So Much For That : When you can’t judge a book by its cover

OK, so what do you do when you have five uncorrected proofs of five books all of which will be published in this country over the next several months? How do you choose which to go with?

Their covers are virtually blank – so no clues there. All five authors are unknown to me – three are debut writers, one normally writes comic books (none of which I have read) and the other is usually spoken of in hushed tones reserved for those writers who are a cut above everyone else. You can’t ask the publishers’ opinions. They can spin all of them.  According to their proponents, they are all edgy/new/quirky/a welcome return to form/introducing a brand new audience/generating a huge amount of interest overseas etc etc.

My only option is to go in blind. Read the first few pages and then select the one that for what ever idiosyncratic reason, has the most promise for me. Not that I am complaining of course, but pity the poor author whose fate is determined by their opening paragraph.

Here is what I happened to be dealing with today:

From Love Machine by Clinton Caward (Feb 2010).

It was almost four in the morning when I picked her up and carried her to the cement steps near the fire exit. She sat on my lap and I lit a cigarette. Her little arm looped around my next, the chubby fingers with yellow nail polish appearing on my other shoulder. Her mascara was tacky and she had tiny, point breasts, and what she showed me under her skirt looked delicate but slightly mangled. Life had not been as kind to her as it could have been but still she’d survived and made the most out of what she had. Kissing her forehead, I held the camera at arms length and photographed us.

From So Much For That by Lionel Shriver (April 2010).

What do you pack for the rest of your life? On research trips – he and Glynis had never called them vacations – Shep had always packed too much, covering for every contingency: Rain gear and galoshes, a sweater on the off chance that the weather in Peurto Escondido was unseasonably cold. In the face of infinite contingencies, his impulse was to take nothing.

From Going Bovine by Libba Bray (Feb 2010)

The best day of my life happened when I was five and almost died at Disney World. I’m sixteen now, so you can imagine that’s left me with quite a few days of major suckage.

From Peter and Max Fables by Bill Willingham (Feb 2010)

For most of his long years, Peter Piper wanted nothing more than  to live a life of peace and safety in some remote  cozy cottage, married to his childhood sweetheart, who grew into the only woman he could ever love. Which is pretty much what happened. But there were complications along the way, as there often are, because few love stories are allowed to be just that and nothing else.

From The Kingdom of Ohio by Matthew Flaming (Jan 2010)

Whether beautiful or terrible, the past is always a ruin. When I look back on my childhood, my earliest memories seem like artifacts from a lost civilization: half-understood fragments behind museum glass. I remember the spherical alcohol lamp that glowed like a tiny ghost, ringed with dancing blue flames, which hung over the dining-room table of the house where I grew up. I remember the sweet, oily smell of coal smoke, and the creaking of horse-drawn carriages on the dirt road outside. Most of all I remember the summer twilight over the mountains and how, on certain evenings, just before the sun sank below the horizon, it cast rays so luminous and golden that they felt like a solid, envoloping cloak into which a small boy could simply disappear. An intensity no light today seems to match.

By the way, I did read a bit further with Love Machine whose protagonist Spencer works in a Kings Cross sex shop and who has a thing about taking pics of himself with rubber dolls (eg she of the chubby fingers and yellow nail polish). However, so far it is a toss up between Peter and Max and So Much for That.

You however can make your own choices. I’ve hunted down the covers where they are available to you can at least look at them. And you can pre-order all but So Much for That. Contact me directly if you are interested in the Lionel Shriver and I will make sure your name goes on the list in another month or two.

Alex Miller interview

Alex Miller has been travelling the length and breadth of the country promoting Lovesong. Readers of the Buzz will know that I absolutely loved it, and from the look of our sales, so have our customers.

In the meantime, I was lucky enough to catch up with Alex Miller at Allen and Unwin’s offices last week. Here he is, speaking about what moves him, that wonderful novel, and where he gets his inspiration from.



when too many memoirs are barely enough

In case you hadn’t realised it, Christmas is seriously just around the corner, and the annual buy-fest has well and truly started. And if there is one genre of books that are moving for us here at Booktopia, it is the autobiography. Readers are spoiled for choice – Dame Edna, Ray Martin, Harry MAndre Agassi, to name just a few.

There is a school of thought however that reckons that we have mined the memoir genre almost to exhaustion. The chief proponent of this theory is Ben Yagoda, English and journalism teacher, author, blogger and critic-extraordinaire. He has been pushing this for a number of years, most recently in a very funny and cogently argued piece in The Daily Beast. For this he draws heavily on Memoir: A History, which he has just published.

“After weeks of wall-to-wall for Palin, Agassi and Carrie Prejean, it is clear our narcissistic culture is obsessed with memoirs”, he writes.

