Writer Maggie Mackellar shares the ‘books that changed me’

Devoted reader: Author Maggie Mackellar.

Devoted reader: Author Maggie Mackellar.

Devoted reader: Author Maggie Mackellar.

Maggie MacKellar has published two books on the history of settlement in Australia and Canada and two memoirs about her life, loss and loves in rural Australia, When It Rains and recently How to Get There (Vintage Australia). She now lives on the east coast of Tasmania with her partner and two children.


Enid Blyton

Each good book I read shifts me towards some new knowledge, some other version of my world. As I’ve got older the books that change me have changed. I think of my first decade as the decade of the series. The first books I became truly obsessed with were Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, or more specifically George. In the Famous Five I met an outsider, a tom boy, just like me. George gave me hope. I was George, a lot. Thinking like George made me brave and angry. It had just taken reading Enid Blyton for me to realise it was allowed. Honourable mentions must also go to Walter Farley’s The Black Stallion series and Elynne Mitchell’s The Silver Brumby. If I wasn’t George, I was a horse.


David Malouf

Ten to 20 was the decade I hid my reading habit. I buried it because none of my friends read books, or if they did it was only because they had to. It took me the first half of the decade to realise this and the second half to not care. I found David Malouf. I read An Imaginary Life and the rhythm of my thinking changed. This was the first book that did this to me, the first book that inhabited me rather than I it.


Annie Dillard

Twenty to 30 was the decade of non-fiction, when I learned to read with purpose. Barry Lopez, Gretel Erlich, Wallace Stegner but the one that stuck was Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek. She described the collusion between the physical world and her movement through it, and it stilled me and stayed with me. I thought, I want to write like that.


Eimear McBride

From 30 to 40 my life detoured from the plan and fiction returned with vengeance. To read a novel is to be transformed. It’s to be consumed, eaten up, chewed, digested and reborn. Janet Frame, Ann Carson, Marilyne Robinson all shifted me away from myself, but the novel in the front of my head is A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride. It’s a devastating read from the first page to the last. It chopped up all the words for all the things and rearranged them. It’s brutal and its form is an uncompromising commitment to telling a truth. It told me you must find the way to say the things you need to say.

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