Monday, 6 July 2015

Things I like reading when I need a break from books

As much as it pains me to say it, sometimes I need a break from reading books. I wish I had more stamina to read as many books as I'd like to all of the time, but alas this is not the case. For instance when I'm in the middle of a uni semester I feel much less inclined to commit to an entire novel-sized book given that most of my time is spent reading textbooks and articles. Otherwise I'll feel like my brain will explode if I engage in much more new information. 

But do not fear because I have good news. In my pursuit to quench my thirst for reading I've come across the following publications that fulfil this goal because they are stimulating and somewhat literary without being too onerous, namely because they can be chewed off in small bites. I can also attest that I have successfully read them during my uni semester without my brain exploding. So in no particular order, I present them to you here.

1. Kill Your Darlings

Kill Your Darlings is a quarterly released journal with a number of authors contributing to each issue. The contributions are in the forms of mini-essays covering a variety of topics from the declining relationship between Australia and Indonesia to a critique of how bisexuality was portrayed in the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Each issue features a commentary section that covers topical issues of the day, a short story fiction section, an interview with an author, and reviews on films and books. It's been one of my favourite non-book discoveries of recent times and each issue is a genuinely fantastic read.  

2. The Canary Press

The Canary Press mainly publishes fiction stories, some of which are more abstract than others. The contributions range in length from super short poems to stories that are a few pages long, so you can knock off stories reasonably quickly. The artwork accompanying the stories in The Canary Press is terrific and a treat in itself as well. If you're a fan of quirky, short stories, then this is the magazine for you. 

3. Quarterly Essays

If you're after a publication that does explore topics more in-depth, then the Quarterly Essay might just be what you're after. Published on a quarterly basis, each issue features a long-form essay (about 25,000 words) exploring a particular topic from some of Australia's most prominent thinkers and authors. Past issues include Anna Krien's essay on the importance of animals, Waleed Ali's essay on the future of conservatism in Australia, Noel Pearson's essay on race and recognition in Australia and David Malouf's essay of the search for contentment in the modern world. 

4. New Philosopher

The New Philospher is an independent, ad-free quarterly magazine. Each issue focuses on a particular theme, ranging from Narcissism to Progress to Online Identity to Travel. A variety of writers contribute to the magazine, so it's a fantastic publication to gain different perspectives about the themes in focus. As it's a magazine it's also a very visual publication, so it includes artwork, photographs and comic strips relating to the theme being explored. The New Philospher also has an excellent website with links and further articles to follow up on if you haven't got enough from the magazine - check it out here.

5. Womankind

Womankind is a beautifully compiled magazine predominantly aimed at women. However unlike many women's magazines, Womankind is ad-free, and instead of focusing on subjects such as fashion, beauty and gossip, it offers refreshing and thoughtful articles, stories and submissions by women on a variety of topics. Similarly to The New Philosopher (the two magazines are related), each issue focuses on a particular theme, but in Womankind the theme is much looser with not all contributions centring around it. The Womankind website also has links to some terrific resources which you can view here.

What are some of your go-to publications when you need a break from reading books?

Tuesday, 23 June 2015

Review: The Wife Drought, by Annabel Crabb

As a young woman with high career aspirations, I've often wondered why there are still so few females in senior leadership positions in Australia. This is particularly perplexing for me given that there's been more than forty years of increased workforce opportunities for women. Subsequently I've wondered why men still dominate most senior leadership positions. I've also questioned what it means to be a wife in 21st century Australia and whether it's even a necessary role in current times when women are supposedly experiencing more rights and opportunities than ever before. Annabel Crabb's playfully titled book, The Wife Drought: Why women need wives and men need lives, is a terrific exploration of these very issues and how they relate to each other.

I'll begin by sharing some provocative facts from The Wife Drought with you:

1. Australia ranks 28th in the world for pay equality. Iceland, Sweden, Norway and Switzerland currently lead these rankings. In Australia, the higher women progress in professions such as law and corporate business, the more likely they are to be paid less than men on no other grounds than because they are women.

