reviews

 

Photographers on Photography: How the masters see, think and shoot.

Henry Carroll

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Published by Laurence King Publishing Ltd. 2018

This relatively slim, small volume hides an expansive look at the art of photography and famous photographers plying their craft. It is also a meditation on the nature and influence of photography, on the photographer, the subject, and the audience. It brings us face-to-face with our own reactions to photographs and points us to some inconvenient truths and some big ideas.

Interspersed with one-on-one interviews with some of the photographers represented are pages of images, accompanied by a succinct explanation, usually in their own words, of how specific photographers go about their craft.

In this age of ‘selfies’ and the (false) idea that we are all photographers, it is a fascinating account of what sets ‘real’ photography apart, and the nonsense that selfies are in any way anything other than a construct of who we want others to see rather than our true self.

There are some iconic images, there are startling concepts put forward, and there are wonderful “bites” of text that encapsulate the photographer’s own sense of the craft.

It is a wonderfully surprising and rewarding book (and an ironic plain cover!)

  (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 11 November 2018)



Queen Victoria: Daughter, Wife, Mother, Widow

Lucy Worsley

Published by Hodder and Stoughton 2018

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With a bona fide expertise in her subject, Lucy Worsley presents a cleverly constructed window into the life of the astonishing Queen Victoria. She earmarks twenty-seven significant dates in the Queen’s life and, through those seminal moments, uncovers the character, intelligence, and stoicism of the woman. Beginning in 1818 and ending in 1901, the reader is privy to the importance of days such as her Coronation and wedding; the days when she met with remarkable people such as Florence Nightingale and Disraeli; and days we can relate to such as Christmas.

Victoria has often been portrayed as dour, dressed in black, and seemingly deeply unhappy. It is only recently that historians are looking back to her young days, this time suggesting she was the dancing, lighthearted young woman of her time. This author prefers to offer a more detailed and nuanced view – as she says, neither “potato” nor “dancing princess”.  She portrays Victoria as a diligent woman, committed to her responsibilities, and a prolific chronicler of her own life and her times.

For those of us who perhaps are not immediately drawn to such works on the Royal Family and its legacy, this is in fact quite mesmerizing; it details the life of an extraordinary woman in an extraordinary time in history. 

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 11 November 2018)



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Lethal White

Robert Galbraith

Published by Sphere 2018

Books by Robert Galbraith (pseudonym J.K. Rowling) are ones I eagerly anticipate and, thus far, thoroughly immerse myself in and enjoy. Lethal White is the fourth in the series and, whilst they are satisfying reads in their own right, I recommend you start at the first book, The Cuckoo’s Calling. The characters of Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott are perfect foils for each other as they navigate their way through somewhat challenging private lives. Cormoran is ex-military, the son of a legendary rock star, an amputee, and a private investigator. Robin, originally sent to Cormoran from an agency to do secretarial work, is now a partner with him in the agency, much to the dismay of her husband and parents back in Yorkshire.  

A young distressed man barges into Cormoran’s office, acting erratically and claiming to have witnessed an awful crime many years earlier. Billy’s appearance leaves Cormoran unsettled and intrigued. Little does he know that it will spark an investigation that reaches into the British parliament, has Robin working undercover, and brings Strike back into the odd world that is the British class system. Strike and Ellacott are interesting characters and, as a team, make a perfect partnership. They have developed a deep trust in each other and are becoming inextricably drawn to one another, to the exclusion of others.

If you are not a reader of crime fiction you may miss these books, and it would be a pity, they really are very enjoyable. Lethal White is more than 600 pages and I was so enthralled, I read it over just a few nights.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 October 2018)

 

Rusted Off: Why country Australia is fed up.

Gabrielle Chan

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Published by Vintage 2018

Gabrielle Chan is a political journalist who found herself in the unlikely position of taking up residence in country New South Wales. Unlikely, because she was born in Singapore and raised in Coogee. After years spent in the cut and thrust of Canberra’s press corps, she raises a family in a rural community where the ramifications of government policies are writ large in the life of the township. Gabrielle makes interesting observations that those of us living in the cities of Australia have probably never thought about and she challenges what would seem to be some standard preconceptions. One example is the tendency to categorise rural folk as either red necks or ‘salt of the earth’ types whereas the reality is that, like any community, there are people of all political persuasions undertaking all manner of working activities. She dissects the current distrust of major political parties through conversations with people from her town, and she explains the challenge the National party has to retain its once ‘rusted on’ constituents. It makes for thought-provoking reading and is timely given looming state and federal elections.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 October 2018)



Body and Soul

John Harvey

Published by William Heinemann 2018

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The Charlie Resnick series of books by author John Harvey rank amongst my most favoured of the crime fiction genre. I would recommend the first book, Lonely Hearts, to anyone who is a fan of crime fiction and, importantly, to those who are enticed to read their first crime novel. These “Resnick” books are just part of the body of work produced by this most successful writer. 

