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Monday musings on Australian literature: Nonfiction November

November 30, 2020

Every November for a few years now, a group of bloggers have coordinated a focus on nonfiction for bloggers in November. They set up a plan of topics, one per week, with a different blogger being responsible for each week, as follows: Leann (Week 1) (Shelf Aware), Julie (Week 2) (Julz Reads),  Rennie (Week 3) (What’s Nonfiction), and Katie (week 4) (Doing Dewey).

This year’s schedule was:

  • Week 1: Your Year in nonfiction, involves looking at our nonfiction reading this year, thinking about our favourites or topics that have particularly interest us or books we’ve most recommended.
  • Week 2: Book pairing, involves pairing a nonfiction book with a fiction title (on whatever criteria you like).
  • Week 3: Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert, involves, as it sounds, reflecting our own expertise, asking others to help with books about something we’d like to know, or choosing our own reading plan for something we’d like to learn.
  • Week 4: New to my TBR, involves – well, it’s obvious isn’t it, except the idea is that they’re books that participating bloggers have posted about.

Now, I have taken part in this week – in a sporadic sort of way – before, writing two combination posts in the Novembers of the last three years. I planned to do the same this year, but haven’t! So, instead, I’ve decided to do one post for my last Monday Musings of the month, which means of course that I’ve added an extra criterion: all the nonfiction I talk about has to be Australian. Here goes.

Your year in nonfiction

Chloe Hooper, The Arsonist

I haven’t read a lot of nonfiction this year – I haven’t read a lot this year, full stop – but most of the nonfiction I’ve read has been by Australian writers. For Week 1, I’m going to choose three books, that I have already or would thoroughly recommend to others.

  • Chloe Hooper’s The arsonist (my review): another excellent sociopolitical true-crime exploration by Hooper, this time of an arsonist behind Victoira’s catastrophic Black Saturday fires in 2009.
  • Rick Morton’s One hundred years of dirt (my review): I have since taken more interest in his journalistic writings in The Saturday Paper.
  • Helen Garner’s Yellow notebooks: Diaries, Volume 1, 1978-1987 (my review): the first volume of Garner’s edited diaries that will be published over the coming years. I loved the insights it provides into her writing practice, her way of seeing the world, and her thoughts about all manner of subjects (including herself!)

Book pairing

Book cover

This one was easy because I paired them in my blog post for the second book in this pairing. I paired Gay Lynch’s historical novel, Unsettled (my review), with poet John Kinsella’s memoir Displaced (my review).

This pairing is both superficial and complex. It’s superficial because both have single-word titles which encompass multiple meanings, that are both literal and metaphorical. However, it is complex because these are very different books – in form and subject matter. But, fundamentally, both deal with colonialism, with the settlement of Australia by Britain, and with the ramifications of that for both the colonisers and the colonised.

Be/Ask/Become the expert

Regular readers here will know something of my year and will not be surprised that ageing is the topic of most interest to me this year. It’s one that I’ve been interested in for a while but that has become a matter of rather more immediate relevance this year, with the death of my lovely nonagenarian mother and the move of my centenarian father into aged care. So, for this section I feel I’m a bit of an expect, but would like to become more of an expert too!

Book cover

Consequently, I was one of those who supported adding Griffith Review’s issue on ageing, Getting on (issue no. 68) (my review) to my reading group’s schedule this year. The book, as I’ve come to expect from Griffith Reviews, did not disappoint with its excellent collection of thoughtful and informative reportage, alongside memoirs and fictional responses to the subject.

I do of course want to increase my knowledge of this subject, which is also becoming closer to me personally! Consequently, I would like to read Robert Dessaix’s latest book, The time of our lives, about which I posted recently after zoom-attending a Yarra Valley Writers Festival event on this book.

I would love to hear of any other nonfiction books you’ve read on the subject that you would recommend.

New to my TBR

I don’t read a lot of biographies, though every year I read a few, including, this year, Desley Deacon’s thoroughly researched and beautifully produced book on Judith Anderson (my review). My main biographical interest, however, are literary biographies, and a few have been published this year that interest me. They have been posted on by bloggers but I didn’t notice them in Nonfiction November posts:

And, Lisa (ANZLitLovers), in her My Year in Nonfiction post, mentioned a couple of books that interest me: Danielle Clode’s The woman who sailed the world, and Debra Adelaide’s Innocent reader (which is already on my TBR).

And that, in the nick of time, is my contribution to Nonfiction November 2020.

I’d love to hear about your nonfiction interests and highlights this year.

