Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 20, 2022

Top Ten popular book reviews from ANZ LitLovers for 2022

The Newtown Review of Books (an excellent site for book reviews) has just published its NRB readers’ favourite reviews of 2022, and it was nice to see in amongst a bunch of international titles, an Australian book that I really liked made the cut: Edwina Preston’s Bad Art Mother. (See my review here.)

Popularity is a perplexing phenomenon when it comes to books — and book reviews.  Often the most popular is not the best in any field of endeavour, McDonalds is testament to that.  But we in the book-loving community are fascinated by all things to do with our obsession. So, #NoSurprises, the NRB post made me wonder what my most popular reviews were, and so off I went down the rabbit hole…

Well, there’s no dislodging the reviews cribbed by students looking for material they can plagiarise.  Consistently at the top for many years are Alex La Guma’s In the Fog of  Seasons End (here); Elechi Amadi’s The Concubine (here) and Ways of Dying by Zakes Mda (here); closely followed by Noli Me Tangere (Touch me Not) by José Rizal (here) which is a set text in the Philippines; and Monsieur Ibrahim et Les Fleurs du Coran, (Monsieur Ibrahim and The Flowers of the Qur’an), by Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt, (here) and Petit Pays, (Small Country), (here) by Gaël Faye which I guess are set texts in France. This year these stalwarts are joined by posts about the Russian short stories in A Swim in the Pond in the Rain by George Sanders (here) because he uses those stories in the writing course he teaches.

So, flicking to one side all those and a very popular review of Nobel Prize winner Abdulrazak Gurnah’s After Lives, here’s my Australian and New Zealand Top Ten, links are to my reviews, numbers in brackets are the books’ places in the original WordPress list.

  1. Things We Didn’t See Coming (2010), by Steven Amsterdam (No. 5)
  2. The White Girl, (2019) by Tony Birch (No.13)
  3. A Fringe of Leaves (1976), by Patrick White (No. 15)
  4. Death of a Coast Watcher, (2020) by Anthony English (No. 16)
  5. The Labyrinth, (2020) by Amanda Lohrey (No. 17)
  6. The Solid Mandala (1966), by Patrick White (No. 21)
  7. After Story, (2021) by Larissa Behrendt (No. 22)
  8. The Penguin Best Australian Short Stories (2020), edited by Mary Lord (No. 26)
  9. Potiki, (1986) by Patricia Grace (No. 28)
  10. Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (River of Dreams) (2021), by Anita Heiss (No. 29)

Notice that?  Not one of these is a book published in 2022…

I have my suspicions about some of them.  I know Patricia Grace’s Potiki is a set text in New Zealand, and here in Australia, so is one of the top Australian posts: Things We Didn’t See Coming, by Steve Amsterdam (2010).  ‘Dead Roses’ in The Burnt Ones, by Patrick White, is my second top post overall, and *sigh* is this because universities set a short story collection to introduce students to White?  Or, is there fresh interest in White, given that A Fringe of Leaves and The Solid Mandala are right up there?

Not only that. Even an amateur statistician like me can see what’s wrong here.  The longer ago the post was published, the longer it has to make an impact in the ratings.  It has nothing to do with popularity, and everything to do with longevity.  So although I read and reviewed 49 Australian releases this year, not one of them makes this Top Ten ANZ list.

Let’s try again… here are the most popular of my reviews of Australian and New Zealand 2022 new releases:

  1. The Uncaged Sky, My 804 Days in an Iranian Prison, by Kylie Moore-Gilbert
  2. This Is Not Journalism, by Margaret Simons, in Meanjin, Winter 2022, Vol 81, Issue 2, edited by Jonathan Green
  3. Bedtime Story, by Chloe Hooper
  4. Bad Art Mother, by Edwina Preston
  5. One Bright Morning, by Wendy Scarfe (2022)
  6. The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, by Nathan Hobby
  7. Limberlost by Robbie Arnott
  8. Loveland by Robert Lukins
  9. Telltale: reading writing remembering, by Carmel Bird
  10. The Signal Line by Brendan Colley

What does this mean? Not much, I think.  Reviews of two terrific books, Kim Mahood’s Wandering with Intent and Philip Salom’s Sweeney and the Bicycles, which I published only last week, have had no time to make an impression in the rankings, and my review of Iris, by Fiona Kelly McGregor which I finished last night, appears not at all because I’ve only just started the review.  But it will still ‘count’ in any analysis of reviews from 2022.

That’s daft, isn’t it?

And none of this answers the real question: is the popularity of a post a measure of the review or of the book?

I dunno.  But it was fun to do this, even if it is completely inconclusive!


  1. I do this every year in my blogging highlights on 31 December or thereabouts and it’s rare for a this-year post to be in the top ten. I think it did happen with Trent Dalton’s debut and I think it’s going to happen this year but you’ll have to be patient!!!


    • I will try to be.
      I am not very good at patient.


  2. Popularity, as you know, Lisa, is often the kiss of death as far as high-minded literary critics are concerned. Think, for example, of Enid Blyton, or Judy Blume, or Elizabeth Goudge. Popular best-sellers are regarded as different from critical best-sellers, and once tainted with the label “popular” an author can enjoy royalties but expect to be ignored by critics, regardless of the quality of the story, characters, and style.


    • Well, I’m afraid you’d have to count me among the ‘high-minded’ when it comes Enid Blyton. The racism and snobbery in her stories weren’t unusual in her day, but I wouldn’t encourage any children to be reading them now.


  3. I think it’s all about the algorithm sadly. Perhaps the only real gauge of the quality or popularity if the review is the amount of engagement it gets, but even that is skewed as some posts become conversation threads.
    Petit Pays has been the top review in my blog for years, but it’s due to being studied in the US . I even admit to recommending it to a French lit professor who was here a few years ago (along with La petit fille de Monsieur Linh) so every week when I see it topping the charts I think of that. However it’s choice has more to do with Gaël Faye winning the Prix Goncourt lyceen that my little contribution 🤣
    I’m glad that Potiki is a studied text and that it came out in a 20 year modern classic edition.

    Well done on trying , but I think your own personal favourites of 2022 is a more interesting and enlightening list!


    • I think you’re probably right.
      I didn’t realise Petit Pays was studied in the US. It’s a marvellous book…


  4. Nice one. Thanks for presenting those “down under” books to us which don’t get all the publicity they deserve over here.


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