Listicles, muesli bars & mansplaining

What do best books listicles, the discovery of a 25-year-old muesli bar and a Swedish hotline for mansplaining have in common? They are the topics I discussed on Radio National Drive’s ‘My Feed’ segment.

I also talked about librarians on social media, book discussions on Twitter and how I use Goodreads to inform my reading.

You can listen to the podcast of the show here.

If you would like to explore some 2016 best books listicles, here are some good ones to start with:

Near the end


Heavy rain came thundering down onto the roof just as Richard Flanagan was about to walk onto the stage. Thick heat had been pressing in on Melbourne all day and now finally relief. Flanagan looked up and noted the thunderous welcome before beginning his lecture. He was speaking on the role of environment in shaping his writing. A sudden deluge seemed a fitting introduction to his coming tide of ideas.
Flanagan took us on a journey pulsing through the rapids and pausing in the quiet places of Tasmania’s Franklin River. He guided us through the primordial temperate rainforests of the Tarkine wilderness of his childhood. Equal parts homage and lament for these places are no longer what they were, gradually stripped away by forestry, mining and tourism. The wildlife disappearing into extinction and receding into myth to be known only through story. The Tasmanian Tiger his parents pulled him from the car to see one late night standing in the rain and searching in the headlights, but it was already gone.

‘Loving Tasmania is like loving a beautiful junkie. You are always disappointed’.

Flanagan dragged us away from the remote West Coast of Tasmania and across the globe to London, metropolis, where he first encountered a large city, the shock of being alone in a heaving mass of humanity. ‘Who would be there for me?’ he asked. Flanagan reflected on what we have lost by being city-dwellers, our connection, our humanity and at what cost?

Of course, he talked about writing too. His searching for a voice when trying to write about cities, which he didn’t understand, and then going back to his muse the river, and finding his voice in the air pocket where he was stuck underwater for hours facing death. This voice did not fit the model of Australian literature he was told, and so he made a new cast and filled it overflowing with the river. He wound the tendrils of death and decay of the rainforest around his words to bind them.

And now, he looks out from his cabin on Bruny Island, observing from the edges as the species around him ever decline and he sees the mirror of nature smashed into a thousand shards that we think we might now like to reassemble but it is too late. And if we look into what remains of that mirror we find the greatest loss is ourselves and we fear our own demise.

And he said other things too, but I did not take notes. I fixed my gaze on the pattern of bluestone behind him. Maybe there was some humour and I hung on for some hope. But all I felt was a sharp arrow pierce my black heart.

We walked out into air washed clean by the rain. Down into the crowd together alone to find a place to eat. And when we sat down and our meal arrived, and we were lifting our food to our mouths and trying to pick apart the noodles and our thoughts, a man died on the floor right next to us. We watched and we looked away and we could not look away as the paramedics pushed down hard on his chest, their equipment scattered all around, our table shoved out of the way, the music switched off and the lights turned up bright. And they kept pushing hard on his chest. And then we said to each other he’s breathing.

Image credit: State Library Victoria @library_vic

Badass storytelling for libraries

“I’m telling you stories. Trust me.” – Jeanette Winterson, The Passion.


Humans are natural storytellers. Stories engage us, help us understand, and connect us. The Moth live story telling events are huge. Podcasts such as Serial have a cult following. Even in the corporate world, storytelling courses and presentation techniques are the new black. It’s no surprise then that cultural institutions, including libraries, are thinking of ways of using storytelling as a way to connect with their audiences.

I recently experienced two brilliant storytelling events which got me thinking about how to apply some of what I experienced back in my library.

It all started on a steamy summer day in Manhattan. On a reprieve from the heat and Pokemon Go players outside, I was lounging in my very tiny and poorly air conditioned hotel room flicking through the Time Out, New York magazine when I landed on an ad for a tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The tour was titled Badass Bitches of the Met and it was run by a crew called Museum Hack. I was pretty much sold on the title alone. I booked my ticket for a two hour tour that promised me I would:

FALL IN LOVE WITH SOME AMAZING WOMEN YOU’VE NEVER HEARD OF

TAKE ACTUAL STEPS TO DISMANTLE THE PATRIARCHY

COMPETE TO FIND THE BADDEST BITCH IN THE MET

HEAR PLENTY OF ‘F’ BOMBS (‘FEMINISM’, THAT IS)

LEAVE INSPIRED TO CHANGE THE WORLD

The next day I turned up at the Met after having being lost in the Ramble in Central Park and then caught in the most spectacular afternoon downpour. I stood ringing my dripping hair and clothes into a puddle on the marble floor of the very crowded Met foyer. I was spotted by one of the Museum Hack guides who whisked me into the bathroom to pat myself dry with paper towels. Then onwards to my tour. Two energetic, knowledgeable, fun young women raced us around the museum telling us stories of women artists, women muses, and women art collectors represented (or not) in the collection. We played games, took photos and were encouraged to share our own stories. It was renegade and subversive and by far the most fun two hours I’ve ever had in a museum. I learnt about a bunch of inspiring women I had never heard of and left with a head full of fascinating stories.

The second brilliant storytelling adventure wasn’t in a cultural institution. This time it was in the tourism industry. Onboard the Rocky Mountaineer, I travelled through the snow dusted peaks of the Canadian Rockies from Jasper National Park through to Vancouver via Kamloops. In between spotting coyotes, bears, bald eagles and big-horned sheep (and being fed North American mega-portion meals) the highly-skilled storytelling staff narrated a fascinating tale of frontier life, the natural environment and adventure. Their rich stories brought the landscape to life with human endeavour, loss, love and triumph.

Both the Museum Hack tour and the Rocky Mountaineer guides highlighted for me the colour, life and emotional hook that a highly-skilled storyteller can bring to an experience – whether that experience is an artwork or a landscape.

Libraries are institutions that are full of stories. Stories about collections and collectors, stories about communities, stories about people. The challenge is how libraries can tell stories in playful, engaging ways to appeal to broader audiences.

What would a badass library hack tour look like?

The nostalgia and romance of typewriters

For most of us, the mechanical staccato of the typewriter has faded into memory. The push of the heavy carriage, the slap of the keys striking paper, the fingers ink-stained from replacing ribbons – all sweet nostalgia for an obsolete technology. The digital world marches on.

Not so for a dedicated band of typewriter enthusiasts, collectors and artists who are leading a revival driven by their deep affection for these machines. In fact, some writers never stopped using them. Today, you are more likely to find a vintage typewriter restored for sale in a high-end vintage shop, rather than out on the nature strip for the hard rubbish collection.

Read more in my piece for the Spectrum section of The Age/ Sydney Morning Herald.

My piece features an interview with Helen Garner reflecting on her affection for her handsome black Corona portable typewriter.

