Posts Tagged ‘Kate Grenville’

Reading Lists for students… dare you write your own?

June 7, 2014

Aftre Michael Gove announced the ‘banning’ of several iconic books for GCSE students a predictable and not entirely unwarranted torrent of abuse ensued and then alternative lists popped up – including the Guardian’s selection from notables. Oh, dear, what lists – full of self indulgence (Russell Brand) and complete ignorance of the teenage beast (nearly everyone else except for Hilary Mantel).

It is worth considering – what books should be experienced during the high school years, what should you read and know about as you grow and become who you are? After all those of us who dwell in the world of books know how we learn about ourselves and others from reading, as well as all the osmosis language skills we acquire simply from reading.

Should we agree with Michael Gove and eschew books from other countries, other cultures and be utterly xenophobic in our canon for the kiddies? What sort of citizens would we be brewing if we follow such a path? Others are asking this question and it is an important one to consider, given there is more truth in fiction than in history, given there is mandated focus on socio-historic-cultural baggage of the texts studied in school.


In my time in Australian schools we taught a broad range of texts from writers across the world, although perhaps we could have done better. But, there were a slew of excellent YA American novels by the likes of SE Hinton, Paul Zindel, Robert Cormier – so many kiddies loved The Chocolate War and I am the Cheese. I taught To Kill a Mockingbird alongside The Lord of the Flies. We had Animal Farm and Colin Thiele’s Storm Boy. But some of these dated – notably Colin Thiele and Lord of the Flies, or perhaps it became too English as we became more Australian and hade more home grown stuff to choose from, including Nick Earls, John Marsden, Isobel Carmody, Sonya Hartnet and Nadia Wheatley.

We were not starved for choice and indeed many of my happier moments were raging arguments in my departments about which books needed to go and which ones we now wanted in our book-rooms. Yes, schools where I chose what we would teach and then my teams chose from the range. Good times.


So, what might an All-Australian list look like?


For the term

For the Term of His Natural Life, Marcus Clarke

Capricornia, Xavier Herbert

We of the Never Never, Jeannie Gunn

The Eye of the Storm, Patrick White – there must be one White at least, as he is our only home-grown Nobel winner, no matter how inaccessible you think he is!!

A Fortunate Life, AB Facey

My Brilliant Career, Miles Franklin

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Joan Lindsay

Walkabout, James Vance Marshall

The Harp in the South, Ruth Park

A Town Like Alice, Neville Shute

The Man Who Loved Children, Christina Stead

Ride on Stranger, Kylie Tennant

Poetry of AB Paterson

Short stories from Henry Lawson


Modern Classics

Monkey grip

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey

Gould’s Book Of Fish, Richard Flanangan

Monkey Grip, Helen Garner

Lilian’s Story, Kate Grenville

Maestro, Peter Goldsworthy

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Unreliable Memoirs, Clive James – entertaining memoir

My Place, Sally Morgan – important memoir

Fly Away Peter, David Malouf

Cloudstreet, Tim Winton

Carpentaria, Alexis Wright

Poetry by – Les A Murray, Gwen Harwood, Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Bruce Dawe, Judith Wright, AD Hope, John Kinsella, John Tranter, Dorothy Porter




The One Day of the Year, Alan Seymour

The Club or The Removalists by David Williamson

Radiance, by Louis Nowra



looking f Al

The Obernewtyn serties, Isobel Carmody

48 Shades of Brown, Nick Earls

Looking for Alibrandi, Melinda Marchetta

Tomorrow when the war began, John Marsden

Lockie Leonard – Human Torpedo, Tim Winton

Sabriel, Garth Nix

The Book Thief, Markus Zusak


Classic Films (because films should be included too…)

rabbit proof

Rabbit Proof Fence (based on true story)

Gallipoli (based on letters from the front)

Mad Max (just because…)


What would this highly personal selection tell us about being Australian? That women are valued in our canon, that there are Aboriginal voices (although there is an argument there should be more). There are few immigrant voices, but I have been away from home for a while and not as up to speed with recent developments… What would these stories tell us about ourselves? Do we not need texts from other countries, other voices in our heads to tell us about the world and how to live?

When I taught English Lit in the NT the texts were King Lear, The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night and 1000 lines of poetry, which was taken from an Australian anthology. So there was representation from three countries, different times and places, classics and moderns. Perhaps there should have been more classic Oz-Lit at that level, perhaps there is now. When I taught English Communications in Tasmania we embraced other cultures much better and taught The God of Small Things and Jhumpa Lhahiri’s collection of short stories alongside Radiance and some non-fiction texts.


From my list – extensive but not exhaustive you can plainly see we have as Australians a rich and long standing literary heritage from which to create a bespoke English curriculum but I am not sure this is wise. I think it would shame us in many cases, it would reinforce some of our less admirable characteristics and much and all as people might breath a sigh of relief at the absence of Shakespeare or the Romantic Poets, or Dickens, what would an English education be without a smattering of good writing, of the classics from across the world?

It is always wrong to ban books, or attempt to modify people’s reading, be they teenagers or adults. Reading books, reading fiction is one of those activities that is dying fast amongst the young. What is beholden on the powers that be is to promote texts that engage and excite and mix in the classics, from across the world. A country like the UK should be outward looking, to learn from reading, to be anything but xenophobic and nationalistic in your curriculum.

Remember there is more truth in fiction than in any other book, perhaps that’s why people want to burn them and ban them and why writers are often considered with suspicion…

What do you remember from your school days? What would you want students to be reading in High School? (Images courtesy Google Images)

Holiday Reading – Christmas 2013

December 21, 2013

As a sharing caring type of person I think it’s only right that I share the reading highlights of my year so you can enjoy some reading of your own this festive season break, with some helpful information to guide you on your way. Whether you spend your idle hours on a beach, in the back yard, cosy in bed or around a fire, a book is always a handy companion.

