Summer reading: books with a local twist

Literary editor ROBERT MACKLIN recommends some holiday reading…

I’M delighted to report that Canberra authors and our political scene feature prominently in this year’s recommended holiday reading.

Top of the list must be ANU Professor Bill Gammage’s fascinating revelations about the way our Aboriginal predecessors created and sustained the landscape and its bounty in “The Biggest Estate on Earth”. Indeed, be prepared for it to take out the first of the new history category in the Prime Minister’s literary awards next year.

Another contender – at least for design – might well be the beautifully produced “In Her Own Words”, the letters of Elizabeth Macquarie, wife of the early Governor of NSW compiled by Robin Walsh, of Macquarie University.

In the political arena, there are three clear leaders, Alex Mitchell’s “Come the Revolution”, a thoroughly engaging journalistic memoir with special emphasis on his time in the Canberra Press Gallery and particularly in the UK among the Trotskyites (including Vannesa and Corin Redgrave).

Then there’s Laurie Oakes’s “Inside Story”, which takes us from the days of Holt and McEwen to the downfall of Kevin Rudd and Malcolm Turnbull.

Another political author with strong Canberra connections is Nicholas Hasluck, son for the former Governor General whose fictional “Dismissal” was one of the very few in that genre to impress this year. Happily, another was our own Marion Halligan’s “Shooting The Fox”, a splendid collection of short stories for her devoted readership.

But the fictional offering that engaged me most urgently was Stephen King’s “11.22.63”, the extraordinarily ambitious tale of a time traveller determined to prevent the assassination of President Kennedy by Lee Harvey Oswald.

Like most American novels, it’s ridiculously over-written, but it held me to its fearful climax.

Much sharper and equally engaging is the reliable Ian Rankin’s “The Impossible Dead”, which starts small but then expands into a powerful police thriller.

The surprising way in which Australians have influenced Chinese history is brilliantly revealed in Peter Thompson’s “Shaighai Fury”.

Military history is well represented by another Canberran, Peter Rees, whose new work, “Desert Boys”, tells the whole saga of Australians at war from Beersheba to Tobruk and El Alamein in 700 pages and on the way corrects some of the slapdash errors of other writers, most notably the ubiquitous Peter Fitzsimons. Andrew James’s “Stan Bisset: Kokoda Wallaby” is a ripper read; and Rob Maylor’s “SAS Sniper”, which has now sold more than 40,000 copies in Australia, continues to find a growing readership.

For the kids it’s hard to go past “The Happiest Little Refugee”, the adaptation of Anh Do’s bestselling “Happiest Refugee”, the first review of the year in the “CityNews” pages.

Looking forward to many more next year. Happy reading.

robert@robertmacklin.com

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