Six Great Books By Six Great Songwriters

Not since the 60s folk scene have the lines been so brilliantly blurred between music, art and literature. From the extraordinary lyricism of Australian indie rock gods The Drones to the extravagant avant-garde persona of Kanye West, to be a musician is to be a songwriter is to be an artist once again.

And the upside of this? Not only do we get to listen to great music, but also read books from musicians who double as incredibly talented writers. From gritty memoirs to musical anthologies, here’s a collection of great books by musicians written in the last few years. And of course, we play DJ a little bit as well!

Yeah Yeah Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop

by Bob Stanley

Bob Stanley is the driving force behind Pop-Indie-Progressive group Saint-Etienne, and possibly the only person both qualified and crazy enough to have written a detailed history of modern pop music, the magnificently titled Yeah Yeah Yeah. Stanley drifts between artist, critic and casual observer with incredible ease. Obviously, as an account of modern pop music, it’s a big fat book, but that’s what makes it so appealing.

Like pop music, there’s something for everyone. You can read it from the start piously or flick through it again and again, extracting another brilliant nugget from its pages. From The Velvet Underground to ABBA, Yeah Yeah Yeah is the perfect way to start your pop journey with a bang, or continue it with a boom.

 Grab a copy of Yeah Yeah Yeah here

Saint Etienne – Heart Failed in the Back of a Taxi

Fact: Saint Etienne have commissioned LP sleevenotes from the likes of Douglas Coupland, Jeremy Deller and Jon Savage.

Grab a copy of Yeah Yeah Yeah here

Chronicles: Volume 1

by Bob Dylan

Okay, so it’s not exactly a surprise that Bob Dylan would be a phenomenal writer. He’s, in my opinion, the greatest songwriter to ever live and would be a worthy recipient of The Nobel Prize for Literature. But what makes Chronicles: Volume 1 so great? It’s that his voice is different. It’s not the sarcastic and acerbic voice that has dominated much of his work, nor the whiskey tinged croak of regret that has mesmerized us over the last decade. He’s warm, open, and honest.

So many of his finest songs are filled with regret, and yet Chronicles doesn’t so much dwell on his successes and mistakes, but cites them as each a brushstroke in the giant mural of his early life. A beautiful book, with Volume 2 hopefully on the way soon.

Grab a copy of Chronicles: Volume 1 here

Bob Dylan – Desolation Row

Lyric: And Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot/Fighting in the captain’s tower/While calypso singers laugh at them/And fishermen hold flowers

Grab a copy of Chronicles: Volume 1 here

Romany and Tom

by Ben Watt

Ben Watt was one half of Everything But The Girl. Commonly referred to as one-hit-wonders, they were much, much more than that, a worthy stablemate of Portishead and Massive Attack in the UK’s mid-nineties musical resurgence. This is just a beautiful, beautiful book. Anyone with aging parents will both adore and be haunted by Romany and Tom for the same reasons. It’s so poignant, raw, real and full of love. Watt’s reflections of his parents as they battle to ‘make it work’ are incredibly bittersweet.

He describes a childhood filled with British-Bohemian eccentricities and a love for his parents that perhaps they never shared with eachother. Romany and Tom is a book that will stay with you for days after finishing it, such gorgeous honesty from a wonderful writer.

Grab a copy of Romany and Tom here

Everything But The Girl – Missing

Fact: Ben Watt chose to study at Hull University because Philip Larkin was a librarian there

Grab a copy of Romany and Tom here

Just Kids

by Patti Smith

Patti Smith has me, as she would say somewhat more explicitly, by the you-know-whats. The first time I listened to her seminal album Horses, it knocked my socks off. And in a strange way Just Kids has the exact opposite effect. There’s something warm in her voice, the glow of nostalgia.

Patti Smith came to New York to be a writer, and in the village scene she discovered her true calling, to be a singer-songwriter. Just Kids gives me goosebumps when I read it, it’s so warm and unpretentious, you completely forget that this is Patti Smith writing, the Queen of Punk. Deeply personal and at points riotously funny, Just Kids is a masterpiece.

Grab a copy of Just Kids here

Patti Smith – Gloria

Lyric: Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine

Grab a copy of Just Kids here

The Death of Bunny Munro

by Nick Cave

Again, not breaking news that Nick Cave is a great writer. His first novel And The Ass Saw The Angel was proof of that. But it feels as though The Death of Bunny Munro was the novel he was born to write.

