Decline and Fall, and then Decline some more… Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey

With the publication of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies western culture announced its intention to go headlong into decline. However, before this happens, before we reach the point-of-no-return, I thought it might be beneficial to glance back at the pages of history to see what, if anything, we might learn from the Ancient Writers, for whom the rise and fall of cultures was a near daily event.

I have called on the help of resident Booktopia classicist Dr Jonathon Cant PhD, ECG, BA, CD-ROM, MA.

Me: Dr Cant, thank you for taking the time to lead this expedition into the distant past.

Cant: It will be a pleasure… So, am I to understand you’ve read the classics?

Me: I’ve read Dickens, Bronte, Austen and Shakespeare.

Cant: Classics! Humph! Have you ever wondered where these…these…  interlopers  came by their ideas? Did you ever ask who these usurpers read for Continue reading

Hourglass by Claudia Gray – What your teen will be reading this weekend…

While everyone in the book business is hunting down the next Twilight, teens seem to have made their choice.

The three volumes of Claudia Gray’s Evernight series are selling and selling and selling.

Why now?

The third volume, Hourglass has just hit the shelves.

Hourglass is the Number One Bestseller this week.

We had pre-orders dating back to October!

What’s it all about? Continue reading

Adam Schwab exposes the Pigs at the Trough

Adam Schwab gave us all a good belly laugh back in December with his Wilson Tuckey Memorial Kindness to Pensioners Award (which went incidentally to Qantas for its generous $3 million contribution to former CEO Geoff Dixon’s superannuation fund). His stuff can be funny, in the way  that The Men Who Stare at Goats is funny – ie the hilarity comes from the bald-faced brazenness of the action, rather than from a whole lot of clever word play.

Schwab is known to many people through his incisive analysis for Crikey.com. He applies the blow torch to the belly to victors and the vanquished of the corporate world, and its regulators. Well,  those of us who have learned to ration their Schwab input, are in for a treat, if you can call a blow-by-blow dissection of  Australia’s decade of corporate greed a treat. If you are into flagrant and insolent audacity then Pigs at the Trough is for you for this is the story of how a generation of executives, under the apparent supervision of respected non-executive directors, duped millions of Continue reading

What’s Hot for March – Twilight Graphic Novel, Lee Child, Ian McEwan plus a few surprises

It is always fascinating to see what people are attracted to with Booktopia Buzz. The March Buzz went out yesterday afternoon, and although people tend to read it at their leisure over time, I always like to have a peak at the click-throughs to see what is generating interest, and what is being ordered.

The big winner so far (after not even 24 hours of a e-newsletter that has a life of three or four weeks) is Lee Child’s Killing Floor. No surprises there as this is a special price edition of the first Jack Reacher novel, which we are letting go at $4.95. A lot of people pre-ordered 61 Hours, (out on March 18), but people have been putting their hands up for that one since December.

The other one that attracted a lot of attention yesterday was our exclusive pack of 6 Grug books – including the new one Grug and the Circus. Our Grug packs are always terrific value and this one is no exception. There are going to be a lot of happy kids out there.

Vampires and all things paranormal continue to hold sway, with plenty of people checking out the Twilight graphic novel, the new Australian editions of Melissa de la Cruz’ Blue Bloods series and Dawn of the Dreadfuls, the latest Pride and Prejudice and Zombies offering.

And debut author Natasha Solomons has gone head to head with Mr Man Booker himself, Ian McEwan. I waxed lyrical about both Mr Rosenblum’s List (Natasha Solomons) and Solar (Ian McEwan). I loved them both and we have equal numbers of pre-orders for both, but in general, they are attracting different buyers. At this stage however, given she’s the underdog, I’d have to say, Go Natasha!

Melina Marchetta hits the right note with The Piper’s Son

A welcome return to form from Melina Marchetta who captured the hearts and minds of young adults (and their mums) with Looking for Alibrandi and Saving Francesca. Marchetta did garner new fans with Finnikin of the Rock and On the Jellicoe Road, but she is at her best in the inner city and it is here that she has returned with The Piper’s Son.  I have long been a big fan, but I am leaving the running here to Shoshana Booth, who is bang smack in her target market, and who is much more eloquent than I on the subject of the very talented Ms Marchetta.

Here is her review.

I don’t think any Australian girl twenty years or under should miss the phenomenon that was Looking for Alibrandi, Marchetta’s debut novel set in Leichardt, Sydney. Written from a sixteen-year old Italian-Australian’s point of view, Marchetta explored race, cultural identity, exams, boys, and growing up. In her second novel, Saving Francesca, the main character a teenager with a similar background, but this time dealing with depression, family obligation, and (of course) growing up. Personally, I preferred Saving Francesca – I found it funny, insightful and so honest I cried (several times). I have just re-read Saving Francesca in anticipation of her Continue reading

Daniel Deronda by George Eliot

I am not decrying the life of the true artist. I am exalting it. I say, it is out of the reach of any but choice organisations – natures framed to love perfection and to labour for it; ready, like all true lovers, to endure, to wait, to say, I am not yet worthy, but she – Art, my mistress – is worthy, and I will live to merit her.

