Monday musings on Australian literature: ABC RN presenters name their best reads of 2016
Now, here’s my conundrum. We (at least I think I can speak for a general “we”) want Australians to read widely, because it’s important for us to understand cultures that are different to our own. But, given how small the Australian market is, we also want people to read Australian literature (and see, for that matter, Australian films which struggle for recognition and box office). To achieve more people reading Aussie writing requires promotion, and there’s nothing like people of influence (like those I reported last Monday) naming and talking about Australian books to help this process.
So, what happened when ABC’s RN (Radio National) presenters named their picks for 2016? Well, there are 18 presenters on this list, and only two named Aussie books:
- Paul Barclay (presenter, Big Ideas): Stan Grant’s Talking to my country. Stan Grant is a journalist who has an indigenous background, and his book, says Barclay “might not be quite the best thing I’ve read this year” but he says that its message about “growing up feeling excluded and subjected to bigotry in your own country” has stayed with him. Great choice. It’s on my TBR pile and everyone who’s read it says it’s a book all Aussies should read.
- Sarah Kanowski (co-presenter of Books and Arts Daily): Helen Garner’s Everywhere I look. Oh, lookee you here, another Aussie, and what a lovely one it is. (See my review.) Kanowski – I always knew I liked her (haha) – described it as the book that gave her the “most delight — and most wisdom” this year.
So, what did the others choose? Eight chose British writers – mostly novelists:
- Richard Fidler (presenter, Conversations): Peter Frankopan’s The silk roads: (non-fiction)
- Andrew Ford (presenter, The Music Show): Alan Bennett’s Keeping on keeping on. (non-fiction)
- Ann Jones (presenter, Off Track): Max Porter’s Grief is the thing with feathers. (novel)
- Patricia Karvelas (presenter, RN Drive): Deborah Levy’s Hot milk. (novel)
- Lynne Malcolm (presenter, All in the Mind): Ian McEwan’s Nutshell. (novel)
- Rachael Kohn (presenter, The Spirit of Things): Andrew O’Hagan’s The Illuminations. (novel)
- Amanda Smith (presenter, Sports Factor): Graham Swift’s Mothering Sunday. (novel)
- Robyn Williams (presenter of The Science Show): Julian Barnes’ The noise of time. (novel)
And six chose American writers:
- Kate Evans (presenter, Ear Shot): Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad. (novel)
- Antony Funnell (presenter, Future Tense): Amanda Foreman’s A world on fire. (non-fiction, that Funnell called “a nice, big fat book for summer reading”. I do like his definition of summer reading, I must say.
- Cassie McCullagh (co-presenter, Life Matters): Noah Hawley’s Before the fall. (novel, which McCullagh decribed as “perfect holiday reading”)
- Annabelle Quince (co-presenter, Rear Vision): Anthony Doerr’s All the light we cannot see. (novel, which Quince described as “perfect summer reading”.)
- Scott Stephens (Online Editor for the ABC on Religion and Ethics): Martha Nussbaum’s Anger and forgiveness. (non-fiction)
- Tom Switzer (presenter, Between the Lines): John B Judis’ The populist explosion. (non-fiction)
That leaves two more presenters:
- Michael Cathcart (co-presenter, Books and Arts Daily) who chose a memoir by a Libyan-born novelist, Hisham Matar’s The Return.
- Natasha Mitchell (science journalist and presenter) who managed to sneak in two choices, both memoirs, one English and one American: Jeanette Winterson’s Why be happy when you could be normal? and Gloria Steinem’s My life on the road.
These are all, I’m sure, worthy reads but is it wrong for me to be disappointed to see so few Aussie books here – just two works of non-fiction and no fiction? And, is it wrong for me to be further surprised that, of the preponderance of non-Aussie books, only one is not British or American? How ethnocentric we are! I appreciate that the presenters were asked to give only one pick (albeit Natasha Mitchell managed to squeeze in two). If they’d been asked to name three, say, we may have seen more variety, including more Aussie books.
However, I do see making these lists as a political act and therefore an oportunity for them to give a little boost to local writers. Perhaps, though, they didn’t want to show favouritism to one author over another and so went off-shore? Whatever the reason, I would love to have seen more Aussies here.
What do you think about this, particularly if you’re an Aussie? And if you’re not, what do you think about their choices?