Warning: This Article Contains Graphic….Novels

Andrew Cattanach has a brand new bag…

It all started when listening to The Grantland Podcast.

Grantland is a US sports/culture website usually frequented by lots of people like me. Young(ish) hipster(ish) sporty(ish) culturally aware(ish) folks who enjoy quality long-form journalism. They also do podcasts (Fun Fact: we do as well) which, along with audiobooks, keep me company on my long drive into work.

This particular evening I found myself listening to an interview with one of Grantland’s great writers Andy Greenwald and Axel Alonso, the current Editor-in-Chief of Marvel Comics. You can also watch it at the bottom of this article.

watchmenBefore I go on, let me state my feelings on Graphic Novels/Comic Books. It has always been a resounding ‘meh’.

Of course I was aware of them (if you’ve seen a blockbuster film in the last year, chances are you’ve seen a comic book adaptation), and I’d read and loved some of the biggies like Watchmen and Sandman but I never really felt into them. If anything, only having read the ‘Mount Rushmore’ of Graphic Novels made me feel like even more of a tourist, as though I’d flown over the Eiffel Tower and told everyone I’d been to Paris.

I never really had time for them, preferring to eat into my gigantic TBR pile.

So, back to Axel Alonso, Editor-in-Chief of Marvel. Turns out, despite doing a job once occupied by comic book god Stan Lee, Alonso has never really been a hard-core ‘comic book guy’, if such a thing even exists anymore. He was a journalist and author, who found himself unhappy with his job and saw an ad in The New York Times for DC Comics editors. Confident that he would never be hired, he trudged along to the interview out of boredom and was hired by a comic book publisher who knew his work.

Not a comic book guy? And now he’s arguably the most powerful creative force in comic books?


Throughout the interview Alonso speaks passionately but about the creative freedom the form provides writers and artists, and the entrenched progressiveness and diversity on the page. These days The Hulk is a Korean-American Teenager, Thor is a woman, and only last week the brilliant African-American writer Ta-Nehisi Coates was hired to write a new installment of The Black Panther, a series that began in 1966 and featured the first black superhero.

civil-warMore interesting…

All this comes in the wake of some wonderful pieces on this very blog written by comics aficionado Jeremy Vine on Aquaman, video game adaptations, queer characters and great article on simply where to start with comic books. So I thought it was time.

I picked up a copy of Marvel’s The Avengers: Civil War and DC’s Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, by my reckoning the most celebrated comic storylines of the last 20 years. Civil War pits Captain America against Iron Man and their respective followers in an ideological war against government intervention that threatens to destroy the world, while The Dark Knight Returns is the dark saga of a 55 year-old Bruce Wayne, who returns from retirement to fight crime and faces opposition from the Gotham City police force and the US government.

I’m still getting through them. And you know what? I think I’m converted.

a-little-lifeAt the same time I’ve been reading A Little Life, the acclaimed novel by Hanya Yanagihara that has been widely tipped to take out the Man Booker this year. It’s an amazing novel, but that’s for another day.

The point I’m making is that nearly every day I have been reading these comic books alongside a truly great novel and I haven’t skipped a beat. Sure, there’s less grizzled kung-fu in A Little Life compared to The Dark Knight Returns, and slightly more middle-class angst in A Little Life than The Avengers: Civil War, but with regards to raw, uncompromising and often confronting storytelling, they’re on a par.

I’m still reading them, and still enjoying them, and I’m confident to say there will be more to come. Who knows where this story ends, but for now…

Andrew Cattanach. Comic Book Reader. Signing off.


Andrew Cattanach is the Contributing Editor of The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Australian Young Bookseller of the Year Award. 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

Hear Good Things: Four of the latest and greatest Audiobooks for your earballs.

I have a confession to make.

happy-smiling-man-listening-to-music-on-headphones-sWith a long drive to work, a busy workload and a severe case of reader’s FOMO, I find myself listening to as many books as I read these days. Okay, not quite as many, but I’m going through a couple of audiobooks a week at the moment, which is something I never thought I’d do.

And you know what? I’m loving it.

Gone are those long hours staring at a sea of brake lights, listening to the radio as Fitzy or Jimbo or Spanner or The Gregster give away tickets to a Nickleback concert. Forgotten are the days of sitting on a cramped train trying to read a book while someone next to me shouts down the phone about patio furniture.

