Allen & Unwin, $29.99
As snowflakes fell from the sky, Mackenzie Casella looked up, wide-eyed, and stuck her tongue out to catch them. In the days and weeks before she passed away at seven months, her parents Rachael and Jonathan watched her curiosity about the world blossom as her body failed her.
Neither parent had been aware that they were carriers of the genetic disease spinal muscular atrophy. Spurred by their grief, they began to campaign to make genetic testing available to all prospective parents. The Casellas’ anguish was compounded with each IVF pregnancy that followed and the heart-wrenching decisions it required of them.
“It shocks me every day,” writes Rachael Casella. “I am a mother without a child.” This raw, fiercely alive book urges us not to turn away from tragedy but to be open to its essential truth – that suffering is part of life.
When she first heard about positive psychology, Ariel Gore thought, “Hallelujah”. The deeper she delved into what she calls “the smiley science”, however, the more ambivalent she became. Not only were all the writers on the subject men, but the majority of the studies relied on male subjects. For centuries, women were told that it was their duty as wives to be cheerful, and that if they were depressed it was because they were neurotic.
Fuelling this pressure on women was the all-American belief that the failure to achieve happiness “meant you were a loser”. Both droll and Whitmanesque in her capaciousness, Gore interrogates these assumptions as she explores women’s experiences of happiness, concluding that it is most often found in living life on your own terms.
Hodder & Stoughton, $35
We tend to think of resistance as being directed at outside forces, but as Tori Amos shows in this elliptical, extended riff on politics, society and creativity, resistance also comes from within. “I wish someone had told me of their artistic struggles,” she says when writing about burn-out and periods when she felt she’d lost her way.
Each chapter is linked tangentially to one of her songs, providing the context or impetus for its composition. The muse comes to Amos in unexpected forms: a female judge who appears backstage after a concert to tell the singer about the shame of being regarded as a powerful figure while being subject to domestic violence.
It comes in large political upheavals and seismic personal loss. Don’t expect the conventional satisfactions of storytelling. This is an excavation of the creative process driven by a logic of its own.