out-loud funny, but uncomfortably true. The Life to Come was particularly cutting about Australian identity and liberal white Australia’s implicit racism while Sour Heart was a frank and intimate exploration of the experiences of Chinese-American girls growing up in New York.
— Dženana Vucic, Copyeditor
My favourite book/read of this year is the novel Sudden Death by Álvaro Enrigue (translated by Natasha Wimmer). Set in 1599, the Spanish poet, nobleman and diplomat Francisco de Quevedo and the Italian painter and hooligan Caravaggio confront each other on a tennis court in Rome. For reasons neither can quite remember—they’d separately and then together been on a bender the evening before—theirs is not just a grudge match but also a duel. And, though neither is aware of it, they are playing with a ball made from the hair of Queen Anne Boleyn of England, beheaded 63 years earlier. Game by game, set by set, this tennis match—a product of the author’s imagination, not of the historical record—advances, interspersed with asides and excursuses that reveal Mr. Enrigue’s presence and purpose.
I love the taut messiness of this novel, I love its ingenuity, I love its digressions of metafictional incertitude. A line in the middle of the book says that “the function of a novel is precisely that: to name what is lost, to replace the void with an imaginary archive”. Another passage later: “I don’t know what this book is about. I know that as I wrote it I was angry because the bad guys always win. Maybe all books are written simply because in every game the bad guys have the advantage and that is too much to bear.” To read Sudden Death in 2017 feels incredibly timely, and in the same instant timeless: hopeful and hopeless about the world around, like we’ve always been.
— Sam Cooney, TLB Publisher
I have a very clear favourite: Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada. A remarkable story narrated by three-generations of polar bears, it's about empathy, the immigrant journey and the inheritance of predetermined relationships with animals.
I chewed through all of Han Kang's translated works: The Vegetarian, Human Acts and her most recent title, The White Book. Poetic writing about brutal trauma, Kang is remarkably skilled at inviting the reader into the story. Both Nadja Spiegelman's I'm Supposed to Protect You From All This and Jenny Zhang's Sour Heart were immaculated structured stories of family and identity. Lastly, Svetlana Alexievich's The Unwomanly Face of War was a harrowing read about Russian women in the second world war, where Alexievich prioritises history as much as the emotions of women.
—Marta Skrabacz, Commentary Editor
My favourite book the year was The Idiot by Elif Batumen. I have a thing for bildungsromans and for debut novels, and the witty, self-deprecating style of this novel turned both of those kinks on their heads: maybe nothing is learned by the characters, but the writing is egregiously clever for a first book.
—Lachy McKenzie, Fiction Editor
I don't usually go for collections of short stories, but I adored Australia Day by Melanie Cheng. The stories are unpretentious, diverse and, a lot of the time, disconcertingly real. Cheng's characters are just as well realised; they live on in your head long after you've put her book down.
—Oscar Johnson, TLB Website Manager
Part historical account of computers and computer languages, part philosophical investigation into what an ontology of the “digital object” might look like, I haven’t been able to get Yuk Hui’s On the Existence of Digital Objects off my mind this year. A digital object is data - any object which takes shape on a screen (this recommendation for instance). It evades existing philosophical accounts of objects based on appearance given it’s shape-shifting qualities and foundation in computer-speak, but cannot be thought through computer science alone, which conceptualises it as a mere conduit for information and representation. Driving this book is a concern with the disjunct between technology and culture (whereby technologies intended to bring us closer to one another more often than not propagate isolation and alienation from others) and an attempt to think their reconciliation.
—Caitlyn Lesiuk, Social Media Manager
Actually my favourite book this year is The Town but that would be gauche to talk about.
— Alexander Bennetts, Editor of The Best of TLB 2
Happy summertime reading, folks!