18 Comments leave one →
  1. November 30, 2020 23:21

    I haven’t had the same pressures as you this year, so any excuse I could give for not participating would be too feeble anyway…
    But I think you will be pleased to hear that one reason I have been quiet this week is that I have been reading David Marr’s literary bio of Patrick White (728 pages) and I am nearly finished and will be reviewing it soon.

    • December 1, 2020 07:52

      Oh, I have noticed a reduction in reviews this week, Lisa, but have “seen” you commenting, so felt you were ok. Good for you!

  2. December 1, 2020 08:27

    I’ve also been working on two tricky reviews: one of Coonardoo, which is tricky for reasons you will know about, and the other because it’s a political novel from Palestine. I can’t finish the Coonardoo one because I need to check something in Finding Eliza, and although the copy I reserved at the library is back, it’s still “in quarantine”… it’s very frustrating!

    • December 1, 2020 09:37

      Ah, and it all conspired to happen at once, of course! I know what you mean about Coonardoo, and of course about books set in Palestine and Israel. Tricky.

      I can look up Finding Eliza for you if it’s an easy thing – I’m pretty sure I know which TBR it is in. However, I will be out now until late afternoon – morning tea, Christmas shopping and lunch with Mr Gums and then Dad.

  3. December 1, 2020 09:04

    I am not a non fiction person generally, except for writer biographies and autobiographies. I’m not a fan of diaries – MF’s I use only for reference – but I might give Garner a try.

    • December 1, 2020 09:39

      I’d be interested to know what you thought of Garner, Bill, though if you’re not a fan of diaries? Must say that I’m not a huge fan of diaries either and can count the ones I’ve read on one hand I’d say. They are bitsy-piecy and you have to know a bit about their lives to get context, but Garner is so interesting in her observations and self-reflection that I enjoyed hers, and have her second one now to read.

      • December 1, 2020 14:50

        The latest Garner diaries are terrific (and horrific, in a good way). You won’t be sorry.

        • December 1, 2020 15:26

          Thanks Michelle … it will be a few months before I work my way to them, unfortunately, but they’re a treat waiting for me, I’m sure!

  4. Sue permalink
    December 1, 2020 12:37

    I read Half the Perfect World: writers, dreamers and drifters on Hydra, by Paul Genon,

    All I ever wanted to know about Charmian Clift, George Johnston, Leonard Cohen et al – a truly fascinating book at their attempt at a bohemian lifestyle and their work ethic. Definitely recommended, What astonished me most was the discipline Clift and Johnston displayed when approaching their writing. Terrific book.

    • December 1, 2020 15:37

      Oh, I think I’ve heard about this book Sue. (Paul Genoni.) It sounds really right up my alley as I’ve read a bit about them over the years (though I haven’t read Rowley’s (?) biography of Clift.)

      • Sue permalink
        December 1, 2020 20:45

        Oops sorry Sue missed an “i”. I have some sight issues so feel free to correct any typos I make! And yes it’s a well researched, fascinating read if you’re interested in the Hydra folk. My book group loved it.

        • December 2, 2020 08:09

          I’m sorry about that Sue, but thanks for letting me know. I will edit things like that in future. I am absolutely interested in the Hydra folk.

  5. December 1, 2020 14:49

    I’ve just embarked on Clode’s The Woman Who Sailed the World and it promises to be an excellent voyage.

    • December 1, 2020 15:27

      Thanks Michelle. It sounds really interesting. So great seeing more and more stories about strong and/or adventurous women finally being told, isn’t it?

  6. Meg permalink
    December 1, 2020 18:54

    Hi Sue, I read two or more non fiction books a month. They subjects vary from history, biography, travel, philosophy and science. Last month’s favourite book was The man in the Red Coat by Julian Barnes, and October’s pick was The Medicine: A Doctor’s Notes by Karen Hitchcock. My favourite non fiction book so far this year is Arabesques by Robert Dessaix. I think with a bit of luck, for Christmas will receive both Helen Garner’s book and Robert Dessaix book.

    • Sue permalink
      December 1, 2020 20:43

      Ooh Meg I’m so glad someone else loves Arabesques – it’s one of my favourite books by Dessaix and I bought it in hard cover for all the wonderful photographs as well, I couldn’t resist. He does have a lovely style of writing doesn’t he?

    • December 1, 2020 20:44

      I love that you manage to read so much Meg, and your non-fiction rendering includes books that would interest me. (I also love that you know what books you will receive for Christmas!)

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