Exploring the landscape of Australia's written words.

Category Archives: Non-Fiction

October has been a busy, busy month. I returned from my trip overseas at the end of September, and immediately started packing to move out. I finally moved out, but my partner and I decided to paint the two bedrooms in the place we’ve moved into, so I’ve spent many October days inside, applying coat after coat of paint. When I wasn’t painting, I’ve been writing job application after job application, trying to find myself a job. And after three months of not being able to write a word, I finally sat down at my laptop and started writing again, and I have some exciting projects coming up over the next few weeks and months which I’ve been working on, one of which is getting my blog back on track.  So finally I’m feeling ready to get back into reading and blogging regularly.

I’ve decided to start this new post on the first Monday of every month, because I don’t exclusively read Australian books. I choose to blog about Australian books because I’m exploring what makes a book Australian, but to read exclusively Australian books would be to shut out a large majority of wonderful reads! So here’s a look at the other books and magazines I read this month (3 of which, were, admittedly, Australian).

 

frankieThe new edition of Frankie magazine, a bimonthly Australian publication with a strong focus on anything vintage and creative types. I find some editions more inspiring and more to my interest than others, and this month’s wasn’t an edition I read and thought WOW, but they did have a wonderful feature on some zine creators, who publish zines on everything from dogs to coffee.

My new discovery this month was SLOW Magazine, a quarterly Australian publication about the slow living movement. It is a wonderful publication. This month had an in-depth feature on the philosophy of the Steiner school system, a handwritten extract by Tim Winton from his new novel Eyrie (which I’ve been promised as a slowmagazineChristmas present, so I still have two months to wait before I get to read it!) and the experiences of different families as they swapped their fast-paced city lives for country living. It will definitely become one of my few regular magazine buys.

The Lifted Brow Melbourne Writers Festival Edition. I’ve reviewed The Lifted Brow on my blog before, but this edition was really something- the team wrote, edited, designed and printed the magazine all during the week of the Melbourne Writers Festival. And I must say, it’s a wonderful issue, all the more so because it was put together in a week. One week. I won’t say any more. If you want to know what’s inside, you’ll just have to get yourself a copy.theliftedbrowmwf

lean-inLean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook. I actually won this book back in April, without really knowing what the book was, but from the first page, I was hooked. Sandberg writes about women and careers. She acknowledges that it is, of course, a woman’s choice to decide if she wishes to work in or outside the home, but that for those who choose to work outside the home, there are still major obstacles which prevent women from getting to the top of her profession (if that’s what she chooses to do). I’ve never read anything like this book. Sheryl makes some excellent points, others I don’t agree with, and still more which I’d never really considered, but can already see in my own approach to my work and career. A fascinating book!

Happy reading!

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fossicking-for-old-booksI suppose I could call myself an amateur book fossicker: I love trawling through book fairs and op shops, searching through row after row of books for anything which might take my fancy. Before reading Anthony Marshall’s Fossicking for Old Books, I didn’t think there was anything more to it than showing up at a book fair, having a look, and hoping to bag some good finds, but no. Apparently, it’s a much, much more brutal game than a casual leisurely peruse.

 Anthony Marshall’s light-hearted book makes it clear that fossicking for old books should definitely be a sport, at least amongst book dealers. These are the people who show up an hour early to a book fair, to try and get a head start, to find the best deals for their bookshops. They take bags and boxes to throw their loot into, and aren’t afraid to elbow someone out of the way of a really good find. Marshall himself admitted to one day finding an edition of a book in an op shop, which was priced at five dollars, when all the other paperbacks were priced at two dollars. He decided this was a great injustice, and replaced the five dollar sticker with a two dollar sticker. He felt guilty as soon as he left the shop, having ripped a charity off three dollars, and has been trying to rid himself of his guilt ever since.

This book is a quirky insight into the world of second-hand book dealing. I didn’t read it cover to cover, rather, I picked out different chapters and read them out of order, delving into the book as and when I wished, but the book is so enticing that it was impossible to stop myself at one chapter at a time.

