Black Inc

Weary of the standard Hollywood pap, Samuel Goldwyn reportedly told his writers, ‘Let’s have some new clichés.’ In Reframe: How to Solve the World’s Trickiest Problems, his first book, Eric Knight sets about recasting corporate culture’s platitude to ‘think outside the box’.

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In 1984 Carole Vance edited an important book on female sexuality entitled Pleasure and Danger.Those terms could well have provided a subtitle for Frank Bongiorno’s thorough and engaging history of sex in Australia. ‘Sexuality,’ wrote Vance, ‘is simultaneously a domain of restriction, repression and danger, as well as a domain of exploration, pleasure and agency.’ To which she might have added a domain of increasing surveillance, another theme that runs through Bongiorno’s book. From fears of unwanted pregnancy and the dangers of botched abortion, to herpes and HIV, sex has always carried threats to health and safety. At the same time, it is an arena of pleasure, even though much religious and ideological pressure has been applied to restrict and constrain the possibilities that people might find in full expression of their sexual potential. Even in the comparatively liberated 1920s: ‘Public debate about sex in Australia stressed dangers and pitfalls and gave less attention to sex as a source of pleasure.’

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Peter Robb, in this collection of some of his journalism, quotes E.M. Forster’s remark about Constantine Cavafy: that he lived ‘absolutely motionless at a slight angle to the universe’. That line is half true of Robb’s subjects in this book. They have a way of existing at an angle to the universe, but they are not at all motionless. The lives in this book have trajectories and velocities that bring out an equal dynamism in the man who recounts them, as could well be imagined by anyone who has read his earlier work about Italy and Brazil (2004) or his biography of Caravaggio (1998).

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At some stage in every workshop on the art of memoir somebody raises the question of ethics, of privacy, and of who has the right to tell a version of a story. How far, the author of Reaching One Thousand asks, is she prepared to ‘sacrifice other people’s privacy’? What betrayals will she ‘perpetrate on others’?

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Panic: David Marr by Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 262 pp, 9781863955515

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February 2012, no. 338

David Marr is not on the list of Australian living treasures, but perhaps he should be. Among our best journalists, he stands out as someone who has consistently challenged the powerful, at his best with forensic skill and deep research. Like other journalist–authors such as Anne Summers and George Megalogenis ...

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Simon Leys is the pen name of the distinguished academic Pierre Ryckmans, who came to notice, first as a sinologist, then as a critic and author. The essays in this collection, composed over more than three decades during which Ryckmans held appointments at the Australian National University and the University of Sydney, cover a wide range of subjects ...

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With the recent focus on new anthologies in the Australian poetry community firmly placed on UNSW Press’s Australian Poetry Since 1788 (edited by Geoffrey Lehmann and Robert Gray) and the publication of two anthologies dedicated to the work of younger poets (UQP’s Thirty Australian Poets and ...

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The Sweet Spot: How Australia Made Its Own Luck – And Could Now Throw It All Away by Peter Hartcher & The Fog On The Hill: How NSW Labor lost its way by Frank Sartor

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December 2011–January 2012, no. 337

On 7 November, Paul Keating appeared on ABC TV’s 7.30 to promote his new book of speeches,  After Words. Keating’s response to Leigh Sales’s first question about political leadership was instructive:

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The ABC Shop is currently selling online The Best Australian Stories 2010 for $14.99. ‘Ideal for summer reading’ its advertising says, and it surely doesn’t matter which summer. At that price you might get yourself a copy and sling it in your beach bag, unless you suspect it might dampen your holiday mood. More than a few reviewers found the overall tone of the collection bleak and negative: ‘one of the more depressing reads of the year’, wrote Chris Flynn in these pages (February 2011). If that doesn’t sound like ideal beach reading, shell out the full RRP and buy The Best Australian Stories 2011.

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On the day that I finished reading Into the Woods, I opened the newspaper to a report that Gunns was withdrawing from native forest logging to base its future business entirely on plantation-grown timber. Given that Gunns controls almost eighty-five per cent of the wood products traded in Tasmania, this has raised hopes of an end to the decades-old forest w ...