When the Elder novels came out, I was thoroughly engaged by the lead character, Frank Elder. This title, Body and Soul, is the last in that series and is wonderful.

Previous titles, in order, are Flesh and Blood, Ash and Bone, and Darkness and Light. Elder, having retired from the police force, moved from Nottingham to Cornwall and set up home in an isolated cottage but, as one would expect, the past soon invaded his life and took him back into the world of the investigator.

Elder’s relationship with his daughter, Katherine, is pivotal, running concurrently and intersecting with the particular investigation he is working on in each of the four novels. In Body and Soul, Frank is surprised and worried when Katherine visits him and he can sense her emotional distress. He learns of her odd relationship with a famous artist and has to confront that she has been self-harming.  Post the murder of the artist, the police become aware of an assault that had taken place at the opening of an exhibition of his work; an assault perpetrated by Frank Elder. Separate to this storyline is the escape from prison of a man who had, in an earlier book in the series, kidnapped and abused Katherine. There is a scramble to try to find him and get him back under police custody but to no avail. The ending to Body and Soul is heartbreaking and left me wanting to reread the series.

John Harvey is such an accomplished person. Novelist and poet, he has also adapted the works of others for radio and television, and he ran Slow Dancer Press for many years.  His writing is engaging; his plot construction without peer; and his command of language of the highest order. To add to all this, he is also a fantastic guest at writers’ festivals as we knew when he visited us in Melbourne some years ago. On a personal note, congratulations, John, on another tour de force with Body and Soul.

 


Napoleon’s Australia: The incredible story of Bonaparte’s secret plan to invade Australia.

Terry Smith

Published by Ebury Press, 2018.

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I would be interested to read the curriculum for Australian History as it is taught (if it is taught) in schools today as this book opens up the subject to me in ways I was never taught. From the Dutch to the Spanish, to the English and the French, European interest in this southern land can be identified from as early as the 1600s, and earlier than that by other parties.

At age sixteen, Napoleon Bonaparte tried to join an expedition but was unsuccessful, and he went on to forge his military career; that rejection did not, however, dampen his interest in this part of the world. Indeed, he would come to strategise and plot the invasion of the continent. His wife, Josephine, amassed a huge collection of ‘Australiana’, inclusive of flora and fauna, that would also have a profound effect on Napoleon’s plans.

This book is best described as an historical account wrapped up in a ‘boys-own’ adventure story. It is accessible and fascinating. From the first page, the reader is captivated and intrigued by the attention on this part of the world.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 September 2018)

 

The Mess We’re In: How our politics went to hell and dragged us with it.

Bernard Keane

Published by Allen & Unwin, 2018.

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Canberra correspondent for Crikey and former public servant and speechwriter, Bernard Keane freely admits to being grumpy. The current state of politics is causing his angst, not least because he fundamentally believes in democracy and that our social order has served us well to this point. Whether it be Australian, American or British politics, factors are conspiring to have us believe that all is lost. Fake popularists, economic ‘nationalism’, customer alienation, and more are all leading us to a state of general despair. The notion of a decline in civility is perhaps, in my view, the most telling as when there is no regard for others, it is easy to manipulate and go beyond the boundaries of responsibility and truth. Keane does offer ways to combat this current malaise, especially in Australia: suggestions include individual action in terms of control of our privacy, an end to political donations, and a demand for transparency. He reminds us that it is arguably one of the best times to be alive so we have hope that change will come.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 2 September 2018)

 

Fodmap Friendly

Georgia McDermott

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Published by Pan Macmillan 2018

