The first seven weeks of 2013 have seen twenty three people write reviews about histories, biographies and memoirs for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.  Memoirs have been the most popular genre and topics have ranged from the immigrant experience, autism, religion, cooking and business to name just a few.

Melissa Phillips tackled two very different biographies in one blog post.  She first reviewed Sally Neighbour’s book about Rabiah Hutchinson who was brought up in country New South Wales, became a Muslim and lived in Afghanistan at a time of great turmoil in that country.  Phillips then turned her attention to the biography of Gina Reinhart by Debi Marshall.  I recommend you read Phillips’ review to see how she connected the two books.

Through My EyesAnother woman who has been the subject of considerable media commentary over many years is Lindy Chamberlain.  Notoriety came to her unasked in the form of a dingo.  After reading Lindy Chamberlain’s memoir, Through My Eyes Simone commented, “[i]t stirred so many emotions in me”.

One sign of a good book is that the story resonates with our own lives – the story reaches out and makes a deep and personal connection with us whether it be fiction or non-fiction.  Kate Holden’s memoir, The Romantic did that for Jessica White as she explains in an expressive and personal review.

MadnessThere are many difficult health issues that people have to grapple with which are difficult to manage given the current state of medical knowledge.  It can be helpful to share experiences of these issues with others through memoirs so empathy and understanding among the general population is increased.  Two memoirs which focused on autism have been reviewed this year.  Stephanie Campesi wrote about My Life in Pea Soup by Lisa Nops and Nicola Heath reviewed Reaching One Thousand by Rachel Robertson.  Stephanie Gunn reviewed the memoir of Kate Richards, a medical researcher who has suffered from bouts of psychosis and depression for most of her adult life. “This is one of the most beautiful, heart wrenching and painful memoirs of mental illness I have read” remarked Gunn in her review.  “Richards is a beautiful writer, and uses her skill to describe her illness in sometimes gut churning detail”.

Readers gain a different insight into accidents and illness through reading the memoirs of medical workers.  Melanie Myers describes the memoir of nurse, Kristy Chambers as “discomfiting, frank and blackly funny”.

The Lucy Family Alphabet by Judith Lucy was a popular book for Challenge reviewers last year and already this year there have been two reviews written about this book.  Deborah Biancotti describes this book as “the most darkly hilarious, witty and sad book” she has read.

Another popular book for the challenge in 2012, Marieke Hardy’s memoir, You’ll be Sorry When I’m Dead, caught the attention of Challenge reviewer, Atimaya Buttenshaw.  She has mixed views about the book but describes it as “entertaining, confessional, and at times, downright absurd – but amusingly so”.

Memoirs are popular and so is cooking. Bree Testa enjoyed Charlotte Wood’s, Love & Hunger which she explains is “part memoir and part homage to her love of produce and preparing it”.  I wonder if there are many other ‘Cooking Memoirs’ are out there?

Lemer MacCarter Joyful StrainsMemoirs are a diverse genre reflecting each person’s unique personality, abilities, culture and exposure to life-shaping events.  Many Australians were born in another country or are children of those born elsewhere in the world.  Paula Grunseit reviewed Joyful Strains: Making Australia Home an anthology written by twenty seven writers who moved from their homes overseas to Australia.  They talk about their move to Australia, about the concept of ‘home’, their identity and memories.

There are more reviews that I have not been able to mention here.  Check the list of reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs for 2013 here.  There are also some recent reviews that have not yet been sorted into their various genres – some reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs are also in this list.


Each month I will be writing an overview of the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs submitted to the Challenge.  I will also be using this as an opportunity to encourage discussion about this category of books.  Some months I will suggest a particular theme and those who wish to do so can find a book on that theme and review it for the designated month.  Of course reviews of books that are not about the theme will still be warmly welcomed.

April is the month where there is considerable discussion of Australia’s war history because of Anzac Day.  I thought it would be pertinent for us to read and review histories of war written by Australian women.  This is probably the topic where there is a perceived difference between men’s and women’s reading and writing preferences.  A history of war does not have to be an account of troop movements on a battle field.  It could be about women serving with the military such as nurses, spies, administrative staff or civilians struggling with issues arising from war.  Some of these books may not be well known but still could be fascinating reads.  This is an opportunity to delve deeply into your library’s book shelves, to dig up little known but interesting books through searching the web.  Let’s find some different perspectives on this theme and highlight the work of women writers who might be otherwise overlooked.

Each month I would love to hear your thoughts about histories, biographies and memoirs written by Australian women.  Sometimes I will pose a topic for discussion to kick off the comments.

Today I am curious to hear your thoughts about memoirs.  Reviewers of histories, biographies and memoirs for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge love memoirs.  Sixteen of the twenty five reviews written in the first seven weeks of 2013 were about memoirs.  What do you enjoy about reading memoirs?  Do you think that memoirs are more interesting to read than biographies and if so why?


Other Challenge Articles about Histories, Biographies & Memoirs

  • Reviewers for the Challenge read over one hundred histories, biographies and memoirs in 2012 – read about these reviews here or browse through the complete list of reviews for 2012 here.
  • Some reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs are included in other roundups on this blog.  Keep an eye on the Crime roundup for books about true crime, Classics and Literary which includes nonfiction (read about Miles Franklin’s diaries here), and the Diversity roundup.
  • Nominate your favourite Australian Women Writers Challenge review for 2012 and be in a chance to win a book from Scribe Publications.

About Me

DSC_6276I’m Yvonne Perkins.  For the last few years I have been working as a research assistant on a variety of historical projects one of which was an investigation of the history of teaching reading in Australia. Currently I am researching the beliefs, religious or otherwise, of soldiers who served in World War I.  In my spare time I enjoy reading history and writing about it on my blog, Stumbling Through the Past.  I can also be found @perkinsy on twitter.