I am going to blame it on winter being around the corner.

When winter comes we want nothing more than to curl up and stay warm, hot chocolate at the ready, preferably with a book.

A book that does not require much mental energy to follow along with – we are in hibernation mode after all. We want to read things instead that engage us, yes, but that sweep us off into somewhere preferably less cold and less taxing in terms of expending energy and effort.

But when we write non-fiction, we aim instead to inform our readers and to make them think. Which requires energy. And temperatures that are constantly above, say for example, 28ºC. Because most of that hot chocolate is going towards keeping us warm not fueling our brain cells to understand and wrap themselves around new concepts.

So over the last two months we have had ten reviews of non-fiction work, presumably written by those who have not succumbed to the changing weather or more likely genuinely love winter, even if some of us can’t quite contemplate that notion.

There was the usual love for all things Helen Garner with This House of Grief getting three reviews while The First Stone got one. And also for Annabel Crabb‘s The Wife Drought with the debate still raging on. But far more interesting was the fact that Karen Hitchcock‘s essay on the elderly in Quarterly Essay 57 was quite popular with readers.

Jonathan Shaw reviewed Dear Life: On Caring for the Elderly and was quite impressed by her stance on many things:

She explores the concept of futility: is treatment futile if it extends a person’s life for just a few days but those few days allow them to say goodbye to family? can a hospital specialist who is as drenched in ageism as the rest of us and has no personal knowledge of a patient be trusted to make a sound judgement about the futility or otherwise of treatment?

She savagely rips into the often heard argument that the increasingly aged population will make the health care system unsustainable.  ‘Sustainable’, she argues, ‘is just a word for “what we are willing to pay”.’ And the real challenge to the health system comes not from the aged but from ‘a population of increasingly poor, obese, diabetic, sedentary young and middle-aged who are the multi-morbid patients of the future and who will require many drugs, doctors, operations (joint replacements, bariatic surgery, amputations, coronary vessel interventions) and hospitalisations’.

Jonathan ends his review by telling us that it does paint a scary picture of how attitudes towards the elderly and aging affect our policies and planning adversely.

Maureen Helen agrees with him on how scary it is but also how useful Hitchcock‘s analysis of our current healthcare system is:

Karen Hitchcock’s essay Dear Life: On Caring for the Elderly is compassionate, respectful and beautifully written. As a study of ageism in our society, it is also seriously scary.

The essay discusses aged life that is worth living. It touches on euthanasia. It discusses advanced care planning. This involves the health care system’s plans for an elderly individual with chronic disease. Hitchcock also writes about Advanced Care Directives. These include a person’s instructions for their own end-of-life care.

There are major structural problems in the health care system when it comes to caring for older people.

But Karen Hitchcock offers a glimmer of hope. She manages to show another, dignified side of ageing, illness and death.  Anecdotes about her much-loved grandmother, as well as those about some of her patients, are full of warmth and understanding.


Taking us to another side of the healthcare subject, Cassie Hamer reviews Monica Dux’s edited collection of stories on maternity and motherhood Mothermorphosis:

Diversity’ is a key word for Mothermorphosis. There is such a wide range of experience on offer here; no two stories are the same. But these stories do have something in common – and that’s the powerful resonance of truth. No one is trying to impress, or tell you what to do – they are just sharing what happened to them.

From one sort of adventure to another, Brenda reviewed Di Moore’s Out of the Mists, a book about the author’s grandmother who by all means was a force to be reckoned with:

This extremely interesting telling of the author’s grandmother, Elizabeth Jessie Hickman, shows a life that was hard for young Jessie – with a large family and barely any money, they struggled to survive. When Jessie turned into a lady on the wrong side of the law, her life was full of danger but it was eventful too. She had no fear and would take on anyone as the need arose.

Aussie author Di Moore has done a remarkable job of portraying her grandmother’s life in a sensitive way and with great respect; her research has been meticulous. The fact that Ms Moore didn’t know about her biological grandparents must have been a great shock to her – but with her interest in what she perceived as a change in her family’s history to guide her, she uncovered that truth really is stranger than fiction.

And after all that, it’s back to huddling under the covers and turning the heater on (at least for me).

An Australian winter is on its way and if by chance you have enough hot chocolate to ensure that you can dive into the pages of a non-fiction book, we currently have 134 titles for you to choose from.