During 2013 I participated in the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge. This Challenge encourages people to read and review books written by Australian women. It is a response to the lack of attention women writers receive from major reviewing publications both in Australia and elsewhere in the western world.
I like the fact that instead of whinging about yet another example of how women tend to suffer second-rate treatment, we can do something positive to bring attention to the extent and quality of women’s writing through this Challenge.
This year I challenged myself to the Franklin level – reading ten books by Australian women and reviewing six. These are the books I reviewed in 2013:
- The Lone Protestor: A M Fernando in Australia and Europe by Fiona Paisley, (Canberra: Aboriginal Studies Press, 2012).
- Flood Country: An Environmental History of the Murray-Darling Basin by Emily O’Gorman, (Collingwood, Vic: CSIRO Publishing, 2012).
- Our Schools and the War by Rosalie Triolo (North Melbourne: Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2012).
- Kitty’s War by Janet Butler, (St Lucia, Qld: University of Queensland Press, 2013).
- Paint Me Black by Claire Henty-Gebert (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2005).
- My Ngarrindjeri Calling by Doreen Kartinyeri and Sue Anderson (Aboriginal Studies Press: Canberra, 2008).
- The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright, (Text Publishing: Melbourne, 2013).
My Challenge was completed by reading three Baha’i books written by Australian women during the Baha’i Fast and a novel I did not finish.
I submitted two of the books I reviewed, Paint Me Black and My Ngarrindjeri Calling for the Global Women of Color Challenge initiated by Marilyn Dell Brady and for the Indigenous Literature Week organised by Lisa Hill. I would like to extend my reading of indigenous and non-European authors – histories, biographies and memoirs in particular. I have a growing ‘to be read’ pile but if interesting books come my way I’ll squeeze them in. Reading books written by someone from a different cultural background to our own challenges our perceptions and gives us a richer view on life.
Of course this is not the extent of my reading. I have a Good Reads account where I log other books I read, but by no means all. I choose to feature good books written by women I enjoy reading them and I want to let others know about them. I also write these reviews because women writers are not getting the attention they deserve from some book reviewing publications.
I am profoundly disappointed to be on the verge of my half century to find that our society is in many respects going backwards in its attitudes towards women. I was a young adult in the aftermath of the feminist era of the 1960s/1970s. I had issues in my early working life due to old-fashioned attitudes towards women, but I was optimistic that these attitudes and practices were on the wane.
My primary-school aged daughters decided to stop watching music videos in the 1990s because of the appalling way women were depicted. I was proud of them for recognising the issue and making this decision. Still I was positive things were improving.
My daughters were taught that girls were naturally bad at maths while attending schools in the most populous city in Australia. Still I thought that our society was on track to more enlightened times… though some doubt was creeping upon me.
Events in the public sphere shattered my delusions over the last couple of years. There is no need to trawl over that misery. “Reading and thinking about too much of this kind of stuff, if you are a woman, can leave you psychologically battered and prey to despair”, said Kerryn Goldsworthy in a review of recently released books that document this depressing state of affairs. I agree.
This is why I participate in these Challenges. It stops me becoming negative and thus becoming captive to this poor behaviour. Every man and woman can contribute in their own way to creating a more equitable and happier society. Each person can do this in a different way.
These reviews are part of my small contribution to building a better world.