As we launch into the second half of what seems like an interminable year, July brought twelve reviews of twelve books. A number of these books have been mentioned in previous round ups, and it’s good to see them continuing to attract readers. Welcome to Georgia Rose who has been busy this month in the memoir genre, reading Clare Bowditch’s Your Own Kind of Girl (her review here) and Leigh Sales’ Any Ordinary Day (review here) during July. Jemimah-Underground Writers reviewed Ashley Kalagian Blunt’s How to be Australian (review here) and Kim Forrester@Reading Matters reviewed Tanya Bretherton’s The Killing Streets: Uncovering Australia’s First Serial Murderer in a post that combined three quick reviews (review here). Sue at Whispering Gums read Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook: Diaries Vol 1 1978-1987 (review here), while Bill Holloway reviewed Anita Heiss’ edited work Growing Up Aboriginal in Australia (review here). If you’ve read these books, check out what our new reviewers thought of them, too.
New in July
Only one of the books added during July seems to have been a straightforward memoir. Denise Newton wrote a rather ambivalent review of Ashley Dawson-Damer’s memoir A Particular Woman (2020).
…the book is an interesting read, partly because it’s a journey through Australian life in the 1960’s, 70’s and 80’s and up to the present time. ….Dawson-Damer seemed to move through the world as a young, blonde, beautiful woman with an apparent line up of men ogling her and wanting to take her to bed. I found this uncomfortable reading.However, I decided to regard this memoir as a first hand account of the times in which she lived….Dawson-Damer’s life did not play out as expected. She was to endure loss and hardship and several transformations of her own life before reaching a place of acceptance and stability. I warmed to her more as she recounted these difficult times and the way she dealt with them. (Review here).
The other memoirs reviewed this month were collections of essays based on memoir. Two of them were the works of a single author.
Tegan Bennett Daylight’s The Details (2020) is a collection of stories with a strong autobiographical bent, focusing on literature from the perspective of writer, teacher, critic and reader. Brenda Telford writes in her review:
I found her writing to be filled with eloquence, passion and sincerity as she brought her stories to life. …Although the chapters seemed disjointed with no flow on throughout the book – more like diary entries formed into chapters – I did enjoy the book and did find the author’s words vivid and effective. Recommended. (Review here)
The second book of collected essays, some of which are historical, others autobiographical, is Sophie Cunningham’s City of Trees (2020). In her review, Georgia Rose writes:
A really gorgeous collection of essays and musings about trees and forests, walking through cities, dealing with grief, travel, and tracking snow leopards online. …The essays feel like a great, rambling conversation with a thoughtful friend. (Review here)
Split (2019) is a collection of essays by both female and male authors, each contributing a different take on the nation of ‘splitting’, whether from someone, some place, some thing or even, from oneself. It is edited by Lee Kofman, who is one of the contributors among this list of eminent recent Australia writers. Cass Moriarty reviewed it, writing that:
The writing in this collection is consistently of a very high standard. Some contributions are more literary in style, some more academic, and some are more colloquial, but all are engaging, compelling and thought-provoking. …I enjoyed every single essay in this collection and could practically feel the emotions seep from the pages, the anguish, the desire, the sensuality, the pain, the heartache, the determination, the frustration, the recognition and the remembering. Rarely do you come across a book in which the authors so brutally slice open their chests and reveal their beating hearts. The truth and the vulnerable exposure of their stories ensure this collection is uncomfortable and disquieting, but also reassuring in its candour. (Review here).
Two books reviewed this month fit loosely into the history genre, but could just as easily be described as travel books. Helen Goltz and Chris Adams’ Grave Tales Melbourne Vol 1 (2020) looks at the stories behind eighteen selected graves in Melbourne’s cemeteries. (For those of us in Melbourne in August, perhaps this is as close as we get to ‘travel’ within a 5km radius!) This is part of a series of similar books produced by Goltz and Adams. In her review, Cloggie Dowunder writes:
Each entry follows a set format: photograph(s) of the grave, basic information about the interred and the location of the grave, the interred person’s story (including photographs or drawn illustrations), directions for finding the grave, and detailed references….Some of the stories depict interesting lives, lives that include highs and lows, stories of hardship and fulfillment, of tragic accidents, of murder, rape, boating mishap, wrongful conviction; some are well known by name (eg Whelan the Wrecker, Harold Holt); or by deed (the first female mechanic, the inventor of Vegemite, a dress-pattern mogul, the co-composer of a famous Aussie ballad). Some are notable for interesting deaths (or perhaps their aftermath), be they accidental (drowning, food poisoning, car accident, typhus, choking on food) or intentional (execution, suicide, strangulation, shooting). This volume is bound to appeal to readers who are interested in the quirky aspects of Melbourne history: fascinating tales of what lies behind the headstone. (Review here)
Finally, Toni Risson takes us out to a cafe in her book Brisbane’s Greek Cafes: A Million Malted Milks. Based on her blog, this book supplements an exhibition ‘Meet Me at the Paragon’, curated by the author, which opened at the State Library of Queensland in March 2020. In her review, Gretchen Bernet-Ward writes:
From the beautifully tactile bookcover and the glorious old photographs, to the spectacular amount of research and Greek family interviews, Toni Risson has written and created a book which is reader-friendly and as energetic as the boundless service in a 20th century Greek café. …Like a Greek café menu, there’s never a dull moment. Toni has amassed images of people, posters, menus, waitress fashion, the furniture, big mirrors, the soda fountain, cigarette counter—the mid-century nostalgia is strong for me just looking at the old buildings. And let’s not forget the food, ah, so much delicious food! (Review here)
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 and history. 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 and learning Spanish and now ukulele!