Books that blew my mind in 2014

It’s a gift for a reader to pick up a book that takes you by surprise and blows your mind.

I had the great fortune in 2014 to stumble upon several books that did this — all of them short story collections, three released in 2014, five by Australian authors. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.

short stories 2014Sightseeing by Rattawut Lapcharoensap (2006, Grove Press) was one the first anthology to blow my mind in 2014. It contains seven beautifully crafted stories, most set in Thailand. Lapcharoensap’s stories tackle injustice and inequality at times with poignancy, at times with humour, always with bite. (See here for a full review).

Holiday in Cambodia by Laura Jean McKay (2013, Black Inc) is a stunning collection of intimate stories set in different historical periods in Cambodia, told from the points of view of Cambodian and non-Cambodian characters. (See here for a full review).

The Weight of a Human Heart by Ryan O’Neill (2012, Black Inc) contains some of the most striking and innovative work I’ve ever read. What O’Neill does with the short story form is almost beyond belief, and every story packs an emotional punch. Breathtaking.

Maxine Beneba Clarke says she tries ‘to write beautifully about ugly things’, which is exactly what she does in Foreign Soil (2014, Hachette). Stories of heartbreak and horror are told in the language of poetry and hope. Riveting.

Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey (2014, Penguin) got bumped up my TBR pile when it was shortlisted for the 2015 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for fiction. Each story is told from the point of view of a different animal associated with a significant historical figure, many of them writers. Crazy, brazen and astonishingly good.

Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas (2014, Allen & Unwin) will see me out for 2014, a remarkable collection from a writer who can be relied on for pushing readers out of their comfort zone.

Heartfelt thanks to all these authors for inspiring me, as a reader and a writer. I take joy in commending these books to others.

Now it’s your turn. Did you read any books, short story collections or otherwise, that blew your mind in 2014?

About Angela Savage

Angela Savage is a Melbourne writer, who has lived and travelled extensively in Asia. She won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript, and the Scarlet Stiletto Award short story award. Her latest novel is, Mother of Pearl, published by Transit Lounge. Angela holds a PhD in Creative Writing, is former CEO of Writers Victoria, and currently works as CEO of Public Libraries Victoria.
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Books that blew my mind in 2014

  1. Margot Kinberg says:

    Such a great variety of books here, Angela! Lots to explore, so thank you for sharing these.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’ve given me a good idea, Angela, and I might expand this list for my own blog. A number of books have stayed with me long after I read them this year. They include:
    —Agatha Christie: An Autobiography (1977), given to me by your good self, Angela! It’s a compelling read, particularly her unusual childhood and the story of how she became a writer. I simply couldn’t put it down the whole way through.
    —May Sinclair, The Combined Maze (1913): I read this because Agatha Christie in her autobiography said she thought it the best novel ever written. While I wouldn’t go that far, it was certainly an astonishingly good read. I got it free for Amazon Kindle. I can’t believe a movie hasn’t been made of this dark story of middle-class angst in the (then) modern world.
    —Paddy Richardson, Cross Fingers (2013): superb NZ crime writer introduced to me by Margot Kinberg (yes, she who commented on this post, above). This one was particularly enthralling as it was set against the backdrop of the controversial 1981 Springbok rugby tour of NZ.
    —Christos Tsiolkos, Barracuda (2013): I read this in October, but it’s still with me. Tsiolkos is such a clever writer in that he really has his finger on the pulse of our society: the ugly face of class discrimination, the killer instinct of the elite sportsperson, the pressure that can drive young people into mental illness and so on. Brilliant.
    —Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines (1987): I bought this book nine years ago after a trip to Alice Springs, then never read it…until a couple of weeks ago. It’s quite a strange book, being a cross between a novel and a travelogue. Chatwin, an English writer who died in 1989 at the age of only 49, came to Australia to research the Aboriginal songlines that cross the country. This is his account of what he learned during that trip. There are also several chapters of random notes about travel, history and so on from his notebooks. It’s quite dated in some ways, but still a fascinating book, the classic outsider looking in.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Caron, I really like your list — and I had the same experience of Agatha Christie’s autobiography. I’d intended to skim it in preparation for a seminar and ended up engrossed. I’m going to bump The Songlines up on my TBR pile, too, on your recommendation.

      Thanks so much for sharing your reading highlights.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. The book that blew my mind this year was Michael Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things, but a close second was Ali Smith’s How to Be Both. As for your list, I intend to read the Tsiolkas, the Beneba Clarke, the Dovey and Ryan’s one too. Thanks for sharing your picks. And have a great summer etc. x

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kathy d. says:

    I’m so overdosed in holiday food, including a friend’s kahlua/walnut fudge, that my brain is scrambled. But I wish you a great new year with lots of good seminars, panels, books — and the publication and success of your new book. From the U.S. cheering section, or the East Coast section, best wishes.
    I’ll check my own best reads, but unfortunately, haven’t read much from Australia or New Zealand this year, not out of choice but rather library limitations. Will try harder next year. I did read Wendy James” The Lost Girls, which was good.


  5. Pingback: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014 wrap-up | Angela Savage

  6. I just started Only the Animals – what an astonishing concept. Even though I am not generally much of a short fiction reader, Ryan O’Neill’s work really appeals to me for its experimental nature. I blogged about my favourite books of 2014 here:

    The ones that truly blew my mind were Jeff VanderMeer’s Southern Reach trilogy and Ben Marcus’s The Flame Alphabet – a kind of post-apocalyptic psychological thriller which nearly made me stop breathing.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Pingback: Bookish links #45 | This Adventure called Writing

What do you think?

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