Recently two friends of mine have had their books published, and I doubt they could be more different! But both are great reads. Gina Perry has been working on her book about Stanley Milgram and the shock machine experiments for quite a few years. It first appeared as a radio documentary, as she had found several people in the US who had taken part in the experiments and agreed to now be interviewed by her. Behind the Shock Machine: The Untold Story of the Notorious Milgram Psychology Experiments is a very confronting book, but a fascinating one.
Many people have heard of The Wave, which was the classroom experiment where blue-eyed and brown-eyed people were segregated and basically set against each other. There have been other similar social psychology experiments - most of which took place in the 50s and 60s - and it's only now that questions are being seriously asked about the long-term effects on the subjects. I've listened to Gina's documentary, which uses excerpts of the taped interviews, but somehow reading the book has a much greater effect. Perhaps it's the power of the imagination, but I've had a couple of nightmares about it!
She also tracks her own journey through the research. As a former psychologist, she constantly questions the ethics of the experiments, the effects on the people she interviews, and whether Milgram told the whole truth about what he was doing. Certainly his journals indicate he had other motives, and he also kept information to himself that might have distorted or changed his findings. A very interesting book, even if you don't read much nonfiction.
The other book by a writer friend is a novel - The Fine Colour of Rust. I spent a lot of time laughing as I read Paddy (P.A.) O'Reilly's story. I loved the main character and her attitude to the world. How could you not love a mother who constantly imagines hilarious ways of getting rid of her kids, and yet clearly loves them and tries her best?
Gunapin is an Australian country town where everything and everyone seems hopeless, and yet they're not. Loretta is a fighter and a realist - one of her many battles is to save the primary school, and it was a joy to see the local politician smothered in local "let's impress him" events which result in him being literally coated with meat and blood from the abattoir.
You keep wanting Loretta to high-tail it out of the place and make a new life back in the city, and yet even she knows she is trapped there by lack of money. In the end, it's the people of Gunapin who make it a tolerable place to live, as it is with anywhere. The dry, almost black humour of this story is, you could say, very Australian, but I hope we're well past condemning "Australian novels" to the dusty back corner of the bookshop. This one deserves front and centre.