Claire G. Coleman is a Wirlomin Noongar woman whose ancestral country is on the south coast of Western Australia. Her first novel Terra Nullius (Hachette, 2017) won a black&write! Fellowship and a Norma K. Hemming Award and was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and the Aurealis Science Fiction Award. She writes poetry, short fiction, and essays, and has been published widely. Her latest book is Lies, Damned Lies (Ultimo Press, 2021).
Fish Work by Caitlin Maling & Earth Dwellers by Kristen Lang
New collections from Caitlin Maling and Kristen Lang are situated in vastly different landscapes but pursue similar ideas about the natural world’s fragility and the imminent environmental catastrophe. Maling’s Fish Work, as its title suggests, is primarily interested in marine life and the scientists studying it at Lizard Island Research Station on the Great Barrier Reef, while Lang’s Earth Dwellers explores mountains, caves, and coastlines in Tasmania and Nepal, examining the myriad complexities of ancient ecosystems. Maling’s and Lang’s new books, their fourth collections, urge readers to attend to the work of millennia that has produced these distinctive ecosystems and, in doing so, to appreciate the urgency of protecting them.
Home in the World: A memoir by Amartya Sen
By any measure, Amartya Sen’s academic career has been a glittering one. A professor of economics at Harvard University for more than three decades, Sen has also held appointments at Cambridge University, Oxford University, the Delhi School of Economics, and Jadavpur University. In 1998, he was awarded a Nobel Prize for his contribution to welfare economics, including work on social choice, welfare measurement, and poverty. The same year, he was appointed as the Master of Trinity College, Cambridge (the first Asian head of an Oxbridge college). He has also written extensively on economics, philosophy, and Indian society and culture.
Because my background is academic (and in English studies), certain disciplinary conventions still find their way into my review writing. In fact, it’s hard for me to think of my reviewing as reviewing rather than as criticism in that more university-bound sense: that is, as having something to do with the art of interpretation. It may help that most of the books I review – works of contemporary poetry and literary criticism – are considered ‘hard’ or at least esoteric, and thus in need of a little explaining. The persona I hear most recognisably in my journalistic prose is that of my former lecturer-self (a good lecture, like a good review, strikes the right balance between granular analysis and makeshift generalisation). I suppose I still think of the primary goal of my reviewing as teaching something about how to read.
After the Tampa: From Afghanistan to New Zealand by Abbas Nazari
In late August, it took only a few days for the Taliban to secure control of Kabul in the wake of the final withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan. The breakneck speed of the takeover was accompanied by images of mass terror, alongside a profound sense of betrayal. As in the closing days of the Vietnam War in 1975, the international airport quickly became the epicentre of scenes of chaos and collective panic, as thousands rushed onto the tarmac in desperate attempts to board the last planes out of the country. Queues stretched for kilometres outside the country’s only passport office. It is still too early to tell whether the Taliban’s promises of a more ‘inclusive’ government and amnesty for former collaborators of the Western forces will be met. What is certain is that Western governments owe them safe passage, though, from the announcements coming from Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s office in late August, it seems unlikely this will be properly honoured.
How to Read a Poem: Seven steps by Thomas H. Ford
In my thirty years as an academic, the greatest joy and puzzlement I had was in teaching poetry. I agree with T.S. Eliot that ‘genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood’. Our best teaching often involves what we do not fully understand. The scholar D.S. Carne-Ross once argued that, upon hearing poetry spoken in an unfamiliar language, you can tell it is poetry, the language of poetry, which is other than what I do in writing this review. Anyone faced with the problem of teaching poetry in an academic setting will realise that part of the problem is the academic setting itself. Poetry has thrived for millennia everywhere on earth without the benefit of professors, classrooms, and theories of reading. How, then, might we teach it?
Labor People: The stories of six true believers by Chris Bowen
Contemporary Australian parliamentarians tend to be focused firmly on the present. Speechwriters may liberally sprinkle the speeches of politicians with references to a political party’s golden past, but an MP’s sincerest interest in history often emerges when he or she gets around to publishing a memoir of their time in office. A politician’s autobiography is an exercise that encourages selective, rather than frank, reflection on how history will portray them, their enemies and friends. Some politicians, thankfully, embrace a broader, less self-interested view of the importance of history. Labor Opposition frontbencher Chris Bowen is the latest serving politician to display a commendable fascination with historical research. His new book tells the stories of six relatively forgotten figures who made a strong contribution to the Australian Labor Party.
