The three panelists on Friday morning’s session read extracts from books that changed their lives, and discussed the transformative power of literature. Could literature change the world?
Say, for example, said session chair Adam Suckling: what book each panelist would give Donald Trump to read?
Former Australian foreign affairs minister Evans suggested Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom, identifying Mandela as ‘the most impressive public figure I’ve met’.
While Suckling’s question left Womersley flummoxed, Wilson suggested that, given J.K. Rowling’s power in engaging boys, perhaps the Harry Potter series might distract him for a while.
All this aside, it was clear from the discussion that the real interest of the session lay in the individual choice of each panellist.
One of the prescient life lessons Evans carried with him on his career of scholarship and politics was from Machiavelli’s The Prince, Evans suggesting the modern version of the extract he read translated as: ‘If you want a friend in politics, buy a dog.’
While exposing the self-described ‘young, incorrigible idealist’ to the darker realities of politics, The Prince also reinforced for Evans the importance of politics and governance.
Evans observed that, since his time as a cabinet minister in the Hawke and Keating governments, the ego-driven cunning, with which Machievelli’s name is synonymous, remains pervasive within the Australian political landscape.
However, he also noted that the most significant change in politics that he sees from his time as a cabinet minister in the Hawke and Keating governments is the lack of a ‘sense of common purpose’.
Womersley lamented the ‘severe modernism, which rules the roost’ as creating an unfortunate divide between the literary and the popular.
His love of the nineteenth century novel began with Dickens’ Great Expectations. Its influences of the gothic, ghoulish and melodramatic are evident in his writing, including his latest novel, Bereft.
Wilson, whose recent novel Extinctions won the 2017 Miles Franklin Literary Award, described her writing as a political act in itself which attempts to ‘make the small resonate bigger’ and thereby challenge the classification of ‘the domestic as a lesser form’.
She cited adult books about childhood experiences as being transformative, and read an extract from Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye – a masterful portrayal of girlhood friendship. It is a portrayal that resonates strongly for Wilson 20 years after its initial publication.
All of which left the audience to ponder: what were the books that changed my life? I know, for me, Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things left me marinating in the mastery of her poetic language, hoping for a miraculous transference. What book changed your life?
Rebecca Sargeant is a Southern Cross University Creative Writing student.