PICK OF THE WEEK
Turning Down the Noise
Christine Jackman, Murdoch Books, $32.99
This eloquent and timely book opens with the four-year-old Christine Jackman taking refuge in a cubby house at kindergarten because she needed peace and quiet. Not that she thought of it like that at the time. It took decades of living at a frantic pace for her to understand what her younger self had been yearning for. With this recognition began her quest for the replenishing well of silence buried deep within us that is the source of all the contemplative traditions from Christian monasticism to Buddhism. One of my favourite moments is her conversation with Father Michael at the Tarrawarra Abbey who responds to her earnest questions about meditation with, ‘‘What you have to do is chop off your head’’. In other words: stop thinking, judging and controlling, and let the nature of mind and reality reveal itself.
Thelma & Louise
Marita Sturken, BFI/Bloomsbury, $24.99
In the wake of #MeToo, it is an apt moment to reflect on the controversies provoked by the classic, road buddy movie Thelma and Louise and how it transformed many viewers’ lives. Marita Sturken balances nuanced analysis with celebration of the ‘‘kick ass’’ thrill of watching two women embrace the role of outlaw because the law offers them no protection. Sturken argues that the criticisms of the film as violent, reverse sexism not only expose a double-standard (male violence towards women on screen is normal, female violence toward men is deviant) but also fail to recognise that this is a film about the consequences of violence, both for the male characters and the heroines who, in the words of the screenwriter, Callie Khouri, ‘‘flew away, out of this world and into the mass unconscious’’.
The Last Lions of Africa
Anthony Ham, Allen & Unwin, $32.99
The first time he saw wild lions, Anthony Ham felt that he had glimpsed eternity. They ‘‘stalked the earth as if this were their time, as if the world could forever be like this’’. Yet he knew that lions have disappeared from 29 African countries and their population is in sharp decline. The Last Lions of Africa is much more than a tale about the struggle to save the lion from extinction. What makes it so rewarding and gives it mythic resonance is the way Ham captures the intimate, complex interrelationships between humans – farmers, villagers, hunters, conservationists– and these proud, awe-inspiring beasts. From the lion-killing Maasi warrior-turned-lion-protector to rural communities terrorised by man-eating lions, Ham foretells a looming war ‘‘in which there will be no winners’’.
The Inner Self
Hugh Mackay, Pan Macmillan, $34.99
While there is much that is valuable in this exploration of the clash between public persona and inner experience, Hugh Mackay’s assumption that there is such a thing as an ‘‘authentic self’’ to be ‘‘discovered’’ is problematic. Buddhism, for instance, holds that there is no unchanging self, soul or essence. Iris Murdoch argued for the importance of ‘‘unselfing’’ to release us from the demands of the ‘‘fat, relentless ego’’. Mackay’s emphasis on the primacy of love and interdependence, and his identification of key hindrances to a harmonious, principled life – ambition, busyness, materialism, complacency, to name a few – accord with both these philosophical outlooks. The shame is that his reification of the self distracts from his useful and sensible advice on how inner peace can be achieved.