2. While workplace opportunities have expanded for women in recent decades, so too have their domestic expectations. Yes more women are working full time, but they're still likely to do more than twice as much housework as their full-time working husbands. In fact, the birth of a first child increases a woman's household chores by half. It increases again with the birth of a second child. Strangely women will continue to take on more domestic duties compared to their spouses the higher up the career ladder they climb. Conversely the birth of first child has negligible effects on males. Another child decreases this again.

3. If women's participation in the workforce became more like men's, it would add 11 per cent to Australia's gross domestic produce.

What Crabb also discovers is that as much as Australians might like to think of themselves as living in a modern, progressive country, the 1950s nuclear family unit is still the most dominant domestic structure for families. 60% of families have a female 'wife'* compared with only 6% of families having a male 'wife'. Men still do more of the paid work and women more of the unpaid.

This archaic structure isn't surprising once you start delving deeper into why it has persisted despite decades of workplace reforms encouraging women to participate in the workforce. This is where the strength of Crabb's thesis lies for me, because she cleverly explores this dilemma from a refreshingly original perspective: that of questioning what's changed on the home-front for women and men in all this time.

According to Crabb, this is where the biggest issues lie. For, while more doors have opened for women in the workplace, none have been closed off for them domestically. Consequently many women who have children end up doing most of the domestic work while men are able to focus on their careers. Thus, Crabb comes to the conclusion that women are in need of their own wives to look after all of the traditionally 'wifey' responsibilities so that the women who want to can get back into the workforce easier and progress with their careers with the support that will help them to do so.

I'll take a step back for a moment though. When men and women start out in the workforce, they are on a reasonably even playing-field. They tend to earn similar salaries, are generally given the same opportunities for promotion and share household duties equally. It's when women start having babies that things change.

When women have babies, they take leave from work. Subsequently, because Australia does not have an equitable paid parental leave scheme, women have a lesser income while they stay home to look after their child. When and if women decide to return to work, it's usually on a part-time basis. Therefore they are less likely to be considered for promotions because they simply do not spend enough time in the office to prove themselves to their employers. This is in contrast to men who, aided by the help of their wives who take care of the domestic duties, are able to steam-roll ahead with their careers.

That's if women decide to go back to work in the first place of course. Many decide not to, on the grounds that paying for childcare barely covers the wages that they will be earning.

This in itself is a flawed argument for a number of reasons disputed by Crabb. Firstly, why is only the woman's wage considered when making these calculations? Shouldn't some of the man's wage be also considered when weighing up how costly child care will be? Secondly, while in the short term the additional wages may only just be covering the cost of childcare, the long term benefits should surely outweigh them. After all, the woman will get the chance to re-establish herself as a valued member of her workplace so that she can be considered for future promotions and subsequently earn greater wages. So really, the sooner the wife can get back to work, the better. Unfortunately these considerations are not always made when weighing up whether or not a woman with children should return to work.

At any rate I digress and will return to the main discussion. What can we do to better support women returning to the workforce? This is where Crabb's discussion gets particularly interesting. While she returns to rethinking the domestic expectations placed on women and men, she interestingly extends her argument by focusing on how men can be better supported to contribute more on the home-front and level the playing-field for women.

Since the most drastic changes within a man and woman's relationship result from a first child being born, new interventions need to be introduced at this critical time. While women obviously need time off work to have the child and bond with their baby, men need more encouragement to take paternity leave so that they can be just as involved in the child's formative months and consequently get as much practice at being a parent as possible, which women already currently get. After all, women are not born with an innate gift to look after their children and households - they simply get more practice at it. So men need the same opportunities to practice their parental and domestic skills.

How can this happen? A number of years ago countries such as Norway introduced policies where a portion of paid parental leave would only be paid if fathers took time off work. This has proved to be extremely effective because statistically Norwegian men now spend more time helping with domestic work than what they were forty-odd years ago when the forced paternity leave policies were first introduced.