There is so much discussion and commentary about food intolerances these days that it is easy to forget that for those suffering from such things everyday is a challenge; to eat well and to be able to enjoy it without any negative consequences is no easy task. In this cookbook, Georgia McDermott gives a clear overview of the issues she has faced all her life, the actions she has taken, and then presents lovely, easy-to-follow recipes. I like her approach – this is what is so let’s work out how we can live with it. Great photographs, clear instructions, and a great diversity of  ingredients make this a nice cookbook for anyone to use.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 August 2018)

 

Skin in the Game
Sonya Voumar

Published by Transit Lounge 2018

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As we see the media landscape changing before our eyes, it is interesting to read Sonya Voumard’s account of her years as a journalist, beginning in the 1980s. She has worked as a court reporter and a political reporter; she has worked in Melbourne, Brisbane, Sydney and Canberra; and she has worked for the broadsheet media as well as in the corporate sector. Her recollections are against the backdrop of significant times in Australian political history and the evolution of the Australian social character. Her insights into the world of journalism are interesting as are the more personal accounts of how her life has unfolded. This is a story very well told.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 5 August 2018)

 

Alma Mahler

Sasho Dimoski

Translated by Paul Filev

Published by Dalkey Archive Press

www.dalkeyarchive.com

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This slim volume is of interest to me for a number of reasons. Firstly, the translator, Paul Filev, is a freelance translator and editor based in Melbourne, Australia. He is also a wonderful supporter of both works in translation and local independent bookstores. Melbourne is a UNESCO City of Literature not least because of its community of bookstores and libraries. I have had the privilege of being a bookseller in Melbourne for forty years (to this point!) and Paul was a significant supporter of Reader’s Feast Bookstore over many years. A few years ago, he chose to hold a book launch in our shop, one reason being the emphasis I had placed on works In Translation, devoting a dedicated area of the store to showcase literature from all over the world. Secondly, I have a sentimental attachment to Irish literary connections and the publisher of this book is named after a Flann O’Brien novel. Thirdly, and obviously from my opening remarks, I am interested in the work of the translator – how he/she is able to capture the language and emotion of a writer’s imagination.

The author, Sasho Dimoski, paints a picture of Alma Mahler, wife to Gustav Mahler, as she bears witness to his last days on earth. He imagines the thoughts and feelings she would have experienced facing the reality of the great composer’s death; and, what his passing would mean for both the choices she has made in the past and her future life.  Each chapter is referenced by one of Mahler’s symphonies and I read this book with his music playing in the background.

Written in Macedonian and translated by Paul Filev, this is a work that in its brevity encapsulates the world of the genius and the price paid for extraordinary talent by the chosen one and those in his/her orbit. Alma Mahler was a composer herself but it is said she did not pursue her talent once married to Gustav, possibly because he did not wish her to and possibly because of her own decision to concentrate on him. Regardless, she is, in his last days, reviewing the life lived and the sacrifices made and in so doing offering a glimpse into the human condition. What it means to love and be loved; how one’s choices determine the trajectory of a life; and the inescapable reality of the uncertainty of the future.

I don’t know how or why a reader can sense if a translation is true to the original. I remember reading a novel that was jarring in parts, and then reading the author’s notes that she was unhappy with the translated version as it did not capture the essence of her work. I do know that in this instance Mr. Filev has presented a work in English that is descriptive, meditative, and engaging. I was immediately transported to a time and place where a woman is voicing her innermost thoughts, and I cared to ‘travel’ with her as she came to an understanding of herself and her life.

 It is a sensitive and beautiful translation. 

 

 

The Death of Noah Glass

Gail Jones

Published by Text Publishing 2018

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On the death of their father, Martin and Evie Glass enter that period of grief  when the past is summoned and memories frame understanding of the momentous shift that comes with the passing of a parent. Noah Glass was born in 1946 in Western Australia and eventually married a woman who would die young and leave him with two children to raise. He would immerse himself in the world of art and become an expert on an Italian fifteenth century artist. His frequent visits to Italy, sometimes with his children, would ultimately lead to an affair that in turn would lead to the robbery of a piece of sculpture. This is news to Martin and Evie until after Noah’s death in Sydney when a detective begins an investigation into the theft.

Martin, himself an artist, travels to Palermo, Italy to try to uncover the truth whilst Evie moves in to her father’s Sydney apartment to get closer to him and try to order her thinking about the past and the things coming to light about Noah.