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Zine scene defies death by digital

 

My piece in the Sunday Age

My piece in the Sunday Age

Zines are low-cost, low-fi, handcrafted and independent print publications. I recently wrote a piece for The Age, a Melbourne newspaper, about how zines are bucking the trend of death by digital. In this piece, I focused on the Melbourne zine scene. I looked at why people are attracted to making and buying zines, and why institutions such as libraries are collecting these ephemeral publications.

Read the whole article here.

Librarians: closing the confidence gap

Are librarians being held back in their careers by a lack of self confidence? How can LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders help close the confidence gap?

I recently ran some professional development workshops with groups of librarians. As one of the workshop exercises, I asked participants to identify a fear they would like to overcome in preparing to lead the library of the future. The workshop participants wrote their fear on a post-it note, discussed it in pairs, came up with some practical ways they might overcome their fear, and then stuck the post-it note on a wall for other participants to see. One participant dubbed this the ‘communal wall of terror’. Some of their fears centered on a perceived lack of technical skills. Strikingly though, most of their fears related to a lack of confidence around interpersonal communication, public speaking/presentations, leadership and decision-making.

A few examples of their expression of a lack of confidence were:

“Initiating contact with people I don’t know very well.”

“Do I have the ability to succeed?”

“People not taking me seriously.”

“Voicing my opinion.”

2014-02-07 17.11.22One participant said they didn’t like speaking in public. They feared that the audience would judge them because they are overweight. This was a very personal and brave statement to make. It really got me thinking about the role confidence plays in helping or hindering librarians in their careers. I had been reflecting on this when I stumbled across an article in The Atlantic, The Confidence Gap. The message of this article is that confidence matters as much as competence for success at work. The authors argue that there is a confidence gap between the genders which results in women being less successful than men, despite being equally or more competent. The authors describe confidence as a ‘virtuous circle’.

Confidence is a belief in one’s ability to succeed, a belief that stimulates action. In turn, taking action bolsters one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed. So confidence accumulates—through hard work, through success, and even through failure.”

Taking this definition, confidence means you are more likely to take actions that lead to success, for example negotiating salary increases, applying for promotions or increased responsibilities, voicing an opinion, and taking risks.

I have been thinking that if the fifty or so librarians in the workshops I ran suffer from a lack of confidence then it probably represents a more wide spread professional issue. Librarianship is a female dominated profession, and one that often attracts introverts. These two features quite possibly tip the scales towards lower self confidence. If there is a confidence issue amongst librarians, and this is is holding them back from taking actions that might lead to more successful career, how can this confidence gap be bridged?

The good news, according to the authors of The Confidence Gap, is that confidence can be acquired.

While acquiring confidence is a complex and personal journey, there are some clear ways that it can be fostered. There is an opportunity here for LIS educators, professional associations and library leaders to focus on closing the confidence gap. What better gift could we give the next generation of librarians than self belief and the courage to act?

Self-efficacy is “the belief in one’s capabilities to achieve something”, and is a useful starting point for thinking about how to support confidence growth. There are four sources of self-efficacy, according to this article:

  • Mastery experiences – things you have succeeded at in the past
  • Vicarious experiences – seeing people who are similar to you succeed
  • Social persuasion – hearing from others that you’re capable
  • Emotional status – staying positive, and managing stress

Library leaders, LIS educators and professional associations could consider ways to encourage these four sources of self-efficacy.

As a library leader or LIS educator, how can you create mastery experiences for your employees and students by setting stretch projects to build their confidence? How can you encourage social persuasion by giving constructive and positive feedback on performance? How can you support risk taking, learning from mistakes, perseverance and building resilience? How can you help your employees and students set and achieve realistic but challenging goals?

As a LIS educator or professional association, how can you design vicarious experiences for your students or members through mentoring support and networking opportunities? Are there other ways you can expose your students or members to successful peers that can role model action and success?

Of course, librarians also have to take individual responsibility for closing the confidence gap themselves. As a librarian, how can you take charge of tapping into your sources of self-efficacy to build your confidence? A few areas you could focus on are building on your past successes, surrounding yourself with successful peers and mentors, seeking constructive feedback and putting your hand up for stretch projects and challenging opportunities. Critically, you can also focus on managing your emotional status by being positive and motivated, managing stress and taking responsibility for your own success, or as the authors of The Confidence Gap say “stop thinking so much and just act”.

 

 

 

 

 

Profile on Ash Davies: founder of publishing start-up, Tablo

Ash Davies is the 20 year old founder and CEO of publishing start-up, Tablo. Through his start-up, Ash is aiming to make writing and publishing a book easy and social. I first met Ash earlier this year when he presented at a session of the 2013 Emerging Writers’ Festival in Melbourne. I later interviewed and wrote a profile piece on Ash. My article was published today in The Age. If you are interested in writing, ebooks and the publishing industry, or the technology start-up scene, have a read.

The Great Library Swindle: Stealing Rare Books

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Rare books such as first editions and original author manuscripts fetch ever-increasing record prices. They are highly valued and sought after by collectors and make an attractive bounty for poachers.

Public, university and private library collections have all been targets for pilfering. Alongside large-scale heists by organised gangs, library insiders have insidiously whittled away precious collections, while daring individual thieves have simply walked out of libraries with rare books stuffed in their jacket pockets.

Travis McDade’s latest book, Thieves of Book Row: New York’s Most Notorious Book Ring and the Man Who Stopped It uncovers America’s worst library book theft ring. In Depression-era New York, a network of crooked booksellers and gangsters carried out a daring heist of rare books from the New York Public Library. The gang, led by ringleader and antiquarian bookseller Charles Romm, stole rare first editions by authors such as Melville, Poe and Hawthorn. Corrupt booksellers would peddle these treasures to collectors who were willing to overlook their dubious origins. G. William Bergquist, the library’s special investigator, busted the ring and the thieves were eventually caught, but some of the books were never recovered.

The Romm Gang’s spectacular caper, while notorious, is sadly not an isolated case.

Earlier this year, the library of London’s Lambeth Palace revealed that it was the scene of a major book crime dating back to the 1970s, which the library only recently discovered. A former library employee stole around 1400 publications and hid them in his attic. Among the precious books was an early Shakespeare edition. The theft was only uncovered when the library received a posthumous letter from the thief alerting them to his plundering of the collection.

In another recent case, a serial biblioklept, William Jacques, has twice been jailed for his crimes against British libraries. Over many years, Jacques removed rare books and pamphlets hidden in his jacket from the Royal Horticultural Society Library, British Library and Cambridge University Library.

McDade, who is the curator of rare law books at the University of Illinois (and a leading expert on crimes against rare books) says, ‘some of these guys have been known to travel around, stealing from hundreds of libraries and archives, for years and years’. McDade names Stephen Blumberg and James Shinn, who operated in the 1970s and 1980s, as the most infamous book thieves in the United States. ‘They managed to do serious damage to libraries,’ he says.

