Thursday, 21 December 2006

The Best Australian Essays 2006 bookcover; Black Inc.Review: The Best Australian Essays 2006, edited by Drusilla Modjeska (2006)

A successful stint as editor of this year's collection by Drusilla Modjeska is almost spoiled by three heavy opinion pieces latched onto the book's end. Political pundit David Marr, history professor Alfred W. McCoy and philosophy wonk Raimond Gaita, on the loose, are quite able to fill up 50 pages with an unappetising brew of tired lefty gumbo. I say the collection is 'almost' spoiled because the quality of the other contributions is very high indeed.

I would advise the curious to stop reading at page 354.

Most memorable for me among the essays offered here were the ones that provided insight conveyed with humour and style. Such as Saskia Beudel's fascinating account of a bush walk gone almost tragically wrong. 'Walking: West MacDonnell Ranges 2002' makes you fear to read on, but after creating suspense she clevery allays it with several judicial flash-forwards.

I certainly didn't know that author Linda Jaivin was a subtitler from the Chinese, and 'Tanks! Tanks! (You're Most Welcome)' offers the uninitiated a glimpse into the world of the subtitler. We learn about the difficulties these hidden drudges are faced with on a daily basis. We are, most importantly, amused.

The discoveries Gideon Haigh made when researching his essay about Google, 'Information Idol', have dissolved from my consciousness (I finished the book yesterday). But it, too, was a good read.

Even better is the next essay, by Lyndel Rowe, 'Soap Opera International', about the ins and outs of washing your clothes in public laundromats. Joel S. Kahn continues the travel theme in the following essay, 'Departure and Arrival', which provides an insight into the cultures of south-east Asia and the nature of work as an anthropologist. The terminology is technical but not insurmountable for the layman reader.

Earlier in the book is found 'Beyond the Comfort Zone', a delightful essay by Margaret Simmons about the trubulations a parent undergoes when faced with choosing a high school for her kids. The piece fairly rips along, collecting on the way dozens of cogent facts about this particular high school in Melbourne, Debney Park Secondary College. Appearances can be misleading, we learn.

'Armed for Success' continues the education theme. By an Aboriginal, Chris Sarra, it is a curious little piece, and is written in an engaging and feisty bureaucratese that nevertheless enables him to commit to paper some of the most important issues surrounding aboriginality. The key to success, it seems, is honesty and courage. It would be possible to be inspired by this man.

Robert Hughes takes us into the life of Rembrandt with his piece, 'The God of Realism'. Clearly a winning label, 'realism' here means a revolutionary approach to depicting his subjects, which permits the seventeenth-century Dutch painter to endure as a master-figure into the twenty-first.

And there is much more in here. Forget the last three pieces and instead focus, if you choose to buy this book, on the pleasures inhabiting the other 29 essays enrolled herein.

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baylie said...
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