During February there were nine reviews of books in the History, Memoir and Biography category. Five of these reviews picked up books which I’ve dealt with earlier in other Round Ups, which is always encouraging to see. While it’s interesting to learn about new titles we have been reading over the past month, there’s also a shared camaraderie in reading books that others have read before us. If you’ve already read these books, why not check out how these new reviewers received the book too. Sue at Whispering Gums reviewed Anita Heiss’s edited collection Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia, while Janine at Resident Judge of Port Phillip reviewed Cathy McLennan’s account of acting as a barrister in Townsville and Palm Island in Saltwater. Claire Holderness commented on Bri Lee’s Eggshell Skull which explores aspects of the legal response to sexual abuse, while Kate@Booksaremyfavouriteandbest wrote a compilation post that reviewed Zoya Patel’s No Country Woman, and Magda Szubanksi’s Reckoning: a Memoir.

And so, onto books that we haven’t discussed previously.

Being human

Many of the books that our reviewers categorize as ‘memoir’ often interweave personal reflection and experience with a more detached, academic examination of a cultural phenomenon. In Imperfect author Lee Kofman, who herself bears the scars of surgery, examines the myths about physical perfection. In her review of Imperfect, Cass Moriarty observes:

This book will make you rethink your notions of beauty, tolerance, difference and diversity….And the most appealing aspect of the book is the way this is done: Kofman is an academic, and her research and findings are meticulously noted and sourced, and yet she manages to tell a tale that is almost child-like in its wide-eyed curiosity, asking questions that most of us have considered but never been brave enough to voice, and peppering her solid academic records and philosophy with references to pop culture and modern circumstances. (review here)

Swapping lifestyles

The theme of swapping lifestyles often emerges in the memoirs reviewed for the Challenge. In the case of English-born Fiona Stocker’s Apple Island Wife: Slow Living in Tasmania, the swap is between urban Brisbane and north-western Tasmania. In her review, Rebecca Bowyer describes the book as a

simply delightful memoir of trading city life in Brisbane for rural life in north-western Tasmania….I’d recommend this book to anyone who wants something light and enjoyable to read, a bit of a laugh and a vicarious meander through life in the Australian bush. (review here)


Two books about remembering and memorializing are rather more sobering.

Gaylene Perry’s 2004 memoir Midnight Water was shortlisted for the National Biography Award. It is the account of the hours immediately following the drowning deaths of her father, aged 45, and brother Brad, aged 25. In her review, Jennifer Cameron-Smith writes:

…By setting the memoir within such a short time period (just 10 hours), Ms Perry achieves a tight balance between the agony and shock of waiting, and memories of the past. (review here)

In our only history book during the month of February Jane Lydon and Lyndall Ryan’s edited collection Remembering the Myall Creek Massacre goes back further to 1838, when – most unusually- white perpetrators were convicted and hanged for the murder of twenty-eight Wirrayaraay old people, women and children. This book of essays is written to commemorate the 180th anniversary of this horrific crime and to explore its meaning both at the time, and now. Janine Rizzetti wrote in her review:

If you’re not familiar with the Myall Creek massacre, you will be by the time you finish this book, which gives a clear account of the event and the men involved. This book shows that it was all there: unarmed, defenseless, frightened old women and children; white onlookers too intimidated to intervene; wide distances adding a sense of menace, and averted eyes that cloaked these stockmen with the arrogance of impunity. (review here)

And so, February brought us new reviews of  four very different books. Let’s see what March brings.

About: I’m Janine Rizzetti and I blog at the immodestly-named The Resident Judge of Port Phillip where I indulge my love of reading, podcasts, history and seeing films and exhibitions just before they close. I am a historian, interested in Australian and colonial history, officially retired but more occupied than I thought I would be with my local historical society, playing with grandchildren, learning Spanish and now- mah jong!