After our wonderful contributing editor Yvonne Perkins had to resign from her role midway through 2014, we didn’t have anyone writing the round-ups for Histories and Life Writing, so this overview will function as both overview and round-up.
For the 2014 challenge, 134 titles were listed in the category Histories, Memoirs and Biographies. This represents 8% of the total number of reviews. Yvonne posted a number of round-ups of the reviews linked to the challenge early in the year including:
- A Summer of Reading History and Life Writing 2014
- Histories and Life Writing: Reviews and news in March
- Histories and Life Writing in Autumn and
- Awards and Reviews in May: Histories, Biographies and Memoirs
In the second half of the year, another 51 reviews were posted of 51 separate titles.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given its prominence as the Stella Prize winner, the most reviewed author for 2014 was Clare Wright’s history, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (released October 2013), which attracted five reviews: Janine Rizzetti, Annette Hughes, Subversive Reader, Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Whispering Gums.
The second most reviewed author was Kristina Olsson with four reviews of her multi-award winning memoir Boy Lost (published March 2013), including reviews by Paula Grunseit, Janine, Yvonne Perkins and Maree Kimberley.
There were three reviews of Robin de Crespigny’s The People Smuggler: the true story of Ali Al Jenabi, the ‘Oskar Schindler of Asia’ (published 2012): Tarla Kramer, Mindy and Louise Allan; while Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and my family (2013) also attracted three reviews: Maureen Helen, Subversive Reader and Lou Murphy.
Anne Summers had three different books reviewed: The Misogyny Factor, reviewed by Subversive Reader; Ducks on the Pond, John Nebauer; and The Lost Mother, reviewed by both Debbie Robson and S’hi D’Amour.
Two books by Hazel Rowley were reviewed. The first, Franklin and Eleanor: an extraordinary marriage (2012), was reviewed by: S’hi D’Amour and Peter Corris. The second, Tete-a-tete: The Tumultuous Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir & Jean-Paul Sartre (2005), was reviewed by Peter Corris.
Alison Alexander attracted three reviews of two books. The Ambitions of Lady Jane Franklin: Victorian Lady Adventurer (2013), attracted two reviews: S’hi D’Amour and Marion Diamond (who wrote an extended response); while S’hi also reviewed Alexander’s Tasmania’s Convicts: how felons built a free society (2010).
Several books attracted two reviews each, including:
- Annabel Brayley, Nurses of the Outback (2014) reviewed by Helen and Simone
- Meshel Laurie’s The Fence-Painting Fortnight of Destiny (2013) reviewed by Tracey and Janine at Shambolic Living
- Keelen, Mailman, The Power of Bones, reviewed by Brenda and Yvonne Perkins
- Tanya Saad’s From the Feet Up (2014) reviewed by Janine Rizzetti and Jennifer Cameron-Smith
- Trudi-Ann Tierney, Making Soapies in Kabul, reviewed by Shelleyrae and Lauren;
while some authors had more than one book reviewed:
- Doris Pilkington: Under the Wintamarra Tree (2002) was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith, and Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002) was reviewed by Carolyn
- Julietta Jameson: Cliffy (2013) was reviewed by Simone, and Me, Myself and Lord Byron (2011) was reviewed by S’hi D’Amour
- Maggie MacKellar: Core of My Heart, My Country (2004) was reviewed by Michelle Scott Tucker, and When it Rains (2010) was reviewed by Janine Rizzetti.
So what of the many books which only attracted one review? Of these, 15 were released in 2104:
- Emma Ayres, Cadence, reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith: “Emma Ayres is an accomplished viola player who has recently played with the Afghan Youth Orchestra and the Bombay Chamber Orchestra, about which she made two radio documentaries.”
- Bec Brown, Don’t Fence Me In, Gecko Girl Reads: “Rachael Treasure who, to quote an incident from this book is the ‘godmother’ of Aussie Rural Authors, has branched out from her usual brilliant Rural Novels to impart us with some home grown, grassroots Aussie Cowgirl wisdom.”
- Meredith Burgmann’s, Dirty Secrets Our ASIO Files, Jennifer Cameron-Smith: “In twenty-six chapters, the experiences of twenty-eight different people targeted by ASIO are shared.”
- Kate Ceberano, I’m Talking, Lynette Washington: “in I’m Talking she offers another other side – dangerous, outrageous, thrill seeking, fiercely individualistic, eccentric and contrary – and in doing so we get to see the small intricacies of an artist’s development, guts and all.”
- Kristy Chambers, It’s Not You, Geography, It’s Me, Kylie Mason: “Kristy Chambers has had more than her fair share of bad travel experiences: the vile sharehouse in the UK countryside, the heaving sleeper bus in Vietnam, the revolting case of diarrhoea in Mexico…She also has depression and for years, international travel was her way of trying to outrun it.”
- Kate Forsyth, Stories as Salvation (essay), Whispering Gums: “What I found most interesting in this essay-length memoir was her clear articulation of how her childhood reading had informed the writer she is today.”
- Julia Gillard, My Story, Bree: “This book is quite frank about the mistakes she made…”
- Jill Joliffe, Run For Your Life, Kylie Mason: “The author of Balibó turns her focus on herself with this gripping examination of how a traumatic childhood shapes an entire life.”
- Donna McDonald, The Art of Being Deaf: A Memoir, Jessica White: Donald draws “an original map of the contours of her experiences of deafness, creating a land into which other people could travel and learn of its customs”.
- Tara Moss, The Fictional Woman, Michelle Scott Tucker: “Using telling examples from her own life, Moss explores the myriad roles that women adopt, and the stereotypes and labels that are foisted upon women by others.”
- Sian Prior, Shy, Louise Allan: “a personal memoir…[and] a well-researched essay on shyness”.
- Jill Sanguinetti, School Days of a Methodist Lady: A Journey through Girlhood, Whispering Gums: “In her opening letter to the reader [Sanguinetti] says she’s written [the memoir] for the MLC community, for young people “struggling to grow through life’s complexities”, and for herself to air “a dark and musty corner of my soul”.
- Olivera Simić, Surviving Peace: A political memoir, Whispering Gums: “[T]his ‘memoir’ can also work as a scholarly study of the consequences of war, of the challenge of living post-conflict, of, as she describes it, surviving peace.”
- Lorelei Vashti, Dress, Memory, Kylie Mason: “An extraordinary collection of dresses inspires an extraordinary recollection of a young woman’s life.”
- Biff Ward, In My Mother’s Hands, Kylie Mason: “A family haunted by a tragic death and terrorised by a disease they couldn’t name.”
It’s interesting to note that, of the books published in 2014, only two attracted multiple reviews, the aforementioned The Poet’s Wife by Mandy Sayer and Tanya Saad’s From the Feet Up. What does this tell us? That the age of the book is no barrier for reviewers of Histories, Memoirs and Biography? Or that reviewers are waiting for recommendations from judges of prizes and other reviewers before taking the plunge and reviewing a book?
My guess is that it shows the value of the sites like Newtown Review of Books (with NRB’s Kylie Mason reviewing four of the above titles), as well as the Australian Women Writers challenge.
Are you passionate about histories and life writing? Would you like to help out with the challenge? If so, why not consider joining the AWW team and becoming our round-up editor? Even some help through the year would be much appreciated.