I’m in a world of peace, with great reads streaming into my earballs all week long. It’s really quite lovely, and I can’t recommend it enough. Here are a few of my favourites…


go-set-a-watchmanGo Set A Watchman

Author: Harper Lee
Narrator: Reese Witherspoon

It was a big event when Reese Witherspoon was announced as the narrator of the audiobook of Go Set a Watchman (she also narrated the new edition of To Kill a Mockingbird) and listening to it, I see why. Witherspoon has a gorgeous Southern twang that adds so much to Watchman.

As for the book itself, don’t listen to the critics, who judged it on a scale of Mockingbird or bust. Sure, it isn’t up to To Kill a Mockingbird standards, but not much is. It’s still a great read. Or listen, in this case.


flesh-wounds-mp3-Flesh Wounds

Author and Narrator: Richard Glover

Flesh Wounds is one of my favourite books of the year. The funny, touching and often harrowing autobiography of writer and broadcaster Richard Glover. Glover has been in the radio game for a long time and puts those golden tonsils to good use, narrating his memoir with appropriate conviction and poise.

Great books don’t always translate into great audiobooks, but Flesh Wounds does in spades.


more-fool-meMore Fool Me

Author and Narrator: Stephen Fry

Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me was one of my favourite books of last year, another wonderful addition to his bestselling autobiographical series. I could listen to Stephen Fry talk about soup for days on end, let alone one of the most prolific and turbulent periods of his mighty career, the late 80s and early 90s.

The book is magnificent, as are its stablemates Moab is My Washpot and The Fry Chronicles. With Fry’s dulcet tones driving the story along, the audiobook is even better.


a-short-history-of-nearly-everything-mp3-A Short History Of Nearly Everything

Author: Bill Bryson
Narrator: William Roberts

Oh Bill, you magnificent bastard. I love, love LOVE everything Bill Bryson does, but A Short History of Nearly Everything is undoubtedly my favourite, and narrator William Roberts does a fine job pulling Bryson’s infectious enthusiasm for knowledge from the page. Think of the most interesting podcast you’ve ever listened to, and make it 15 hours long. It’s a seemingly endless joy you can return to over and over again.

If you’re new to audiobooks, A Short History of Nearly Everything is the perfect place to start.


Like the sound of these sounds?

See more in Booktopia’s Audiobook Collection.

BOOK REVIEW: The Bit in Between by Claire Varley (Review by Andrew Cattanach)

Andrew Cattanach finds plenty beneath the surface of local author Claire Varley’s debut The Bit in Between

the-bit-in-betweenIn The Bit in Between, Claire Varley explores the trials and tribulations of the talented and tortured young writer Oliver, as his ambitious prospective writing retreat is turned upside down by the enigmatic Alison, who enters his world in the most spectacular, stomach churning of ways.

It’s always a treat when a book surprises you, but rarely are you surprised by what you’re surprised by in a book that surprises you. Surprising way to start a review?

Well, blame Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between. It’s not your average book.

You see, I knew it was going to be well written, even before I’d read Varley’s recent answers to our Ten Terrifying Questions (they’re pretty amazing). I had heard from some astute folks within the book industry that this was something special, and sure enough it was.

I also knew what to expect, with early noise about it being the Australian equivalent David Nicholl’s One Day being dead on. The writing is sharp, the characters witty and the story is alive in an assured, pacey manner that belies the author’s relative inexperience in long form fiction.

What surprised me about what surprised me about The Bit in Between was the changing trajectory of the novel, what it strode for, what story it told. Rarely do you finish a relatively mainstream novel, love it, yet still turn to someone and say, can you read this and tell me what you think? Is it a love story? Is it a story of loss? Is it cutting travel writing? Is it a meditation on self discovery? Is it a love letter to the writing life?

The truth is that it’s all these things and more. This is the first glimpse of an exciting new local talent, equal parts accessible, ambitious, fun and challenging.

One Day was good, and had its moments, although it never resonated with me like The Bit in Between did. Perhaps it’s the local flavour, perhaps it’s the nods to the art of writing, but I’ll take The Bit in Between every day.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

the-bit-in-betweenThe Bit in Between

by Claire Varley

Writing a love story is a lot easier than living one.

There are seven billion people in the world. This is the story of two of them.

After an unfortunate incident in an airport lounge involving an immovable customs officer, a full jar of sun-dried tomatoes, quite a lot of vomit, and the capricious hand of fate, Oliver meets Alison. In spite of this less than romantic start, Oliver falls in love with her.

Immediately. Inexplicably. Irrevocably.

With no other place to be, Alison follows Oliver to the Solomon Islands where he is planning to write his much-anticipated second novel. But as Oliver’s story begins to take shape, odd things start to happen and he senses there may be more hinging on his novel than the burden of expectation. As he gets deeper into the manuscript and Alison moves further away from him, Oliver finds himself clinging to a narrative that may not end with; happily ever after.