So, we need better systems in place to get men out of the workplace and back into homes. After all, a study published in 2012 showed that 79% of young fathers would prefer a compressed work week. This means that workplaces need to become just as flexible and supportive of men's parenthood as it is for women, which is unfortunately not the case currently. Therefore we need to get better at asking for what we want, especially when this contradicts social expectations. Crabb acknowledges that this won't be easy, particularly when research shows that people tend to be treated worse at work if they do not conform to traditional expectations of them. But this shouldn't stop us from demanding fairer rights so that we can be better spouses and family members. We need to do this so that men can be more involved with their family life and women more involved in the workforce without being judged negatively.

I've only scratched the surface of what Crabb discusses in her book, which is far more comprehensively explored and articulated than what's been discussed in this post. Overall The Wife Drought is a witty, well-researched, historical and contemporary account of Australian women's involvement in the workforce. Crabb recognises that changing the current structures and expectations of men and women domestically and in the workforce won't be easy, particularly with the existing policies and services (such as childcare) in place. Nevertheless Crabb offers refreshing and innovative perspectives of how women can be better supported to return to work so that they can achieve their full career potential, while also encouraging men to be more involved in the domestic sphere so that they too can lead better balanced lives.

Watch Annabel Crabb discuss The Wife Drought with George Megalogenis below:

*What Crabb means by the term 'wife' isn't the traditional 'woman married to a man' definition. Rather Crabb is referring to any woman, whether married or not, who finds herself in a partnership doing many of the jobs traditionally expected of a wife - such as looking after the house and children while her partner works. Crabb is aware that this might limit her discussion to heterosexual couples which is somewhat problematic, but argues that many couples in homosexual relationships have better balanced relationships compared with heterosexual couples as they tend to reject the traditional roles that individuals in heterosexual couples usually succumb to.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Review: The Year of Living Danishly, by Helen Russell

Denmark is a country I have a big crush on. Home of the Danish pastry, the Little Mermaid, stylish furniture, Crown Princess Mary and progressive political and social policies, it's a country that has a lot going for it. Not to mention that it's been classified as the world's happiest country. So it's unsurprising that I had to read this book when I found out about it.

The Year of Living Danishly follows the real-life story of Helen Russell, a Brit whose husband gets transferred to Denmark to work for none other than the biggest toy producer in the world, Lego.

While researching about Denmark prior to their move, Russell learns that Danish people are some of the happiest people in the world. So donning her journalist hat on, Russell sets herself the project of finding out how truthful this title is and, if it is true, how the Danes have accomplished this feat.

I won't give away all of Russell's findings because then you wouldn't need to read the book, which I'm sure Russell wouldn't be too pleased about. But I will share some of the things I learnt about Denmark that made me want to pack my bags and move there right now.

Things I learnt about Denmark:
  1. Inspiring surroundings and innovative design are very important; not only for looks but for people's happiness and wellbeing. This is something the Danish government recognised when the country was recovering from an economic slump in the 1920's. The government saw the potential of innovatively designed objects (such as household items like the egg chair) in improving people's morale, so agreed to fund and support designers in their work. 
  2. High taxes are ok if it means your country is looking after the health and wellbeing of its citizens. Education is free. Child care is highly subsidised. If someone wants to change jobs, the government will fund 80-90% of their wages for up to two years after quitting their jobs. Yes this means that people pay more taxes (high income earners can pay up to 50% of their wages in taxes), but it also means that people are more likely to be happy and feel fulfilled because they know their government will support them at critical points in life (e.g. if they want a career change).
  3. A healthy work/life balance is possible. In Denmark, there is no need to constantly work overtime because it's expected that you'll be productive while at work and will finish what's required in that time. And there's no need to brag about how much work you need to do/have done because Danes are not fans of bragging either. On a Friday most people will finish by 3pm. If parents (either male or female) need to take or collect their children from child care, they can get to work later and finish earlier if required. 
  4. Denmark would be a great country to raise a family in. Both new mothers and fathers are expected to take paid parental leave upon the birth of a newborn. A family allowance is paid to mothers with children below the age of 18 regardless of earnings. Every baby is guaranteed a place in day care from age 6 months to when they commence primary school. I'll mention again that child care is heavily subsidised. Most children will go to a state-funded public school, which, similarly to the school systems in other Scandinavian countries, are of a very high calibre.
  5. Danes love potatoes and pastry. Enough said.

