Nonfiction November 2021: New additions to my TBR

Week 5 of Nonfiction November … whew, made it to the end, and it wasn’t so hard!

Nonfiction November, as of course you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 5 hosted by Jaymi at The OCBookGirl:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto YOUR TBR? Do we have any of the same ones?

Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I wrote in my first Nonfiction November post that I wasn’t looking to add to my TBR, but of course it can’t help but happen. Over the month I’ve seen many, many books that appealed to me and that I’d love to read, but I really can’t add increase my TBR. However, I couldn’t call myself a keen reader if I didn’t add just a couple, so here are a few that REALLY tempted me:

Book cover
  • Graphic nonfiction: I commented on Words and Peace Emma’s post that I am not much of a graphic fiction reader, let alone graphic nonfiction, but some of the books she listed did grab my attention, like Grant Snider’s I will judge you by your bookshelf. What reader doesn’t sneakily do this from time to time?
  • Literary biography: I do love literary biography, and a few came up this month. Mallika (Literary Potpourri) gave me Paula Byrne’s The adventures of Barbara Pym; Brona (This Reading Life) gave me one I already had in my sights, Gabrielle Carey’s Only happiness here (on Elizabeth von Arnim); and didn’t someone share Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls about Gillian Mears? If not, they should have, because I want to read it, so I’m including it here.
  • Nature writing – Trees: With a name like Whispering Gums I have to be a bit of a sucker for trees, so I did love Readerbuzz Deb’s Be the expert post on trees. Every book in her list appealed, from forest bathing to books discussing famous trees.
  • More nature writing: Brona also gave me (in the previously-linked post) a book that deviates somewhat from my usual reading, but that I thought might capture my reading group’s attention for our schedule next year. It didn’t, but I’ll keep it on my list: Raynor Winn’s The salt path. And, Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) reminded me that I still want to read Rebecca Giggs’ Fathoms (about whales).
  • Social issues/Race: Liz (Adventures in reading, running and working from home) shared two books that provoked much thought for her (and for others whom I know have read them): Robin DiAngelo’s White fragility and Layla F. Saad’s Me and white supremacy.

A small list, I know, but more than I intended, to which I owe a big thanks (I think) to the 5 hosts of Nonfiction November 2021 – and all the bloggers who took part and shared your reading. It’s been fun, and edifying!

And now, I’d love to hear whether you added any books to your TBR pile from our blogosphere Nonfiction November month?

Nonfiction November 2021: Stranger than fiction

Week 4 of Nonfiction November … rolling right along …

Nonfiction November, as you surely know by now, is hosted by several bloggers, with week 4 hosted by Christopher at Plucked from the Stacks:

This week we’re focusing on all the great nonfiction books that *almost* don’t seem real. A sports biography involving overcoming massive obstacles, a profile on a bizarre scam, a look into the natural wonders in our world—basically, if it makes your jaw drop, you can highlight it for this week’s topic.

This is a new addition to the Nonfiction November weekly prompts, which is exciting, even for me who hasn’t done this month assiduously in the past. But, how to respond?

What comes to my mind when I think “stranger than fiction” are those coincidences (and the like) that happen in real life that a fiction writer could never get away with. Christopher, though, has taken a broader view, including things like “overcoming massive obstacles”. My problem is that although I’ve read the same amount of nonfiction this year, as last, none of it really seems to fit his description, but I’ll see what I can do about fitting my reading to the theme.

Stranger than fiction: 1, Overcoming massive obstacles

Wendy and Allan Scarfe had to overcome many political, personal and cultural obstacles in supporting a poor Indian village,particualrly in terms of improving educational opportunities, in their memoir, A mouthful of petals (my review).

But, when I think about overcoming obstacles in my reading this year, I have to go to Marie Younan, and her memoir A different kind of seeing (my review).

The story of how she lost her eyesight – the coincidences and lack of knowledge, among other things, that resulted in her losing her eyesight when a young child, and then the ongoing ramifications of this which meant that she did not get the right treatment, later, which may have restored some of her eyesight – is a tragic story.

