Fact number one: novels written by Australian women have long been an integral part of my reading life.
When I think of my childhood, I think of Isobelle Carmody’s Obernewtyn series, and Space Demons by Gillian Rubinstein, which I remember reading obsessively in a little cave under the sheets of my bed, so my parents couldn’t see the torchlight as they shuffled past my door to their bedroom.
Unlike many, I was fortunate enough to have an education that was studded with some of our greatest female writers. In my first few years at high school, I studied novels by Nadia Wheatley and Ruth Park (Playing Beattie Bow was one of the reasons I moved to Sydney!) and, of course, Robin Klein.
A few years later, in my late teens, a feminist English teacher introduced me to Kate Grenville’s Joan Makes History and Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River, and, in year twelve, I studied the poetry of Judith Wright.
At University, the focus centred more on the usual dead white guys, but I did have the fortune to encounter Thea Astley’s A Kindness Cup and Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach.
Which leads me to another thing I know. Fact number two, if you like. At some point, you have to take charge of your own education. That’s one of the many reasons I started writing Book to the Future – I’d become frustrated by my own ignorance.
Along the way, I’ve encountered many amazing, life-changing novels written by Australian women. Like My Brilliant Career, which I’m still raving about, even though I read it nearly two years ago. I’m still haunted by Marie, from Fiona McGregor’s Indelible Ink. I adored The Harp in the South by Ruth Park. I’ll recommend Kylie Ladd’s Last Summer to anyone who’ll listen. And then, of course, there’s The Man Who Loved Children. Whenever I think about it, I feel a shiver of awe.
Something else I know – and this time, it’s not something I’m particularly proud of: I haven’t read anywhere near as many classic novels by Australian women as I should have. And I need to somehow try and squeeze more contemporary novels by Australian women into my reading schedule.
Why? Because I think Australian women have something important to say, and a distinctive voice that needs to be encouraged.
It’s been widely noted by writers much more eloquent than I that writing by Australian women is often ignored by the people who decide which books to review in newspapers, and by the people who hand out the big literary prizes.
Though, of course, not all gender bias is intentional. I’m guilty of it myself. Looking at the list of reviews I’ve posted since I started writing this blog, I’m a little staggered to find that, of the sixty-one novels I’ve reviewed to date, only twenty-one were written by women.
That’s why I’ve decided to take up blogger Elizabeth Lhuede’s 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge. It’s a simple challenge: read and review at least three novels by Australian women for the year. Easy. Although I hadn’t really considered doing a reading challenge before (after all, the nature of my blog is essentially one big reading challenge) when I found out about the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I knew I wanted to be involved.
So, this year, I’ll be reviewing as many novels written by Australian women that I can. While the concept of Book to the Future will remain the same, I’ll be taking a few little detours here and there.
There’s a host of other intrepid bloggers out there who have signed up for the challenge too; bloggers much more prolific and well-read than myself. Here’s the complete list – go and leave an encouraging comment or two.
There’s something else I know; one final thing.
Perhaps I’m naïve, but I honestly believe that the choices we readers make matter. As a reader, the books buy can help to shape the future of the Australian publishing industry.
I believe reading is power. Although I might be just a bookblogger, I have a voice, and I plan on using it.