The narrator of David Malouf’s virtuosic ‘A Traveller’s Tale’ (1982) describes Queensland’s far north as ‘a place of transformations’ and unwittingly provides us with an epigraph for this collection.

Without doubt, every story selected from Meanjin’s cache of the last thirty-eight years deserves this second airing, but if, as editor Jonathan Green attests, short fiction hardly sells, then his parsimonious introduction could bear expansion. It would be interesting to know, for example, why 2009 boasts five contributors, among them Georgia Blain’s astute rendition of childhood injustices in ‘Intelligence Quotient’, and Chris Womersley’s account of a sudden flood of grief spiked with ghostly undertones in ‘The Very Edge of Things’; and why the 1990s warrant a scant two inclusions, both of which, ‘The Wolfman’s Sister’ (1996) by Barbara Creed and ‘The Swimmer’ (1999) by Kevin Brophy, portray disconcerting aspects of gender relations. Nor does Green’s alphabetical-by-author arrangement illuminate his claim for the gradual admission of the broadest range of voices to Australian letters.

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  • Custom Article Title Francesca Sasnaitis reviews 'Meanjin A–Z: Fine fiction 1980 to now' edited by Jonathan Green
  • Contents Category Anthology
  • Custom Highlight Text

    The narrator of David Malouf’s virtuosic ‘A Traveller’s Tale’ (1982) describes Queensland’s far north as ‘a place of transformations’ and unwittingly provides us with an epigraph for this collection. Without doubt, every story selected from ....

  • Book Title Meanjin A–Z
  • Book Author Jonathan Green
  • Book Subtitle Fine fiction 1980 to now
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Melbourne University Press, $29.99 pb, 225 pp, 9780522873696

It takes only five months for a newt to regrow a lost limb. Skittles and Tic Tacs both made public statements denouncing Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. Psychologists have learned that whenever we believe that a problem – like addiction, domestic abuse, or climate change – is intractable, our brains appear programmed to ignore it. The world’s best freedivers reach depths of 200 metres on a single breath. Australia’s First Peoples are proportionally the most incarcerated on earth. Of Australian surgeons, 91.5 per cent are male. The kea, an alpine parrot from New Zealand, can kill and devour sheep. Australia’s relative average income for people with disabilities is lower than any other OECD nation.

One of the functions of the essay has always been to give readers access to new information, experiences, ways of thinking – even entirely new worlds. The above list, gleaned from The Best Australian Essays 2017, gives some sense of what readers are in for. It’s a sample of the truly odd, infuriating, revealing, depressing, and often startling pieces of information on offer throughout. Though Anna Goldsworthy, in her brief introduction, worries about having made selections that are too personal, the essays are remarkably varied: in tone, style, subject matter, and spirit of approach.

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  • Custom Article Title Lucas Thompson reviews 'The Best Australian Essays 2017' edited by Anna Goldsworthy
  • Contents Category Anthologies
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    It takes only five months for a newt to regrow a lost limb. Skittles and Tic Tacs both made public statements denouncing Donald Trump during the 2016 Presidential race. Psychologists have learned that whenever we believe that a problem – like addiction, domestic abuse, or climate change – is intractable, our brains appear ...

  • Book Title The Best Australian Essays 2017
  • Book Author Anna Goldsworthy
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 318 pp, 9781863959605

It is a common misconception that scientists are not writers. As Professor Emma Johnston states in her foreword, writing is a fundamental part of the scientific process and innumerable volumes of scientific journals are published each year. These papers often employ dry, opaque language decipherable only by other scientists, so science journalists wade through these volumes, distilling and translating the latest, most exciting science into language that is accessible and appealing to non-specialist readers. Recent financial cuts to newsrooms have triggered the shedding of subject-specific writers, including science journalists. As a result, the quality and quantity of informed science journalism in Australia has been in decline, despite the dire need for public engagement with scientific ideas and policy. In this context, anthologies such as this are especially significant.

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  • Custom Article Title The Best Australian Science Writing 2017
  • Contents Category Anthologies
  • Custom Highlight Text

    It is a common misconception that scientists are not writers. As Professor Emma Johnston states in her foreword, writing is a fundamental part of the scientific process and innumerable volumes of scientific journals are published each year. These papers often employ dry, opaque language ...

  • Book Title The Best Australian Science Writing 2017
  • Book Author Michael Slezak
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio NewSouth, $29.99 pb, 291 pp, 9781742235554

A collection organised around ‘the best’ of anything invites a particular kind of evaluation, a seeking of the criteria that such an elastic adjective might imply. The criteria employed for the selection of essays, fiction, and poetry appearing in The Best of The Lifted Brow, Volume Two seem to be grounded in a desire for intellectual cheekiness and a willingness to embrace creative transgression.