The story of how she finally managed to migrate to Australia to join her family, having been rejected more than once because of her blindness, is a disgraceful indictment on Australia’s immigration system.

The story of how she, as an adult, found a person (or, he found her), who recognised her needs and who nurtured and gently pushed her into becoming literate – to learn Braille, mix with people, learn English – so that she eventually found employment and became independent, is an inspirational story.

So, yes, Marie Younan had to overcome massive obstacles to get to where she is today. It’s a story that would be hard to make believable in fiction.

Stranger than fiction: 2, Diary as therapy?

Thinking about this topic, though, I realised that Garner’s diaries are perfect, besides the irony of reading her actual diaries when her novels, her fiction, have been criticised as “just” her diaries. Does this make the point moot?

If I soldier on, though, I am a little anxious about what I’m going to say next, because I am presuming to criticise another person’s life choice, in this case Garner’s “strange” relationship with “V”. He is the man who becomes her husband during the second volume of her diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review). I feel anxious, but I also feel it’s ok because Garner wrote about it, and because we know the outcome, so I’m not exactly saying anything new.

The point is that the relationship turned out disastrously for Garner, and anyone reading the diary could surely see that coming. If this were fiction – besides Garner’s of course, her diaries being the stuff of her fiction, says she cheekily – I would have been hard-pressed to believe the relationship. There just seemed to be too much angst, too much difference between them, for it to work.

However, here’s the thing. What do we write in diaries? Mostly our angst? Of course, diarists will occasionally write the really happy stuff, and, those diarists who are writers, will also often jot down ideas, observations and inspirations. Mostly, though, we write out our angst. We get it out of our hearts and onto the page, which makes us feel better. Diary as therapy, in other words. Taking Garner’s diaries in this context, and knowing too that she’s edited them, we cannot presume to know the whole of her relationship with “V”. However, looking at it purely on the basis of what we read, the fact that they ever married does seem “stranger than fiction”. I think that’s fair enough for me to write.

And now, I’d love to hear how YOU would answer this question. Sock it to me! I’ll believe you!

Nonfiction November 2021: Be the expert, etc

Week 3 of Nonfiction November … a record, for me!

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 3: (November 15-19) – Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert hosted by Veronica at The Thousand Book Project: Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert). 

I’ve done this particular Nonfiction November theme three times before: in 2020 I focused on ageing; in 2019 it was Indigenous Australian rights and lives; and in 2017 it was memoirs on the experience of racism. What to do this year? Hybrid memoir/biographies? Literary biography? Both these interest me, and I have some expertise in them, but I think I’ll go a bit left-field and do Climate Change. While I try to keep informed about climate change, I am certainly NOT an expert.

Become the expert

If I had to choose three books to read, these three seem like good places to start:

Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac’s The future we choose: The stubborn optimist’s guide to the climate crisis (2020): The authors led negotiations for the United Nations during the 2015 Paris Agreement of 2015. I like the idea of a book that’s stubbornly optimistic, because that’s me too. (I know, I know, what am I thinking in the face of too much evidence to the contrary!) 

Tim Flannery’s The climate cure: Solving the climate emergency in the era of COVID-19 (2020): It’s on my TBR for a start. It’s by an Australian scientist who has been writing and acting on this topic for decades. Not only is this his latest, but it encompasses discussion of how the pandemic has affected the climate debate and climate action.

Jane Rawson and James Whitmore’s Surviving and living with climate change (2015): This is an older book now, but it’s Australian and I know from Lisa (her review) that it is packed full of practical strategies which, I’m presuming, will still be valid even if there are now newer strategies for us to also consider. That’s the thing with climate change, isn’t it – things keep changing!

Ask the expert

However, I’m not an expert on what is around on this subject matter, but I do know a blogger who is, Stefanie of A Stone in the River. Some of you may know her from the So Many Books blog, but a few years ago Stefanie switched to focusing on “the Climate Emergency, transitioning to post-fossil fuel zero carbon life, bicycling, gardening, books, community, interbeing, wonder and joy”. As well as sharing her own knowledge and practice about living as green and clean as she can, she also shares books, articles and links to a wide range of relevant information. She’s my go-to blogging expert on the topic.

