August will be a quick round-up as we continue our love affair with memoirs and biographies.
Many of our readers attended the Melbourne Writer’s Festival this year and their twitter and Instagram feeds were full of tempting tales about what they heard and who they saw. Several mentioned that they had attended Maxine Beneba Clark’s Opening Night talk and I hope they follow up soon with some thoughts as my main contribution to this month’s HMB round-up is her memoir, The Hate Race (review here). It was a powerful, challenging and emotional read. It deserves to have as wide a readership as possible. With it’s many themes of diversity, belonging, bullying and discovery it would make a great high school text.
Our only history book this month was Skin Deep by Liz Conor, reviewed by Janine @The Resident Judge of Port Phillip. Conor has written an academic text, scrupulously researched, properly annotated and footnoted with lots of references to existing historians and histories that Janine thoroughly enjoyed and approved.
Sadly, as she was reading Skin Deep, Bill Leak’s cartoon appeared in The Australian, which brought home everything that Conor was arguing in her book.
In the face of Leak’s repetition of past injustices…the last paragraph of Conor’s book, which encapsulates her argument, comes to life:
Construing Aboriginal women as infertile, infanticidal, infirm and thereby as embodying their people’s terminus, rather than generation, was an alibi for the violence they endured on the frontier and in its aftermath and through the interventions of state administrations. The recursion of these effacing yet exposed constructs of Aboriginal women was advanced through print and its syndications on a global scale. Once aware of how such racial distortions become entrenched, a renewed impetus to resist them at every iteration ought to become part of a nationwide apology and commitment to recognizing the dignity of Aboriginal women. By extension, whenever and wherever we hear a misrepresentation advanced in public about a people that contrives to mark them off with exaggerated disparity or disregard, we need to call it out then and there. (p. 370)
It would seem that out readers and reviewers are deeply concerned about race issues in Australia and actively seek out books that help us to make sense of this contradiction in our society. Am I Black Enough For You? by Anita Heiss was reviewed by Emily @A Keyboard and an Open Mind. She found it challenging and thought-provoking.
In this book, Anita talks both about her experiences growing up as an “Urban aboriginal” (as opposed to that image people have of Australian Aboriginals living in the desert, dancing around a fire in loin cloths and clapping sticks and playing didgeridoos) with an Aboriginal mother and a white father. She also discusses her work in Aboriginal communities around the country, and her writing, where she aims to place Aboriginal characters in similar contexts to those of stock-standard white characters (i.e. characters who work, live in the city, like shopping, etc.) This is interspersed with reflections on her own racial identity and how it is just something that always was, not something that she chose.
Heartlines: The Year I Met My Other Mother by Susannah McFarlane was reviewed by Simone @Great Aussie Reads. An emotional read that tackles all the intense mother/daughter issues that surround adoption, religion and that “invisible biological bond that keeps them connected and sees them move through the myriad of issues they must overcome to build their own unique relationship.”
Ransacking Paris by Patti Smith tapped into regular reviewer’s Louise @A Strong Belief in Wicker love of all things Paris and gave her many ideas about what to try on her next journey to France. She found that the book had “many layers…. The bees are much more than a cover motif, Patti Miller considers much in this memoir- philosophy, death, cafes and of course Paris. The narrative flips seamlessly back and forth over time.”
Judith Ridge has edited a book featuring Australian and New Zealand, mostly YA, authors who were invited to write about the book that ‘made them’. The Book that Made Me has been reviewed by Jonathan @Me Fail? I Fly. Proceeds from the book go to the Indigenous Literary Fund.
Readers get to know a little more about writers whose work they know and love – in my case Markus Zusak, Shaun Tan (who couldn’t confine himself to anything like one book, but in effect gives a whole reading list of sophisticated picture books and comics, as well as having line drawings throughout the book), Benjamin Law, Alison Croggon, Ursula Dubosarsky (the only verse contribution) and Simon French (one of two pieces that brought tears to my eyes). And we are introduced to new writers we may be interested in – in my case all the rest.
Jonathan finished with a lovely piece about the book (or after dinner talk as the case may be) that ‘made’ him. I suspect we will all now be thinking about the book, or book moment, that ‘made us’!
(I have a story about being introduced, in Yr 9, to the life-changing To Kill A Mockingbird. I would never have picked up this book at that time, except it was a prescribed text. It was the first book that gave me a window into what my adult reading life could be like. I suddenly realised how big issues, big ideas, important topics could be introduced into the world via literature. I learnt to embrace difficult, challenging reads and to not shy away from controversial or repugnant ideas. I learnt that books could promote understanding and empathy. As Atticus said, “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it“.)
What’s your story?
About Bronwyn: I have been a book blogger at Brona’s Books since 2009 and a bookseller (specialising in children’s literature) in Sydney since 2008. Prior to this I was as an Early Childhood teacher for 18 years in rural NSW.
I taught myself to read when I was four by memorising my Dr Seuss books. I haven’t stopped reading since.
You can find me on Twitter @bronasbooks.