Sally Rugg, Jack Charles, John Kinsella and others on what they're reading in September
How Powerful We Are
Tell us about your book. How Powerful We Are is a story of dirty politics, sophisticated campaigning, raw personal tales and the historic social movement that achieved marriage equality. It’s an in-depth, behind-the-scenes handbook about how people can (and must) use their collective power to force even the most hostile, hamstrung government to deliver reforms. Whether you care for marriage equality or not, How Powerful We Are reveals how decisions are made in this country, how communities can influence them and how ordinary people can make extraordinary change.
What were you reading while you wrote it? Is this some sort of mean joke? Will you next ask which wineries I toured and which tropical beaches I languished upon? There was no time for reading! Only writing!
What will you read next? I am approaching the end of Niki Savva’s Plots and Prayers, the story of how Scott Morrison took the Australian prime ministership. My book covers in detail how marriage equality led to the spectacular downfall of both Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull, so Savva’s story feels like a (far more advanced) continuation of this government’s thrills and spills – and spills.
Tell us about your book. Lucky Ticket is a collection of short stories based on interviews with migrants around the world. It begins with survivors of the Vietnam war, both in Vietnam and beyond. There is a double-amputee, a homeless veteran selling lottery tickets in Saigon. There’s a brother and sister trying to settle in to Melbourne after escaping Vietnam by boat. The stories then find connections with people from the Nepalese civil war, the Argentine dirty war, and a migrant worker’s journey from Zanzibar to the United Arab Emirates.
These are stories of people who are usually marginalised, who we don’t often hear from. Against the background of war and suffering, I focused on what makes each character’s world come most alive. The stories centre on who they love, their sweetest memories, and greatest hopes.
What were you reading while you wrote it? Clarice Lispector’s The Hour of the Star made me think deeply about how fiction portrays people who are marginalised and usually excluded from literature. Even when they are portrayed, what does it mean if they will not read that literature?
What will you read next? A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop by all accounts is a fantastic debut book of short stories about the Black Saturday bushfires.
Here Until August
Tell us about your book. Here Until August is a collection of stories following characters who are navigating – usually un-heroically – the interlude between a familiar way of living, and a life yet to come. Geographical transience is a common thread among the stories, whether through choice or outright displacement, and the narrators are often far from home, either pressing forward into indeterminate futures, or seeking their way back to the known, occasionally returning to places or circumstances that have become unrecognisable or estranging.
The collection shifts between Australia, Canada and the United States, reaching back into other remembered homelands. Stories unfold above submerged townships, in backwoods cabins, remote stretches of highway, anonymous hotels or the borrowed rooms of absent strangers. It’s a book about distances, homesickness, and internal and external borders.
What were you reading while you wrote it? The collection was written over seven years and several countries so I was impacted by countless books in that time, but if forced to choose one (agony!) it’s Lucia Berlin’s A Manual for Cleaning Women. Berlin’s is a great, wry humanity and a razor-sharp wit honed by lived insight into many contradictory facets of life.
What will you read next? On Drugs, philosopher Chris Fleming’s memoir on addiction. I’ve heard several nuanced raves about it from people whose minds I admire, including those who’ve lived with compulsion in one form or another. I read an excerpt online the other day and it articulated something vital about our attitudes towards functional sadness.
Tell us about your book. Manfred’s childhood alienation leads him to tunnel away from reality, and yet digging in sand can lead to tunnel collapse. Fascinated by caves and underground, he grows up in a world affected by mining – far away, but close, too. As an adult he goes through the Earth’s crust into Hollow Earth, where he finds a genderless society based on equality and fairness that values environment more than consumer technologies. Finding Ari and Zest, he guides them to the Surface, where they are confronted by horrific rapacity yet also grow quickly addicted to its ways. Searching for an entry back into Hollow Earth, they wander. In a future storyline, the Underworlders – miners who have discovered Hollow Earth – break through and plunder and destroy, extracting all they can to feed the surface world.
What were you reading while you wrote it? Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth (also with the first film version of this), and other “hollow earth” works, especially William R Bradshaw’s colonialist Goddess of Atvatabar. Hollow Earth is a rejection of these works’ values, but also a departure from, and at times dialogue with, their phantasms.
What will you read next? I’ve actually already given it a read through but am about to read again Charmaine Papertalk Green’s intense and astonishing Nganajungu Yagu. To quote the poet from the preface, the book “was inspired by mother’s letters, her life and the love she instilled in me for my people and my culture”.
Tell us about your book. Kitty Hawke is the last inhabitant of an island that’s eroding into the windswept Chesapeake Bay. Kept company by her wolfdog and her ghostly memories of the island’s past, she spends her days creating sculptures from the wreckage she finds, until one stormy night her granddaughter and some friends blow ashore, desperate and seeking sanctuary from a world turning bad. Despite her fiercely protected solitude, Kitty can’t turn them away. Soon trouble follows them and like others they flee north towards sanctuary.
Part myth, part western, Wolfe Island is set in the nearest of futures in a world that is rapidly changing. What would we each do if we lost the security we take for granted? Would we cling to our drives for love, freedom and belonging? Like countless others, Kitty must discover what she will do to save the people she loves, and where they can find a new home.
What were you reading while you wrote it? Denis Johnson’s Train Dreams is a kind of miracle, which I returned to often while writing. Its almost flat tone, despite the events it recounts, creates a mood of unsettling surreality. Johnson is a wonderful observer of people’s adaptability, including to the feverish pace of the “conquest” of the west, the bookend of which – its ruin – appears in Wolfe Island.