All work in the anthology originally appeared between issues fourteen and thirty-two of the magazine, and it includes several extraordinary pieces of writing. Poems by Margaret Atwood and Eileen Myles, unsurprisingly, are exquisite. ‘The Right Kind of Blood’ by Rosanna Stevens is an incisive essay on how we speak about menstruation. Adam Curley offers a dazzling analysis of River Phoenix’s performance in My Own Private Idaho. Rebecca Harkins-Cross imagines a drolly adversarial conversation between Jean-Luc Godard and Baz Luhrmann, the dialogue comprising actual quotes from the directors. It should not work, but it does.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Dan Dixon review 'The Best of The Lifted Brow: Volume Two' edited by Alexander Bennetts
  • Contents Category Anthologies
  • Custom Highlight Text

    A collection organised around ‘the best’ of anything invites a particular kind of evaluation, a seeking of the criteria that such an elastic adjective might imply. The criteria employed for the selection of essays, fiction, and poetry appearing in ...

  • Book Title The Best of The Lifted Brow
  • Book Author Alexander Bennetts
  • Book Subtitle Volume Two
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Brow Books, $29.99 pb, 320 pp, 9780994606860

An annual challenge: how to select essays which capture the moment but live beyond the immediate?

For some, rigour matters. The series editor for The Best American Essays invites magazine editors and writers to submit contributions to a Boston postal address. The rules are strict: an essay is a literary work that shows ‘an awareness of craft and forcefulness of thought’. It must be printed during the year, in full, in an American periodical. Unpublished work cannot be considered, nor extracts from longer works. The endless flow of submissions is reduced to just 100 potential essays and submitted to a guest editor – in 2016 Jonathan Franzen. The resulting volume includes a list of essays considered, so readers can test their judgement against the editor.

Geordie Williamson, critic and Picador publisher, takes a more expansive view. There are unpublished essays in The Best Australian Essays 2016: from Vicki Hastrich on art and death, and an unflinching reflection on her vagina and childbirth by Tegan Bennett Daylight. Most contributions touch on an Australian theme, though several essays do not. Williamson has curated carefully but says little about his editorial decisions. There are essays from fifteen women and fourteen men, with the women published first. The collection pivots on a discussion about football by Anna Spargo-Ryan, a homage to her grandfather’s deep love of the Norwood Reds,gently shifting the voice from female to male. Williamson has commissioned some pieces, sourced others from small magazines and web publications. Every rule offered by the American guide is broken somewhere, usually to good effect.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Glyn Davis reviews 'The Best Australian Essays 2016' edited by Geordie Williamson
  • Contents Category Anthologies
  • Book Title The Best Australian Essays 2016
  • Book Author Geordie Williamson
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc. $29.99 pb, 320 pp, 9781863958851

Journalism is on the back foot. That’s putting it kindly. Hundreds of newspapers and thousands of careers have been consigned to the great media burial ground since the dawning of the digital age. Those still standing operate in a climate of deepening mistrust. From Trump’s America to Erdoğan’s Turkey, demagogues saddled with democratic political systems trumpet their scorn of so-called media elites.

Among those that refuse to die is The New Yorker magazine. Founded in 1925 as a ‘comic weekly’ under Harold Ross, it has proven remarkably durable with its signature blend of long-form journalism, highbrow criticism, poetry, fiction, and humour. I have my doubts about the wisdom of letting out into the world this superb collection of New Yorker pieces from the 1960s. Those were the glory days. In an era when so much ‘content’ is counted in characters, this is like looking at the ruins of the Parthenon and asking, what happened?

The 1960s were a different country. The New Yorker’s pages were stuffed with high-end advertising that paid the bills. Here is one example of how good the good times were when they rolled. In 1959, William Shawn (editor from 1952 to 1987) gave the novelist and essayist James Baldwin an advance to make a trip to Africa. Baldwin was a busy man, so he didn’t make it to Africa until 1962. On coming home, he decided he had more important things to write about than Africa.

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  • Custom Article Title Diana Bagnall reviews 'The New Yorker Book of the 60s: Story of a decade' edited by Henry Finder
  • Contents Category Anthologies
  • Book Title The New Yorker Book of the 60s
  • Book Author Henry Finder
  • Book Subtitle Story of a decade
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio William Heinemann $69.99 hb, 705 pp, 9780434022434

In 2015 it was virtually impossible to set foot in Singapore without being exposed to the government-led 'SG50' campaign commemorating the island nation's fiftieth year of independence. All over the country the 'little red dot' logo appeared on everything from double-decker buses and A380s to festive Chinese moon cakes and special-edition Tiger Beer bottles. In reality, of course, Singaporean identity is far more complex than is communicable through any multi-million-dollar patriotic branding exercise – which is why Union was such a refreshing inclusion in the abundance of golden-jubilee-related products that surfaced last year.

