The Emerging Artist and I have postponed and possibly cancelled our annual pilgrimage to the Great Ocean Road, but we’ve still put our heads together for our traditional end-of-year list-making.
Because of One Thing and Another (as they’re calling it on Wittertainment), we didn’t get to the pictures very much this year, but we watched a lot of movies at home. We saw roughly 70, counting some total turkeys, but not counting the ones we watched for two minutes and then turned off, or the French comedy we walked out of at the cinema, even in our big-screen-deprived condition. There were many brilliant movies but we managed, painfully, to whittle the list down to four that we agreed on. Three of the four we saw in the theatre, sometimes even with other people. They are, in no particular order (and without links, because WordPress wouldn’t let me add them, sorry):
We each chose one more to make five each. I’ll leave you to guess who added which:
And then we agreed on a top five documentaries, two of them from the Sydney Film Festival:
We subscribed to Belvoir Street, but the Virus wrecked out theatre schedule. I think we got to three shows, and though it was wonderful to be there, masked and distanced, nothing blew me away.
The Emerging Artist read 46 books in hard copy and roughly 20 on her device. Of the hard copy books, a sizeable minority, but still a minority, of 22 were by women (she didn’t keep track of the device-books, but there were probably more women there, she says a little defensively). She has given me a list of her four best books in non-fiction and fiction categories. Here they are then, non-fiction first:
Cassandra Pybus, Truganini: Journey through the Apocalypse (Allen & Unwin 2020)
What remains with me is the sheer doggedness of Truganini’s determination to live and care for her country. She emerges as a woman who maintained her sense of herself and her culture and was adaptable and strategic in her survival. Even though we largely see her through the journals of George Augustus Robinson, Pybus manages to convey the country, the hardships endured and a woman abused but not defeated.
Jess Hill, See What You Made Me Do (Black Inc 2019)
This was hard to read, especially the first few chapters that set out the reality of violence against women in Australia. But I persevered and my understanding of perpetrators grew as well as what might be done to stop the ongoing violence.
John Blay, Wild Nature: Walking Australia’s South East Forests (NewSouth Publishing 2020)
I haven’t quite finished this, but I’m including it for what I’ve read so far. It’s a book that incites passion about preserving the south east forests for their sacred sites, for the diversity of plants and living creatures that create the forests and for what they provide to the human spirit. The intense forest wars are detailed but also what it is like to simply follow animal tracts in exploring the diversity of forest life.
Celia Paul, Self-portrait (Vintage digital 2019)
Celia Paul is an English figurative painter whose work I love. This memoir gives snapshots into how she creates her work, including the dynamic between the artist and the sitter. (Few sitters would endure her requirements, so her mother and sisters do a lot of the heavy lifting.) It also includes her long and tortured relationship with Lucien Freud.
Sebastian Barry, The Temporary Gentleman (Viking 2014)
A sequel to A Thousand Moons and set in reconstruction era USA, this is beautifully written tale of love and kindness in the face of the horrors of racism post the civil war. Barry makes these characters live off the page and is a joy to read.
Richard Russo, Everybody’s Fool (Knopf 2016)
Another book set in the USA, but in modern times. It’s set in an economically depressed small town but the overall effect is not bleak. It is funny and moving and a gripping read.
Bernadine Evaristo, Girl, Woman, Other (Hamish Hamilton 2019)
My standout book this year. I love the voices of 12 different women, whose stories touch or interweave with each other as we get a view of being women of colour in England. I went onto read Mr Loverman, an unusual coming out tale. Both books tell their stories with humour and humanity.
Emma Donoghue, The Pull of the Stars (Little Brown 2020)
I don’t think I’ve ever read descriptions of giving birth like this. Set in the maternity ward of a Dublin hospital in 1918, it gives a visceral account of dealing with an out-of-control pandemic, poverty and giving birth. It also has the backdrop of the aftermath of the war and the fight for Irish independence.
Nino Haratischwili, The Eighth Life (Scribe 2019)
The author is Georgian and writes in German. This is the first translation of her works and I hope more will come. It’s a mammoth family saga that spans the 20th century in Georgia and its relationship to Russia and the west. I knew nothing about Georgian culture so it was a wonderful revelation. Don’t be daunted by its size – I managed to prop it up to read in bed!
As for me, I read 72 books (counting journals), but don’t know how to pick best books from my year. My weirdest book was Rhoda Lerman’s The Book of the Night. Frankest but non-porny sex scenes were in Ocean Vuong’s On Earth We Were Briefly Gorgeous. Most transformative of my sense of the place I live was Grace Karsken’s The Colony, of my childhood home was Diane Menghetti’s The Red North. Most transporting novel for adults was Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light; most exhilarating book for children Tohby Riddle’s The Astronaut’s Cat; most beautifully produced book of poetry that delivered brilliantly, Natalie Harkin’s Archival-Poetics; most memorable comic was Jeff Lemire and others’ Black Hammer. Whew! I’ve done a quick gender etcetera breakdown in an earlier post (here).
We saw a lot of great TV, but these lists can’t go on forever. That’s it for 2020. Feel free to name your own Bests and make recommendations in the comments. Stay safe and active in the climate emergency; stay socially close but physically distant until the vaccine has saved us all. That is, Happy New Year!