Wednesday, 6 August 2008

The Reading Lamp: intriguing Australian books

This is the second time I've had the pleasure of featuring an Australian reader on The Reading Lamp and I have to say that Matthew makes me really want to explore Australian literature much more than I have. Both Voss and Graveyard sound like truly kick-ass reads and I have reason to trust Matthew's opinion: Waterland is one of my favourite books of all time too.

Your name:
Matthew Hancock

What are you reading now? Ever After by Graham Swift.

Where are you reading it? On the train.

How did you discover this book? I have read three other Swift novels; I really enjoyed Waterland and Last Orders but disliked Shuttlecock. In fact, Waterland is one of my all-time favourite books, so on the basis of that alone I am happy to keep on trying even if I find some of Swift's books to be a bit hit and miss. I didn’t particularly seek this book out; rather, I tend to buy my books from secondhand markets around Sydney (Australia) and this one popped up on a table for $2.

What would your ideal desert island book be? Voss by Patrick White – a story of exploration in the Australian desert, a very large (almost deserted) island itself.

Who is your literary boyfriend or girlfriend? (Could be either a character or an author, and if it’s an author, he or she need not still be alive.) I would have to say that of all of my favourite authors John Steinbeck would be the guy I would like to sit down and share a drink with.

What's your favourite either unknown or underappreciated book? Batavia’s Graveyard by Mike Dash – a non-fiction account of mass murder and mutiny off the coast of Australia in 1628.

Do you buy books or borrow them from the library? Either way, what is your favourite place to get books and why? Markets – there is always a bargain, a book being undervalued by its owner which ends up tucked away with 20 crap CDs and a bunch of unwanted clothes. Also, Sydney has a great shop called Gould’s Book Exchange which is a massive shop; it’s complete disorder containing thousands of secondhand books that need to be fished out from boxes and from shelves that make little sense (to the untrained eye). I recently found a signed copy of the Miles Franklin Award-winning The Well by Elizabeth Jolley for $4 – pretty cool.

How do you decide what to read next? I theme my selections. A couple of years ago, I started off reading subversive literature from the early 1900s, then I moved onto Australian historical fiction, now I am looking at female authors. I don’t strictly stay on the path but usually the majority of the works from a six-month period will be guided by the theme. But as I do buy many books from the markets I often stock up and will generally fall back on those books from time to time, which is why I am reading Graham Swift at the moment.

Who do you talk to about books? My partner and my blog (

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