Over the past two months our readers have read & reviewed seven general non-fiction titles. When I first logged on I got very excited to see over twelve reviews pop up, but quickly realised that most of them were actually memoirs. I thought I might, therefore, take this opportunity to discuss how we classify non-fiction here at the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge.
When you open up the tab to ‘link your review’ there are currently 11 genre options for you to choose from in the drop down box. History, Memoir and Biography (HMB) is obviously a form of non-fiction, but given how popular it is, it has been given it’s own listing. When I was editing the HMB page, I wrote a piece about how to classify and differentiate between the three here.
As you link your reviews please consider what is the MAIN theme or intention of the book. If the book is a memoir about a woman in politics, choose the HMB option. Then, under sub-genre, write in ‘other’ – Politics or Australian Politics. But if the book is about the birth of a political movement that features some biographies of women in the movement as well as other economic, historic and social issues, then select Non-Fiction – other as your main genre and in ‘other’ write – Political Biography, Australian Politics, Australian History, Economics or any other non-fiction tag that is most appropriate.
Currently, some of the non-fiction tags in use include – Dog Training, Holocaust, Food, Domestic Violence, Feminism, Asylum Seekers, Women’s Issues, Sociology, Travel, Art, Essays, Refugees, Business, Self-Help, Gardening, Architecture, Photography, Coffee Table Book, True Crime, LQBTIQ, Cultural Studies, Health, Climate Change, Environment, AFL, Science, Legal, Mental Illness, Indigenous Issues, Migration, Cook Book, Family History….
The other confusion can occur around the Crime Fiction genre. It does include in brackets true crime, but it refers to true crime stories that have been fictionalised (I’m thinking of See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt here). However a true crime memoir or history should be classified as HMB with an ‘other’ tag of True Crime.
Finding Eliza: Power and Colonial Storytelling by Larissa Behrendt is a good example. Although Behrendt has used a biography of Eliza as the basis for her book, it is actually so much more than that. It’s about colonialism, Indigenous perspective and history, stereotypes, the nature of story and myth. So we have classified it as Non-fiction – other, with the sub-genre tags of Biography, Indigenous Issues, Diversity.
My fellow editors may have more thoughts to add about the whole genre and tagging issue (as we have been discussing behind the scenes how we name and tag our posts). It’s all in the name of consistency as well as maximising the usefulness of said tags and genres. Obviously there can be lots of grey areas and subjective opinions around the classification of many, many books. There are some books that could easily be two genres at once – for instance, See What I Have Done is obviously also Historical Fiction as well as Crime Fiction. Is this something you consider when writing your reviews, or selecting what book to read next. How do you search for books to read online or on our site? How do you use tags or genres or categories on your own site?
While you’re pondering the semantics, I’ll tell you about the seven non-fiction books on offer this month.
Chinese Market Gardens in Australia and NZ: Gardens of Prosperity by Joanna Boileau was reviewed by Janine @The Resident Judge. It’s a truly multidisciplinary work that could earn a bucketful of tags – economics, agricultural, social, cultural and environmental history, technology, migration and archaeology. Janine felt that,
this book has probably emerged from a PhD thesis, with its rather theoretical opening chapter that deals with diaspora, technology transfer, material culture studies and transnationalism. The book covers the eastern states of Australia, and New Zealand, so it really provides a good survey of Chinese market gardening. I found her account of the relationship between Chinese and Maori gardeners fascinating, and it marked a real difference between Australia and New Zealand in terms of the relationship between indigenous people and the Chinese. Despite the broad scope of its analysis, she also identified individual market gardeners by name.
We’ve featured Dear Quentin: Letters of a Governor General by Quentin Bryce before, but it sounds like such a delightful read, that it was worth highlighting again. Anna was particularly thrilled with the handwritten nature of most of the letters.
Nancy reviewed Feeling the Heat by Jo Chandler, a climate change book from 2011, that’s still just as relevant and readable today as it was seven years ago. Featuring Chandler’s trips to Antarctica and the rainforests of Far North Queensland to research the science work going on in both places, she uses clever analogies to bring the science to life.