A dual anthology of Singaporean writing from the past fifty years and of works from Drunken Boat (the New York-based electronic arts journal), Union was conceived at a panel discussion during the 2013 American Writers Festival in Singapore. During the talk, Drunken Boat founding editor Ravi Shankar and Singaporean poet–editor Alvin Pang were prompted to draw parallels between Singapore and the USA. The conversation eventually made it out of the festival and into the pages of Drunken Boat 's twenty-first issue in April 2015; later in the year, they released Union, a 640-page anthology on the same theme.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Sara Savage reviews 'Union' edited by Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar
  • Contents Category Anthology
  • Book Title Union
  • Book Author Alvin Pang and Ravi Shankar
  • Book Subtitle 15 Years of Drunken Boat, 50 Years of Writing from Singapore
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Ethos Books and Drunken Boat, US$19.90 pb, 640 pp, 9789810964894

Ever since the baby boomers hit middle age, the supposed gerontophobia of their youth has been sent back to them with interest. One-liners from the 1960s – such as Pete Townshend's 'I hope I die before I get old' and Jack Weinberg's 'Don't trust anyone over thirty' – have circulated in popular culture like ghostly refrains haunting an entire generation. Falling and Flying, an anthology of contemporary Australian poems on ageing, is explicitly presented as a resource 'for the baby-boomers who are approaching old age'.

Edited by a doctor–poet, Susan Ogle, and one of Australia's leading poets, Judith Beveridge, Falling and Flying is also illustrated by Richard Wu, a psychiatrist and artist. Any publisher that takes on poetry and ageing and illustration deserves our admiration. This project shows the importance of independent publishers to Australian literary culture. In this case, the raison d'être for the collection is also conspicuously functionalist for a work of poetry and visual art. In addition to addressing their collection to the baby boomer generation, the editors also present the anthology as a clinical resource 'for older people and their carers, doctors, medical students, health-care professionals, or indeed any student of medicine and life'.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title David McCooey reviews 'Falling and Flying' edited by Judith Beveridge and Susan Ogle
  • Contents Category Anthology
  • Book Title Falling and Flying
  • Book Author Judith Beveridge and Susan Ogle
  • Book Subtitle Poems on Ageing
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Brandl & Schlesinger, $29.95, 206 pp, 9781921556876

In 2010, writing in Westerly, Carmel Lawrence despaired about the lack of science writing in the collection of 'best non-fiction' of the year that she had been asked to review. It wasn't, she concluded, for want of material. Science writing had undergone a huge resurgence in popularity at the turn of the twenty-first century. With no major anthologies of Australian science writing, nor a regular prize, it was difficult to gauge how well the genre was doing in Australia at the time. Were we missing great science writers like Primo Levi, Rachel Carson, or Carl Sagan? Was it just that such factual writing, in Australia, is not seen as sufficiently literary, or that literary writing – the beautiful, moving, engaging – is not regarded as sufficiently objective to be scientific?

The publication of The Best Australian Science Writing anthologies by NewSouth, annually since 2011, has gone a long way towards addressing some of Lawrence's concerns. Science writing is doing very well in Australia, it seems, despite the smallness of the market and the continual waxing and waning of science magazines. While the anthology does not provide a venue for new science writing, it does afford recognition of some of the outstanding work that has already been published, bringing it together into one body of like-minded work.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Danielle Clode reviews 'The Best Australian Science Writing' edited by Bianca Nogrady
  • Contents Category Science
  • Book Title The Best Australian Science Writing
  • Book Author Bianca Nogrady
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio NewSouth, $29.99 pb, 301 pp, 9781742234410

In Jo Case's 'Something Wild', young single mother Kristen is tempted to rediscover 'the thrill of doing what she feels like, just to see what happens'. She could be speaking for characters in many of the pieces in The Best Australian Stories 2015, a collection that features people on the verge of transgression. As Amanda Lohrey writes in her introduction, itself a compact work of art, the stories all contain 'an element of danger'; risk is palpable in the sexual and power-driven desires that overflow these narratives, with transgression enacted by, or perpetrated against, central characters. The possibility of forging an ethical self and the wish to be self-determining – the need 'to steer something in a direction she chose' identified by the protagonist of Eleanor Limprecht's 'On Ice' – are associated and equally significant thematic concerns. The realisation that being authentic might involve flouting social mores, cultural markers, or even, simply, entrenched behaviours is sometimes overt, sometimes implicit.

Almost all of the short fiction here has been published previously in a range of literary journals, anthologies and collections, with Meanjin well represented. Lohrey reprises her 2014 editorial role; five of the authors represented in The Best Australian Stories 2014 are also found in this book. Of these five stories, Mark Smith's 'Manyuk', Julie Koh's 'The Level Playing Field', and Nicola Redhouse's 'Vital Signs' constitute effective companion pieces to their 2014 equivalents. 'Alphabet', by Ryan O'Neill, builds upon possibilities of language and structure explored in the author's 2014 story. Claire Corbett's '2 or 3 Things I Know About You' is not as strong as her 2014 piece – though flash fiction is a welcome inclusion – and suffers through following the sustained act of imagination in 'Picasso: A Shorter Life'; however, Corbett's 'teen girl stalker' does provide an effective antidote to John A. Scott's disturbingly misogynistic central character.

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  • Free Article No
  • Custom Article Title Josephine Taylor reviews 'The Best Australian Stories 2015' edited by Amanda Lohrey
  • Contents Category Anthology
  • Book Title The Best Australian Stories 2015
  • Book Author Amanda Lohrey
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.99 pb, 240 pp, 9781863957786
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