Top Picks - Non-Fiction

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain

$34.99

For the last twenty years, George Saunders has been teaching a class on the Russian short story to his MFA students at Syracuse University. In A Swim in a Pond in the Rain, he shares a version of that class with us, offering some of what he and his students have discovered together over the years. Paired with iconic short stories by Chekhov, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Gogol, the seven essays in this book are intended for anyone interested in how fiction works and why it’s more relevant than ever in these turbulent times.

In his introduction, Saunders writes, “We’re going to enter seven fastidiously constructed scale models of the world, made for a specific purpose that our time maybe doesn’t fully endorse but that these writers accepted implicitly as the aim of art—namely, to ask the big questions, questions like, How are we supposed to be living down here? What were we put here to accomplish? What should we value? What is truth, anyway, and how might we recognize it?” He approaches the stories technically yet accessibly, and through them explains how narrative functions; why we stay immersed in a story and why we resist it; and the bedrock virtues a writer must foster. The process of writing, Saunders reminds us, is a technical craft, but also a way of training oneself to see the world with new openness and curiosity.

A Swim in a Pond in the Rain is a deep exploration not just of how great writing works but of how the mind itself works while reading, and of how the reading and writing of stories make genuine connection possible.

Agent Sonya: Lover, Mother, Soldier, Spy

$35.00

The incredible story behind the greatest female spy in history from one of Britain’s most acclaimed historians

In a quiet English village in 1942, an elegant housewife emerged from her cottage to go on her usual bike ride. A devoted wife and mother-of-three, the woman known to her neighbours as Mrs Burton seemed to epitomise rural British domesticity.

However, rather than pedalling towards the shops with her ration book, she was racing through the Oxfordshire countryside to gather scientific intelligence from one of the country’s most brilliant nuclear physicists. Secrets that she would transmit to Soviet intelligence headquarters via the radio transmitter she was hiding in her outdoor privy.

Far from a British housewife, ‘Mrs Burton’ – born Ursula Kuczynski, and codenamed ‘Sonya’ – was a German Jew, a dedicated communist, a colonel in Russia’s Red Army, and a highly-trained spy. From planning an assassination attempt on Hitler in Switzerland, to spying on the Japanese in Manchuria, and helping the Soviet Union build the atom bomb, Sonya conducted some of the most dangerous espionage operations of the twentieth century. Her story has never been told – until now.

Agent Sonya is the exhilarating account of one woman’s life; a life that encompasses the rise and fall of communism itself, and altered the course of history.

Australia 2020

$32.99

From the heart of the Western Queensland Channel Country, Australia’s oldest and favourite newspaper details our country’s very rocky start to a new decade that was supposed to be one of great optimism and innovation.

2020 was meant to be our year of healing. A time to tend to the wounds of a country torn asunder by a decade of divisive political and media debates. A lack of confidence in the international sporting arena. A 24-hour news cycle that has destroyed the pub test.

We thought all of the uncertainty was behind us. The federal election delivered us Scotty from Marketing. The Quiet Australian spoke up. Gay marriage? Yep. Climate change? Let’s wait and see what happens. Smudge and Warner had served their time and, together as a nation, it was time to rebuild.

But fate had other plans, starting with the worst bushfires in human memory. While large swathes of the country burned, our politicians were either on holidays or giving their mates grants to build indoor pools in blue-ribbon seats. Surely, it couldn’t get worse.

‘ken oath it could. Mother nature arrived as COVID-19, and told us all to go to our rooms.

Body Count: How Climate Change is Killing Us

$32.99

Suddenly, when the country caught fire, people realised what the government has not: that climate change is killing us.

But climate deaths didn’t start in 2019. Medical officers have been warning of a health emergency as temperatures rise for years, and for at least a decade Australians have been dying from the plagues of climate change – from heat, flood, disease, smoke. And now, pandemic.

In this detailed, considered, compassionate book, Paddy Manning paints us the big picture. He revisits some headline events which might have faded in our memory – the Brisbane Floods of 2011; Melbourne’s thunderstorm asthma fatalities of 2016 – and brings to our attention less well-publicised killers: the soil-borne diseases that amplify after a flood; the fact that heat itself has killed more people than all other catastrophes put together. In each case, he has interviewed scientists to explore the link to climate change and asks how – indeed, whether – we can better prepare ourselves in the future.

Most importantly, Manning has spoken to survivors and the families of victims, creating a monument to those we have already lost. Donna Rice and her 13-year-old son Jordan. Alison Tenner. The Buchanan family. These are stories of humans at their most vulnerable, and also often at their best. In extremis, people often act to save their loved ones above themselves. As Body Count shows, we are now all in extremis, and it is time to act.

Respected journalist Paddy Manning tells these stories of tragedy and loss, heroism and resilience, in a book that is both monument and warning.

Read an extract.

PRAISE FOR BODY COUNT

“A climate emergency tour de force” – Dr Bob Brown

“A stunningly powerful call to political leaders everywhere who hear the warnings of the devastating impacts of climate change on health but fail to act” – Dr Helen Haines

Care

$32.99

From the internationally bestselling author of SLOW comes a new call-to-arms for a new approach to living well – for everyone.

There is little doubt that the world is in desperate need of care; however, despite the overwhelming global problems that face us, we can find ourselves caring too much, while at the same time caring too little. By spending so much time and energy caring about the big problems of the world, we’ve lost sight of what smaller, personal acts of care can look like and just how powerful these small acts can be.