Grab your copy of Claire Varley’s The Bit in Between here

The Best Books of 2015…so far

Voracious reader and office loudmouth Andrew Cattanach lifts the lid on his favourite books of the year, so far!

quicksandQuicksand by Steve Toltz

I had my doubts about Steve Toltz even attempting to write a follow up to A Fraction of the Whole. Not only did he write it, he might have a Miles Franklin winner on his hands. Savagely witty and chaotically brilliant.

Aldo has been so relentlessly unlucky – in business, in love, in life – that the universe seems to have taken against him personally. Even Liam, his best friend, describes him as ‘a well-known parasite and failure’. Aldo has always faced the future with optimism and despair in equal measure, but this last twist of fate may finally have brought him undone…more

the-first-bad-manThe First Bad Man by Miranda July

Sad, funny, gorgeously self deprecating in a kind of ‘this character isn’t me but she kind of is’ way. I loved The First Bad Man from the very first line.

Here is Cheryl, a tightly wound, vulnerable woman who lives alone, with a perpetual lump in her throat. She is haunted by a baby boy she met when she was six, who sometimes recurs as other peoples’ babies.

Cheryl is also obsessed with Phillip, a philandering board member at the women’s self-defense nonprofit organisation where she works. She believes they’ve been making love for many lifetimes, though they have yet to consummate it in this one…more

the-other-side-of-the-worldThe Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop

The arrival of a confident, assured and frighteningly talented new voice in Australian Fiction. The Other Side of the World consumed me, it was all I could think about from start to finish. To be quite honest, I’m still reeling from it. Remarkable.

Charlotte is struggling. With motherhood, with the changes marriage and parenthood bring, with losing the time and the energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, wants things to be as they were and can’t face the thought of another English winter.

A brochure slipped through the letterbox slot brings him the answer: ‘Australia brings out the best in you’…more

when-there-s-nowhere-else-to-run-vogel-winner-2015When There’s Nowhere Else to Run by Murray Middleton

One gets the feeling that Murray Middleton is a real student of the craft of writing. When There’s Nowhere Else to Run is tight, confident, brave and precise. Another very worthy recipient of The Vogel’s Literary Award.

A survivor of Victoria’s Black Saturday bushfires takes asylum with old friends in the Dandenong Ranges. An editor-in-chief drives his sister halfway around the country to an east-coast rehabilitation clinic. A single mother flies to Perth with her autistic son for one last holiday. A father at the end of his tether tries to survive the chaos of the Sydney Royal Easter Show. A group of young friends hire a luxury beach house in the final weeks of one of their lives. A postman hits a pedestrian and drives off into the night…more

finders-keepersFinders Keepers by Stephen King

I was never a huge King fan growing up, but I can’t get enough of this new series. King writes with so much energy, combining hard-boiled crime with bookish obsession. I couldn’t put it down.

John Rothstein, a Salinger-like icon who created a famous character, Jimmy Gold, hasn’t published a book for decades. Morris Bellamy is livid, not just because Rothstein has stopped providing books, but because the nonconformist Jimmy Gold has sold out for a career in advertising. Morris kills Rothstein and empties his safe of cash, yes, but the real treasure is a trove of notebooks containing at least one more Gold novel. Morris hides the money and the notebooks, and then he is locked away for another crime…more

a-god-in-ruinsA God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson

Kate Atkinson could write a pamphlet about soil and I would be enthralled. A God in Ruins is a wonderful accompaniment to her breathtaking 2013 novel Life After Life. A brilliant, effortless storyteller at the top of her game.

Kate Atkinson’s dazzling Life After Life, the bestselling adult book this year to date in the UK, explored the possibility of infinite chances, as Ursula Todd lived through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. In A God in Ruins, Atkinson turns her focus on Ursula’s beloved younger brother Teddy – would-be poet, RAF bomber pilot, husband and father – as he navigates the perils and progress of the 20th century. For all Teddy endures in battle, his greatest challenge will be to face living in a future he never expected to have…more

so-you-ve-been-publicly-shamedSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

A mesmerising journey down the rabbit hole and into the world of public shaming with Jon Ronson. Touching in parts, hilarious in others, another thought provoking effort from the acclaimed writer.

