Never Mind the Bollocks – Here are Andrew’s Favourite Books of 2014

Favourite BooksThe downside of working in such an exciting place that is growing faster than rhubarb in the dark (look it up, it’s a thing) is that because you’re always on your toes, always being presented with new challenges…

…you’re always trying to find the precious time to read.

But never fear. I’ve managed to squeeze in some fantastic books this year, and I think I’d share my 10 favourite ones with you.

So here they are.


loyal-creaturesLoyal Creatures

by Morris Gleitzman

I read Loyal Creatures the night before interviewing Morris Gleitzman for Booktopia TV. I was terrified at the prospect of grilling one of my childhood heroes. Within a few pages I completely lost myself in the book.

It’s a gorgeous read, another incredible effort from Gleitzman, and I genuinely had to hold back tears at the end of the book.

Click here for more about Loyal Creatures


the-sex-lives-of-siamese-twinsThe Sex Lives of Siamese Twins

by Irvine Welsh

You really should find time to read this caustic gem from Irvine Welsh, although perhaps not at the gym, or an organic cafe, or while watching The Biggest Loser. I say that because Welsh shines his light on the world of militant self-improvement and you may not recover in time.

If you’ve read Welsh, you know what to expect and won’t be disappointed. The only surprise will be just how much he’s matured as a writer, how adept he’s become at taking on the voice of his characters. Sometimes it only takes a mirror to see just how bizarre the world is becoming.

Click here for more about The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins


your-fathers-where-are-they-and-the-prophets-do-they-live-forever-Your Fathers, Where are They?

by Dave Eggers

The full name of Dave Eggers’ work is Your Fathers, Where are They? And the Prophets, Do They Live Forever? Such is his sense of humour I suspect he’s put together this ridiculously long title just to make end of year lists awkward. In fact I’m sure that’s why, and I love him all the more for it.

Made up entirely of dialogue, Your Fathers shines a light in uncomfortable corners while being raucously funny in many places. It’s an easy read in a sense, the real work comes from the time you have to yourself after reading it, reflecting on the world Eggers toys with. If you watch the news and don’t know whether to laugh or cry, this is the book for you.

Click here for more about Your Fathers, Where are They?


a-little-historyA Little History

by Bleddyn Butcher

If the inclusion of this in my ‘best of’ list wasn’t a big enough clue, I’m a pretty gigantic Nick Cave fan. A Little History is an intimate look at the career of Cave and his closest collaborators over the years.

It’s easy to forget how long Nick Cave has been on the scene, his music has always been so innovative and relevant throughout the years. This is a must have for all Birthday Party, Bad Seeds, and Grinderman fans. Cavesters will know what I’m talking about.

Click here for more about A Little History


colorless-tsukuru-tazaki-and-his-years-of-pilgrimageColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage

by Haruki Murakami

I include this in my list with a caveat. You see I was not, as so many others professed to being, disappointed by Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimage. The reason is simple, if a little bit of a backhand to Murakami.

I don’t consider him to be a truly great writer.

I think he’s good, very good in fact. Norwegian Wood is one of my favourite books. I don’t, however, think he’s an immortal of the craft. If you are expecting Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki to be one of the one of the finest works of literature created, it’s not. That work only happens once in a generation.

Books are best enjoyed if you’re able to separate the work from the creator, unburden yourself from the shackles of expectation and enjoy the book purely for what is between the covers. If you do that, I’ve no doubt you’ll love Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Year of Pilgrimage, the themes of loneliness and belonging that it ponders, and agree with me that it is comfortably one of the best books of 2014.

Click here for more about Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki


foreign-soilForeign Soil

by Maxine Beneba Clarke

I was privileged to have had the opportunity to not just meet Maxine Beneba Clarke, but interview her for Booktopia TV. It was in the middle of a busy Sydney Writer’s Festival but her energy and enthusiasm for the craft of writing was amazing. I’ve read many short story collections this year, but Foreign Soil was my favourite.

