Weekend Round-Up 2006 #2

The "essay", that bastard of a thing we used to call "composition" back when I was in primary school, is having a big revival in Australia. I am in no position to make a definitive case as to when this happened, but Peter Craven's annual series of "Best Australian Essays" (dating from 1998) and the "Quarterly Essay" also edited by him, and both from Black Inc Publishing, must have had something to do with it. Yes, essays have been all around us since the year dot and I used to read the ones which caught my eye in the papers, but having them collected into one volume and having new and interesting essays presented as if they had a life-span of longer than two days, certainly galvanised readers' interest; this reader anyway.

This increasing interest has paved the way for single-author essay collections to be published in this country. Previously you'd have to be Clive James, Helen Garner, Tim Flannery or Peter Singer to get a gig like that. Now Giramondo Press has released The Bone House by Beverly Farmer, and Chihuahuas, Women and Me by Louis Nowra into the field. The two books are reviewed by Peter Pierce, professor of Australian Literature at James Cook University, in this weekend's "The Age". Nowra described his collection as "a parade of my obsessions and enthusiams and, as such, could be read as a memoir", which Pierce seems pretty impressed with: "This is a book of intelligence, wit, good sense as well as ample evidence of folly. There are few Australian writers of Nowra's scope and challenge to us." On the other hand, or maybe the same one, depending on how you look at it, he finds Farmer's collection "is organised digressively; proceeds by association. It is a commonplace book, a mosaic of thoughts, an assembly of quotations and scraps of knowledge that review and reveal the writer's mind and perceptions." Which strikes me as being what we're after: "This ambitious hybrid of a book is striking, rewarding, always skirting pretentiousness, gloomy, yet written in the hope of renewal."

[Comment: no posting of this review on the website. C'mon guys, it's Australian, get your acts together.]

Myth Maker. Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett: The Englishman Who Sparked Australia's Gallipoli Legend by Fred and Elizabeth Brenchley is reviewed by Christpher Bantick. I've previously expressed my amusement at books with long titles like this so I'll resist the urge to get stuck in on that score this time, other than to say that half this title could have been left out and it wouldn't have affected the final product. The view that Ellis Ashmead-Bartlett was responsible for initiating the Australian public's interest in Gallipoli was started by the late Lloyd Robson, a Melbourne University historian. "This book develops Robson's thesis that it was Ashmead-Bartlett's reports from the front that largely shaped Australia's sense of the Gallipoli legend. The longevity of Ashmead-Bartlett's opinions and observations are measured out in how Australians still regard their Gallipoli heroes." Odd timing for this book. You'd think that nearer to Anzac day in April might have been a better publication date.

"The Australian" appears to be still on an extended Australian literature summer holiday.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on January 9, 2006 2:27 PM.

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