This is an enthralling story of people linked by one man and all keenly feeling his loss. It is also a beautifully written tale of two worlds: the Sydney of sunshine, ocean, and vivid colours and the Italy of village life and old customs. It is a satisfying tale and a memorable exploration of familial ties.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 July 2018)

 

On Quiet
Nikki Gemmel

Published by MUP 2018

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This small, short book is part of a series, each title written by a different author. In this work, Nikki Gemmel expands on the notion of our lives being so busy that we are missing important, life-affirming moments that feed our soul. She talks of the physical environment and the noisiness of it; the intrusion of technology on the way we live; and the constant interruptions that keep us from being quiet and alone. The importance of solitude and quietness is examined and she draws on examples from her own life and how finding space for herself, to be by herself, has enriched not only her existence but that of her family. It is well worth taking the little time it requires to read it and to ponder how ‘quiet’ could similarly benefit us.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 July 2018)

 

Australia Reimagined

Hugh Mackay

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Published by Pan Macmillan 2018

Hugh Mackay says this will be his last non-fiction study on Australia but I for one hope that is not so. He has always presented as a man of reason and integrity, with a genuine curiosity and a keen researcher’s mind. A social scientist, Hugh Mackay has helped us understand our society, acknowledge our cultural idiosyncrasies, and led us to a possible solution to current issues.

In Australia Reimagined, he points out that presently we are an anxious society. Individualism is rampant, society is fragmented, and we are afraid of stillness. All of these leads to a population that is isolated and unable to empathise; each person believing in their own entitlement and operating from a particularly insidious selfishness. Talk of a deficit of compassion and a poisonous ‘busyness’ underpins his overall point that we need to change our ways.

Understanding the human need for connection and that communication is at the heart of a healthy society, Hugh Mackay suggests we need, individually and collectively, to focus on our local community and to take steps to involve ourselves in it and take responsibility for it.

In the second half of the book, he focuses on the notion of convergence, where old lines are blurred and ways of living and working are intersecting or changing altogether; in particular, he looks at religion, politics and education as well as issues of gender, and how our relationship to each has changed.

Hugh Mackay points out that approximately two million Australians are anxious, even though, on a global scale, we are in much better shape than so many other countries. He helps us understand why this is and what we can do to improve our outlook. Regardless of statistics and research, Hugh Mackay maintains an optimism about us and it is this that always makes his commentary all the more influential on how we, the reader, respond to the challenges of our world.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 June 2018)

Bridge Burning and Other Hobbies
Kitty Flanagan

Published by Allen & Unwin 2018

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I particularly like the tenor of this book from the Australian comedian, Kitty Flanagan. She is not trying too hard to make us ‘laugh out loud’ nor is she regaling us with tall tales. She is simply recounting experiences from childhood and adulthood that, by their very description, are entertaining. Whether it is the description of her grandmother’s cooking, her time at teachers’ college, or her encounter with the undertaker on a date, it is all amusing and endearing. I especially like her honesty about her choices and her reactions to the predicaments in which she has managed to place herself. She is quick to tell us this is not an autobiography because her mother, on being told she had written a memoir, would have simply asked why? In other words, this is not an indulgent, eco-driven tome but, rather, a pleasant meander through the life of one woman.  

  (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 June 2018)

Welcome to Country: A Travel Guide to Indigenous Australia

Marcia Langton with Nina Fitzgerald and Amba-Rose Atkinson

Published by Hardie Grant 2018

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Through Marcia Langton’s eyes, we gain insight into aspects of Indigenous life and the knowledge to equip us to travel throughout Indigenous Australia. The first part of the book is an exploration of language, custom, history and culture. The second part is a directory of “tourism experiences” that identify the ways in which we can engage with Indigenous Australia ‘on-the-ground’. Identified by State or Territory, this section mirrors all travel guides, covering galleries and museums, national park locations, and festivals and local performances.

Beautifully designed, it serves as a unique guide to a land and its people. How many of us traverse this continent without engaging with historical and contemporary Indigenous life? Ideal for anyone, local or international, who wants to see and understand this ‘wide brown land’.

