Explore the 2024 Program

Summer Reading Recommendations

Finally summer is upon us, and with it the opportunity to down tools, and find an ungainly angle at which to slump on the couch and escape with a good book. 

The programming team at the Festival has sifted through their massive piles of books – the loved, the desperate to share and the pleasures postponed – to put together their recommendations for a holiday well spent. 

As always, we encourage you to grab a copy of these books from our friends at Gleebooks or your local independent bookshop. 

Beyond the recommendations below, head to our podcast channel to hear about some of the other terrific books and authors featured in our 2021 Festival – revisit some of your most loved sessions, hear the ones you missed or find your new favourite writer.

Recommendations from Michael Williams, Artistic Director

Orwell’s Roses

By Rebecca Solnit

I’ve adored Rebecca Solnit’s writing for years; her singular blend of literary criticism, political writing and philosophical insight makes her a writer I quote, return to and relish again and again. (As a sidebar, if you haven’t read her classic Hope in the Dark on politics and change, you must.) Turning her gaze to one of the most influential political writers of the 20th century, her take on George Orwell is essential reading. “In an age of lies and illusions, the garden is one way to ground yourself in the realm of the processes of growth and the passage of time,” Solnit writes. Art and politics, the natural world and our debt to it, revolution, colonialism, beauty and pleasure as resistance, there’s so much here. You’ll love it.

Another Day in the Colony

By Chelsea Watego

Professor Chelsea Watego has been a health worker, activist and academic in the field of Indigenous health for decades. Her collection of essays Another Day in the Colony is an original, deeply considered account of the ongoing racism faced by Indigenous peoples in this country. With scholarly precision, personal honesty and fierce – at times furious – clarity, Watego presents a different way to understand the stories and experiences often seen as too hard to explore and even harder to address. With insights into all facets of public and intellectual life, from the failures in our university to the dishonesty of media narratives, this kind of reading will have you reading the nation very differently.


By Jonathan Franzen

At some point it got trendy to be wary of Jonathan Franzen, and a 600-page tome that is the first in a trilogy might seem daunting. But he’s one of the best novelists alive and Crossroads is an absolute treat. The Hildebrandt family might struggle to be loveable but they’re never less than compelling. Family turmoil, compromised protagonists, struggles with faith and loyalty, sex and coming of age – a new Franzen book is an occasion in part because he is always so readable. Moving between five different perspectives from within the family, he’s written a powerfully engrossing book that may be the best thing he’s ever done. Expect many copies of this one to be stained with sunscreeny fingerprints this summer.

Recommendations from Lydia Tasker, Program Manager

how to make a basket

By Jazz Money

A major highlight of this year’s new releases has been Jazz Money’s David Unaipon Award–winning poetry collection how to make a basket. I am no expert in poetry but have been intentionally including it more in my reading lists, and the strength of this collection makes it a real treat to immerse yourself in. Described as both “deeply personal and fiercely political” (UQP), the poems in this collection conjure layers upon layers of power and Jazz’s way with words (both in Wiradjuri and English) is magnificent. I know I’ll be revisiting this collection again and again over the summer break – and for a long time to come.

The Country of Others

By Leïla Slimani

Drawing inspiration from her own family history, Leïla Slimani’s The Country of Others follows the story of Mathilde and Amine, who travel from Mathilde’s home country of France to build their lives on Amine’s inherited farm in Morocco. Slimani was the first Moroccan woman to win the Prix Goncourt, France’s most prestigious literary prize, and this novel delves into the complexities of class, land ownership and race against the backdrop of Morocco’s struggle for independence in the late 1940s. The first instalment of a trilogy, it’s a nuanced examination of a tumultuous point in history told through the story of a compelling family.

Muddy People

By Sara El Sayed

I raced through Sara El Sayed’s memoir Muddy People in a day when it was published this August. Equal parts hilarious and heartfelt, Muddy People follows Sara’s childhood growing up in suburban Queensland after moving from Alexandria, Egypt, and is interspersed with snippets from her adult life as she cares for her sick father. Ranging from painfully familiar stories of awkward tweenhood to the difficulties of navigating the ingrained racism of suburban Australian life, and including poignant reflections on family history, love and loss, Muddy People is an incredibly impressive first book. Sara’s writing and narrative voice are clear, bright and brilliantly authentic.

Recommendations from Amelia Lush, Head of Children’s and YA Programs

The Sentence

By Louise Erdrich

I came to the work of Louise Erdrich late in her career through her 2016 novel LaRose and have been quietly fanatical about her ever since. The Ojibwe poet, author and Pulitzer Prize winner has a remarkable body of work, and if you’ve not had the pleasure of reading her until now, The Sentence is a wonderful place to start. The Sentence is interested in hauntings, both literal and psychological, and for the most part takes place in a small bookstore in Minneapolis – a city reeling from the death of George Floyd. Erdrich has really showcased both her love for bookselling in The Sentence – she is the owner and operator of Birchbark Books – and her complicated but rewarding relationship with the city she lives in and the land she is connected to.

Nina Simone’s Gum

By Warren Ellis

Anyone who has ever had the pleasure of seeing Warren Ellis play with the Dirty Three or the Bad Seeds and found themselves fascinated by this enigmatic man will find some of their curiosity sated by the release of his memoir Nina Simone’s Gum. My goodness, what a charming, engaging and ultimately joyous love story to finding and collecting objects, and the many ways memory can be preserved. Recounting the events that led to the titular gum being displayed in Nick Cave’s ‘Stranger Than Kindness’ exhibition years after Ellis had ‘salvaged’ it from the side of Ms Simone’s grand piano, this is one of the warmest explorations of the creative process I think I have ever read and will delight music fans and lovers of art equally.

Treasure and Dirt

By Chris Hammer

However you choose to spend your summer, is there anything better to sink your teeth into than a gripping, pacy and tightly plotted crime novel? In his new stand-alone novel Treasure and Dirt, Chris Hammer showcases exactly why he has developed a serious following of crime aficionados since his debut Scrublands came out in 2018. Set in the desolate town of Finnigans Gap where secrets are common, memories long, and law and order an idea rather than a reality, an opal miner is discovered dead. Hammer has written a superb, slow-burn read, with deft touches of foreshadowing that will ensure readers are left satisfied, surprised and ready to read more of his work.