What are the best books about Tasmania?

A stack of books with the caption 'What are the best books about Tasmania?'

For a relatively small state, Tasmania has a disproportionately high number of good writers.

From emerging writers like Erin Hortle and Ben Walter, whose work you can often read in contemporary Australian lit journals, to crime writers like David Owen, historians like James Boyce, and award-winning novelists like Amanda Lohrey and Christopher Koch, there is a wonderful diversity of styles, themes and genres.

There’s also an abundance of talented children’s writers and illustrators in Tasmania, including Coral Tulloch, Christina Booth, Emily Conolan, and Kate Gordon.

When we first moved to Tasmania, I dived headfirst into reading as much about the place as possible. My first instinct was to grab a copy of the Lonely Planet Guide to Tassie… but I discovered pretty quickly that guidebooks are a lot more useful for tourists than they are for newly arrived locals.

Thank goodness for the excellent local bookshops in Hobart – Fullers, Hobart Bookshop, and Cracked and Spineless – all of which carry a great selection of Tasmanian fiction, non-fiction and poetry.

When it came to Tasmanian non-fiction books, my two favourites were:

Griffith Review 39: Tasmania The Tipping Point? A collection of essays about Tasmania by writers who know and love it (which is not to say that it casts an uncritical eye over the state!). Highlights include Greg Lehman writing about Tasmanian gothic, Natasha Cica writing about place, Rodney Croome writing about LGBT rights, and Matthew Evans writing about farming. It’s a dazzling introduction and overview of the complexities of this beautiful island, although as it was published all the way back in 2013 it would be fascinating to see a similar collection published ten years on.

Hobart by Peter Timms. This is a fabulous, cheeky little book which profiles the people and places that make Hobart such a special city. it’s one that I’ve returned to several times over the last few years, and I find something new that makes me chuckle in wry recognition every single time.

When it came to Tasmanian fiction, my early favourites were:

The Butterfly Man by Heather Rose. A compelling novel that imagines Lord Lucan has fled to Tasmania and is living in the foothills of Mount Wellington.

The Alphabet of Light and Dark by Danielle Wood. An historical novel written in the most evocative, poetic prose. This was the first time I had read about Bruny Island, and it made me want to jump on a ferry immediately.

Gould’s Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan. A fictionalised account of a convict’s life, described by one Guardian reviewer as a ‘postmodern Bouillabaisse of a book’. This is an absolute epic of a novel, and very, very hard to describe succinctly – but in spite of how hard it is to read, and how grotesque it becomes in parts, I completely loved it.

Some of my more recent favourite books about Tasmania, which have only been published since I moved here are:

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett – a story of growing up, and of a very special red boat called Nella Dan.

Flames by Robbie Arnott – a beautiful novel, a celebration of nature and packed full of magic.

The Balfour Correspondent by James Dryburgh – a compelling and moving response to a collection of letters written by a 14-year-old Tasmanian girl more than 100 years ago.

A Table in the Orchard by Michelle Crawford – beautiful photography and food writing from the Huon Valley.

A Bone of Fact by David Walsh – an autobiography by the Berriedale boy whose private art collection has changes Tasmania forever. (It’s especially good when read in conjunction with Adrian Franklin’s The Making of MONA.)

Forgotten Corners, In Search of an Island’s Soul – a collection of essays by poet and scholar Pete Hay.

The next Tasmanian books on my to-read list are Lyndall Ryan’s Tasmanian Aborigines, which comes recommended by just about everyone I’ve met here, and the very-recently-released Truganini by Cassandra Pybus. I’m also excited at the prospect of Robbie Arnott’s second novel The Rain Heron, due out in June 2020.

A few others that – in my view – are well worth checking out are: Island Story by Danielle Wood and Ralph Crane; Deep South, a collection of short stories also edited by Danielle Wood and Ralph Crane; Death of a River Guide by Richard Flanagan; In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare; and Kindred: A Cradle Mountain Love Story by Kate Legge.

If you have a favourite book by a Tasmanian writer – or a book about Tasmania – that you think I should be adding to my reading list, let me know in the comments below!

Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

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