The new year is always a good opportunity to indulge in reading enjoyable books. Some great books by Australian women were read by Challenge participants this summer. A highlight of the reviews was good writing by some of our Challenge participants.
There are many ways of conveying truths about life, poetry is one. Katie Keys has reviewed a collection of poetry by Cate Kennedy, A Taste of River Water. Katie describes this as “a collection of personal, conversational portraits and observational sketches of moments in time. Poems built around people, family and memory that nonetheless evoke a comprehensive sense of landscape.” In a review well worth reading Katie observes, “I have to remind myself that fiction is easier to hide in poetic forms than prose – we readers less accustomed in finding falseness there”.
Mandy Sayer’s book, The Poet’s Wife, is about an abusive marriage to Pulitzer award-winning poet, Yusef Komunyakaa. Reviewer, Kylie Mason, describes this book as “compelling account of the kind of abusive relationship that leaves little physical evidence, but it is also a beacon of hope that shows escape and recovery is possible”. This raises an issue for us to ponder, what part have women played in the past in a literary marriage? This was discussed in an article published on 6th February, by The New Statesman, ‘The lady vanishes: what happens to the women forgotten by literary history’.
Walter Mason reviewed a memoir about life in Sydney during the 1990s, Ninety9 by Vanessa Berry. Walter regards it as a “beautifully crafted memoir”, “[a] paean to alternative culture in 1990s Sydney”. In a review which is a pleasure to read, Walter concludes:
Ultimately, Ninety9 is a glorious celebration of youthful naïveté and friendship. It captures the intensity and enthusiasm of discovering new and fascinating people, and of exploring the most outrageous parts of one’s own persona.
Even if you don’t want to read the book, reviews are worth reading so that you know a little bit about what is available in the world of writing, but also so you can enjoy some good writing in a short form. Some of the reviews I have mentioned here tick both boxes for me. It makes me wonder whether a well-written book also inspires the writing of the reviewer leading to a review that stands on its writing alone.
“For a new perspective I can really recommend a wonderful memoir” says a new Challenge participant, Marion Diamond, in her review of Ina’s Story by Catherine Titasey. This book is about Ina Titasey, a member of renowned musical group, The Mills Sisters from the Torres Strait Islands. It also covers the gulf between Titasey’s schooling and her culture, the experience of WWII in an area close to Papua New Guinea and the hardships caused by Queensland’s Department of Native Affairs. Marion Diamond describes this book as “a terrific read”.
Northern Australia has featured in three books reviewed. Another first time participant in the Challenge, Zita Hooke, read Mary Groves’ autobiography, An Outback Life. This is about Mary Groves’ life in remote parts of the Top End of Northern Territory. Zita says, “[a]nyone with an interest in Australian history, the Outback and rural life in general will find this story appealing”.
An epic camel journey through Central Australia was the focus of the book, Tracks, reviewed by Bree. In this book Robyn Davidson tells the story of how she travelled nearly three thousand kilometres through desert country in the 1970s. Bree remarks, “I was surprised that this is not an easy book to read in some ways. It’s not always an uplifting and warm and fuzzy story. In fact there’s a lot of the story that’s very dark, both before Davidson leaves on her journey and during it.”
The last two books have both been long-listed for the Stella Prize. Paula Grunseit reviewed Kristina Olsson’s family memoir, Boy, Lost. Her review demonstrates why this book won the non-fiction prize at the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards:
Confronting truths are not avoided in Boy, Lost and while this harrowing story could, in other hands, so easily have spilled over into stomach-turning sentimentality, Olsson’s meticulously pared back, journalistic style masterfully weights the tender with the hard-hitting. The result is a shatteringly beautiful read, one not easily forgotten. I can’t recommend it highly enough, particularly to anyone aspiring to write memoir.
You can listen to Richard Fidler’s interview of Kristina Olsson on ABC radio here.
The other book long-listed for the Stella Prize is Clare Wright’s, The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. Challenge reviewer, Janine Rizzetti, says, “this is one of those books that would make you look at familiar events with new eyes. It is a compelling read that is well-researched and scholarly and at the same time very, very human.”
The other awards to keep an eye on are the biennial Adelaide Festival Awards for Literature. I noticed Madness a memoir by Kate Richards is on the shortlist for the non-fiction award. This was reviewed by Christine Vickers and Stephanie Gunn last year. Shortlisted for the recently announced Victoria’s Premier’s Literary Awards‘ were Boy, Lost and Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John by Helen Trinca which was reviewed in 2013 by Whispering Gums.
While not a history or life writing, the other shortlisted book by a woman for the non-fiction prize at the Adelaide Festival Awards is Night Games: sex, power and sport by Anna Krien. Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari, by Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council Aboriginal Corporation was given a commendation by the judges of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards.
Recently I had a reminder of the importance of the reviewing we do. Chatting with authors I was made aware that even if a book is relevant, well written and is shortlisted for prestigious awards, sales do not necessarily follow. At the time there may be a number of factors outside an author’s control which militates against their critically acclaimed book being sold or read.
If you are wondering what book to read next, trawl through the lists of shortlisted books over the last few years. Quite often these books are still available for sale and on the shelves of libraries. If they are not read, an otherwise excellent author may find it difficult to get the next book contract or a field of history that is important may be ignored by publishers and writers.
Your purchase or review is a vote for the book. Some deserving women authors don’t get enough votes.
This post was amended on 25/2/2014 by inserting a link to the article in The New Statesman and to delete the request for readers to send us the link.
I’m Yvonne Perkins. 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.