Putting aside just how wonderful her prose is, how seamless her transition between characters and voices is, so much of Beneba Clarke’s stories are for the voiceless and the downtrodden. I’ve no doubt she will fast become one of Australia’s most influential and important writers. I can’t wait to read more from her.

Click here for more about Foreign Soil


lists-of-noteLists of Note

by Shaun Usher

In case you forgot, what you are reading is a list. In all likelihood only my mother and my year 7 English teacher thinks it is of note.

I love lists, I adore High Fidelity almost entirely for the constant lists. I can’t get enough of them, and it seems some of history’s most important figures feel the same way. If there was a museum dedicated to lists (if there isn’t already) this book would be the guidebook. I lost myself for hours in this incredible collection, dedicated entirely to the list.

There’s a list of ‘available names’ Charles Dickens compiled for possible characters in his fiction, Galileo’s list of parts needed to build his telescope, a list of dream lovers a pre-fame Marilyn Monroe wrote with a friend. Quite literally, the lists go on. I absolutely adore this unique collection.

Click here for more about Lists of Note


my-salinger-yearMy Salinger Year

by Joanna Rakoff

For me, my love of books expands far beyond the reading and writing. I’m intrigued by every aspect of their creation. The life of a writer, the printing process, the cover design, the editing process, acquisition meetings…

…and of course, the literary agency responsible for making and breaking so many writers.

This is a beautiful, funny, and at times melancholy look into the world of a New York literary agency in the early 90s, desperately trying to hold onto the ideals of the past. There are long lunches, huge slush piles and not a computer in sight. Oh, and did I mention J.D. Salinger rings occasionally? One for the real booklovers.

Click here for more about My Salinger Year


not-that-kind-of-girlNot That Kind of Girl

by Lena Dunham

How did she do it? How can Lena Dunham have all those expectations and all that money thrown at her (a rumoured advance of over $4mil), and somehow manage to write a brilliantly raw and honest memoir before she’s even turned 30?

I loved Not That Kind of Girl. It reminded me of how important brutal honesty is in any kind of writing, let alone memoirs. It establishes a theme and, despite what seems like endless digressions, never loses its footing. It’s an amazing piece of work. Shockingly funny like few books I’ve read. Incredible stuff.

Click here for more about Not That Kind of Girl


golden-boysGolden Boys

by Sonya Hartnett

Golden Boys is the best novel I’ve read in 2014. There, I said it. I admired Sonya Hartnett’s writing before, now I idolise it. A tender, and at times savage, exploration of lost innocence, told from the eyes of a small group of children in the suburbs of Australia.

Please, I’m begging you, grab a copy of this book and read it. It’s extraordinary. Don’t be put off by the tough subject matter, this is what fiction is for. Exploring worlds we dare not explore ourselves, hearing stories we’d usually shield our ears from. Last year I called The Narrow Road to the Deep North the best novel I’d read for the year, and I’m doing the same for Golden Boys in 2014. A remarkable book.

Click here for more about Golden Boys

Janella Purcell visits Booktopia – Signed copies available!

Janella Purcell lives the life we all want to lead. Healthy, happy and full of food!

She made a special trip from the Mid-North Coast to Booktopia to sign some copies of her bestselling new book Janella’s Super Natural Foods and teach our Incompetent Cook a thing or two about the most important meal of the day, Breakfast!

Janella is all about making food that is healthy AND easy, with over 150 recipes and countless variations for vegetarians, vegans and even plain old omnivores.

Kickstart your New Year with Janella’s Super Natural Foods, we certainly will be!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

janella-s-super-natural-foods-signed-copies-available-Janella’s Super Natural Foods

Keeping it deliciously simple is Janella’s healthy food philosophy. Using many superfoods and grains, she has created over 150 fantastic recipes that the whole family will love.

Superfoods. Food as medicine. Supergrains. Fermented foods. Wholefoods. Keep it simple.

In Janella’s Super Natural Foods every recipe will help you to achieve better health and beauty.

With over 150 delicious recipes for healthy breakfasts, lunches, dinners, desserts, snacks, drinks and sauces, Janella uses wholefoods to satisfy everyone. A dynamic mix of superfoods and a good old-fashioned plant-based diet, Janella’s philosophy of using food as medicine is simple and easy to follow.

