A Top Five isn’t really something I had in mind as I wrote my first year of Reading Roundups, but as I read back through the posts, I couldn’t help mentally sorting through the ‘goodies’ that I would pass on to a friend at the drop of a hat. These books are all very different, but each one has brought me hours (and in one case, hours and hours) of enjoyment. I’m so excited to share this list with you that I’m going to be giving away a copy of my Number One book for the year at the end of this post- stick around to find out how!
And now, on to the list:
The Big Tiny is a book that I think I’ll find myself returning to again and again. Dee Williams is a candid, charismatic author who isn’t afraid to share the ups and downs of her journey to build a tiny house after a near-death experience, and a subsequent terminal diagnosis, turn her world upside down. I’ve always had a fascination with tiny spaces, and The Big Tiny makes me want to curl up in a tiny wood cabin with a good book, and the rain drumming down on my roof. For that reason, it’s probably a good thing that Williams isn’t afraid to shy away from the more trialing aspects of her life, from midnight dashes out to the rain, to patchy internet connections, to council altercations. You couldn’t ask for a more complete insight into the life of a tiny-house pioneer.
Pitched to me as ‘Lord of the Flies with girls’, The Natural Way of Things was the recipient of the 2016 Stella Prize and the Prime Ministers Award in Fiction. Drugged and dressed in old-fashioned clothes, a group of girls wake up in an abandoned shack in the Australian desert. Apparently being ‘punished’ for their involvement in the sex scandals of high-ranking men, the girls are left with little but each other as they struggle to survive. The Natural Way of Things is a gruelling read at times, particularly as the frail stability the little campground has established begins to fall apart. It’s a stark look at the nature of misogyny in the modern world, and is a hair too close to believable for comfort. The writing may be good, but in a similar vein to Black Mirror or The Handmaid’s Tale, that doesn’t mean that this book is always an enjoyable read, and I think that alone should be enough to commend it.
Like a lot of people, I had only a vague awareness of who Bryan Cranston was prior to reading his autobiography A Life in Parts. I had watched a bit of Malcolm in the Middle growing up, and while I was aware that Cranston had moved on to Breaking Bad, that wasn’t a show that I was able to stomach for more than a few episodes.
If it wasn’t for an excerpt I stumbled across online, I never would have even bothered to pick this book up- and what a mistake that would have been. A Life in Parts isn’t a celebrity tell-all or a scandalous whistle-blower. What it is is an open, candid, pragmatic retelling of a fascinating life. Cranston is generous with his own opinions on the craft of acting, but there’s enough personal anecdotes and behind-the-scenes insights on his career that his autobiography is a fascinating and frequently very funny read.
There was no way that the Expanse series wasn’t going to be making it onto my top reads of 2017, if only because it’s a series I’ve been reading (or listening to, to be more accurate) for the entire year. Leviathan Wakes was recommended to me while I was planning a long-haul flight. At over fifteen hours long, it is the shortest and probably my favourite of the series. The Expanse follows James Holden and his crew, ice-miners who find themselves tangled up in what quickly turns into a universal war. Each consecutive book widens the story, continuing to follow the crew of Holden’s Rocinante while deftly adding more characters and layers of complexity to the story. It’s rare for a series to maintain a justified momentum for so long, but somehow the writing team (James S. A. Corey is the penname of two separate authors) have managed it. Fans of Firefly will probably devour this series, but I can’t recommend it highly enough for any fans of extraordinary writing – this series isn’t called ‘Game of Thrones in space’ for nothing’
The big one- my favourite book of the year. I think I’ve read it three times over the past twelve months? The Bonobo’s Dream ticks all of the boxes for me- it’s strange, fantastical, lushly written, and just a little bit weird (the cover also feels really nice, in case you were wondering).
The birch is a quiet tree. It listens. Eight-year-old James and his family live in a beautiful house perched on the edge of a forest, within the curve of a giant glass dome. They circle each other like fish in a fishbowl. Aquila – James’s philandering father and renowned artist – prepares to unveil his latest and most shocking work to the world. Suzanne, James’s mother, medicates herself against a rising tide of loneliness and memory. James seeks refuge from the adult world in his drawings and dreams. But when James’s sister, Charity, returns home, she brings with her a visitor who will shake their fragile order to its foundations.
I think I’m safe to say that The Bonobo’s Dream is a love-it-or-hate it situation. Mulready throws her reader into the middle of a strange new world with little explanation, and leaves them scrambling to work out what is going on. While it is a little bit of an absolute killer not to get more information about the fascinating world she has created, it makes for a mentally stimulating read if that’s the sort of thing you’re into- if you can’t handle finding things out as you go along, this one may not be for you! The language is luxurious and occasionally absurd, feeling almost more like poetry than prose in places. For someone that needs a little help when it comes to mental image creation (does anyone else struggle with this?), finding language like this is a god-send. Finding language like this in a book of one of my favourite genres? Sure-fire way to make it to the top of my 2017 Top Reads, baby.
So there you have it! The five reads that stood out to me the most as I look back across the year (special mention also has to go to Saga, for creating some beautiful work that I can’t technically count as books. Looking back at these five, I was surprised to see how much more varied my reading has been than in the past. Normally not one to reach beyond fiction, this list includes not one, but two non-fiction works. And a piece of contemporary Australian writing!
The top three in my list were all down to the wire- Bryan Cranston’s A Life in Parts really struck a chord with me, and I enjoy The Expanse so much that I’ve started listening to the whole series on audiobook again. But at the end of the day, there can be only one, and The Bonobo’s Dream holds a special place in my heart. Not only is it a little indy work, but everything from the cover, to the language, to the strange, twisted little world Mulready has created is so different from anything I’ve read before that I can’t wait for you to discover it.
Want to get your hands on a copy of The Bonobo’s Dream for Free?? Of course you do. Head to my instagram, and you could be in the running to win a brand new copy of your very own. I’ll see you there!
What have you been reading this year? Comment below to share your favourite, I’m always looking for recommendations!
You can check out some of my earlier Reading Roundups here: