Book lists

Books that Made Us: Episode One

The first episode in the three-part TV series ‘Books that Made Us’ was screened on ABC TV last night. (If you live in Australia and missed it, you can catch up on iView.)

This episode, called ‘People’, was themed around great characters from Australian fiction. This was how it was described on iView:

As an actor, Claudia Karvan knows great storytelling is all about people, great characters. What truths we can uncover about ourselves through the fictitious characters of Australian novels?

Having been starved of Australian literary fiction for about 20 years while living abroad, it was a delight to see this beamed into my living room! I was so familiar with the names and had read several of the books. I had even interviewed one of the authors in the past (hello, Tim Winton) and met another a couple of times (hello, Christos Tsiolkas).

While there was perhaps a bit too much focus on Karvan in the show and too heavily weighted toward contemporary fiction, there was enough meat on the bones in this episode to keep me entertained. And I even learned a thing or two. It wasn’t highbrow or dumbed down, but tread a careful middle ground.

And, more importantly, it wasn’t all fawning over writers and praising their work. In her opening interview with Christos Tsiolkas, Karvan confessed she never finished the book because she hated the characters so much! I’m sure that’s not the first time Tsiolkas has had that criticism levelled at his book, but perhaps the first time he’s had to defend it on television. I think he did it pretty well!

The books covered in episode one

I thought it might be interesting to list the books covered in episode one. Here they are, in alphabetical order by author’s surname. As ever, hyperlinks take you to my reviews

  • ‘They’re a Weird Mob’ by Nino Culotta [not read, but we had a copy in the family home when I was growing up – amazed to discover it was written by an Irish-American, not an Italian immigrant]
  • ‘True History of the Kelly Gang’ by Peter Carey [abandoned in my pre-blogging days but as a much more experienced reader, I would be prepared to give this one another go]
  • ‘The Choke’ by Sofie Laguna [not read this, but in the TBR]
  • ‘Too Much Lip’ by Melissa Lucashenko
  • ‘The Lebs’ by Michael Mohammed Ahmad
  • The ‘Edith Trilogy’ (‘Grand Days’, ‘Dark Palace’ & ‘Cold Light’) by Frank Moorhouse [admittedly never heard of it but want to read immediately!]
  • ‘Honeybee’ by Craig Silvey
  • ‘The Slap’ by Christos Tsiolkas
  • ‘Cloudstreet’ by Tim Winton [read and loved when it first came out in the early 1990s and am probably due for a reread!]

The next episode, entitled ‘Place’, will be screened next Tuesday at 8.30pm.

33 thoughts on “Books that Made Us: Episode One”

  1. Do try Peter Carey’s book again, I thought it was fantastic! I’ve read all but the Morehouse and the Cullota, tempted to read both now… It was so wonderful to have a show solely based on Australian fiction. I can’t wait for the next episode

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    1. Admittedly I do have a love / hate relationship with Carey and when I tried to read this back when it was published (I had it in hardcover) I just couldn’t get on with it. But my reading tastes were far less developed / sophisticated back then and I’m sure I’d appreciate it much more now. If I can find it at the library or a cheap second hand copy I will give it a whirl!

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  2. Unfortunately I can’t watch the programme as I’m outside Australia but, like Karvan, I hated “The Slap”, although I managed to finish it and I’ve enjoyed most of Tsiolkas’s other novels and stories. The comparison you make in your original review with Perlman’s “Seven Types of Ambiguity” is interesting: I think “Seven Types” is a true masterpiece and I can’t accuse it of overkill. All a matter of individual taste I suppose.

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    1. I think the structure of those two books is similar but Perlman rehashes scenes over and over whereas Tsiolkas keeps the narrative moving forward and doesn’t go over old ground 🤷🏻‍♀️

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    2. I live in Mexico and have the iView app. It does, however, take a few days before programmes are uploaded. For example, I’ve been trying to watch Monday night’s Australian Story on Grace Tame and finally woke up this morning to it being there.

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        1. It’s on my phone. Just had an aha moment. I bought my android in Oz. I did try it on the tv and it didn’t work but do have a US VPN now – will try again. Nope, doesn’t work.

          This phone is 5 years old. Let’s hope it lasts until I can get back to Oz.

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          1. Ah, The BBC app used to work on my iPhone but then I reckon, over time, it must have figured out I was no longer in the UK and stopped working 😢

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  3. Ooh, I’ve got the UK hardback of ‘Grand Days’ somewhere that I’ve had for years (I don’t think the subsequent two books were published here, but I may be wrong). I’d completely forgotten about it, but maybe I’ll dig it out – thanks for reminding me about it!

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    1. I honestly do not know why I have never heard of Grand Days. It was published during my time as a bookseller too, so I don’t understand why it’s passed me by but it sounds bloody wonderful!

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  4. I can understand why you gave up on the Carey. It took me a while to get into it because of the vernacular style.
    Kudos to the producers for getting the balance right in the programme between intellectual and popular. Wish the producers of a book programme in the U.K. had tried harder on that point. Their studio panel is heavily weighted towards comedians and the resulting discussion is too light weight for my taste.

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    1. Yes, I used to struggle with British TV shows about books… they always felt too dumbed down for my liking and were clearly aimed at a very unsophisticated audience. While there’s room for that, I think there’s also room to treat audiences with a bit of respect and to understand that they may actually be more well-read than the people making the show or starring in it!

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  5. I disliked The Slap, too – a bit writing-schooly but then all the different narrators had the same voice! I know what Bookertalk means about the UK book show we’re experiencing – I saw a bit of an episode and won’t be rushing back, so I’m glad you have some intelligent commentary going on.

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    1. Well, I beg to differ about the same voice. But I’m a bit of a fan, so I would say that, wouldn’t I ☺️

      I guess the advantage with this Australian show is that it’s not a panel show or an opinion show, it’s basically a documentary featuring interviews with the actual writers. And the question is always what is this book telling us about Australia. It’s quite well done.

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  6. Oh, the Edith trilogy is marvellous Kim and I think you will love it.

    I’ve read the first 2 books twice now and I had planned on doing a readalong of all three this year, but it got away from me. So will reactivate if for 2022.
    Hopefully this will give you time to source them.

    Edith is one of my all time favourite characters ever!

    I enjoyed the show too but had hoped for some more ‘classic’ stories and characters, although I guess they’ve been done before in other shows….

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    1. Oh, a read along sounds great, though I’m not generally very good at sticking to a reading schedule. It looks like the books are relatively easy to obtain online via Booktopia and Dymocks so I might get the first one and see how I go.

      Be interesting to see whether there are more classics mentioned in the next two episodes. I don’t really envy the series editors having to choose what to keep in and what to leave out.

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  7. I didn’t watch the show, but am interested to see their list. I’ve read them all except two that I didn’t want to, i.e. The Choke and Honeybee.
    I’m surprised by the gender balance, seven male author and two female.
    I’m also surprised that Karvan hadn’t read the Tsiolkas. But then, I’ve heard one of the presenters on the ABC Book Show, on more than one occasion though I rarely listen to it, fail to finish reading a book that’s under discussion. And blithely offer her opinion anyway…

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    1. Hmmm… hadn’t considered the gender balance. I think maybe in this episode they focused on ethnic backgrounds… the series is produced by Blackfella Films, which I believe has a particular focus on Aboriginal stories.

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        1. Interested to know why you aren’t watching it…? I spent 20 years STARVED of Australian lit, so this TV show is such a treat! And compared to the dire dumbed down rubbish about books that was screened in the UK, it’s nice to have something to watch that treats its audience with a little bit of intelligence…

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          1. Well, in the first place, I don’t watch much TV and secondly, I’d only watch a book program to discover books I don’t already know about. I might have had a look at it on iView out of idle curiosity, but now that I’ve seen the list of books, I don’t need to!
            (BTW I didn’t watch the Book Show either, when it was on, or The Movie Show, so it’s nothing new. That type of show just doesn’t interest me, I’d rather read a book).

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          2. Fair enough. I don’t watch much live-to-air TV – I use their apps or streaming services and even then it’s usually only the ABC and SBS. I do plan on watching the rest of this series so you will be kept up-to-date with what they cover, anyway. LOL. I’m in two minds as to whether to buy the book that accompanies the series…

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  8. Of course the ABC took the middle line, they always do. I’ve read most of those books. They’re a Weird Mob is seriously racist (about Italians) even while the author took an ‘Italian’ name he still had to make himself tall, blonde and germanic.
    I had to read, and write about, Carey’s Ned Kelly for my degree. I disliked the dialect, admired the Irish anti-British focus, was annoyed by the complete absence of Indigenous people along the rivers and in the forests of NE Victoria, and as for Ned’s (fictitious) wife, that was unnecessary and ridiculous.
    I have the Moorehouse books, but haven’t read them (the first was refused the MF Award for being insufficiently Australian – the year before it went to ‘Demidenko’ for her Ukranian story).

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    1. Well, the series is produced by Blackfella Films, which is a documentary production company that tends to focus on Aboriginal stories… I’m intrigued to read They’re a Weird Mob to see whether it’s racist/outdated. Karvan claimed it was poking fun at the funny ways and language of Australians (her stepfather was Greek) as seen through the eyes of Italian immigrants in the 1950s. (Also, hate to break it to you but there are many tall blonde Italians … I have met many of them in the UK. Ditto for Greeks.)
      Interesting to hear your thoughts on the Carey… and I did not know that about the Moorhouse. I’m still perplexed as to why I don’t know about this particular trilogy of Moorhouse novels… they sound terrific!

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