Aviva Tuffield

To complement our ‘Books of the Year’ feature, which appeared in the December 2018 issue, we invited some senior publishers to nominate their favourite books of 2018 – all published by other companies.

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Best Summer Stories edited by Aviva Tuffield

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December 2018, no. 407

Many readers – though apparently not enough to have saved them – will mourn the recent demise of Black Inc.’s annual Best Australian anthologies of essays, stories, and poems (which first appeared in 1998, 1999, and 2003, respectively). The last of these, however, has won something of a reprieve in Best Summer Stories ...

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I’m fresh from Hannah Kent’s compelling, humane, and utterly convincing The Good People (Picador, 10/16). Kent completely inhabits her material. In this single nineteenth ...

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The Best Australian Stories 2010 edited by Cate Kennedy  & New Australian Stories 2 edited by Aviva Tuffield

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February 2011, no. 328

Amore appropriate moniker for this year’s Black Inc. collection might be ‘Bleak Australian Stories 2010’. Either the editor’s taste runs to the morose or Australian writers need to venture outside and enjoy the sunshine a little more...

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In a number of guises, the question ‘why’ reverberated throughout my reading of Whatever the Gods Do: A Memoir. This book opens with Patti Miller describing her sadness at the departure of ten-year-old Theo, who is leaving for Melbourne to live with his father. We soon discover that the author has been Theo’s substitute mother for the past seven years since the tragic death of Dina, his birth mother and Miller’s friend. Dina suffered a brain haemorrhage when Theo was two years old. She spent thirteen months in a virtually immobile state before her death at thirty-eight. Why the vibrant, attractive Dina should have been struck down when she had so much to live for is a legitimate question, but, of course, an unanswerable one. Why Miller should choose to write about her own life through this incident is also worth asking. Few are more qualified than Miller to address the reasons for, and benefits of, life-writing: she has run ‘life stories’ workshops around the country for more than ten years. In her bestselling manual Writing Your Life: A journey of discovery (1994), she identifies various motivations for, and rewards of, life-writing, including healing and self-understanding, recording family and social history for future generations, remembering happiness and sharing one’s wisdom.

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These three memoirs share central focus on fathers: Gaby Naher’s is a meditation on fatherhood, Shirley Painter’s is about surviving an abusive one, while Cliff Nichols’s relates his life as an alcoholic and unreliable parent. They are also all part of the current flood of life-writing appearing from Australian publishing houses. Drusilla Modjeska, writing recently about the failings of contemporary fiction, argued that creative writing courses since the 1980s have produced a spate of postmodern first novels that were ‘tricksy and insubstantial’, deconstructing narrative at the expense of well-developed plots and characters. These courses may also account for much of the current memoir boom, feeding the demands of our voyeuristic culture. But publishers have a responsibility to readers to tame the genre’s self-revelatory excesses.

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