The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 17: The Wife Drought – Why Women Need Lives and Men Need Wives (Annabel Crabb, 2014)

Books left: 9. Weeks left: 14 (it’s when the first number gets higher than the second that we’ll really need to start worrying. Until then, so far so good). 

the wife droughtNow, I know we’re up to Q, but I didn’t have any Q authors so thought I’d substitute this as it was a Christmas present from the Matriarch and I could actually review a contemporary, relevant title.

Just to shock you all.

I have been a hopeless Annabel Crabb fan-girl ever since I discovered her work while knee-deep in my journalism postgrad. The seasoned political columnist and host of ABC show Kitchen Cabinet is the only writer I know who can so successfully pair politics and humour, so when I heard The Wife Drought was coming out, I swallowed my characteristic queasiness about non-fiction and wrote it down on my wishlist.

I think Leigh Sales puts it rather well in this interview she did with Crabb:

LS Between your television show, newspaper columns, radio appearances, and raising your three children, you’ve now written a book, The Wife Drought. When are you going to get off your lazy bum and actually do something with your life?

My excitement to hear about Crabb’s nutso productivity was nothing to the excitement that built after I started the book. Finally someone was putting numbers and facts to my own beliefs and anxieties on the subject of women and work, and by some miracle, doing so amusingly. Central to the book is an investigation of the social construct of a ‘wife’ as not necessarily a man or a woman, but any partner who draws back on work responsibilities in order to run the couple’s household and/or family and enable the other partner to work. Crabb argues that any professional man or woman in possession of a ‘wife’ has a powerful economic and social asset backing their career. It just so happens that it’s usually the men who get wives, and women don’t get this luxury.

Crabb manages to both talk about the reasons for this without simplifying them into the two baskets she says explanations usually fall into – ‘women are hopeless’ and ‘men are awful’ –  and, moreover, says the end result is that it’s not just women who are missing out.

The book faced some criticism after its release for not adding much in the way of solutions to the debate surrounding this subject, criticism any book on this subject would probably face. But I would argue it rounds out the discussion in an unprecedented way by not only focusing on what women are losing out on, but on what men are losing out on too. Crabb illuminates a subject rarely spoken of – the barriers, both official and unspoken, that prevent men from adjusting their lives to take part more fully in family and home life. It turns out that men who would like to adjust their working lives after they have children are less likely to ask – and if they do, they’re less likely to be told it’s OK.

Crabb sets her solid base of compelling social research in the context of the unique perspective her life as a political journalist has afforded her – the revelations about some of the country’s most high-powered men and women and how they approach work-life balance, or lack thereof, are fascinating. Topping off this powerful mix are wry and frequently hilarious observations from Crabb, a mother of three in a dual-income household. Together, this combination of historical context, modern insight and personal experience makes the book a slam-dunk portrait of what the ‘wife drought’ is – and why we need to talk about it.

By writing this Crabb has cemented her place in my heart as the Terry Pratchett of Australian politics and society. I have an almost pathological fear of non-fiction (despite hoarding an entire bookcase full of the stuff) but I speed through this in days and, believe it or not, giggle out loud for much of it.

I feel I have hardly done justice to the level of insight in this book and cannot overestimate its importance. Women should read it, but men should read it too – and what’s more, they’ll like it.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.


The Curing of a Bibliomaniac

So. I know it’s been six months, but I can explain.

The Ministry and I got married.

Turns out getting married is really, really, really time-consuming and turns you into a crazy banshee unable to form coherent thoughts, let alone write them down.

But it also turns out that being married, especially to someone as awesome as the Ministry, is really, really, really great and spending a year becoming a banshee is totally worth it.

Anyway, back to the blog! I promise I won’t leave you again. Probably. And to celebrate (plus give my new carefree life meaning) I have decided to embark on an Ambitious Project. Think Julie and Julia, but books instead of cooks, huhuhuhuhuh.

Many lit-fic. Much sci-fi.

Many literary fiction. Much sci-fi novels.


Many a year ago I worked at a well-known secondhand bookshop in Perth (more about that never) and there was such a stream of delicious, quirky literature streaming under my nose, and all so stupidly cheap, that I quickly amassed a novels collection of epic proportions.

Multiple children's and young adult classics. Major crime.

Multiple children’s and young adult classics. Major crime.







Oops. How did those get there.

Oops. How did those get there.



After that, I worked at a specialist non-fiction and technical bookshop, another Perth institution, and despite being someone who only rarely reads non-fiction, I now also have a fabulous collection of non-fiction too.





Result: moving house (think I have moved 4 times since then in about 10 years, jeez, talking in decades makes me feel old) became something of a challenge, with me turning into a creature that looks like one big cardboard box with staggering legs for the duration of each move.

So when the Ministry and I bought and moved into Shell Cottage, nearly a year ago (we like to pile stressful life events All On Top of Each Other) I was quite ruthless and got rid of a lot of books so as to avoid the staggering, and also Shell Cottage is very small, though lovely, obviously.

So now instead of a knee-replacement causing, eye-popping, sky-fallingly excessive book collection, it’s just a bit excessive (pictured). The problem is, I now can’t ever justify buying any more books ever again because there is Simply No Where To Put Them because All the Wheres Are Already Stacked with Books. And that’s no way to live.

Plus I have never had time to read all of them, despite what my Best Efforts (stupid Real Job) so despite my careful honing, re-prioritising and general optimization into the coolest collection ever, sadly, I have still only read perhaps two-thirds of my prized babies.

I was going to tell you that I was going to read them all in a year, but then worked out that even if I read a book a week, it would still take five years (and that’s just counting the novels).

So I’m going for a slightly less insane project – I’m going to read an alphabet’s worth. One year, 26 letters in the alphabet, one book from every author in the alphabet – e.g. one Margaret Atwood, one Clive Barker, one Italo Calvino, etc.

And I will try – I swear it – to get rid of the ones that I don’t, er, really need to keep.

Not sure what I will do with the slightly less awesome books, perhaps leave them on benches at bus stops to Edify the Masses. Because they will still be GOOD books, as my taste is impeccable, obviously.

So please join me as I make a little space, be the best read person in the universe, and Edify the Masses.

It’s win-win!

First post coming soon…

Turbo Blog

  • The Sending: The Obernewtyn Chronicles, Book 6 (Isobelle Carmody, 2011)

I might have to read this again from the beginning before the last and final book in the Obernewtyn series comes out. I just dont think I can wait long enough for my appetite for this series to be sated. I think I got the first book in the series nearly 20 years ago, and it speaks volumes about the quality of the writing and the plots that I enjoy it as much, if not more, now.
Of course the books have gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger, and could now double as weapons, or crook-stoppers, as the Ministry calls them.
I confidently predict that even those who don’t get into fantasy would love this epic post-apocalyptic series.

  •  Gabriel Iglesias’ Stand-Up Revolution (Astor Theatre, October 14, 2012)

Phwoar. This guy is not the world’s most You-Tubed comedian for nothing. If you do nothing else today, Google Fluffy and be prepared to laugh your ass off.
This show was more like a rock concert than a stand-up gig – Fluffy’s support acts were awesome, and then the main act, the lovably obese Latino himself, ran nearly an hour over. He ended up talking until his on-stage “reminder” clock ran out at 99 minutes, at which point he giggled and happily pulled its plug out.
Then, and only then, did he stop with the brand-new material and obligingly do all the fans’ most beloved routines, which they deafeningly requested then nearly sang along with everypunchline.
It was a powerful, positive, bizarrely touching event to be a part of, and I laughed until I nearly passed out.

  • Dark Shadow (2012)

Tim Burton’s latest (I think) offering would surely be a deep disappointment to any fan of Beetlejuice, Edward Scissorhands or The Nightmare Before Christmas. Noticeably lacking the dark, disturbing quality of his earlier work (even his relatively recent work, like Willy Wonka), the movie is stylish but shallow.
It’s not stylish enough to be watchable purely as eye candy, and it’s too shallow to be enjoyed even as B-grade fluff. Johnny Depp is peculiarly lacklustre, and even his visual gags about being an ancient vampire struggling to understand a modern-day society are barely enough to raise a snicker.
The villain is so two-dimensional and lazily thought-out she is ridiculous, without any feelings or motivations except a deeply irrational desire to be loved despite being a murderous witch.
Only bother watching this if you are so hungover you can’t get off the couch and change it to something else.

The Dig Tree (Sarah Murgatroyd, 2000)

This is the book I’ve been intending to read ever since it was recommended to me by DOELD after I read, and raved about, The Supply Party by Martin Edmonds (see post below).

Where that book was about a particular, largely forgotten part of the famously ill-fated Burke and Wills expedition, this is basically the ultimate history of the entire thing.

A sadder, stranger tale it would be difficult to come across.

Sarah Murgatroyd has a peculiar sympathy for the peculiar character of Burke, a man so spectacularly unsuited to the role of outback explorer – as she details – it is hard to believe she speaks the truth.

But she does, and the book’s precise detail and fat bibliography attest to Murgatroyd’s painstaking and extensive research.

Despite this, it has the nail-biting, absorbing qualities of a suspense novel, once you are firmly into it.

It is a testament to her humanity and obvious affinity with the tale that she manages to humanise the – frankly, horrible-sounding – Robert O’Hara Burke.

I was as profoundly affected by this book as I was by Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, a revolutionary kind of journalism, and Peter Carey’s historiographic metafiction (sorry, university moment) True History of the Kelly Gang.

The latter is a novel, but one rooted in fact and with its style drawn directly from Ned Kelly’s Jerilderie Letter.

It is worth noting such similarities between these works, all incredibly memorable, disturbing and suberbly crafted, and between the feelings they have the power to create in the reader.

I needed a good hour staring quietly into space after turning the final page.

I will be entreating everybody I know to try this book. Stick with it and you will soon be unable to tear yourself away.

My only regret is that I didn’t read it the first time I was told to.

The Supply Party (Martin Edmond, 2009)

Part biography, history and travel narrative yet surpassing all in sum, Martin Edmond’s story of the Burke and Wills expedition is told through the life and death of its scientist, naturalist, collector and artist, Ludwig Becker.

Reflective and atmospheric, Edmonds’ descriptive work fleshes out the human side of Becker and the expedition and teases out the tragedy at the heart of what I previously thought of as a rather dry story, told to death.

Snippets, anecdotes and quotes taken from Becker’s notes illuminate the atmosphere and humanity (both good and bad) Edmonds picked from the story’s bones. Edmond makes Becker real and immediate, so much so that by the end I really don’t want to hear the rest; for it’s not a particularly happy story.

Nevertheless I am compelled to go on.

Now it has taken a place in my mental collection of haunting representations and stories: alongside Sidney Nolan and Peter Carey’s Ned Kelly; Capote’s In Cold Blood; and Joan Lindsay and Perer Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Past and present blend as the narrative alternates between Burke & Wills’ expedition and that of the author following, albeit much more safely, in their footsteps years later.

The land he is seeing draws the author’s thoughts repeatedly back into the story of the doomed expedition, and one of Edmond’s major achievements is to give you a sense of not only what the land looks like today and how it looked 150 years ago, but 50 000 years ago before he, Ludwig, Burke or Wills ever walked upon it.

A finely worked sense of ominous inevitability grows in the reader as we hear the now-familiar details of the party’s demise.

Discord grows between the dwindling numbers of men in the party. Gradually, and necessarily, they discard the camels, trackers, people, other supplies and hundreds of litres of rum which were catalogued with such pride at the journey’s beginning.

Becker is eventually required not for his artistic services but for the extra pair of hands that may make the difference between life and death. He is forced to leave behind the careful records, the tasks and equipment that constituted both his life’s work and his purpose for being on the expedition.

Edmonds draws a vivid, heartbreaking picture of Becker: ill, injured, bullied by the sadistic Burke and forced to make his observations and artworks at night. His love of his work, and unshaking commitment to it, is fully realised as we are shown the completeness of his exhaustion yet his absolute determination to continue with his mission as long as he is able to pick up a pencil.

The uniqueness of this book is its marriage of the human story with art history; Edmonds clearly has a deep respect for Becker’s artwork. I was as affected as he by the uniqueness of the work, which Edmond describes as in the tradition of miniaturing and portraiture – mixing scientific precision and detail, yet illuminating its subjects with whimsical, the fantastic and the grotesque.

In this crucial aspect the book is let down by its publication in trade paperback with a few measly reproductions in the centre, so small that the reader is forced to read the words and use the pictures as a sort of imaginative aid to help fill in details and colours described and vitally important to the story thematically, yet invisible in the versions shown.

I would love the opportunity to buy this in a coffee-table, hardcover format, with full-page glossy reproductions and more illustrations taken from Becker’s notes, already so painstakingly sourced by Edmond.

As Edmond’s background to this process recounts, he says to the librarians who want to know why he wants to access Becker’s jealously guarded sketchbook and poorly lit paintings that there is no substitute for seeing the originals. And why block access to art the public doesn’t know or care about anyway?

Therefore, it is a shame the scale and pathos of these rare reproductions weren’t given justice, though I recognise the market for such a book would be almost negligible.

To give the art community access to a book that rests firmly in the Australian history section would achieve Edmond’s goal far better – to give Becker his rightful place and recognition in art as well as history. As it is, the book is forced to be less than it was originally capable of, much like Becker at the close of his journey.

Yet this cannot undermine the subtle, scholarly elegance with which Edmond has written his elegy; it will certainly remain in my consciousness, as will Edmond himself.

Dreams From My Father (Barack Obama, 1995)

A simple but beautiful narrative that showcases Obama’s gift with words and soul-searching bent.

It’s not a particularly political book. It’s a traditional autobiography, dealing with childhood and coming-of-age. It does, however, cover how Obama first got into politics and public life when he became an adult. For those interested in his entry to the political arena , it offers a valuable insight into the challenges of those early days, but it’s still very much tied in with his youth and the motivations that brought about his entry into this life.

Though it’s not by any means a lofty philosophical work, remaining accessible and simple in structure throughout, the most striking aspect of the work that lifts it out of being just a chronology  is Obama’s continuing preoccupation with questions of identity, belonging and change – about reconciling your self, your family, your past and your future.

Obama betrays a sensibility of the higher issues dealt with in philosophy and academia in relation to these issues, but never alienates the reader by becoming dry or impersonal in style or language.

Instead he shows that he feels keenly the same struggles that all men and women encounter in their hearts and asks himself the same questions we all ask of ourselves: about who they are, what they should do with their lives and where in the world they might belong.

And in his case, of course, the answer turned out to be extraordinary, but I think for that you have to read his next one, The Audacity of Hope.

Dealing with Assange and the Wikileaks secrets (Bill Keller, January 2011)

Published at

This is a blow-by-blow from the NY Times executive editor on how the collaboration between Assange, Wikileaks, The NY Times and The Guardian came about and was handled by all parties concerned.

Keller describes the reaction inside the US Government as they were briefed on the explosive nature of the leaks, and details the eventual breakdown of relations between the Times and Assange.

Lengthy, but fascinating in its level of candid detail, it paints some memorable pictures of Assange, and includes a link to a more detailed study of him. The whole article, in fact, is filled with links to other stories that are gripping in their own right and shows the web of connections between stories, events, people and organisations that a story of this magnitude forms.

You could easily get lost in this article’s links for several hours, if you had the inclination to explore the web in more detail.

The article is 9 pages on its own, but if you have the time and even the slightest interest, it’s worth it.

By the end, the article ends its chronology of events and widens to a reflection of the attention and criticisms journalism as a profession has received since the affair broke out, and becomes a steadying reflection on the role of the press in a democracy.

And no, this article is not relentlessly pro-Assange. In fact, it’s measured and thoughtful. Keller gives considered replies to what he describes as the three primary types of criticisms he, his profession and his paper have received as a result of the Wikileaks scandal:

  1. The uselfulness of the leaks themselves – what are they for? Who do they benefit? What’s the point?
  2. Risk – to individuals and their opinions revealed in diplomatic cables and so forth. Who do they harm? Who might they harm? Keller goes through the different harm minimisation measures taken by the news media as opposed to the treatment of sensitive information by Wikileaks itself.
  3. Accusation of news media losing independence by way of partnership with Assange.

Keller has had the chance to consider these issues and his own beliefs over past months and he shares them freely and carefully.

Highly recommended.