ABC RADIO NATIONAL WITH SARAH DINGLE
FRIDAY, 30 DECEMBER 2022
SUBJECTS: Summer reading
SARAH DINGLE (HOST): The season of reading is upon us. What are you reading and what's on your list for this summer? Even if it's just an aspirational list, let's face it, we've all got them. Isn't it nice to think you have time to tackle that very big stack of books? Every day for the next few weeks, we'll be speaking to politicians of all stripes about the book they'll be turning to this summer, or books plural. Labor MP Andrew Leigh is one of those with books, plural, you have quite a list. Andrew Leigh, welcome.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CHARITIES, COMPETITION AND TREASURY DR ANDREW LEIGH: Thanks so much. It's lovely to be with you.
DINGLE: Andrew, can I just clarify, you have on your website an entire page dedicated to your favourite books of 2022. Is that right?
LEIGH: So, one of the advantages of being a marathon runner is that you spend a lot of time running. And I've just moved away from podcasts this year and moved towards audiobooks, which has been an absolute treat, particularly the world of fiction. So, spending a few runs with Jonathan Franzen's new novel Crossroads, or delving into Richard Power's book Bewilderment - this lovely father-son journey about science, that just transcends the day to day humdrum and I think makes me a better politician and probably a better dad as well.
DINGLE: So we've had a few people so far sort of come down on the nonfiction side or say that they kind of travel equally between fiction and nonfiction. Are you more of a fiction kind of guy?
LEIGH: I'm certainly a nicer person when I'm reading fiction. I think I'm a little more curious and a little more expansive. So, you know, race has been a big issue over the last few years, and reading Mohsin Hamid's The Last White Man opened up sort of a space of possibility in my thinking about race. It's this remarkable novel in which everyone, person by person, turns – their skin colour turns dark. It’s about what that does to society and how people's norms change. And it's to engage in that way rather than through the usual sort of reports from worthy organisations, which is how I'd normally think about racism, is just beautiful.
DINGLE: Wow. And if we take the fiction and push it a bit further are you into science fiction, by any chance?
LEIGH: I've touched a little bit of science fiction this year. I read Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven, which I couldn't bring myself to read during the pandemic but now I understand why everybody else was raving about this classic, wonderful plague novel. It's a bit sciencey; Liane Moriarty's Nine Perfect Strangers, which goes into hallucinogenic drugs, and the sort of discussion around that with all of this sort of beautiful interpersonal dynamics woven into it as well. So that's been great. And probably my favourite fiction read of the year is Ian McEwan's Lessons, which is just sweeping, insightful and has this sense of completeness about it. It comes round to a perfect, full stop. It's like doing a lap of a track and coming back where you began.
DINGLE: That's so satisfying but it's so hard to pick up something else after that, isn't it? Because it's like you've just finished the most perfect meal and anything else is going to jar a bit.
LEIGH: Exactly and in a funny sort of way, this is how I felt when I read A Suitable Boy. So, the beautiful thing about A Suitable Boy is it's written in such a way that when you finish this 1000 page novel, you wish it was a little bit longer. And you have that sense about Ian McEwen's Lessons that you wish it were longer, but you know, it can't be because it stops at exactly the right spot.
DINGLE: So what is on your list for this summer for reading?
LEIGH: I'm really keen to go through some of the back catalogue of science fiction authors. And so if people have suggestions of great science fiction, that's what I'd love to hear from.
DINGLE: I think there was – you were talking about the Mohsin Hamid book earlier, about kind of like a slightly alternate universe where everyone turns black one by one. There was a book on Barack Obama's reading list a number of years back called The Power, which is Sci-Fi but only just. And it's an alternate universe where women suddenly have the power to – lethal power to zap people. So that would be my suggestion. It is a fascinating read and it does not play out the way you expect it to.
LEIGH: That sounds so much more fulfilling than the sort of dystopian anti-feminist fiction that we've been treated with in recent years.
DINGLE: I know even from female writers, I have to admit I cannot watch The Handmaid's Tale because I have read that book and I do not want to put myself through any of that again. It's just like - anyway, is there a book, speaking in terms of opposites, a book that is a comfort blanket that you go to time and time again just for a little bit of cozying up and making yourself feel better?
LEIGH: I really like Marcus Aurelius' Meditations. It was a book which was written for himself and so the aim was to write down sort of handy tips for being a Roman emperor. None of us, of course, were Roman emperors, but the fact that Marcus's wisdom echoes through the centuries really is beautiful. And three quarters of Marcus Aurelius' Meditations was written to himself. It was advice to himself to remind himself how to live a good life. And so it repays dipping in to, it repays reading. You don't have to come in at a particular spot in the same way as kind of the great religious texts don't require reading from cover to cover, so too you can dip into Meditations.
DINGLE: Like a really high brow Empire For Dummies kind of thing.
LEIGH: Nicely put.
DINGLE: Now, final question. When you were a child, what was your favourite children's book?
LEIGH: I loved A. A. Milne.
Weatherby George Dupree
Care of his Mother,
Though he was only three."
I just think one of the treats of raising kids is to read A. A. Milne to your children.
"Halfway up the stairs
is a stair
where i sit.
there isn't any
i'm not at the bottom,
i'm not at the top;
so this is the stair
The rhythm of A.A. Milne is just beautiful, you know. Even his prose sounds like poetry.
DINGLE: Do you read them the heartbreaking A. A. Milne, where Christopher Robin leaves the 100 acre wood forever? Or do you –
LEIGH: Oh, no, I couldn't possibly. No. Only the happy days.
DINGLE: Only the happy days?
LEIGH: Yeah, I want that world preserved forever. It's a magical universe which never really existed but I want to pretend it's going to live on forever.
DINGLE: Yeah, me too, me too. Andrew Leigh, Lovely to chat books. Happy reading this summer.
LEIGH: Likewise, thank you.
DINGLE: And there will be more politicians of all persuasions sharing their reading list next week, including independent MP Kate Chaney and Labor Senator Katy Gallagher.