2021 was biblical. While locusts didn’t make an appearance, the plague continued, deplorables rioted in the streets and Melbourne, the home of Blue51, was hit by an earthquake. To be honest, when I was writing away at my desk and the bookcases started swaying behind me I wasn’t 100 % frightened. You see, I’ve always held a sneaky suspicion that literature would be the death of me, but I was thinking probably in a more Hemingway-esque manner rather than earthquake…


Speaking of Hemingway- the master of spare prose made my top 10 list this year but before we dive in, a little preamble, if you will.


My top ten list this year have very little to do with growing a business or a brand. None of them will ‘overtly’ make you a better human in ten easy steps, or more attractive (to yourself or to others) or will help you make better use of your time. That’s not to say the following reads aren’t transformational in some way, shape or form- but personally? I needed a break this year from the ra-ra and I made a rule this year to only read books that were quality literature. I didn’t want to read any of the churn and burn books that are out there. And yes, I can see how that last sentence makes me sound like a bit of a pretentious you-know-what, but my reading list for this year is very much a balm, and celebration of creativity, words and language. Enough said.


Here we go, with links (no affiliate codes because couldn’t be arsed), in no particular order:


The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway


My copy of this is getting close to thirty-five years old which bloody blows my mind. I reread it every couple of years or so, or I pick it up and read a couple of pages when I want to strip back my own writing and go deep into the feels without the fluff. So good I want to go stab a whale. Not really…


Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy


As I’ve discovered as I was compiling this list, I’ve been drawn to quite a bit of dystopian/end of the world/climate crisis/nuclear winter type literature. There was The Life As We Knew It series by Susan Beth Pfeffer, The Sky So Heavy series by Claire Zorn (an aussie YA author) and more than a handful of other titles. Hey, if a pandemic doesn’t inspire some handwringing woe, what will? This was a beautiful, heartbreaking novel about the impact of climate change in the context of grief. Ultimately hopeful, yet bloody despondent, or maybe that’s just my reading of it!


The Details by Tegan Bennet Daylight


The subtitle of this book is ‘on love, death and reading’ and is about the connections we make with books and reading. It’s not dissimilar to The Books that Made Us, a recent ABC series with Claudia Karvan and is like a long chat about books with a fellow book worm/Word Nerd.


The Writer’s Room by Charlotte Wood


Much like Making Stories by Kate Grenville and Sue Woolfe, a resource I refer to again and again, The Writer’s Room is a sneak peek behind the curtains of writer’s work lives. It explores how they write, how they wrote specific pieces, what they love and what they find challenging. I’m a sticky beak from way back and I love, love, LOVE learning about other people’s processes and so this fit the bill. And while we’re here, I may as well confess that I took a wander down Charlotte Wood’s entire back catalogue including The Natural Way of Things which actually made one of my best reads list a few years ago. Her writing is next level incredible.


Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg


This is a beautiful book that’s like the most wonderful writing workshop- in fact, I first discovered it nigh on twenty years ago at a writing workshop in the old home of Writer’s Victoria in the Nicholson building. I remember freezing my proverbials off while the presenter led us through one of the exercises, which I’ve shared with a couple of my Book Lab clients this year as they started the process of putting the flesh on the bones of their work. This year I was craving bite-sized creative workshop experiences and this gorgeous little book hit the spot.


The Creative Habit by Twyla Tharp


This is a book that’s as gorgeous visually as is the content. In simple terms, it’s a very non-woo version of The Artists Way and is basically a celebration of the role of creativity in our lives. It shares daily habits of creativity and has New York City as the backdrop. In a year of basically a 5km radius, New York dreaming was a fabulous diversion and I now most firmly have ‘go to a performance of the New York Ballet’ on my bucket list.


The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams


The dictionary is actually one of my favourite books- Macquarie, thank you very much, and it’s one that I reach for many, MANY times a day. A couple of years ago, I was working from a client’s CBD office (remember those?) and I asked the 20 something receptionist/admin superstar to point me in the direction of the office dictionary and she looked at me like I was the human version of Jurassic Park come to life. This book, The Dictionary of Lost Words, was gifted to me by an incredible friend (she also gave me this tome of tales and I’m still a bit perplexed as to why) knowing my propensity to word origins (such a nerd), and long after reading it I was thinking about the concept of who owns language, who defines words. Gah, so good! It also reminded me of the Maya Angelou quote of ‘the agony of bearing an untold story’ and what it means to bear witness to story, or to have story withheld. Gah again!


Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury


OK, I don’t like Ray Bradbury’s genre. There I said it. But just like Stephen King’s On Writing, I love a good musing on the art and craft of writing. This isn’t a book to necessarily read cover to cover (of course you can, I just don’t), but rather I pick it up, read an essay or two to get myself all fired up about this incredible medium that’s held my heart for my entire life.


Home Body and Milk and Honey by Rupi Kaur


I bought Home Body for my older daughter last Christmas and read it over the summer before buying Milk and Honey. Did you know that I studied Masters level poetry? Oh yes, there were many nights when I left the CBD in a hurry, saying ‘sorry Minister, I can’t write that speech, I have to get to my poetry class.’ This went down a treat, I promise. Anyhoo- this past year, my daughter reminded me of the power of bloody good prose and I fell in love with the genre all over again. I dragged out all of my poetry resources and books and may or may not have dabbled a little myself. What does this have to do with writing for your brand? Well, any time you can be evocative (and provocative in strategic circumstances) your writing will be all the more stronger for it. And let’s face it, reading a line of something incredible, furrowing your brows and staring out the window as you think about each and every line is always a good idea. ALWAYS. Don’t try to argue with me on this, I will bare fist fight you.


Reflections through the Periscope by Jaqui O’Donohoe


Disclaimer time- Jaqui is a member of my Band of Batchers and is my close friend and fellow carb and cheese devotee. That said- even if I hadn’t watched Jaq write Reflections through the Periscope each month at Band this book would be in my top 10 reads. Jaq first told me about her idea about writing a book in honour of her late father at the end of 2019 and I knew then that their unforgettable bond, the life of adventure he instilled in her, was the makings of something incredible, and Jaq’s book well and truly does Peter’s story justice- and Jaq’s by default.


And that’s my top ten for 2021- but given I spent over six months of the year deep in the rewrite of my YA novel I also devoured contemporary YA literature, particularly Australian, and so here’s some more titles for you:


Honeybee by Craig Silvey and while you’re at it, grab a copy of Jasper Jones too.


Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton, and I bet my left you-know-what there’s a copy of Love Stories under your tree this year, and if not, get it. I insist.


Take Three Girls by Cath Crowley, Simmone Howell and Fiona Wood


Are You There, Buddha by Pip Harry- written in verse, which puts Holly in raptures


It’s Not You, It’s Me, by Gabrielle Williams. Fun fact- I met Gabrielle Williams at a YA literature author panel and I can neither confirm nor deny that I fan-girled.


And that shall probably do! I started a new Instagram account this year to support my personal brand for my novel writing adventures, which is where I share more reads that I’m loving, so feel free to follow along there. It’s a fun space! Meanwhile, if this list has wet your whistle and you want more, more, HOLLY GIVE ME MORE, here’s my 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020 best reads lists. I haven’t counted, but 6 years of reading means you shall be drowning in books, and seriously, I can’t think of a better way to drown. Maybe in a river of chocolate? Nope, I would still prefer books.


Tell me, what’s been your favourite read(s) this year?

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