However, there’s also Marcie, at Buried in Print. She reads broadly but one of her reading projects is Read the Change which encompasses her reading on a range of current issues, including human rights and eco-literature. Marcie also wrote an excellent article, “Rewriting the climate apocalypse” for Herizons, a Canadian feminist magazine. It explores recent non-fiction and fiction writings by women on the environmental crisis. It’s an excellent read and, while I know this is a #nonfictionnovember post, I did like this from Kai Minosh Pyle:

I could try to write a nonfiction piece explaining those things, but sometimes a story lets you get at tangled-up issues in a more nuanced way.

Yes! It sometimes can … but, still, I do like nonfiction too!

Also, I’d love to see what expertise you have or would like to develop – if you’d like to play along.

Nonfiction November 2021: Book pairings

Week 2 of Nonfiction November and I’m still here, playing along.

Nonfiction November, as you know, is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 2: (November 8-12) – Book pairings, hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey. This week we need to “pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story”. 

The no-brainer

If I were just going to do one pairing, it would be a no-brainer, but it’s not really “if you loved this, read this”. Nor is it just two titles that I think would go together, and it’s definitely not pairing historical fiction with the history of the same topic. Nope, my pair comprises a book in which an author talks about her writing another one. If you’ve been reading my blog recently you’ll guess what I’m talking about, as I’m pairing volume 2 of Helen Garner’s diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review), which I read this year, with one of the books she discusses in these diaries, Cosmo cosmolino. I have written two posts on this novel, a less than thorough review, years ago, and, recently, a consideration inspired by the diaries. I enjoyed the insights Garner provided into writing this, her most challenging novel (in terms of form) and most different (in terms of subject matter).

Helen Garner, Cosmo cosmolino

The unusual thing is that I could make several somewhat similar pairings from this year, as I’ve read other books discussing specific works. So, I could also pair Erik Jensen’s On Kate Jennings (my review) with the novel he talks about, Snake (my review), or Stan Grant’s On Thomas Keneally (my review) with the Keneally’s novel that he discusses, The chant of Jimmie Blacksmith (read before blogging). I could also pair Chrystopher Spicer’s Cyclone country: The language of place and disaster in Australian literature (my review) with one of a few books he discusses that I’ve read. But I won’t!

Instead, in the spirit of this meme, I feel I should challenge myself at least a little before ending this post, so here is …

Another pairing

I read a couple of memoirs this year that could be paired with novels, but I’ll just choose one, Marie Younan’s A different kind of seeing (my review). This tells the story of her life as a blind, illiterate Assyrian migrant to Melbourne, Australia, and how, with the help of various migrant services, she met other people, learnt English, obtained satisfying and meaningful employment, and ended up writing her memoir with the help of her English teacher, Jill Sanguinetti.

Book cover

I’m pairing this with an English-set novel, Balli Kaur Jaswal’s Erotic stories for Punjabi widows (my review), which, on the surface, sounds very different from Younan’s story. It’s about a young English-born Punjabi woman who obtains a job teaching writing to immigrant Punjabi widows in Southall, the heart of London’s Punjabi community. It’s a romcom but it also confronts some very real, very dangerous, difficulties that migrant women face in that culture. While these Punjabi women’s challenges were very different to those faced by Younan, both books provide insight into how hard it can be for immigrants, particularly immigrant women, to find their place in a new country.

For those of you doing Nonfiction November, I’ll see your pairings I’m sure, but, if you’re not, I’d love to see what you would pair – if you’d like to play along.

Nonfiction November 2021: Your year in nonfiction

While I’ve taken part in Nonfiction November before, I’ve never done it week by week right through the month. I may not this year, either, but I am starting off as if I mean to!

Nonfiction November is hosted by several bloggers, with Week 1: (November 1-5) – Your Year in Nonfiction, hosted by Rennie at What’s Nonfiction. To make it easy for us, Rennie has posed a number of questions, so here goes, starting with a quick overview.

