Our Favourite Books of 2017

Chloe

2017 has been a fantastic year for new books. Our staff look back and pick their favourite books published this year.

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SARAH D, book buyer and bookseller

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

This is one of those perfectly rendered books that engulfs you. The relationships the characters have with their race and identity, the importance of a person's story, and the ghosts who are still trying to find a resolution to their own stories makes this a classic in the making. [Fiction]

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes 

Haye's vignettes on life was a magical read. Hayes's openness and love for people really shines through in his writing, and his absolute love and admiration for Sacks throughout his declining health is simply beautiful. It's the kind of book to keep by your bedside table to dip into at any time. [Memoir]

City of Crows by Chris Womersley 

This was just a really well written story which I could recommend to anyone. It's dark and atmospheric, and the historical elements are wholly believable, but with enough adventure and intrigue to keep the story interesting. [Historical Fiction]

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CHLOË, social media manager and bookseller

The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben

I loved this book. It's fascinating, heartwarming, and heartbreaking in equal measures. Wohlleben examines a wide range of animals and makes the argument that all animals are capable of emotions, thoughts, and feelings. This is the book we need right now - read this book and change your attitude towards animals. [Science]

City of Crows by Chris Womersley 

This fantastic novel is a wonderful mix of historical fiction and the fantastic. Womersley has managed to weave reality and the supernatural together in such a way that the reader is never sure if we are experiencing true magic or simply a series of coincidences. Set in France in 1673, the story is dark, grimy, and utterly addictive. [Historical Fiction]

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

The Animators is a powerful and compelling novel about friendship, flawed women, partnerships, and the creative process. The characters are so dynamic and compelling, and the story is shoots off in ways you never expected it to. It's funny, heartbreaking, clever, and insightful. This book was also rated the favourite read of the year in my book club (Young & Restless)! [Fiction]

Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend

This book gets a spot in my best books of the year because it was just so much fun to read. It is magical, funny, absurd, addictive - all the best things. The story follows Morrigan, a cursed child who is fated to die at midnight on Eventide. But, her fate is interrupted by Jupiter North, a zany member of a secret society who wants Morrigan to join. But to do so, she must complete a series of difficult and dangerous trials. If she fails, she must go back to the real world to confront her deadly fate. [Young Adult]

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KEV, co-owner

Tracker by Alexis Wright

Tracker by Miles Franklin-winning author Alexis Wright is one of the most unique biographies I have read. It is not only the story of the charismatic Aboriginal leader Tracker Tilmouth, but a biography of hundreds of people who lived with, work with, for and against Tracker. 

For many decades Tilmouth was front and center in the political life and struggles of Indigenous Australians, particularly Central Australians, which is never a straight forward story to tell. Wright has structured Tracker as a memoir of many storytellers; from interviews with Tilmouth himself, as well as with his family, friends, and colleagues. In telling one man's story from many perspectives not everything is clear cut. Early on in the story there is contradictions. There is repetition. But above all, there is good storytelling revealing a very complex and unique Australian character.

Through Tracker we get an insight in to the politics, languages, landscapes and Aboriginal economic development of Central Australia from the '50s onwards and of national indigenous issues from the early '80s. Tracker Tilmouth was a visionary, a provocateur and leader who died in Darwin in 2015.

With Tracker, Wright is to be applauded for pushing the boundaries of how to write, and how we read biographies. Tracker should be a must read for all Australians. [Memoir]

The Red-Haired Woman by Orhan Pamuk

In 2016 Orhan Pumuk's A Strangeness in My Mind was my favourite novel. In 2017 he has followed this up with the equally delightful and intense father-son fable The Red-Haired Woman.

One summer the young Cem Çelik is contracted to the master well digger Mahnut where they set about digging a well for a factory. While Cem and Mahnut have divergent views of the world they come to depend on each other in their solitary setting. On their regular trips to the nearby village Cem becomes infatuated with The Red-Haired Woman. She becomes his obsession but it takes time for them to connect and when they do an accident befalls Manhut from which Cem flees back to Istanbul. Cem lives with this stain for the rest of his life. Years later Cem faces his reckoning about both his master's death and who the redheaded woman was.

Consistently, the Nobel Prize winning Pamuk tells stories of Turkey's place at the cross roads of the world. He deals with tradition and modernity, with the cultures of east and west. Pamuk polishes each sentence to a smoothness that makes him one of the world's great storytellers. [Fiction]

To Become A Whale by Ben Hobson

There is much to like about Ben Hobson's debut novel To Become a Whale. Set around Noosa and Tangalooma whaling station in 1961, Hobson tells the story of 13-year-old Sam Keogh whose mother has died and is now living with his insular father who decides that it's time for Sam to become a man within the whaling community. You cannot help but feel for Sam in this emotionally fraught father-son story where Hobson conveys more by what is left unsaid then said. You can sense the tension and imagine the landscape in this beautifully told coming of age story. [Fiction]

One Pan Roasts by Molly Shuster

Weekly, I have been cooking from One Pan Roasts since it was released in May. Each recipe is a dead-set winner. Many of the dishes take no time to prepare or to cook and there is very little cleaning up. Highly recommend to time-poor people who like good food. [Cooking]

Other books I enjoyed this year are the winner of the US National Book Award Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward, A Long Way Home by Peter Carey, First Person by Richard Flanagan, the retelling of Shakespear's King Lear - Dunbar by Edward St Aubyn, and the crime novel Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke.

