The First Tuesday Bookclub on the ABC recently held a popular vote for the 10 Australian books to read before you die. We watched with bated breath as the list was released, and thought we’d share it with you it case you missed it.
While there will be as much talk about the books not on the list as on it, it really is a great place to start with Australia novels. If there’s anything on this list you haven’t read, we strongly recommend checking them out.
Here we go…
By Tim Winton
From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch. For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts. Tim Winton’s funny, sprawling saga is an epic novel of love and acceptance. Winner of the Miles Franklin and NBC awards in Australia, Cloudstreet is a celebration of people, places and rhythms which has fuelled imaginations world-wide.
About The Author
Tim Winton grew up on the coast of Western Australia, where he continues to live. He is the author of eighteen books. His epic novel Cloudstreet was adapted for the theater and has been performed around the world. His two most recent novels, Dirt Music and The Riders, were both shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. He has won the prestigious Miles Franklin Award three times, and in 1998 the Australian National Trust declared Winton a national living treasure. The Turning has already won the 2005 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.
(Editors note: Cloudstreet also topped the Booktopia 50 Must Read Australian Novels vote some time back. See the full results by clicking here)
by Markus Zusak
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel’s father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word – Kommunist – and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother’s eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
The Book Thief is a story about the power of words to make worlds. In superbly crafted writing that burns with intensity, award-winning author Markus Zusak has given us one of the most enduring stories of our time.
About the Author
Markus Zusak lives in Sydney with his wife. He has written four novels for young adults: The Underdog, Fighting Ruben Wolfe, When Dogs Cry and The Messenger. The Boof Thief is his first adult novel.
by A.B. Facey
A Fortunate Life is an autobiographical novel written by Albert Facey and was written in 1981 (nine months before his death) and tells the complete story of his life. It chronicles his early life in Western Australia, his experiences as a private during the Gallipoli campaign of World War I and his return to civilian life after the war. It also documents his extraordinary life of hardship, loss, friendship and love. During the initial days of its publication, Albert Facey became a nationwide celebrity.
The autobiography begins at his birth. He was born in Maidstone, Victoria, Australia. His father died on the Goldfields of Western Australia in 1896 of typhoid fever and Albert’s mother left her children to the care of their grandmother shortly afterwards. In 1899 he moved from Victoria to Western Australia with his grandmother and three of his six older siblings. Most of his childhood was spent in the Wickepin area.
He started working on farms at the age of eight and had little education and therefore could not read or write. As a child he taught himself to read and write. By the age of 14 he was an experienced bushman, and at 18 a professional boxer. He was badly injured at Gallipoli in August 1915 during the First World War, in which two of his brothers were killed. While recuperating he met his future wife Evelyn Gibson and they were married in Bunbury in August 1916. The Faceys lived in East Perth before returning to Wickepin six years later with their children, where they lived until 1934. The couple had seven children – the eldest, Barney, was killed during the Second World War – and twenty-eight grandchildren.
About the Author
Despite his renowned life, Facey considered his life to be simple and “had no idea what all the fuss was about”. He received many letters and appeared on many talk shows. He notably became one of Australia’s most famous heroes. When asked on an interview, where the name of the book originated. He replied, “I called it ‘A Fortunate Life’ because I truly believe that is what I had”.
by Bryce Courtenay
First with your head and then with your heart . . .So says Hoppie Groenwald, boxing champion, to a seven-year-old boy who dreams of being the welterweight champion of the world. For the young Peekay, it is a piece of advice that he will carry with him throughout his life.Born in a South Africa divided by racism and hatred, this one small boy will come to lead all the tribes of Africa. Through enduring friendships with Hymie and Gideon, Peekay gains the strength he needs to win out. And in a final conflict with his childhood enemy, the Judge, Peekay will fight to the death for justice.Bryce Courtenay’s classic bestseller is a story of the triumph of the human spirit – a spellbinding tale for all ages.
About the Author
Formally an advertising executive, Bryce Courtenay was one of Australia’s best loved writers. He was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1995 and was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Canberra in October 2012. In September 2012, Courtenay announced that he was suffering from terminal gastric cancer. He died on 22 November at his Canberra home.
5. The Harp in the South
by Ruth Park
Ruth Park’s classic novel The Harp in the South is one of Australia’s greatest novels. Hugh and Margaret Darcy are raising their family in Sydney amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy.
Filled with beautifully drawn characters that will make you laugh as much as cry, this Australian classic will take you straight back to the colourful slums of Sydney with convincing depth, careful detail and great heart.
