One Question Quiz

BooksDecember 2, 2015

Books: The Best Books of 2015 According to a Panel of 10 Experts. Our Fifth Expert – Ashleigh Young


Wellington writer and editor Ashleigh Young chooses books she struggled with and which blowtorched her heart.

Some of the best things I have read this year are not books, or not yet books. They are manuscripts, or bits of writing by my creative writing students, or emails from friends. 2015 has been a good year for emails.


I loved and struggled with The Odd Woman and the City by Vivian Gornick. It’s a strange, angular but richly felt memoir in vignettes; it is about shaping a life without romantic love. Gornick, in her seventies, wanders through New York City alone, having odd encounters with strangers, reflecting on past lovers and on her friendship with a witty, cruel man named Leonard.

I haven’t finished reading it yet but I know that the latest, and probably last, memoir by my hero Diana Athill will be one of the best books. It’s called Alive, Alive Oh! Athill turns 98 in December. Much of this book, as was Somewhere Towards the End, is about her sex life. And heartbreak. I love her intelligence, her frankness, her sentences.

lost child

Can you have a favourite book that you also hate? If so, I nominate The Lost Child by Elena Ferrante. Someone on twitter described this book as like having your heart blowtorched.


The Accidental Universe by physicist and philosopher Alan Lightman is the most elegant book I’ve read on the tension between science and spirituality. I reread it a bunch of times this year because I was thinking a lot about death. It also contains a magnificent – and kind, which makes it even better – takedown of Richard Dawkins, the meanest person in the world.


I sometimes get poetry fatigue in my job. Then Failed Love Poems by Joan Fleming comes along. A fierce, shining thing that made my head tingle.

My final pick will win Most Biased Choice for a Best Book of 2015, but it’s a manuscript that I’m typesetting right now. It’s by Andrew Johnston, his first collection of poems in eight years: Fits and Starts. I read it on Monday morning and it blew my mind, and everyone should read it when VUP publishes it in March next year.

Keep going!