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.

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The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 16: The Truth (Terry Pratchett, 2000)

Books left: 10. Weeks left: 15. It’s gonna be OK.

The Patrician walked across the floor, followed by Drumknott.
‘Er, yes,’ said William. ‘Are you all right, sir?’
‘Oh, yes. Busy, of course. Such a lot of reading to catch up on. But I thought I should take a moment to come and see this “free press” Commander Vimes has told me about at considerable length.’ He tapped one of the iron pillars of the press with his cane. ‘However, it appears to be firmly bolted down.’
‘Er, no, sir. I mean “free” in the sense of what is printed, sir,’ said Wiliam.
‘But surely you charge money?’
‘Yes, but –’
‘Oh, I see. You meant you should be free to print what you like?’
There was no escape. ‘Well… broadly, yes, sir.’
‘Because that’s in the, what was the other interesting term? Ah, yes… the public interest?’ Lord Vetinari picked up a piece of type and inspected it carefully.
‘I think so, sir.’
‘These stories about man-eating goldfish and people’s husbands disappearing in big silver dishes?’
‘No, sir. That’s what the public is interested in. We do the other stuff, sir.’
‘Amusingly shaped vegetables?’
‘Well, a bit of that, sir. Sacharissa calls them human interest stories.’
‘About vegetables and animals?’
‘Yes, sir. But at least they’re real vegetables and animals.’
‘So… we have what the people are interested in, and human interest stories, which is what humans are interested in, and the public interest, which no one is interested in.’
‘Except the public, sir,’ said William, trying to keep up.
‘Which isn’t the same as people and humans?’
‘I think it’s more complicated than that, sir.’

Shabby copy of The Truth by Terry Pratchett.

The Velveteen Rabbit of books.

When once I worked in ye olde secondhand bookshop for a crust, we had this thing called the rubbish box. It’s that grubby tub of books out the front that are one step above worthless, all with a big ‘$2’ scribbled on the cover with a Sharpie.

If you are a book, you can end up in the rubbish box for one or a combination of reasons. You might be in good nick, but just a terrible book. You might be an extremely old book no one has heard of and therefore no one would pay over $2 for. You might be spine-broken (the kiss of death for secondhand books). You might be The Notebook or Message in a Bottle by Nicholas Sparks. Or you might be a Really Good Book that has been read so many times its covers have been almost loved off, the literary equivalent of the Velveteen Rabbit. These are the titles someone will still hand over cash for despite being in the kind of condition that would usually see the bookseller throw them in the bin.

The rubbish box is a bit like the dog pound. Inhabitants might be there for a month. After a while, they might have their $2 dashed out and $1 written on them instead. If they are still not adopted, they will get lobbed into the bin. The rare jewel, no matter how bedraggled and forlorn it looks when it gets in there, is still instantly recognisable as Really Good and will get snatched up within hours by someone who can’t believe their luck and doesn’t care what the poor sod looks like.

Terry Pratchett is like the Holy Grail for the independent bookseller. Finding one in the bottom of a dusty pile of Nicholas Sparks is like finding the toy prize in a box of out-of-date cereal. Even if it is in awful condition, even – EVEN, my friend, if it is spine-broken… you can scrawl as much as $4 on this baby (as illustrated) and it will be out of that rubbish-box before it has so much as warmed up its seat.

Books written by Sir Terry Pratchett – knighted six years ago for his services to literature – are Really Good Books. The majority of them are part of the Discworld series, the chronicles of a world consisting of a disc balanced upon four elephants standing atop a turtle of, as Stephen King might say, enormous girth.

The Truth is the 25th of more than 40 Discworld titles and tells the story of William de Worde, who quite by accident finds himself editor of the city of Ankh-Morpork’s first newspaper. Before he has got much beyond dealing with all of the people who want him to print pictures of their amusingly shaped vegetables, he finds himself embroiled in a story full of deceit, danger and death that goes straight to the political heart of Ankh-Morpork itself.

After taking weeks to read The Famished Road, I find myself spat out the other end of this in a matter of days. It’s beyond compulsive. I read it in front of the barbecue, ruining some perfectly good Black Angus rump, in bed (I am always very strict about not reading in bed, being a reformed insomniac) and even at the park while walking the dog. A lady is at her most batty-looking when ignoring her dog at the park while reading a book, walking into bollards and giggling audibly.

As well as being madcap and marvellous, the story is bloody clever. It is not only full of wordplay but full of subtler humour and deft insight into the frequently maddening and nonsensical world of a journalist – I am unsurprised when a quick Google reveals that Pratchett began his career as a reporter.