Many of the recipes have been influenced by Janella’s travels to Italy, Japan, India, the Middle East and South East Asia – healthy food has never been so tantalising nor so easy to create in your kitchen. Clearly marked throughout with symbols for gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, dairy-free, raw, soy-free, nut-free or grain-free, each recipe also contains alternative ingredient suggestions to please all your friends and family.

As a talented naturopath, nutritionist, wellness coach, herbalist and environmentalist, Janella Purcell is eager to share her wealth of knowledge and experience. Her passion for cooking and keeping things simple means that staying healthy has never been easier.

Grab your copy of Janella’s Super Natural Foods here

Will Richard Flanagan win the Man Booker?

I can be a little bitter sometimes…

Around this time last year I finished Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North and immediately shouted to the world “THIS WILL WIN THE MILES FRANKLIN!”

the-narrow-road-to-the-deep-northI told everyone who would listen, swelling with literary priggishness, waving them away when they offered up other worthy winners.

“No” I would say.

“You’ve got it all wrong.”

“I mean have you even read it?”

“And if you have, I mean, did you really read it, or just, you know, read it?”

Imagine my horror when, in June this year, The Narrow Road to the Deep North lost out to Evie Wyld’s bold sophomore novel All the Birds, Singing.

You live and die by your literary recommendations, and while Wyld’s talent and bravery is well worth rewarding, I couldn’t help thinking the judges had made a huge mistake, turning away the opportunity to recognise a truly great Australian novel with Australia’s greatest literary honour.

Fast forward four months and I’m sitting here typing with a smug look on my face.

all-the-birds-singingWell, more smug than usual.

Soon the winner of the 2014 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced, and who do we find sitting equal favourite with the bookies?

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

Perhaps it is poor form that, on the birthday of Miles Franklin, I find myself willing Flanagan to the prize because of my own hubris, but getting a book recommendation wrong stings. Just ask Oprah.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North is an extraordinary novel from one of Australia’s finest writers at the top of their game. It crosses generations and continents. It’s about love and lust, bravery and cowardice, friendship and betrayal. In a strong field, it’s a very worthy winner.

So at around 7:30am tomorrow morning when, touch wood, Richard Flanagan becomes the fourth Australian to win the Man Booker Prize think of me in my living room, punching the air like I’ve won it myself.

You see, as much as I want another Australian win, I really just want him to get up for one reason.

I was right all along.

You see…

…I can be a little bitter sometimes…


Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

The Incompetent Cook Road Tests… Tex-Mex from Scratch by Jonas Cramby

Every week Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach reviews a cookbook.

He is an incompetent cook.

He is The Incompetent Cook.


Tex-Mex from Scratch

by Jonas Cramby

It’s time for another instalment of The Incompetent Cook. This week he road tests Tex-Mex from Scratch by Jonas Cramby. Scroll down to see how you could win a Weber Smokey Mountain Cooker valued at $699!

tex-mex-from-scratch-order-now-for-your-chance-to-win-

It’s been a busy few months for The Incompetent Cook. But now it’s time to do what I do best.

Burn things and tell you about it.

From the first moment I saw Tex-Mex from Scratch I was enthralled. And then I saw its accompanying piece Texas BBQ and I fell in love. What can I say, they had me at smoked meat.

In my travels I have been to Texas. I enjoyed it immensely and was particularly taken by how many animals they found went with hot sauce. And while I haven’t been to Mexico, I am a longtime admirer of Doritos. I decided to give Tex-Mex’s Shrimp Taquitos a try.
Continue reading

Great Opening Lines in Literature

“They say you can tell a lot about a book by its first line.”
- Andrew Cattanach, This Blog Post


“Mother died today. Or maybe yesterday; I can’t be sure.”
– Albert Camus, The Stranger


“Far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy lies a small unregarded yellow sun.”
– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy


“Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.”
– Jane Austen, Emma


“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife. However little known the feelings or views of such a man may be on his first entering a neighbourhood, this truth is so well fixed in the minds of the surrounding families, that he is considered as the rightful property of some one or other of their daughters.”
– Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice


“Dr Iannis had enjoyed a satisfactory day in which none of his patients had died or got any worse.”
– Louis de Bernieres, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin


“It was a pleasure to burn.”
– Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451


“Who’s there?”
– William Shakespeare, Hamlet


“I have just returned from a visit to my landlord–the solitary neighbour that I shall be troubled with. This is certainly a beautiful country! In all England, I do not believe that I could have fixed on a situation so completely removed from the stir of society.”
– Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights


“Alice was beginning to get very tired of sitting by her sister on the bank, and of having nothing to do: once or twice she had peeped into the book her sister was reading, but it had no pictures or conversations in it, `and what is the use of a book,’ thought Alice `without pictures or conversation?'”
– Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland


“The drought had lasted now for ten million years, and the reign of the terrible lizards had long since ended. Here on the Equator, in the continent which would one day be known as Africa, the battle for existence had reached a new climax of ferocity, and the victor was not yet in sight.”
– Arthur C. Clarke, 2001: A Space Odyssey


“Midway in our life’s journey, I went astray from the straight road and woke to find myself alone in a dark wood.”
– Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy, Inferno


“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.”
– Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities


“James Bond, with two double bourbons inside him, sat in the final departure lounge of Miami Airport and thought about life and death.”
– Ian Fleming, Goldfinger


“When Farmer Oak smiled, the corners of his mouth spread till they were within an unimportant distance of his ears, his eyes were reduced to chinks, and diverging wrinkles appeared round them, extending upon his countenance like the rays in a rudimentary sketch of the rising sun.”
– Thomas Hardy, Far from the Madding Crowd


“It was love at first sight. The first time Yossarian saw the chaplain he fell madly in love with him.”
– Joseph Heller, Catch-22


“A squat grey building of only thirty-four stories. Over the main entrance the words, CENTRAL LONDON HATCHERY AND CONDITIONING CENTRE, and in a shield, the World State’s motto, COMMUNITY, IDENTITY, STABILITY.”
– Aldous Huxley, Brave New World


“As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect.”
– Franz Kafka, The Metamorphosis


“It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen. Winston Smith, his chin nuzzled into his breast in an effort to escape the vile wind, slipped quickly through the glass doors of Victory Mansions, though not quickly enough to prevent a swirl of gritty dust from entering along with him.”
– George Orwell, 1984


“On they went, singing ‘Eternal Memory’, and whenever they stopped, the sound of their feet, the horses and the gusts of wind seemed to carry on their singing.”
– Boris Pasternak, Doctor Zhivago


“It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn’t know what I was doing in New York.”
– Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


“I began this disorderly and almost endless collection of scattered thoughts and observations in order to gratify a good mother who knows how to think.”
– Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Emile


“Two households, both alike in dignity,
In fair Verona, where we lay our scene,
From ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.”
– William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet


“The year 1866 was signalized by a remarkable incident, a mysterious and inexplicable phenomenon, which doubtless no one has yet forgotten.”
– Jules Verne, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea


“The Time Traveller (for so it will be convenient to speak of him) was expounding a recondite matter to us.”
– H.G. Wells, The Time Machine


Know a great opening line we’ve missed? Share it in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: Golden Boys by Sonya Hartnett (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

And as the boys crowd at the door catching their breath in amazement, Colt sees it all, suddenly, for what it is. His father spends money not merely on making his sons envied, but on making them – and the word seems to tip the floor – enticing.

golden-boysWith Golden Boys, Sonya Hartnett has surely established herself as one of the finest Australian novelists of her generation, nearly twenty years after making her name as one of our most celebrated children’s authors.

It is her skills as a children’s writer that makes her latest novel so penetrating. Her understanding of a child’s psyche, their motivations and how they interact with one another.

Golden Boys is told through several children’s eyes with an adult tongue, a small group of children whose lives are shaken when a wealthy new family moves into their working class suburb. The family’s two young boys, Colt and Bastian, have spent their lives inexplicably moving from place to place, school to school. As Colt grows older, he begins to realise why.

