We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (2023)

With everything that's going on in the world, it's been a great time to read a good book.

In fact, you may already have finished your summer reading list.

So, ABC RN Breakfast caught up with some of Australia's favourite authors to find out what they've been up toand what they've been reading.

Here are their suggestions, including a couple for the smaller members of your family.

Helen Garner: The Dancer by Evelyn Juers

Helen Garner has spent her summer gardening, at her home in Melbourne.

The celebrated author — whose books include Monkey Grip, The Spare Room and several published diaries — lives next door to her daughter and family.

We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (1)

"We've got a shared backyard which contains a chook pen, so there's got to be somebody here at all times to deal with these chickens," Garner says.

"There's no dog and no people so it's very peaceful."

While Garner says she's puzzled by the notion of summer reading ("I just keep on reading whatever comes before me," she says), she does enjoy the chance for a leisurely delve into a big book.

"One good thing about summer, of course, is that you can basically lie on the couch for a whole day without feeling guilty, so you can tackle a big book, a long book … you're not in a hurry."

Recently that "big, fat book" was The Dancer by Evelyn Juers, a biography of Sydney contemporary dancer Philippa Cullen.

"It's called a biography but she doesn't even appear until about 100 pages in because the writer has gone right back and traced her origins," Garner says.

When she does appear, Garner says, it is an extraordinary story, richly told.

"It's very beautifully and delicately done."

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"I immersed myself in that for quite some days and I loved it."

Also recommends: Larissa Behrendt's After Story, about an Indigenous lawyer who takes her mother on a literary tour of England.

"There's a kind of sweetness in it that I didn't expect," Garner says.

Melissa Lucashenko: After Australia, edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad

2019 Miles Franklin winner Melissa Lucashenko has done a lot of reading this summer.

The Indigenous author, of Goorie and European heritage, is the chair of the judging panel for this year's Stella Prize.

"I've had about 200 works of Australian women and non-binary writers to read," Lucashenko says.

We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (2)

While she can't discuss any of the books in the running for the Stella Prize, she recommends a collection of short works edited by Michael Mohammed Ahmad.

She says After Australia, which features 12 by short works by Australian Indigenous writers and writers of colour, shows the "real Australia".

"The real Australia is not a white man in an Akubra chasing after a bunch of sheep on a four-wheel motorbike," Lucashenko says

"It's actually western Sydney where you're going to hear Tagalog brushing up against Arabic, brushing up against Aboriginal English.

"There's some fabulous, exciting and innovative works in After Australia."

Also recommends: Dear Son, edited by Thomas Mayor, an anthology of letters written by First Australian fathers.

"It's just a wonderful book for anyone who has a Black sonor is a Black son," Lucashenko says.

Tony Birch: The Way it is Now by Garry Disher

Tony Birch — prize-winning author of The White Girl, Ghost River and Blood — has recently spent much of his summer supporting his adult daughters while they self-isolate.

"We're doing food drop-offs and daily text messages of inspirational support," he says.

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We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (3)

He's just re-read Australian crime writer Garry Disher's latest novel The Way it is Now.

Birch has closely followed the career of Disher, who he describes asa "crossover writer".

"He's definitely a crime fiction writer, in the truest sense of the genre, but he has what we might call a literary background," Birch says.

"As well as the way he deals with the crime, the suspense and drama, he's really great at establishing really full and deep characters."

While some people only become crime fiction readers in the summer months, Birch says he reads the genre all year around.

When he lectured in writing at Victoria University, Birch always told his writing students to read crime fiction.

"Good crime writers know how to drive a plot, they're remarkably good at establishing really three-dimensional characters," he says.

"We can learn a lot as writers by reading crime fiction."

Also recommends: Blank Pages and Other Stories by Irish author Bernard MacLaverty.

"I think he's one of the great short story writers of the late 20th and early 21st century," Birch says.

Maxine Beneba Clarke: My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite

Author and poet Maxine BenebaClarke has spent her summer in Melbourne where she's done "a lot of reading, lazing about [and] watching bad television".

"Same as lockdown basically," she says.

We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (4)

When she spoke to ABCRN Breakfast, Clarke was just finishing Oyinkan Braithwaite's Booker Prize-nominated crime novel My Sister, the Serial Killer.

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Unlike Birch, Clarke does not read a lot of crime fiction.

"It's something that's really out of the ballpark for me but it's this wry, almost satire about this Nigerian family," Clarke says.

The book focuses on two sisters — the younger a beautiful fashion designer, the older a nurse.

The short novel ("It's really a novella," Clarke says) starts with the nurse receiving a phone call from her younger sibling.

"Her sister has stabbed her partner, her boyfriend — and it turns out this is the third time," she says.

"It's kind of this really dark, noir tale about this beautiful sister who gets away with everything."

Clarke says that while the book is a crime book, it is beautifully written and reads as literary fiction.

It's also, she says, a very enjoyable read.

"It's really delicious in many senses because the characters are sort of archetypal," Clarke says.

"I read a lot of African writing and it's this really almost comforting thing to lean into these stereotypes that Oyinkan Braithwaite has written and getting this picture of the two different lives."

Also recommends, for children: Heroes, Rebels and Innovators by Karen Wyld and Jaelyn Biumaiwai, which details inspiring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from history.

While it's a picture book, Clarke says it's really for ages 8 to 13.

"It tells the reader about these figures in Aboriginal history, most of which I myself didn't know," she says.

Michael Mohammed Ahmad: The Love That Grew by Sarah Ayoub

The award-winning author of The Tribe, The Lebs and The Other Half of You has been staying home in western Sydney with his wife and five-year-old son.

"We are choosing as a family to stay home and so we've been doing a lot of reading," Michael Mohammed Ahmadsays.

We asked Australian authors what they'd been reading. This eclectic list of books is the result (5)

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Ahmad has a particular interest in children's literature.

He says when he asks parents whether they read, they tend to say they're too busy — but when he asks if they read to their children, they say, "yeah, I read a lot to my kids".

"I think people tend to forget that children's literature is still reading, and if you're a parent and you're reading regularly to your children, then you are inherently reading too," Ahmed says.

"It is important to engage with children's literature … as craft that is informative and educates not just younger people but older people too."

He says he's particularly excited abouta new book by Dr Sarah Ayoub called The Love That Grew.

"It's the story of how, when a new child is born into a family, the parent's capacity for love expands."

He says that children often think that their parent's love is divided among their siblings.

"This subverts this idea and it talks about love being this limitless thing."

Also recommends: For adults, Ahmed recommends Australiana by Yumna Kassab. Ahmad describes it as "Australia's One Thousand and One Nights".

"It's set in a small town and it has all these interconnected stories — but I think the real craft and the real beauty in Yumna Kassab's writing is the language itself."

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