Mixing pop culture references (he apologises to his friend Kylie Minogue in the acknowledgements, for good reason), stunning imagery and a view of the world only Nick Cave could manufacture, The Death of Bunny Munro is a bit of everything. Witty and blunt, dark and light, funny and tragic. It’s a great book you won’t forget in a hurry.

Grab a copy of The Death of Bunny Munro here

Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds – There She Goes my Beautiful World

Lyric: John Willmot penned his poetry/Riddled with the pox/Nabakov wrote on index cards/At a lectern in his socks

Grab a copy of The Death of Bunny Munro here


by Morrissey

With flourishes Oscar Wilde would be proud of, Morrissey’s Autobiography is everything I hoped it would be. One of the most innovative lyricists of his generation, Morrissey, both as a solo artist and with The Smiths, were the driving force behind the resurgence of British music in the 1990′s, with his rich lyrics juxtaposed perfectly with the jangling blue collar sounds of Johnny Marr’s guitar.

Autobiography is full of wonderful lines about growing up in the dank, dark world of working-class Manchester, with razor-sharp wit on every page and some scores settled gracefully along the way.

Grab a copy of Autobiography here

The Smiths – Cemetry Gates

Lyric: A dreaded sunny day/So I meet you at the cemetry gates/Keats and Yeats are on your side/While Wilde is on mine

Grab a copy of Autobiography here

Andrew is a contributor to The Booktopia Blog and has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize. His lack of musical ability continues to disappoint his mother.

You can follow his ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Mark Greig, son of Tony Greig, talks about his new book Tony Greig : Love, War and Cricket

Grab a copy of Tony Greig : Love, War and Cricket here

Tony Greig: Love, War and Cricket

by Mark Greig and Joyce Greig

Tony Greig was a fearless cricketer, a born entertainer, a stalwart friend and a loving son and father. His death in December 2012 was met with an outpouring of grief from friends, family, fans and colleagues alike. Summer in Australia will never be the same.

This enthralling memoir begins in Tony’s birthplace, South Africa, as his mother Joyce embarks on an extraordinary war time love affair with a man not her husband, Sandy Greig. Tony’s life encompassed more than half a century of cricket, from school boy cricket in his beloved South Africa, to his early days in Sussex, through to his captaincy of England. Whether he was loved or hated, on or off the field, all respected the big man’s courageous spirit and skills as an all-rounder. Through his controversial friendship with Kerry Packer and his involvement in World Series Cricket, Tony helped change the game forever. Turning from foe to friend, Tony won over Australian audiences becoming one of the most beloved sports commentators of all time. A legend beyond the cricket pitch, Tony’s enthralling story is told by the people who knew him best, his mother Joyce and his son Mark.

An intriguing and charming family memoir of one of Australia’s favourite adopted sons.

Grab a copy of Tony Greig : Love, War and Cricket here

The Night I Met George R.R. Martin

It’s strange to meet a man who is a God to some, an unknown mortal to others. News that I was meeting George R.R. Martin was met by friends and family with two reactions. One was ‘wow, you’re so lucky’, the other was ‘who is George R.R. Martin?’.

And that is the world of genre fiction. Authors are deified by some, unknown to others. If you’re a fan, you’re more than just a fan. If you aren’t, you nearly go out of your way to proclaim ignorance.

As I write this I realise I’ve put all people into two categories, neither of which I actually fall into. Of course I have heard of George R.R. Martin and I was incredibly excited to meet such a huge cultural figure, a wonderful writer, a magnificent storyteller. At least that’s what I’ve been told. You see…

…I haven’t read any books by George R.R. Martin. I am an observer. I love the TV show. Admire him, absolutely. But read him? No, not for me.

So it was with equal parts excitement and trepidation I made my way, along with John Purcell, Christopher Cahill and our Sci-Fi & Fantasy specialist Mark Timmony, to the offices of George’s Australian publishers, HarperCollins. Our game plan was simple. Meet George.

Typically at these events the talent makes a late appearance to a soundtrack of whispers, but George R.R. Martin isn’t your typical talent. Our wine barely had a chance to breathe before a bearded man in suspenders began to work the room.

George had entered stage left, and even the ushers didn’t notice him.

It’s easy to miss him in a crowd. He’s a little guy, not prone to loud sweeping conversation. He mingled for a while, pretending not to notice the room who in turn pretended not to stare at him. He sipped his drink and nodded humbly as people told him how much they loved his books. He slowly made his way down the far side of the room before finding refuge in a set of chairs and sat down. It was then we were told our time had come.

