Biography and Memoirs

The voice on the car radio was not immediately recognisable, nor was the song familiar to me. There was just a smoky laid-back piano and someone singing a song that sounded as though it was from the 1940s: ‘Young lovers, young lovers …’ I thought the voice, whomever it belonged to, had a real musicality in it, a precision of pitch and phrasing in tandem with a kind of liquid sweetness.

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With the possible exception of Jean Baudrillard or Anthony Giddens, it is difficult to think of a contemporary sociologist who has rivalled the international intellectual standing, as well as global fame, of the late Zygmunt Bauman. In his subtle, worldly intelligence, his interdisciplinary engagement, and his poetic cast of mind, Bauman stands out as one of the most influential social thinkers of our time. A distinguished heir to the tradition of radical Marxist criticism, his writings tracked the political contradictions, cultural pressures, and emotional torments of modernity with a uniquely agile understanding. With his scathing critical pen and brilliant socio logical investigations, Bauman unearthed major institutional transformations in capitalism, culture, and communication in a language that disdained all academic boundaries, crossing effortlessly from Marx to mobile phones, from Gramsci to globalisation, and from postmodernism to the privatisation of prisons.

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To an older generation of Australian poetry readers, David Campbell (1915–79) was perhaps the best-loved poet of Douglas Stewart’s post-World War II ‘Red Page’, appearing there with what would become iconic poems of the new Bulletin school like ‘Windy Gap’, ‘Who Points the Swallow’, and ‘Men in Green’. Despite his frequent publication in that heritage venue, Campbell published his first collection, Speak with the Sun (1949), in England with Chatto & Windus, through the good offices of his Cambridge mentor E.M.W. Tillyard. After that, he joined the ancien A&R régime of poets like Rosemary Dobson, R.D. FitzGerald, Francis Webb, James McAuley, and Judith Wright, who took up much of the middle ground of Australian poetry in the 1950s and 1960s. A lifelong friend and supporter of Campbell, Stewart was also influential in this group’s prominence, along with Beatrice Davis, his editorial co-adviser at Angus & Robertson.

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Anna Goldsworthy reviews 'The Student Chronicles' by Alice Garner

Anna Goldsworthy
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Despite its rather grandiose title, Alice Garner’s The Student Chronicles is a friendly, unpretentious book. It is a coming-of-age story, set mostly in libraries – an anti-Monkey Grip, or a love letter to geekdom. The only sex happens behind closed doors; the real romance is with the library. ‘I loved the Baillieu Library so much I wrote a really bad poem about it,’ Garner confesses, with characteristic self-deprecation. Occasionally, she takes her reader by the hand – like a less precious Alain de Botton – and guides them towards the classics. Thus she introduces Montaigne, a partial model for this book, as a writer of ‘disarming modesty and honesty’, two qualities that the author herself possesses.

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Don Grant reviews 'Xavier Herbert' by Laurie Clancy

Don Grant
Wednesday, 19 August 2020

Xavier Herbert is probably the most enigmatic of Australian writers, but there is nothing enigmatic about Laurie Clancy’s treatment of the man and his works in Twayne’s World Authors Series. This is the best assessment of Herbert since Vincent Buckley’s article ‘Capricornia’ (Meanjin, 19, 1960) forced critics to take Herbert seriously as a writer of stature and an experimentalist with the form of the novel, and since Harry Heseltine’s Xavier Herbert (OUP, 1973) drew attention to what Heseltine saw as the ‘deep motive’ of Herbert’s writing in the works that preceded Poor Fellow My Country.

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Exiles at Home is a fascinating work by a feminist of the 1970s about a group of anti-fascist feminists of the 1920s and 1930s. From it we learn as much about the world view of the author as we do about the politics of its subjects. A serious book, about serious writers, it examines novels for their historical rather than for their literary interest. It offers no real criticism of writing styles, and no comparison with modem feminist authors. Nor is it a book to be read in the hope of rediscovering almost forgotten characters from our literary past.

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John Kinsella’s new memoir, Fast, Loose Beginnings, may have been published by the august publishing house of Melbourne University Publishing, but it is nevertheless a garage-band of a book. It is, as its title signals, both fast and loose. Its rhythms aren’t always graceful, and its timbres aren’t always smooth. You can almost hear the hum of the amplifiers. The poet Jaya Savige, in his review of the book for the Sydney Morning Herald, commented on the book’s lack of polish.

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To paraphrase Winston Churchill’s description of Russia as a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma, Percy Grainger is a minstrel wrapped in a harlequin inside a jack-in-the-box. His personality, obsessions, and general eccentricities still cause one to gasp and stretch one’s eyes even almost half a century after his own hypnotic eyes closed forever. His music, too, remains quicksilver; indefinable in its eclecticism, yet the work of a sprite who was also a genius who, magpie-like, collected music from wildly different sources to stuff into the capacious if overcrowded nest that was his mind.

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Jay Daniel Thompson reviews 'Madame Lash' by Sam Everingham

Jay Daniel Thompson
Friday, 07 August 2020

Madam Lash is a biography of Australia’s most famous dominatrix. Author Sam Everingham provides an engaging insight into the life of the woman who helped bring sadomasochism to mainstream attention in this country.

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Warren Osmond reviews 'Trial Balance' by H.C. Coombs

Warren Osmond
Friday, 31 July 2020

In the Australian administrative tradition, Dr H.C. Coombs is a remarkable survivor, a maximalist and an innovator, not least in his· preparedness to write in public. The key figure in the Post-War Reconstruction brains trust which flourished under Curtin, Chifley and Dedman in the 1940s, he became Governor of the Commonwealth and then the Reserve Bank for twenty years and then entered a new creative phase in the post-Menzies and the Whitlam years.

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