July was a quiet HMB review month. Hopefully, though, that means you’re all halfway through some fabulous non-fiction right now.
Everywhere I Look has certainly became a firm favourite with our members in a very quick period of time.
Sue described her reading experience as a real joy, while I savoured each essay slowly and leisurely. Doubling back to previous reviews (that I couldn’t read while I was still halfway through the book) we find that Maureen was enthralled, Michelle was intrigued by how Garner revealed so much even as she remained elusive, Robin declared it a gem and Jennifer thought the collection was interesting and eclectic. Sue summed it all up perfectly when she said,
While it would be cheeky of me to say that I now understand her, this collection provides wonderful insight into the way she thinks, how she goes about the business of living, why she writes the things she does. We come to know her as a human being who muddles through life, making mistakes, questioning herself, confronting challenges, rather than as the literary doyenne she in fact is. In other words, as she always does, she lays herself open.
Jonathan @Me Fail? I Fly reviewed Colleen Z Burke’s memoir, The Waves Turn.
Burke is a Sydney based poet and feminist who stayed true to her working class, Catholic childhood and Irish heritage. Jonathan found “pleasure in recognising the names of people, streets and buildings, in being reminded of forgotten rituals.” He also enjoyed how she included many of her poems throughout her story.
Where some memoirs read like novels that claim to be factual, The Waves Turn is more like a careful accumulation of facts in which a story can be discerned. The image of an archaeological dig comes to mind: Colleen Z Burke has delved patiently into the layers of memory, brushed the dirt from the innumerable artefacts she found there, labelled them and arranged them chronologically.
Janine @The Resident Judge of Port Stephens reviewed Fractured Families: Life on the Margins of Colonial New South Wales, by Tanya Evans, which described the everyday lives of ‘many families who have fallen on hard times because of drink, unwanted pregnancy, violence, unemployment or plain bad luck‘ (from back cover blurb).
Janine explains that Evans ‘traces the Asylum through the people who came through its doors as both patrons and petitioners. For this people-based focus, she draws on the work of family historians who have approached the Benevolent Society for access to their records’.
While I understand what Evans is doing, and why she is doing it, at times I found myself frustrated by the sterility of some of the stories told only by document-based snippets. I wonder if her insistence on the primacy of the family-history methodology served her well as a historian of an institution.
Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best felt that Anna Goldsworthy’s Piano Lessons was not for her, but would suit those ‘readers who spent hours dedicated to music practice or dreamed of becoming a professional musician.’
NAIDOC week inspired two of our members to read memoirs written by Indigenous writers.
Jennifer @Goodreads explored Pictures From My Memory: My Story as a Ngaatjatjarra Woman
by Lizzie Marrkilyi Ellis and Laurent Dousset. She highly recommends this book ‘to anyone interested in an articulate, interesting and lively account of a life being lived between European and Aboriginal worlds.’
Yvonne @Stumbling Through the Past read Auntie Rita by Rita Huggins & Jackie Huggins. She found that this was not your usual memoir. ‘It is also a dialogue between Rita Huggins and her daughter Jackie. At various points through the narrative Jackie Huggins expands on points her mother makes, add her memories and sometimes challenges her mother.’
Yvonne also reminded us why those of us who love a good memoir or two, love them so much.
When reading memoirs we can be lulled into the belief that the writer is exposing every corner of their life. Writers of memoirs never reveal all. The fact that someone does not mention something doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.
Part of the pleasure of memoir reading is sifting for the pearls of wisdom and insights, wondering about the untold stories and making connections to our own lives and stories.
About Bronwyn: I have been a book blogger at Brona’s Books since 2009 and a bookseller (specialising in children’s literature) in Sydney since 2008. Prior to this I was as an Early Childhood teacher for 18 years in rural NSW.
I taught myself to read when I was four by memorising my Dr Seuss books. I haven’t stopped reading since.
You can find me on Twitter @bronasbooks.