‘There he is.’

‘He’s sitting down, this is your chance.’

image(5)And so we made our move. We dashed across the floor towards George who had now found himself in conversation with a woman talking so fast with excitement I couldn’t understand what she was saying. I doubt George could either, but he smiled and nodded, raising a glass with her as we stood awkwardly nearby.

Eventually his conversation stopped and he turned to us and put out his hand.

‘Hi, I’m George.’

The conversation was a blur of fantasy references, questions about Booktopia, and Australia’s weather. Christopher and George bonded over their love of J.R.R. Tolkien as John and I took photos of them chatting. It was surreal, being in the company of such an idolised, influential figure. And as quickly as it started, it was over. George still had to press the palms of many more people that night, and we disappeared into the crowd.

So what did we learn from our night with George?

Christopher Cahill meets George

- He has been to Australia quite a few times, both for business and pleasure.

- He has signed 10,000 books since landing here 5 days ago.

- He loves a good champagne.

- His favourite book is Lord of the Rings.

- His biggest influence writing The Song of Ice and Fire Series was the War of the Roses.

- The next book currently has a working title (which has not been finalised) and is close to being finished.

And that was that. After signing a few books and posing for some photos, George left, and soon after so did we.

So what becomes of a casual observer after a chance meeting? It just so happens this morning I put in an order for The Game of Thrones Boxset.

I mean, now that George is a close personal friend, I owe it to him to at least read his stuff, right?

EXCLUSIVE VIDEO: Ricky Ponting Plays His Final Game Of Test Match Cricket At Booktopia

A fact that may baffle statisticians for years to come is that Ricky Ponting didn’t play his final test in Perth.

He actually played his final game of Test Match Cricket in the Booktopia offices, just a few weeks ago, and we have the video to prove it!

Ricky came in to sign 1000 copies of his memoir Ponting: At The Close of Play and sat down to have a chat with Booktopia’s resident cricket nerd Andrew Cattanach. It was then Ricky was challenged to a game of Test Match Cricket.

How did he fare? Watch the video the find out, and also learn a little about Ricky’s early life, the pressures of being labeled ‘the next big thing’, and what captaining his country meant to him.

You can find a copy of Ricky Ponting’s At The Close of Play here

Ponting: At the Close of Play

by Ricky Ponting

Order now for your signed copy

Ricky Ponting is one of the greatest Australian cricketers to have worn the baggy green. His autobiography details his journey from his childhood protégé, to the highs and lows of an extraordinary international cricket career, to retirement.

Test captain of Australia in 2004 until handing the job to Michael Clarke in 2011, he is the highest Australian run-scorer of all time in Tests and one-day international cricket, behind only India’s Sachin Tendulkar among batsmen from all countries. Ricky’s awards in cricket include ICC Player of the Year (twice), Wisden Leading Cricketer in the World, Cricinfo Player of the Decade and Allan Border Medallist (four times). This autobiography of a very private man and one of Australia’s most public figures will resonate with lovers of cricket as well as anyone who strives to reach the top of their chosen field.

Off the field, Ricky and his wife Rianna have raised in excess of $10 million since 2002 to help young Australians and their families beat cancer. In 2008 Ricky and Rianna established the Ponting Foundation to provide focus to their fundraising efforts.

You can find a copy of Ricky Ponting’s At The Close of Play here

The Incompetent Cook Road Tests… Eat In by Anna Gare

Every month Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach reviews a cookbook.

He is an incompetent cook.

He is The Incompetent Cook.

9781742663890Eat In
by Anna Gare

The meals:

Tomato and Pesto Soup

Chermoula Chicken with Harissa & Minted Yoghurt

Lemon and Lime Pudding

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The Incompetent Cook Road Tests… Bill’s Italian Food by Bill Granger

Every couple of weeks Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach reviews a cookbook. He is an Incompetent cook. He is The Incompetent Cook.

Bill’s Italian Food
by Bill Granger

The meals:

Mozzarella, Roasted Capsicum and Caper Pizza

Artichoke and Ham Lasagne

Pistachio and Orange Loaf Cake

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The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane: A Review From Andrew Cattanach

Hindsight is a wonderful thing when reviewing books. But access to the author’s thoughts, well that’s pure gold.

