As you may have noticed lately, we at the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge have welcomed on board many new faces to our editorial team. Starting this month, Janine will take over the History, Memoir, Biography chair (history being one of her specialities) while I pick up the General Non-Fiction category. I thoroughly enjoyed all the memoirs and biographies I read during my time editing HMB, and I’m sure I will continue to do so, but I’m in the middle of Madeline Gleeson’s book about Nauru and Manus off-shore processing centres right now and I can feel a personal reading shift towards politics and science happening again.
February was the shortest month of the year (it was also one of the hottest on record) which may explain why we only had 7 non-fiction reviews, after all, non-fiction is not most people’s choice of a light beach read!
I was delighted to see the new Kate Grenville book make an appearance after her recent Australian Council of the Arts Lifetime Achievement in Literature Award. Reviewed by Cass @Goodreads, she tells us that Grenville has written a fascinating book designed to help us make informed decisions about what we choose to inhale.
The Case Against Fragrance (Text Publishing):
Kate Grenville had always associated perfume with elegance and beauty. Then the headaches started.
Like perhaps a quarter of the population, Grenville reacts badly to the artificial fragrances around us: other people’s perfumes, and all those scented cosmetics, cleaning products and air fresheners. On a book tour in 2015, dogged by ill health, she started wondering: what’s in fragrance? Who tests it for safety? What does it do to people?
The more Grenville investigated, the more she felt this was a story that should be told. The chemicals in fragrance can be linked not only to short-term problems like headaches and asthma, but to long-term ones like hormone disruption and cancer. Yet products can be released onto the market without testing. They’re regulated only by the same people who make and sell them. And the ingredients don’t even have to be named on the label.
This book is based on careful research into the science of scent and the power of the fragrance industry. But, as you’d expect from an acclaimed novelist, it’s also accessible and personal. The Case Against Fragrance will make you see—and smell—the world differently.
Bird Minds: Cognition and Behaviour of Australian Native Birds by Gisela Kaplan also received it’s first AWW review this month. Although the reviewer link is no longer valid, I wanted to highlight this book for three reasons. One – it was recommended by Tim Winton in last year’s Sydney Morning Herald’s Books We Love article (3/12/16) as a ‘revelation’. Two – I think this is a book that would appeal to many of our regular readers and reviewers. Three – one of my colleagues has been reading (and loving) this book. She not only has a bit of a thing for birds, but she is studying to be a psychologist and found the book relevant on both accounts.
Recent published papers in the field of neurobiology and neuropsychology have dramatically changed our thinking about the avian brain and behavioral potential of birds, especially in the areas of learning, memory, plasticity, and in the cognitive and emotional domains. Bird Minds provides a fresh view of the behavior of Australian native avifauna, presenting a portrait of cognitive well-equipped species, which is somewhat removed from the traditional image of birds as fluttering, colorful ornaments that tend to move like automata.
The book will focus on the specific abilities of Australian birds, examining why they have had to find – largely cognitive – ways of adapting to difficult conditions. The demands of the Australian environment have led to the development of cognitively complex processes that are unique in the world, including complex behaviors such as grieving, deception, problem solving and the use of tools. Many Australian birds cooperate and defend each other, and exceptional ones go fishing by throwing breadcrumbs in the water, extract poisonous parts from prey and use tools to crack open eggshells and mussels.
As an aside, three of the seven books in Non-fiction this month had incorrect URL links attached to the review. I was able to fix one, but the other two were beyond me. Please make sure that the URL link you provide when you submit a review takes us to the individual post on your blog or Goodreads page for that book.
The other five Non-fiction books for February have been reviewed here previously. All their reviewer links can be found by clicking on the book titles below:
Perfectly Imperfect by Connie Howell
The Book That Made Me edited by Judith Ridge
Blockbuster! Fergus Hume and the Mystery of the Hansom Cab by Lucy Sussex
All You Need is Love: Fifteen Journeys to Motherhood by Suzy Zail
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 country 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 and Litsy @Brona.