The damage to libraries goes beyond the loss of the historical and cultural value of the items themselves. McDade says ‘there is often a sense of personal violation for the people who work at institutions that have been victims’. He adds, ‘if the crime remains unsolved for any period of time, mistrust seeps into the relationships between coworkers. A major unsolved theft often creates a toxic work environment at the victim institution.’

McDade contends that stealing the books is the easy part of the crime. ‘This is not a fact that ordinarily occurs to the amateur thief,’ he says. Off-loading the goods is the more difficult part, with a thief risking capture every time he tries to sell stolen material. McDade gives an example of four college boys from Kentucky in the United States. ‘One of them took a tour of his college’s special collections, and was startled when the librarian told the group about the millions of dollars the books were worth. Visions of yachts and fast cars and Ocean’s Eleven swirling in his head, he and some friends set out on an ill-conceived, though somewhat successful, theft. By the time they decided that approaching Christie’s was their best chance at getting paid, their goose was cooked,’ he says.

Crimes against rare books are not limited to theft. Thieves will often damage rare books to remove identifying marks, seals and binding to make them easier to sell on the market and more difficult to trace their origins. Other culprits cut out maps and image plates, famous signatures and dedications to sell, leaving the source books damaged and library’s collection significantly devalued.

‘Libraries are an easy target,’ says Jo Ritale, collections services manager at the State Library of Victoria, ‘because we do make our collections accessible’. Ritale reassures that there hasn’t been the history of book theft in Australia that has occurred in the United Kingdom and United States. The State Library counts among its rare books a copy of Audubon’s Birds of America, one of only 120 copies remaining intact. A copy recently sold at a Sotheby’s auction in London for US $11.5 million. Other rarities include William Caxton’s Myrrour of the Worlde, as well as first editions of Galileo and Isaac Newton.

The State Library safeguards its collections against theft and damage through an electronic theft detection system and roving security staff and bag checks. Rare and heritage material can only be viewed in a secure room controlled by staff, with strict rules around use. The library stores rare and heritage material in a separate wing where access is limited to designated staff. Ritale says that the drawback of this approach is ‘the need for extra vigilance and security measures to protect rare collection material is in direct contrast with the library’s policy to make material accessible with as few barriers to that access as possible’. To account for all rare books and ensure that none have gone missing, the library does a regular audit of high value materials.

It can be embarrassing for a library to lose rare books that have been trusted to its care. ‘For a long time it was the norm for libraries to keep thefts quiet. Fortunately, this is changing,’ McDade says. By being up front about the loss of books, libraries have a greater chance of seeing them identified. Antiquarian booksellers, libraries and police cooperate to identify stolen books and have them returned. Kay Craddock, antiquarian bookseller and convener of Melbourne Rare Books Week, describes the steps that booksellers take. ‘We have a strict procedure when buying from private vendors, which includes photo ID and registration. This is mandatory and regularly checked by police.’ The Australian and New Zealand Association of Antiquarian Booksellers is part of the ILAB global stolen books network, which works with libraries and within the UNESCO Unidroit Convention on stolen or illegally exported cultural treasures. ‘The book trade has been responsible for helping to catch book thieves in the USA and Europe,’ says Craddock. ‘If we are concerned that a book bearing library marks is stolen, then we contact that library.’

The impact of the loss of rare books, archival sources or manuscript materials from libraries is that ‘the information they contained might be lost to humanity forever,’ says McDade. ‘The materials in libraries are the thing upon which our history and culture is built. When they disappear, there is no getting them back.’

This article was originally published on the Wheeler Centre Dailies website.

Seattle: Pioneer Square galleries

Pioneer Square is the historic centre of Seattle, rebuilt after the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. It was the city’s heart of industry with the first lumber mill, where the phrase skid road/row was coined due to the logs being skidded down the road from the mill. The beautiful brick buildings of the area are the largest concentration of Romanesque architecture in the United States. Today, these buildings are home to galleries, antique stores, book shops, rug galleries, bike shops, restaurants and cafes.

Pioneer square

Pioneer square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Two galleries I stumbled into had particularly interesting exhibitions. The Jackson Street Gallery was showing photographs by Edward S Curtis. Curtis was a photographer who set out on an ambitious project to compile a 20 volume work of photographs documenting the Native Americans in the early 1900s. The work was based on subscription to the set. He failed to secure enough subscriptions and funding and it took around 20 years to finally complete his project. By this time, he had faded into obscurity and this type of photography had gone out of fashion. Few copies of his work remain today, and now fetch very high prices. Complete sets of the 20 volume work sell in the millions. The exhibition showcases many examples of Curtis’ photographs.

Edward S Curtis via Library of Congress Creative Commons

Edward S Curtis via Library of Congress Creative Commons

Davidson Galleries is currently showing an exhibition of hand-coloured lithographs from John J Audubon’s mid 19th century works Birds of America and The Quadrupeds of North America. Like Curtis’ work, these folios were produced based on subscription, with Birds of America now holding the record for the world’s most expensive book. There are only 120 copies remaining intact, with one of them held in Melbourne’s State Library of Victoria.

John J Audubon's Birds of America

John J Audubon’s Birds of America

It is Melbourne Rare Book Week back home, so it seemed serendipitous to find both of these exhibitions by chance while exploring Seattle.

God bless America

God bless America

Seattle: sightseeing

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The Seattle Centre is home to a variety of museums, galleries, music venues and Seattle’s most famous sight, the Space Needle. I finally succumbed to tourist fever and went up to the observation deck, which is around 57 stories high and has incredible 360 degree views over Seattle. From there you can see out across Puget Sound, Lake Washington, out to Mount Ranier, as well as getting a bird’s eye view of downtown Seattle and its suburbs.

Space Needle viewed from inside the glasshouse

Space Needle viewed from inside the glasshouse

Below the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass. An exhibition of glass art works by local artist, Dale Chihuly, set amongst a garden. This place blew my mind. The glass is beautiful and intricate. The colours and shapes are stunning. Some pieces are on a grand scale and it is a substantial collection.

Glasshouse in Chihuly Gardens

Glasshouse in Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

Chihuly Gardens

From Chihuly, I walked down to the Seattle waterfront via the Seattle Museum of Art’s Olympic Sculpture Park. The park is a former industrial site that has been transformed into a public park with sculptures. From the park, there are great views of the city skyline and waterfront. It is the perfect place to take some time out and have a quiet place to reflect.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park

The Olympic Sculpture Park extends down to a small beach which has been restored. The beach adjoins Myrtle Edwards Park, a green oasis where locals walk their dogs, have picnics and go jogging.

