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Monday musings on Australian literature: ABC RN presenters name their 2018 summer picks

December 24, 2018

Last Monday, I posted the best picks for 2018 by ABC RN’s Book Show presenters and some of their guests. I considered not posting at all this Monday. After all, it’s Christmas Eve and most of us are busy, but then, yesterday, I saw that the ABC had posted “2018’s best summer reads” recommended by their Hub on Books and Bookshelf program presenters. Of course, I couldn’t resist.

Unlike last week’s post, though, where I justified giving equal weight to all the picks, this week I’m going to prioritise their Aussie selections, and then mention the rest at the end. Seems fair enough for this Monday Musings series!

So, just four of the eleven picks were by Aussies, and they are:

  • Michael Mohammed Ahmed’s The lebs (Hachette): Sarah L’Estrange , producer of The Hub on Books, says that “There’s a lot of violence, homophobia and sexism in the novel — the author doesn’t recoil from an honest portrayal of life through the eyes of his protagonist” but that it is also “a lyrical, at times comical and often challenging read”.
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip (UQP) which is on my TBR and I’ll be getting to it soon, maybe in summer!: Kate Evans of The Bookshelf, calls it “a cracking tale of family dynamics” that has “a touch of magic that’s light enough to feel entirely real, and keep readers reaching for words like ‘tough’ and ‘uncompromising’.” (Lisa has reviewed.)
  • Emily O'Grady, The yellow houseEmily O’Grady’s The yellow house (Allen & Unwin) (my review): The Hub on Books’ Claire Nicholls describes it as “a chilling book that explores the different ways that trauma resonates through a family.”
  • Tracy Sorensen’s The lucky galah (Picador Australia): Sarah L’Estrange said that “While it might sound kooky, the novel is written in a warm, vivid and charming manner. Who knew that galahs could provide insight into 1960s Australian family dynamics?” (Lisa has reviewed and while it’s not her top pick, she thinks debut author Sorensen has promise.)

Interestingly, of last year’s six Aussie picks, I had read none at the time, and have picked up only one since, Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner (my review). However, this year, I have already read one, as I’ve mentioned, and will be reading at least one other very soon.

Anyhow, the other picks were:

  • English writer Pat Barker’s The silence of the girls
  • American writer Amy Bloom’s White houses
  • Northern Irish writer Anna Burns Booker prize winner The milkman
  • American writer Andrew Sean Greer’s Pulitzer prize-winner Less
  • Chinese-born American writer Ling Ma’s Severance (which was published here by Text)
  • Indian writer Anuradha Roy’s All the lives we never lived
  • Canadian debut novelist Katherena Vermette’s The break (published here by Allen & Unwin).

While there was a preponderance of non-Aussie books in their picks, the selection as a whole feels more diverse than last year’s, with Arab-Australian writer Ahmed and indigenous Australian Lucashenko making up two of the four Aussie selections, and the rest not being your mainstream English and American writers (not to cast aspersions on the quality of the writing from those writers!) How great, for example to see a Canadian debut author here. The versatile Vermette is from Winnipeg and is of Métis descent, a group I hadn’t heard of before.

I should make a point here about my reference to diversity. My raising the issue is somewhat equivalent to discussion about quotas or not for increasing diversity in workplaces, in parliament, etc. I believe in merit, but I also believe that merit is often not judged in a fair playing field. This means that equally meritorious writing (however we define that) from non-dominant culture writers does not necessarily get equal exposure, because, for example, publishers, agents, and even, if they do get published, readers, do not take a “risk” on them. The more we talk about the issue, the more, I hope, the opportunities will be equalled.

Anyhow, if you are wondering about my picks, I’ll be joining the fray next week when 2019 arrives … I know you can hardly wait!

Meanwhile, have you read any of these books, and would you support the presenters’ recommendations for them?

8 Comments leave one →
  1. Sharon permalink
    December 24, 2018 11:05 pm

    I was very impressed by The Break – devastating but beautifully written.

    • December 26, 2018 7:45 pm

      Thanks very much Sharon for commenting. So many books, eh?, but it sounds like I should try to add it to the list!

  2. December 24, 2018 11:46 pm

    Diversity is an aspiration, it’s hard enough getting the luvvies at the ABC to read Australian. Of the books you’ve mentioned I’m giving one – the Trauma Cleaner, and am reading one – All the Lives etc. which I’m finding a bit disappointing.

    • December 24, 2018 11:54 pm

      Yes, I like that Bill – it is an aspiration, and hopefully an achievable one.

      I have read one book by Roy, early in this blog. I liked it but didn’t love it, and now have little memory of it except that I knew I’d read a book by her.

      • December 25, 2018 12:45 am

        Be careful though, I have discovered there are two A Roy’s ( will do more research before I write review) but this is not by the author of The God of Small Things

        • December 25, 2018 6:22 am

          Oh yes I know that, Bill. Anuradha was interviewed recently and this issue was discussed! I remember when I read her in 2011 having to be aware of the distinction.

  3. December 25, 2018 12:57 am

    I highly recommend The Break. An emotionally demanding read with multiple POVs expertly handled

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