There is a surprise in store this month in the non-fiction category.
Over the past few months there has clearly been a trend in the titles that get the most number of reviews. Firm favourites in the non-fiction category have been Helen Garner‘s House of Grief, Annabel Crabb‘s Wife Drought and Tara Moss‘ The Fictional Woman.
It occurs to me to ask you the question now: readers, how do you decide what you will read in the non-fiction category and what you will review next?
And I ask this because I wonder if it follows a cycle closely connected to what is mentioned in the media at the time – Garner, Crabb and Moss have all been in the media with Garner and Crabb both shortlisted for different literary prizes. Or is it based on what you read here in this roundup every other month? Does showcasing what has been the most popular title to be read and reviewed (and then its existence online submitted to us) influence what you choose to read next?
That is part and parcel of what we hope to achieve here: more promotion and publicity for the works we discuss. But we are not just interested in the works that prove to be popular. Written work can be subjective – a book in any genre being popular amongst readers doesn’t necessarily correlate to a sense of “good work”. After you take into account factual accuracy, structure and style, it is very much down to what appeals to you. Our reading choices say a lot about who we are as people and what we choose to engage with.
While I may say to you that, for instance, Christine Kenneally‘s book The Invisible History of the Human Race was read and reviewed by three of you in the past two months, it does not follow that she will appeal to all. Perhaps you will be more keen a fan after reading Beccy Cole‘s Poster Girl. Or you would prefer to dive into Jane White-Gleeson’s Six Capitals. Alternatively, there may be reads here that while they never make it on to your Goodreads’ Favourites shelf may nevertheless prove to be useful or insightful to you somehow.
Which is why I wish to ask you readers: how do you choose? How do you choose what to read and review and submit to us?
Christine Kenneally‘s book was shortlisted for the Stella Prize, prompting many of you to pick it up and read about the issues surrounding genetic testing, big data and tracing genealogy and family history, a kind of biological archaeological dig into social constructs, norms, ideas and practices in the past.
Marion Diamond found the family history issues intriguing to say the least but also pointed out that the book asks questions she hadn’t thought about before:
Kenneally deals cautiously and well with the inevitable issues of race and eugenics, but other controversies hadn’t occurred to me before: What are the implications of so much data (either genetic or genealogical) being held by private companies like Ancestry.com or 23andMe? What happens to that data when a company is sold? This happened to Kenneally, who had her genes tested by 23andMe, in the interests of research, in 2010. The company gave certain commitments about the privacy of her record – but it has since changed hands, and the status of that information is now unclear.
Michelle Scott Tucker found that delving into the past in such a way has a huge impact in shaping our lives now – an issue also discussed in the book:
Essentially The Invisible History of the Human Race is a quest to discover what is passed down to us. How do our ancestry, our family and our cultural histories shape us?
The answers are stranger than you might think.
Apart from the obvious genetic traits (and Kenneally manages to make her extensive discussion of DNA and the issues surrounding it absolutely riveting) there is evidence to show that our forebears may also pass down their fears and mistrust.
Janine Rizzetti does a fantastic summary of the book but she also does point out that it might be hard to fully immerse oneself in it at first or to feel like you understand what is going on but to persevere regardless:
This is a big book about big data and its effect on knowledge, from the broad sweep of history right down to the micro-level of genes and cells. It engages and teases with ideas, without swamping the reader. Occasionally I wondered if I was losing the thread, but then she’d give an anecdote or example that brought me back again. The fact that it may already be outdated in places is a perfect illustration of the paradox that she is illustrating: that the very new can shed light on the very old.
It’s not just all things science and history that has got you reading these past two months, Yvonne Perkins has got her economics hat on as she has now read and reviewed Jane White-Gleeson‘s book Six Capitals which puts forward a theory that accountants will revolutionise capitalism. Yeah, I am confused too so I will have to read it as well but Yvonne tells us what White-Gleeson is referring to:
In a book written for a global audience, Jane Gleeson-White reports on a movement among accountants, investors, company directors and lawyers to change the fundamental underpinnings of capitalism so that the corporate sector will contribute to a sustainable future for our world. We are mired in a never-ending global argument about environmental issues that results in much angst and little action. Gleeson-White highlights the observation of the economist Pavan Sukhdev that ‘economics has become the currency of policy’.
Social enterprise springs to mind immediately but there is also the concept of taking a leaf out of the corporate world’s book and classifying environmental regions and features as legal persons. Anthropomorphism in a real world legal context?
The other titles in the category are no less exciting: Book’d Out reviewed Fiona McKintosh‘s How To Write Your Blockbuster the title of which alone makes me feel like I have more books on my “when I have a spare moment to breathe I will get to it” reading list; there is Beth McRae‘s experiences of midwifery in Outback Midwife, just launched and now reviewed by Brenda; and there is also Beccy Cole‘s Poster Girl, reviewed by Carol and all about country music and Cole‘s life so far as a star in the industry.
But we also have a Pomeranz team up as Philippa Whitfield Pomeranz and Margaret Pomeranz open up to us about family, food and film with Let’s Eat, reviewed by Jeanette Delamoir for The Newtown Review of Books which seems to tick all boxes if you are foodie or film fan. Following on the heels of Let’s Eat though is Barbara Hill and Ruth Bacchus‘ offering, First Things First, which means once you have eaten your fill with Let’s Eat, you can pop your feet up and read through the letters of Kate Llewellyn. Whispering Gums reviewed it and found it not just interesting but encouraging to note how balancing a life between surviving and writing has been an issue for writers for so long.
Which brings us back to our question. We are hoping here to give our women writers a boost, to let others know about their work, to let them have a few more books bought, a few more dollars in their pocket but a lot depends on how you as a reader to choose the books you read.
Is it recommendations from us or friends? Something catching your eye in a store or in the media? Perhaps someone sent you a review copy or you were invited to a launch? Where do your serendipitous moments of reading an author come from? We are curious and we want to know.
And continue to read our writers, whether they were reviewed once or six times by others. You never know what you might find.
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