EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Gary Shteyngart, author of Little Failure, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Little Failure

A Memoir

by Gary Shteyngart

Gary Shteyngart‘s loving but mismatched parents dreamed that he would become a lawyer, or at least an accountant, something their distracted son was simply not cut out to do. Fusing English and Russian, his mother created the term Failurchka-‘Little Failure’-which she applied to her son. With love. Mostly.

A candid and deeply poignant story of a Soviet family’s trials and tribulations, and of their escape in 1979 to the consumerist promised land of the USA, Little Failure is also an exceptionally funny account of the author’s transformation from asthmatic toddler in Leningrad to 40-something Manhattanite with a receding hairline and a memoir to write.

‘Gary Shteyngard delivers big time with Little Failure. Told with fearlessness, wisdom and the wit that you’d expect from one of America’s funniest novelists.’ Carl Hiaasen

About the Author

Gary Shteyngart was born in Leningrad in 1972. In 2007 he was named one of Granta’s Best Young American novelists. His debut The Russian Debutante’s Handbook was widely acclaimed (and won the National Jewish Book Award for Fiction), as were his second, Absurdistan (one of the 10 Best Books of the Year in the New York Times) and Super Sad True Love Story (which won the Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse Prize). He writes regularly for the New Yorker.

Grab a copy of Little Failure here

The Booktopia Buzz Evolves

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Booktopia is proud to present a special podcast edition of the January Buzz with Caroline Baum.

Click here to download and get the latest in book reviews and tips for the new year.

You can visit Caroline Baum’s Booktopia page here for other great recommendations, news and authors interviews.

To subscribe to the Buzz or any of our many other newsletters click here

Caroline Baum Wrap-Up: All About Me

Caroline Baum’s author interviews have been one of the biggest highlights of our year at Booktopia. Join us as we revisit the best interviews of 2013, and perhaps discover a new favourite author along the way.

Writing a memoir is something of a balancing act; trying to reveal as much as possible, without oversharing or overexposing those involved. It also requires a great deal of vulnerability and a knack for picking up on the small details which make day-to-day events interesting. Each of the authors in this post share their thoughts on that process with sincerity and self-awareness, which makes for seriously fascinating viewing.

all-good-thingsSarah Turnbull- “All Good Things”

I grew up in a French-speaking suburb of Sydney, and Sarah Turnbull’s Almost French was something of a bible for parents navigating cross-cultural relationships. Sarah is back with All Good Things, which recounts Sarah and Frédéric’s move from Paris to idyllic Tahiti. It takes something very special to be able to recount your own personal story in a way that makes for good reading, and Sarah has perfected that art. She opens up with characteristic candor in our interview below.

Best quote:  “I didn’t want to write another personal book, or I thought I didn’t want to write another personal book. So I did fight this book… I’ve it heard said that it’s the book that you fight the most that you most need to write.”

Click here for more details

Check out Caroline’s interview below:

Pick up a copy of All Good Things today

a-history-of-silenceLloyd Jones- “A History of Silence”

Lloyd Jones is a simply phenomenal writer, and this interview demonstrates exactly why. In his earnest, softly-spoken sentences you can see the bare bones of his beautiful prose. Similiarly to Sarah and Brendan, he holds nothing back from Caroline’s questions and answers very personal questions with honesty and insight. A must-see interview from a must-read author.     

Best quote - “It could be just a face filled with gloom standing on a railway train platform, and it’ll have an echoing sense of recognition for me, I’ll think ‘I know that feeling, that look.’ Actually, in the case of Wales it always seemed to be gloom and a kind of a… vacancy.”

Click here for more details

Check out Caroline’s interview below:

Pick up a copy of A History of Silence today

Brendan Ward – “The Beethoven Obsession”the-beethoven-obsession

What is the difference between a personal experience and an engaging tale? In this interview, Brendan explains that timing and luck are the necessary ingredients, both of which were present in his quest to record Beethoven’s music in Australia for the first time.

Best quote - “That’s what makes such an amazing story because of all these serendipitous events that happened in the nineties in the lead up to the Olympics. Had it not been for the Olympics… it may not have had the same gloss, because everything around Sydney had cachet.”