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KRISSY, events manager and bookseller

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

By far my favourite book of the year. What a wonderful joyful experimental novel that manages to be both playful and emotionally rich at the same time. I laughed out loud and I also wept in this book. Very worthy of the Booker Prize. [Fiction]

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

This book captures the feel and landscape of Brisbane so perfectly. It is a subtle little book that gathers the details of the lives of two women from two different generations who each lived in the same house. The delicate weaving of these lives creates a vivid picture of motherhood, hopes, dreams, regrets and the Brisbane inner-city suburbs. Beautifully done. [Fiction]

Anaesthesia by Kate Cole-Adams

My favourite non-fiction book this year was a unique mix of science, history, and memoir and journalism, an exploration of what it means to be conscious and therefore what it means to be unconscious. Such a beautiful and fascinating journey! [Science]

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

This is a short story collection that is visceral and surprising. It is so clearly situated in the body that the reader feels like they have lived these stories in a very physical way. [Short Stories]

The Circle and the Equator by Kyra Giorgi

The winner of the 2017 Qld Literary Awards short story prize was a complete revelation. I had never heard of Kyra Giorgi before but I will keep an eye out for her name from now on. These stories take us around the world and into the lives of some fascinating characters. This book feels like an instant modern classic. More to come from Giorgi I hope. [Short Stories]

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TRENT, sci-fi expert and bookseller

An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

It’s so hard to nail down favourite reads of the year, usually. But I adored Krissy Kneen’s An Uncertain Grace. It pushed all my SF and literary buttons, and it’s the only book that I read twice this year. That it’s written by a friend only makes it more remarkable (though it increases the jealousy factor considerably). Krissy explores our future with a clarity, and an urgency, and we see what it means to be human in a world increasingly hostile to humanity. This isn’t some dry and paranoid Philip K Dick exploration though, it’s warm and earthy and contains one of the most romantic Post Human stories I’ve ever read. There’s so much going on in this book, I found it rich, lyrical, clever and funny, and Krissy manages all this with an economy of words (but the right ones!). Krissy’s taken the brains and the heart of SF and stripped away a lot of the superfluous FX sheen (I like me some sheen, but this book is luminous in its own right). If you’ve never read any SF before but want to see what it is capable of (and aren’t into spaceships) this is the perfect primer. [Science Fiction]
 
I loved so many other books this year, in fact I think it was one of my best reading years in a ages – partially thanks to the Avid SF Bookclub – but this one shines. I love you Krissy, and I hate you a bit too – your SF Writing Colleague. 

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KATHY, bookseller and music/dvd buyer

Theft by Finding by David Sedaris

As a long-time Sedaris fan, I found Theft by Finding by David Sedaris such a treat. [Essays]

Hunger and Difficult Women by Roxane Gay 

Hunger and Difficult Women by Roxane Gay are both unnerving but powerful reads. [Essays and Short Stories]

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

Lastly, The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker is ambitious, inspiring, moving, and funny. As a writer of memoir, the ethical ambiguities it raised surrounding using other people's stories were especially compelling to me. [Fiction]

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SPENCER, bookseller and events assistant

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes

Insomniac City by Bill Hayes is memoir at its best. Rich with observation, details of his shared life with neuroscientist, writer, thinker and appreciator of all life’s wonders – Oliver Sacks. Although predominantly a memoir of Hayes’ life with Sacks, it is also a memoir and tribute to New York, its sights and its people. Interspersed with conversations, thoughts and photography it is a book that cannot be replicated. It is truly unique and a must read. Read if you are a fan of Oliver Sacks, of New York, or the simple things in life. [Memoir]

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

Set in 1992 Moscow, A Gentleman in Moscow is a work of a fiction that follows the life of Count Rostov, a poet imprisoned by the Government in his home and luxury hotel, The Metropol. A story about loss and the upheaval experienced following the revolution it is also in the Count’s own words a story about how “by the smallest of one’s actions one can restore some sense of order to the word”. Amor Towles is an investment banker turned acclaimed writer who first had the idea for this amiable book, when he realised on a work trip, that because of his frequent travel, he was recognizing the same faces in his hotels – “as if they never left.” This book is as charming and urbane as Count Rostov himself. A safe book that will be sure to bring enjoyment over the summer. Read if you enjoyed Towles’ first book Rules of Civility, if you enjoy historical fiction, or if you’re buying a gift for someone and need something that will not cause offence. [Fiction]
  
Home Fire by Kamilla Shamsie

Home Fire by Kamilla Shamsie is a timely, although fictional account, of the harms of myopic and counter-productive counter-terrorism measures. Longlisted for the Man Booker it follows the lives of two families torn apart by terrorism and by our responses to it. It is powerful and the central characters are courageous. Central reading for anyone interested in the politicisation of terrorism and looking for some accessible fiction to read over summer. [Fiction]

