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Critics' Picks - Top 11 summer reads

There are thousands of new books to browse and read in our Critics’ Picks collection in the Governor Marie Bashir Reading Room. Every book has been reviewed by top critics in publications including Australian Book Review, New York Review of Books, Times Literary Supplement and London Review of Books.

Have you made any surprising discoveries on our shelves?

Summer in Sydney can be all about the sun and surf, but there’s also time to catch up on those books you’ve been meaning to read all year.

Some amazing books have landed in the Critics’ Picks collection at the Library in 2019, from the international successes of Margaret Atwood and Ocean Vuong to local authors Melissa Lucashenko, Bri Lee and Cathy Perkins.

Our librarians have selected the top 11 summer reads for 2019. Whether you are looking for escapism, soul-moving poetry or an exploration of the world around us, we guarantee that there is something that will grab your attention.

What are some of your favourites this year? Let us know and be sure to tag us @statelibrarynsw and #criticspicks


Critics' Picks photo - The Testaments

The Testaments
by Margaret Atwood

One of the biggest releases of the year, the follow-up to The Handmaid’s Tale and winner of the Booker Prize 2019 answers the question that has tantalised readers for decades: what happened to Offred?

“The Testaments is Atwood at her best, in its mixture of generosity, insight and control. The prose is adroit, direct, beautifully turned.” – The Guardian

Critics' Picks photo - Too Much Lip

Too Much Lip
by Melissa Lucashenko

Wise-cracking Kerry Salter has spent a lifetime avoiding two things – her hometown and prison. But now her Pop is dying and she’s an inch away from the lockup, so she heads south on a stolen Harley. Kerry plans to spend twenty-four hours, tops, over the border. She quickly discovers, though, that Bundjalung country has a funny way of grabbing on to people.

“There is some extraordinary Indigenous writing around at present that heralds a new stage in Australian literature, perhaps in world literature. Too Much Lip is a worthy addition to the work of such original and passionate writers as Kim Scott and Alexis Wright.” – Australian Review of Books

Critics' Picks photo - Pink Mountain on Locust Island

Pink Mountain on Locust Island
by Jamie Marina Lau

Embracing the noir tradition and featuring a prose style quite unlike any before, with references that will go both over your head and under your feet, Pink Mountain on Locust Island will flip readers upside down and turn your understanding of the world around.

“A stylish yet moving glimpse into the loneliness of being a teenage girl, Pink Mountain on Locust Island heralds the arrival of an electric new Australian writer.” – Books+Publishing

Critics' Picks photo - On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous

On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous
by Ocean Vuong

A letter from a son to a mother who cannot read. Written when the speaker, Little Dog, is in his late twenties, the letter unearths a family’s history that began before he was born – a history whose epicentre is rooted in Vietnam – and serves as a doorway into parts of his life his mother has never known.

“The pages break apart into the lines of an evocative prose poem – not so much briefly gorgeous as permanently stunning.” – The Washington Post

The Lebs Book Cover

The Lebs
by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

As far as Bani Adam is concerned, Punchbowl Boys is the arse end of the earth. Though he’s a Leb and they control the school, Bani feels at odds with the other students, who just don’t seem to care. He is a romantic in a sea of hypermasculinity. Bani must come to terms with his place in this hostile, hopeless world, while dreaming of so much more.

“The Lebs is a strong and resonant novel that deserves to be widely read.” – Weekend Australian

Critics' Picks photo - Salt

by Bruce Pascoe

A collection of short stories from the writer of Dark Emu spans Bruce Pascoe’s career, collecting his best and most celebrated stories and essays alongside new fiction.

“There is much hopefulness in Salt – hope for understanding and for a better future for the nation based on reckoning with deep Indigenous knowledge and ownership.” – Australian Book Review


deep time dreaming book cover

Deep Time Dreaming: Uncovering Ancient Australia
by Billy Griffiths

Soon after Billy Griffiths joins his first archaeological dig as camp manager and cook, he is hooked. Equipped with a historian’s inquiring mind, he embarks on a journey through time, seeking to understand the extraordinary deep history of the Australian continent.

“Each of Griffiths’ chapters follows an individual archaeologist’s relationship with a region or site across Australia. From Tasmania to the Top End, we are swept up in their passionate endeavours, achievements and occasional failures.” – Sydney Morning Herald

Critics' Picks photo - Beauty cover

by Bri Lee

Bri Lee explores our obsession with thinness and asks how an intrinsically unattainable standard of physical ‘perfection’ has become so crucial to so many. What happens if you try to reach that impossible goal?

“There’s an admirable fearlessness to Lee’s writing …” – Canberra Times

Critics' Picks photo - Blakwork

by Alison Whittaker

A stunning mix of memoir, reportage, fiction, satire, and critique composed by a powerful new voice in poetry.

“Whittaker literally and figuratively demonstrates the subtle – yet radical – ways in which poetry may influence perceptions." – Overland Literary Journal

Critics' Picks photo - Stranger Country

Stranger Country
by Monica Tan

What happens when a 32-year-old first-generation Australian woman decides to chuck in a dream job, pack a sleeping bag and tent, and hit the long, dusty road for six months?

“Tan’s thoughtful discussions about the dynamics of her as a Chinese Australian woman venturing through stolen land are fascinating, and it was a joy to jangle along in the passenger seat on this epic trip.” – Good Reading Magazine

book cover The shelf life of Zora Cross

The Shelf Life of Zora Cross
by Cathy Perkins

Australian poet and journalist Zora Cross caused a sensation in 1917 with her book Songs of Love and Life. While Cross’s fame didn’t last, she kept writing through financial hardship, personal tragedies and two world wars, producing an impressive body of work.

'The Shelf Life of Zora Cross is a beguiling narrative of a literary career that never quite matured. Cross’s chaotic life story is splendidly told by Perkins ..." – Australian Book Review