How big a transgression really justifies someone losing their job? What about the people who become global targets for doing nothing more than making a bad joke on Twitter, do they deserve to have their lives ruined? How is this renaissance of shaming changing the world and what is the true reason behind it? Simultaneously powerful and hilarious in the way only Jon Ronson can be, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed is a deeply honest book about modern life, full of eye-opening truths about the escalating war on human flaws – and our very scary part in it…more

hot-little-handsHot Little Hands by Abigail Ulman

One of the best collections of short stories of the year, Ulman has announced herself as one of Australia’s bravest and most inquisitive writers of fiction.

This exceptional collection of stories is about young women of different ages, from their early teens to their late twenties, coming to terms with what it means to desire, and be desired, with funny, surprising and sometimes confronting results. Ulman first made her mark with the story Chagall’s Wife in Meanjin; this collection shows that she’s a young Australian writer to put alongside Ceridwen Dovey, Nam Le and Fiona McFarlane…more

the-most-good-you-can-doThe Most Good You Can Do by Peter Singer

It’s always nice to read a book that you know will change your life forever. Peter Singer does it again.

Peter Singer, often described as the world’s most influential living philosopher, presents a challenging new movement in the search for an ethical life, one that has emerged from his own work on some of the world’s most pressing problems. Effective altruism involves doing the most good possible. It requires a rigorously unsentimental view of charitable giving, urging that a substantial proportion of our money or time, should be donated to the organisations that will do the most good with those resources, rather than to those that tug the heartstrings…more

mr-huffMr. Huff by Anna Walker

I nearly cried reading this picture book. A gorgeous story that will hopefully find its way into the hands of every child in this strange, and often overwhelming, world.

Award-winning and much-loved author and illustrator Anna Walker gives us a gentle, poignant, affirming and wise picture book sure to delight all ages. Mr. Huff is a story about the clouds and the sunshine in each of our lives.

Bill is having a bad day. Mr Huff is following him around and making everything seem difficult. Bill tries to get rid of him, but Mr Huff just gets bigger and bigger! Then they both stop, and a surprising thing happens…more

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. 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: So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson (Reviewed by Andrew Cattanach)

Andrew Cattanach dives into the deep end of Jon Ronson’s latest book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.

so-you-ve-been-publicly-shamedI’ve always been a fan of Jon Ronson’s work, his penchant for exposing the strange, often unsettling, pockets of society. With So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, Ronson plays to his strengths, reporting dutifully with thick shards of humour, injecting himself into the narrative where needed. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed begins as many of Ronson’s books do, with a eureka moment, the inspiration that would lead him down the yellow brick road.

Ronson, an avid tweeter, began to notice a parody twitter handle – @jon_ronson – popping up in his feed. The account posted some tweets about food and his love of a good time, particularly of a…homoerotic nature.

Ronson contacted the creators of the account asking for its removal. They refused, calling it a social experiment, although eventually agreeing to meet Ronson in person to discuss why they were so compelled to tweet about goat’s cheese and male genitalia under his name.

Ronson recorded the interaction and posted it on YouTube with their permission, the video went viral and was met which extreme condemnation from Ronson’s fans. The creators of the twitter account, in the wake of the public shame elicited by Ronson’s video, agreed to delete the twitter account.

Jon Ronson

Jon Ronson

This jolts Ronson into the world of Public Shaming, now an everyday occurrence in the world of social media. Reflecting on his own experiences, he tracks down others who have felt the wrath of the mob.

We have Jonah Lehrer, the infamous bestselling pop psychology author, who was caught out inventing a Bob Dylan quote. PR executive Justine Sacco, who wrote a tweet while boarding a plane to South Africa about not catching AIDS because she’s white and was denounced by millions before she hit the ground. Max Mosley, the Formula One supremo outed by the News of the World for a ‘Nazi orgy’, ultimately exposing his parent’s fascist past.

These are moments in time that you will remember, even if your memory, like mine, needs a quick jolt on Google. Ronson’s investigations into these tales, those who shamed and were shamed alike, are utterly absorbing. He examines just how viable the world of extreme honesty is, itself a constant barrage of public shaming if perhaps not on quite as grand a scale.

This is Ronson at his finest. Funny, intriguing and, in some places, downright shocking. A book not to be missed.

Grab your copy of So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed here

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. 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

An Interview with Young Australian Bookseller of the Year Finalist – Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach

I owe books much more than they owe me. I spend every day trying to repay that debt.

Booktopia’s Andrew Cattanach was recently named a finalist for the ABA Penguin Random House Australia Young Bookseller of the Year Award.

The award recognises and rewards the excellence of a bookseller 35 or under, and promotes bookselling as a career choice for young people. We chatted to him about his life as a bookseller.

What does being a finalist for the Young Bookseller of the Year mean to you?