 

Bygone Badass Broads
Mackenzi Lee

Published by Abrams 2018

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Evolving from a twitter feed by Mackenzi Lee (a fiction writer), this book celebrates 52 women whose names are probably completely unfamiliar to you but who were influential. They are women from all decades, from countries around the world, and from all walks of life. There is an engineer, a fossil collector, a warrier, and a pirate queen. The woman, Empress Xi Ling Shi, who founded Taoism and created Chinese writing is represented. So too Edith Garrud, the first English fight choreographer for film and stage who had protected Emmaline Pankhurst at her public rallies with a group of specially trained women using Jujitsu.

Presented in an engaging style that would attract young and older readers alike, it is a dip into the history of women in the world.

 

The Ruin

Dervla McTiernan

Published by Harper Collins 2018

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As a bona fide crime fiction tragic, I can attest to the enthusiastic reviews Dervla McTiernan’s novel The Ruin is attracting. Her lead character, Cormac Reilly, is presented as a stoic but troubled man. Such a character is relatively standard in the genre, but the difference with the way Reilly is drawn is that we are not privy to full detail of his past (which makes him interesting) nor is he flawed in the usual way (heavy drinker with a tendency to sit and wallow while listening to jazz!).

Reilly is new to the Galway Garda Station and is acutely aware that he is an outsider; however, that alone does not explain the odd behaviour of his peers and bosses. He knows all is not as it seems but cannot quite put his finger on what is going on. Completely unexpectedly, he is thrust back in time to twenty years earlier when he was a young officer, sent out to investigate a domestic situation. That night he met two children, Jack and Maude Blake. After establishing their mother was dead, Cormac took them to the local hospital where Jack was treated for injuries and Maude disappeared.

In the present day, Jack has just been found dead after what is classed a suicide and Maude has reappeared. Aisling, Jack’s partner, meets Maude for the first time and comes to agree with Maude when she determines that Jack did not kill himself and the police are disinterested in uncovering the truth.

This is a novel that develops ‘quietly’ in that the reader is immersed in the characters and the plot without realizing it is happening; it is that wonderful and relatively rare work that demands you return to it and keep reading, leaving chores and other things aside till you reach the end.

A follow-up novel is in the offing; this is great news as there are so many questions I have about Cormac Reilly’s past and interest in his future in Galway.

 

 

The Library: A Catalogue of Wonders

Stuart Kells

Published by Text 2017 and Counterpoint Press 2018

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The word “library” will conjure up a specific memory or feeling for every reader. It might be the library was an escape from an otherwise fraught childhood; perhaps it was a point of contact in a lonely existence; or perhaps it was the place that sparked an imagination that led to significant choices in life.

It is more than likely that few of us have stopped to ponder that our library experience is but one of millions that have been lived over centuries and in all corners of the globe. Stuart Kells provides us with the context for our library memories and opens up worlds populated with wonderful anecdotes, interesting facts, outrageous characters, and seminal historical moments. He is our guide through the fascinating history of libraries and the people who created them, frequented them, and saved or destroyed them.

This broad sweep of their history introduces us to, among others, mythical libraries, literary libraries, physical and metaphysical libraries. We make the acquaintance of key figures in the history of individual books, and we come to an appreciation for the architects and builders of the world’s most beautiful libraries.

Stuart Kells has a particular skill for taking a broad approach but peppering it with salient details that best illustrate the chronology of the development of his subject. He manages to fill our heads with information that does not overwhelm but educates and delights us. He expertly brings individuals to life on the page and, by so doing, transports us to earlier times and the great repositories of  world literature.  My favourite is the bibliomaniac Richard Heber (1774-1833) who amassed a collection that exceeded 100,000 books and required eight houses for their storage. Tales of book thieves are riveting and stories of hidden bookcases and fake books add to the sense of the story of libraries being as fanciful and enjoyable as any movie we might see or novel we might read.

To be a lover of books is not necessarily to be a lover of libraries or bookstores as I have discovered to my horror (the librarian at an exclusive school who seemed to take pride in telling me that she “hated being surrounded by books all day”). But I defy anyone who has even the most cursory interest in the printed book not to be swept up in Stuart’s obvious affection for libraries and his enthusiasm for the role historical figures who, by virtue of their creation of libraries, have played in inculcating us with a love of books and an appreciation for their inherent beauty.