A few days ago we asked Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest, what she hoped people take away with them after reading her work.

I hope people are haunted by the story they’ve just read; that they’re left thinking about trust, dependence, aging, and the ways the past can colonise the present.

I have never read an author who so succinctly summarised my own feelings upon reading their work. For 300 pages I was an unknowing passenger, unaware every emotion stirring inside me was meticulously planned. When I finished the novel I was taken by her skill. Now I’m mesmerised by it.

The Night Guest is the story of Ruth, a recent widower living on the edges of a coastal town. She lives a comfortable yet ultimately unremarkable life, largely defined by her childhood in Fiji with her missionary parents and a lost love from those days.

Ruth’s years begin to catch up with her. Her days fall into one another and she is constantly distracted by thoughts of the past. After she calls her sons one night to tell them she hears a tiger, her sons feel she has become incapable of looking after herself. One day a woman, Frida, turns up at her door. Frida says she is a nurse sent by the government to look after Ruth and as Ruth begrudgingly accepts and the weeks pass, her reliance on Frida begins to grow as her own physical and mental state slowly begins to fall away. But as Frida’s role in Ruth’s life grows, we are left to wonder just what Frida’s true intentions are as Ruth’s mind is increasingly more in the past than the present.

The most brilliant thing about The Night Guest is that I slowly felt as though I had uncovered a hidden subtext, one even the author didn’t realise. I could see tiny cracks in the story, sure only I knew the damage these could ultimately do to the foundations.

But I was wrong. McFarlane knew. She put them there after all.

Haunting is the perfect word to describe it. I’ve spent more time thinking about the book than I did reading it. My own parents are in their seventies, and while a long way from the deterioration Ruth begins to experience, for them a clock ticks with every forgotten name, every misplaced key, and every tired word.

And that’s why I thought I had unlocked a world within the novel that nobody knew existed. That my emotions, my experiences had shaped the story a particular way.

But I was wrong. The Night Guest deals in something we are all slaves to, time.  And while McFarlane pulls the most stirring emotional strings with ease, she tells a poignant, unsettlingly beautiful story that still keeps me up at night.

There was another thing McFarlane said in the interview. She said: A lot of people have told me they call their mothers more often after reading my book.

I called my mother the minute I finished the book, and we talked for hours.

Click here to buy The Night Guest from Booktopia,
Australia’s Local Bookstore


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

Booktopia’s Controversy Corner – Tampa by Alissa Nutting

Alissa Nutting’s Tampa has been one of the most controversial books of 2013. An erotic tale of a hebephilic, sociopathic sexual predator isn’t for everyone.

Some Booktopia Blog regulars take a look and share their thoughts.

Haylee Nash

“Tampa is an enjoyable story when read as just that – a story. Celeste is a character that, despite her obvious moral turpitude, the reader barracks for, as we are brought into her world of falsities, compulsions and addictions. At no point does Celeste experience guilt or hesitance, and while the reader knows her desires are destructive and her actions reprehensible, the forbidden nature of her dalliances and the explicitness of Nutting’s descriptions result in a rather erotic text. In this way, Tampa is similar to its inspirational text, Nabokov’s Lolita.

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The Incompetent Cook Road Tests… What’s For Dinner by Curtis Stone

Welcome to The Incompetent Cook, a cooking blog with a difference.

Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach will road test a new cookbook each week, picking a starter, a main, and a dessert to cook.

He’ll report back on how the dishes fared in his cripplingly unskilled hands.

This week’s challenge for The Incompetent Cook….

What’s For Dinner
by Curtis Stone

The meals:

Asian Beef and Vegetable Lettuce Cups

Chicken and Chorizo Paella

New York Cheesecake

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My Favourite Books – The Cricketer’s Edition

Last night England retained the Ashes because it rained.

Yes that’s a little strange, in the ultra-professional world of international sport. But cricket is a little strange. You never know what to expect. It’s not all rain delays, dyed hair-tips and white pants in cricket. Sometimes, shock horror, they even read!

Here are some of world cricket’s finest players talking about their favourite books.

Shane Watson (Australia)
Open by Andre Agassi

“I have read many books but my favourite out of all of these is Andre Agassi’s autobiography, Open. Throughout the whole book he describes the thoughts and feelings going through his mind so unbelievably well. It is like you, as the reader, are in the moment with him. An amazing man with an amazing story.”

Click here to buy Open from Booktopia,
Australia’s Favourite Bookstore

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