FWF’s Best Books of 2017

We’ve enjoyed so many books this year, and we wanted to share some of our feminist favourites for you to add to your summer reading pile. Enjoy these recommendations from some of the amazing artists who made this year’s Feminist Writers Festival events so special, and the FWF team.

Emily Maguire

Among the many books I’ve loved this year were two each from two excellent, genre-hopping Australian writers. Mirandi Riwoe’s novella The Fish Girl is a lush and biting take on Somerset Maugham’s The Four Dutchmen told from the point of view of the so-called ‘trollope’, while She Be Damned is a gory, raunchy romp through Victorian London. Meanwhile, Shankari Chandran’s exquisite Song of the Sun God, about three generations of a Sri Lankan family, haunted me for weeks, and her subversive futuristic thriller The Barrier kept me up all night.

Emily Maguire appeared in FWF and MWF’s Feminist Literature: Then and Now event in August.

Shu-Ling Chua

In an interview with the Rookie podcast, Durga Chew-Bose said, ‘I don’t want to ever be introduced as all the qualifiers that people want to call me, like Canadian, South Asian, woman, feminist, whatever…’ Chew-Bose’s essay collection Too Much and Not the Mood is my favourite book this year. I love, love, love how she transcends these qualifiers (by writing about film, female friendship and living alone, for example), while also writing about family, identity and racism.

I also highly recommend A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo, When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait of the Writer as a Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy and The Agonist by Shastra Deo.

Shu-Ling Chua appeared in FWF’s Giving Up the Good Girl event in Canberra in October.

Krissy Kneen

It has been a great year for women in Australian literature but I would particularly like to single out Ashley Hay, whose latest book A Hundred Small Lessons unfolded before me like a gorgeous flower opening its petals. It is a wonderful example of a book that doesn’t even pretend to be a hero’s journey; it is a gentle gathering of ideas that slowly fill you up and stay with you for weeks and months to come.

I have also been blown away by Kate Cole-Adams‘ Anaesthesia. This is a surprising delight of a book about the invention and use of anaesthetics, but it is also about the concept of consciousness. It is a book about the fear of death, the fear of a lack of control, the fear of an imminent operation, the way a life can be plagued by a general feeling of anxiety and how dreams play a part in this. 

The Circle and the Equator by Kyra Giorgi feels like a classic collection of stories written by a great and famous European writer, but it is a first work by a relatively unknown Australian writer. It takes the reader through time and around the world, and each story is a new adventure with emotional ripples that tie the whole book together.

Krissy Kneen appeared in FWF’s Giving Up the Good Girl events in Brisbane and Melbourne this year.

Rosanna Stevens

In a world where we are working toward equality while faced with the end of our ecosystems, each other, and decent funds for investigative journalism, this year I grew tired of being afraid of death. So I read a book. A fun, funny book, with an endearing and passionate narrator.

Caitlin Doughty began work as a mortician in her 20s after deciding to overcome her own issues around mortality. She subsequently developed the popular YouTube Channel ‘Ask a Mortician’. Through Smoke Gets In Your Eyes – which is a story-arc of morgue-based personal experiences woven together with fascinating cultural research on death – Doughty argues that the West’s fear of dying warps our culture, communities and relationships. And if there’s one thing all this death-stuff encourages us to do, it’s love each other better, and discover radical and wonderful ways to fight for basic values each human deserves: culture, community and relationships.

Rosanna Stevens appeared in FWF’s Giving Up the Good Girl event in Canberra in October.

Cristy Clark

My favourite read this year was Hope In The Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities by Rebecca Solnit. This updated book was re-released last year and is as relevant today as it was when first published in 2004. Solnit’s beautifully written polemic on the history and importance of both hope and activism – especially in times of political upheaval – is both passionate and convincing.

Along the same theme, this year I have also thoroughly enjoyed the following books on activism and progressive social change: No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics by Naomi Klein, Twitter and Tear Gas: The Power and Fragility of Networked Protest by Zeynep Tufekci and Direct Action: Protest and the Reinvention of American Radicalism by LA Kauffman.

Each of these books takes a critical approach to assessing the history of social activism and considering the best strategies for activists to adopt today. These books are all quite US-centric, but there are useful insights for us here in Australia too. While sobering at times, ultimately they all offer hope that change is possible if we commit to working together in a strategic way.

Cristy Clark is the co-founder and co-chair of FWF.

Nikki Anderson

This year, I adored, and could not stop lending and gifting, Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, a rollicking story of how, where and by whom Samuel Hawley took twelve bullets, but also the bond between a father and daughter and how we try and care for those we love.

Discovering Italian writer Viola Di Grado at Sydney Writers Festival was a special treat and I found her sparse, direct, gothic style riveting as well as darkly amusing. Locally, I enjoyed Michelle de Kretser’s The Life to Come, and as ever, her arch observations and unapologetic take on the flaws of people and nations. Krissy Kneen’s thoughtful and futuristic, at times creepy, at times incredibly sexy interlinked short stories in An Uncertain Grace kept me thinking and prompted me to read her equally thought-provoking memoir from several years back, Affection.