It was as if he’d shaken a tree and all the nuts had fallen out. Several letters were complaining that there had been much colder winters than this, although no two of them could agree when it was. One said vegetables were not as funny as they used to be, especially leeks. Another asked what the Guild of Thieves was doing about unlicensed crime in the city. There was one saying that all these robberies were down to dwarfs who shouldn’t be allowed into the city to steal the work out of honest humans’ mouths.
‘Put a title like “Letters” at the top and put them all in,’ said William. ‘Except the one about the dwarfs. That sounds like Mr Windling. It sounds like my father, too, except that at least he can spell “undesirable” and wouldn’t use crayon.’
‘Why not that letter?’
‘Because it’s offensive.’
‘Some people think it’s true, though,’ said Sacharissa. ‘There’s been a lot of trouble.’
‘Yes, but we shouldn’t print it.’
William called Goodmountain over and showed him the letter. The dwarf read it.
‘Put it in,’ he said. ‘It’ll fill a few inches.’
‘But people will object,’ said William.
‘Good. Put their letters in, too.’

This is sharp humour with a soft heart. If you know a journalist, buy them this book and prepare for their howls to echo through the house.

Keep or Kill? Terry Pratchett is really one of those authors it’s a shame to hoard – they really should be in constant circulation. I’ll give this one to the local op-shop so it can warm the shelf there for an hour or two before getting snapped up.
Note: When I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s Anansi Boys oh-so-long-ago for this Project, I compared his writing to Pratchett’s a little nervously, fearing a lighting bolt would strike me any moment for being so impertinent. Reading this book I was reminded of the fact that Gaiman and Pratchett had actually collaborated on a screamingly funny novel, Good Omens, which I not only knew about but had actually read, for goodness’ sake. So there you go. Not so impertinent a comparison at all, then.

The Curing of a Bibliomaniac Part 7: Anansi Boys (Neil Gaiman, 2005)

Books remaining: 19. Weeks left in which to read them: 37 (bad). 

Anansi Boys cover

Annoyingly water-damaged, pretty book.

There wasn’t much to choose from for G – my only other unread (ha! typo undead) options were Peter Goldsworthy’s Everything I Knew – worthy, but meh – Helen Garner’s The Children’s Bach, which looked cool but was so skinny it felt like cheating, and Graham Greene’s Brighton Rock. This came a close second but seemed a little dark for how I was feeling so I went with the reliably brilliant, AND happy, Neil Gaiman.

He authored American Gods and Neverwhere, both great, though I liked American Gods best. This, another Gods-themed novel, is blurbed (now a word):

Anansi Gods - blurb

Can’t go wrong, see?

After the endless, though awesome, wrenching of Jonathan Safran Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close I needed something just lovely, and the logic seemed sound that something this big, bright and blue would have to be.

I feel as though I can’t be the first to compare Neil Gaiman to Terry Pratchett, though I scarcely dare to. For those of you who have lived under a rock for their entire lives, Terry Pratchett is author of the Discworld fantasy-humour series, and several others just as brilliant, and he is adored worldwide.

Anyway, a little scared to make the comparison, as feel that whole internet will crash accusatorily Ialso now a word) down upon my head, breathing fire and shouting that I am wrong or, alternatively, that everyone already knew this. Well, I will resist the urge to Google it before I publish and just bravely sally forth with my likening. It’s just the sheer gladness of it, the inventiveness, big-thinking plot twists in almost-real worlds, flashing and ready humour tempered by plenty of warmth.

The story of all the mad things that happen to Charlie is anchored by the narrative running underneath, in which he is slowly uncovering a long-squashed sense of self-worth. As inevitably (and quite rightly) happens with stories about uncovering self-worth, he also finds out who he really loves in life, and who loves him.

This is a lighthearted read with a kernel of seriousness at its heart. It’s quotable and causes numerous giggles of the out-loud variety. I doubt Neil Gaiman can do any wrong; at least, he certainly hasn’t here. This is the sort of book that’s too good NOT to pass on to a friend immediately after reading, secure in the knowledge that you have done them a service.

I’m going to pass this on, mainly because it got water-damaged in a rain storm just as I started reading it (you can see in the picture) and I just can’t stand water-damage. Also, he recently wrote another novel that has caught my fancy, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, and I’d like to make room for that, should someone Just Happen To Buy it For Me.

More on The Curing of a Bibliomaniac project here.