The histories, biographies and memoirs reviewed over the last month cover a wide variety of topics and writing styles.  This is the beauty of the Challenge.  We welcome reviews of all types of books.

trisha-as-I-am-goddardHeidi reviewed Trisha Goddard’s memoir, Trisha: As I Am.  Heidi first grappled with the fraught question of nationality and concluded that as Goddard had lived a substantial portion of her life in Australia she could be considered as Australian.  Heidi wrote a sensitive review:

It’s the subject matter rather than the writing style that makes this difficult to read. The style itself tends towards the breezy, and there often seems to be a surface shallowness. But I think the breeziness belies a great deal of hurt for Goddard, and that skimming over the surface is the only way that the story was going to be told.

This observation applies to all memoirs. Authors of memoirs still maintain some privacy through the act of choosing what matters to write about and which are to remain unwritten. As readers of memoirs we need to be alert to fragments in the book which indicate that some things have not been shared.

CliffyHelen McKenna reviewed the biography of the famous long-distance shuffler, Cliff Young.  He rose to fame as the 61 year-old winner of the inaugural Sydney to Melbourne ultra-marathon.  “This book is written simply but well and was very engaging right from the start”, comments Helen about the biography by Julietta Jameson, Cliffy: The Cliff Young Story.

In contrast Janine Rizzetti reviewed an academic book by Barbara Caine.  Janine describes Biography and History as a “review of the methodological and narrative questions raised by the relationship between history and biography”.  Understandably this book may not appeal to many readers but one of the things that Australian Women Writers’ Challenge demonstrates is that women authors write about anything and in any style.  Women show capacity to write popular, light-hearted and entertaining books, but they also write weighty tomes that engage with theoretical issues.

the-baby-farmers-annie-cossinsLinda Funnell reviewed The Baby Farmers by Annie Cossins in the Newtown Review of Books.  As well as giving a comprehensive overview and assessment of the book, Linda briefly shares some useful historical information about the area of Sydney to which this book refers.  She does this for those readers familiar with the area today so that they can relate their local knowledge to the book.  It is a good example of how book reviewers can enhance readers’ experience of a book.

These are just some of the reviews of histories, biographies and memoirs received this month.  Check both our list of reviews for the second half of 2013 and the list for the first half of 2013.


Two major awards which featured histories, biographies and memoirs were announced this month.  Lily Chan won the Dobbie Literary Award for a first published author for her book, Toyo: A Memoir (Black Inc, 2012).  For further details see the Kibble/Dobbie Literary Award Winners for 2013 Announced post on our website.

Melissa Bellanta won the Ernest Scott Prize for her book, Larrikins: A History. This award is a major history award and the winner was announced during the Australian Historical Association conference earlier this month. In their citation the judges observe:

The quality of research, engagement with the spoken word, connections with the theatre and visual culture place this engaging work in a singular category. Its inter-disciplinary achievement is considerable, respecting the best scholarly conventions of archival history while deploying analytic and interpretative tools from literary and cultural studies that illuminate this phenomenon of Australian history.  Based on rigorous primary research, this work addresses a core aspect of Australianness and Australian sensibility in a refreshing, thoroughly readable but equally scholarly way.

Further details and citations for the shortlisted books can be read on the ARTiculation website.

Neither of these books has been reviewed for the Challenge yet.  Paula Grunseit is currently reading Toyo so we can look forward to her review.  I hope that other participants will also set aside time to read and review these books soon.

There are other literary awards which have shortlisted histories and biographies for their 2013 prizes.  The following list links to the shortlisted books:

Here is a list of the biographies and histories by women which have been shortlisted for literary prizes this year together with links to the Challenge reviews:

  • Jane Gleeson-White, Double Entry, Allen & Unwin.
    • New South Wales Premier’s Literary Awards.
    • Challenge reviews: Yvonne Perkins.
  • Jenny Hocking, Gough Whitlam, Random House Books Australia.
    • Prime Minister’s Literary Awards
    • National Biography Award.
    • Challenge reviews: no reviews received yet.
  • Lenore Layman and Criena Fitzgerald, 110° in the Waterbag, Western Australian Museum.
    • Western Australian Premier’s Book Awards.
    • Challenge reviews: no reviews received yet.
  • Patti Miller, The Mind of a Thief, (UQP).
  • Nicole Moore, The Censor’s Library, Penguin Books Australia.
    • Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.
    • Challenge reviews: no reviews received yet.
  • Brenda Niall, True North, Text Publishing.
  • Fiona Paisley, The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe, Aboriginal Studies Press.
  • Rachel Robertson, Reaching One Thousand, Black Inc.
    • National Biography Award.
    • Challenge reviews: Nicola Heath.
  • Lyndall Ryan, Tasmanian Aborigines, A history since 1803, Allen & Unwin.
    • Ernest Scott Prize.
    • Challenge reviews: no reviews received yet.
  • Barbara Santich, Bold Palates, Wakefield Press.
    • Prime Minister’s Literary Awards.
    • Challenge reviews: Paula Grunseit

There are a lot of books here which deserve reviews.  I have The Censor’s Library in my pile to read.  Which book(s) will you read?

About Me

DSC_6276 Yvonne PerkinsI’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.