This is also a book for our time – it is clarion call for those of us who appreciate the role of libraries in the history of the world to protect and defend them from transitory budgeting pressures or unfettered excitement at the new frontier of digitization.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

Think Before You Like
Guy P. Harrison

Published by Prometheus Books 2017

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Subtitled “social media’s effect on the brain and the tools you need to navigate your newsfeed”, this book will be comforting and worrying in equal measure.  At a time when Facebook is facing scrutiny over the Cambridge Analytica scandal, this book helps explain that, by its very nature, the technical environment in which we operate is destined to expose our thoughts, beliefs, buying patterns, and so much more.  As articulated by a former Google employee: “The internet is the first thing humanity has invented that humanity doesn’t understand.”  And, this sobering thought from historian Yuvel Noah Harari: “In the 21st century our personal data is probably the most valuable resource most humans still have to offer, and we are giving it to the tech giants in exchange for e-mail services and funny cat videos.”

Nevertheless, Harrison presents the positives from this technological age, and most importantly, provides useful information about how we can harness these and take control, to a degree, of how we live.  A key point is that we need to think critically about what we do and how we access the internet; we must analyse the information we are receiving, and take an active part in our online presence.

This book is a thought-provoking, accessible and ultimately useful resource.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

The Pocket Universal Principles of Art

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John A. Parks

Published by Rockport 2018

I wonder if you are like me – you visit a gallery and become thoroughly captivated by what you see but don’t really understand or appreciate what exactly you are viewing; you know what you like but perhaps not why you like it.

This pocket-sized book is the perfect companion for your gallery visits. It provides “100 key concepts for understanding, analyzing, and practicing art.” Each page features an image that illustrates a point about art – it might be the style, the technique, the cultural context or the physical response it evokes. The saying “don’t leave home without it” was never more apt.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 8 April 2018)

 

The Passengers

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Eleanor Limprecht

Published by Allen and Unwin 2018

 

I grew up with stories of Australia in the 1940s and the arrival of American soldiers, temporarily transforming our cities and having a lasting impact on the society. This well written novel by Eleanor Limprecht explores what is perhaps the most fascinating byproduct of this ‘invasion’; that of war brides.  Thousands of Australian women married American soldiers and then followed them home to the USA after the war. In The Passengers, we meet Sarah, an elderly lady accompanied by her young granddaughter, travelling to Australia by cruise ship. She has not been home to Sydney since she left on a ship in 1946 to travel to Virginia to meet Roy, the young soldier she had known for a few weeks when she married him before he was shipped out to PNG. Hannah, Sarah’s granddaughter, comes to learn of her grandmother’s life both before and after meeting Roy. She is at turns surprised, amazed and confused by the twists and turns of Sarah’s life. At the same time, Hannah is herself on a life journey that is by no means easy or straightforward.

The author met with surviving war brides and is herself no stranger to moving around the globe, having been born in America, lived in Pakistan and is now a resident of Australia. Her characters are likeable and the reader is totally engaged by the details of Sarah’s life as she expertly weaves them in-between the narrative of Hannah’s contemporary life issues.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday4 March 2018)

 

Born a Crime

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Trevor Noah

Published by John Murray, 2017

It is easy to watch late night television from America and imagine the hosts have come from relatively uneventful backgrounds and have found fame with ease. Not so Trevor Noah, current host of the The Daily Show and successful comedian. Trevor was born in South Africa a few years prior to Nelson Mandela being released from prison but he came into the world, as he says, a “crime” given that he was the son of a white Swiss father and black African mother and such a union was still illegal at the time.  It is a remarkable story of a childhood held hostage by the prejudices of his society and by the dysfunction of his family unit. He begins each chapter with information on the history of Apartheid. The story that follows each chapter opening illuminates this history and brings it into sharp focus , as it impacted on the life of this young man. The stories are thoughtful and interesting and, at turns, heartbreaking and humorous.  The abuse his mother and Trevor suffered at the hands of his stepfather is made even more horrifying by the lack of support from the authorities. Despite the seriousness of his background, Trevor Noah presents an uplifting and engaging memoir.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday4 March 2018)

 

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There it is again: collected writings

Don Watson

Published by Vintage

Famous for his facility with language, Don Watson’s beautiful writing is on display in this collection of previously published articles. Subjects covered include sport, nature, history, international politics and, of course, the local political scene. Particular favourites for me are the article on the retirement of cricketer, Steve Waugh (“Why we loved the other PM) and the Afterword of Recollections of a Bleeding Heart contained in the tenth anniversary edition.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2018)