My 2013 list is gleaned from this year’s reading – both new titles, and beloved old favourites.

The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out The Window and Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

A bit of a modern Candide: to wit, a road trip of troubles and twists and turns, where everything turns out more than all right in the end, where the past travels alongside the present and we see Alan Karlson’s amazing adventures then and understand why he doesn’t sit still for long now. The bad guys aren’t really all that bad, and our hero, has had and continues to have a large life. A man who blows things up for a hobby and a living he ends up – a bit like Forest Gump – meeting some of the most unlikely people of history, playing a key part in the Spanish revolution, the Chinese revolution, meeting presidents and despots before landing in Bali, after his simple but daring escape from his nursing home on his 100th birthday. It is a lot of fun and a welcome alternative to the Scandi-noir infecting our bookshops and on-line retailers.

100 yr old man


Bringing Up The Bodies – Hilary Mantel

Like many others I fell in love with Mantel and Cromwell in Wolf Hall and couldn’t wait for this book. As compelling and well written, as detailed and convincing as the first, it is un-put-down-able. I’ve always loved the Tudor period and with Mantel you DO feel as if you are there, at court, in the streets, roaming Europe. I can only agree with others: she is a master story teller, a wonderful weaver of wicked words that make the less than appealing Cromwell a man to be admired, a man I wish I’d known. Bring on the next one!

bring up bodies


Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

This is one disturbing book with one of the most sinister characters in fiction – forget Cromwell and his Machiavellian scheming, Amy Dunne is beyond bad, she is one evil sick woman. Just be grateful she is the product of Flynn’s imagination. Having said that, the book is terribly well written: you’re sucked in by the voices, by the diary and the events and when it twists, as you know it must, you feel as if you’ve been punched. I’m not sure about the ending, it seemed to flag a little but the portrait of marriage, of how we feel about ourselves and our beloved rings terribly true.

gone g


The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

One of the most lauded Young Adult fiction novel of recent years, this is a smart book, a non-sentimental exploration of teenagers with cancer and yes, there is death. It is a testament to Green that when Augustus Waters dies it is not a schmaltzy scene but one of restraint and reverence. No parent wants to even think of their child dying so bits of this book are a bit hard as a mother. Hazel-Grace our prime death-candidate tells the story and her love with Augustus. She moves from self-pity to defiance and back again and she certainly suffers, but quite stoically really. My daughter wasn’t happy with how rude she was to her parents, especially at her age, even given her condition. Augustus’ death seemed a trite contrived, perhaps a bit sudden, but the characters and the vitality of the writing are Green’s strength. A good book, but I think it’s over-hyped. However…

fault in stars

Will Grayson, Will Grayson – John Green & David Levithan

This is the better book of the two. I fell in love with the writing and the characters – Will Grayson the first and Tiny Cooper will live with me forever. Jane is pretty good too and although Will Grayson the other began as winy self-piteous, pain in the arse (like too many kids I’ve taught) with all his ‘problems’ he does grow through his knowing the other Will Grayson and his love affair with Tiny Cooper. This is almost the definitive book about teenage love, romance and relationships – be they straight or gay. The truth in this book is in the insights about being and becoming, the conflicts and contradictions within us that we can’t really explain to ourselves let alone others. I love that the central relationship is the friendship between Will Grayson and the amazing – truly one of the best characters in fiction – Tiny Cooper who is gay, a massively huge football player who is so out there on all levels that you have to love him. This is a great book, insightful, exceptionally well crafted and satisfying. Read it now.

will g


Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief – Rick Riordan

I gave up YA series at the end of Harry Potter when I couldn’t face the final in her epic series. The over-written indulgent pedestrian story finally did me in. But I have returned to stories of ordinary kids with extra-ordinary powers with the Percy Jackson books. I’m on my third this Christmas. They’re fun, they’re well written, albeit not in the same class as John Green, but the plotting is sound, the characters good and you’re taken along on a good enjoyable romp through modern America, home of the new centre of the world and so Olympus is now above the Empire State Building, of course. But the conceit works and it’s fun, if you know your Greek Myths to hunt the Gods and Goddesses, spotting the monsters in their modern guise. I think it’s a bit naff that our modern heroes – half gods, half mortals – are the ADHD, OCD troubled kiddies in our midst. I can only guess that my antipathy to that is being a cynical old teacher and the idea that labels give us excuses and now labels make us special. Still Riordan is/was a teacher and he’s got many things right and the sales to prove it. Accuracy note from my very own Pallas-Athena – the goddess was a virgin Goddess so she really wasn’t in the business of shagging around and having little Halflings of her own…

percy jackson

And you could do worse that read Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby, or John Irving’s Hotel New Hampshire.

So to this Christmas

I have begun The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton and will see how that goes. I like the opening, atmospheric, good characters, strong writing. But a bit big and heavy in my hands, sad to say.

I’ve also returned to Lilian’s Story by Kate Grenville, having been inspired by a lovely piece of writing by a dear friend of mine I have returned to this book from the past: a Vogel winner (Oz new writing prize) from the 1980s and am pleased to say that it is standing the test of time very well. Which sadly, Howard’s Way by EM Forster did not.

I have two Percy Jackson’s – The Titan’s Curse and The Battle of the Labyrinth – for the lighter, quick reading moments. And I’m waiting for the Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pacol to be on Amazon so I can sink my teeth into that.


So, make sure that as well as indulging in lovely food and wine and good company you indulge yourself with a good book or two. Reading really is one of life’s best simple pleasures. (Images courtesy Google Images)