 I don’t think I’ll change my game plan and join the ranks of the professional book dealers any time soon. I’m more than happy to quietly browse through the books, collecting those that mean something to me, and leaving the rest for the book dealers to fight over. But nevertheless, Fossicking for Old Books is a fascinating read, which isn’t afraid to poke fun at itself, the industry or the business. Because after all, deep down, it’s not about finding the best loot. It’s about an unquenchable love of books.

Bread Street Press, 2004


VogueI knew that not all magazine editors would be like Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, or the famous Anna Wintour. But when I started reading The Vogue Factor, I did also have in the back of my mind that Kirstie Clements had worked for Vogue for over two decades, and that Vogue is a high-end fashion magazine. So I certainly didn’t expect the book to be about such a down-to-earth, realistic, genuinely grateful for her opportunities Vogue editor.

Kirstie Clements’ The Vogue Factor is written about Clements’ years working for the magazine. She worked her way up from humble beginnings working on reception to become the editor-in-chief. And how easily even that opportunity could have passed her by: she convinced her interviewer to put her on trial first, before another girl also in consideration for the job, and that if they liked her, they wouldn’t have to bother replacing her. As they say, the rest is history.

It is impossible not to like Clements and the way she writes about the amazing career she forged for herself. She never takes any of it for granted. It is clear that she’s always worked hard, and been grateful and gracious about all the opportunities which have come her way. She also offers a stern lesson for all her readers: if you want something, and you’re willing to work hard enough to get it, it just might come your way. This is how she ends up as the editor of Vogue, and how she finds herself interviewing Crown Princess Mary in Denmark, one of many amazing experiences Clements has had. Unfortunately, Clements’ story is also a reminder that you can be doing everything right and still it’s not quite good enough, as she discovered when she was sacked out of the blue from the magazine in 2012.

What I truly loved about this story is the complete Aussie-ness of it. Vogue Australia is small fish compared to the other Vogue editions around the world, and must make do with its smaller budget, distance from the rest of the world and being considered not as important as the other Vogue titles. But that is also what makes the Australian edition great, as the magazine constantly features up and coming and established Australian models, celebrities and designers. The plight of the magazine is the plight of the Aussie battler on the international fashion scene, as is the plight of Clements as she works her way up to become editor-in-chief.

I have a whole new appreciation for Vogue and the tireless hours spent creating such a magazine. It is a high-end fashion magazine, and not everyone can afford to spend thousands on Prada. But everyone can appreciate the creative pursuits of the magazine and of those featured in it, and be proud of the fact we had Kirstie Clements at the head of the magazine for so long.

Published Melbourne University Press, 2013

Review copy thanks to Net Galley


I never planned on blogging about my own picture book on my blog. I wanted to explore Australian writing I’d never encountered before, to learn something about my country’s literature, not shamelessly write about things I already knew. But recently, in the process of finally publishing What in the World? as a Kindle edition on Amazon, I’ve revisited the book and it got me thinking: what makes my book Australian?

Well, the illustrator, Adil Soh-Lim, and I are both Australian. And Australia is the country featured for the letter ‘A’ in our book, along with the iconic kangaroo. From there, however, the book departs to explore countries from every continent on Earth (excluding Antarctica). It doesn’t have anything to do with the Australian life or landscape.

If anything makes this book Australian, it is the conception- from a school project through to a publishing project. Adil and I have received lots of help along the way to get the book to where it is now. It is a book born and raised in Australia, and while it has taken tentative steps out into the wider world with our decision to publish the book on Amazon, it is a book that was inspired to be created here and nurtured to its current state on Australian soil.

Perhaps that is what constitutes an Australian book- a book which was created and written against an Australian backdrop, even if it is a book about American marines (like Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow series) or set in Europe (like Tim Winton’s The Riders). At the end of the day, why should Australia’s writing conform to an Australian perception of Australians living in Australia? Isn’t an Australian perspective on the rest of the world just as relevant?

For all the controversy about just what makes a book an ‘Australian work of literature’, maybe we should all relax and remember that no matter the subject, these works by Australian writers were shaped by living ( at least partially) in this country. And that should be good enough.

What in the World?

Raelke Grimmer and Adil Soh-Lim, 2006

Patchery Press, 2012

www.what-in-the-world.net

Also available as a Kindle edition on Amazon.   


I discovered this book in one of the best possible ways: by browsing slowly through a bookstore and seeing which books jumped out at me. I admit, it was the presentation of Down to Earth which grabbed my attention first. But after a quick flick through, I knew I couldn’t leave it behind in the bookstore. It had to come with me.

Rhonda Hetzel lives in Queensland with her husband, and this book is all about living simply: baking food from scratch, being self-sufficient, not relying on consumerism and surviving on simply enough. No more and no less than what you need. These methods of living are nothing new- they are what previous generations did instinctively. However, Hetzel believes people are slowly losing the skills required to really take care of oneself- cooking, cleaning, sewing and budgeting.

I found it surprising how engaging the book was to read. I’ll admit, I was a little suspicious at first- often books called a ‘guide’ are really instructions on what you should  be doing and why doing anything different is wrong. However, Hetzel makes it very clear that she understands that different people have different amounts of time, different priorities and are at different stages in their lives. She is retired, and can therefore afford to spend her days baking and tending to her garden and making sure the home is running efficiently. Yet she makes no assumptions or demands that the reader too should be able to do everything she suggests- she merely asks the reader to take away those things they believe in or find useful, and leave the rest alone.

More than a guide to simple living, I found it interesting reading about the changes Hetzel herself has chosen to make in her life. She openly admits that she found changing her ways difficult and daunting at first, but slowly she became accustomed to what worked for her. She offers tips on managing money, sewing, baking, cooking, cleaning and organisation, as well as including recipes for making your own soap and cleaning products. Having read the book, I am unsure how much I will really take away with me and use in practice, yet I found it such an interesting and mind opening read. Hetzel herself once lived the life governed by money and possessions that many people live, and really attempts to understand her readers. I would encourage people to check out her blog at http://down—to—earth.blogspot.com.au/ and at least see what she has to say. It certainly challenged my perception of some things.

Down to Earth: a guide to simple living

Viking, Penguin Books, 2012


I don’t know how Duborsarsky managed to write a children’s book about grammar which offers clear, concise explanations while at the same time managing to be entertaining. Judging by the hundreds of dry grammar books published over the past fifty years, it appeared to be an impossible task. Duborsarsky has proven this is definitely not so, with her children’s book The Return of The Word Spy, illustrated by Tohby Riddle. The Word Spy, the prequel to this book, was published in 2008 and took kids on a journey through the eccentricities and oddities of language. The Return of the Word Spy, published in 2010, throws kids into a complicated world of grammar. The character of The Word Spy is a charming, engaging narrator. At the end of each section there are puzzles for kids to decipher, and if they do so correctly they uncover a hidden message.

Ursula Dubosarsky is an Australian author who lives in Sydney.  She writes fiction and non-fiction for children and young adults. This book is brilliant. It uses funny examples to explain technical concepts, and invites the reader to go on a journey with The Word Spy, and to become a Word Spy themselves, rather than shutting out the reader and simply explaining the knowledge. The Word Spy and The Return of The Word Spy are two books which I think are so important for children to read. They teach children the joy in language rather than the prescriptive grammar rules which have too many exceptions to count. It shows that all these technical terms don’t have to be as complicated as they appear.

Riddle’s illustrations are a great accompaniment to Duborsarsky’s playful text. He deliberately illustrates misnomers and manages to make words and language come alive in his pictures. There is so much information contained in this book, and it is divided into sections. While each section is linked and there is a clear logical progression, kids can also look at the contents page and start with the chapter that most appeals to them.

This is a book written for kids, yet I daresay several adults would get a lot out of this book too. I know I certainly did. If kids want to find out more, they can visit http://wordsnoop.blogspot.com.au/ .

The Return of the Word Spy

Viking, Penguin Books, 2010



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