Click here for more details

Check out Caroline’s interview below:

Pick up a copy of The Beethoven Obsession today

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Richie Lovett, Author, former Pro-Surfer, and Cancer Survivor, talks to Caroline Baum

The Big Sea

by Richie Lovett & Sean Doherty

‘Richie is one of the most inspiring people I’ve ever met, and his story is testament to the healing power of the ocean.’ Kelly Slater

Richie Lovett might be the world s unluckiest surfer . . . or its luckiest. We re not quite sure which.

He’s been attacked by a shark, washed into the Indonesian jungle by a tsunami, before finally being diagnosed with cancer. Unlucky? Possibly. One thing we know for sure, Richie Lovett is a survivor; he’s still here today, and what hasn ‘t killed him has only made him stronger.

When doctors told him the cancer in his leg was buried so deep he’d never surf again, Richie one of the world’s best surfers begged to differ. After radical surgery to rebuild his leg, Rich set about the challenge of learning to surf all over again, discovering plenty about life, and himself, in the process.

The Big Sea is one of sport s most inspiring stories. But you don t have to be a surfer or a sportsperson to know what it feels like to confront challenges. This is vital reading for anyone who s had to face adversity or felt like they were about to be wiped out.

Engagingly honest, Richie Lovett shows us that attitude is everything.

Grab a copy of The Big Sea: One Man’s Inspirational Story here

Kathryn Heyman, author of Floodline, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

floodlinesThe Booktopia Book Guru asks

Kathryn Heyman

author of Floodline

Ten Terrifying Questions


1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I grew up in New South Wales, mainly in Lake Macquarie, where I sailed, kayaked and swam – pleasures that continue to sustain me. I was the youngest child of five, in a single parent household and I was both the wild one and the precociously studious one, which must have been an infuriating combination for those around me.  As a student I headed off to the UK and stayed for well over a decade, studying, writing, falling in love, getting married and then, later, having babies. The wildness had been massaged out of me by then. Most of it, anyway.

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Caroline Baum Presents: Caro’s Holiday Reads

I’m going away for the whole month of October and will not be writing the Buzz for November, so you get a break from me. Instead, the Buzz will be in John Purcell’s capable hands.

So for the first time this year I get to choose the books  that are going with me on the basis of pleasure – or at least anticipated pleasure.

In case you are interested in what is coming with me here is the list…


by Jo Baker

I love Jo Baker’s clever idea of telling the story of Pride and Prejudice from the point of the view of the servants to the Bennett family.

If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats, Sarah thought, she would be more careful not to trudge through muddy fields. It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and bleeding. Domestic life below stairs, ruled tenderly and forcefully by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of…read more

The Examined Life

by Stephen Grosz

I’ve heard great things about this books from many different sources and yet it has not made a ripple here. Stephen Grosz is US psychoanalyst. In this book which someone said brought together the best of Chekhov and Oliver Sacks, he writes about the power of storytelling in every day life and  the importance of talking, listening and understanding. Reviews all promise absorbing  accounts of his own cases and plenty of wisdom.

We are all storytellers – we make stories to make sense of our lives. But it is not enough to tell tales. There must be someone to listen.

In his work as a practising psychoanalyst, Stephen Grosz has spent the last twenty-five years uncovering the hidden feelings behind our most baffling behaviour. The Examined Life distils over 50,000 hours of conversation into pure psychological insight, without the…read more

A Death in the Family

by Karl Ove Knausgaard

The first volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s six part autobiography My Struggle is, so far, no exercise in narcissism as you might fear. I am halfway through it, loving its honesty despite its density and already committed to reading volume two, A Man in Love.

In this utterly remarkable novel Karl Ove Knausgaard writes with painful honesty about his childhood and teenage years, his infatuation with rock music, his relationship with his loving yet almost invisible mother and his distant and unpredictable father, and his bewilderment and grief on his father’s death.

When Karl Ove becomes a father himself, he must balance the…read more


by Christos Tsiolkas

The long awaited and hugely anticipated new novel from Christos Tsiolkas is a nice fat book for the plane.  All I know is that it’s about a competitive swimmer and asks all the important questions about the meaning  of success and failure.

His whole life, Danny Kelly’s only wanted one thing: to win Olympic gold. Everything he’s ever done-every thought, every dream, every action-takes him closer to that moment of glory, of vindication, when the world will see him for what he is: the fastest, the strongest and the best. His life has been a preparation for that moment.

