A quiet round up for February, with only 6 non-fiction reviews and 1 poetry, so I’ve taken the liberty of combining the two this time. The numbers may be light on, compared to the heady totals that fiction racks up, but the diversity of topics in just 7 titles is quite extraordinary.

Jennifer Cameron-smith brings us Dead Man Walking by Kate McClymont with Vanda Carson. It’s the perfect chilling read for anyone who likes their biography mixed up with some true crime, society & culture and politics.

In this book, published in 2019, Kate McClymont takes the reader into the world of shady property development, of unscrupulous politicians (mostly bit players in this book), bumbling criminals and con men masquerading as respectable businessmen.

Jonathan Shaw visits Annabel Crabb’s Quarterly Essay #75 Men at Work. He not only outlines his thoughts on the essay, but provides us with a potted history of his own experiences as a stay-at-home dad in the late 1970’s. I highly recommend you take the time to visit and read his post.

In this Quarterly Essay Annabel Crabb addresses the ‘baked-on’ cultural assumption that mothers must be the ones who do the real parenting while fathers are meant to help and support, and the economic, political, social and industrial structures that hold that assumption in place, and to some extent enforce it.
I finally finished Dr Nicola Gates’ The Feel Good Guide to Menopause (Brona’s Books).

Dr Nicola Gates is an Australian neuropsychologist and psychologist, ‘working with adults to improve brain health, cognitive function and mental wellbeing.’ She has written an easy to read, stage by stage book. She focuses on the facts, health and hormones. She helps you to check your attitudes and smashes assumptions and myths. Sleep, sex and self-care are all covered as are all the various options available to women once they actually stop.

If you’re one of the lucky 10% that experienced no symptoms, then you can skip this book. For the rest of us, books like this (and Jean Kittson’s more humorous one) are a god-send. They save you from having to run to the doctor every single time you notice something odd happening. They help you to realise you’re not alone or weird. And they help you to see that a positive, proactive attitude combined with a good dose of humour does actually help for some of it.

Cass Moriarty was our star reviewer this month with her combined non-fiction and poetry post for the Griffith Review #67 Matters of Trust post, and her stand-alone poetry review for Amnesia Findings by Anna Jacobson. 
Matters of Trust,
covers topics from institutional abuse in the Catholic Church to democracy to the banking crisis to outsourcing, from public service policy to power to politics, from the promise of 2020 to archival and historical secrets to the distraction of digital noise to the #MeToo movement, from the negotiation of a working friendship to the negotiation of money and democracy. The most compelling non-fiction report is the emotional story of a woman searching for answers to her husband’s suicide in The Burning Question, Collateral Damage and the Catholic Church, by Suzanne Smith….There’s poetry by Geoff Page, Ross Hunter, David Ishaya Osu and Omar Sakr.
Amnesia Findings won the 2018 Thomas Shapcott Poetry Prize.
This slim book – complete with the author’s hand-drawn line sketches – centres on mental illness, health and recovery, Jewish traditions, family and food….Many of the poems revolve around Jacobson’s struggles with mental illness, the symptoms and difficulties associated, the various treatments and her road to wellness. The sum of the individual poems as a whole provides a unique perspective on a dark time in her life, full of doubts and insecurities. The small daily pleasures of food and flowers, companionship and clothing, photographs and memories are amplified because of the darkness that preceded the normality.
Given the summer we’ve had, I’m surprised we haven’t had more reviews for The Arsonist by Chloe Hooper. Although, perhaps the topic was too close to the bone. Whispering Gums reflects on this in her thoughtful review,

What made this book unputdownable was that Hooper adopted, as she did in The tall man, the narrative (or creative) nonfiction style to tell her story, and proved herself, again, to be a skilled exponent of this genre……the multiple tragedy of this story: the tragedy of a man ridiculed and bullied all his life for being different; the tragedy of a community that isn’t very good at managing people who are different; the tragedy of the conflagration (in this case a fire, but it could be anything) that can result when the two collide; and the overriding tragedy that there are no simple answers to arson.

Now, I fear you might think that I have given the “story” away and that you therefore need not read it. But, you don’t read The arsonist for the “story”. After all, this is nonfiction and the basic “story” is known. You read it for the insights that a fine mind (not a mind on fire!) like Hooper’s can bring to the situation. What she brings is both clarity about the facts and a nuanced understanding of what they mean. The arsonist is, as everyone’s been saying, an excellent read.

Sea People: The Puzzle of Polynesia by Christina Thompson was the winner of the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Award and the 2019 NSW Premier’s General History Award. It was shortlisted for the 2019 Queensland Literary Awards and the Maritime Media Awards. It has also been a Wall Street Journal bestseller and a New York Times Editor’s Choice. It was recently reviewed by Calzean.

Its hard for a nonfiction book to have the right balance of entertainment and fact. This one does in spades. It’s like a good mystery slowly unravelling the onion layers only to find another onion.

Until next month,

Happy Reading.

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 moved to the General Non-fiction page and in 2018 I picked up the role of editor of Poetry. You can also find me at The Classics Club as one of the new Gen 2 moderators.

dragonflyI 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.