The beach

The beach

Cute!

Cute!

From the park, I walked all along the waterfront and back to my hotel. After a few hours walking it was time to hit Le Panier, a local patisserie for a pain au chocolat.

View down 1st Ave from my hotel room

View down 1st Ave from my hotel room

Seattle: conference wrap

‘Libraries make everything better,’ according to Joe Janes (@joejanes) the editor of the book Library 2020. Janes delivered the closing session of the AALL 2013 conference. In Janes’ book, he asked a number of contributors to write essays starting with the line ‘The Library in 2020 will be…’. Janes’ presentation summarised the divergent views expressed in these essays, organised around the themes of stuff, place, people, community, leadership and vision. Some of these views are optimistic, while others paint a bleaker picture of the future for libraries.

Janes’ view is that the library of 2020 will be characterised by the things librarians uniquely bring such as service orientation, organisation, literacy, quality, depth, authority and detail. He believes that successful libraries will serve niches and that their focus will move away from giving access and acting as middlemen, since middlemen are increasingly redundant. Just look at travel agents and record store owners as examples.

Janes’ session was a perfect way to close the conference. He was very entertaining and his ideas were provocative. Janes concluded by asking the audience to reflect on their own libraries and where they want them to be in 2020.

Another session I enjoyed over the last few days was a presentation on integrating iPads into an academic library at Duke Law. The presenters focused on reference services, classroom teaching and library services. Their papers are online.

Steve Hughes (@stevehughes) ran a session on giving great presentations where he focused on opening your session powerfully, tips for good presentations, making your session interactive, and being confident through body language and eye contact with the audience. Hughes was a engaging and funny presenter, and made the session interesting, practical and fun. The tips I found most useful were ideas for having an intriguing introduction to your presentation, and making the most of people’s natural curiosity to get them engaged, energised and interacting with you during presentations.

A panel discussion on ebooks raised more questions than resolutions. What I found most interesting was that American libraries are struggling with ebook lending, licensing and formats just as much as Australian libraries. Libraries and publishers alike have a long way to go to resolve a workable model for ebooks. I think ebooks will go the way of CD-Roms and be replaced by more sophisticated digital formats.

But conferences aren’t all about sessions, there’s also the social side of things…

Last night was the ‘Member Appreciation Event’, a big conference party. The event was hosted at the incredible Experience Music Project, a music museum. Food, drinks, music and the museum’s exhibitions made for a great party. My favourite exhibitions were the Nirvana and Women Who Rock ones.

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After the party, we discovered the fabled publisher hospitality suites in the conference hotel. A tip for anyone attending this conference in the future, find the hospitality suites. The big legal publishers rent out suites and provide fully stocked bars for delegates every night of the conference, open into the wee hours of the morning. No wonder they charge so much for subscriptions.

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The conference is over now and I am a little sad. My new found American library friends are headed back to their home towns across the country and now I’m solo in Seattle. But my library business is not over yet. Next up, a tour of the Seattle public library, and a meeting with one of the directors there. Stay tuned.

triple j’s Hottest 100: where were the women?

Polly Jean Harvey

Polly Jean Harvey

Over the weekend, the ABC’s youth broadcaster triple j played the top 100 songs from the past 20 years of its ‘Hottest 100‘ series, as voted by its listeners via a recent poll.

‘Best of’ lists are by their nature subjective, and will leave some listeners unsatisfied, even outraged. The results of this poll whipped up plenty of passionate debate about the merits of the songs that were included, while disappointed fans took to social media to lament the omission of their favourite tunes and artists. Complaining, debating and celebrating the song choices are all part of the fun of these polls.

During the conversation over the weekend, and as the songs progressively counted down from 100 to one, fans also started calling out a glaring gap in the poll. There were virtually no female artists. Apart from the addition of rare solo artists, including Lana Del Rey and M.I.A., and the occasional band with a female lead such as The Cranberries and Florence + the Machine, women’s voices were noticeably quiet.

The triple j website reports that there were only five songs sung by female leads and fourteen songs played by female musos. That is a total of 19 tracks out of 100 that featured women over the past 20 years of music.

You don’t have to try too hard to name women who have shaped and influenced music over the past two decades. Polly Jean Harvey is a prolific, lauded and much awarded singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist. Harvey has released eight studio albums and collaborated with singers such as Nick Cave, Bob Dylan and Thom Yorke. Her accolades include being the only artist (male or female) to win two Mercury Prize awards, and two of her albums are included in the Rolling Stone 500 Greatest Albums of All Time list.

Looking closer to home, multiple ARIA award winner Sarah Blasko has also had an impressive musical career. With three studio albums going Platinum, and her Seeker Lover Keeper collaboration with Holly Throsby and Sally Seltman going Gold, Blasko has also contributed to soundtracks and tribute albums, toured extensively, and in 2009 received the J Award for Australian Album of the Year.

These two women have been widely recognised by their peers and the music industry, yet they failed to make the cut in the Hottest 100. They can count themselves among a roll-call of other high profile female artists and female fronted bands who didn’t resonate with voters including Bjork, Amy Winehouse, Martha Wainwright, Missy Elliot, Hole, Feist, Garbage, No Doubt, Luscious Jackson, L7, Veruca Salt, Magic Dirt, The Breeders, Tori Amos, Clare Bowditch, KD Lang, The Waifs, Catpower, The Gossip and the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, to name just a few.

Why were these women and others so noticeably absent from the list? Close to a million votes were cast in the poll. Without statistics on the gender of voters we can only assume that both male and female voters shunned female artists. Why is it that women who are recognised through awards, accolades and high sales volumes aren’t vote winners with the public? It is hardly a celebration of the past 20 years of music without women’s voices, women’s riff-playing and women’s drum-pounding.

How can we ensure women musicians are represented and heard? We have the Stella Prize promoting women writers in Australia and the Forbes Most Powerful Women List celebrating women in business, society and politics. Maybe we need to take a similar approach with an all-female music poll.

Let’s ask voters for their favourite songs of the past 20 years as sung by female solo artists, all-girl groups, or bands with female leads. Let’s pay tribute to their talent and their important contribution to the soundtrack of the past two decades. Of course, this idea will raise concerns about ghettoising female artists in the same way the Stella Prize is criticised in relation to sidelining women writers. But at least it would allow for female musicians to be heard over the din of their male counterparts.

