What We're Reading / January 2020

How many books are you aiming to read this year? 12, one per month? Or maybe you’re going to aim for 52, one per week. Whatever it is, we have you covered with recommendations. Check out what the Writing NSW staff read over January below.

The Trauma Cleaner

by Sarah Krasnostein

Jane McCredie, CEO

The trauma cleaner by Sarah Krasnostein
This exceptional biography tells the story of Sandra Pankhurst, trauma cleaner, former drag queen and sex worker, husband, wife, father, and so much more. Author and lawyer Sarah Krasnostein first met Pankhurst at a forensic services conference and was intrigued by her work as an extreme cleaner, restoring order and cleanliness to homes devastated by events such as murder, suicide or hoarding. Krasnostein spent time accompanying Pankhurst on her rounds and learning her life story. The resulting book is a compassionate and moving account of a far from ordinary life.

In the Clearing by JP Pomare

Ashley Kalagian Blunt, Senior Program Officer 

in the clearing by J.P Pomare

In the Clearing, JP Pomare’s second novel is a compelling and startling exploration of family, control and violence. Like Emma Cline’s The Girls, a novel loosely based on the Manson Family, In the Clearing takes its inspiration from The Family, an Australian cult. Where the narrative of The Girls fades into anticlimax, however, Pomare draws Freya’s and Amy’s narratives together masterfully in a series of unpredictable twists propelled forward by ever-mounting tension. Its triumph is its surprising climax, and the way Pomare turns the tables on the reader, raising the question of what any one of us would do to protect our own families – however we define them. Read the full review at Newtown Review of Books.

The Yield by Tara June Winch

Sarah Mott, Project and Communications Officer

These holidays I finally had the breathing space to sit down with a stack of books I’d been meaning to get to. This particular stack had been saved until now, because these books deserved my full attention – full chunks of my day to absorb and reflect. On the top of this stack was The Yield by Tara June Winch.

The story is told from three voices – Wiradjuri language dictionary entries from recently-deceased Albert Gondiwindi, his granddaughter August returning home in the present day, and letters written by missionary Reverend Greenleaf. It sounds complicated, but from the start this structure breaks up the stories into edible chunks, weaving together the history and present of the Gondiwindi family, Australia’s colonial violence and the reclamation of language.

The Yield by Tara June WinchThe Gondiwindi family’s story of love, tragedy and ultimately hope leads us to consider the larger Australian narrative, while the eccentric English-Wiradjuri dictionary that frames Albert’s chapters gently educate us on a language and culture once thought extinct.

This education is essential, and this book should be necessary reading for all Australians. In the author’s notes, Winch explains the Murrumbidgee, the Riverina and The Rock Nature Reserve were inspiration for the setting of this story. I grew up on a farm on the Murrumbidgee and hiking the reserve on weekends, yet I was completely ignorant and uncurious of the Wiradjuri history and language of the area I lived. Reading this book only emphasised how urgently social and cultural perspectives need to change around how we understand land and ownership.

How We Keep Our Pens Mighty

by Bri Lee

and Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

Claire Thompson, Program Officer

Bri Lee’s essay, How We Keep Our Pens Mighty, which appeared in the 2019 summer edition of Meanjin, explores the failings of the Queensland legal system in regard to their handling of adult sexual assault and child sexual abuse cases. Lee describes how it is a systemic issue which needs to be changed, yet it seems to be the responsibility of the victims of the system to change it. Lee astutely points out how with so many issues, society places the responsibility of advocating for change with the victims of the issues, suggesting when we have a face or a personal story attached to an issue, we start to care. Lee supports her statement by referencing the stories of Rosie Batty, Behrouz Boochani, Jordon Steele-John and perhaps the best example, the #MeToo movement, the very basis of which was story. Lee explains how fraught this is, “But when we expect and demand that people with stories to tell are the ones who must advocate for change, we are cruel.” Lee has a powerful voice and she is using her pen to make it heard. You should go read her essay now. (you must be a Meanjin subscriber to access the full article).

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Am I There Yet? by Mari Andrew

I’ve also been re-reading Mari Andrew’s illustrated book, Am I There Yet? and am rediscovering how insightful and funny she is. The book consists of essays and watercolour illustrations which aim to explore the different experiences, challenges and joys of your twenties. Through both her more light-hearted explorations of dating and travelling the world, to more deeper issues of grief and loss, Andrew speaks to her reader as if to a friend, offering advice and an overwhelming, I get you. It’s a reminder that your twenties are about trial and error, of not knowing which path you’re meant to go down, but just putting one foot in front of the other anyway. 

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A page from #AmIThereYet taken by @leximariewright 🌷

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For more book recommendations from the Writing NSW staff, have a look at our other What We’re Reading blog posts below or here. 

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