Working Mums features several well-known Australian mums talking about how they manage to balance family, work and life. Edited by Danielle Ross Walls and Louise Correcha and reviewed by Rochelle, who found,
each woman’s story fascinating, and their tips invaluable. Each story is short and easy to get through, which is great for those of us without much time. You can easily snatch a couple of minutes in your day to read a story, which is how I read it.
I wish I could put this book in the hands of every working mother, or every mother wishing to work and wondering how she will do it. It was an honest, heartfelt and helpful read.
Jennifer reviewed Writing the Dream by Monique Hall et al. Twenty five Australian authors share their writing journey with lots of tips and advice for wanna-be writers. Jennifer said,
I found each of these stories inspirational: each writer has a story (or more) to tell, and none of them has given up. Some of the authors have taken the self-publishing route, while others are traditionally published. Some of the authors have had a comparatively straightforward path to publication, while others have faced rejection after rejection. I admire the resilience of those who have faced rejection and have not given up.
Ashley writing @The Newtown Review of Books brings us The Friendship Cure by Kate Leaver. It turns out that loneliness is becoming one the biggest health issues of our times. Leaver says that,
loneliness is more dangerous than smoking 15 cigarettes a day and deadlier than obesity … It can tighten our arteries, raise our blood pressure, increase our rates of infection, diminish our heart health, and lead to higher rates of cancer. Lonely people develop tumours faster, have weaker immune systems and lower thresholds for pain.
Fortunately the solution is named up front in the title of her book! The perils and pitfalls of friendship are explored as well as gender differences, pop culture, social media and personal anecdotes.
Finally we have A Free Flame: Australian Women Writers and Vocation in the Twentieth Century by Ann-Marie Priest. Reviewed by Kali, the book features Ruth Park, Christina Stead, Dorothy Hewett and Gwen Harwood, she notes that,
writers in this day and age often hear, ‘you can’t be a full-time writer’. I think this is because we tend to have an ideal of what books we want to write, and the expectations of a ‘writing life’ which don’t revolve around continual invoicing and sitting at the typewriter/computer day-in, day-out. But this is what Ruth Park did. She didn’t always write novels, because the lead time was too long, and bills had to be paid now. I admire her ethic and the compromises she made. However, all four of the women writers discussed in this slim volume dealt with the obstacles set against them in a time of narrowly and patriarchally defined roles of what an artist is, and what a woman does, and the two groups were seen as mutually exclusive.
What will you be reading this month?
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 joined the AWW team in 2015 as the History, Memoir, Biography editor. In 2017 I became the General Non-Fiction editor.
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.
Thanks for this Brona! It’s always good to have a recap on classification. Some books make it tricky with crossing genres and covering a lot of topics.
I’m still working put how to classify books when I leave a review here – it will never be a precise science, but I did have quite a few incorrectly tagged books this month, so thought it was worth putting ‘out there’ for discussion.
Great post Brona. You’ve explained what Non-fiction, General means well.
The True Crime issue is particularly tricky, though, and has engendered general confusion, even among we volunteers!
I often get confused about how to classify my reviews, so I tend to use the publisher’s page to pick the main genre.
I was only alerted to the True Crime problem this month when Schmidt’s book appeared in my filtered search.
I think that’s a good idea re publisher’s pages, particularly for books you don’t know much about. We have to use something don’t we? Interesting re Schmidt. I tend to use Wikipedia for explaining issues like this. The first True Crime I read was Capote’s In cold blood. There can be a fine line!
You guys can sort out genre and sub-genre, I’ll do my best to follow the rules (and will try not to do the guy thing and leave it to Sue reclassify my mistakes.
Ruth Park and Darcy Niland’s The Drums Go Bang details, with lots of humour,their decision to be full-time writers and the work involved in achieving that.
Haha Bill … and, I still need to read Drums Go Bang.