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Good Reads: Winter 2018 Edition

With Canberra winter reaching well below zero temperatures this season, never has there been a more exciting time to stay indoors with a cuppa and a good book. Here’s what some of the women behind WDSN have been reading this winter.

Huong Le Thu, Senior Analyst @le2huong

Winter means more time to catch up with my ever-growing to-read list. I never get bored with reading historical books. On the top of my pile is currently ‘Tibet in agony: Lhasa 1959’ by Jianglin Li, published by the Cambridge University Press in 2016. The year of 1959 was when the Dalai Lama escaped Chinese occupied Tibet and ever since he has been in exile. This book presents rich historical record of the context how Mao Zedong determined his strategy to take over Tibet. More importantly, I’m hoping to learn about the Tibetan people’s struggle to endure and how they sustained the unbreakable spirit. The book is based on years of studies of Ms Li, an independent scholar, who accessed both Tibetan and Chinese languages archives and provided us with a fascinating glimpse back to a very defining period of history.

Jacky Westermann, Researcher @jackywestermann

I escaped Canberra winter for two weeks and came back prepared—with a suitcase full of books, thanks to significantly cheaper prices in Europe. Usually, I’m not a big fan of self-help books but ‘The subtle art of not giving a f*ck’ by Mark Manson convinced me from page 1 with its witty and straight forward style discussing what’s worth pondering over and more importantly what is not. Currently I take turns between two books on my morning commute or wrapped up in my blankets during those cold evenings: ‘We Were Feminists Once: From Riot Grrrl to CoverGirl®, the Buying and Selling of a Political Movement’ by Andi Zeisler provides analysis on how feminism began as a fight for women’s rights and has turned into a profit-orientated marketing tool. The other one is a proper tome; ‘Poland—A novel’ by James A. Michener was originally published in 1983 but reads fascinatingly nonetheless. The storyline follows three families of different standings across eight centuries, culminating in the tumultuous times of early 1980s Communist Poland. From the beginning you can tell the deep research Michener underwent to achieve utmost historical and cultural accuracy. And my to-do pile still holds Mark Galeotti’s ‘The Vory: Russia’s Super Mafia’, a portrayal of the history and rise of Russia’s organised crime scene.

Madeleine Nyst, Events and Communications Officer @MadeleineNyst

One of the best things about living in Canberra would have to be that come winter, with the weather outside being barely functionable, it’s the perfect opportunity to stay inside and catch-up on reading. I, like many others, am guilty of convincing myself that with work and life in general, I just don’t have time to sit down and read. A mistake to say the least!

I recently finished reading ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara. All I can say is, if you subscribe to the idea that art should make you feel uncomfortable – dive on in (with tissues on hand!). Yanagihara’s book tells the story of four young friends from college, who move to New York in the pursuit of various high-powered careers. This was one of the most heartbreaking books I have ever read – all 700 pages of it – and yet I COULDN’T stop reading! But that is the power of a master story-teller and writer, which Yanagihara most certainly is in my opinion. Bold claim, but I think this book may go down as one of my all-time favorites (alongside Donna Tartt’s ‘The Secret History’ of course!).

Outside of fiction, I recently got my hands on a copy of Michael Kimmel’s latest book, ‘Healing from Hate’. In this book, Dr Kimmel details his interviews with ex–white nationalists and neo-Nazis in the United States, ex-skinheads and ex-neo-Nazis in Germany and Sweden, and former-Islamists in the UK and makes the fascinating argument that to understand how extremist groups see themselves in relation to others, gender and masculinity is crucial. Kimmel’s work looks at how white extremist groups wield masculinity to recruit and retain members, and specifically how participation in the movement gives them validation of their masculinity. It’s a captivating read and complements his other work, ‘Angry White Men’, which looks at American masculinity.

Jessica Clarence, Research Intern @ja_clarence

I was determined to get through my book stack this year, so here’s a few I particularly enjoyed.

‘Spies in the Congo’ by Susan Williams is an easy and engaging read about the espionage race to acquire uranium in the DRC for the atomic bomb. ‘Beyond the Arab Cold War’ by Asher Orkaby is more tricky, but it does well explaining the complex history of Yemen’s birth. And if you’re trying to get across the difficulties of cyber in international law, ‘The Cybersecurity Dilemma’ by Ben Buchanan is a must.

In fiction, my favourite read has been the classic fantasy ‘The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, the Unbeliever’ by Stephen Donaldson. The story is beautifully written and extremely verbose (dictionary occasionally necessary). Be warned: the protagonist is a leper and generally awful, and the first six chapters are not easy. But stick it out – his failure and redemption is part of what makes the story so engaging. Also, favourites this year have been the ‘Queendom’ series by A.B Endacott. This series features the unlikely friendship between an assassin and prince in a world beset by political upheaval where women occupy the positions of power. The Aussie author is just starting out, so is one to watch.

Now, I’m reading ‘A Little Life’ by Hanya Yanagihara, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. The book traces the lives of four friends over 700 pages, but is emotionally traumatic – and I’m only 250 pages in. Tissues recommended.

Melissa Liberatore, Research Intern @MissyLiberatore

Hinterland, by Caroline Brothers. An emotive piece of fiction that tackles the European refugee crisis. Written from the perspective of two young Afghan boys trying to flee from conflict in their homeland to London, this novel brings a much-needed focus on the human security dimension of the refugee crisis to resurface the reality that policy decisions impact on vulnerable people. Caroline Brothers is an Australian journalist and author, and this novel was inspired by the stories she heard during her journalistic fieldwork in France. A particularly timely read given the European Council’s recent migration deal.

Lisa Sharland, Head of International Program @LJSharland

I have recently been reading Laura J Sheperd’s book on ‘Gender, UN Peacebuilding, and the Politics of Space’. The book is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the role of gender, women and civil society in shaping the international community’s approach to peacebuilding, particularly through UN bodies such as the Peacebuilding Commission.

I’m also currently reading Richard Haass’ book ‘A World in Disarray: American Foreign Policy and the Crisis of the Old Order’, which contextualises some of the dramatic shifts we’re seeing in the rules-based order.

The list of books in my ‘to-read’ pile remains extensive as I haven’t read nearly as much as I would like so far this year. But somewhere on the list will be Madeleine Albright’s new book ‘Facism, A Warning’ in the coming months.

Updated: 13 Dec 2018