Care: The radical art of taking time explores what it means to care in smaller ways – for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities – and discovers that caring doesn’t need to cost us our wellbeing, happiness or relationships. That making simple changes to how we live, spending more time in nature, putting down our devices and connecting with each other face-to-face, finding awe and wonder in the world around us and remembering how to play, will have ripple effects that reach far beyond our own corner of the planet.

With unwavering compassion and understanding, Brooke McAlary takes us on a journey to rediscover the small pleasures that create large ripples, reminding us that no one needs to shoulder the burden of doing it all by themselves – we only need to cast our eyes forward and start small, with care.

Chasing the Light

$35.00

A rare, controversial, and totally no holds barred memoir from one of Hollywood’s greats.

In this powerful and evocative memoir, Oscar-winning director and screenwriter, Oliver Stone, takes us right to the heart of what it’s like to make movies on the edge.

In Chasing The Light he writes about his rarefied New York childhood, volunteering for combat, and his struggles and triumphs making such films as Platoon, Midnight Express, and Scarface.

Before the international success of Platoon in 1986, Oliver Stone had been wounded as an infantryman in Vietnam, and spent years writing unproduced scripts while taking miscellaneous jobs and driving taxis in New York, finally venturing westward to Los Angeles and a new life.

Stone, now 73, recounts those formative years with vivid details of the high and low moments: we sit at the table in meetings with Al Pacino over Stone’s scripts for Scarface, Platoon, and Born on the Fourth of July; relive the harrowing demon of cocaine addiction following the failure of his first feature, The Hand (starring Michael Caine); experience his risky on-the-ground research of Miami drug cartels for Scarface; and see his stormy relationship with The Deer Hunter director Michael Cimino. We also learn of the breathless hustles to finance the acclaimed and divisive Salvador; and witness tensions behind the scenes of his first Academy Award-winning film, Midnight Express.

PRAISE FOR CHASING THE LIGHT

“Riveting.” – The New York Times

“Raw, savagely honest, as dramatic as any of his movies.” – Mail on Sunday

“A tremendous book – readable, funny and harrowing.” – The Sunday Times

“He provokes outrage. He stirs up controversy. He has no respect for safe places. Oliver Stone is larger than life. Chasing the Light says it all.” – Sir Anthony Hopkins

China Panic

$32.99

When he visited Australia in 2014, Chinese president Xi Jinping said there was an ‘ocean of goodwill’ between our country and his. Since then that ocean has shown dramatic signs of freezing over. Australia is in the grip of a China Panic. How did we get here and what’s the way out?

We hear, weekly, alarming stories of Chinese influence, interference or even espionage – in politics, on campus, in the media, in community organisations and elsewhere. The United States now sees China as a strategic rival, and pressure on Australia to ‘get tough on China’ will only intensify.

While the xenophobic right hovers in the wings, some of the loudest voices decrying Chinese subversion come, unexpectedly, from the left. Aligning themselves with hawkish think tanks, they call for new security laws, increased scrutiny of Chinese Australians and, if necessary, military force – a prescription for a sharp rightward turn in Australian politics.

In this insightful critique, David Brophy offers a progressive alternative. Instead of punitive measures that restrict rights and stoke suspicion of minorities – moves that would only make Australia more like China – we need democratic solutions that strengthen Australian institutions and embrace, not alienate, Chinese Australians. Above all, we need forms of international solidarity that don’t reduce human rights to a mere bargaining chip.

Daddy Cool

$32.99

“Every family has secrets. Ours also has an award-winning biographer. My sister’s discoveries astonished me.” – Geraldine Brooks

Who can ever truly know their parents? He was a glamorous heart-throb, a famous American singer performing in front of Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Clark Gable and other stars at the Academy Awards. In the 1930s, his recording of ‘Hawaiian Paradise’ outsold those of Bing Crosby and Guy Lombardo. So how did he become an Australian infantryman, fighting alongside and performing for his fellow Diggers in Palestine, Beirut, Egypt and New Guinea? Why did he leave Hollywood and the ritziest hotels in America for a modest Californian bungalow in suburban Sydney? And what caused him to cease his endless drifting from one woman to another, one marriage to another, and settle with the love of his life?

She was a strong Aussie woman, a talented radio broadcaster and publicity agent. Why did she take a chance on this reckless vagabond and notorious womaniser? Seeking answers, Darleen Bungey turns her biographical skills on her own family, exploring her father’s multi-layered and at times tempestuous life with a truthful eye and loving heart.

REVIEWS
“This memoir does maximum honour to the idea that each family is its own unique story.” Tom Keneally

“Bungey’s writing is as spellbinding and wondrous as the subject she has so bravely, forensically, gracefully explored.” – Trent Dalton

“Unexpected, sweet and raw.” – David Marr

Emotional Female

$34.99

Yumiko Kadota was every Asian parent’s dream: model student, top of her class in medical school and on track to becoming a surgeon. A self-confessed workaholic, she regularly put ‘knife before life’, knowing it was all going to be worth it because it would lead to her longed-for career.

But if the punishing hours in surgery weren’t hard enough, she also faced challenges as a young female surgeon navigating a male-dominated specialty. She was regularly left to carry out complex procedures without senior surgeons’ oversight; she was called all sorts of things, from ‘emotional’ to ‘too confident’; and she was expected to work a relentless on-call roster – sometimes seventy hours a week or more – to prove herself.

Eventually it was too much and Yumiko quit.

Emotional Female is her account of what it was like to train in the Australian public hospital system, and what made her walk away.

Yumiko Kadota is a voice for her generation when it comes to burnout and finding the resilience to rebuild after suffering a physical, emotional and existential breakdown. This is a brave, honest and unflinching work from a major new talent.

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