Each year, members of the Dymocks Booklovers loyalty club cast their votes for the Top 101 books of the year. This list is typically varied, covering everything from classics to contemporary to cook-books (much like my very own reading list here on Keeping Up With The Penguins). Indeed, it was the Dymocks 101 (along with the Guardian’s Top 100 Books Written in English) that inspired this project.
Last week, Dymocks announced the Top 101 books for 2018. There are a few favourites, a few unexpected new entries, and (I’m sure it comes as no surprise) I’ve got a lot of thoughts.
#1 The Harry Potter Series by J.K. Rowling
Now, that’s one heck of a resurgence! The Harry Potter series has been lingering around the Top 20 ever since it was released, but I don’t think anyone expected it to hit the number one spot again. Perhaps its renewed popularity can be attributed to the release of the Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them films, but would that really have been enough to get the job done? Either way, it’s proof that J.K. has still got it!
#2 All The Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
All The Light We Cannot See took out the number one spot last year. I had fully expected its popularity to carry over to this year, but I suppose we can hardly blame Anthony Doerr for dropping his spot to the series that achieved once-in-a-generation fame. This book is about a kid, too – two of them, actually. A young blind girl flees Occupied Paris with her museum curator father, while a teenage German boy is reluctantly recruited by the Nazis for his talent with transistor radios. Read my full review of All The Light We Cannot See here.
#6 The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief is another previous winner (it took out the number one spot in 2016). I wasn’t the biggest fan, but I can understand its popularity, particularly among young adult readers. Besides, it’s good to see an Aussie author staying front and center, year after year! Pick this one up if you enjoyed The Diary Of Anne Frank, or if you’re after a quirky paint-by-the-numbers post-modernist WWII historical novel targeted at the teen market. Read my full review of The Book Thief here.
#7 Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
So, I’m pretty sure Pride and Prejudice appears in every list of books ever: the best books, the best books written by women, the best love stories, the best social commentaries, and everything else you can imagine. It has definitely appeared in every Dymocks Top 101 list that I can recall, so it’s not going anywhere any time soon! Austen certainly has some dedicated fans, which is all the more impressive given that Pride and Prejudice was published over 200 years ago. Personally, I’ve had a patchy history with Pride and Prejudice (I’ve started and abandoned it no fewer than six times), but I’m so glad I persisted with it! Nothing good comes easy… Read my full review of Pride And Prejudice here.
#10 To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
To Kill A Mockingbird has received a lot of attention lately, with the release of Go Set A Watchman (which, thankfully, does not appear in this top 101 – I’m hoping Dymocks Booklovers took into account the ethical concerns surrounding its publication when casting their votes). Issues of racial injustice in the U.S. are coming to the fore on an unprecedented scale, and there was considerable controversy concerning this American classic having been banned in some school districts, so all of that adds up to a Top 10 spot in the Dymocks 101. Read my full review of To Kill A Mockingbird here.
#12 Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
I can happily admit that 1984 absolutely got my vote this year – as it has every year! It is one of my long-time favourite books, and its ongoing – increasing! – relevance and poignancy is a testament to Orwell’s masterful writing. Plus, Orwell’s Animal Farm also appears in the Dymocks 101 for 2018 (coming in at #54). If you’ve never read this classic of anti-authoritarian protest fiction, there’s no time like the present (especially if you bandy about terms like “Orwellian” and “Big Brother” in political conversation).
#14 The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
I was a little surprised to see The Girl On The Train still ranking so highly, but I’m happy for Paula Hawkins – she worked really hard for years to achieve this kind of “overnight success”. In fairness, I do still see photos of this one all over Instagram, so it probably shouldn’t have been that much of a surprise after all 😉 This is one of the O.G. “girl”-thrillers, where an unreliable female narrator witnesses a crime… or does she? Read my full review of The Girl On The Train here.
#19 The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Now this one was no surprise at all! Like Pride and Prejudice, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy gets a spot on almost every best-of-books list ever. It has ranked highly in the Dymocks Top 101 once again, and – as further testament to its popularity – I can confirm that I’ve had a devil of a time finding it in secondhand bookstores! The best (or most popular) books are always impossible to find secondhand, because people just can’t bear to part with their copies. But I managed to score a copy eventually, and it’s a cracker! Read my full review of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy here.
#22 Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
I was overjoyed to see Jane Eyre – probably moreso than any other book – in this year’s Dymocks 101. It is a beautiful, wonderful, timeless book, and I’m telling you right now it will be one of my life-long favourites. Plus, Charlotte is the only Brontë to score a spot on the Dymocks 101, so I guess that settles any debate as to who is the superior sibling in that family! I was pretty shocked that Wuthering Heights didn’t take the honours, to be honest – personally, I think it pales in comparison, but from what I can tell it is the favourite of most contemporary Brontë readers. I guess you never can tell! Read my full review of Jane Eyre here.
