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10 books to read before you turn 25

A definitive list from UOW creative writing expert, Dr Catherine McKinnon.

As far as lists of ‘things to do’ go, this one's pretty good. Novelist, playwright and Discipline Leader of English and Creative Writing at the University of Wollongong, Dr Catherine McKinnon, shares the books she thinks every curious knowledge seeker should read before they turn 25.


When asked to choose just 10, she explains “There were so many to put on this list, but I wanted to include Australians and I wanted some classics and some currents”. Managing to sneak a couple of extras in, Dr McKinnon’s picks all have something to give their reader; some lesson to learn or a deeper understanding to present.

To those ready to dive into the pages of these books, Dr McKinnon says, “There are so many wonderful books to read, but here are some that might change the way you think about the world we live in. If you are someone who believes in equality, if you are someone who wants to help maintain a healthy planet, these books all provide imaginative or factual stories useful for thinking about our shared future”. 

  1. Frankenstein: or The Modern Prometheus, by Mary Shelley: to think about the human desire to create and dominate.

  2. The Yield, by Tara June Winch: to understand Australia—what was, what is and what could be.

  3. The God of Small Things, by Arundhati Roy: to remember the ways in which ‘really big things’ can seep into ‘small things’ yet not always destroy them.

  4. The Philosopher and The Wolf: Lessons from the Wild on Love, Death and Happiness, by Mark Rowlands: to contemplate how we construct human and animal identity and the assumptions that construction is built upon.

  5. The Obernewtyn Chronicles, by Isobelle Carmody: to contemplate not only the prejudice that exists between different kinds of humans, but also the prejudice that exists between humans and other animals.

  6. The Second Sex, by Simone de Beauvoir and Living a Feminist Life, by Sara Ahmed: to meditate upon the constant need (from one generation to then next) to demand equal rights for all people, and to gain some insight into why it is always a struggle.

  7. Dark Emu: Aboriginal Australia and the Birth of Agriculture, by Bruce Pasco: to comprehend how the land was cared for and harvested by the First Australians, without depleting its resources, and the misconceptions surrounding that care.

  8. The Overstory, by Richard Powers: to learn about the crucial place of trees on this earth, the fall-out of a warming climate, and our shared responsibility for the planet.

  9. Orlando and A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf: to contemplate bias in relation to gender.

  10. Learning to Die in the Anthropocene: Reflections on the End of a Civilization, by Roy Scranton: to learn about climate change and how to approach doing something about it.

Missing from the list is Dr McKinnon’s own novel Storyland, published by Harper Collins. As one of the characters in the book says 'The land is a book waiting to be read’. This novel tells us the unforgettable and unputdownable story of Australia, our history, our present and our future.


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