An honourable life? Yes. But the honour comes from the inward vocation and the hard-won achievement: there is no honour in donning the life as a livery.

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda

It is a common sentence that Knowledge is power; but who hath duly Considered or set forth the power of Ignorance? Knowledge slowly builds up what Ignorance in an hour pulls down. Knowledge, through patient and frugal centuries, enlarges discovery and makes record of it; Ignorance, wanting its day’s dinner, lights a fire with the record, and gives a flavour to its one roast with the burned souls of many generations. Knowledge, instructing the sense, refining and multiplying needs, transforms itself into skill and makes life various with a new six days’ work; comes Ignorance drunk on the seventh, with a firkin of oil and a match and an easy “Let there not be,” and the many-coloured creation is shrivelled up in blackness. Of a truth, Knowledge is power, but it is a power reined by scruple, having a conscience of what must be and what may be; whereas Ignorance is a blind giant who, let him but wax unbound, would make it a sport to seize the pillars that hold up the long-wrought fabric of human good, and turn all the places of joy dark as a buried Babylon.

George Eliot – Daniel Deronda

by their covers

I know I shouldn’t and yet I do.

I judge books by their covers!

I can’t help it, they are so… so… well… manipulative!

The best covers know exactly how to attract the eye, they know how to express themselves – some are warm and cuddly, some dark and mysterious, some are just beautiful and make you fall in love with them. I could almost marry some covers.

The ones that get me most often are the ones that suggest there’s a better life just within reach. These covers reach right into me and press the ‘green with envy button’.

I want it. All of it. Now. Gimmie!

What do I want?

It. That indefinable other which can never be had.

Book covers. The provocative, the enticing, the deceitful and the delicious. They play havoc with my emotions.

A picture of a woman on a jetty – it’s just a suggestion, a splash of light and colour –  my brain does the rest, it creates a world around this cover.  For a moment I capture the ease and beauty of a better world… and then it goes. Poof!

But now I own the book and must go beyond its cover to see whether the cover designer was honest, to see whether I receive what was promised. Sometimes I discover that the designer cannot have read the book and I have been tricked. Other times, the designer has failed for other reasons.

I used to know a grumpy bookseller who used to say that the only Art left in modern book publishing was to be found in the cover design. He would then add, ’cause there certainly isn’t any Art in the writing!

I can’t agree with him. I find that cover art is racing to keep up with modern writing, and that the books inspire the design, by and large.

For too many years book covers were uninspired, dull, dark, or uniformly garish.

I believe modern writing has, in a way, broken free of the book, as it was.

And these new covers, these delicious things, still barely do the writing justice.

As spontaneous as good conversation…

A fiction writer’s memory is an especially imperfect provider of detail; we can always imagine a better detail than the one we remember. The correct detail is rarely, exactly, what happened; the most truthful detail is what could have happened, or what should have. Half my life is an act of revision; more than half the act is performed with small changes. Being a writer is a strenuous marriage between careful observation and just as carefully imagining the truths you haven’t had the opportunity to see. The rest is the necessary, strict toiling with the language; for me this means writing and rewriting the sentences until they sound as spontaneous as good conversation.

John Irving, Trying to Save Piggy Sneed, 1982.

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

When you love Jane Austen, Charles Dickens and George Eliot, and love to talk about their work, there comes a day when someone recommends that you read Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell.

Recommendations are funny things, if they come at the right moment, and that ‘right’ moment is impossible to define, you may pick up the book immediately and read it without prejudice. If a recommendation comes at the wrong moment, the recommendation will be forgotten, with no judgement recorded.

However, if a recommendation comes from someone we do not like, or, more importantly, we do not respect, the recommendation will be remembered, but the book will be associated with all that is wrong with the world and, henceforth, will be avoided like the plague.

My experience of Mrs Elizabeth Gaskell started badly. Those who recommended her were, more often than not, from a peculiar group – the lovers of Jane Austen who maintain that Georgette Heyer should be considered Austen’s equal.

Jane Austen’s genius, like Shakespeare’s, is that she is accessible to all. In her novels, some find a mirror, seeing only themselves in fancy dress reflected, while others find Continue reading

A chance to star in a Popular Penguins photo shoot

Calling all Darwin and Canberra residents. The first 75 of you to register, will have a shot at five minutes of fame. Yep, your YouTube debut may be just around the corner.

As part of Penguin’s 75th birthday, Penguin is releasing another 75 books each dressed in those comfy orange and cream jackets. The books come out in July but the range will not be revealed until March 16. On that day, there will be a photo shoot where 75 people from locations all around Australia do the orange and cream thing in front of the cameras.

The registration form, and preliminary shooting dates for Darwin and Canberra, are available here. There are still a few places left in Hobart. The other capital city spots have all been snaffled.

Meanwhile, if you just need a popular Penguin fix and you can’t wait until July, click here. And at under $10 each they are so much better value than those ridiculously expensive popular Penguin mugs that are floating around!


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