About the Author
Born in New Zealand, Ruth Park came to Australia in 1942 to continue her career as a journalist. She married the writer D’Arcy Niland and travelled with him through the north-west of New South Wales before settling in Sydney where she became a full-time writer.
Ruth Park wrote over fifty books, and her many awards include the prestigious Miles Franklin Award for Swords and Crowns and Rings; the Australian Children’s Book of the Year Award and the Boston Globe-Horn Book Award (USA) for Playing Beatie Bow and The Age Book of the Year Award for A Fence Around the Cuckoo.
She was made a Member of the Order of Australia in 1987 and in 1994 was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Letter from the University of New South Wales. She passed away at her home in Sydney in 2010, at the age of 93.
6. Jasper Jones
by Craig Silvey
Late on a hot summer night at the tail end of 1965, Charlie Bucktin, a precocious and bookish boy of thirteen, is startled by a knock on his window. His visitor is Jasper Jones.
Rebellious, mixed-race and solitary, Jasper is a distant figure of danger and intrigue for Charlie. So when Jasper begs for his help, Charlie eagerly steals into the night by his side, terribly afraid but desperate to impress. Jasper takes him to his secret glade in the bush, and it is here that Charlie bears witness to a horrible discovery.
In this simmering summer where everything changes, Charlie learns to discern the truth from the myth. By turns heartbreaking, hilarious, tender and wise, Jasper Jones is a novel to treasure.
About the Author
Craig Silvey grew up on an orchard in Dwellingup Western Australia. He now lives in Fremantle, where at the age of 19, he wrote his first novel, Rhubarb, which received the Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Novelist Award. In 2007, Silvey released a picture book called The World According to Warren. Outside of literature, Silvey is the singer/songwriter for the band The Nancy Sikes.
7. The Magic Pudding
by Norman Lindsay
Albert, the magic pudding, can be eaten again and again and will always reform into a new pudding, ready to be eaten again. His three companions must protect him from the pudding thieves who want to steal him for themselves.
First published in 1918, The Magic Pudding is said to have been written to settle an argument: a friend of Lindsay’s said that children like to read about fairies, while Lindsay asserted that they would rather read about food and fighting
About the Author
Norman Lindsay was an Australian artist, sculptor, writer, editorial cartoonist, and scale modeler. He was born in Creswick, Victoria in 1879. He is widely regarded as one of Australia′s greatest artists, producing a vast body of work in different media. He remains most famous for The Magic Pudding, but also published numerous other books for adults.
8. The Slap
by Christos Tsiolkas
To smack or not to smack is the question that reverberates through the interconnected lives dissected in Christos Tsiolkas’ award-winning novel, now in paperback.
At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
It is a single act, but the slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it. Told through the eyes of eight of those present at the barbecue, this acclaimed bestseller is an unflinching interrogation of the life of the modern family. Poignant and provocative, THE SLAP makes us question the nature of commitment and happiness, compromise and truth. Whose side are you on?
About the Author
Christos Tsiolkas is the author of four novels: Loaded, which was made into the feature film Head-On, The Jesus Man and Dead Europe, which won the 2006 Age Fiction Prize and the 2006 Melbourne Best Writing Award. He won Overall Best Book the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2009, was shortlisted for the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award and won the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal for his latest novel, The Slap. He is also a playwright, essayist and screen writer. He lives in Melbourne.
9. The Secret River
by Kate Grenville
In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.
But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.
Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals—Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring—are finding their own ways to respond to them.
Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.
Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a ground-breaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.
About the Author
Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s best-known authors. She has published nine novels, a collection of short stories, and four books about the writing process. Her books have been awarded many prizes in Australia, including the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and Britain’s Orange Prize. In 2006 The Secret River was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize.
10. Picnic At Hanging Rock
by Joan Lindsay
While Joan Lindsay’s haunting Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock is a work of fiction, the story is often considered one of Australia’s greatest mysteries.
In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others.
About the Author
Joan Lindsay was born in Melbourne, where she went to school as a day-girl for a few years at Clyde Girls’ Grammar, then situated in East St Kilda. She knew and loved the Macedon district from early childhood. In 1922 she married Sir Daryl Lindsay in London. The Lindsays travelled together in Europe and the USA, Daryl with his paints and Joan with her typewriter. Picnic At Hanging Rock (1967) is her best-remembered book and was filmed by Peter Weir in 1975. Sir Daryl died in 1976. Joan lived at their country home on the Mornington Peninsula, Mullberry Hill, Victoria, Australia, until her death in December 1984.
Of course, between you and me, we know they got it completely wrong. What would you have chosen?
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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