This article originally appeared in Women’s Agenda

The terrain and emotion of the written word

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I recently read three pieces that coalesce around shared themes of the physicality and emotion of reading and writing. The first was Mal Booth’s (@malbooth) posts on his blog FromMelbin. These posts are digital photos of his handwritten journal entries. Mal reflects on his appreciation of handwriting as an expressive art, the emotion of committing writing to paper, and what handwriting can convey to the reader. I was scrolling through Twitter posts at the tram stop when I happened upon Mal’s blog entry. The tram arrived. I would otherwise have put my phone in my pocket and forgotten about the blog posts. It was Mal’s decision to post them as handwritten entries that caused me to return to them once I was settled in my seat on the tram. It was like receiving a handwritten letter. It felt personal. I wanted to linger. It reminded me of the pen pals I corresponded with as a young teenager. I was always so excited to open letters from the other side of the world. Each author with their own distinctive handwriting, writing style and tales to tell.

The second piece I read was a Meanjin blog post by Bethanie Blanchard (@beth_blanchard). In this post, she describes a favourite tumblr of hers, Together, as always. It is ‘a collection of images of the dedications and inscriptions on inside covers’ of books given as gifts. She describes the reading of these inscriptions as a voyeuristic pleasure. She writes also about the inscriptions on her own books. They are markers of her life’s journey. The inscriptions prompt memories of the givers. They personalise the books. Like in Mal’s blog entries, the handwriting conveys emotion. I reminisced on the books given to me by friends and lovers, holding their inscriptions, containing their secret messages.

The third piece was an article in Scientific American which examines how technology changes the way we read and how reading on the screen affects our comprehension of the text. The article evokes the tactile experience of reading on paper. Reading on paper engages the senses and creates a topography. According to the article, we recognise words on paper like a mental map of terrain, much like we do with physical landscapes, our cities, our houses, a walking trail, a mountain incline.  We experience the thickness and smell of paper, the sound of turning pages, the weight of the book, the placement of text on the relative space of a page. This textual landscape orients us and helps us navigate.

This piece draws an interesting distinction between reading on paper and on screen. The experience of reading on paper is more emotional. The suggestion is that this aids our comprehension of the text. The reading experience helps integrate our understanding.

Re-reading the three pieces together builds an appreciation of the different ways we engage with the written word, whether in handwriting, or otherwise in print. We lose some of this by reading on the screen.

It made me reflect on why I have resisted reading ebooks. I am not technology-averse, quite the opposite. As the Scientific American article points out, ebooks and other screen formats are a poor simulation of the aesthetic of paper books, so why bother trying to replicate the experience? The challenge for publishers and content creators is to seize the opportunities for the new reading possibilities and experiences offered by these technologies.

Given the poor simulation of paper, it seems inevitable that there will be a shift away from text-based content for reading on the screen in favour of visual formats such as video. This infographic predicts the volume of video in 2015.

I am excited by the possibilities promised by digital content and new ways of reading on the screen. Meanwhile, I’ve enjoyed my trip into nostalgia for handwritten letters and journals, book inscriptions and dog-eared paper books marked with my reading journeys.

Ebooks and libraries: the digital disruption

Ebook publication and use has grown exponentially over the last few years. Libraries, publishers and rights holders are all struggling to adapt to the new digital landscape, and to find a workable commercial model which preserves rights and revenue, but also meets the information needs and preferences of library users.

The Australian Library and Information Association (ALIA) held a think tank (#aliathinktank) in Melbourne today to explore some of the issues for libraries related to ebooks and elending. Similar sessions are being held around the country. From these think tanks, ALIA hopes to develop a sector response to assist libraries to navigate the challenges associated with collecting and lending ebooks. ALIA has developed an issues paper on the topic.

We heard from several speakers who presented from the perspectives of different types of libraries, including public, academic, state and special libraries. Panel sessions invited audience participation and dissected the issues raised in the presentations.

While ebooks promise many advantages such as reducing shelf space, and meeting user preferences for digital content and 24/7 access, there are also many challenges facing libraries in relation to ebooks. Libraries account for around 12% of book sales in Australia, so they don’t have great market power. There are difficulties negotiating reasonable contractual terms with publishers and ebook aggregators. Costs are high and escalating. There are a lack of consistent ereader devices and ebook formats. Technologies for searching and discovery do not integrate well. Ebooks are not being developed to offer the functionality promised by the digital content experience. There are licencing and lending restrictions. Libraries perceive a lack of engagement by publishers to understand their role. It is a bleak picture.

Publishers are also facing uncertain times in the wake of ebook popularity. The presenters raised thoughtful points on the opportunities for libraries in this environment. Library associations around the world are increasing their advocacy efforts to raise the public awareness of the role of libraries. Libraries hold library usage data that is of value to publishers. They meet a market demand for those who want free access to ebooks. Libraries create new audiences for buying books. They build spaces to encourage interaction with ereading. Libraries train and educate the public in ereader technologies. They provide a nexus between print and digital content. Libraries can influence publishers to produce content that meets the information needs and preferences of readers.

These are all positive and interesting points but they are not ground breaking. After 600 years of print as the dominant technology for reading, ebooks are part of a digital content revolution. As the think tank progressed it became clear that the response needed by libraries is to break and rebuild the library business model. The music industry, magazines, newspapers and publishing are all seeing their old business models disintegrate and be reimagined. Libraries are no different.

Ebooks are merely containers for content. The containers will be replaced by new ones. Just think of VHS, floppy discs and CDs. Libraries should focus on their role in facilitating access to content. Maybe this means self-publishing, forming direct relationships with authors, and curation of content. Perhaps it means becoming co-producers in partnership with publishers or others. Or it might be facilitating access to content through education, training and integration into the workflows of users. It is probably a combination of these depending on the library and the context in which it operates.

At a fundamental level libraries need to ask: what is their core purpose? Who are they serving? Who are they competing with? What is their role?

Whatever the future, it is disruptive. Ebooks are the thin end of the digital wedge. It will be fascinating to see how ALIA and the library sector responds to the challenge.

Presentations from the think tank will be available on the ALIA website.

ALIA Information Online 2017

I didn’t hear a single presentation pondering the future of libraries at the ALIA Information Online conference this year. What a relief! The profession seems to finally be stepping out with confidence and just getting on with things.

There were a few years there where everyone was anxious about the future relevance of the library. Perhaps that was a natural reaction to, dare I say the word, disruption. We took a good look at ourselves, had a shake up and now we are moving ahead.

I tweeted my takeaways themes from the conference. 

The stand-out theme for me was prototyping and experimenting, having a minimal viable product, and being quick to market. This theme came up in a number of talks including Paula Bray’s keynote.

Slide from Paula Bray’s keynote

Perhaps the newly embraced confidence of the profession means we are finally willing to let go of perfection, loosen up and experiment more.

Copies of the papers and presentations I co-presented are up on the conference site. The New UX at State Library Victoria gives the inside story on our in progress major redevelopment project. Around the world in not-quite-80 libraries looks at major trends in library spaces across North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand.

Check out the conference program for the latest thinking and interesting projects in the Australian library sector.

