Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 31, 2020

2020 ANZLitLovers Australian and New Zealand Best Books of the Year

As in previous years, these are the books I really liked and admired during 2020.  They are books that I read this year, not necessarily published this year.  The contenders are ANZ authors only.  If you read this blog regularly you know that I also read international authors and translations too, but for this list, well, there are plenty of other sources singing the praises of books published elsewhere.  All links go to my reviews.

The Longlists

Fiction Longlist

I read 58 works of fiction from Australia and New Zealand this year including two short story collections). As in previous years, I’ve longlisted the books that I rated 4 or 5-stars at Goodreads, if I felt a felt a warm glow remembering them when I looked at their covers at Goodreads See What You Read in 2020.  (NB I reserve five stars for exceptional books not just something I really liked).

(I thought about whittling this down to a tidy 25, but decided not to.  Every one of these books is worth your time and money! BTW I combined the New Zealand books into this list (in Italics) because I only read three NZ books this year.)

  1. Nothing to See (2020) by Pip Adam
  2. Rise and Shine (2020) by Patrick Allington
  3. Small Mercies (2020) by Richard Anderson
  4. Beachmasters (1985) by Thea Astley
  5. Girl with a Monkey, (1958) by Thea Astley
  6. A Kindness Cup (1974) by Thea Astley
  7. An Item from the Late News (1984) by Thea Astley
  8. The Multiple Effects of Rainshadow (1996) by Thea Astley
  9. Dragon’s Gate (2020) by Vivian Bi
  10. Symphony for the Man (2020) by Sarah Brill
  11. The Tolstoy Estate (2020) by Steven Conte
  12. Red Can Origami (2019) by Madelaine Dickie
  13. Return Ticket (One Boy’s Journey to Man #3) (2020) by Jon Doust
  14. Life After Truth (2020) by Ceridwen Dovey
  15. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams (2020) by Richard Flanagan
  16. Black Rabbit (2020) by Angus Gaunt
  17. Factory 19 (2020) by Dennis Glover
  18. The Schoonermaster’s Dance (2000) by Alan Gould
  19. Benevolence (2020) by Julie Janson
  20. Mother Tongue (2020) by Joyce Kornblatt
  21. The Labyrinth (2020) by Amanda Lohrey
  22. A Jealous Tide (2020) by Anne MacDonald
  23. Aue (2019) by Becky Manawatu
  24. Fauna (2020) by Donna Mazza
  25. Coonardoo (1929) by Katharine Susannah Prichard (I finished this in November, but am deferring my review till 2021).
  26. The Fifth Season by Philip Salom
  27. A Haunted Land (1956) by Randolph Stow
  28. A Universe of Sufficient Size (2019) by Miriam Sved
  29. The Dictionary of Lost Words (2020) by Pip Williams

Non Fiction Longlist including Life Stories and poetry (I didn’t read any NF from New Zealand, so these are all Australian.)

  1. The Innocent Reader, Reflections on Reading and Writing (2019) by Debra Adelaide
  2. Father of the Lost Boys (2020) by Yout A Alaak
  3. Drawn from Life (1941) by Stella Bowen
  4. The Coal Curse, Quarterly Essay #78 (2020) by Judith Brett
  5. The Woman Who Sailed the World (2020) by Danielle Clode
  6. Ruby Moonlight (2012) by Ali Cobby Eckermann (poetry)
  7. The Unsung Family Hero, the Death and Life of an Anti-Nazi Resistance Fighter (2020) by Paul Gardner
  8. The European Exchange, Griffith Review #69 (2020) edited by Ashley Hay and Natasha Cica
  9. Rivers, The Life Blood of Australia (2020) by Ian Hoskins
  10. How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference (2020) by Rebecca Huntley
  11. Spinoza’s Overcoat, Travels with Writers and Poets (2020) by Subhash Jaireth
  12. Untethered (2020) by Hayley Katzen
  13. A Question of Colour (2020) by Pattie Lees and Adam Lees
  14. A Sack Full of Memories (2019) by Zwi Lewin
  15. Navigable Ink (2020) by Jennifer MacKenzie (Poetry)
  16. Patrick White, a Life (1991) by David Marr
  17. Max (2020) by Alex Miller
  18. Friends and Rivals, Four Great Australian Writers (2020) by Brenda Niall
  19. Can We Trust America? A Superpower in Transition (2020) edited by Jonathan Pearlman
  20. Spy vs Spy (Australian Foreign Affairs #9) (2020) edited by Jonathan Pearlman
  21. Lowitja, the Authorised Biography of Lowitja O’Donoghue (2020) by Grant Rintoul
  22. A Mouthful of Petals, Three Years in an Indian Village (new 2020 edition) by Wendy Scarfe and Allan Scarfe
  23. The Freedom Circus (2020) by Sue Smethurst
  24. Cyclone Country, the Language of Place and Disaster in Australian Literature (2020) by Chrystopher J Spicer
  25. Yornadaiyn Woolagoodja (2020) by Yornadaiyn Woolagoodja

My favourites of 2020

I could never be a literary prize judge: I hate whittling lists down to some manageable number and casting out some really beaut books in the process.  This shortlist was 10 last year, I can’t choose two of these to be ‘out’.  And what does it really mean to be ‘in’ at number 12 and ‘out’ at number 13?  All it means in some cases is that I prefer novels to short stories…or that I’d rather read about history, literary biography and politics than memoir and travel.

