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Good Reads: Summer 2018 Edition

With the holiday season right around the corner, some of you might be using the time to catch up on your reading or even get ahead. Here’s what some of the women behind WDSN are reading this summer.

Fiona Torline, HR Manager

I have read some fantastic books this year… and I have many more on the summer reading list. The standouts reads for me were;

Flowers of the Killer Moon, by David Grann, is a true story about a series of murders in the early 1900’s amongst an American Indian tribe called the Osage. The Osage were at the time, the wealthiest group of people in the world per capita due to valuable oil deposits on their reservation. The book simultaneously follows the genesis of the FBI, who are tasked with investigating the case. This book is not well written, but the story is so captivating (why don’t more people know about this?) that it was worth persisting with. Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are said to be working on the film adaptation.

Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan – an autobiographical account of a journalist working at the New York Post who, in her early 20’s, suddenly finds herself suffering from a rare neurological disease. This a short, easy read. Not recommended for hypochondriacs.

Books on the wish list for this summer include Fear: Trump in the White House, written by journalist Bob Woodward who conducted hundreds of interviews with various members of the Trump administration inside the White House. Also on the list is Dopesick – a book about the opiate crisis in America.

Best watching of the year has to be The Vietnam War, a Ken Burns documentary series. I am also currently watching Waco – a miniseries based on the Waco siege in Texas in 1993, it’s gripping. And best listening of the year would have to be Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, now in its third season, which re-examines the historical record. The first episode of season 1 features our very own Julia Gillard. I also love Long Distance Call, a weekly phone call from journalist Eliza Harvey to her mother, journalist Geraldine Doogue, about the news of the week.

Renee Jones, Events and Communications Manager

I picked up Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman in an airport bookstore after my flight home from Melbourne had been delayed (Melbourne, you always do this to me and I’m not sure if I’ll ever learn to trust you again) and I was sick of staring blankly at my phone. I am so glad I did as this book reminded me how much I love reading for pleasure. From the first few pages I was invested in the peculiar Eleanor and greedily read the book in one sitting, appreciating Honeyman’s exploration of loneliness and trauma with just the right amount of humour. This stunning debut from Honeyman, who is 46, is a delightful example that it is never too late to work on your passion project!

Recently I’ve been skeptical about any books with long twee titles that involve ‘The Girl who did X, Y & Z’ and ‘The [insert kitschy occupation]’s [insert female relative or wife]’ or ‘The Lithuanian’s Guide to Motorcycle Maintenance and Apple Crumble’. However, when a dear friend with impeccable taste in novels passed me a copy of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson I trusted that I was in for a literary treat. The story of Nombeko Mayeki is an epic and zany adventure set among real international politics. Jonasson has a gift of drawing you into the story despite how ridiculous the premise. My only quarrel with JJ is that perhaps the title should be changed to The Woman Who Saved the King of Sweden…

Finally, I’ll add to the previous chorus of WDSN suggesting A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. I loved this book deeply despite how unrelenting it was in its devastation. It is a masterful yet brutal piece of work.

Madeleine Nyst, Events and Communications Officer and Coordinator, Women in Defence and Security Network @MadeleineNyst

My mum is a long-time member of several book clubs and is pretty much my go-to for reading suggestions. Proving yet again that ‘mothers know best’, her recommendation of Exit West by Mohsin Hamid (the same author who wrote another brilliant book – The Reluctant Fundamentalist) was spot on. Exit West is a novel about migration. It begins in an unknown city ‘swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war’ and tells the story of two young people, whose relationship begins in this moment of impending crisis. But don’t confuse it for a love story. The backdrop for Exit West is both the plight of refugees from places like Syria and the spectre of Islamic fundamentalism and terrorism. Hamid takes full advantage of our familiarity with these scenes to turn this book into an urgent account of war, love and refugees. 

I also just finished The Return by Hisham Matar which tells the true story of Matar as he travels back to his native Libya in search of his father, who was abducted by Colonel Gaddafi in 1989. Returning in 2012, Matar’s book is a meticulous account of a trip to Libya after the 2011 revolution that overthrew Gaddafi, which the author describes as ‘a precious window when justice, democracy and the rule of law were within reach’. At its core, this book is the story of a son’s relationship with his absent father and illustrates how political events can shape the lives of a nation's people. It also helps that Matar is an Associate Professor in Comparative Literature at Columbia University and his writing style reflects this: ‘To be a man,’ he writes, is to be part of a ‘chain of gratitude and remembering, of blame and forgetting, of surrender and rebellion’. 