No Novel is an Island: Digital Writers Festival


How can libraries, writers, readers and publishers evolve together through online writing communities? In late 2016, I was part of an online panel discussing this question at the Digital Writers Festival. The event is available to watch online. The audio is a bit dodgy to begin with but it improves, I promise!

Here’s the blurb from the festival website:

‘Writing no longer needs to be a solitary occupation. The digital age has allowed writer’s groups and communities to spring forth across time(zones) and space. Society, friends and family can be part of the process, in fact online communities can grow audience, expand craft, and build a publishing career. Just like the writer, libraries are evolving too. But how can libraries, writers and publishing evolve together? This panel discusses untraditional collections, the value of audience, and innovation within independent publishing.’

I hope you enjoy the chat. We did.

An Isolated Incident: review

Although in style Emily Maguire’s novel, An Isolated Incident might fit into the psychological thriller genre neatly alongside Jane Harper’s The Dry, I think that is a short sell for this complex novel. Maguire’s book grapples with a broad range of social and cultural issues including misogyny, violence against women and the portrayal of women in the media. It is more akin in substance to Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things if I was searching for a contemporary stable mate.

When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the truck-stop town of Strathdee, half way between Sydney and Melbourne, she leaves behind her sister, Chris. The novel is party told in the first person from Chris’s perspective. Chris is one of the most compelling and finely drawn characters I have met in a novel for some time. Maguire completely nails her voice. I loved her vernacular and sassy turns of phrase. We discover that Chris is equally tough and scared, independent and needy, street-wise and shielded. Her sister’s death sends her into a spiral of grief as she grasps onto the threads of her life, not knowing who to trust. I was hooked by Chris immediately. I was propelled along on her narrative at the speed of the road trains thundering along the highway into Strathdee.

The balance of the novel is told in the third person from the perspective of May, a journalist from Sydney who arrives in Strathdee to cover Bella’s murder story and to escape her miserable love life. At first I found the shift in perspective from Chris to May jarring, but came to appreciate the relief of stepping off the juggernaut of Chris and her terrifying crash through life. May is a secondary character, and honestly it would be difficult to compete with Chris, who was such a perfectly realised protagonist. May’s character did serve to expand the plot and gave Maguire the opportunity to explore some themes that otherwise would not have had breath in the novel.

What makes this novel captivating and unique is Maguire’s choice not to shine all of the focus on discovering the perpetrator of the crime. This thread runs quietly in the background. However, the main focus is squarely on the aftermath of Bella’s death and how it affects her loved-ones and her community, and how the murder fits into a broader social context. At its core this novel asks questions about how women are treated in their personal relationships and by society. There is anger in these pages.

I read this novel in two sittings and I adored it.

This review is part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.

What I learned in 2016

GLAM Blog Club has thrown out the challenge of reflecting on what we learned in 2016. Where to start? It was a huge year.

I certainly learned a lot about building projects, change management and philanthropy as we continued our $88m, 5-year building redevelopment at the library. I have co-authored a paper to present at ALIA Online on this project if you would like to hear the behind-the-scenes story on that.

The most important lesson I have learned from the project is that even monumental and seemingly insurmountable challenges can be solved simply by taking one step at a time, by having faith and confidence in yourself, and by asking for help when you need it. I also learned that the best ideas are found within the organisation, you just need the right ways to help them emerge. On the flip side, there are times when for all the best intentions, the skills or knowledge are not available to be tapped within the organisation. Finding the right external expert can kick-start an idea and give it momentum.

So many magical and astonishing moments happen at the library every year, choosing highlights (and their lessons) is tricky. One event sticks with me as fertile ground for learning. In 2016, the library was the hub for Melbourne Music Week. I will be honest, it is not easy for a 160-year-old library to transform itself into a music venue. Not everything went to plan, but it was phenomenal. The punters loved it, the crowds were huge, the media coverage was positive. The lesson? Big, brave ideas are worth pursuing, go in knowing it won’t be perfect, work through the issues, and keep smiling.

Queen’s Hall, State Library Victoria, Melbourne Music Week

In 2016, I was fortunate to visit public and academic libraries in Canada and New Zealand. I learned about the library systems in both countries and brought/stole some great ideas home with me. Canada inspired me with ideas around making/creating/innovation spaces and services. New Zealand is streets ahead of Australia in indigenous collections, services and programs. Also in New Zealand, I visited the construction site for the new Christchurch Central Library. It was fascinating to learn about planning a new central library from scratch in a city that has been without a central library for over 5 years, since the earthquake. I was particularly interested in the thinking behind designing jobs and an organisational structure starting from a blank page.

I have traveled for work and visited many libraries in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand over the past few years. To share some of what I have learned I have teamed up with an American colleague who has also visited many libraries around the world. We will present on this at the ALIA Online conference this year. The most important lesson for me? Libraries in Australia, and particularly in Victoria, compare positively to other libraries. I believe we have some of the world’s best libraries right here.

During 2016 I spoke at the Digital Writers Festival and Remix Sydney on panels, did a keynote at Pivot Summit in Geelong (with a smoke machine!) and PauseFest, chaired a panel (outdoors, freezing Melbourne night) and hosted an author conversation at M Pavilion, and was a guest speaker at Vancouver Public Library, Auckland Public Library and the University of Auckland, as well as speaking at a whole range of State Library events. What did I learn from these? Public speaking used to be my arch nemesis. Now, I rarely feel nervous before public speaking and actually enjoy it. It is one of those fears you have to face and just keep practicing. The way I think about it – it’s a privilege to have a voice and to be heard. Many people do not have a voice. Use it wisely.

Staying warm under our blankies at M Pavilion

On the personal side of things, I had three goals for 2016: read more, exercise more and write more. The main barrier to each of these goals was time. With a full-time job and two young kids, all of these activities fall down low on the priority list. So, the challenge was to somehow find more time.

Here is how I did it. I gave up watching television, I limited my time on social media, I started waking up an hour earlier (5.30) and I stopped working every evening after the kids went to bed. I learned that I could carve out quite a bit of extra time to focus on my goals, even when I did not stick to my guns all the time. Some mornings I slept later, I occasionally watched trashy tv or disappeared time on social media, and sometimes it was inevitable that I had to work at night.

Besides lack of time, the other barrier was permission. I learned that it is important to give myself the permission to spend more time doing the things I love. As a parent, this can feel like an indulgence. I learned to block out the little voice on my shoulder whispering about guilt into my ear.

So, how did I go on my goals?

Read more: I signed up to Goodreads to track my reading and set myself a goal of 100 books in the 2016 Reading Challenge. I got through 43 books, not quite my target, but many more books than the previous year. Here are the books I read. I also wrote a couple of posts on my blog about some of my favourite reads. I had a wonderful reading year and relished my time spent with my head in a book.

