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Aerogramme Writers' Studio's Favourite Books of 2014

We asked some of our wonderful contributors what were the best books they read in 2014. Here are their responses:

EMMANUEL IDUMA

I’m on the final pages of Yvonne Owuor’s Dust, which has brought an excitement and a brokenness I cannot yet name. Earlier I read Maaza Mengiste’s Beneath the Lion’s Gaze, a novel that reads like a dream inserted in Ethiopia’s history. The new book by David Levi Strauss, Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow is a touchstone for me as a fledgling art critic – how do I write with conscience and clarity about photography?  Two books of poems, Tade Ipadeola’s The Sahara Testaments and Dami Ajayi’s Clinical Blues, though different in style, highlighted for me what is at stake in Nigerian poetry. They contain a certain fire, an urgency to name things properly. Finally I have held myself to the standards and vision of two novels: The Hour of the Star, Clarice Lispector’s last book, and Seiobo There Below, Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s newly translated book.

Emmanuel Iduma is co-publisher and creative director of Saraba Magazine. His debut novel, Farad, was published in 2012 by Parresia Publishers. 

KELLY GARDINER

I’m way behind in my reading, so many of 2014’s highlights have been out for a while. I started the year reading Jesse Blackadder’s evocative Chasing the Light – immersing myself in a story of Antarctic exploration while sweltering on a hot beach in the middle of an Australian summer. Other favourites from the exciting new generation of literary historical fiction writers include Hild, in which Nicola Griffith casts a new light on the so-called Dark Ages, and Stella Duffy’s uproarious Theodora, based on the life of the unlikely Byzantine Empress. I loved Paddy O’Reilly’s The Wonders: there’s so much to enjoy and ponder in this subtle story of misfits who become celebrities, and the wondrous world they inhabit. In an era of brilliant young adult fiction, Fiona Wood’s masterful Wildlife is the YA book I loved most this year – her prose and characterisation are just about perfect. In non-fiction, Janet Butler’s Kitty’s War, based on the diaries of Kit McNaughton, is an earthy antidote to recent romanticised narratives around nursing in World War I. There are so many books coming out to commemorate the centenary of the war, it feels like a deluge, and it’s going to feel like that for another five years or so. If you want to try to understand the War to End All Wars, start with the first-hand accounts, some of which are among the best twentieth century writing: Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth, Siegfried Sassoon’s autobiographical novels beginning with Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man, Robert Graves’ Goodbye to All That, and Frederic Manning’s The Middle Parts of Fortune. All are either still in print or have now been republished.

Kelly Gardiner writes historical fiction for readers of all ages, and teaches writing, research skills and digital literacy. She works part-time at the State Library of Victoria. Her latest book is Goddess, based on the life of the seventeenth century swordswoman and opera star, Julie d’Aubigny. 

ANNABEL SMITH

One of the highlights of my reading year was Richard Powers’ Booker-longlisted Orfeo, the story of an avant-garde composer who becomes a fugitive after being falsely accused of bioterrorism. It is the most profound and emotionally affecting book I have read in a long time and the prose is stunning. I find it hard to resist a literary apocalypse tale and was beguiled by Emily St John Mandel’s Station Eleven, the tautly paced and perceptive tale of a touring troupe of actors and musicians who cross paths with a dangerous cult leader, twenty years after the world we know is destroyed by a pandemic. Finally, for sheer weirdness, Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy  (Annihilation, Authority and Acceptance) is unparalleled. Beautifully written, intensely creepy and utterly baffling, it is a compelling psychological thriller about how a group of bureaucrats, scientists, psychologists and ordinary folk deal with a mysterious and utterly unknowable life-force that transforms part of the Florida landscape.

Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. Her latest project is The Ark, a new digital interactive novel/app. 

ROWENA WISEMAN

Maree Dawes’s verse novel BRB or Be Right Back was a surprising highlight this year. She explores the power of words over touch and how an online obsession can become a real world problem. Erik Jensen’s biography Acute Misfortune: The Life and Death of Adam Cullen is a powerful yet sympathetic portrait of a complex artist that raises the question does good art excuse bad behaviour? This year I also discovered a couple of unforgettable gems, Émile Zola’s The Masterpiece, a true masterpiece, and Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms (translated by Matvei Yankelevich), a hilarious introduction to the iconic Soviet-era absurdist writer and poet.

Rowena Wiseman writes contemporary fiction and children’s stories. Her most recent book, Bequest, was published in June 2014 by Tenebris Books.
 
 


By Zoë Sadokierski
Lecturer, School of Design at University of Technology, Sydney

How publishing works: a book designer's perspective - Image by Zoe Sadokierski

Publishing is the process of getting the author’s story out of her or his head and into the hands of a reader. Zoe Sadokierski

Authors don’t write books, they write manuscripts. Publishing is the process of getting an author’s manuscript into the hands of a reader, by materialising it – giving it form, as a book. This may be printed (a codex) or digital (an ebook).

