The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader, and the Imagination, by one of the modern era’s most significant and most beautiful of all writers, Ursula K. Le Guin, displays her at her very best; and to seek the “best” in an altogether spectacular body of work seems almost antithetical — she blends anthropology, social psychology, and sheer literary artistry to explore complex, often difficult subjects with remarkable grace.
The first decade of the 21st century was a testing time for public debate. On the issues of Aboriginal Reconciliation, asylum seeker policy, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and, later, climate change, it was impossible to sit on the fence. Australia was still one tribe there were two distinct clans rallying around different totems: the Insiders and the outsiders. There had always been divisions in Australian society: convicts and soldiers; Catholic and Protestant; city and country; rich and poor; left and right. This however was of a different order.
For the first time there were people who did not simply feel better off but better than their fellow Australians. They were cosmopolitan and sophisticated, well read (or so they would have us believe) and politically aware. Their presumption of virtue set them apart from the common herd. They were not a racist or sexist, claimed to be indifferent to material wealth, ate healthfully, drank in moderation, and, if they were not gay themselves, made a show solidarity with a lot of friends who were. Their compassion knew no bounds: the vulnerable of the world could rely on their support, in principle at least. They were plastic bag refusenicks and tickers of carbon box offset boxes, for they knew what the science was saying, and it could not be denied. People like them should be running the country, they thought, or more accurately ruling it…
Here is an extract from La Rose, winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award in Fiction and hailed as a literary masterwork. Author Louise Erdrich is the bestselling author of the National Book Award-winning The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize nominee The Plague of Doves.
North Dakota, late summer, 1999:
Landreaux had kept track of the buck all summer, waiting to take it, fat, until just after the corn was harvested. As always, he’d give a portion to Ravich. The buck had regular habits and had grown comfortable on its path. It would wait and watch through midafternoon. Then would venture out before dusk, crossing the reservation line to browse the margins of Ravich’s fields. Now it came, stepping down the path, pausing to take scent. Landreaux was downwind. The buck turned to peer out at Ravich’s cornfield, giving Landreaux a perfect shot. He was extremely adept, had started hunting small game with his grandfather at the age of seven. Landreaux took the shot with fluid confidence. When the buck popped away he realized he’d hit something else—there had been a blur the moment he squeezed the trigger. Only when he walked forward to investigate and looked down did he understand that he had killed his neighbor’s son.
A history of the CIA is a history of one debacle after another. The organisation murdered, manipulated and mismanaged its way across the globe for decades, and a reading of this utterly fascinating book goes considerably to understanding why America’s international standing is so poor. The senior management of the CIA lied to presidents, lied to the public, and lied to their own personnel. Australia’s intelligence services have long been closely associated with their American counterparts.
Extracts from Legacy of Ashes: The History of the CIA, by Pulitzer Prize winning author Tim Weiner:
Get rid of the clown’s, the president kept commanding. What use are they? They’ve got 40,000 people over there reading newspapers.
The US is spending $6 billion dollars per year on intelligence and deserve to get a lot more than it is getting.
Since Nixon’s days, the budget has ballooned. Now spy agencies, including the CIA and the NSA, are getting more than $52 billion and military intelligence another $23 billion, according to published estimates. Some sources of income are believed to be concealed.
The second world — the world of literature — offered me, besides the pleasures of form, the sustentation of empathy (the first step of what Keats called negative capability) and I ran for it. I relaxed in it. I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything — other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned: that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion, that standing within this otherness — the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books — can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.
I learned to build bookshelves and brought books to my room, gathering them around me thickly. I read by day and into the night. I thought about perfectibility, and deism, and adjectives, and clouds, and the foxes. I locked my door, from the inside, and leaped from the roof and went to the woods, by day or darkness.
I read my books with diligence, and mounting skill, and gathering certainty. I read the way a person might swim, to save his or her life. I wrote that way too.
One of the reasons why the Islamisization of the West has taken such rapid hold has been mistaken social policies of the past, creating a fractured, uninclusive and uncaring culture, the so-called Age of Loneliness. The War on Drugs has been exactly one of those policies, demonizing and marginalizing entire segments of society while leaving the streets desolate and unsafe. As Chasing The Scream so amply demonstrates, the citizens of happy, industrious, socially inclusive cultures do not take drugs; at least not in ways which cause major problems to the individual or to the community. It is only in the fractured and disengaged cultures so characteristic of the West that the ice epidemic, for example, has been able to take such a terrible toll; on individuals and on the society as a whole, destroying the lives of individuals and and turning entire neighborhoods into war zones. January 2015 marked 100 years since drugs were first banned in the United States. In Chasing The Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs, highly accomplished journalist Johann Hari finds out why they were criminalized, how this is causing a disaster today and what happens when you choose a radically different path. His discoveries are told entirely through the startling and moving stories of real people – from a transsexual crack dealer in Brooklyn, to a Hungarian Holocaust survivor and scientist who discovered the real causes of addiction; that it lies in the sickness of the society, not in moral failings of the individual.