Exercise more: by going to the gym before work and on weekends, I averaged 5-6 gym sessions a week. Some weeks it was less or not at all, but mostly I stuck to my routine. I also improved my diet. On the positive side, I lost 6 kilos and got much fitter. On the down side, none of my clothes fit me anymore (ok, not so bad, it gave me an excuse to buy new clothes).

Write more: this one was trickier. I kicked off the year with a positive start by doing Catherine Deveny’s Gunna’s Writing Course. But I did not stick to my plan to write a little every day, and then I just didn’t write at all. I partly resurrected my goal towards the end of the year by doing National Novel Writing Month aka NaNoWriMo. I knew I would not make the 50,000 word target because of other commitments, but I decided to give it a crack anyway. I got to 30,000 words – not a bad effort for my first go. I have also been writing more on my blog.

The one final lesson I learned both from my professional and personal experiences in 2016 is that sometimes to get where you want to go, you have to be willing to push through the pain barrier. Whether it is a spin class, a piece of writing, a challenging project, or public speaking, it pays to persevere. Take one step at a time and be strong.

What does 2017 bring? I will write about that in my next GLAM Blog Club post…

Between a Wolf and a Dog: review


The terrible story behind this book is well known. Georgia Blain writes a novel about a character with brain cancer, and then gets diagnosed with brain cancer herself. She finished the book knowing her diagnosis. The reviews of Blain’s book led me into the Readings store at the State Library one lunchtime to buy it. I took it home on the tram, wrapped in its crinkly brown paper bag, holding it with the anticipation of reading. 

That evening my mother rang me to tell me she had been diagnosed with cancer. I tucked the book still in its paper bag onto my bookshelf. The book sat ticking like a time bomb on the shelf while I did my best to ignore it. I did not read it.

The terrible story behind this book is well known. Blain died of brain cancer in December 2016. Her mother, Anne Deveson, died just days later. I took the book down from the shelf and unwrapped it. Maybe reading it now would somehow honour Blain’s and Deveson’s memories. I decided to face it.

The novel winds through a day in the life of a dysfunctional family (what family isn’t dysfunctional?) as the family members struggle through their individual and collective turmoils, some ordinary, some monumental. The most monumental being the family’s matriarch coming to terms with her diagnosis of cancer, alone. 

The narrative is drenched in a Sydney deluge that falls in sheets against the windows, floods through the gutters and gardens, and courses along the streets. Will the spring rain drown everything or is it cleansing and a promise of new growth?

Blain’s writing is poetic and lucid. Her characters are flawed, caught in conflicts of pain and joy. She treats them sympathetically but not sentimentally. This is a tender novel and full of beauty. It is much more about living than it is about dying. 

The terrible story behind this book is well known. I am grateful that Blain wrote it in the face of her diagnosis. I am glad to have honoured her by reading it. My mother continues her cancer treatment.

This review is part of my contribution to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.

The Hate Race


With a population of close to 2 million, Greater Western Sydney is a key influencer of election outcomes, yet the voices of people living there are rarely represented in Australian literature. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir, The Hate Race, is the voice of growing up black in the white suburbs of western Sydney in the 1980’s. As Beneba Clarke states on her Twitter profile ‘I try to write beautifully, about ugly things’. Her story is dark but her voice sings with West Indian lyricism.

In her memoir, Beneba Clarke relates episodes of cruel bullying and racism directed at her throughout her school years. These range from name-calling, nasty notes, and exclusion to physical abuse. Perhaps more disturbing are the tales of inadvertent racism delivered obliviously by children and adults. They are not meaning to be cruel but their racism is ingrained and seeps out through their pores.

Beneba Clarke is resolute. She learns to direct her anger from these experiences into being better than her tormentors. I’m sure others who have had similar experiences have instead directed their anger inwards and carried this burden through their lives.

The memoir is not all bleak. There are moments of real joy and humour shining through the cracks, lighting Beneba Clarke’s path.

I also grew up in western Sydney, a few years ahead of Maxine. It was not a place that embraced difference, despite the growing multicultural diversity of its population. Neither was it a place that celebrated academic achievement or ambition. Given that context, it would be simple to dismiss Beneba Clarke’s bullying experience as typical of schoolyards of the time and place. Certainly, that’s what her teachers do. She is an easy target because of the colour of her skin. But racism doesn’t stop at the school gates, it is insidious and stretches into every experience of her childhood, and reaches beyond childhood into her adult life in suburban Melbourne.

I escaped the western suburbs of Sydney as soon as I had the chance. I have not returned for over 20 years. It is a mythical place to me now, a dreamscape. Beneba Clarke’s memoir brought that dreamscape back into focus for me, flickering memories of the ugly things I experienced. It also reminded me that as a white girl, I got off lightly.

This review is part of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017.

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017

The Australian Women Writers Challenge encourages participants to read and review books by Australian women. In 2017 the challenge also focuses on classics and diversity. 

This year, I have signed up for the first time. I kicked off my reading year with Maxine Beneba Clarke’s memoir, The Hate Race

Last year I read 13 books by Australian women, all new releases. I didn’t review any. Now I have signed up for the challenge, I plan to read more books by Australian women in 2017, dip into some classics, and write some reviews too.

The challenge, along with the Stella Prize, are fantastic ways to promote Australian Women Writers and their books. Reading more Australian women writers increases books sales and supports authors, bookstores and the local publishing industry.

Your local library also has a strong selection of books by Australian women writers. And here is an insiders tip – if they don’t have the one you want, you can always ask for it to be purchased for their collection.

Happy reading!

The books I loved in 2016 published in other years

I shared my favourite newly released books of 2016 in an earlier post. This year, I also read some crackers published in other years. I had a little excursion into Canadian Literature thanks to a visit to Canadian public libraries and the excellent recommendations of their librarians. I also met a super helpful sales assistant at the John Fleuvog store in Gastown, Vancouver. You have to love a city where you can get good shoes and great CanLit recommendations in one place.

As a result, three of the six books I have chosen are by Canadian authors. Two others are memoir, and one is an Australian crime fiction classic.


A Complicated Kindness, Miriam Toews

I adored A Complicated Kindness. This CanLit classic came up as a recommendation from everyone I asked in Canadian libraries, as well as being a winner of the Governor General’s Literary Award. It is a coming of age story set in a cloistered Mennonite community in the US. Funny, dark and heart-breaking. Do yourself a favour and read this one.


February, Lisa Moore

Another CanLit recommendation, February, is a story of grief and loss set on the Newfoundland coast in the wake of a catastrophe. Playing with time and switching between the present day and flashbacks, chronology in this novel is less important than the emotional trajectory. It is beautiful and poetic. 