#23 The Martian by Andy Weir
Andy Weir is living the dream. He self-published The Martian for free through his own website when he couldn’t attract the interest of major publishers, and now here he is, years later, with millions of book sales, a major motion film adaptation starring Matt Damon, and a coveted position on the Dymocks list. Plus, his book wasn’t half bad – I enjoyed it, in spite of my general disinclination to hyper-masculine science fiction. Hats off to him 😉 Read my full review of The Martian here.
#25 The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I mention The Rosie Project not only because I read it recently for Keeping Up With The Penguins, but also because it’s one of my mother-in-law’s special favourites. I actually bought her a copy of the sequel, The Rosie Effect, for Christmas, and Graeme Simsion was kind enough to personally sign it for her. And he actually retweeted my favourite garbage Amazon review of his book. So, he’s clearly a top bloke, and a good sport! Read my full review of The Rosie Project here.
#27 The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Ugh! The Great Gatsby is probably the only entry on this top 101 list that made me recoil. Suffice to say, I wasn’t a huge fan. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about! It’s an unpopular opinion, sure, but I stand by it. Clearly, given its ranking, not many other booklovers feel the same way! If you’re looking for the glitz and glamour of the Jazz Age, without the giant whingeing bummer of unrequited love and the destruction of the AmErIcAn DrEaM, there are other, better books you can read instead. Read my full review of The Great Gatsby here.
#32 Reckoning by Magda Szubanski
Reckoning is another book I’m desperate to read and review for you, Keeper Upperers – unfortunately, it came out just a bit too late to make the cut for my original reading list, so you’ll have to wait a while. For my international friends who might not be familiar, Magda Szubanski is a beloved actress and comedian here in Australia. She came out just before our ridiculous plebiscite vote on marriage equality last year, and she became the de-facto face of the Yes movement (which was, of course, gloriously successful!). Magda is revered as an absolute goddess in my social circles, with good reason. I really wish her memoir had ranked higher in the Dymocks 101, but I consider her inclusion a win for the LGBTIQ community regardless!
#44 The Song of Ice and Fire Series by George R. R. Martin
Much like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, The Song of Ice And Fire series is pretty much guaranteed a spot on the Dymocks 101 for many years to come, thanks to the incredibly popular small-screen adaptation (HBO’s Game of Thrones). Say what you will about GoT fans, they’re a dedicated bunch! My hot tip is to watch the series before you read the book, especially if you’re a high fantasy beginner like me – it’ll help you keep all the characters straight and follow what’s going on across Westeros! Read my full review of A Game Of Thrones here.
#50 milk and honey by Rapi Kaur
Rapi Kaur actually managed to score two books in the Top 101 – her debut, milk and honey, and also the follow up, the sun and her flowers (which came in at #86). Say what you will about her style and technique, I think it’s fucking incredible that two contemporary books of poetry have reached this level of popularity! Through Rupi Kaur, an entire generation is basically discovering representative poetry (Rupi Kaur probably being the first non-white non-male poet that they’ve read since they were forced to study the “classics” in high school), and it’s luring them to explore and purchase more poetry. That’s never a bad thing!
#71 Victoria by Julia Baird
I’ve got to be honest: I wouldn’t normally pick up a biography of a dead monarch (especially one as done-to-death as Queen Victoria), but I’ve heard about half a dozen interviews with Julia Baird now and gosh-darn-it she has just about convinced me this would be a worthwhile read! She is insightful, conscientious, meticulous, and bloody hilarious! Those qualities, coupled with a recommendation from her friend (and my hero) Annabel Crabb, are the best marketing that Victoria could get.
#74 The Alchemist by Paolo Cohelo
This book will never die! Every hippie I’ve ever met has strongly recommended that I read The Alchemist, and sure enough I’ve heeded their advice and given it a go. It’s basically a fable for grown-ups, about following your heart and clicking your ruby slippers (you had the power all along!). If I remember correctly, in past years The Alchemist has featured much higher in the Dymocks 101, but regardless of the rank, it’s sticking like glue! Read my full review of The Alchemist here.
#76 The Narrow Road To The Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road To The Deep North is one of the more literary inclusions in the Top 101, probably buoyed by the fact that Flanagan is an Australian author – we like to keep it home grown Down Under! It was actually my first-ever Booker Prize read; it got the gong back in 2014. I’m not convinced I agree with the judges, given the other incredible books in the pack that year, but I can see why they chose it. Read my full review of The Narrow Road To The Deep North here.
