On the 5th July 2009, with very little idea about what I was doing or what I was letting myself in for, I created a Blogspot account and wrote my first review on Brona’s Books (a teen thriller called Gone).
It has been quite a journey since then!
Given how much I’ve struggled with my blogging mojo this year, I feel that this year more than ever I should honour the years of work and passion that have gone into This Reading Life (WP) and Brona’s Books (Blogger).
To celebrate, I have trawled through my backlist of reviews to find MY thirteen favourite reads of the past thirteen years. In no particular order, I give you:
- Mansfield Park | Jane Austen – over the years I have reread all my Jane Austen books multiple times…except for MP. I read it in my late teens and then never again. Until one Austen in August I decided it was time to revisit this unloved (by me) Austen. It was a revelation. Fanny & Edmund may never be my favourite JA couple, but the story itself is truly masterful. JA’s plotting, dialogue and construction is sublime. MP is Austen at the height of her literary powers. Reading this book also spawned a WWW post and one on how to make Negus.
- Moby-Dick | Herman Melville – was a slow read for me a few years ago. I gave myself seven months to savour every moment. It was an extraordinary experience; one of the richest reading experiences of my life. There are certain books that benefit from a slow and thoughtful read – Moby-Dick is one. Although sadly, it appears that the linky links containing everyone else’s posts seems to have got lost in the move to WP. As I have time, I will add them back in manually.
- Germinal | Emile Zola – this was my very first Zola…and nearly my last. I first attempted to read it via an ePub format that contained lots of typo’s and an unhappy time with the translator, Havelock Ellis’ style. Thankfully Fanda @Classiclit continues to host her Zoladdiction month every April, and by the time the next one rolled around, I had acquired a paper copy of the book with a translation by Raymond N. MacKenzie. This was the first time I had become conscious of the power of translation and that taking the time to find the right one for you is worth it.
- Les Miserables | Victor Hugo – another slow read. This time a chapter a day for the entire year of 2019 with Nick from One Catholic Life. I wasn’t always able to maintain the chapter a day schedule, but once again, it was the perfect way to truly savour a monumental classic. Flipping between three different translations may not have been the most sensible way to read this book either, but it feed into my ongoing fascination with the art of being a translator.
- The Pea-Pickers | Eve Langley – was another sprawling slow read, timed to fit in with our driving holiday to Victoria, that included drives and overnight stays in some of the towns featured in The Pea-Pickers. I have many memoriable such holiday books, but this one was special for two reasons. Firstly, it came highly recommended from Bill @The Australian Legend. Secondly, it is an incredible story (or work of autofiction). Intense, demanding, heart-breaking and exuberant. It was topped off by reading the excellent biography by Helen Vines, called Eve Langley and The Pea Pickers, later on in the year.
- The Bloody Chamber | Angela Carter – it would appear that most of the books that are featuring in this top 13 are the books that I obsessed over during and after the reading journey. I wrote six separate posts about the stories in this collection! I was swept away by Carter’s sumptuous language and the heady mix of sexuality and disturbing imagery.
- Testament of Youth | Vera Brittain – was one of those memoirs that moved me beyond words. If anyone were ever to ask me to name my all-time favourite memoir/autobiography, this is the one I would pick.
- The Fortunes of Richard Mahony | Henry Handel Richardson – the only regret I have about reading this three volume Australian classic, is that I read it in just over a month. It deserves a #slowread. I have also since spotted an annotated edition…although at nearly $200 for the set, it may be a while before I commit to such a thing!
- Their Eyes Were Watching God | Zora Neale Hurston – came to me thanks to The Classics Club. It’s a character driven story that gets under your skin. It’s nearly ten years since I read this book, but I still find myself thinking about it (& wishing that I had made more time to read some of Zora Neale Hurston’ s other stories).
- The Plains | Gerald Murnane – many people believe that it is criminal that Murnane has not won the Miles Franklin award or the Nobel Prize for fiction. I am now one of those people. My one and only foray into his world was intoxicating, stupefying and startling from beginning to end. I had no idea what I was reading, but I wanted more of it!
