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Article  •  26 November 2020

 

Staff picks of 2020

It's been a bumper year for books, read on to hear about some of our favourites.

We know it's like asking which child is your favourite, but with the year drawing to a close we thought it was time to put the call out to our colleagues to see which 2020 titles they loved. These are the books that we've been raving about and pushing into the hands of our friends and family.

Pure Narco by Jesse Fink

Pure Narco
Having read Fink’s biography of ACDC’s original frontman Bon Scott – Bon: The Last Highway, I was excited to hear that we had another book coming from him this year, and, as a HUGE fan of Rusty Young’s Marching Powder, even more intrigued by the subject matter. I am delighted to report that Pure Narco absolutely lived up to my high hopes and expectations.

Fink co-authored the book with his subject, Luis Navia, who spent 25 years smuggling hundreds of tons of cocaine for the biggest cartels in Colombia and Mexico, including Pablo Escobar’s Medellín Cartel. After living the fast-paced life of a drug trafficker, fraught with danger and surrounded by some of the most powerful and ruthless figures in the international drug trade (and spoiler, being kidnapped three times and almost fed to crocodiles), Navia was captured by US special agents in an international takedown operation and has since served his prison time. Now, in 2020, Navia is free to tell his tale, and tell his tale he has done; he has spared no detail and, paired with Fink’s ability to bring stories to life on the page, Pure Narco is truly a white-knuckle ride that sits up there with the incredible storytelling we all binge-watched in Netflix’s Narcos– Em, Marketing

The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy

The Last Migration
My favourite book of 2020 has been The Last Migration by Charlotte McConaghy. It’s such a timely novel about the fragility of the natural world and the destructive (and self-destructive) nature of humans. I was left in awe learning about the immense migrations the arctic terns undertake. I have a newfound respect for birds since reading it, that’s for sure! – Heidi, Marketing

My favourite book of 2020 was hands down Charlotte McConaghy's The Last Migration. If you haven't picked up a copy yet, you need to now! Believe the hype. The concept, the world it's set in, and the beautiful writing all combine seamlessly to create a book that lingers with you long after you finish. – Jess, Publicity

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

Rodham
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld would probably be my favourite book this year. I have told heaps of people about it and lent my copy out.

Such was our desire to talk about it, that some colleagues and I formed a book club just so we could all hash through all of the interesting topics raised in the book.

The book's ending felt particularly satisfying. – Eve, DK

The Bluffs by Kyle Perry

The Bluffs
My favourite book of 2020 is The Bluffs by Kyle Perry because it was just so incredibly compelling that I literally couldn’t put it down. It kept me awake until 2am, I had to finish it in one sitting, and when I did I just thought, ‘Wow. What an exciting new author!’ – Ali, Adult Publishing

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams by Richard Flanagan

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams

Beautiful, unsettling, hopeful, urgent, horrifying, hilarious: there are many layers and moods to Richard Flanagan’s The Living Sea of Waking Dreams. And, as such, there are many possible readings of this mysterious and affecting story. There has been much written and said about this book, and I have no doubt it will continue to be discussed for years to come. So I can only offer my humble perspective, which is one of awe.

As bushfires rage a family grapples with end-of-life choices for their dying mother. The world watches on in horror on their phones as entire species are being wiped out and our natural environments destroyed in real time. And as Anna struggles to keep it all together as her life spirals out of control, she notices pieces of herself are vanishing, one by one.

The Living Sea of Waking Dreams deals with immense themes of climate change, environmental devastation, institutional abuse, end-of-life care, the meaning of family. It opens up enormous questions, including: could we be experiencing the autumn of things? And why, as humans, are we so inclined to destroy (or turn our heads away from the destruction of) the things we love most, the things that bring us beauty?

The language is nothing short of breathtaking. The only way I can convey the wondrous lyrical complexity of this novel is to offer up a quote:

When she was little they went to church and church was a small wooden shed, and the only beautiful thing was the graceful eucalypts outside and their mottled shade, their smell, the thrum of their taut barrel, birdcall and bark-rattle, their elegant leaves so many lazing scimitars, the odours of dust and sap, the powdery funk of the ants and the spiders and the caterpillars that lived both within and beneath their maternal canopy. It was a universe overwhelming, intoxicating, euphoric.

The church was an empty shed and the beach was an overflowing universe, and there was their true religion, in the dunes and the marram grass and the boobialla groves, in the waves and the rips and the tide, the blinding sun and the gritty washes of sea wind, the late afternoon dazzle of the glazed sand ripples as the ocean receded, the taste of salt, the exultation of bodies diving into the first wave, falling and being lifted, the restorative power of the world.

Amen to that. – Samson, Marketing

Ottolenghi Flavour by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ixta Belfrage

Ottolenghi Flavour

Following the incredibly successful Ottolenghi SIMPLE (a must-have for any home cook IMHO), Ottolenghi FLAVOUR had a LOT to live up to. And doesn’t it just. Technically this is the third book in Ottolenghi’s Plenty series, but the format is similar to Ottolenghi SIMPLE and I feel like the skill/ingredients required in most dishes is pretty similar, too.

I love it for a few reasons:

  • I have never seen, or cooked, so many different flavour combinations, and even though I’ve been sceptical with some of them, they’ve all tasted phenomenal.
  • The book is entirely vegetarian, and heroes some vegetables I’ve never been brave enough to cook with before, like celeriac and kohlrabi. But don’t be put off if those don’t get your tastebuds going, there are plenty of recipes with broccoli, cauliflower, eggplant, potatoes and more, and Yotam and Ixta have revolutionised the way these are prepared and presented.
  • There’s a good focus on process as well as flavour pairings, with step-by-step guides to flavour-enhancing techniques like charring, browning, infusing and ageing. I loved this because I’ve never been too confident with using process to create flavour before.
  • The photography! You really do eat with your eyes.
  • Throughout the book there are bountiful dressings, sauces, pickles and condiments, and these are all so delicious and flavour-packed, and great for use outside of their specific recipes, too.
  • Three words: Miso. Butter. Onions. – Em, Marketing

A Life on Our Planet by David Attenborough

A Life on Our Planet
I don’t think much more needs to be said! If Sir David Attenborough writes a book, you read it, devour it, consume it. He is the living legend of natural history documentaries, and when he speaks you listen.

This book is his witness statement after living 94 years on our planet. He has watched the decline and ruination of our sweet Earth, and can tell us exactly why and how it has happened. Humanity created this downfall, and if we’re not careful, we will cause the complete destruction of our kind. But while Sir David pens this story of destruction and warning, he also writes a tale of joyful hope. There are ways we can fix what we have done, and he gives us a plan to do it. All we need is the will to put this plan in action. We have the opportunity to return our world to the wild, to be smarter with our decisions. This book has and will continue to stay with me. His warnings still ring in my ears, and his hopeful wishes for the future can be my reality if we just listen and act. Read it, watch it, love it. – Bec, Marketing

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi​

Transcendent Kingdom
Transcendent Kingdom is GLORIOUS. Yaa Gyasi has done it again with her sophomore novel which explores themes of family, addiction and loss, whilst also asking the tougher questions in life. Gorgeously written, this book left me breathless. – Abby, Publicity

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Anxious People
I started reading the extract for Anxious People and was immediately hooked. Backman cleverly weaves a story around characters being held hostage at a Swedish apartment viewing where nothing is as it seems. The writing is witty and the observations about everyday life are spot on. I'm adding the rest of Backman's books to my 'to be read' pile! – Emily, Marketing

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