Five for five book reviews


Five keen Library readers review five new release books.

Upheaval: Disrupted Lives in Journalism
Upheaval: Disrupted Lives in Journalism
edited by Andrew Dodd and Matthew Ricketson
UNSW Press

Everyone, it seems, has an opinion on the press. Too biased. Too fake. Too conservative or too ‘woke’. Too free. Not free enough.

When the original Australian newspaper was founded in Sydney in 1824 by lawyers Robert Wardell and William Charles Wentworth, the first edition declared that ‘individual influence is apt to luxuriate and flourish where there exists no corrective to check its exuberance or prevent its growth’. A free press, it went on, ‘is the most legitimate, and at the same time the most powerful weapon that can be employed to annihilate such influence, frustrate the designs of tyranny, and restrain the arm of oppression’.

As the first of the colony’s newspapers to reject the censorship role of the Secretary to the Governor, the Australian sparked a series of furious debates with authorities and readers about the role of the press.

Ideas of an independent and free press are still firmly held by many people, but these principles are increasingly seen as idealistic in an industry that is under enormous pressure. Technological change, job losses and a public accustomed to information saturation have changed how news is reported and consumed.

In his work on press ideology, media historian Steven Chibnall wrote that ‘by and large, journalists share the same stock of common sense knowledge as their readers. They are not responsible for its creation, although they do contribute towards its stability and survival.’ This can be easy to forget, as our personal reactions to news events rarely consider those who craft and distribute the articles that narrate the world around us. The work of Andrew Dodd and Matthew Ricketson, editors of Upheaval, turn the tables by bringing us into contact with the stories of more than 50 journalists. Suddenly, we see the news from the other side of the page or screen.

This book reinforces much of what we think we know about the press. You can hear the chaos of newsrooms, feel the pressure of deadlines, and sense the need to get the story — accurately and impartially — out while it’s still news. But Dodd and Ricketson have also brought together histories that challenge a few old-fashioned stereotypes. The cranky and crass newsroom manager appears in the book, but these are not just the words of old men in trench coats with spiral notebooks. In fact, one of book’s strengths is its inclusion of women as strong contributors to the industry.

One of the many wonderful anecdotes in Upheaval comes from Lynne Dwyer, who was taught journalism in the 1980s by Peter Temple. Now known for his award-winning crime fiction, Temple would calmly murder the occasional student when marking. ‘He was brilliant but he scarred everybody,’ Dwyer remembers. ‘He was very harsh and very cynical, and we all loved him.’ Many students kept the essays he had marked, even with comments like ‘Have you thought of another career?’

Amid all the ambition, anxiety and financial pressure, there remains among journalists a genuine passion for finding the stories that matter and a commitment to keeping the ideals of the press at the centre of an ever-changing industry. This is a terrific book for anyone who cares about the news and the people who bring it to us.

Dr Rachel Franks

The Botanical Art of William T Cooper by Wendy Cooper
The Botanical Art of William T Cooper
by Wendy Cooper
NLA publishing

As someone with a bird phobia, I’m generally pretty safe working as a curator at the Library. But when I open a box of William Cooper’s original bird paintings held here, I sometimes take a deep breath: the glistening feathers, the scaly legs, the sharp beaks. I can almost see them move. World renowned for his paintings of birds, Cooper, who died in 2015, also produced extraordinarily detailed, sumptuous drawings of Australian rainforest plants. This new book by the artist’s wife and frequent co-author, botanist Wendy Cooper, is a beautiful celebration of their shared passion and skill.

Elise Edmonds

Night Blue by Angela O’Keeffe
Night Blue
by Angela O’Keeffe
Transit Lounge

Angela O’Keeffe’s Night Blue is wrapped in Jackson Pollock’s painting Blue Poles. The book’s covers fold out to reveal the 1952 painting purchased by the Australian government in 1973, so you hold the painting in your hands while you read. The controversial painting is also a compelling narrator in the book, entwined with the voice of the character Alyssa and the echoes of time and place that run through their stories. This cleverly imagined and beautifully written novel invites readers to re-engage with art and its place in our lives.

Kathleen Alexander

The March of the Ants  written by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Tohby Riddle
The March of the Ants
written by Ursula Dubosarsky illustrated by Tohby Riddle
Book Trail Press

The ants are heading off on a long and arduous journey, but are they well prepared? And what is the most important thing to pack — a map, tools or a book? This delightful story began life when Ursula Dubosarsky was chosen as the Australian Children’s Laureate in 2020. It was quickly picked up by Book Trail Press and published as a beautiful picture book with charming illustrations by Tohby Riddle. This gentle tale of determination and fortitude celebrates the magical power of stories to sustain us in challenging times.

Pauline Fitzgerald

Flock  edited by Ellen van Neerven UQP
edited by Ellen van Neerven

Voices of First Nations writers from across the continent are brought together in Flock: First Nations Stories Then and Now. Ellen van Neerven has selected pieces by established and emerging authors published between 1996 and 2021. ‘Cloud Busting’ by Tara June Winch affects me just as viscerally today as when I first read it in her 2006 debut Swallow the Air. And the vivid inner worlds of the characters in Mykaela Saunders’ ‘River Story’ also stopped me in my tracks. The experiences and wisdom of lifetimes have been wrought into perfect short stories.

Marika Duczynski

books available from the Library Shop