Annabel Crabb is one of Australia's most beloved journalists, and a regular guest of the Festival who delights audiences every time she appears on stage. This year, Annabel will interview the inimitable Anne Enright, join a panel of Helen Garner super-fans, sit down with Julia Baird, and — in one of the most popular sessions of the Festival — discuss her reading year with Leigh Sales.
We asked Annabel to give us a taste of who she'll be lining up to see this year. Read on for her picks.
A friend put me on to Henry Marsh's book Do No Harm a year or two back, and it was electrifying. Marsh — a neurosurgeon — writes with a candour about his own failures that is both elegant and brutal, if that's possible. God, I feel guilty when I fail to respond to emails promptly, so reading about how a surgeon deals with the guilt of inadvertently rendering a patient paraplegic or being unable to save a life was quite the revelation. Marsh's capacity for pellucid self-analysis is profound. I imagine he also has a cracking public liability lawyer. I'm going to see him talk, for sure.
Any adult who spends any time at all reading books aloud to kids knows that when you strike a brilliant children's author, you immediately want to track them down and kiss them. Lauren Child is like that. The Charlie and Lola books are kooky and delightful, and rest in that happy bit of the Venn diagram which appeals to younger and older readers at the same time. And her Ruby Redfort series — concerning the adventures of a clever, non-lame girl detective — give older kids something to be going on with. I'm convinced from her writing that she is an excellent person. So I'm taking my daughter to see her.
Do Bad Times Make for Great Art?
What an outrageously brilliant line-up. Anne Enright is one of the most shockingly observant writers of fiction I've ever read; I'm doing an event with her during the Festival and I'm already completely paralysed with fear that she will immediately spot me for the fraud I am. If I survive, however, I'm definitely going to see her meet Sebastian Smee, one of Australia's great cultural exports, winner of a Pulitzer for art criticism and currently writing for the Boston Globe. Smee's book The Art of Rivalry is a thrilling piece of work looking at the relationships between Matisse and Picasso, Manet and Degas, Bacon and Freud, and de Kooning and Pollock. Plus you get Stephen Metcalf of Slate's Culture Gabfest. It's a no-brainer.
Julia Baird — Victoria The Queen
There is absolutely no way I am going to miss this session. And yes — that is partly because I'm due on stage at it. But I'm sticking this in my list of picks because I'm a shameless, inveterate and borderline annoying advocate of Julia Baird's biography of Queen Victoria. It is a genuine revelation for anyone who entertains, as I did, the notion that Victoria was a stodgy sort of great historical significance but limited personal interest. Baird's scholarship, and her capacity to draw out the great contradictions of Victoria's life, make this a fabulous book.