I’ve read the same number of nonfiction works this year as last. However, four of this year’s were individual essays rather than whole books, which means I’ve spent less time reading nonfiction. The biggest difference, though, is that last year over 60% of my nonfiction reading was life-writing of some sort, while this year only a third has been.

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Favourites are always hard to identify, because I like most of what I read. However, if pushed, I’d say volume 2 of Helen Garner’s diaries, One day I’ll remember this (my review), and not because it’s a recent, and therefore fresh, read. I like Helen Garner’s writing, and her her often self-deprecating openness. She engages us in her life’s journey, through her relationships and their ups and downs, her writing life, and her ideas about what she reads and sees. I particularly like that she shares her search for a form that suits what she wants to write, that is, what she wants to explore and express in her writing.

Honourable mentions are many, but I’ll just name Gene Stratton-Porter’s essay “The last Passenger Pigeon” (my review). It’s an early(ish) example of nature/conservation writing, and I loved meeting the author of a childhood favourite, A girl of the Limberlost, again!

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

When it comes to non-fiction, my main interests are literary biographies, nature writing, and works about social justice/social history. I read in all these areas this year, but literature-related topics have predominated. Besides the Helen Garner diaries, I’ve read two books in the Writers on writers series, Erik Jensen’s On Kate Jennings (my review) and Stan Grant’s On Thomas Keneally (my review), and George Orwell’s essay on the freedom of expression, “The prevention of literature” (my review). Rather different to all these, but definitely literature related, is Chrystopher Spicer’s Cyclone country: The language of place and disaster in Australian literature (my review).

What nonfiction book have you recommended the most?

This is hard, because with nonfiction, even more than fiction, what you recommend is highly dependent on people’s interests. However, the book I’ve read this year that has the most general appeal is Best Australian science writing 2020 (my review). Its focus is science, but most of the essays explore the implications and applications of science, particularly regarding issues like climate and the environment, and health, with some also raising the role often played by politics.

Besides this, I do recommend Helen Garner’s diaries to those who like Garner and are interested in a writer’s life. Finally, Marie Younan’s memoir, A different kind of seeing (my review), about being blind and a migrant, is both inspirational and eye-opening, as is Wendy and Allan Scarfe’s story of aid work in an Indian village in the 1960s, A mouthful of petals (my review).

What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?  

Preferably not more recommendations, but it will happen! Seriously, I’d like to see some interesting discussions about nonfiction and nonfiction reading. Of course, our specific interests vary, but: Why do we read nonfiction? What do we look for? What makes a good nonfiction read?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Nonfiction November

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 expert, 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.

Non-fiction November 2019, Weeks 4 to 5

Meme logoAs for my first Nonfiction November post this year, I am concatenating my last two posts, and posting them in the middle of the two weeks.

The meme is jointly hosted by Julz (Julz Reads) (Week 1), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves) (Week 2), Katie (Doing Dewey) (Week 3), Leanne (ShelfAware) (Week 4) and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) (Week 5).

Week 4: (Nov. 18 to 22) Leann (Shelf Aware) Nonfiction favourites:

What makes a book you’ve read one of your favorites. Is the topic pretty much all that matters? Are there particular ways a story can be told or particular writing styles that you love? Do you look for a light, humorous approach or do you prefer a more serious tone? 

I’ll start with what I don’t look for, which is tone. That is, I don’t look for any particular tone over another. The important thing is that the tone matches the subject. I am not put off by serious, sad or confronting tones, but I can also enjoy (who doesn’t) a humorous tone. I also don’t gravitate to memoir, though I do read a select few each year. This year, for example, I’ve read Ros Collins’ Rosa: Memories with licence (my review), Anita Heiss’s anthology Growing up Aboriginal in Australia (my review), Vicki Laveau-Harris’ The erratics (my review),  and Jocelyn Moorhouse’s Unconditional love (my review).