What will you read next? I’ve just started Molly Murn’s Heart of the Grass Tree – an evocative novel set on Kangaroo Island – and I feel in wonderfully sure hands. It’s a story of family, first contact between the Ngarrindjeri people and European sealers, and the way history reverberates in the present – rich material about a region I love.
White Tears/Brown Scars
Tell us about your book. White Tears/Brown Scars is primarily two things. First, it’s a deep dive into the construction of race and gender in settler-colonial societies. Old archetypes of racialised women as “bad Arabs” and “black Jezebels” and “China dolls” were created in order to create a binary between women of colour and the “white damsel” and these representations shape our contemporary world in a far greater way than is realised. Women are all too often treated as a footnote in history whereas their role and status were pivotal to the development of western society.
Second, it is a long overdue validation of the experiences of women of colour whose gendered racialisation results not only in marginalisation and discrimination but in further blame whenever they try to shed light on their mistreatment. Women of colour are repeatedly traumatised in ways society just does not even acknowledge and the impacts on our health and happiness is astronomical.
What were you reading while you wrote it? I was already familiar with much of the research I cite in my book but I discovered The Biopolitics of Feeling by Kyla Schuller while writing and it was like the proverbial missing link. I’d been attempting to articulate exactly how and why the white damsel archetype reinforces the system of white supremacy and Schuller’s analysis of 19th century race science reveals that womanhood and femininity were racialised concepts used to fuel colonialism’s domination.
What will you read next? Between the book and PhD, my reading has been mostly confined to research so with a little spare time up my sleeve at long last I’m excited to be reading fiction again! Top of my list is The Pillars by Peter Polites. Polites has such an intimate understanding of how race and sex are played off against each other in our society; of how sexuality (much like gender) is a form and function of power.
Tell us about your book. Fixed It is the book I wrote to explain why the media is so often unable to report on women’s lives as valuable, or violent men’s choices as their own responsibility. After four years of taking a red pen to terrible headlines and rewriting them for a social media audience I thought the project needed more thought than just showing what was happening. I needed to understand and explain the who, why and how as well.
Although the focus of the Fixed It project is media reporting of men’s violence against women, the book takes a wider, more complex view. It explores how the myths about violence that blame victims and excuse perpetrators permeate all the structures of our lives, from politics to sport, business, pop culture, education and academia. Journalism is often the conduit of information between those structures and the public, so when it ignores the perspective of half the population it’s only fulfilling half its function. Fixed It examines how this happens and what we can do to change it.
What were you reading while you wrote it? When Men Murder Women by R Emerson Dobash and Russell P Dobash. They reviewed 866 homicide case files and 200 in-depth interviews with murderers in prison. It’s one of the most detailed studies I could find of men who kill women, why they did it, how they view it and how their childhood connected to the crimes they committed as adults. We can’t change a problem we don’t understand and this book goes a long way to providing some insight into what happens to men to bring them to the point that they believe they are entitled to take a life.
What will you read next? The Revolution of Man by Phil Barker. I’ve skimmed it but I want to read it properly because the myths of what manhood should be do so much harm and I think Phil explores this and explains it in ways that give hope to men struggling to be what they want to be rather than what they were told they had to be.
Pain and Prejudice
Allen & Unwin
Tell us about your book. My book is primarily about women’s pain and how society at once tells us it is part of women’s lot to be in pain, but also dismisses women when they say they are in pain. Studies show that women experience more intense pain and for longer periods than men but are less likely to have their pain treated than men. We know that 70% of chronic pain patients are women but 80% of pain medication has been tested on men or male mice. We also know that pain is processed differently in men and women, so that if drugs are only being tested on men, they may not work on women. My book takes a big-picture look at women and pain and the real-life consequences of ignoring it.
What were you reading while you wrote it? Come As You Are by Emily Nagoksi, Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery, Inferior by Angela Saini and Down Girl by Kate Manne. Each of these books took my book in new directions and helped me plumb new depths, firmly situating women’s pain in patriarchal structures and helping me to explain why we ignore the pain of women, people of colour and gender-diverse people.
What will you read next? On my bedside table ready to start this weekend I have Dr Nikki Stamp’s book Pretty Unhealthy: Why our obsession with looking healthy is making us sick. I interviewed Stamp for Pain and Prejudice. She is a cardiothoracic surgeon and an excellent feminist and I cannot wait to get stuck into this book.
Tell us about your book. My book is a memoir of portions of my life, perhaps elements that were seen in Bastardy or Jack Charles vs The Crown. But so much more information has come to light since then thanks to the Koorie Heritage Trust and Link-Up, information about kinship, community and my family ties. As a stolen person, I now know who I am, where I’m going, and what I need to be doing, and I feel the need to share the journey. I called the book Jack Charles: Born-Again Blakfella because I am as passionate as a born-again Christian about the rediscovery of my heritage.
What were you reading while you wrote it? To get away from my book completely, I would read Le Carré. Smiley’s People I read for the third time. Anything George Smiley. I also watched interviews with Le Carré; I watch the TV productions. I like old spy books because they take me into another world.
What will you read next? One of the authors I met at Byron Bay writers festival was Melissa Lucashenko, and she gave me her book. It’s a very cheeky title – Too Much Lip. I intend to indulge myself with her book next.