I have written about the University of Canberra’s Book of the Year initiative, twice – in 2012 when it was initiated, and again in 2014, when I checked to see whether the program was continuing. I am thrilled to say that earlier this month I heard the announcement of 2019’s book, so the program continues still. This book will be the 7th in the program.
Before I announce next year’s book, though, a quick refresher about the program. It involves the University providing a selected book, free, to all “commencing students” regardless of their subjects, as well as to all staff, academic and otherwise. The book is required reading, and teaching staff are expected to incorporate the book somewhere in their programs.
The books are not always Australian, which is a shame given this is an excellent opportunity to introduce students to Australian literature. Also, and perhaps this sounds contradictory, while the genres and subject matter vary somewhat, there’s not a lot of diversity in terms of writers. No indigenous writer, no writer from a non-white/non-English language background, for example. Here is the list, to this year:
2013: Jasper Jones, by Craig Silvey (my review)
2014: Room, by Emma Donoghue
2015: The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion (my review)
2016: The strays, by Emily Bitto (my review)
2017: The white earth, by Andrew McGahan
2018: Do Androids dream of electric sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Professor Klomp describes the goals:
The UC Book Project is a fantastic initiative that introduces commencing students to intellectual life before their studies officially begin, encouraging early engagement with UC online resources, and informal learning and sharing among all new students.
It also promotes interaction and engagement among staff and students with a common topic to chat about around campus.
UC Book for 2019
In October, the University announced the shortlist, which are, this year, all recent Australian books. Good decision – and again some varied content, but, notwithstanding Bobis, not particularly diverse. It really is time, I think, to see some indigenous Australian writing chosen.
The announcement says that the judging panel, which comprises “Professor Klomp, the University Librarian, a Professor of Creative Writing, authors, media personalities and students”, is provided the shortlist from which to select “a book that is appealing to our wide range of students”. This year’s shortlist (including main “awards” credentials) was:
- Merlinda Bobis’ Locust girl: New South Wales Premier’s Literary Award (Christina Stead Prize for Fiction); Juan C. Laya Philippine National Book Award (Best Novel in English)
- Felicity Castagna’s No more boats: Miles Franklin Literary Award (Shortlist)
- Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm: Barbara Jefferis Award (Winner); Miles Franklin Literary Award (Shortlist), Stella Prize (Shortlist)
- Bram Presser’s The book of dirt: NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (Christina Stead Prize for Fiction); NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing); NSW Premier’s Literary Awards (The People’s Choice Award); Voss Literary Prize (Shortlist)
- Lucy Treloar’s Salt Creek: Dobbie Award for Best New Writer (Winner); Miles Franklin Literary Award (Shortlist); Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (Shortlist)
- Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions: Miles Franklin Literary Award (Winner); Prime Minister’s Literary Awards for Fiction (Shortlist)
- Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things (my review): Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction (Joint Winner); Stella Prize (Winner); Miles Franklin Literary Award (Shortlist); Barbara Jefferis Award (Shortlist); Voss Literary Prize (Shortlist); plus short listing for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, Queensland Literary Awards and Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.
And the winner is: Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things. A provocative and probably challenging choice for many – but one that should stimulate great discussions about all sorts of ideas, values and topics. UC’s Press Release announcing the selection says that Professor Klomp “hopes that the book with engage a wide audience with its universal themes of power, morality, judgement and friendship.” Remembering the strong and varied reactions in my reading group – about everything from style and characterisation to meaning and themes – I’d love to hear the students and staff discuss this one.
I’d love to hear you thoughts about the book choices, or the program itself?