His parents struggle to send him to the most prestigious private school with the finest swimming program; Danny loathes it there and is…read more

The Flamethrowers

by Rachel Kushner

She’s the current It Girl of US  fiction. Having seen Rrachel Kushner read from and talk about this debut novel in NY earlier this year, I can see why.  She’s cool and smart and my husband who  has already read this compared her with Delillo, which is a big  call, I think the word he used on finishing it was’ dazzling’. She writes about the Italian Red Brigades, motorcycles (which she rides) and the art world. What’s not to like? I hear a rumour she’ll be visiting us next year so I want to be ready.

The year is 1977 and Reno – so called because of the place of her birth – has come to New York intent on turning her fascination with motorcycles and speed into art. Her arrival coincides with an explosion of activity in the art world – artists have colonised a deserted and industrial SoHo, are squatting in the…read more

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

by Ann Patchett

I’m looking forward to this memoir of life as a daughter, wife, friend and writer, especially since Elizabeth Gilbert tells me the two have corresponded for nearly a decade. Patchett’s colourful experience includes training for the LAPD and starting her own bookshop in Nashville. If her previous books are anything to go by, this will be a book full of sharp observation and emotional intelligence.

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage is an irresistible blend of literature and memoir revealing the big experiences and little moments that shaped Ann Patchett as a daughter, wife, friend and writer. Here, Ann Patchett shares entertaining and moving stories about her tumultuous childhood, her painful early…read more

Have a great time while I am gone and see you back at the Buzz for December!

Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

She has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National.

You can follow her on twitter at @mscarobaum

From Brooklyn to Big Sur – From Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum lets us in on her amazing bookish US adventure

Good to see Anna Funder settled in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a street that feels like something out of Henry James. It was used to shoot a TV adaptation of Dickens’ A Winter’s Tale a few months ago, and they laid down fake snow. Each house has an individual gas lamp in its front yard. I have no idea why, but it certainly creates a special ambiance.

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Fifty Shades: The Musical – An 18+ post from Bookopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum is on assignment in the Big Apple. She shares an experience of musically titillating proportions.

So I’m in New York flicking through the show listings in Time Out when an off-Broadway musical catches my eye. Its called Cuff Me, which also works when you say the first word backwards.

I book a ticket online, managing to score the last one for opening night. Imagine my complete  disbelief when I get to the theatre and discover that the Actors Temple is not a jumped up version of the Actors Studio, it is exactly what it says it is: a synagogue.

Feeling like I’m in a Seinfeld dream sequence (George invites Jerry to a smutty show only to discover its at the local shul, where they are greeted by the rabbi who turns out to be Elaine in disguise) I find myself surrounded by a party of women speaking loudly in Hebrew. But there are also quite a few couples there. One man has bought tickets for his partner as a gift.

“Surprised?” he asks her.
“With you, never,” she purrs, stroking his chest.

Unlike a traditional service at conservative synagogues, at least men and women get to sit together.

The set is pretty simple, three panels on wheels festooned with various sex toys including a double ended dildo that looks a bit like a boomerang.

There is a cast of four, two men, two women (Tina Jensen, who plays our heroine’s friend Kate and her inner goddess was outstandingly energetic in her broad  lewdness) and they are hugely competent singers and movers, as you’d expect in this city and while the lyrics are not consistently sharp in their savagery they are very adult, explicit and completely trash the book.

Tunes are borrowed and distorted, with apologies to Mamma Mia, Britney and Beyonce (a spirited All You Horny Ladies with the gesture of putting a ring on it substituted with page turning). There is an effective abuse of If I were A Rich Man and Hey Big Spender for good measure. And while there is warning about the strobe effect, there is no warning about the language which is as raunchy as it gets (a sample lyric : ‘ I wanted to finger your butthole with mayonnaise’).


The only literary wink is that the lawyer who negotiates the contract Anastasia signs with Christian is called Willy Blowman. Oh and there are some references to the Twilight saga.

Crude? You bet.

Unauthorised? Ooh yeah, baby.

I’m tempted to say it was spankingly good, and a surefire hit. There, I just said it.


Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director and a journalist and broadcaster, working as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National.

She is a regular contributor to national newspapers and magazines and is in demand as a presenter at arts and literary festivals around the country and overseas.