The Seasons: Philosophical, literary, and environmental perspectives edited by Luke Fischer and David Macauley
There is something quaint about seasons. They do not seem to trigger the same dread that we now experience when we hear the word ‘climate’. I think this is because seasons remain connected to that time in human history during which the annual variations of climatic conditions were evidence of an underlying stability in the world and of nature’s constancy. The Seasons, a collection of essays edited by Luke Fischer and David Macauley, is an attempt to think through the ongoing role that seasons have within human imaginaries. Both editors are philosophers and the book is mainly grounded in forms of analytic philosophy insofar as seasons (and seasonality) are posited as concepts susceptible to abstract contemplation. The approach is inflected by a certain eclecticism of thought and example, but there is also an underlying intellectual and tonal consistency. The prominence of Goethe, Hölderlin, Keats, and Thoreau within the book, for instance, firmly roots the contributions within the romantic imagination. Other key reference points in the book – Rilke, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Rachel Carson – remain within the long shadow of European romanticism.
True Tracks: Respecting Indigenous knowledge and culture by Terri Janke
This book hit a nerve. It’s not that Terri Janke sets out to confront her readers; if anything, she is at pains to convey goodwill. Janke, who is of Meriam and Wuthathi heritage, writes to build bridges and, above all, to give useful advice. But beneath this is a profound challenge for those who write and create: that is, to rethink how we know.
Broken: Children, parents and family courts by Camilla Nelson and Catharine Lumby
During the early 1980s, in a series of attacks on the Family Court in Sydney, a judge was shot dead outside his home, while bombs killed another judge’s wife and injured a third judge and his children as they slept. The man behind these and other attacks, Leonard Warwick, was involved in a custody dispute with his ex-wife over the care of their young daughter, but it would be thirty-five years before the crimes were solved and he was convicted of three murders and the bombings. Media commentators, meanwhile, wondered what had driven the culprit to such violence. Elizabeth Evatt, the court’s then chief justice, described the media’s response: ‘They said, “The Court has been bombed, what’s wrong with the Court?”’
Farmers or Hunter-gatherers?: The Dark Emu debate by Peter Sutton and Keryn Walshe
For anyone who has spent substantial time recording Aboriginal cultural traditions in remote areas of Australia with its most senior living knowledge holders, bestselling writer Bruce Pascoe’s view that Aboriginal people were agriculturalists has never rung true. Farmers or Hunter-gatherers? The Dark Emu Debate – co-authored by veteran Australian anthropologist Peter Sutton and archaeologist Keryn Walshe – has already been welcomed by Aboriginal academics Hannah McGlade and Victoria Grieve-Williams, who reject Dark Emu’s hypothesis that their ancestors were farmers (like Pascoe himself).
An Ugly Truth: Inside Facebook’s battle for domination by Sheera Frenkel and Cecilia Kang
Sealand calls itself a micronation. No one else does. It’s easy to see why: the ‘kingdom’ is little more than a glorified helipad. It rises from the North Sea off the coast of Suffolk like a Greek version of the letter π rendered out of concrete and steel – the sole survivor of a series of Maunsell forts built to shoot down Nazi Kriegsmarine aircraft during World War II. Abandoned by Britain in the 1950s, the fort was hijacked by pirate radio broadcaster Paddy Roy Bates in the 1960s and renamed the Principality of Sealand. Bates crowned himself ‘prince regent’ and – besides firing warning shots at the Royal Navy and fighting off a coup attempt by German mercenaries – entered into a series of sketchy schemes to stay afloat. One enterprise, launched in 2000 with the help of cypherpunk Ryan Lackey, was for the Bates family to turn Sealand into the world’s first data haven: an unbreakable digital lockbox beyond the clutches of law enforcement agencies and copyright lawyers.
Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen
Back when it was all beginning, when everything was new and makeshift and oddly tentative; when the sounds of Faye Wong echoed through Tower Records; when the media could channel a message via magazines bearing Fiona Apple’s face, and television sets, those ancient conduits, mainlined Friends and Seinfeld and NYPD Blue; when everything was tuned to the suffering channel, The X-Files was concluding its third season, and Jackie Chan was launching his fourth Police Story; when all of this seemed obscurely relevant, three men – Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace, and Mark Leyner – sat down to talk with Charlie Rose. Their topic? The future of fiction.
Sydney Spleen by Toby Fitch
Sydney-based poet and editor Toby Fitch has spent much of the last decade traversing the field of radical French modernist poets, especially Arthur Rimbaud and Guillaume Apollinaire. That engagement ignited Fitch’s imagination. He began inverting, recombining, mistranslating, and mimicking their techniques in his own poetry. In his new collection, Sydney Spleen, he has made a sophisticated, fresh move that enhances his signature playfulness and tongue-in-cheek poetic antics.