Wondering what to read this summer? The team from the National Library have some suggestions for adults, children and teenagers… 

Page-turners for adults 

In his new book, Just One Thing: How Simple Changes Can Transform Your Life, Dr Michael Mosley reveals reading fiction not only enhances our interpersonal skills, but it "acts as a ‘whole brain’ workout as it increases blood flow across the entire brain". As Hercule Poirot said during his investigation of The ABC Murders: "If the little grey cells are not exercised, they grow the rust."

The Woman in the Library 

Linda’s recommendation, Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library, opens with what I describe as a painfully hilarious paragraph: 

"Writing in the Boston Public Library had been a mistake. It was too magnificent. One could spend hours just staring at the ceiling in the Reading Room. Very few books have been written with the writer’s eyes cast upward." 

Sound familiar? Just be hopeful your distracted-ceiling-gazing is not interrupted by a loud scream and a dead body, as the protagonist Freddie Kincaid and her fellow readers were. As Linda says:

"You will never look at your fellow readers in the Reading Room the same way again!"

Book cover of The Woman in the Library with annotations reading murder mystery, unlikely friendships, thrilling, unexpected ending and story within a story, next to a photo of the National Library Reading Room
Don't look up: the National Library's main reading room; and The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill

Rook Files trilogy 

For those of you who love historical fiction with a dash of sci-fi, Meri recommends Blitz by Canberra-based writer and National Library frequenter, Dan O’Malley. It is the third book in his Rook Files trilogy and is set in London during World War II. Meri says, "O’Malley [has an extraordinary] ability to weave the supernatural and real worlds together… [which makes Blitz] a supernatural romp from beginning to end with plenty of twists and turns along the way". The first two books, The Rook and Stiletto, are also in the Library’s collection if you need to catch up. 

The Beach Volcano 

Kathryn’s suggestion, The Beach Volcano by the ACT’s Artist of the Year 2022, Nigel Featherstone, is a novella "about family reunions – and all the challenges they bring". It might provide some inspiration and courage for a family and friends filled summer. 

Kill Your Brother 

A slightly darker turn on the ‘family’ theme, Jess suggests Jack Heath’s Kill Your Brother, in which Elise is searching for her missing brother only to become captive of the same woman holding her brother. The premise, ‘kill your brother and you can go free’ kept Jess gripped to the end:

"I couldn’t put it down." 

How to Manage Men 

To restore your merry holiday vibes, Lisa suggests Mary Hyde’s 1955 guide How To Manage Men.

"I was introduced to [it] by Kaz Cooke’s You’re Doing It Wrong: A History of Bad and Bonkers Advice to Women. There’s an excellent chapter on brothers and, as a sister to a younger one, how to manage them. Hyde describes younger brothers as ‘a menace… [and as a] species is pretty revolting and not exactly amenable to orders from his elder sister’."

Textbook Romance 

Zoe Foster Blake’s Textbook Romance: A Step-by-Step Guide to Getting the Guy, a title that presumably continues on with ‘to behave himself’, and which Megan recommends as it reads like a conversation with "a girlfriend trying to help you puzzle out our biggest investment – giving our heart to someone else". If you don’t know, Zoe is married to comedian Hamish Blake, of ‘Hamish and Andy’ fame, so the funny perspectives offered by Hamish provide a layer of giggles. 

Treasure and Dirt 

Cathie describes Australian author Chris Hammer’s Treasure and Dirt as a "novel [that] took me by surprise". Hammer "beautifully captured the sense of the outback; both the beauty of the place and the claustrophobic nature of a small town under pressure".  The novel details the police investigation after an opal miner is found crucified in his mine.

"Lots of tension, some terrifically complex characters and a sense of foreboding that kept me up very late one night until I had found out what happened." 

Book cover of Treasure & Dirt with annotations reading set in Australia's opal country, complex characters, hard to put down, murder and deceit and crime fiction
The late night, "unputdownable" read from Australian writer Chris Hammer

The French Photographer 

A lighter keep-me-up-all-night page-turner is Natasha Lester’s The French Photographer. Historian Lisa says it’s,

"unputdownable until the wee small hours and the weeping intensified when I came across a bibliography at the end!" 

An Evening with the Messiah 

Not one for reading fiction, Matthew also found himself reading Catherine Jinks' 1996 novel, An Evening with the Messiah, into the wee small hours.

"I felt like I’d met the characters in real life and I'm looking forward to meeting them with a summer re-read of this great read."