- 1Q84 | Haruki Murakami – I chose to start my Murakami journey with 1Q84 back in 2013. And what a journey it was! I loved the intermingling of fantastical with the real world, the magic with the mundane. But the most important thing is that since then, I have read several more Murakami’s. His world is endlessly weird and wonderful; one that I love to return to whenever I can.
- Maigret & Rowland Sinclair – This one is a bit of a cheat, but it’s the genre that appeals to me here. Over the years I’ve been partial to what I call #cosycrime series. Maybe it’s a hangover from all those Enid Blyton adventure and secret stories of my childhood. And those Trixie Belden’s from my teens. And the Arthur Upfield/Bony novels from my uni years…I don’t like bloody gore or forensic detail. I prefer my crime to be historical, humorous and humane. I like my detectives to show character development over time and I love it when the environment/era in which they work is part of the story. I could have very easily added Phyrne Fisher and Maisie Dobbs to this point (however I read most of the Phyrne books in the period when this blog was mostly about teen and children’s books).
- The Monkey’s Mask | Dorothy Porter – For a long time I felt very nervous about bringing poetry into my life. For so many reasons. But around about 2014/2015 I discovered verse novels. A few teen/YA authors got me started (Steven Herrick, Emma Cameron, Sarah Crossan) but then I stumbled upon Dorothy Porter. She is gritty, exciting and passionate. And thanks to these novels, I started to read more poetry when I realised I liked my poetry to be contemporary, spirited and topical.
It was much easier to pull out thirteen posts than I thought it would be.
I spent some time on the weekend scrolling back over my old posts. It was lovely to be reminded of so many wonderful reads. The final list included another dozen or so books that were influential and memorable, but I didn’t obsess about them the way I did (& continue to do) about the ones above.
For the record: the top thirteen posts from Brona’s Book (Blogger) include an assortment of master posts for AusReadingMonth and my Hobbit/Lord of the Rings readalong from a few years ago plus:
- The Living Sea of Waking Dreams | Richard Flanagan
- The Salt Path | Raynor Winn
- Loner | Georgina Young
- The Tailor of Gloucester | Beatrix Potter
- Eyrie | Tim Winton
- Musings of an Idle Reader (on the poems in Don Quixote)
- The Way We Fall | Megan Crewe
- The Story of a Baby | Ethel Turner
- Life After Truth | Ceridwen Dovey
The top thirteen from This Reading Life (which only came into being in the dying days of 2020 when I switched from Blogger to WordPress) include…a surprising number of poems! I suspect this list has been heavily influenced by highschool text study searches:
- Honeybee | Craig Silvey
- Midnight | Sappho (poem)
- Some People | Wislawa Szymborska (poem)
- The Labyrinth | Amanda Lohrey
- The Best Short Stories | Guy de Maupassant
- Fictionalised Biography
- Master and Commander | Patrick O’Brian
- Committed Writings | Albert Camus
- Robert Frost (poetry)
- Love and Virtue | Diana Reid
- The Song of Achilles (poem)
- First Person Singular | Haruki Murakami
- The Gods of Greece | Friedrich von Schiller (poem)
Thirteen is NOT an unlucky number!
Despite some blogging and reading slumps along the way, the past thirteen years on here have been enlivened by the constantly growing and wonderfully constant blogger friends I’ve made over this time. Without you all, this journey would be meaningless; I’d be writing into a void!
Your feedback, comments and friendly support have been invaluable. You’ve helped me through good times and bad…and a pandemic that none of us saw coming. You’ve inspired me try new books, new authors, to think more deeply and widely around certain topics and you remind me to also have fun.
Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
- This post was written on the traditional land of the Wangal clan, one of the 29 clans of the Eora Nation within the Sydney basin. This Reading Life acknowledges that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are this land’s first storytellers.