I realise that Denmark is not the world's perfect country and that the actual reality of living there can be vastly different to one's ideals of what it's like to live there. Russell touches on these challenges she faces herself, particularly how difficult it is to adjust to a new way of life. Neither does Russell shy away from sharing some of Denmark's flaws. For example, there is a lot of pressure on new mother's to return to work, where not doing so has a very strong social stigma attached to it. And the Danes are heavy drinkers (though many countries would compete for that reputation). But still, these flaws can be somewhat excused when you consider how progressive Denmark is politically and socially. 

Russell summarises this well in the following quote:

'Yes, it's expensive here. But it's Denmark - it's worth it. I don't mind paying more for a coffee here because I know that it means the person serving me doesn't a) hate me or b) have a crappy life. Everyone is paid a decent wage, everyone is looked after, and everyone pays their taxes, just as I pay mine. And if we all have marginally less money to buy more stuff that we don't really need anyway as a result, well I'm starting to think it's a deal worth making.'

With all that being said, you may be surprised to hear that I wasn't necessarily a fan of Russell's style of writing throughout her book - at times and I found it a bit too self-indulgent for my liking. Don't get me wrong - I thoroughly enjoyed learning about Denmark and hence reading what was written. I just didn't always enjoy how it was written. But I'd say that just comes down to personal preference, rather than poor writing. So if you're curious about Denmark, this is still a great read to learn more about this great country. Nyde!

Wednesday, 25 March 2015

Reading women in 2014

This post has been trickier than I thought writing it would be. It's been on my 'must finish' list for quite some time now, but I've struggled to string together the words I've wanted to to express my thoughts. However, the time has come for me to bite the bullet and just finish off what I've started, because it's a topic I'm very passionate about and frankly, as Elizabeth Gilbert once said, done is better than spending an eternity perfecting something that you never get to share with anyone. So here I go.  

Artwork by Joanna Walsh

Last year I took on my first official reading challenge: the Australian Women Writers Challenge. The premise was to read and blog about as many Australian women writers in 2014. And in case you're wondering, yes I achieved my goals - huzzah!

My motivation stemmed from reading this article, which posed the question of why we don't read more books written by women. It was an idea that really resonated with me because it wasn't until reading it that I realised I could be reading more books by women. And it really troubled me that I wasn't, considering that I'm an Australian woman myself. So why wasn't I?

For starters, prior to the challenge I simply paid more attention to books by men. Why this was the case I'm not entirely sure - I suppose the fact that they're talked about publicly more is one reason (in fact, it was only last month that I received an email from a large Australian book-seller who didn't mention any Australian women in their recommended reading list, only mentioning Australia). As David Pritchard, who is the editor of an American journal which dedicated its 2014 reviews to women and writers of colour, says, "Women writers and writers of colour are underserved and undervalued by the contemporary community." So why is this the case?

The Cherchez la Femme podcast on 'Feminism and Girls' sheds some light on this. In it, Emily Maguire mentions that young children, particularly boys, are not expected to read stories with female protagonists in them (I'll discount fairy tales here, which young boys will be familiar with, because their portrayal of female protagonists is often problematic. By this I mean that the females in them are usually naive, helpless damsels who get themselves into trouble and can only be saved by men). Instead, books with female protagonists are considered 'girly' books, and reading them is somehow emasculating. This in turn silences the values and concerns of females. And yet in contrast, it is expected that young girls will read stories with either male or female protagonists unproblematically, meaning that they are exposed to the values and ideas of both genders more. 

How does this relate to devaluing female authors?