“I’ve gotten the lowdown on new or forthcoming autobiographical works by Andre Agassi, Sarah Palin, Capt. Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, Mary Karr, George Carlin, Paul Shaffer, Clarence “Big Man” Clemons, David Plouffe, Andy Williams, Coach Roy Williams, Michael Chabon, former French President Jacques Chirac, former NBC head Warren Littlefield, Tracy Morgan, Hulk Hogan, Valerie Bertinelli, Anne Murray, Wyclef Jean, former Miss California USA Carrie Prejean, Full House’s Jodie Sweetin, American Idol’s David Archuleta, Duane “Dog the Bounty Hunter” Chapman, Mary Weiland (estranged wife of the Stone Temple Pilots’ Scott Weiland), and actor Jerry O’Connell, Rebecca Romjin’s husband, who is coming out with a parenting memoir called Cry, Feed, (Make Love to Wife), Burp. (For the sake of convenience, I put those names roughly in order of prominence—and of course apologize to anyone who feels offended, especially Monsieur Chirac.)

“All that being said, the memoir boom is finally quieting down a little bit.

“The main reason for the ebbing of the memoir tide is ecological; we are running out of good true stories. Every stunt worth undertaking has been undertaken; every disease worth chronicling has been chronicled. As for memoirs of difficult childhoods, the bar of difficulty, steadily raised for a couple of decades, was probably propelled beyond any author’s grasp by The Glass Castle, Walls’ riveting account of her Looney Tunes parents.

“A similar depletion can be observed over on the celebrity front. There will of course continue to be interest in bigfoot memoirs from the Agassis, Kennedys, and Palins of the world, but otherwise it is becoming evident that the bottom of the barrel is being scraped. After Prejean, Sweetin, Archuleta, Weiland, and O’Connell, who could possibly be left?”

In the meantime however, if you are still game to go back into the water, here are his top 5 picks, memoirs that you should read, memoirs  of people that are genuinely interesting.

Roughing It by Mark Twain (1872) – His account of six years in Nevada, San Francisco and the Sandwich Islands is among his least-known books, but it is a comic gem.

Memoirs by John Addington Symonds (written 1889-1893, published 1986). Symonds, an English scholar, was gay and sexually active, and his no-holds-barred memoir could not be published in his lifetime. It’s fascinating to chart the change in his attitude: from a rueful sense of himself as a deviant to a sort of defiant pride.

I’ll Cry Tomorrow by Lillian Roth (1954). Roth, a former Ziegfeld showgirl and early-talkies actress (she was in the Marx Brothers’ Animal Crackers), created a sensation because of the frankness with which it depicted her alcoholism and abuse by husbands and lovers. In some ways, it created the template for the contemporary memoir, with its emphasis on trauma and recovery.

Growing Up by Russell Baker (1982) and An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (1987). They’re luminous and could easily trade titles, though Baker spends more time on the public realm and Dillard on the private.

(Sorry I can’t link you to Memoirs or I’ll Cry Tomorrow. They are both sadly out of print).

Fairie-ality Style: Inspiration from Nature

Want to know when a book is seriously good?

9780744557893faireialitysourceIt is when a bookseller actually pays money to add it to the home collection. And have I been shelling out recently. Yep, that’s right. There has been that much coveting going on that I have actually parted with my hard earned cash to buy several absolutely stunning books replete with images that lift the soul and gladden the heart. And one of those I want to share right now.

Many years ago ex Vogue stylist David Ellwand published the imaginative and beautiful Fairie-ality, a compendium of dresses, hats, and shoes all made in miniature from dried petals, grasses, leaves. It inspired many home grown art works with my daughter and I and hours of setting the imagination free.

Now Ellwand brings us Fairie-ality Style: A Sourcebook of Inspirations from Nature. Consider the following. A full page close up of silver birch bark, followed by a tiny boxy pyjama suit fashioned from the same, the fasteners lovingly made from winged maple seed cases. Or how about a Persian rug painstakingly pieced together with feathers? Or a halter neck dress made of what looks like gingko leaves having browned off and dropped for autumn? My favourite spreads however are the ones where his whimsy takes him to furniture.

This book will delight any one with an interest in colour, nature, fashion or design. It is inspiring, original and imaginative, and if any one wants to borrow my copy, the answer is no!




Nam Le’s “The Boat” picks up Australia’s richest literary prize


He has been described as “criminally talented” and now, he has picked up yet another award.

Debut author Nam Le had already won several Australian prizes as well as the the £60,000 Dylan Thomas prize for his collection of short stories, The Boat. Now the fiction editor of the Harvard Review, who came to Australia from Vietnam in 1979, has won Australia’s richest literary prize, the $100,000 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction.

9780143009610theboatLe’s collection has won accolades all over the world, with critics claiming his work goes well beyond another interesting take by an ethnic minority writer. His scope is broad – from teenage contract killers in Columbia, to the voice of a little girl in pre-bomb Hiroshima to a refugee boat adrift in the South China Sea. His themes are varied although the parental-child relationship is fertile ground for him in a number of the stories. He has been praised for both his technical skill and his ability to allow the reader to breathe.

If you want to know what all the fuss is about, we have The Boat in stock now.


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