Douglas Murray in his own words: I was already writing about the migration issues occasionally. During the height of the migration crisis in 2015 I was reporting on bits of it and I got frustrated about not being able to explain the whole story because the facts and the emotions they provoke are fantastically complex. None of it is simple or easy. And I suppose like a lot of us who write, you get frustrated trying to do it in one or two thousand words in an article.
I was a long way from home in the Far East. And I had this realisation I had to write a book about the whole thing as I saw it. I find it the most fascinating subject of our time as well as the most troubling. And also being an inveterate walker into places where more sensible people fear to tread, all the difficult bits seemed to me to be the things that need to be thought about and written about and discussed. And I wanted to be able to do that at length.
At last, the author of that masterful short novel The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy, has written a new book, The Ministry of Utmost Happiness.
Here is an extract:
Where do old birds go to die?
She lived in the graveyard like a tree. At dawn she saw the crows off and welcomed the bats home. At dusk she did the opposite. Between shifts she conferred with the ghosts of vultures that loomed in her high branches. She felt the gentle grip of their talons like an ache in an amputated limb. She gathered they weren’t altogether unhappy at having excused themselves and exited from the story.
When she first moved in, she endured months of casual cruelty like a tree would – without flinching. She didn’t turn to see which small boy had thrown a stone at her, didn’t crane her neck to read the insults scratched into her bark. When people called her names – clown without a circus, queen without a palace – she let the hurt blow through her branches like a breeze and used the music of her rustling leaves as balm to ease the pain.
Timothy Mo, who as the son of wealthy Hong Kong Chinese attended Oxford, is a superbly gifted writer but a difficult man who has long fought with his publishers. Once a favourite of the English literary set, he fell out of favour. In later life he has produced a masterwork, Pure. Mo had always wondered why a dynamic art form such as fiction had failed to confront the single most pressing issue of the age, the minds and motivations of Muslim fundamentalists. With a tide of jihad sweeping the world, the question became ever more pressing. In Pure Timothy Mo uses the device of character. He pits an ice addicted yaba addled Bangkok lady boy, a freelance entertainment journalist called Snooky, “Snooky was lonely because she was smart”, into the world of mujaheddin training camps in southern Thailand. Co-opted as a spy, there she grows a beard, participates in forays into the world of jihad in Indonesia, and reports to her minder, caught between the hidden, complex worlds of intelligence operatives and Muslim jihadists. Thanks to fights with his publishers, this book has never received the attention it deserves. Simply put: Pure is a must read, a neglected masterpiece.
Jason Burke, The Guardian writes: In the days following the killing of Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, there was a surge of interest in the family of the al-Qaida founder and leader. One son had been shot dead during the raid on the high-walled house in the northern garrison town of Abbottabad, while confused reports described at least a dozen children or grandchildren, and between two and four wives, left stunned and bloodied by the US special forces when they left.
But the story moved on. Three years later, al-Qaida was pushed into the shadows by a breakaway faction, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (Isis). The centre of gravity of Islamic militancy seemed to have shifted decisively to the Levant. The family of bin Laden were forgotten.
Not, however, by Cathy Scott-Clark and Adrian Levy, two veteran journalists who have published a series of rigorous and readable investigative books focused on south Asia and Islamist militancy. Their latest, The Exile: The Flight of Osama bin Laden, is perhaps their best yet.
The narrative reaches from Pakistan to Mauritania, where a key informant of the authors now lives, and starts days before the 11 September attacks on the east coast of the US in 2001. It ends last year.
The book fills in many important gaps in our knowledge of al-Qaida.
America’s Destruction of Iraq by Washington insider Michael M. O’Brien details the origins of the terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism now spreading across widening stretches of the Middle East. The outgrowth of America’s involvement in Iraq is the Islamic State, the most powerful, violent and dangerous terrorist group in history.
This book from A Sense of Place Publishing is now available at all major outlets.
Catch the book Tina and the Bear by exciting new travel writer Paul Emery. If he doesn’t manage to kill himself on some wild adventure in some remote part of the world, he has a very promising career ahead of him.
I came to rest at the head of a dirt track, my GPS said “Go left, go down the trail, you know you want to”.
So left I went, leaving behind the very rare Siberian commodity of smooth asphalt. I was close to completing the day’s ride of nearly eight hundred kilometers and I was tired, eyes drawing closed and the cold rang from the inside out making my muscles tense and my spine ache.
The dirt track was about twenty feet wide, hedged by small pine, the road was made of mud but it seemed fairly dry as far as I could see with nothing worse than what I had covered since leaving Vladivostok. I was in the zone and gave no thought to the idea that this was the wrong track and that a brand new road, all smooth and paved sat a kilometer round the bend that led down into Svobodny, the town where I’d be staying that night.
