Democracy sausage FTW!

From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory VotingFrom Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage: How Australia Got Compulsory Voting by Judith Brett

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I really enjoyed this book – Judith Brett has produced a genuinely interesting account of how Australia came to be one of the few countries in the world to have compulsory voter registration, and compulsory voting. I learned a lot, and along the way I was introduced to historical figures I had never heard of until now. I would recommend this fascinating read to everyone who has even a passing interest in Australia’s history. It’s great!

Consider Yourself Schooled

Teacher - One woman's struggle to keep the heart in teachingTeacher – One woman’s struggle to keep the heart in teaching by Gabbie Stroud

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are a teacher you will, at some point, recognise yourself in this book. I did and, while I am not a teacher, I work closely with students every day. If you are not a teacher, you will want to walk up to every teacher you know and THANK them for what they do every day. For how they care, for the time they sacrifice, for the absolute gut-wrenching crap they have to endure most of the time to make sure your children, OUR children, get the best education possible.
This is a harrowing read. No doubt. There are moments of emotional uplift, but mostly this is a very raw, very real account of how the joy of teaching, as a profession and a calling, is being constantly eroded and demeaned by powers who have no business dictating a letter, let alone dictating what the national curriculum should be. Gabbie Stroud’s voice is loud and clear. Teacher is a highly readable and extremely well-written memoir, and a searing indictment on our education system and its “standards”. Our education system is broken. This book won’t fix that, but Gabbie’s voice, the voice of so many educators out there, needs to be heard. By everyone. Read it, cry, then resolve to never let another child sit the NAPLAN and to tell your child’s teacher they are valued, that they MATTER. A heartbreaking call to arms. A must read for EVERY parent of school-aged children, and everyone else too. Highly recommended.

I don’t give a f#ck if you like this review

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good LifeThe Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life by Mark Manson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this book. I EMBRACED this book. Mark Manson delivers much of his message with his tongue firmly in his cheek, and sometimes over-simplifies things, but the kernel of what he is trying to say is never in doubt. We are free to choose what we give a f#ck about, and those choices determine how successful/loved/important we think we are. There are many other books around sending the same message, but this one is the first in a long time I have read right to the end. Some friends of mine have not been able to get past the first few pages, which is a shame because this book pays off in spades in the last 4o pages or so. It is in those pages you come to understand Mark Manson, and why he’s written this book, and says the things he does.
My favourite piece of advice?
“When life gives you lemons, sometimes you just have to learn to like the taste of lemons.” Period.
So true. Sometimes life is just shit.
This book does not pretend it can make your life perfect, nor does it purport to be the “one guide” to living. What it DOES do, is demonstrate how to cut through your own bullshit; to kill the self-talk that can hold one back; to stop blaming everyone and everything else for the way you react to situations.
A great read and a timely wake-up call for me.

Hearts like a lion’s

ROARROAR by Samantha Lane

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you love AFLW, and the spirit behind it, this book is for you. Sam Lane has done a great job of slipping behind the scenes in this book that profiles some of the marquee players and some who are not, with equal vigour.
The first chapter, which outlines how the AFLW competition finally happened, is the most journalistic in the book. The rest of the book is so much more engaging and resonant. It shows just how diverse the players and coaches are in this brave new world and celebrates them all. I loved reading about Kirby Bentley (who I did not know much about at all, despite the fact that for a while she played for Melbourne – oops); her family, her home town and her road to playing AFLW for Fremantle. And reading about AFLW Crows coach Bec Goddard; her commitment to the game, and her hopes for the future, broke my heart as I read it already knowing that she has had to walk away from her greatest passion because she could not earn her living from it as she wanted to.
The thing that comes through most is that these women, and one man – Craig Starcevich – have been treated pretty shabbily by the AFL, who are happy to ride the wave from the surge of interest in the women’s competition, but are bloody miserly with the money to help it grow properly – not just in terms of player pay, but also in terms of development, coaching and scheduling. I really hope the AFL can sort itself out on these issues, because the other thing that is CRYSTAL clear is that all the AFLW personnel featured in Roar love the game. The highs, the lows, the injuries, the wins and losses – they love it all and just want to be a bigger part of it. Sam Lane’s book is, as the great Robert Murphy is quoted saying on the front cover: “A powerful and timely call to arms.” It certainly is.
Recommended for all footy lovers, and those who want to see the AFLW grow into what it should be.

A mark on the heart

The Tattooist of AuschwitzThe Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This account of a Jew forced to mark other Jews as they entered the infamous concentration camp at Auschwitz is one that is deeply affecting. Lale surrenders himself to save his family who live in a ghetto in Czechoslovakia in 1942. He finds himself transported in harrowing conditions to an even more harrowing desintation – Auschwitz. There is much darkness here in this novelised story of Lale’s experiences, but there is also radiant light too. His love for Gita, a woman he falls hard for, sustains and drives him to survive at any cost. Lale becomes a scrounger for the camp – bringing extra food to many prisoners, and making shady deals that are dangerous and vital. The most chilling passages concern the introduction of the crematoriums into the camps, and the descriptions of the clouds of ash raining down remind you of just how barbaric this period in history was. Morris’s style makes for an easy read – meaning that the prose is flowing and natural. nothing flowery, but everything is powerful.
A tale of love, hardship and survival; this novel will force you to turn the page to discover the fate of all the main players. No spoilers here, except to say that all are now dead and gone and I wonder to myself what Lale would make of Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers in the camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Would he see them as any different to the camp he was condemned to?
Plenty to reflect on, and wonderful writing to enjoy.