#77 My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
I’m of the firm belief that My Brilliant Friend deserved a much higher spot on the Dymocks 101. The first of the Neapolitan Novels from Elena Ferrante was beautiful, in every respect. Even in the English translation (completed by Ann Goldstein), it retained the lyrical rhythm of the original Italian, and depicted with incredible raw honesty the coming-of-age of a young woman in trying circumstances. I think, in the future, we will look back on My Brilliant Friend as a literary classic, so here’s hoping that it gets more love from Dymocks Booklovers in coming years. Read my full review of My Brilliant Friend here.
#82 The Dressmaker by Rosalie Ham
Again: Aussie authors are doing it for themselves! Woo! I’m really happy about that (shamelessly so), but… I’m kind of surprised at the lasting power of this strangely gothic novel. The Dressmaker has endured for eighteen years so far, despite its esoteric setting (a fictional small Australian country town in the 1950s) and distinctly un-happy ending. So, three cheers for Rosalie Ham! I’m not sure I understand how or why, but she has truly captured the hearts of Australian booklovers. Read my full review of The Dressmaker here.
#94 Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
I must say, I’m surprised to see Little Fires Everywhere so far down the Top 101 – probably because I feel like I see it everywhere! Instagram has thousands upon thousands of photos of its distinctive cover, it’s topped so many best-reads lists I can’t even count them all, and it has been reviewed (glowingly) in every major publication that pops up in my inbox. Celeste Ng is fucking slaying it at the moment, and I’m sure next year we’ll see this one in the Top 20. Read my full review of Little Fires Everywhere here.
#98 Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls by Elena Favilli and Francesca Cavallo
I love, love, love this concept – stories about fabulous, ground-breaking, unruly women who have forged ahead in their fields and changed the world, written for young girls who would otherwise be forced to resort to fairy tales and Disney movies. There has been a spate of publications in this vein, but Goodnight Stories for Rebel Girls is the original and the best. It just scraped in to the Dymocks 101, but I am so glad to see it there at all! If you have young children (boy, girl, or otherwise), be sure to pick this one up for them; foster a love of reading and accurate representation of women in one fell swoop!
General Comments on the Dymocks 101 for 2018
Unsurprisingly, we can see a lot of film adaptations appearing in the Top 101. In addition to the ones I’ve listed above, Big Little Lies and The Handmaid’s Tale – both of which had fantastic television adaptations aired over the last 18 months – made the top ten.
Furthermore, Simon vs The Homo Sapiens Agenda and Call Me By Your Name (books adapted to films released in the last 6 months, both coincidentally focusing on young gay characters) made the top fifty, which I think is just fucking excellent. Representation matters!
On that note, I was surprised at how few of the standard straight-white-middle-class-male-authored classics made the cut. There was no Dickens, no Twain, no Steinbeck… I’m not sure if this means that Australian booklovers are demanding greater representation and diversity in their reading lists, or whether the team at Dymocks made some executive decisions.
Either way, while I’m secretly disappointed that David Copperfield didn’t rate a mention, it’s great to see more diversity on the shelves at the front of the store!
(I should mention, though, that while eight of the top ten, and 53% of the list overall, were written by women, but only roughly 10% were written by POC. Stats on other types of representation are tricky to come by!)
On a different note, I feel compelled to mention that one of my favourite things about this year’s Dymocks 101 is that it doesn’t feature a single cookbook! When Jamie’s 30 Minute Meals (or whatever) reached the top 50, it felt like a betrayal of what the list was about. In their absence, there are almost no entries that I outright disagree with (aside from maybe The Great Gatsby, as I mentioned, but I’m a big enough person to acknowledge that that’s a matter of my personal taste rather than the quality of the work.)
What did you think of the Dymocks 101? Did your special favourites make the list? Any glaring omissions as far as you’re concerned? Let me know in the comments (or join the conversation over at KUWTP on Facebook!)
Check out my thoughts on the Dymocks 101 for 2019 here!
April 6, 2018 at 9:59 PM
I Iove book lists. However, I think that it is best not to take them too seriously as there will always be ommssions and controversial inclusions. Even the term “top books” can lead to a lot of discussion. In the end, I wish that I had more time to read more.
April 7, 2018 at 3:09 PM
I completely agree, Brian. The Dymocks 101 is particularly controversial, I think, because of the diversity of voters – you end up with this really random mix of literary classics and popular genre stuff, so everyone will always disagree with at least some of them. And ultimately, I think we all wish we had more time to read, there is no such thing as “enough” 😉
April 11, 2018 at 6:03 PM
I realise I’ve never even heard of it, but reading what they want you to read I guess I would have turned the page. Perhaps I need the Dymonks Fantasy and Science Fiction 101, assuming that exists.
April 12, 2018 at 2:41 PM
Mmmmm, no fantasy/sci-fi specific list that I know of… it’s funny, some years the top 101 features quite a few popular sci fi and fantasy books, not so much this year by the looks.