The beloved
Also short-listed for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award

It’s time once again for my annual list of recommended novels (here’s last year’s list). This custom dates from when I first started The Urbanist (known originally as The Melbourne Urbanist), as it was set up with the intent of discussing books as well as urban issues.

That ambition went by the wayside long ago but now, with Christmas only two days away and no one showing much interest in “serious matters”, it’s a good time to think about ramping up reading for pleasure.

Of the novels I read during 2015, a number stand out as worth recommending to others as good reads. I don’t classify them as “beach reads” or “serious literature”; if they’re worth spending a lot of time with then they’ve got to be engaging in one way or another.

The top picks from the novels I’ve read this year in rough order are:

Five/four stars:

Three stars:

The novels in the next group were mostly enjoyable but in my view weren’t outstanding. I don’t feel I’d be worse off if I hadn’t read them. Having said that, I’m aware there are plenty of people who really liked quite a few of these books e.g. both Joan London and Richard Flanagan won prestigious awards for their novels. So your mileage might vary from mine.

One/two stars:

Fortunately, I read very few novels I’d classify as one or two star. No point mentioning them…except I should acknowledge that Tom McCarthy’s Satin Island has quite a few design, architecture and planning references. And so does The architect’s apprentice by Turkish novelist Elif Shafak.

Non fiction:

I read plenty of non-fiction but rarely from cover to cover so I don’t make recommendations. However this year I did read every word of Sapiens: a brief history of humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. It was translated from Hebrew last year. If you’re looking for a Guns, germs and steel “big question” kind of book, this might well be it. Five stars from me.

Further reading:

Over the holiday season, I plan to read Snow, Orhan Pamuk; Slade House, David Mitchell; and the final novel in Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet, The story of the lost child (note the Ferrante books should be read in order, beginning with My brilliant friend).

My non-fiction list is Hive Mind, Garrett Jones; Between the world and me, Ta-Nahesi Coates; Misbehaving, Richard Thaler, and How not to be wrong, Jordan Ellenberg.