For those of us who once loved newspapers, and despair at the current state of the media, Flat Earth News is at once insightful, fascinating, and, of course, utterly dispiriting.
When award-winning journalist Nick Davies decided to break Fleet Street’s unwritten rule by investigating his own colleagues, he found that the business of reporting the truth had been slowly subverted by the mass production of ignorance.
He wrote: “Original, truth-telling journalism survives at the margins and commonly tends to be overwhelmed by the consensus account, whether true or false. What we are looking at here is a global collapse of information-gathering and truth-telling. And that leaves us in a kind of knowledge chaos, where the very subject matter of global debate is shifted from the essential to the arbitrary; where government policy, cultural values, widespread assumptions, declarations of war and attempts at peace all turn out toe be poisoned by distortion; where ignorance is accepted as knowledge and falsehood is accepted as truth.”
A Sense of Place Publishing is proud to announce the arrival of Sorry Time, a new Australian thriller by Anthony Maguire. With action from start to finish, the story straddles the unforgiving landscapes of Central Australia, the night hubs of Sydney and Indiana Jones-esque locations in Turkey. The book, already attracting good reviews, has just become available in Kindle and will be out in paperback shortly.
Only a few weeks ago I was a stay-at-home mum. What am I doing? But there was no time for second thoughts now. My brain snaps into action and so does my mouth. “Flak jackets, helmets, gas masks – everyone, now!” Zoe Daniel is now the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s Washington correspondent, covering the US election. In Storyteller she tells of her years based in Bangkok with her husband and young family reporting on nine countries across Southeast Asia, filing copy and stories for TV, radio, online and social media. She was the Africa correspondent from 2005 until 2007 and spent 2009 covering the Khmer Rouge war crimes trials from Phnom Penh in Cambodia. Zoe’s frank and brave memoir, Storyteller, deals with the effects of her work, with its stresses and its constant travel, on her marriage, with the physical and psychological effects of a dangerous, confronting job, and the difficulty of slipping back into her ‘regular’ life after witnessing deeply disturbing events. She says: “The work can be logistically challenging and often horribly sad. Yet while there are lots of reasons not to do it, it’s important that those people are given a voice.”
Two days after giving this speech Australia’s greatest provocateur, cartoonist Bill Leak, died suddenly of an alleged heart attack. With freedom of speech in Australia already under savage attack, his passing is a great loss for the country. Sometimes called racist, even homophobic, he was none of these things. He was exactly where he should be, on the splinter lines of a fracturing country. A superb artist, magnificent draftsman and an indefatigable eye for all that is going so badly wrong in the Great Southern Land, he will be greatly missed.
This is his final speech: Ladies and gentlemen, I know it’s International Women’s Day, so first I must apologise for not being a woman. It’s particularly regrettable that I’m not a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab promoting a book about what it’s like being a glamorous Sudanese-Egyptian-Australian woman who wears a hijab. If I was, this wouldn’t be the only event I’ve got lined up on my non-government-funded whirlwind Trigger Warning awareness-raising tour.
Hideout in the Apocalypse is about surveillance and the crushing of Australia’s larrikin culture.
In the last two years the Abbott/Turnbull government has prosecuted the greatest assault on freedom on freedom of speech in the nation’s history.
The government knew from international research that when it introduced the panopticon, universal surveillance, into Australia it would have a chilling effect on the culture. When people know they are being watched, they behave differently. Dissent is stifled, conformity becomes the norm. This is the so-called chilling effect.
Forced to use novelistic techniques to tell a fantastical story, in his latest book Hideout from the Apocalypse veteran reporter John Stapleton confirms the old adage, truth is stranger than fiction.
His essential theme: a place which should have been safe from an impending apocalypse, the quagmire of religious wars enveloping the Middle East, is not safe at all.
“Australia is a democracy in name only,” says John Stapleton. “The war on terror has become a war on the people. It has justified an enormous expansion of state power. Ideas are contagious, and the Abbott/Turnbull government is afraid of them.
The author of the groundbreaking Atlantic cover story What ISIS Really Wants, a piece which combined excellent research skills with superb journalism and transformed the debate over Islamic State, has now written arguably the best ever account of the strategy, psychology, and theology driving the Islamic State. Graeme Wood is one of the world’s most intellectually gifted journalists. Tens of thousands of men and women have left comfortable, privileged lives to join the Islamic State and kill for it. To them, its violence is beautiful and holy, and the caliphate a fulfillment of prophecy and the only place on earth where they can live and die as Muslims. The Way of the Strangers is an intimate journey into the minds of the Islamic State’s true believers. From the streets of Cairo to the mosques of London to the cafes of Melbourne, Graeme Wood interviews supporters, recruiters, and sympathisers of the group to produce this beautifully written, must-read book.