Well, I'd argue that this pattern towards not reading stories with female protagonists continues into adulthood, particularly among men. For some reason, it's still thought that reading books by and about women is only relevant for women, where such books are considered 'girly' and 'fluffy' and not worthy of anyone's serious time. Jodie Picoult agrees, having commented on the sexist nature of the publishing/bookselling industry regarding this very issue. Picoult's books, which deal with heavy topics ranging from the Holocaust to assisted dying, are rarely taken seriously. "I write women's fiction," Picoult says, "And women's fiction doesn't mean that's your audience. Unfortunately it means you have lady parts." Subsequently it means that women's writing is often devalued.

And yet, infuriatingly, Picoult points out that men authors, such as Nicholas Sparkes and Jeffrey Eugenides, get praise for writing what are mostly romance books. A genre that, when women contribute to it, gets written off as trashy 'chick lit' fiction. These double standards are part of the reason why reading more books by women is so important - so that we can hear and appreciate the value of stories by women in a world that often drowns their voices out.

Now, I'm not saying that all books by women should be read by both men and women, because frankly, as with any book, not all stories will be of interest to everyone. And to me, that wasn't the point of the reading women challenge. For me, its purpose was to broaden readers', as well as my own, horizons of the sorts of books they would consider worthy of reading, and to notice female authors more. This meant that I didn't solely read books by women last year, because for me, cutting out books by men entirely isn't the solution to this issue either: completely cutting out one group to make room for another is something I find problematic. Instead, strategies need to be put in place to ensure that those who might normally get unnoticed and drowned out don't; strategies similar to introducing workplace quotas to ensure that women aren't ignored when being considered for particular roles. This challenge was a type of quota exercise - I set the number of books authored by Australian women I wanted to read, and I achieved it.

So in the end my take home message is this: if you haven't done so already, challenge yourself to read more books by women, especially Australian women for all those Australians reading this. And set yourself a specific goal to make sure you actually do it. Because women's voices have been underrepresented for too long and they need to be given the value, support and recognition that they deserve. After all, they've got bloody good stories to tell.

Australian women's books I read in 2014

Read and reviewed
Bewitched and Bedevilled: Women Write the Gillard Years edited by Samantha Trenoweth
Night Games by Anna Krien
The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers
Destroying the Joint: Why Women Have to Change the World edited by Jane Caro
Ducks on the Pond by Anne Summers
Only the Animals by Ceridwen Dovey
Class Act by Maxine McKew

Read only
By the Book: A Reader's Guide to Life by Ramona Koval
Unpolished Gem by Alice Pung
The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Review: The Rosie Effect, by Graeme Simsion

Before I get stuck into my review of The Rosie Effect, I very quickly want to comment on its predecessor, The Rosie Project. Because if I'm going to be honest, I have to admit that I didn't totally love it. While I thought Don was an excellent narrator and loved the perspective he provided to me as a reader, I did think the story itself was too predictable. And overly predictable stories are a pet-hate of mine. But perhaps that's what was needed in order to make Don's story more accessible to people reading it? Who knows?

Despite these minor grumbles I did like The Rosie Project enough to read it's sequel, The Rosie Effect. And this was anything but predictable. At a whopping 411 pages long, The Rosie Effect takes you on a whirlwind adventure as Don and Rosie are unexpectedly expecting their first baby in their first year of marriage. 

Most of the craziness that results is ironically due to Don trying to be more empathetic and considerate of others, which we as readers can certainly empathise with. After all, how many times have you done something because you think it's for the right reason, when really it has the opposite effect? Well, this is a phenomenon that Don becomes increasingly familiar with and fortunately as the reader you get to laugh and cringe at Don as he fumbles along trying to do the right thing by those he cares for

It's this growth in Don - where he is more considerate and caring of how his actions effect those closest to him - that I really enjoyed in The Rosie Effect. After all, Don is the most unlikely person to start a men's support group, learn the ins and outs of fatherhood and bring together broken families. And yet he gets himself into all of these scenarios without realising the (unintentionally) positive effects he is having on others. As the fortunate reader you get to go on this journey with Don, who despite helping others, still finds much human behaviour utterly confusing and unpredictable. And thus Don reminds us that this is a wonderfully fundamental part of being human, making it easier for us as readers to connect with him and see the world from his perspective.