Best ANZ LitLovers Australian Fiction Books of 2020 

  1. Nothing to See by Pip Adam
  2. Beachmasters by Thea Astley
  3. Symphony for the Man by Sarah Brill
  4. The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte
  5. Life After Truth by Ceridwen Dovey
  6. The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan
  7. The Schoonermaster’s Dance by Alan Gould
  8. The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey
  9. A Jealous Tide by Anne MacDonald
  10. Fauna by Donna Mazza
  11. The Fifth Season by Philip Salom
  12. The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Best ANZ LitLovers Non Fiction Books of 2020

  1. The Innocent Reader, Reflections on Reading and Writing by Debra Adelaide
  2. Drawn from Life by Stella Bowen
  3. The Woman Who Sailed the World by Danielle Clode
  4. How to Talk About Climate Change in a Way That Makes a Difference by Rebecca Huntley
  5. Spinoza’s Overcoat, Travels with Writers and Poets by Subhash Jaireth
  6. Untethered by Hayley Katzen
  7. A Question of Colour by Pattie Lees and Adam Lees
  8. Patrick White, a Life by David Marr
  9. Lowitja, the Authorised Biography of Lowitja O’Donoghue by Grant Rintoul
  10. A Mouthful of Petals, Three Years in an Indian Village (new 2020 edition) by Wendy Scarfe and Allan Scarfe
  11. The Freedom Circus by Sue Smethurst
  12. Cyclone Country, the Language of Place and Disaster in Australian Literature by Chrystopher J Spicer

Best ANZ Poetry of 2020 (it’s the best because I read it cover-to-cover, whereas mostly I only dip into poetry and don’t attempt to review it).

  1. Ruby Moonlight by Ali Cobby Eckermann
  2. Navigable Ink by Jennifer MacKenzie

The ANZ LitLovers Non-Fiction Book of the Year is.. 

Patrick White, a Life by David Marr

The ANZ LitLovers Fiction Books of the Year are… 

*drum roll*

(I couldn’t choose just one — these three are books you absolutely must not miss!)

The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

Nothing to See by Pip Adam

Over to you

Your thoughts on my choices?  What was your best book of the year?


Responses

  1. What an awe-inspiring list! I’ve read so few of them that it amounts to a fabulous TBR list

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    • Excellent, LOL, I look forward to seeing what you think of them!

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  2. Some great books here ( I agree, because I have read them) and some more to add to my list for 2021. Thank you, Lisa, for bringing so many wonderful books to my attention during 2020.

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    • I’ve really enjoyed the way we’ve played tag with our reading this year!

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      • It has been great and here’s to similar adventures in 2021!

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        • Yes! I am waiting for Sue to do her annual These Are The Books That Are Coming post so that I can make a note of the ones we mustn’t miss.

          Liked by 1 person

          • I will be in Adaminaby from tomorrow for a few days, so I’ll catch up when we return to Canberra.

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            • I enjoy your photos on FB:)

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          • Scheduled for tomorrow!

            Liked by 1 person

  3. 2020 just wasn’t a year of reading 2020 books for me. I don’t get review copies and I wasn’t able to go to bookshops. I think the only place we crossed over was A Kindness Cup.

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    • Well, only about half of them were review copies, the rest I owe to fantastic service from Readings and from Benn’s Book Store.
      They were both really amazing the way they responded, especially Benn’s who didn’t really have an online ordering system and had to crank up their existing website. Readings was great because their free Readings Monthly kept me in touch with what was new, and in some cases when I wasn’t sure I wanted to spend my hard-earned on a title, I was able to reserve them at the library, even though I couldn’t pick them up until quite recently. So I managed quite well and LOL didn’t really need to use my reserve supplies on the TBR:)

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  4. Wow! So many great books, Lisa, most of which I have not read! I haven’t put my list together yet and not sure I know which book is my favourite of the year…

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    • I could not choose just one, Kim. I absolutely loved The Labyrinth and have been raving about it to anyone who will listen, but the Flanagan is so heart-wrenching and powerful, and Nothing to See is just the cleverest novel I’ve read in a long time.
      I’ve had a really good year!

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      • I still need to read the copy of The Labyrinth you sent me! Soon, soon!

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Great books all of them Lisa but I am a snail reader beside you so always playing catch up although your recommendations are a gift which keeps me exploring writers that I may otherwise have missed. And it prods me to read those classics still waiting to be picked up which I promise to do every year and manage a couple at the most.
    I cannot wait to read The Labyrinth. Look forward to reading your review of Coonardoo and thanks for taking me back to Thea Astley. I am hopeless at choosing favourite anything being such a dilletante by nature. Glad to hear you have had a really good year in your world of books. Best wishes for the year ahead.

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    • Ah, but it’s not a competition to see who reads the most…it’s an invitation to share what we’re reading and chat about anything that crops up:)
      I am still undecided about who to feature next year… I am tempted by Eleanor Dark but have only one of her books, and then there’s Barbara Hanrahan but she’s so long out of print I’d probably be the only one reading her. So I’m still dithering around and will probably end up making a last-minute decision as before…

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      • It doesn’t seem to get too hard to find second-hand copies of Barbara Hanrahan’s books. I’ve read The Scent of Eucalyptus (loved it) and I have a few others on my TBR list. I also have a biography of Hanrahan that I haven’t yet read. It’s a shame she is out of print.
        I’m also very interested in Eleanor Dark. I read The Timeless Land many years ago and intend to reread it soon, followed by the other novels in the trilogy.

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        • Sorry about the typos!

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          • LOL Richard, I’m on my second glass of champagne so I expect my typos will be out of control before long…
            It’s going to be hard to choose (which might mean I end up doing both)… who wrote the Hanrahan biography?

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            • The biography is by Annette M Stewart. It’s published by Wakefield Press.

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  6. You are so good at letting us know about Australian books that are worthwhile reading. Thank you. I read too much travel writing this year from all over. Will probably change my focus next year but not sure which way. Definitely to unread books on my shelves🐧🤠❤

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    • Ha! The road to Hell, as my wise old mother used to say, is paved with good intentions.
      I predict that you will disappear into your lovely library and come out with armfuls of books!!

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  7. I agree that David Marr’s biography of White is superb! It’s dense and detailed but always engaging. By the way, I’m currently reading The Life and Myth of Charmian Clift by Nadia Wheatley, which is another great Australian literary biography.

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    • Ah yes, that’s one by Wheatley is one I have yet to get. Literary bios are my favourite kind of life story:)

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  8. I can never pick just one book, as is shown by my books of the year post…. But I wish I had got to the Stella Bowen, and I still intend to!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is gorgeous, especially if you have the edition with the reproductions of her portraits. I didn’t realise that the edition I bought didn’t have them, and I’m still on the lookout for a replacement.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. AS I read your fiction list, I thought, I know which will be your pick – and I was one-third right!

    One thing I do differently in my listings Is to put verse novels like Ruby Moonlight under fiction. Straight poetry, though, I find a little more problematic. .
    Anyhow good on you for doing this list.

    BTW, I gave the Clode to Brother Gums for Christmas, and he is enjoying it immensely.

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    • That’s good to know, he’s a lucky man to get such nice books from you.

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      • He is! But I get nice ones from him too – though I think he gave up on me this year because I have a bit of a backlog of books from him. (He gave me a photobook he had made from his photos, instead!)

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        • That’s a lovely idea, the photo book:)

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          • Yes, it is … he’s a good photographer, so his books which he has just started doing in the last couple of years are great.

            I know you’d like it – and I feel I should think of doing some.

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            • I did one of The Offspring’s wedding, just the snaps we’d taken on the day, and it’s lovely.

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              • Yes, I tried one of a Christmas yonks ago – very early in the digital camera days – but I’ve never done it again, and I think I should. I agree they are lovely. One or our next downsizing tasks is going to be throwing out all the albums for images we’ve digitised. I look at my digital images a lot, but not the albums. (Mr Gums did a huge negatives scanning project when he took long service leave over a decade ago. It was a great thing to do.)

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                • Ah…
                  I’m a long way off being ready to part with any of my memorabilia…

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                • I didn’t say I’ve done it – haha! But am steeling myself. I’ve been involved in too many big house cleanups in recent years .. and am starting to realise that I can’t take it with me and don’t want to leave it for the kids. I make good plans in my head during insomniac nights but just play around the edges in waking times!!

                  Liked by 1 person

  10. I trust your choices and I haven’t read any of these books. Lots of ideas for a potential AWW challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I look forward to your favourites post, Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I look forward to your favourites post every year, Lisa 😊 Such wonderful books you’ve read! The Living Sea of Waking Dreams is such a beautiful title! For me the standout writer from your list is Thea Astley. You have included not one, not two, but five books of hers in your longlist. In sheer numbers, she’s the clear winner for me 😊 I will try to read some of her books this year. Thanks for sharing your favourites 😊 Congratulations on a wonderful reading year! Hope you have a wonderful reading year in 2021 too!

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    • My reading years tend to go in cycles… my favourite authors tend to take 2-3 years to write a book, so every third year or so they all bring out a book at the same time and we are spoiled for choice.
      Thea Astley Week was a great week, she was such an amazing author — not to everyone’s taste, but there’ll never be another like her.
      Happy reading in 2021:)

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      • Thank you, Lisa :) Can’t wait to read my first Thea Astley book!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Plenty of temptations here for me. I’m hoping to get the Flanagan shortly – I’m number one on the reserve list at the library but since they are not pushing people to return books within the normal 3 weeks, it might still be a few months before it’s my turn

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    • Yes, they’re doing that here too, not chasing people for overdue books. I understand why, but it’s very frustrating all the same…

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      • I’m not sure but I think I have a few other books i can go on reading while I’m waiting. Could be wrong there though :)

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