In which Netty declares 2014 the Year of the Don – and no, I’m not talking about a leg of ham, or that rabble of a footy club that Hirdy coaches …

March 10, 2015

Last year, 2014, was a momentous year in Andy and Netty’s Reading Challenge. In addition to reading our usual 12 books, we embarked on side challenges that singled out, respectively, two of the authors who had most impressed us over the eight-year journey (at least I think it’s eight; there’s been a helluva lot of books and a fair whack of booze tipped in over those years).


Seriously, I would marry this bloke if he wasn’t, like, almost 80 …

One of the best things I have done for myself EVER is to plunge head-first into the back catalogue of American author Don DeLillo (Andy tackled English writer Iris Murdoch, and undoubtedly he will have plenty to say about her in his post, coming to a screen near you shortly). DeLillo is a towering behemoth of modern literature, and the beauty is I’ve still got a half-dozen or so of his books to go. If you love words, plots, themes, characters, and just bloody fan-fucking-tastic writing, well, you know what to do. And do it, stat.

Regular readers of this blog know I love a list as much as Andy hates ‘em. There’s little to fault in the six DeLillos I read last year (and, er, a little bit into this year, too), but if I had to rank them (go on!), then this is how it would pan out:

  1. Underworld
  2. Mao II
  3. Libra
  4. White Noise
  5. Point Omega
  6. Americana

Americana, DeLillo’s first novel, published in 1971, is the weakest link in this bunch – albeit a very high-quality weakest link – but a fine harbinger of what was to come. The other five – spanning the period 1985 to 2012 – are mesmerising testaments to life in these mixed-up, shook-up, fucked-up times. I can’t recommend them highly enough. The only author I have loved more since Andy and I have been doing this blog is Raymond Carver. Yeah – he’s THAT good.

Back to the regular challenge, then. As Frank Sinatra (and others) once sang, it was a very good year …

1. Stasiland – ANNA FUNDER

In which an Australian writer goes to post-Wall East Germany to see what havoc the sins of the past have wreaked on its modern incarnation. Powerful, gripping, beautifully told tales of those who lived behind and beyond the Wall. Essential reading.

2. Palace Walk – NAGUIB MAHFOUZ

Volume one of Mahfouz’s magnificent trilogy traces the life and times of Egyptian patriarch al-Sayyid Ahmad and his long-suffering family from the early 20th to mid-20th century. An absolutely riveting read, especially recommended for lovers of familial sagas.

3. The Songlines – BRUCE CHATWIN

In which an Englishman goes to the red centre of Australia, fulfilling a boyhood obsession, and comes away with a far greater understanding of the heart of this land and its indigenous people than most of us “second Aussies” will ever have.

4. The Golden Notebook – DORIS LESSING

Sisters are doing it for themselves – well, most of the time, anyway. One of the essential tracts of modern feminist fiction. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but always canny, comely, and compelling.

5. New Selected Poems 1966-1987 – SEAMUS HEANEY

He wasn’t a Nobel Prize winner for nothing. The late Irish poet distils the essence of his homeland into gorgeously evocative, sublimely succinct prose.

6. The Collected Stories Of – LYDIA DAVIS

An epic collection from one of America’s finer short story writers. When she is on song and en pointe – and she is often – few can touch Davis for wit, insight and brevity.


The most surprising book of the bunch for me. Slightly sinister Australian gothic with more twists and turns than a carnival roller-coaster. Heady, shrewd stuff, and a rollicking good read.

8. By Night In Chile – ROBERTO BOLANO

If you can get past the fact that this novella is presented as basically one paragraph, a fascinating account of modern Chile in all its corrupt chaos. Not an easy read by any stretch of the imagination, but a rewarding one.


Don’t be misled by the lowly placing on this list. Absolutely nothing wrong with this cracking, eminently readable example of early-20th century hard-boiled American detective fiction.

10. Story Of The Eye – GEORGES BATAILLE

Look, I don’t mind a bit of hard-core every now and then. But preferably without chicken’s eggs and severed eyeballs, thanks all the same, Georges.

11. The Country Girls Trilogy – EDNA O’BRIEN

As I said in my original post, misery-gut-laden, woe-is-fucking me Irish chick lit. And three bloody volumes of it! Somewhere along the line I’m gonna get Andy back for that one …

12. Bad Behaviour – MARY GAITSKILL

Tedious tales from a one-trick pony. Whiny, dull, boring, and blah.

Over to you, Andy!

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