What I do look for are subject matter and author’s approach or style. My favourite subject matter would have to be literary biography (and to a slightly lesser degree, literary memoir) but none of this year’s books have been such. I like essays, of which I’ve read a few this year, some stand-alone, some in collections. And I particularly like reading authors who explore form, who don’t stick to the tried-and-true. This doesn’t mean I don’t read and enjoy the tried-and-true if it’s well-written and a topic I’m interested in. Two standout non-fiction books this year for me were:

  • Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic (my review), which she says is not a collection of essays, though I’m not sure what else to call it. This is a humane, provocative books that forces us to rethink those axioms, those cliches that we too often resort to in an effort to not confront uncomfortable truths and situations.
  • Clare Wright’s You daughters of freedom (my review) for its well-researched but highly readable history of the women’s suffrage movement in that late nineteenth to early twentieth centuries, and Australia’s significant role in it. Wright has done a wonderful job of bringing a hidden history to the fore.

Note: I have only included books I’ve read from November 2018 to October 2019. Any read this month will be in the running for 2020’s meme!

Week 5: (Nov. 25 to 29) Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) New to my TBR:

It’s been a month full of amazing nonfiction books! Which ones have made it onto your TBR? Be sure to link back to the original blogger who posted about that book!

I’m afraid that I haven’t really had time to take note of many books posted by other meme posters, though I have read several posts. So, I’m listing here a small selection of non-fiction books I am keen to read, not just ones that have appeared via this year’s meme:

  • Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza: Power and colonial storytelling, which is in fact old on my TBR but which I’m going to make a concerted effort to read by next Nonfiction November.
  • Peter Carey’s Wrong about Japan, because I love Japan and am interested in what Peter Carey has to say. Brona (Brona’s Books) posted about this in her Be the Expert post.
  • Annie Cossins’ The baby farmers, because I’m interested in colonial Australian women’s history. Shelleyrae (Book’d Out) included this in her Be the Expert post.
  • Paul Genoni and Tanya Dalziell’s Half the perfect world: Writers, dreamers and drifters on Hydra, 1955–1964, which won this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Nonfiction. It’s about the post-war international artist community on the Greek island of Hydra, which included our Aussie literary couple, Charmian Clift and George Johnston.
  • Chloe Hooper’s The arsonist, which has been shortlisted for several awards and has been on my TBR most of this year. It seems an absolute must given the early start to this year’s bushfire season here down under.

And there you have it. Another Nonfiction November completed in two posts. I apologise for not giving it the attention it deserves, but I am glad I was stimulated by the meme to spend a little time thinking about nonfiction this month.

Any nonfiction favourites you’d like to share? (Not that my TBR pile needs them, mind you, but other readers might like to hear of them!)

Non-fiction November 2019, Weeks 1 to 3

Meme logoI’m a relative latecomer to Non-fiction November, but I like to take part in some way because I do like and read non-fiction. However, I don’t have the time to fully take part, so as in previous years, I plan to do a couple of concatenated posts.

The meme is jointly hosted by Julz (Julz Reads) (Week 1), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves) (Week 2), Katie (Doing Dewey) (Week 3), Leanne (ShelfAware) (Week 4) and Rennie (What’s Nonfiction) (Week 5).

Week 1: (Oct. 28 to Nov. 1) (Julz ReadsYour Year in Nonfiction:

There are several questions for this week, but I’m just going to answer a couple …

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

My year starts at the end of last November. I’ve not read a lot of non-fiction, but have read a lot of really interesting non-fiction! I’m choosing three highlights:

  • The immortal life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (my review): because it’s a biography that also explores the history and ethics of science, as well as social justice and racism. It’s the whole package really.
  • Axiomatic, by Maria Tumarkin (my review): because, again, social justice is at its core, and it forces us to rethink those maxims that we trot out, often without thinking about them too deeply.
  • You daughters of freedom, by Clare Wright (my review): because it illuminates how progressive Australia was at the time of our Federation, and the significant role played by women, nationally and internationally, in that progressive thought and action.

Do you have a particular topic you’ve been attracted to more this year?