But it's not all happy-go-lucky for Don and Rosie, who face their own relationship challenges as they both adjust to the realisation of becoming parents. Simsion's portrayal of the daunting prospect of becoming parents is both touching and unnerving, particularly due to Don and Rosie's different approaches to coping with the upcoming changes. 

Overall The Rosie Effect is a great read and a great sequel to what was such a hit of a first book. It's very funny and very entertaining and has a lot of heart.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Reviews: What I read this summer

I love summer. I love the (mostly) warm weather with blue-sky days. I love that I get to go on holidays. I love that the days are longer. And I love that I get to wear summer dresses. But mostly I love the fact that I get more time to do one of my favourite things in the whole entire world. Which, you probably won't be surprised to know, is reading lots.

This summer I read everything from confirmed and unconfirmed autobiographies, to books about relationships, education and Australian politics. So here are my thoughts on the books I read over summer. What did you read?

Yes Please, by Amy Poehler

There's no other way for me to start this other than to say that Amy Poehler is a complete babe. She's just so sassy and so self-assured, yet she also gives you the impression that she wears her heart on her sleeve. Who wouldn't warm to that sort of person?

In Yes Please, Poehler discusses how she got to where she is in her career today (she worked really hard); talks about being a single mother (it can be really hard); and comments lots on the process of writing a memoir (it's really hard). Yet even though she has worked very hard, what becomes evident is that she does not shy away from challenges - in fact, she embraces them.

Unlike with other memoirs, it's sometimes hard to tell whether Poehler is being truthful or tongue-in-cheek. Which I kind of like, because it keeps you guessing about who the 'real' Amy Poehler is. However the flipside of this is that you end up feeling like you might not actually know Poehler any better after reading her memoir; as if everything in the book is calculated to present a certain image of herself. Which no doubt all memoirs are in some way - it's just that it was a bit more obvious for me in this one than others have been. 

Nevertheless Poehler's can-do, let's-say-yes-and-get-down-and-dirty approach to everything is so inspiring that it makes you want to fist-pump the air and say, 'Yeah, I can do whatever I set my mind to too!' after reading it.

My favourite quotes? 
'Nobody looks stupid when they are having fun.'
'Change is inevitable, get used to it, so just ride the wave.'  
'It takes years as a woman to unlearn what you have been taught to be sorry for. It takes years to find your voice and seize your real estate.'
Poehler has certainly seized her real estate and her memoir is clear evidence of this, despite me being hungry for more.

Class Act, by Maxine McKew

Class Act is an insightful look at how some of Australia's leading schools have achieved being the best schools our country can offer our students. It's a celebration of their achievements, focusing on a handful of schools from all over the country and their leaders who have taken a stand to create positive change.

As someone who is studying teaching it was a really engaging read, exploring many key ideas discussed in my course, such as: how well are we preparing students to cope in a world that increasingly requires them to adapt and use their initiative; the importance of lifting the bar of what's expected and accepted of students at school; and the importance of giving all students access to a rich variety of subjects and resources - not just those who can afford it.

It's always refreshing to see how some of these concepts, which are usually discussed in theory, have been successfully implemented by key change-makers at the schools included in Class Act. What's even more refreshing to read is how many of these schools have beaten the odds in some way to achieve more than what the community thought they and their students were capable of.

My favourite quote?
'If we don't do everything we can to develop the full potential of these children, then the loss to our society it criminal' - interview with John Farrell, Principal of Our Lady of Mount Carmel Primary School, Sydney, who has embraced high expectations for all of his students, many of who are Indigenous.

Us, by David Nicholls

This is the story of Douglas and Connie, a couple who have been married for twenty-odd years. Their only son, Albie, is about to go to college, and Connie has come to the realisation that she no longer wants to be married to Douglas. This comes as a shock to Douglas, though as the narrative unfolds it becomes more and more evident that there were signs of cracks in their relationship for some time.

