Novel ideas: the books Scott Morrison should have on his summer reading list

From Australia’s true colonial history to the physical and mental health cost of economic inequality, there are a number of pertinent issues Scott Morrison could educate himself on over summer. Composite: Rancz Andrei/Alamy/Mick Tsikas/AAP

From Australia’s true colonial history to the physical and mental health cost of economic inequality, there are a number of pertinent issues Scott Morrison could educate himself on over summer. Composite: Rancz Andrei/Alamy/Mick Tsikas/AAP

Every year Grattan Institute compiles a list of essential reads for the PM. Here’s what it has recommended this time

As 2020 drew to a close,

Morton identifies the tangle of welfare systems and institutions, of political pledges and punishments, that has created an environment where attitudes towards people living in poverty have shifted towards using money as a measure of moral character and worth.

On Money meticulously describes the implications of financial hardship and the policies that exacerbate it through the eyes of someone who has lived it. It’s a piercing and personal piece, a deeper look at how his experiences as a child (recounted in his brilliant memoir

Clark’s writing is spare but her attention to the minutiae of life is evocative. She has interwoven the mystical and the mundane, depicting the surreal and the ordinary throughout the lives of her characters, who are all fallible but mostly sympathetic. A widowed woman self-soothes with clothes left behind, transforming physically into her late husband to avoid grieving his loss. A Woman in Love is split from her beloved and elderly dog after her marriage ends. High-jinks ensue as she embarks on a “dog-napping” escapade so she can clone the toothless chihuahua, but we are privy to a past of devastating genetic testing results and the comfort the dog brought. A woman and her partner voluntarily undergo removal of their left frontal cortex to withstand oppressive heat wrought by a heating planet: indeed, menacing hints of climate change stalk many of Clark’s stories.

She Is Haunted is a like a cosmic prism through which readers can view life and death. Spirits and the spiritual haunt carefully crafted vignettes, windows into souls that are grieving, bargaining, lost, jealous. While loss and death are constant throughout the book, Clark’s nimble prose keeps readers curious, with surprising deviations crafted within each chapter.

Paige Clark has created a dazzling debut. We look forward to what’s in store from this talented young Australian author.

System Error: Where Big Tech Went Wrong and How We Can Reboot, by Rob Reich, Mehran Sahami and Jeremy Weinstein

It’s been a big year for big tech. While negotiating new media laws,

Murray writes compellingly about the burden of obligation – and the genuine gratitude – he feels towards his students, and the excitement of shepherding them towards new understandings. Nobody could read this account without reflecting on how profound an impact a good teacher can have on the lives of students.

But this is no sentimental yarn. Murray reveals his frustration at the lack of resources at The School to tackle sometimes shocking levels of adolescent illiteracy, the heavy toll on young lives of poor physical and mental health, the radiating legacy of family trauma, the ease with which social cruelty and physical violence can be inflicted in the schoolyard, and the seeming indifference of a small handful of colleagues.

But Murray resists the temptation to lay blame at the feet of the usual cast of villains: cynical politicians, heartless bureaucrats, neglectful parents, a few bad teachers or troubled students. It is refreshing to read an account that acknowledges that these challenges are difficult and defy simple explanation.

It is impossible to read this book without feeling a deep sense of obligation – and motivation – to keep asking what more, or what else, can we do to honour the ghost children who walk the grounds of The School.

Truth-Telling, by Henry Reynolds

NewSouth

The Uluru statement from the heart speaks with the powerfully united voice of First Nations Australians and calls on all Australians to tell the truth about our history.

It is nearly 250 years since the arrival of the British, and yet in many ways we are still resisting the truth of our past.

In his new book Henry Reynolds makes an important contribution to this truth-telling process, drawing on his long career as an Australian historian.

Using the July 2014 murder of Glen Turner as a launching point, Kate Holden dives into the events that led to the shooting and the history that preceded it. The tension between Turner, a government official intent on enforcing environmental regulations, and Turnbull, a farmer who believes in the right to treat his property as he wishes, speaks to broad ideas of ownership and government, of exploitation and preservation.

The result is a meticulously researched look at the continuing tug of war between land ownership, inheritance, enforcement and preservation efforts in Australia. The Winter Road raises fundamental questions about the give-and-take relationship Australians have with the land – from First Nations ideals of continuity and preservation to European notions of taming the land through work. It highlights the complex nature of the laws that govern land and the dangers that those tasked with enforcing protection can face.

By deftly explaining the history behind invasion, settlement and the traditions of preservation and farming, Holden tells a uniquely Australian tale. It captures deep and difficult questions about exploitation of the land we live on, and how it relates to our history, laws and society.