books

I've been recommending books on Mamamia Out Loud for 4 years. Here are my top picks, ever.

I read a lot of books

I also spend a lot of time on Instagram, but that doesn't sound nearly as impressive. 

So back to the books. I have a few commandments when it comes to my reading. They are as follows:  

1. There's nothing worse than a book snob who thinks you should just re-read Jane Eyre until you die. 

2. Do not persevere with a book if you are more than a third of the way in and you're still not enjoying it. Life is too short and there are just, simply, too many books to read to waste on one that's a bit sh*t. 

3. If you're stuck in a reading rut, the answer probably isn't Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari. Don't get me wrong, it's an incredible book. One of the best. But it's like going from no exercise to running a marathon. You're going to collapse in the middle of it and vow off running/reading forever. What you need is Gone GirlOr Girl On The TrainSome popular fiction book with the word "girl" in the title. Or something by Liane Moriarty/Jane Harper/Sally Hepworth. Plot driven. Characters you recognise. Something you couldn't put down even if you tried. 

For years on Mamamia Out Loud, the podcast I co-host with Mia Freedman and Holly Wainwright that drops three times a week, as well as covering what women are talking about, we've been offering recommendations. Sometimes they're television shows or products or podcasts. But my very favourite recommendations are books.

Listen to us discuss the very best television shows of 2020. Post continues below. 

A good book can change how you think. It's an experience. It's a gift. It's also a fair bit of effort to pick up a book, so no one wants to spend $29.95 and then discover the pages are boring.

So here is a list of my top picks of all time. 

1. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

I cannot explain what this book did to me. It is a million pages long and for about a month I felt like I was living this whole other life. I never knew where it was going and by the end, I was emotionally destroyed which sounds hyperbolic but somehow it's not. I've not known anyone to read this book and not say it's one of the best books they've ever read. It affects you for months and even years afterwards. An absolute masterpiece. 

2. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons

The Bronze Horseman is widely regarded as one of the most epic love stories ever written - a title which it more than deserves. But it's far more than a love story. Set in the Soviet Union, the story unfolds alongside World War II. 

Pause.

I know. 

I’m obsessed with history and even I’m a little fatigued by wartime narratives. Often, they’re hard work and dense and I read them telling myself ‘it’s good for you’. 

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The Bronze Horseman, however, was something else entirely. It transported me somewhere else, where you can smell a detonated bomb and feel the ache of famine and hear the cries of desperate people. 

The pacing of Simons' books is so spot on. Also in my top picks would be Tully, about a tough young woman carrying a secret. 

3. Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

The reason this book is everywhere is because it's obscenely good. 

Don't read the back. Don't ask people what it's about. Just. Trust. Me. And there's a twist that will make you gasp out loud. 

Image: Little Brown.

4. Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton 

Trent Dalton is one of the most beautiful writers Australia has ever produced. Soon after it was published in mid-2018, a colleague who was reading it came to work and announced: "This book will win all the awards." 

And Boy Swallows Universe did win all the awards. Rightfully so. 

It's sold more than half a million copies which is extremely rare in the Australian market. It's heartbreaking but ultimately hopeful; the perfect Australian story. 

5. The Lost Man by Jane Harper

Basically, anything by Jane Harper is outstanding. Lost Man is probably my favourite followed by her debut novel, which has since been made into a film, The Dry

It begins with a man named Cameron found dead near a grave in the Australian outback. It touches on a number of dark themes including domestic violence and rape, and keeps readers guessing until the very last chapter.

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What would happen if all the girls in the world could read? Post continues below. 


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6. The Mother In Law by Sally Hepworth

I read this book in one sitting. 

It's full of suspense and mystery and explores the complicated relationship between a woman and her mother-in-law. Ultimately it leads to an untimely death. 

If you enjoy The Mother In Law, you can also dive into Hepworth's other books like The Family Next Door and The Good Sister.

7. Such A Fun Age by Kiley Reid

It's difficult to explain why I loved this book so much. It's warm and familiar and I developed a real connection to the protagonist, Emira. 

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It was an instant New York Times bestseller and was included in round-ups of the Best Book of the Year by The Washington Post, NPR, Chicago Tribune and several others. 

The gripping story explores race and class and the subtle ways in which power is communicated. 

8. My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante

When I think back to reading the four books that make up Ferrante's Neapolitan Novels, it feels like reminiscing about a holiday. 

For months it was as though I was living this other life in Naples with different friends and family, being heartbroken and falling in love. I was completely engrossed by this series. 

9. Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales

Outstanding. Life-changing. Won't ever leave you. 

Sales interviews people whose lives were upended on an ordinary day, a stroke of bad luck that could befall any of us. It is written with such compassion and insight, and answers the question we've all asked at some point or another: When your worst nightmare comes to life, how on earth do you keep on going? 

