There is a new appetite for serious reflection

Writing in the Observer this weekend, Alex Preston draws our attention to the publishing phenomena of a growing interest in serious books.  As he says, the story of Sapiens is about a book becoming part of a national conversation. “Readers like to read the same book, particularly if it’s a good and interesting one,” Daunt says, “because they like to discuss it. But with something like Sapiens, which is a challenging book, and perhaps one you wouldn’t expect to be at the top of the bestseller lists, let alone for years on end, you need to get enough people to read it to ignite that interest.  At a time when politics is more furious and fragmented than ever, when technology is colonising our everyday existence, when medicine is reshaping our lives, we still look to books to make sense of things, to feel ourselves part of a great communal effort to understand our age. These are serious times and they demand serious, intelligent and challenging books.”

This is why the Wild Mountain Collective has chosen Charles Massey’s book, Call of the Reed Warbler, for the first meeting of its Book/Writers Club, and this blog for musings.

As one of Australia’s greatest writers, Tim Flannery says:

The Call of the Reed Warbler is a brutally honest book – an account of personal redemption following generations of sin. The only comparable work I know of is Rian Malan’s great saga of South Africa, My Traitor’s Heart (1990) – revolutionary, threatening, and the traducing efforts of an insider. Malan, a relative of the architect of apartheid, South African Prime Minister Daniel Malan, was an anti-apartheid revolutionary. My Traitor’s Heart cost him his family, society, almost his life. The Call of the Reed Warbler, one intuits, has cost Monaro farmer and author Charles Massy almost as dearly.

These may seem to be large claims for a book which, at one level, consists mostly of case studies of Australian farmers struggling for economic and environmental sustainability. But the reality behind the work is revealed through Google Earth: if you search for the properties mentioned in the book, you will find oases of green surrounded by that parched devastation we have come to think of as the normal state of Australian agricultural lands. The stark comparison begs the question: why do we continue with morally bankrupt and dangerous ways of doing things, when better alternatives stare us in the face?