Books that made us want to be better people in 2019

Our staff share the books that made them want to be better people this year.

“Christos Tsiolkas said in his launch speech that he started writing Damascus because he wanted to understand his mother’s relationship to St Paul, and through that bond increase his understanding of his own mother. What he found as he travelled back in time and imagined the life of this great prophet is that the learnings are subservient. The knowledge that Paul (Saul) founded was simply this: do good every day. It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a kind emblème to carry for every single day. Tsiolkas' latest novel is powerful, gritty, expansive and definitely compassionate. Without wanting to be too emotional, I do think this novel is his magnum opus.”

Chris Gordon

“I have been dipping into White Tears, Brown Scars over a number of months, remaining perpetually impressed by Ruby Hamad’s rigour and clarity when discussing intersectional feminism. The book starts with an exploration of damaging stereotypes perpetuated about women of colour, in contrast to the symbolic innocence and purity of white womanhood. As an Asian-Australian woman I’m all-too familiar with some of the damaging and offensive tropes as they relate to me, but it was vindicating to see them laid out on the page, and then see what specific BS women of colour from other backgrounds and experiences had to deal with. It felt important to see both the commonality and the difference. Hamad writes so well about a really touchy topic, and her eloquence made me want to be better at speaking up, to be a more erudite advocate and defender of myself and also an informed ally of other women of colour.”

Leanne Hall

Polly and Buster:The Search for the Silver Witch. The final installment in Sally Rippin’s epic trilogy about radical kindness and its power to generate great change made me want to be a better person. A magical series about friendship, empathy, courage and kindness, Polly and Buster should be read by everyone, literally.”

Tye Cattanach

“I read some excellent non-fiction books this year that made me think differently about how I want to live: Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror (especially her essay on monetising feminism), Natalia Ginzburg’s The Little Virtues (especially her essay on parenting), and Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic (which is as brilliant as everyone promised me last year). All three writers forced me to step outside of my skin for a little while, and take stock of the world.

Looking to fiction – Lucy Ellmann’s Ducks, Newburyport is an ambitious and exciting work that has made me sit up and take notice. While I’m not yet finished, I already know that this novel will stay with me for a long time to come.”

Bronte Coates

“I think all of the books that fulfilled this brief for me in 2019 had to do with opening your mind up to other people, and being more empathetic. Ruby Hamad’s White Tears, Brown Scars is the kind of book that will encourage you to take your privilege apart and assess how you could do better. Hamad writes brilliantly, and in a very accessible way – I think everyone could, and should, read this book.

Unfollow is the memoir of former Westboro Baptist Church member Megan Phelps-Roper. Megan was born into the church, famous for its aggressive homophobia and public picketing pretty much everything, and left in her twenties after realising the hypocrisies of its teachings. One of the reasons Megan changed her mind about leaving was that the handful of people she engaged with on the internet (mostly on Twitter) who disagreed with her Church’s conduct, but engaged in debate and conversation with Megan without insulting her, and respecting her intelligence. This insightful book shows the damage that can be done by casting out everyone you don’t agree with, and the power of doing just the opposite of that.

I don’t typically read philosophy, but this year I read Stop Being Reasonable, which I think is one of the most underrated books of 2019. It presents six case studies of people who changed the way that they thought in a major way. Eleanor Gordon-Smith takes apart these changes in thought process, but in doing so still treats each subject’s story gently and with intelligence. Gordon-Smith is a witty, empathetic writer and I can’t wait to see what she does next.”

Ellen Cregan

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White Tears, Brown Scars

White Tears, Brown Scars

Ruby Hamad

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