In other nonfiction, Eddie AyresDanger Music offered great insight into gender dysphoria, as well as illuminating the international efforts in Afghanistan over the past decade.

And in junior fiction, we’ve been loving Ailsa Wild’s Squishy Taylor series. These stories of gutsy girls who show bravery in the face of neighbourhood mystery, with just a nice amount of naughtiness, never fail to delight – or provoke “bunk bed ninja moves”.

Nikki Anderson is co-chair of FWF.

Veronica Sullivan

I loved Brodie Lancaster‘s No Way! Okay, Fine, with its smart, passionate, joyful appraisal of everything from body positivity to Kanye.

I was totally consumed by Claire G Coleman‘s speculative fiction novel Terra Nullius – the propulsive plot and deft characterisation hooked me immediately, but the questions Coleman raises about dispossession, sovereignty and race have lingered and stayed with me in the months since I read it.

And Odette Kelada‘s Drawing Sybylla was one of my favourite discoveries this year. This fascinating, formally inventive novel is both deeply researched and highly creative. It unspools over several linked sections to tell a collective yet personal history of women writers in Australia, revealing the social, cultural and familial obligations and barriers that have prevented women from accessing creative opportunities, and the ways successive generations have overcome these challenges.

Veronica Sullivan is Program Manager of FWF.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen

Sarah Krasnostein’s The Trauma Cleaner is one of the strangest, most fascinating books I’ve read, and a standout of the year. Krasnostein’s command of language is exquisite, and the complexity of Sandra Pankhurst’s life story unfolds seamlessly with the current-day narrative of her unique business and the people she meets with it.

Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race was a blistering, deeply necessary book in 2017, unpacking white supremacy over the years, with a focus on Great Britain. Eddo-Lodge’s writing is incredibly articulate but also accessible, and the concepts are laid bare in plain language, making it a good entry point for anyone interested in race politics. Anyone who can weave Harry Potter analogies into social theory is good in my books. Plus, her event with Benjamin Law at Melbourne Writers Festival was one of the highlights of my year.

I love YA, and this year’s clear champion was The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. This searing debut follows Starr, a 16-year-old black girl who witnessed her unarmed best friend shot by the police. It’s urgent, topical stuff that stands as proof that young adult fiction is just as powerful as more ‘literary’ fiction – this is a wonderful piece of activism that has stayed with me, and will continue to. And Jessica Townsend’s delightful Nevermoor: The Trials of Morrigan Crow filled the Harry Potter-shaped hole in my heart – I can’t wait for the next instalment.

Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen is Marketing & Communications Manager of FWF.

Emma Dallamora

This year I was slogging through an honours degree, which meant a lot of heavy academic reading. So for the sake of time and ease, I went straight to the Stella Prize list and was blown away by Georgia Blain’s Between a Wolf and a Dog. I was completely affected by the constant rain, it was like a moody character that slipped itself into every scene and I always felt slightly damp when reading it. The characters were so well written that I wanted to reach in and hug them; this was a book you could feel.

I also powered through Leigh Sales’ re-released On Doubt, and found it so striking and intelligent that I immediately wanted to start writing more. If you’re feeling worn down by politics right now, go buy it and take your medicine.

Emma Dallamora is Program Coordinator of FWF.

Natasha Saltmarsh

A standout for me was An Uninterrupted View of the Sky by Melanie Crowder. A touching and delicate tale, Francisco and his sister Pilar, absent any other choice, live with their father (Papá) in a Bolivian prison. It’s set in 1999, against draconian real life anti-drug-trafficking laws that saw a disproportionate number of poor and indigenous people imprisoned without evidence, trial, or any kind of justice. Francisco and Pilar leave the prison each day to go to school, hang out with friends, and their efforts to pretend life is normal become achingly harder as time goes on. Each evening they return to live with Papá in his cell, and are exposed to the violence and appalling conditions of an overcrowded adult male prison. The family are scared and desperate, but we are shown such gentle beauty and care between the siblings and their father. Weaving in and out of the story is Papá’s utterly beguiling poetry, which ran a perfect parallel to the storyline.

I reread One by Sarah Crossan this year as I was so enchanted by it first time round, despite the tears it wrung out of me. Spoken from the sole perspective of Grace, she and Tippi are conjoined twins whose family struggles to find money for their medical bills, and their schooling situation changes from being homeschooled by their mother, to having to attend their local high school once she starts a new job. Set over a period of about seven months, the ordinariness of their lives, finding friends, dealing with crushes and just being teenagers shone in the book, despite the complexity of their physical circumstances. The real star of this book was the free verse in which it was written. I’d never have thought it could work, but honestly, this book could not have been written any other way. It was a revelation to see this technique used and it made me rethink how verse and poetry can tell a strong and beautiful story.

Natasha Saltmarsh is Speaker Liaison for FWF.

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