A Sparkling Biography

The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman's Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and DisasterThe Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in the Business of Death, Decay, and Disaster by Sarah Krasnostein

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This biography is as illuminating about the biographer as it is of her subject. Sarah Krasnostein lays herself bare many times in this fascinating account of the life (or lives) of Sandra Pankhurst. Sandra reveals little sections of her life story to Krasnostein, forcing her to piece together all the disparate parts, sometimes filling in the blanks with her best guess. As we travel the road of Sandra’s life with her biographer, we get a definite sense of a person who has undergone terrible trauma herself, and now helps other people deal with theirs, in various ways, as her job.
Sandra is the classic unreliable narrator, sometimes choosing not to include details which Krasnostein later uncovers. The fact that any of it leads to an immensely satisfying conclusion is testament to Krasnostein’s easy writing style and willingness to “go with it” when speaking with Sandra; and to Sandra Pankhurst’s dogged determination to keep putting one foot in front of the other, no matter what.
Drawn to this initially because of the professional cleaning aspect (Pankhurst cleans death scenes, crime scenes and hoarders’ houses for a living), I found myself staying because I cared about Sandra, AND because I felt connected to her biographer who, by her own admission, struggles with the task she has set herself in documenting Sandra’s life.
Sandra’s clients help Krasnostein turn a light on her own life and experiences and the book is the richer for it. This is biography at its finest, despite its flaws -and it has plenty.
I can ignore the chinks in its armour, though, because I found this story compelling. I hope lots of other people do too, because as a tale of triumph in the face of overwhelming odds, it is a testament.

Invisible Movies? See them here!

The Greatest Movies You'll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World's Greatest DirectorsThe Greatest Movies You’ll Never See: Unseen Masterpieces by the World’s Greatest Directors by Simon Braund

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received this book for Christmas 2013, along with I Am Malala and Doctor Sleep (neither of which I have yet read, I am embarrassed to admit). This title was one I had anticipated for some time, so it makes sense I would pick it up first.

It is basically a pocket history of movies that were planned, written and sometimes began filming, yet never ended up being completed or if made, released. Starting in the 1920s and ending as recently as 2012, the contributors describe projects from the who’s who of the film industry that never reached fruition.

Orson Welles features quite prominently, in fact he had a junked project in every decade until his death in 1985. Steven Speilberg’s name appears a few times, alongside notable directors such as Eisenstein, Coppola, Lean, Burton, Scorsese, The Coen Brothers, Hitchcock, Kubrick – and many many others.

I found it fascinating to learn more about the machinations of the movie industry, in particular the ravages of securing funding and recalcitrant studio heads who could change their minds with a click of their fingers, consigning an erstwhile amazing film to the bin in an instant.

Some ideas metamorphosed into other projects. Steven Speilberg’s 1980 idea, Night Skies, contributed material to E.T. The Extra Terrestrial. Terry Gilliam’s The Defective Detective had concepts that were incorporated into The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus.

If you have a favourite director from the last 50 years or film, the odds are they will make an appearance here. Each article features a “Will It Ever Happen?” tag at the end where a score out of ten is given. The highest score is 5/10, reserved for Speilberg’s The Trial of the Chicago Seven, David Fincher’s (Seven, Fight Club) Black Hole and Blomkamp’s (District 9) Halo: The Motion Picture.

The saddest part of reading this book, for me, was the amount of projects that sounded so fantastic on paper but just didn’t have legs for various reasons. I found myself constantly thinking as I read this book “I would see that – and that – and that!” At least it shows that with all their clout, even acclaimed directors have their also-rans. It gives me hope for the rest of us plebs!

Anyone with even a passing interest in movies would enjoy this book, I think, because of the quirky subject matter. There are plenty of great illustrations and photographs, including poster art for every “non-movie” featured.
Highly recommended!

The Shallows is very deep

The Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and RememberThe Shallows: How the Internet Is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember by Nicholas G. Carr

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There appear to be many people happy to call Nicholas Carr a Luddite – I am happy to say I am not one of them. The Shallows, while it does take a position against the Internet and technology, it is not urging us not to use it. Carr is, instead, telling us we need to use our minds in both world. This book is a reminder that technology is a tool, a way of getting somewhere, NOT the destination. He illustrates, through careful use of research and observation, that using the Web on a daily basis IS changing the way our brains process and retain information. It is a scary thought – the Web might be driving the next stage of human evolution. It’s scary because while we may control a great deal of the content of the Web, the mechanism is run by others- often large companies with their own agendas. This is a very interesting book that certainly made me re-evaluate my role as a librarian in society. As a provider of information and the means to find it (books AND the Web), I can honestly say this made me sit up and take notice.
Highly recommended.