This is an Australia we all know, from the searing asphalt to the prickly nature strips. The only thing more unsettling than the things that lurk behind closed doors are the things that are out in the open we can see, yet choose to do nothing about. Perhaps out of politeness or because we have problems we feel are more pressing, the ramifications of these decisions are often widespread and can be felt for years.

Sonya HartnettHartnett explores a central theme that has run throughout children’s literature for centuries – freedom. From Huckleberry Finn to Jasper Jones, a child’s development and growth is usually the result of freedom. But as Hartnett argues, often this freedom is a result of neglect, not savvy parenting. Freedom from neglect has become a prominent phrase in society, but since the publication of Golden Boys, the danger of the freedom of neglect might now become an important topic when tackling problems children are forced to face.

Without a doubt, Golden Boys is one of the finest novels I’ve read in 2014, and perhaps the best Australian novel of the year so far. Don’t be put off by the heavy territory Hartnett explores. This is an Australian classic in the making, full of rich, diverse characters, strong central themes and masterful prose. Get in early before the awards season rolls around and everyone is talking about this extraordinary work.

Grab a copy of Sonia Hartnett’s Golden Boys here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

BOOK REVIEW: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Haruki Murakami’s quest to honour his literary hero Franz Kafka has resulted in Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, one of his most moving and accessible novels in years.

While Franz Kafka remains best known for his genre-bending novella The Metamorphosis, most will point to his 1925 novel The Trial as his opus, a deeply personal meditation on sex, society and isolation.

Murakami’s latest offering navigates similar waters. A young male protagonist slowly driven to breaking point by, what he perceives to be, an unjust judgement handed down upon him by the people he most cares about.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is as down to earth as Murakami has been for a long time. Talking cats, and vanishing elephants give way to musings on Arnold Wesker, The Pet Shop Boys and Barry Manilow.

When Tsukuru Tazaki is cut off without reason by his circle of high school friends during his sophomore year in college, his world spirals out of control, craving no human interaction and little appetite for food or life, pure hopelessness.

Fast forward twenty years and, despite halting his downward spiral, he is still haunted by those inexplicable events. At his girlfriend’s urging, he tracks down his former friends to get the answer for himself. The journeys he takes turn out to be as much inward as out of town. And as is often the case in Murakami’s fiction, his characters are all about introspection.

murakamiMurakami’s prose has always enthralled me, and Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki is no exception. His overall tone remains one of the most difficult to pin down in literature, with gorgeous flourishes routinely intercepted by the sort of stark language that belongs in an IKEA catalogue. That, however, is his gift. His words pull you this way and that, tenderising you to feel the full weight of a knockout blow.

One passage in particular took my eye, “The branches of a nearby willow tree were laden with lush foliage and drooping heavily, almost to the ground, though they were still, as if lost in deep thought. Occasionally a small bird landed unsteadily on a branch, but soon gave up and fluttered away. Like a distraught mind, the branch quivered slightly, then returned to stillness.”

Is it beautiful, concise simplicity, or simple, concise beauty? That question is itself an allegory for much of Murakami’s body of work.

Taking his devotion for Kafka further in the final pages, Murakami prefers to leave some of the novel’s biggest questions unanswered, a rarity for a writer who so often neglects characters and prose in preference for themes and plot. Perhaps these are questions he can’t answer, or maybe these are questions that should stay with us, lingering, until we journey towards discovery as Tsukuru does.

Many of the questions in The Trial were never answered as Kafka died before the final edits of the book. It still remains a masterpiece, one which Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage will constantly be compared to, in itself the highest of praise.

It has become tradition that, on the eve of the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Japanese bookstores burst at the seams, champagne on ice, fans hoping that Murakami finally gets the nod. The big question is will Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, having already sold millions of copies worldwide, be enough to tip him over the edge?

Another question that, for the moment anyway, remains unanswered.

Grab a copy of Haruki Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog and was recently shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 14,638 other followers

%d bloggers like this: