Summer reading list

15 February 2018

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM ( 16:25 ): There are few things I enjoy more before Christmas than combing through the best book of the year lists in search of holiday reading. I also love the regular news story that details the holiday season reading hopes and dreams of Federal members of Parliament. I  have always regarded it as an aspirational list, and I am not confident that all those members always read all of those books.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( The Hon. Trevor Khan ): Or at all!

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: Indeed. It is a pity that there is not a similar reading list for State members of Parliament. This is one area in which we should compete more with one another.In that spirit, I report back on some of my holiday reading with a couple of recommendations. I recommend John Edwards' excellent book John Curtin's War. It is tough to write something new about that period, but Edwards has an economic and historical perspective on the twentieth century that adds to the picture. He has a commanding grasp of the context. He presents a damning set of observations about the state of Australia's preparations for war under Menzies. They invite and deserve a response from Menzies supporters, and I would be fascinated to read one. The historical record would be better for such a response.

The best book I read over the break was How Music Works by David Byrne. Part biography, part analysis of the modern music industry, he has taken the time to write about the subject that has consumed his life. As he says,  "You can't touch music  it exists only at the moment it is being apprehended  and yet it can profoundly alter how we view the world and our place in it." As the lead singer of Talking Heads, and given his myriad musical collaborations since, David Byrne has thought more about this subject than almost anyone on the planet. It is an essential read.

Having recently become a parliamentarian, I turned to Phineas Finn in the Trollope Palliser novels. I  found them both entertaining and instructive. I recommend them as an excellent companion volume to the just released Annotated Standing Orders of the New South Wales Legislative Council. 

The blockbuster world history Sapiens : A Brief History of Humankind is a remarkable survey of some of the latest historical and archaeological thinking about humanity's place on the planet. Interestingly, it contains a lot of material about Australia and provides a rare and useful perspective for this nation about our place in the wider human story. 

In his book Munich, Robert Harris has told another gripping tale. Set in 1938, it tells the tale of Chamberlain and Hitler's negotiations at that time.

John le Carré has written his best book yet —which is no small feat— with A Legacy of Spies. It tells the story of an institution judging historical events by modern-day standards. For anyone interested in politics, it is an enduring question.

The Hon. Shayne Mallard: What about Carl Scully's book?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: I am only halfway through it. 

Most divertingly, I could not put down Jennifer Egan's Manhattan Beach. Set during and after the Depression in Brooklyn, it was an absolute pageturner. I recommend them all to the House. I support a post-Christmas audit of the aspirational lists of books members intended to read over the break.

The Hon. Lynda Voltz: What about the books written by women?

The Hon. JOHN GRAHAM: I invite disagreement with my recommendations, including from the Hon. Lynda Voltz.

We should disagree more about books, reading and history, but we should disagree respectfully on these subjects. 

Reading is important because it is a window to the world. However , it is also important to remember that not everyone can see through that window. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation  and Development reports that 44 per cent of Australians between 15 and 74 years of age lack the literacy skills required for everyday life. That has always been a problem, but in a digital world it is a much bigger problem. Literacy should be a higher priority for governments, not only for the next generation or for kids, but also for adults. For our citizens to make their way in this digital world, we must give them more support than ever to learn to read.