I produced the illustrations in this post for a Sydney Writers Festival talk in 2012. All publishing houses have different protocols and cultures; this overview is based on my experience as an in-house book designer at Allen&Unwin (2003-2006), and as a freelance designer for a range of Australian publishers over the past decade.

How publishing works a book designers perspective - Image 2 - Zoe Sadokierski

The author enters a publishing house with a manuscript. Zoe Sadokierski

The author’s manuscript is either solicited (the publisher asks them to write it) or unsolicited (the author writes it, then shops for a publisher). Being rejected is awful and publishing contracts are complicated, so many authors employ an agent to negotiate a deal with a publisher.

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Truman Capote Reads From Breakfast At Tiffanys

Very few authors, especially the unpublished, can resist an invitation to read aloud. I made us both a drink and, settling in a chair opposite, began to read to her, my voice a little shaky with a combination of stage fright and enthusiasm: it was a new story, I’d finished it the day before, and that inevitable sense of shortcoming had not had time to develop.
– Truman Capote, Breakfast at Tiffany’s: A Short Novel and Three Stories

This reading from Breakfast at Tiffany’s by Truman Capote was recorded in New York City at the 92nd Street Y on 7 April 1963. Before the reading, the Y’s Poetry Center Director John Malcolm Brinnin introduced the author saying:

In the very curious sociology of these times, the name of Truman Capote has become a household word . . . He no longer has to write a book to make news, but simply to be Truman Capote. No one is surprised anymore to learn that this young American writer has been quietly dining with Princess Margaret, or that he has been spirited off on the yachts of Greeks richer than Mycenaes, or that he has recently flown to Amsterdam to have a tooth filled.

But let us be wary of the disguises of genius. Anyone who knows Truman Capote knows that the columnists capture the details but miss the point. Beyond the public image of Truman Capote there stands a very private man, who owns one of the toughest, most resourceful and surgically adept minds in modern letters. And if we now must note that the boy wonder has become the prodigal son, that is all the more reason why I am happy to invite you to join me in welcoming him.

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As we explained in last year’s F. Scott Fitzgerald eBooks Collection post, Australian copyright law means that the works of many 20th century authors are freely available in the public domain, despite being still under copyright in the United States and elsewhere. This is because until 2005 Australia had a ‘life of the author plus 50 years’ copyright rule, making the writing of any author who died before 1955 freely available.

Thanks to the University of Adelaide, readers in Australia now have access to free and legal eBooks archive of works by George Orwell. The books are available to be read online, downloaded as ePub files (suitable for most eReaders), and in a format accessible on Kindles.

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George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire series has sold over 25 million copies in North America alone. With each volume weighing in at close to a thousand pages or more, writing each instalment is quite a time consuming process. On Conan O’Brien’s late-night talk show last month, Martin shared why, despite his phenomenal success (or perhaps because of it), he still uses a computer from the 1980s.

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In the United States in 1984 a gallon of gas cost $1.10 and the average house price was $86,730. Beverly Hills Cop was the highest grossing movie and Amadeus won Best Picture at the Academy Awards. In the world of books Ironweed by William Kennedy won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and Hotel du Lac by Anita Brookner took out the Man Booker Prize. Neither of these titles topped America’s popular bestseller lists though where family sagas and crime thrillers were the order of the day.

10. Lincoln by Gore Vidal Lincoln by Gore Vidal

Lincoln is the second sequential book in Gore Vidal’s Narratives of Empire series that was released between 1967 and 2000 (though Lincoln was actually published fourth). The series interweaves the lives of fictional characters with significant historical figures. This volume was adapted for television in 1988 and starred Sam Waterston as Abraham Lincoln and Mary Tyler Moore as Mary Todd Lincoln.

9. The Life and Hard Times of Heidi Abromowitz by Joan Rivers Continue Reading…

Annabel Smith is Western Australian based author. In this guest post, Annabel shares the story of how her novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot came to be written and published.

What a crazy little thing a book is. It begins as an idea in one person’s mind, and eventually ends up on a whole host of strangers’ bookshelves. But what happens in between? I’m not too sure how it works for JK Rowling, for instance, but I can tell you how it’s happened for me, with my second novel Whisky Charlie Foxtrot.

There are a number of steps on the journey to a book, most of which are at best gruelling, and at worst soul-destroying. Sounds like a blast, hey? So what are we waiting for?

Step 1: Write the damn book!

I think Ernest Hemingway described this step in the process quite succinctly:

Ernest Hemingway Quote

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