Best Reads 2019

Image result for 1919
NYT: What John Dos Passos’ 1919 got right

In May this year I set out to rectify the absence of current Australian fiction in my reading (here) but only ended up with the disappointing Wintering by Krissie Kneen . Still, I did manage to get to a few, the best being a tie really between

Behrouz Boochani,  No Friend but the Mountains
Gerald Murnane,  A Season on Earth

Other notable new releases included Hearing Maud by Jess White and Hollow Earth, John Kinsella. But it’s pretty clear that the most notable were the ones I didn’t read, Trent Dalton’s Boy Swallows Universe and Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Much Lip, followed at some distance by the intriguingly reviewed Pink Mountain on Locust Island by Jamie Marina Lau (here/here). And no, The Weekend is not on my list.

Before I go on, the photo above is from a story in the New York Times, 29 Dec 2019 (here) on John Dos Passos’ great trilogy USA, made up of The 42nd Parallel, 1919, and The Big Money. I have long believed that USA is THE Great American Novel, but it’s also a long time since I read it. Time I did again.

There’s a reason that Dos Passos’s Depression-era modernism seemed suddenly relevant. The present was coming to look a lot like the past… Dos Passos … had written a linguistically adventurous national portrait for a precarious age—his, and ours (Matt Hanson, NYT)

So, Best Reads –


There were 17 novels published, the least worst of them are –

Martin Boyd, The Tea-Time of Love
Mena Calthorpe, The Defectors
Dymphna Cusack, The Half-burnt Tree
William Dick, The Naked Prodigal
George Johnston, Clean Straw for Nothing (1969 Miles Franklin winner)
Tom Keneally, The Survivor
Sumner Locke Elliott, Edens Lost
Jill Neville, The Love Germ (She falls in love with an Italian anarchist in Paris ’68)
Darcy Niland, Dead Men Running (ANZLitLovers)

R Geering wrote A Review of Christina Stead. ALS have a review (here), I’m going to have to give in and take out a subscription
Les Murray, The Weatherboard Cathedral (poetry)


About the same number of books published as in 1918 – forty something. No notable novels, though I’ll list a few for form’s sake. And Archibald, the owner/editor of the Bulletin died.

Randolph Bedford, Aladdin and the Bush Cocky
Ewart, ? (writing as Boyd Cable), The Old Contemptibles
Beatrice Grimshaw, The Coral Queen
Marion Knowles, The Little Doctor
Ethel Turner, Brigid and the Cub
Paul Wenz, Le Pays de Leurs Pères

Chasing up The Old Contemptibles – the British Expeditionary Force of 1914 (the old regular army, which by the end of the year had been wiped out on the Western Front) – I discovered via the Oxford English Dictionary that ‘Boyd Cable’ is Ernest Andrew Ewart (here).


Eight books

Marcus Clarke, The Peripatetic Philosopher (Essays)
Marcus Clarke, with GA Walstab, Long Odds
Henry Kendall, Leaves from Australian Forests (Verse)
Louisa Meredith, Phoebe’s Mother (in the Australasian, 1866, as Ebba)

I have the Kendall, maybe one day I’ll open it.
Ebba is here, if I get time I’ll start correcting it. According to AWWC website, this is Chap.1 and the remaining chapters are on the Australian Newspaper Fiction Database. When I tried, the link wasn’t working, but you could try here.


One book last year, three this year, one next year, then a gap.

Field, First Fruits of Australian Poetry
Vaux, Memoirs of James Hardy Vaux
WC Wentworth, A Statistical, Historical and Political Description of the Colony of New South Wales and its Dependent Settlements in Van Dieman’s Land

The first novels are more than a decade away, by Mary Grimstone (ADB). Yes Australia’s first novelist was a woman. I’d better add her to the AWW Gen 1 page. According to Trove, her first, Louisa Egerton: or Castle Herbert (1830) may be at two libraries, and her second, Woman’s Love (1832) may be available to read online from the University of Tasmania.


Joy Hooton and Harry Heseltine, Annals of Australian Literature, 2nd Ed., OUP, Melbourne, 1992

13 thoughts on “Best Reads 2019

  1. Im intrigued by the dates you’ve chosen – if I’ve done my arithmetic correctly they are 2,00 years, 150, 100, 50? Do you do this every year to frame your reading plans?


    • I forget why I started now – because I don’t read all the new releases that everyone else does probably – but a search on ‘Best Reads’ shows I started at the end of 2015, so this is my fifth. I think it’s interesting to look back, but no I don’t use it to plan my reading.


    • 1. I must have lent my copy to Milly or Gee. My review says memoir, but I thought it was lightly fictionalised. Not that I was thinking about that when, as you say, I implied it was a novel.
      2. With your AWWC hat on, if you could find an online copy of our first novel, Louisa Egerton, that would be great (of if you could persuade the NLA to digitize it)
      3. I’ve made a start on Ebba (AWWC’s link just points to Trove) but there are fewer lines in the edit box than there are in the text, to the extent that there is no provision to edit most of the bottom half of the first column.


      • I would regard Boochani’s book as memoir.

        I’ll see what I can do with your other requests.

        I see that you mean about Ebba. It looks like that link is only to Chapter 1, and I can’t find a link to Chapter 2, even in Trove. It should be there though to edit.


    • I’ve added it in. Of all these I’ve only read Clean Straw for Nothing which I loathe. If you ever see a copy you should have a shot at Paul Wenz, Le Pays de Leurs Pères, bush fiction for the French market.


      • Ah, I read that in 2006 and would need to dig out my reading journal to be specific but I remember being disappointed with it after really liking My Brother Jack.


  2. I read the USA Trilogy in college, and later read The Manhattan Transfer in grad school. I fear I hated the USA trilogy, and agreed with a woman who stated (boldly, I might add, much to the chagrin of the professor) that it was a trio of books that could be summarized as “man goes to war, man catches VD after cheating on his best gal, man dies.” I remember feeling like it was such a masculine book, but not in a positive way. I’d be interested to read your 2020 thoughts on it.


    • That’s harsh! I’m going to have to open a draft post for USA and copy in your (her) comments. I was writing about Nettie Palmer for an upcoming post and saw I had draft with your comments from 12 months ago about Vance, her husband, dissing women writers. I’m not sure I address them, but at least it shows that the system works.


      • Ha! Although I did NOT like this student (we were all around 22 and she was in her 40s, lived with her parents — who still paid for her schooling — and seemed naive as all hell), she did seem on point here.

        I absolutely do not remember Nettie Palmer! Ha! That’s okay.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s