I wouldn’t say this is a topic I’ve been particularly attracted to this year, but I have had a long, ongoing interest in the stories and rights of Indigenous Australians, and try to keep my reading up in this area. This year, in terms of non-fiction regarding Indigenous Australians, I read Anita Heiss’s anthology Growing up Aboriginal in Australia (my review) and Stan Grant’s On identity (my review). I also read Neil H Atkinson’s The last wild west (my review), in which he chronicles his enlightenment of the injustices under which Indigenous Australians live.

Week 2: (Nov. 4 to 8) (Sarah’s Bookshelves) Book Pairing:

“This week, pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction title. It can be a “If you loved this book, read this!” or just two titles that you think would go well together. Maybe it’s a historical novel and you’d like to get the real history by reading a nonfiction version of the story.”

Clare Wright, You daughters of freedomI love this week of the Challenge, because for as long as I can remember I’ve enjoyed seeing connections between my reading. However, because I’m doing three weeks in one, I’m going to do just one pairing, and it pairs two books I’ve read this year, Clare Wright’s You daughters of freedom (my review) which chronicles the women’s suffrage movement in Australia with Sue Ingleton’s Making trouble: Tongue with fire (my review) which tells the story of two women’s rights advocates, Harriet Elphinstone Dick and Alice C Moon.

Book coverBoth these books focus on the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, though Ingleton’s ends right at the beginning of the twentieth century. Ingleton’s Dick and Moon weren’t actively involved in the suffrage movement, but they were passionate advocates of the rights of women and of women’s ability to live independent lives, and they, particularly Moon, met and associated with early Sydney leaders of the suffrage movement, like Rose Scott and Louisa Lawson, who feature in Wright’s book.

Week 3: (Nov. 11 to 15) (Doing Dewey) Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert:

Either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert) … [or] put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert) or … create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

Hmm, except that I wouldn’t and couldn’t call myself an expert, I could choose Indigenous Australian rights and lives, and repeat the three books I listed under Week 1’s particular topic question. I will stay with this idea, and share some more books I’d like to read, but with the proviso that I, as a non-indigenous person, could never actually become the expert. Some non-fiction indigenous works I’d like to read include:

  • Larissa Behrendt’s Finding Eliza: Power and colonial storytelling (Lisa’s ANZLitLovers review): this book which explores/exposes early writing about Indigenous Australians has been on my TBR for a few years now. I hope to read it for Lisa’s 2020 Indigenous Literature Week.
  • Stan Grant’s Australia Day (my post on a conversation with Stan Grant): having heard the conversation, I’d now like to read the book!
  • Alexis Wright’s Tracker (Bill’s The Australian Legend review) which won the Stella Prize in 2018, and which appeals for its story of a strong but controversial Indigenous Australian activist and for its “take” on biography/memoir.

(I am early with Week 3, but I figure that balances the fact that I’m very late with Week 1. I hope I’ll be forgiven.)

Non-fiction November 2018, Weeks 4 and 5

Non-fiction November 2018Well, bizarrely, I did the first three weeks from 2016 for my first Non-fiction November of 2018 post! I won’t revisit those – they’re similar topics to this year’s anyhow – but I’m back on track for this post. Non-fiction November, if you haven’t guessed, involves celebrating non-fiction for the month, with each week focusing on a specific issue, question or topic. This year’s meme is being hosted by Katie (Doing Dewey), Kim (Sophisticated Dorkiness), Rennie (What’s Nonfiction), Julz (JulzReads), and Sarah (Sarah’s Bookshelves). 

As with my first post which covered weeks 1 to 3, I’m combining weeks 4 and 5 into one post and am publishing it during the weekend between the two weeks.

Week 4: (Nov. 19 to 23) – Reads Like Fiction (Rennie @ What’s Nonfiction)

This topic essentially asks whether we like a form of non-fiction called “narrative” or “creative non-fiction”, which Wikipedia describes as “writing that uses literary styles and techniques to create factually accurate narratives.”

Well, in a word, yes – I do – very much. If that makes me sound soft, then so be it, but I’d argue that non-fiction writer using literary styles and techniques to engage readers doesn’t automatically weaken the seriousness or worthiness of their content. Commenting on a previous post of mine, historian Yvonne Perkins quoted historian Penny Russell who said that “Writing history… is a creative art. It requires empathy, intuition, a keen sense of drama and pathos, a distinct narrative flair.”

Helen Garner, This house of grief book cover

So, who (or what) are my favourites? One of the internationally recognised exponents of this form is the Australian writer, Helen Garner, whom I started reading long before blogging. Her books Joe Cinque’s consolation and This house of grief are excellent examples, and she influenced, I believe, younger Australian writers, like Chloe Hooper (The tall man) and Anna Krien (Into the woods and Night games). In these books the narrative drive comes from the writer’s involvement in the “story”, in their taking us along in their thinking and investigation. And to be not entirely ethnocentric, I’ll name one excellent non-Australian author I’ve read, albeit some years ago – Erik Larson and his book Isaac’s storm.

Michelle Scott Tucker, Elizabeth MacarthurTurning to this year, most of my non-fiction reading has been biography, which lends itself to this “creative” approach though not all biographers do adopt it. Two that I’ve read this year did, however, Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner and Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world. Krasnostein achieves it by being part of the journey, by using a creative structure interweaving her subject’s past with her present life, and by evocative language which uses the sort of imagery more common in fiction. Tucker, on the other hand, takes the more traditional straight chronological approach, but she encourages us to engage with Elizabeth Macarthur the woman, rather than present her to us as a fait accompli. There are gaps in Macarthur’s story. For example, we might know what happened, but not, perhaps, how or why, so Tucker uses her imagination – and makes it clear she’s doing to – to consider the situation. Here’s an example:

No. The most likely source is Elizabeth Macarthur, once more trying to mitigate her husband’s wilder misjudgements. But we have to imagine it: a hushed yet heated conversation with Edward to send him flying out after Oakes and then a vain attempt to placate and soothe John …

This is a thoroughly researched and documented biography, but written with a narrative, dare I say, novelist’s flair.

Week 5: (Nov. 26 to 30) – New to My TBR (Katie @ Doing Dewey)

Unfortunately, like last year, and although I’ve been reading several participants’ posts, I haven’t added anything to my TBR as a result of these November posts, because – and it’s a big because – I have so much already on that pile, including, most recently:

  • Peter Ackroyd’s Dominion (History of England V)
  • Elizabeth Kleinhenz’s Germaine: the life of Germaine Greer (about which I have also posted recently)
  • Clare Wright’s You daughters of freedom (currently being read, and about which I have already posted)

However, if I were looking for book ideas, I’d probably go back to some of “expert” posts. What a variety of topics – from Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) on Empathy to Debbie (ExUrbanis) on Downsizing and Making Major Life Changes, from Buried In Print’s call for good non-fiction books on Indigenous Storytellers to Brona (Brona’s books) wanting more on the French Revolution (which reminds me that I must go recommend something!) To name just a few!

Meanwhile, I’d love your comments on any of the above, but particularly your thoughts on non-fiction that reads like fiction. Do you like it? And if so, do you have any you’d recommend?

Non-fiction November 2018, Weeks 1 to 3

I’m not sure how long Non-fiction November has been happening in the blogosphere, but I first became aware of it last year. It runs for a month, with a different set of questions posed for each week of the month. Last year I concatenated my responses into two posts, one for weeks 1 to 3, and the other for weeks 4 to 5. I’m going to do the same this year.

The meme is jointly hosted this year by Katie (Doing Dewey), Lory (Emerald City Book Review), Sarah (Sarah’s Book Shelves), Rachel (Hibernator’s Library) and Julz (Julz Reads).

Week 1: (Oct 31-Nov 4) (KatieYour Year in Nonfiction: 

There are several questions for this week, but, like last year, I’m just going to answer a couple …

What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year?

Now, last year, I read a disproportionate amount of non-fiction (in terms of my reading preferences, that is), and said that I would like to right the balance somewhat this year. I like non-fiction – a lot – but I don’t want it to overtake fiction as it nearly did last year. Well, this year I sure have righted it, with, so far, non-fiction representing around 15% of my reading to date – mostly biographies and autobiographies/memoirs.

There are three standouts: Michelle Scott Tucker’s Elizabeth Macarthur: A life at the edge of the world (my review), Nadia Wheatley’s Her mother’s daughter (my review), and Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner (my review). If I were forced to choose just one, I would have to go for The trauma cleaner for the sheer chutzpah of its subject against terrible odds and for the clever structure Krasnostein uses to tell the story.

What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? 

The same as last year – literary biographies – closely followed by Australian history.

Week 2: (Nov 7 – 11) – (Rachel) Choosing Nonfiction

Again, there are several questions and I’ll share them all: What are you looking for when you pick up a nonfiction book? Do you have a particular topic you’re attracted to? Do you have a particular writing style that works best? When you look at a nonfiction book, does the title or cover influence you? If so, share a title or cover which you find striking.

Book cover, The forgotten rebels of EurekaThese are complex questions that could take a whole post, but I’m going to keep it succinct, with the following answer encompassing the first three questions above! The two main things I look for in a non-fiction book are subject matter and engaging style. For example, I like biographies (particularly of writers and achieving women) and Australian history, but I don’t like dry factual this-happened-and-then-that-happened writing. I particularly like something called creative non-fiction. However, while I want to be engaged, I also want to feel that the writing is authoritative so I like to see the author’s sources. Clare Wright’s histories, such as The forgotten rebels of Eureka (my review) and You daughters of freedom, are excellent examples. Wright writes with the narrative instincts of a novelist and yet her claims and statements are thoroughly cited.

Covers are never hugely important to me in selecting books. Of course, a good cover can catch my eye, but I will never buy a book by its cover. With fiction, it’s the author or a recommendation from a person I respect, that will decide me once I’ve seen the book. With non-fiction, the cover is even less important to me, which is just as well, because in general I’ve found non-fiction covers to be less interesting. Non-fiction covers seem more literal, more determined to capture the “facts” of the book – an image of the subject of the biography for example or of a war scene for a war history – whereas fiction covers can get a little more creative and look to capture an emotional response rather than depict content.

PS I also like Helen Garner’s non-fiction. She could write about grass growing and I’d be there.

Week 3: (Nov 14 – 18) – (Sarah) Book Pairing

I’m a bit ahead of the game here, but as I’ll be away from November 14 to 16, I’m going to sneak in my response now. The challenge is to pair up a nonfiction book with a fiction one – via whatever sort of connection seems fit. I loved this challenge last year, and found it fun again this year.

My pair is:

Yes, it is Clare Wright’s latest history, You daughters of freedom, which I’m still reading, and EM Forster’s Howard’s End which I reviewed just a week or so ago. You daughters of freedom is about the achievement of women’s suffrage in Australia, from the late 19th to early 20th century, and the role Australian suffragists played in worldwide suffrage movements, particularly in England.

Howards End was published in 1910, and its two main female characters, Margaret and Helen Schlegel, are well aware of and support women’s suffrage, though, as you’d expect from their personalities, Margaret is the one who is clearer about its meaning and impact. The novel opens with Helen writing from Howards End where Mr Wilcox easily demolishes her arguments for suffrage and equality:

He says the most horrid things about women’s suffrage so nicely, and when I said I believed in equality he just folded his arms and gave me such a setting down as I’ve never had. … I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life. I couldn’t point to a time when men had been equal, or even to a time when the wish to be equal and made them happier in other ways. I couldn’t say a word. I had just picked up the notion that equality is good from some book – probably from poetry, or you.

Later, when Margaret holds a luncheon party in Mrs Wilcox’s honour, suffrage and women’s rights come up. Margaret sees the issue as wider than just “the vote”:

“Aren’t we differing on something much wider, Mrs. Wilcox? Whether women are to remain what they have been since the dawn of history; or whether, since men have moved forward so far, they too may move forward a little now. I say they may…”

Howards End provides a fascinating study of England during this time of political and social change – and gender is one of the issues which recurs throughout.