 

 

 

 

 

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A Timeline of Australian food: from mutton to MasterChef

Jan O’Connell

Published by New South

I would label this book as a trip down memory lane and very good fun. It is also a terrific snapshot of the history of food in this country. Spanning from the 1860s to the present time, it is full of interesting facts (a book was produced in 1898 that decried the cooking and consuming of meat, called The Book of Diet; the first ‘organic farming society’ was formed in 1944) and identifies how the new settlers turned their backs on local produce and began introducing new foods that continued (and continues) to this day where the good food guides can showcase more than forty cuisines. If you want to know when the first Granny Smith apple was grown, who was the first Australian chocolatier, or want to revel in the fact (as I do) that ice-cream has been on the shelves since 1906, then you will enjoy this book. It is full of photographs and old-time product advertisements.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 3 February 2018)

 

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The Life of a Song
Edited by David Cheal & Jan Dalley

Published by Brewer’s 2017

Originating as articles in the weekend FT, this compilation of the origin of fifty much-loved songs is both fascinating and enjoyable. As mentioned in the introduction to the book, this is about the music itself rather than the singer or its commercial success.

The piece on Red Red Wine recorded by UB40 explains that when identifying the composer, they believed N. Diamond was an unknown Jamaican songwriter. Of course, it was Neil Diamond. A picture is painted when we are told that Edith Piaf wrote La Vie en Rose while sitting at an outdoor Parisian café with Marianne Michel who was bemoaning the fact that no one was writing her new songs.

Jim Weatherly, composer of Midnight Train to Georgia, had contact in recent years with a Canadian radio producer and son of a train enthusiast who told him he had checked, no trains left for Georgia at midnight in August 1973!

These wonderful anecdotes sit alongside historical and poignant facts about the creation of these fifty songs. The book also includes black and white photographs of some of the artists who have performed them over the years.  Songs include Over the Rainbow, Born in the USA, Starman, and God Bless the Child. It is an eclectic but balanced list, and a lovely browse through the song tracks of our lives.

 (broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 January 2018)

 

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Australian Gypsies: The Secret History

Mandy Sayer

Published by New South Publishing 2017

Until picking up this book I had no idea we had a Gypsy community in Australia. The author makes the point that in beginning to research this history, she could find only four scant references to gypsies in any of the literature, yet it is known that people from the Romani community were amongst the earliest convict arrivals. Mandy Sayer helpfully gives a brief history of the Romani people and explains the differences between some Romani communities and, for instance, the tinkers of Ireland. She meets Romani families and provides fascinating information about their way of life, both in the past and today, and provides the historical background to how these communities evolved, and the external societal influences that dictated how Romani people lived and worked.  Whilst reading the book, it struck me as an important but previously untold part of our history:  “For 230 years, the Gypsies of Australia have lived in the shadows of history…..”

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 7 January 2018)

 

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Best in Travel 2018

Lonely Planet

Published November 2017

This compact guide to potential holiday destinations for next year is interesting as it contains an eclectic range of places as well as identifying unusual types of holidays. It is divided into the ten best countries, regions, and cities with the Australian capital, Canberra, getting the nod alongside Oslo, Hamburg and Seville.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 10 November)

 

 

 

 

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Still Lucky

Rebecca Huntley

Published 2017

Distilling the information gathered over more than ten years, social researcher Rebecca Huntley looks at Australia and Australians today and reflects on the similarities and changes to the “lucky country” as depicted by Donald Horne more than fifty years ago. The conclusions reached are sometimes surprising; whilst we may think the world is very different now to that of Horne’s era however the same worries and aspirations seem to apply. Of particular interest are Huntley’s comments on our responses to apartment living and the endurance of the Australian spirit.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 10 November)

 

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Two Kinds of Truth

Michael Connelly

Published November 2017

As an aficionado of the crime fiction genre over my reading life (some five decades) I can attest to the fact that Michael Connelly has never let this reader down. Every work has been of the highest calibre and he has managed to keep the readers’ interest in his character of Harry Bosch alive whilst introducing other characters and making them similarly engaging.

A case from thirty years earlier is raised with Bosch as the subject of investigation, with the convicted killer set to appeal on the basis of new evidence coming to light in the form of previously undetected DNA.  If the appeal works, it calls into question all of the cases Harry successfully closed over his long and illustrious career. He is still working cases, albeit not as a fully paid up member of the police force, and is caught up in undercover work to bring to justice the killers of a pharmacist and his son.