Finally, given that I tend to fall behind most trends, it will come as no surprise that I am only just jumping on the bandwagon of praise when it comes to Clementine Ford's book, Fight Like a Girl. I am about three quarters of the way through and some stand out phrases (which I actually took note of in my phone I thought they were so good) include the following:

Page 53: ‘…part of patriarchy’s great power is in tethering women’s identities to how men construct them’.

Page 141: ‘…maintaining faith in the feminist identity can feel like pushing s**t uphill while having more giant buckets of s**t fired at you from a cannon constructed entirely out of s**t’

You’re welcome. 

Jacky Westermann, Researcher and Editor, ASPI International Program @jackywestermann

Looking back on this year, I finally spent more time reading again and theoretically I have a long list I could share but here are some of the most impressive books that I would 100% recommend.

Everyone who has followed our prior reading lists knows that I happen to read several books at the same time. Currently I am working my way through Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman, a trailblazer of her time, as this utopia of 1915 describes life in an all-female society. And everyone invested in human rights should read Behrouz Boochani's No Friend but the Mountains, a harrowing but at times touching prose-like recount of his journey and depressing life caused by Australian refugee policies as he has been imprisoned on Manus Island for five years already.

For busy bees, a quick but highly important read is Timothy Snyder's On Tyranny, sharing 20 lessons from the 20th century that show us how easily democracies can fall.

Headstrong Daughters by Nadia Jamal tells very different stories of the lives and difficulties faced by Australian Muslim women, providing so much insight in a wonderfully written way. And lastly, Clementine Ford published a new book, Boys will be Boys, diving deep into toxic masculinity, often instilled by society, and I cannot recommend it enough for both women and men to understand what needs to change for actually realising equality in our world.

Dr Huong Le Thu, Senior Analyst, ASPI Defence and Strategy Program @le2huong

Christmas and New Year break means more time to read!

I’ve been meaning to read Francis Fukuyama’s, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment for a while. The author of the famous “End of History” now looks at the phenomenon of populism and its success in global politics. He had predicted in another of his previous book, on political institutions and their decay, that political outsiders whose economic nationalism and authoritarian tendencies will threaten to destabilize the entire international order. These populist nationalists seek direct charismatic connection to “the people,” who are usually defined in narrow identity terms that offer an irresistible call to an in-group and exclude large parts of the population as a whole. Identity argues that the demand for recognition of one’s identity is a master concept that unifies much of what is going on in world politics today. The universal recognition on which liberal democracy is based has been increasingly challenged by narrower forms of recognition based on nation, religion, sect, race, ethnicity, or gender, which have resulted in anti-immigrant populism, the upsurge of politicized Islam, the fractious “identity liberalism” of college campuses, and the emergence of white nationalism.  

And of course, the must-read of this season is the newly released memoir of Michelle Obama – Becoming Michelle Obama. Her career, life and journey to become the first African-American First Lady has been more than remarkable. In what promises to be a very honest chronicle, Michelle Obama gives her views on life, marriage, and politics. I certainly look forward to learning more about this iconic figure whose intellect, sprit and legacy has been inspirational.


During a few recent trips, I had a chance to catch up with a few movies on the long flights. Two of them stood out: Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom and Shock and Awe.

Mandela was a fascinating record of the remarkable life of Nelson Mandela and his fight against Apartheid. I remember reading about the political situation in South Africa and seeing news live on TV about Nelson Mandela. But this movie presented a whole new perspective on his extraordinary work and spirit as well as highlighted the role of his wife, Winnie Mandela in the process. It certainly serves a good reminder of just how recent it has been that the racial divisions were ‘legal’. A very educating watch; recommended to all.

Shock and Awe depicts the eve before the US war with Iraq. It is about a group of journalists from a small newspaper who were looking for the truth amidst Bush Administration’s forced search for a ‘weapon of mass destruction’ in Iraq to justify the American strike. The movie shows the ethical dilemma of the news and knowledge industry in Washington. It is based on true records of the only newspaper that went against the mainstream media and think-tank fuelling the mood for war. An absolute must-watch, especially in the time of heightened rhetoric of “another Cold War”.

Rebecca Moore, Research Intern

This year, I read the young adult fiction novel The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas. It follows Starr, a young African-American girl, who witnesses the fatal shooting of her best friend by police and her individual response as well as the response of her community and school to the shooting. It personalises the BlackLivesMatter movement in such a way that makes it far easier for those occupying positions of privilege to understand how systemic racial bias affects lives and changes behaviour in ways we don’t have to consider. The movie adaptation will be released in Australia early 2019, but it already has a critics rating of 97% on Rotten Tomatoes (but we all know the rule of thumb is the book is better so make sure you read it before seeing the movie!).


Updated: 20 Dec 2018