Monday musings on Australian literature: Bookprint, Australian-style

Have you heard of the term or concept of bookprint? I came across it in a December 2019 article in The Conversation titled “5 Australian books that can help young people understand their place in the world”. The Conversation credits the term to African-American educator Alfred Tatum who, according to the University of Illinois’ Today website, coined it to describe “one’s memory of personally influential books”. It goes on to say that Tatum believes “most young black males need to acquire a bookprint outside their school-assigned reading”.

Claire G Coleman, Terra nulliusConsidering this concept, The Conversation authors Larissa McLean Davies, Sarah E. Truman, Jessica Gannaway and Lucy Buzacott, came up with their list of five books for young Australians. They are:

  • Clare G. Coleman’s Terra nullius (my review) – for ages 16+
  • Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The tribe (Lisa’s review) – for ages 13+
  • Tara June Winch’s The yield (my review) – for ages 16+
  • Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Growing up African in Australia (Lisa’s review) – for ages 15+
  • Rebecca Lim and Ambelin Kwaymullina’s (ed) Meet me at the intersection – for ages 15+

To see their reasons for choosing these books, please click the link to the article in my opening paragraph. The authors make the point that “historically underrepresented people including Aboriginal writers, writers of colour, migrant writers, queers writers and writers living with disability are particularly underrepresented” in school curricula. Clearly – and with good reason – this is what they mostly address in this list.

Of course, what’s “personally influential” is, by definition, deeply personal, but this list looks to at least encourage young people to look outside their own box, to walk for a little while in the shoes of others – and that, it is presumably hoped, will develop empathy with and tolerance of others.

For me …

… the works that were “personally influential”, those I often find myself remembering, included those which confronted me with moral choices, those which helped me develop the moral code I (try to) live by. Shakespeare’s King Lear and Macbeth, and the characters in Albert Camus’ The plague (my review), for example, had big choices to make, choices that could mean life or death for them or for others, choices that involved behaving selfishly or selflessly, choices that exposed the moral codes they lived by. What Australian books would I recommend that encourage this sort of thinking, that confront students with choices about how to live?

Kim Scott’s That deadman dance (my review) could be one. While there is an overall narrator, we see several perspectives. We also see characters making choices and, sometimes, reflecting on the validity or implication of those choices. Thea Astley’s An item from the late news (my review) is another. There is meaty moral discussion to be had here, and, as in Shakespeare’s big tragedies, our protagonist is deeply flawed while also seeing what is right and wrong. In John Clanchy’s In whom we trust (my review), the protagonist has a big decision to make, one that would right poor decisions earlier in his life.

This is a topic that could go on forever – and I could certainly suggest more titles – but at this stage, having introduced the topic, I think I’ll pass it over to you, my Gummie brains trust. So …

Do you have books that were personally influential to you and/or what would you recommend for young people (and why)?