Every time I pick up a new Harry Bosch novel, I am immediately back in his world as Michael Connelly manages to seamlessly have us inhabit Bosch’s world. Other writers can sometimes disappoint; that is never the case with Connelly.

 

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Queens of the Conquest: England’s Medieval Queens

Alison Weir

Published by Jonathan Cape, November 2017

This is the first in a series of four books by renowned author Alison Weir. It explores the lives of the first five queens who followed the Norman Conquest of 1066. It begins with Matilde of Flanders, and follows with Matilda of Scotland, Adeliza of Louvain, Matilda of Boulogne and the Empress Maud.  Weir makes two interesting points: any information available mostly comes from monastic chronicles and all but one of the medieval queens were of the high royal blood of Europe. Working with relatively scant material, Weir nonetheless draws full and interesting biographies of these figures from history.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 12 November)

 

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Ada: comedian, dancer, fighter

Kaz Cooke

Published by Viking, November 2017

 

Writing a fictionalized account of the life of an Australian woman from the 1890s/1900s, Kaz Cooke imbues her story with humour, anecdote and interesting historical information. Ada Delroy was a Vaudevillian who travelled throughout the world before setting up her dance troupe and traversing Australia. Drawing on research from every state library, Kaz Cooke brings us the story of a mesmerizing character who offers a particular view of life at the time, meeting all manner of personalities and landing in all sorts of unusual situations. Written as a result of a Creative Fellowship at the State Library of Victoria 2013-2015, Cooke obviously immersed herself in Ada’s world.

(broadcast by 3AW’s Alan Pearsall, Sunday 12 November)

 

 

*This review was written in 2009 and this book by Ros Moriarty remains firmly in my list of top five all time favourite and most influential books.

Listening to Country

Ros Moriarty

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As I write this review, I am yet to finish Listening to Country. I could have finished it by this time but I am savouring the experience of ‘listening’ to this book. It is perhaps the most lyrical and evocative book I have read in years. Ros Moriarty is married to John, an Aboriginal man, and they have three children. From the earliest years of their marriage, they have travelled home to John’s country and family, a journey that, each time, holds special meaning for everyone as John was taken from his mother when a young boy.  With her children now young adults, Ros undertakes an extraordinary journey with John’s female relatives. She travels to the Northern Territory’s Tanami Desert with these remarkable women to perform ceremony. Ros Moriarty, in sharing her experiences with us, has created a beautiful rendering of the wonder that results when one human being connects with another. She has provided a lovely portrait of the natural grace and humility of good women. And, she has offered her readers the chance to just be still and listen to this land, its people, and our own hearts.

 

The Cello Suites

Eric Siblin

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“It doesn’t get any better than this” is a phrase that comes to mind as I write this review of Eric Siblin’s The Cello Suites. Johann Sebastian Bach and books! The composer whose music touches my heart the most is revealed in this meticulously researched and beautifully written book. Eric Siblin had his most evocative Bach moment as he sat listening to the Cello Suites in the courtyard of a villa that was once owned by Pablo Casals. Casals was a young boy when, in 1890, he was walking with his father through Barcelona’s Ramblas and they loitered at a second-hand store selling sheet music. Neither father nor son could believe their eyes as they realised what was sitting in front of them, a score with the title “Six Sonatas or Suites for Solo Violoncello by Johann Sebastian Bach”. So began the Catalan cellist’s journey towards greatness as an interpreter of this most glorious music. The book, in alternating chapters, traces Bach and Casals’ lives. It is a celebration of the power of music, the nature of true genius, and of lives well lived. I have been reading it as I listen to Pablo Casals performing the Suites. This bookseller of Catalan heritage has been immersed, as was Eric Siblin, in the wonder that is Bach’s composition and Casals musicianship. So, come to think of it, it is Bach and books with a Catalan thread. The only way it could get even better is if I could find an Irish connection – the main corner of this Dalmau’s heart. We have limited stock of Casals’ recording and I would urge readers to listen and read simultaneously. We readers owe a debt to Eric Siblin for taking such care with the greatness that is Bach and Casals (I deliberately use the present tense as they are very much part of my world).