10. Watermelon by Marian Keyes

Watermelon would have to be my favourite Marian Keyes book, closely followed by her 13 other novels which are funny and warm and charming. 

Keyes is known as a master fiction writer whose work is ridiculously readable. Her latest book, Grown Ups, is also brilliant, along with The Break, Lucy Sullivan Is Getting Married and Rachel's Holiday. 

Watermelon is about a woman named Claire who is giving birth when her husband tells her he's been having an affair. 

She is left with a broken heart, a newborn baby and a body she can barely stand to look at. 

11. Normal People by Sally Rooney

It's just so... original. 

The prose is fast and simple, while exploring really complex themes about family, relationships, sex and violence. I don't think I've ever read a book where I'm more invested in a relationship working out. 

12. My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell 

An instant New York Times bestseller, this book explores the psychological dynamic between a naïve 15-year-old schoolgirl named Vanessa and her 42-year-old English teacher. 

It examines consent and power, written in first person from Vanessa's perspective. It says things most novels would never dare to.

13. The Ruin by Dervla McTiernan

The Ruin is the first in a series by Australian author McTiernan, who is an expert in writing unputdownable thrillers. She's known as one of Australia's best crime writers.

It begins with Aisling Conroy's boyfriend Jack found dead in the River Corrib in Ireland. The police quickly determine it was a suicide. Something, however, doesn't add up.

14. Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

This is a book everyone needs to read at least once in their lifetime. It's about the meaning of life as explored through memoir, by a man who survived the Holocaust.

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Frankl lost his family in concentration camps, and when he was finally liberated from Auschwitz in 1945, he wrote Man's Search For Meaning in nine days.

It's considered one of the most influential books ever written and has sold well over 10 million copies.

15. Darkness Visible by William Styron

This book is especially for anyone who has ever been visited by depression. 

Styron also wrote Sophie's Choice, and is an outstanding storyteller. But Darkness Visible is a memoir about his fall into depression, and how, exactly, he came out of it. 

The book has some of the most insightful passages about mental illness I've ever read, putting words around something so many have felt. After I read it, I passed it straight onto my grandfather, who walked into his GP and said "This. This is what I've got."

17. Below Deck by Sophie Hardcastle

Below Deck is Sophie Hardcastle's haunting debut novel, which centres around an incident that takes place on a sailing trip. Olivia is a university grad in her early 20s who decides to work on a yacht, the only woman in an all-male crew. 

Hardcastle's writing is poetic and literary, every sentence perfectly crafted. Below Deck is nuanced and illuminating, a book that engages with themes born out of the Me Too movement, which confronts standards we still hold women to head on. 

Image: Atlantic Books.

18. Essays In Love by Alain de Botton 

This is such an unusual, extraordinary novel.

It charts the relationship of two young people who meet on an aeroplane and quickly fall in love. It's a story that's been told millions of times. But what de Botton does is dissect it in extraordinary depth, examining the features that are completely universal but feel deeply personal. 

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The genius lies in its ability to put words around feelings we've all had, that go mostly unexamined. 

19. Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

This work of non-fiction dives into the subject of female desire, examining the sex and love lives of three women living in the United States. 

The book jumps between the stories of Lena, Maggie and Sloane, bringing them to life as characters who happen to be real life people. 

It marries the genres of fiction and non-fiction; a page-turner that feels like a window into the private lives of ordinary women.

20. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

The Bell Jar is a classic every young woman needs to read. 

Similar to Darkness Visible it puts words around the experience of depression, creating a new vocabulary for mental illness before such a concept even properly existed. 

It's a semi-autobiographical novel by one of the most beautiful writers ever to have lived. 

21. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

I could have chosen virtually any Moriarty book to include in this list. 

She creates loveable, realistic characters, pacing her books so perfectly that you'll be up at 4am racing to get to the end. She has sold more than 14 million copies of her books worldwide, making her one of the most successful Australian authors of all time. 

The Husband's Secret remained on the New York Times bestseller list for over a year, which is just about unheard of.

22. A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jessie Tu's debut book is about female desire and the awkwardness and pain of being a young woman who feels like she wants too much. 

Set in Australia, the protagonist Jena Lin grew up a child prodigy and now uses sex as a way of filling that gap. 

A Lonely Girl Is A Dangerous Thing is fiercely observant and daring, shining a spotlight on an Australian experience that is vastly underrepresented. 

23. I Give My Marriage A Year by Holly Wainwright

I couldn't not include this brilliant book by my podcast co-host and best-selling author, Holly Wainwright. 

She's written three books, I Give My Marriage A Year being her most recent.

It explores the marriage of Lou and Josh, who navigate infidelity, loss, and the question that lingers in the back of our minds: Is this as good as it gets? 

What's your favourite book of all time? Let us know in the comments below. 

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