Phosphorescence by Julia Baird

I didn’t need much convincing about the importance of feeling ‘wonder and awe’ when I started reading Julia Baird’s part-memoir-part-essay-collection, Phosphorescence. The book begins with Baird’s experience of ocean swimming. I know the feelings she describes. I know those feelings from the sea. I know those feelings every time I look up at the clouds. I know those feelings when I gaze at the muddy sweep of the Yarra.

Something happens when you dive into a world where clocks don’t tick and inboxes don’t ping. As your arms circle, swing and pull along the edge of a vast ocean, your mind wanders, and you open yourself to awe, to the experience of seeing something astonishing, unfathomable or greater than yourself. Continue reading

The Details by Tegan Bennett Daylight

I think Tegan Bennett Daylight added the subtitle ‘Reading, Love and Death’ to her memoir/essay collection, The Details, just so that I’d buy it. Obviously I did. Immediately. What’s better than reading about reading, love and death? Nothing!

And this book delivered. Continue reading

Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld

I will preface this review by saying that I very much admire Curtis Sittenfeld’s work… But Rodham was not the book for me.

In summary, the novel is a ‘sliding doors’ look at Hillary Clinton’s life, and what might have happened had she not married Bill, and instead ‘remained’ Hillary Rodham. Sittenfeld gives Hillary a career as a law professor and a successful life in politics, but these things come at a cost – she has no family of her own, and few intimate relationships.

The story exposes the double-standards between male and female politicians, imposed by the public, the media, and society in general.

…complaints about sexism were perceived as sour grapes. Proof was elusive, situations subject to interpretation. Continue reading

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

Every year I look forward to the announcement of the ‘word of the year’ – some years I agree with the choice, other years they’re less meaningful to me (‘youthquake’ didn’t shake my world in 2017 but I’m pleased ‘climate emergency’ was recognised last year).

Pip Williams’s novel, The Dictionary of Lost Words, explores the development of the Oxford English Dictionary through the lens of gender, historical events, and social structure. Williams uses real and imaginary characters to tell the story, which spans the women’s suffrage movement and the beginning of the Great War. Continue reading

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Know My Name by Chanel Miller is almost impossible to review. It’s the same problem I always have when reviewing memoirs – who am I to comment on a person’s story? And Chanel Miller’s story – brutal, powerful and incredibly insightful – is one that I’m particularly wary about commenting on, because she has had more than enough scrutiny. And yet, she wrote this book. A book that invites thought and demands discussion. Continue reading

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Things I wonder:

  • When Elizabeth Strout first wrote Olive Kitteridge, did she envisage a sequel?
  • And when she started thinking about where Olive’s story would pick up, was it easy to know what she wanted for Olive?

No doubt I could find an interview with Strout about Olive, Again, and these questions would be answered. Instead, I’ve chosen to ponder over Olive – because she is far from an easy character. She’s cantankerous. She’s prickly. And yet we love her. Olive is judgemental. She’s tone deaf. She lacks the emotional insight needed to guide her through tricky times. And yet, her obliviousness to discomfort is precisely what allows her to be a comforting presence at the most unexpected times. Continue reading

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

I used to go to gym with a woman whose family owned a funeral home. I asked her a million questions about it. That wasn’t me being weird, everyone asked her questions.  I think we have a natural curiosity about the process of death. Oddly, another member of my gym group managed a brothel. We asked her a million questions as well. Clearly we were a very nosey group!

Anyway, take what you will from my anecdote – it was the only introduction I could come up with for Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, Fun Home. Continue reading

Three very different memoirs

One Hundred Years of Dirt by Rick Morton, Wham! George & Me by Andrew Ridgeley, and The Fixed Stars by Molly Wizenberg are wildly different books. In fact, the only thing that unites them is that they are all shelved under ‘memoir’.

Morton reflects on his traumatic childhood and the definition of ‘poverty’ in Australia; Ridgely also recalls his childhood, however his included a stable home, music lessons, and his friendship with a school mate who would eventually be known as George Michael; and Wizenberg focuses on the disintegration of her marriage after she realises that her sexuality is ‘fluid’. Continue reading