These past two months have rushed past us rather quickly and in equal quick succession we have reviewed our way through fourteen non-fiction titles here at Australian Women Writers.
Not bad but we need to step up our game. It’s what we are reading about as well this year: stepping up our game.
In January and February we decided to try to make 2015 the year of activism, the year we read and informed ourselves about where in the world we are still lacking, where we are falling behind. Where we need to fight inequality.
It meant that we had reviews of Tara Moss‘ The Fictional Woman pop up twice on the list in company with Annabel Crabb‘s The Wife Drought. Coming up behind them with one less review but no less a powerful message is Anna Krien‘s Night Games about sexism in sports.
Brad Adams at The Secretum & The Mirror found his worldview expanded by The Fictional Woman:
This book places a set of fictitious stereotypes about women front and center. It does this through a combination of personal recollection and commentary on media, art, politics, and society in general. Although the fictitious stereotypes are all definitely held by members of our society, and they have been embedded in our traditional stories, works of art, and institutions, I often found myself wondering whether they are at all mainstream any longer. Given the plethora of examples Moss provides Ill have to admit that I’m wrong.
I thought the book was stronger in the narrative than in the commentary (the exception to this is her commentary on visual items such as art and advertising, which I thought was excellent). Moss definitely knows how to tell a story (by which I don’t mean a fictitious one). She gives us a good insight into the life of models and their struggles, and into her particular struggles with being a woman in a world made largely by and for men. Her style is eminently readable, without being beautiful. Its a kind of writing that I appreciate. It was so good that it might even tempt me to read her Mak Vanderwall books.
Sue from Whispering Gums found Tara Moss‘ ideas in The Fictional Woman familiar for the most part but also was pleasantly surprised by coming across new ways of thinking about certain things such as beauty for example:
One of these ideas relates to the issue of beauty, which comes up in several chapters, but my focus here is “The ‘Real’ Woman” in which she discusses the various campaigns for/promotions of “real beauty” which encourage women to show themselves au naturel. No, I don’t mean naked, but without makeup, and other enhancing products and processes. Having lived my life this way (little or no make-up, no hair-dyeing, no waxing, etc), I was feeling comfortable in this chapter, until I reached her suggestion that these “campaigns” can be “like a beauty pageant, only with different parameters”. In other words, once again, we are asked to “judge” women on the basis of their appearance.
The Subversive Reader had this to say (as well as many other amazing points, go read the review) on The Wife Drought:
I’ve seen some criticism that The Wife Drought doesn’t ‘solve’ any problems, just preaches information to the converted. I think that kind of misses the point of the book. There’s a lot of information, backed up with statistics and personal stories, which add to and allow us to change the direction of the endless discussions of ‘can women have it all?’ There’s a clear thread throughout the book that the assumptions about men and women at work won’t change unless that change comes from the top – a challenge for CEOs and politicians to do better. There’s discussion of flexible working conditions and how different people make it work for them. These aren’t ‘one great solution’ (if Crabb had that, she’d probably be running the world by now) but they’re a starting point for others to move from.
Nike at Perilous Adventures reviewed The Wife Drought as well in a spectacular breakdown of what it actually means and where it seems to come from with its message and pulling out something spectacular to give you would inevitably mean that I would have to copy the entire piece but she does point out a salient fact that you will find upon reading Ms Crabb’s breakdown of the average woman in Australia: “the average Australian is a 37-year-old woman. She was born in Australia, of Australian parents, and has Anglo-Celtic ancestry. When at home with her husband and her two children – a boy and a girl aged nine and six – the Average Australian speaks only English. The house she lives in is located in a suburb of a capital city … every day the Average Australian drives in one of the family’s two cars to her job as a sales assistant, a job in which she works thirty-two hours per week (p108)”:
What you might also notice is that this person is not you.
It’s not all feminism though. Racism comes under fire with Anita Heiss‘ I’m Not Racist But…, Jackie French‘s Let The Land Speak and Christobel Mattingley‘s editorial work on the Yalata and Oak Valley Communities‘ Maralinga: The Anangu Story.
The Subversive Reader pitches in here too with a review of I’m Not Racist But…:
What is remarkable and terribly sad is how relevant and necessary this book is today. The most recent of the poems was written ten years ago; the earliest seventeen years ago, and yet so many of the observations and conversations in this book could have been written in the last year. As a country, we like to pat ourselves on the back for ‘how far we’ve come’ while refusing to listen to anyone who tells us what’s still happening. I desperately hope this book becomes less relevant in 10 years time – more historical than current – but there’s a hell of a lot of work to be done to get there.
Chrissie Swan gets in quick with Is It Just Me? Confessions of an oversharer as does Sophie Zalokar with Foods of The Southern Forests and Eileen Ormsby with the Silk Road. Perennial favourite with AWW readers and reviewers Helen Garner also makes an appearance with This House of Grief and Amy Dale is here with The Fall.
But here is why though small in number, these last two months were a good haul. The books reviewed show us the power of non-fiction and its importance in literature in directly educating and informing us about the important issues in our lives so that we can then be fully armed when posed to make decisions about how we choose to live our lives everyday.
But even more important than that is the fact that women are the authors, the conveyors, the educators, the informers – that they too can be the writers of such non-fiction, that they too despite gender, culture, ability, ethnicity, orientation or even in certain cases because of it, that they can be the ones to write and inform us. That they can show us a different view. That sometimes they are the only ones who can guide us into those worlds, those spaces to see those views.
That they have very valuable information to offer us that will impact our lives.
That they can write non-fiction.
If they can write, we can read.
If they can write, we can read, review, discuss and both support and challenge what they may have to say so that both author and reader can learn.
If they can write, we can read.
This year, read female authors. Read their fiction and non-fiction, their tragedy and comedy, their poetry and short fiction. See their plays, hear their songs, read their work.
And when your head stops spinning with the wonder of the worlds opened up for you, take some time to let others know about your favourite authors and review their work. To find authors to read, you can start here.
About me: Marisa Wikramanayake is a freelance journalist, writer and editor. She published her first book at 17, has lived on three different continents, been in ground zero of a bomb blast twice and is currently hibernating in Perth, Australia. She’s also been freaked out by the Scientologists, helped run a national publishing conference for the Society of Editors (WA) and currently sits on the WA Media Alliance committee. She is dangerous when bored, having terrorised educational institutions to finish an Honours thesis on Archaeology and a Masters thesis on Neuroscience and Science Communication. She penned book reviews for The West and science news and now writes and edits novels and dreams of fun cross platform media projects in the spare time that’s left over after painting, dancing, gaming and mentoring. She contributes her two cents as non-fiction editor at Australian Women Writers and lends her geek goddess expertise to the Guys Read Gals project. Feel free to badger her at her blog at marisa.com.au, on Facebook or tweet at her at @mwikramanayake