You can follow Caroline on twitter at @mscarobaum

Booktopia TV: Caroline Baum interviews award-winning writer Ashley Hay

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum sat down with award-winner Ashley Hay to discuss her new book The Railwayman’s Wife.

In a small town on the land’s edge, in the strange space at a war’s end, a widow, a poet and a doctor each try to find their own peace, and their own new story.

In Thirroul, in 1948, people chase their dreams through the books in the railway’s library. Anikka Lachlan searches for solace after her life is destroyed by a single random act. Roy McKinnon, who found poetry in the mess of war, has lost his words and his hope. Frank McKinnon is trapped by the guilt of those his treatment and care failed on their first day of freedom. All three struggle with the same question: how now to be alive.

Written in clear, shining prose and with an eloquent understanding of the human heart, The Railwayman’s Wife explores the power of beginnings and endings, and how hard it can be sometimes to tell them apart. It’s a story of life, loss and what comes after; of connection and separation, longing and acceptance. Most of all, it celebrates love in all its forms, and the beauty of discovering that loving someone can be as extraordinary as being loved yourself.

Click here to buy The Railwayman’s Wife from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

About the Author

Ashley Hay is the author of four books of non-fiction – The Secret: The strange marriage of Annabella Milbanke and Lord Byron, Gum: The story of eucalypts and their champions, and Herbarium and Museum with the visual artist Robyn Stacey. A former literary editor of The Bulletin, her essays and short stories have also appeared in anthologies and journals including Brothers and Sisters, The Monthly, Heat and The Griffith Review. Ashley’s first novel, The Body in the Clouds was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers Prize ‘Best First Book’ (South-East Asia and Pacific region) and the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards.

Click here to buy The Railwayman’s Wife from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore

Caroline Baum on book covers

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum shares her thoughts on book design today.

Have you noticed how many book covers these days are not so much designed as cut and pasted?

They all seem to be afflicted with a common disease: Getty-itis. Everybody is sourcing images from the same ginormous photo library and it’s producing a kind of sameness, a lack of aesthetic diversity that is making books hard to tell apart.

Please don’t get me wrong: I love the power of photography, its ability to arrest us with an image that can shock or seduce. But let’s be honest, this is the cheap option, driven by budgetary concerns. Of course it saves time if you don’t have to hire a designer to come up with a concept from scratch. Just choosing an image and adding a title and author’s name in a groovy font does not make you stand out from the crowd. It’s not the way to demonstrate a distinctive style.

Zadie Smith's eye-catching cover for NW received critical praise

Zadie Smith’s eye-catching cover for NW received critical praise

An anecdotal survey of the books on my desk reveals that Getty Images have supplied the photographs for ninety per cent of contemporary fiction titles published here. It’s an easy to use source, and the selection on offer is bewilderingly large but somehow that range does not translate into making the books as appealing as they used to be. Remember when covers really caught your eye thanks to talents like Gayna Murphy and Mary Callahan? Publishers like McPhee Gribble really championed books that looked good and forged a distinctive identity in the market place. Today it’s really only the exxy coffee table books and cookbooks that get the same amount of care and thought lavished on their design, because their higher price can justify it.

The cover expresses all that perfectly, suggesting the story’s mystery and complexity.

Maybe that’s why I noticed a really deliberately designed cover: Claire Messud’s The Woman Upstairs could so easily have been illustrated with a photograph but it would never have had the same magnetic attraction or echoed the book’s artistic theme so eloquently. I love the way the very European looking spiral staircase becomes an eye because observing and seeing are so central to this marvellously punchy, knowing and yes, clear-eyed book. The cover expresses all that perfectly, suggesting the story’s mystery and complexity. It amplifies the writer’s intentions and really stands out from the crowd, honouring the quality of the writing.

Book design is another area where the internet is clearly having an impact. Some colours looks less appealing on screen (hmm, brown…). Textured embellishments are obviously redundant until the book reaches the customer’s actual hands when a bit of embossing can add immeasurably to the pleasure of handling. I want books to be beautiful as well as good to read. I think we all do. What do you think? And what’s your favourite book cover?


Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

She has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National.

You can follow her on twitter at @mscarobaum


Here are some great covers, which are your favourites?

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