Indian Horse, Richard Wagamese

I asked for some First Nations CanLit recommendations and Indian Horse was suggested by several people. This story of cultural alienation, separation from traditional land, and the reality of life as a First Nations aspiring hockey player is full of sorrow and hope. Beautifully set against the the Canadian wilderness, it draws on myth and magic. A great introduction to First Nations literature.


Wild, Cheryl Strayed

I read Wild while travelling through Canada. Some of my journey took me close to the Pacific Crest Trail where Strayed heals her grief through an onerous and sometimes joyful thousand-mile solo trek. I spotted the mountain tops of the Cascades as I traveled by train through British Columbia. Seeing the landscape while reading the novel made me appreciate the scale of the task she had set herself without any training or support. I enjoyed Strayed’s humour and self-deprecating writing. A great travel read.


Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, Jeanette Winterson

Jeanette Winterson is one of my all-time favourite writers. I don’t love all of her books equally. I have my favourite children, so to speak, but this one is an absolute stand-out. This memoir is the auto-biographical version of her novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and is the story of her growing up in a strictly religious family with a domineering and clearly mad mother. It is the story of her searching for her biological mother. Most importantly, it is the story of her finding a way to love herself and others. Every sentence in this book is perfect and devastating. The best memoir I have read? Possibly.


The Broken Shore, Peter Temple

2016, the year I finally got around to reading The Broken Shore. I don’t read a lot of crime fiction so I can’t claim much knowledge about the genre beyond a dedicated love of Raymond Chandler, however, I think I can say this would have to be the quintessential Australian crime fiction novel. I loved the men of few words, the Australian landscapes, both rural and urban, and Temple’s writing style. There’s even a scene in the State Library Victoria! I have Jane Harper’s The Dry on my summer reading list so I can expand my adventures into Australian crime writing.

My favourite books of 2016

This year I tried to carve out more time to read. I abandoned television. I limited my time on social media.  I traded movies on long-haul flights for novels. I snuck to my bedroom when the inlaws were visiting to read (okay that isn’t a new strategy). 

In 2016 I also started tracking my reading on Goodreads. I set myself a target of 100 books, which I failed to reach, but I definitely read more this year than the past few years. Hoorah!

These are my top picks for 2016, followed by my favourite 2016 ‘best books’ listicles, and a quick look at my TBR (to be read) pile for summer.


Autumn by Ali Smith

Easily my favourite author at the moment. Autumn is Smith’s post-Brexit novel and the first in her planned quartet of novels, each named for a season of the year. Smith’s writing is electric, and this reads like one long poem. Whenever I finish a Smith novel I immediately want to start re-reading it again. Her books are so richly layered I feel like I have only scratched the surface.


Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Everywhere I Look is a collection of essays, observations and diary entries by one of the greatest non-fiction writers. Sharp, honest, precise. When I read Garner I wonder why anyone else even bothers writing. If I could rub a magic lamp and have any wish granted it would be to write like Helen Garner.


The North Water by Ian McGuire

A rollicking, brutal and rancid tale of life on a 19th century whaling ship headed for the Arctic. Murder, violence and extreme weather create the perfect setting for a heady thriller. It’s hard to beat the 1800’s for savagery. I loved being cast into the rank world of The North Water.


My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout

My Name is Lucy Barton was my first dip into reading Strout and now I’m wondering why I haven’t read anything of hers before. This was a quiet book that crept up on me. I read it straight after Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk, which may have been an overdose of back-to-back dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships, but I enjoyed this more than Levy. I know that will get me into trouble with everyone who loved Hot Milk, but there, I said it!


The Many by Wyl Menmuir

I would not have discovered this gem of a novel had it not been on the Booker long list. I reserved a bunch of long list titles from my local library and this was one of the first that was available. A beautiful and subtle story set in a parochial English coastal village. The village is haunted and the protagonist who arrives from out of town is haunted. At only 143 pages, The Many can be inhaled in one sitting.


His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

More 19th century murder and mayhem. His Bloody Project was another Booker long list discovery. The narrative is crafted through a set of (fictional) primary source documents including court transcripts and medical reports and presented as if it is a true crime tale. I consumed this book and carried the story around in my head for some time afterwards.


Heroes of the Frontier by Dave Eggers

A woman runs off to Alaska with her two kids in a campervan without telling anyone where she is headed. Not your typical road trip story. I read this while travelling through Canada so the landscape resonated with me. Some reviews have called Heroes of the Frontier a dark comedy, but I don’t think that label is quite right. It is dark, and it is funny, but it is also tender. The small family moving through the vast landscape captured me from the outset. I was cheering them on all the way.


Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy 

Serious Sweet is a day in the life of two anti-heroes negotiating through their lives in London. I have been a fan of A.L. Kennedy since I first read her short stories. Reviewers call her tricksy and her novels do take some work, but I think they pay back the effort. The narrative switches in and out of the characters’ rambling inner voices but once you get into the rhythm you really feel like you are inhabiting the minds of Jon and Meg. Whether you want to be caught there is another question.


The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

The Wonder was a final trip back to the 19th century, which seemed to be familiar territory for me to visit in my reading this year. I wasn’t immediately sold on this novel, but before I knew it, it had carried me away. I won’t give away any spoilers with the story line but I was captivated by this tale of life in a small Irish village where everything isn’t quite what it first seems on the surface.

Those are my picks for 2016, keeping in mind I still have a huge TBR pile of 2016 books to catch up on over summer.

Here are my favourite books I read in 2016 that were not new releases.

If you would like to check out other people’s 2016 favourites, here is my master list of listicles. You can also catch me on Radio National talking about some of these.

And my summer reading plans? Here are the 2016 books currently on my TBR pile. I’m sure I will add to it once I have another look through the listicles over the summer break.

Cars

Our family has a bad track record with cars. My maternal grandfather died in a car accident on the way to visit my mum and me in hospital when I was born. He never looked in the rear vision mirror. A truck took him out. The cops said it was the worst smash they had ever witnessed.

Mum took valium to deal with the grief. She remarked to her friends that I was a calm baby and a wonderful sleeper. She was breastfeeding.

The phone call came in the middle of the night. It was just past midnight, which made it my birthday. It was my father’s ex. She said there has been a car accident. Head-on with a tree. Your father is dead. I had trouble finding your number. I didn’t believe her. My father was very well organised.

Later that day I got a birthday card from my father, posted just before the accident.

I delivered his eulogy holding my 18 month-old son, who my father only met once. We had been estranged for over 10 years. I said you might want to meet your grandson. Two weeks after my father died, I fell pregnant with my second son.

I had a nasty legal battle with my father’s ex over his meagre estate. In the end, she got the house and I got the superannuation. A few years later she sent me a friend request on Facebook. I didn’t accept.

This piece was originally published on Catherine Deveny’s website.