Nevertheless Douglas and Connie decide to go on one last trip to Europe together with Albie, who is unsurprisingly reluctant to be dragged along with his clearly unhappy parents. And so the narrative largely focuses on this family's trip in Europe and David's misguided attempts to keep his family together. It also flashes back to when Douglas and Connie first met and what initially drew them together, which I particularly enjoyed reading (I'm a big fan of flashbacks!).

Though all of this might sound cliched and dull (which is what I would have thought had I not seen Nicholls authored it), it's a touching account of a marriage on the decline and what happens when you grow apart from the person you fell in love with and married. So often relationship stories end with the protagonist securing his/her true love, where you're simply left to assume that they'll live happily ever after. Us offers a different narrative.

At times wickedly funny, at others dispiritingly unsettling, Nicholls has created a memorable story with vivid characters that you'll both love and want to strangle.

My Story, by Julia Gillard 

I was really looking forward to this one. Ever since Gillard was horribly mistreated as Prime Minister, I've wanted to know more about this woman who put up with so much disrespect yet didn't let it stop her from achieving so much in her short term as PM. My Story is a thorough account of these achievements, detailing the reasons for many of the policies Gillard's government introduced. It's unfortunate that politicians don't get more of an opportunity to explain their positions while in office, and Gillard's book certainly highlights how petty and embarrassing the reporting of politics is in Australia given how many important changes were actually happening throughout her leadership.

It's unsurprising that Gillard's book also touches on her professional relationship with Kevin Rudd and it's eventual demise, though she does so tactfully and respectfully. She's also happy to admit her flaws, particularly the lack of effectively communicating the Labor leadership change and carbon price to the Australian people. 

Gillard also delves into her mistreatment as Australia's first female Prime Minister. This was the part of the book I was most interested in, as it was Gillard's mistreatment as Prime Minister which initially re-ignited my interest in feminism. While Gillard doesn't convey that she is bitter about what happened, she rightly still questions why more people, particularly men of influence outside of politics, didn't stand up for her and call out more people on their sexism to send the public a message that such disgusting behaviours would not be tolerated. And when she documents just how highly she was scrutinised as a woman Prime Minister - everything from what she wore to her relationship with her partner (subjects that are irrelevant for male politicians) - it's truly alarming that this was happening only a year and a bit ago.

While at times Gillard does let her guard down (for example providing humorous anecdotes about her partner Tim), for the most part her book felt quite reserved and lacked a sense of getting to know Gillard better personally, which is what I was (perhaps erroneously) expecting. But I've not read another politician's biography before so perhaps this is the norm? Or perhaps that was the intention? 

The following line, which is the last one from Gillard's memoir, sums up the book perfectly:
'I hope [this book has]...helped you see not only the world I lived in as prime minster but the vision of our nation I was working towards. Stronger and fairer.' 
My Story certainly had this outcome for me, despite my disappointments with the book. But it is Gillard's story after all, a woman who has had her fair share of being told how she should behave and communicate.

Go Ask Alice, Anonymous

This was a book a friend recommended I read. In fact, she leant me her copy, which had previously been her mother's, which made it an extra special reading experience. It's so fun reading books that are owned by others and thinking about what other adventures and walks of life they've been on, especially when the books themselves are as influential as Go Ask Alice is.

Published in 1971, Go Ask Alice is the story of an anonymous protagonist who inadvertently becomes involved with and subsequently addicted to drugs. The origins and authenticity of this book are still unclear, which adds to its mystery and allure.

It's a story about teenage angst, about the hopelessness of feeling like you don't quite belong anywhere, and about the need to properly talk about and support those who are showing signs that they are slipping away from us. It's a book that will tug at your heartstrings and make you question just how far we as a society have really come in supporting those who need our help the most. All of these themes make Go Ask Alice such a timeless and powerful read.

Read more: