Alice Cottrell, Publisher
I’ve been binging on The Dream, a fascinating podcast about the billion-dollar ‘multi-level marketing’ (MLM) industry. From Avon and Tupperware to Herbalife and Forever Living, The Dream investigates the social history of MLMs, and the way the positivity movement has been co-opted to deflect criticisms of the business model.
I also raced through Plum Rains by Andromeda Romano-Lax (this was recommended to me by KYD New Critic Cher Tan – thanks Cher!), a speculative fiction novel set in Japan in 2029. In Tokyo, Angelica Navarro, a Filipino nurse, is working as a caretaker for a 100-year-old woman named Sayoko. When a cutting-edge robot enters the mix as an additional carer, tensions, secrets and history bubble to the surface. Romano-Lax investigates class, immigration, technology and Japanese colonialism with a deft touch.
And, of course, I strongly recommend everyone pick up a copy of KYD’s inaugural short story collection, New Australian Fiction 2019.
Alan Vaarwerk, Editor
A few weekends ago I visited the Ballarat International Foto Biennale (on until 20 October), a sprawling exhibition that takes over the galleries, shopfronts and public spaces of the city every two years. As well as international drawcards like Liu Bolin’s Camouflage and a stunning mixed-media showcase of work by Badtjala artist Fiona Foley, some of my favourite exhibitions were tucked away in smaller spaces; a display of archival photos from the Ballarat Waterworks, the original photographs behind several high-profile book covers; as well as those that considered their physical location and space, particularly the enchanting sculpture/photography hybrid Telluris by French artist Noémie Goudal, and Robbie Rowlands’ Incremental Loss, a haunting documentation of the artist’s sculptural demolition of the building now hosting his work. The majority of the program is free and within walking distance of the Ballarat train station – well worth a day trip.
I also really recommend Demi Adejuyigbe’s latest ‘September 21’ video – these incredibly silly videos make me so happy every time I watch them, which is a lot.
Meaghan Dew, Podcast Host
This month I’ve been reading Caroline Criado Perez’s Invisible Women. I first heard Perez on 99% Invisible some time ago, and her point of how gender bias has played a role in the design of pretty much everything (and how illogical the results based on this incomplete data can be) was perfectly illustrated by the story she opened with. A town in Sweden (of course) investigated whether their snow-clearing pattern was effectively sexist. Turns out, it was, and had been for years. Changing it saved the town a bunch of money on fixing injuries caused by falls while inconveniencing no-one.
Take that and look at almost every facet of modern life and you have a whopping great book that painstakingly details how the gender in the room is, and has been, taken as the default with ludicrous/horrifying results. From AI trained on male voices to houses built without kitchens, this is one brilliantly readable data book (not a phrase I ever expected to use). Pace yourself, though – seeing so much crap so clearly spelled out was at times overwhelming.
Dženana Vucic, ‘Kin: Blood, Belonging and Remaking Family’
I’m trying to drag myself back into the rhythm of PhD life after a summer spent home in Bosnia, and so all my reading right now seems to eddy just at the margins of my academics. I’ve been ignoring my textbooks in favour of more compact and atmospheric works, like The Hundreds by Lauren Berlant and Kathleen Stewart. The book is a series of observational fragments (one hundred words long, or multiples thereof) that deals in the literary, affective, cultural, and so is edgewise related to my studies (and therefore, not too guilt-inducing). It moves from scene to theory in a gentle ebb and flow, all poetry and rhythmic intensities. It’s beautiful to read, truly.
I’ve also been watching Netflix’s Tuca & Bertie, written by Lisa Hanawalt and starring Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong as anthropomorphic bird-besties. It’s Bojack-y in aesthetics, but less depressing (even when it deals with more serious stuff, like workplace sexual harassment) and gorgeously surreal – caterpillars as trains, buildings with boobs, that sorta thing. For reasons unknown, it was cancelled after just one season but my fingers are crossed that Netflix’ll change its mind, or the show will find a home elsewhere.
Léa Antigny, ‘The Ongoing Eroticism of Spring’
I read James Bradley’s essay ‘Unearthed’, from the most recent edition of Meanjin, a couple of days before the worldwide climate action on 20 September. I have long admired James’s writing on nature, environment and climate. His essays are always grounded in in-depth research, reading, science and theory, and he writes about such things with clear-eyed passion, humanity and sensitivity. This essay is difficult to read but necessarily so. It is about grief, yes, but it is also about hope and the importance of collective action. Where Jonathan Franzen writes that it’s time to give up and make peace, Bradley refuses to accept inaction in the face of bald-faced capitalistic lies from government and industry both. I carried this essay in mind watching students protest around the world and felt broken-hearted and reinvigorated in equal measure.
Laura Wynne, ‘Calm or Hollow, Hard to Say’
This month, I read to pieces that work to flip gendered accounts of two social phenomena – desire and post-natal depression – on their heads.
Lisa Taddeo’s Three Women explores the perpetually-taboo subject of women’s desire, but without the ham-fisted approach of some feminist criticisms. Her recounting of three true stories, told to her by three very different American women, reveals the complexity and messiness of women’s desire. Her sensitive retelling of these stories exposes desire and sexuality in a way that it’s hard to imagine a more straightforward non-fiction exposition could have achieved.
After putting down Taddeo’s book, I came across this piece by Aubrey Hirsch, which recounts a father’s struggle with post-natal depression. So accustomed to understanding this as a women’s issue, this piece opened my eyes to the ways in which we make fathers’ battles with mental health invisible. Hirsch writes with devastating honesty about her early months as a new mum alongside a partner unable to cope with the emotional and practical expectations of his new role.