Other fiction recommendations include: 

Kid's Corner

We haven’t forgotten our younger readers! Last school holidays, the Main Reading Room’s Kid’s Reading Corner was expanded and there are now reading delights available all-year-round for little ones, teenagers and those who haven’t lost their love of a great fairy-tale or illustrated adventure. 

and shelf and table with books on it
Kids’ Corner in the Main Reading Room: During the summer holidays, young visitors will also find activities to keep their little grey cells from suffering summer holiday brain.

The Imagineer 

Christopher Cheng and Lucia Masciullo’s The Imagineer, follows Penny’s visit to her Grandpa’s house, a house "packed with all kinds of stuff", which she imagineers into a "most wonderful, phantasmagorical, incredibleacious, stupendorific creation". Guaranteed it will inspire your little imagineers over the school holidays and may help get the shed or spare room cleaned out

Our Bush Capital 

Samantha Tidy’s Our Bush Capital, beautifully illustrated by Juliette Dudley, provides another school holiday activity for Canberra residents and visitors in the form of a guide to Australia’s capital. Featuring all the fantastic cultural and tourist destinations in Canberra, this book will inspire young readers with their mini-adventuring plans for the summer holidays. Come plot together using a free National Library of Australia ‘Clever Thinking’ notepad available in the Kids’ Corner. 

The Lost Thing and Eric 

Sam recommends two Shaun Tan books, The Lost Thing and Eric. The Lost Thing takes readers on a beautifully illustrated journey where we learn that "it’s totally okay to not always know where we’re going, what we want, or even who we are". Sam describes it as a story of hope: "Even if you are lost in life, it is possible to find purpose." A comforting read for younger and older readers, especially after the past few years.  

Eric is a story about being a little bit "different", Sam says, but that this is something to embrace and to understand "the beauty of a life lived outside the box". 

"Sometimes, things and people have their own reasons for being, above and beyond our knowledge. Sometimes, the greatest gifts come in the strangest, smallest and most unusual wrappings." 

Book cover for The Lost Thing with annotations reading beautiful illustrations, heartwarming and hope and Book cover of Eric with annotations reading beautiful illustrations, heartwarming and embracing being different
The Lost Thing and Eric by Shaun Tan can be found in the National Library's Kids’ Corner.

Pow Pow Pig 

Some readers may know Anh Do from his ABC TV show, Anh’s Brush with Fame, but did you know Australia’s "Happiest Refugee" is also a children’s author? Felicity recommends Pow Pow Pig, the illustrations by Peter Cheong "drew us in" and "captivated my son with its energetic, fast-paced storyline that follows the adventures of the Creatures Helping Other Creatures organisation". Pow Pow Pig involves time travel and the CHOC saving the world. It's inspirational fun for our future activists and saviours of the world. 

The Night of the Hiding Moon 

Anyone else traumatised by a, for example, eldest sister who scared you with tales of a monster under your bed because she loved the [terrified] hugs you gave? No? Just my brother then. Loris recommends Emma Allen and Sher Rill Ng’s "beautiful book for the little people", The Night of the Hiding Moon, which explores the ideas of the "shadows of the night making our imaginations run wild" with "extraordinary illustrations" and a creative section with instructions for making your own shadow puppets in the age-old Asian tradition. This book shows how night-time is all about shadowy, moonlit inspiration, creativity, and fun! 

Young adult 

Boy Swallows Universe 

For the young adult readers who haven’t yet discovered Boy Swallows Universe, currently in production for a Netflix series in 2023, Morgan and thousands of readers around the world recommend Trent Dalton’s 2018 novel. "This novel blew me away!", says Morgan. "It is as surprising, intimate, both heart-wrenching and -warming, bizarre and miraculous as the title suggests."

Book cover of Boy Swallows Universe with annotations reading set in 1980s Brisbane, heartfelt, TV adaptation soon to be on Netflix, contemporary Australian fiction and coming of age
Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Tomorrow When the War Began 

And an oldie, but a goodie that draws in new readers every year is John Marsden’s Tomorrow, When the War Began series. Ellie and her friends head to the bush for an end-of-year camping trip and return to their country town to find they have all disappeared. Lisa says: 

"I watched the ABC TV series and finally understood why my brother followed the series devotedly… and my nephew spent two summers devouring all the books." 

The Library also holds worldwide popular favourites The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, books by author of The Maze Runner series, James Dashner, the for-all-ages story by Markus Zusak, The Book Thief and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. 

Planning a visit? 

You can visit the National Library’s Main Reading Room in Canberra to exercise your little grey cells where many of the books mentioned above will be on open access across the summer holiday. View our Summer Opening Hours.