One Enchanted Evening by Charlotte Smith

With the help of illustrator Grant Cowan, One Enchanted Evening is a book of beautiful dresses, collected over many years.  Prada, Valentino, Pucci – Doris Darnell, a Quaker and collector, amasses some 3000 dresses between the 1930s and her death in the early 2000s. When she died, her granddaughter Charlotte Smith became heir to the collection. What was once one lady’s collection, procured and carefully curated for her own interest, is now one of Australia’s finest collections of fashion. This book is your window into a unique collection. If you are interested in fashion, history or what is simply a remarkable story, this is the book for you. [Fashion]

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JENNIFER, book clubs coordinator and bookseller

Taboo by Kim Scott

Taboo is a novel of great complexity. At its heart it explores the restoration of Aboriginal stories and language and conveys the personal empowerment that comes from having your own language become part of you. Scott’s language is poetic, rich in imagery and symbolism, and he explores harsh realities of our past and present with an overarching sense of positive momentum and hope. This is a novel I wish everyone would read. [Fiction]

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

Kamila Shamsie’s adaptation of Antigone is a contemporary tale of love, family and politics told with such urgency that you find yourself stuck to the couch, turning pages and hoping against hope for a world in which we cease to tread previously trodden paths. [Fiction]

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

I have had so many conversations with Avid customers, friends, colleagues and various book clubs about this stunning novel with a particular response in common: a shake of the head accompanied by the words, ‘this book changed my thinking’. [Fiction]

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

One of the beauties of this book is that it requires you to slow down, to allow its exquisite language to intricately build a novel with characters, so real, that you miss their presence with a physical ache and wish that books such as these, and their precious people, could just go on forever. [Fiction]

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

I read Exit West back in March but I keep finding myself thinking about it. Hamid’s exploration of enforced dislocation and emigration is at once wholly real and surreal, intimate with consequences on a global scale. It is short novel, easily read in one sitting, but an unsettling, memorable and thought-provoking one. [Fiction]

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ZACH, bookseller and events assistant

Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie

A truly modern take on the classic tragedy of Antigone. This book is a sobering account of radicalisation, grief, and the costs of “national security”. I found this a challenging and thought provoking read. If you wish to understand the effects of the politics of fear and loathing, this is the perfect fiction for the job. [Fiction]

Sing, Unburied, Sing by Jesmyn Ward

I was fascinated by this dark portrait of American life, and the oppressive legacy of slavery in the South. Told from the perspectives of a boy and his mother, it captures the inherently racialized nature of poverty and injustice in America. If you’re interested in the complicated relationship between race and power in America, this is a thought provoking read. [Fiction]

The Book of Dust Volume One (La Belle Sauvage) by Philip Pullman

Philip Pullman’s latest foray into an alternate reality, Lyra’s Oxford, is a fun and at times dark return to a favourite literary universe. I found this to be a light and engaging read, perfect for a few days at the beach or over Christmas. [Fantasy/ YA]

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MADDY, bookseller and events coordinator

The Mirror Thief by Martin Seay

This was definitely the most original book I read this year. Seay created such a compelling story out of the disparate elements of Las Vegas, 1500s Venice, Gambling, Alchemy, war and love - I was totally in awe while reading it and didn't want it to end. While the voice of the books is often harsh and sinister, you still end up feeling for the characters and the dramatic situations they find themselves in. [Fiction]

Innocents and Others by Dana Spiotta

I'm a sucker for anything about film, Hollywood, and interesting artistic women, so this book was everything I wanted. This is a pretty dramatic and fast moving but nuanced book, which makes you think about the expectations that society has placed on women and what that does to our expectations of ourselves. [Fiction]

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

Like the most gripping true crime book mixed with the best researched history, with a terribly sad human story at the centre of it, Killers of the Flower Moon was my favourite non-fiction book of the year. It's the story of the Osage Indians, a Native American nation who happened to strike it rich when their land was found to be full of oil. Quickly both oppression and exploitation came from white Americans, then a tragic series of murders. This is also the story of the rocky beginning of the FBI and the end of frontier style cowboy justice. [History] 

The Life to Come by Michelle De Kretser

There were so many sentences in this book I wanted to read over and over again for their beauty and clarity, and biting wit. De Kretser has created a beautiful story about the gap between our real life and the stories we tell ourselves, and what happens when the cracks start to appear and the truth comes out. It's also about writers and readers, about how people can see ourselves as subject or object, and how easily we can be cruel to each other without even realising. [Fiction]

The Call of the Reed Warbler by Charles Massy

In The Call of the Reed Warbler Massy tells the stories of the regenerative farmers who work tirelessly to undo the hundreds of years of terrible destruction traditional mechanised agriculture has wrought on the Australian landscape. Through anecdote, research and his own experience he paints a vivid picture of the beauty and resilience of the Australian landscape, and how we can get just as much food and other products out the earth by supporting it as trying to dominate it. The most hopeful book about the environment you'll read, showing a clear way out of the looming disaster. [Science]