It’s a huge honour. I love being a part of the book industry but I never thought I would ever be recognised like this. The winner, Gerard Elson, is an amazing bookseller and does so many things in and around the industry. I’m incredibly grateful just to have my name mentioned alongside as a finalist. And my dad may forgive me now for not playing cricket for Australia.

When did you decide you wanted to be a bookseller?

For most of my childhood I was over an hour’s drive from the nearest library, and nearly two hours away from the nearest bookstore. It’s always been like this in remote areas, not a lot of people realise that. I knew early on that being an avid reader helped me immeasurably in and outside of the classroom, even if it meant reading my parents’ books over and over again. It gave me a scholarship to a good school and some perspective on life and dealing with things as a child. From an early age I always wanted to help rural areas have better access to books.

After completing my English degree, I started working at Booktopia, which meant I could put books in the hands of people who have always struggled to find them, and in the hands of children who might have otherwise neglected reading and subsequently struggled with literacy into adulthood. It’s a common story around rural Australia.

I owe books much more than they owe me. I spend every day trying to repay that debt.

What are some of your favourite books of 2015 so far?

Oh wow, where do I start? Quicksand by Steve Toltz is a brilliant, manic masterpiece, my favourite novel of the year so far. The First Bad Man by Miranda July is also gigantically underrated. I’m a sucker for short stories so Murray Middleton’s When There’s Nowhere Else to Run and Abigail Ulman’s Hot Little Hands have been a joy.

On the non-fiction front, Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed should be read by everyone with a social media account and Peter Singer’s The Most Good You Can Do has already changed my life.

And just think, it’s only May!

Any words of wisdom for anyone wanting to be a bookseller?

In Bukowski’s poem So You Want To Be A Writer, he writes “if it doesn’t come bursting out of you in spite of everything, don’t do it”. The same philosophy applies to being a bookseller.

The hours are long and the money is less than what your friends are making, but reading, writing and talking about books is more than a job. For some, and certainly for me, it’s a compulsion, a hole in your heart that needs to be filled.

If you feel the same way, becoming a bookseller is the best thing you will ever do.

 You can follow Andrew’s ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat

Andrew Cattanach with bestselling author John Flanagan and Booktopia's John Purcell

Andrew Cattanach with bestselling author John Flanagan and Booktopia’s John Purcell

My Favourite Australian Authors of 2014

2014 was a huge year for Australian authors. There seems no better time, January being our month of Australian Stories, to reflect on my favourite Australian authors of 2014.

So many Australian authors had career defining years in 2014, but these are a few that made a huge impact with their work both on and off the page.

Confused about the concept? So am I, but we’ll get there.

SonyaSonya Hartnett

I’ve bored everyone with my constant proclamations that Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys was the best novel of 2014. It’s an amazing book that we’ll be hearing more about as the awards season heats up. Hartnett also gave us The Wild One, teaming up with Lucia Masciullo to produce of the most beautiful picture books of the year.

She was also the subject of a wonderful piece by Stephen Romei in The Australian, where she gave the best quote about childhood I’ve heard for a long time. ‘‘Children live in a very animal world, one that’s constantly on the verge of war. You look at childhood and think, how do any of us survive that sort of shit?’

MaxineMaxine Beneba Clarke

Not content with producing Foreign Soil, one of the most exciting short story collections of the last few years, Maxine Beneba Clarke was called upon to be the voice of many defining moments of 2014.

From her pitch perfect portrait of the late Matt Richell to the dignified protest to Tony Abbott at this year’s Australian Book Industry Awards, Maxine had an incredible, inspiring 2014.

Foreign Soil was a standout, and her highly anticipated 2015 book The Hate Race promises to be even better.

1413331355077_wps_72_epa04446950_Australian_noRichard Flanagan

Okay, okay, I know Richard Flanagan didn’t release a book in 2014, but he still had a pretty solid year, no? His 2013 novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North narrowly missed out on the Miles Franklin, before winning the first truly international Man Booker and sweeping into Australia to not just win a Prime Minister’s Literary Award, but also give his prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation, one of the most important charities around.

He also gave a performance on Q&A during the Sydney Writer’s Festival that elicited a 11pm phone call from my mother to discuss what a genius he is.

Last but not least, Flanagan had this to say on the subject of giving money to important causes. ‘Money is like shit, my father used say. Pile it up and it stinks. Spread it around and you can grow things.’

Absolutely brilliant.

OmarOmar Musa

Sometimes you read a book and you lose sleep hoping that everyone else realises how good it is. Omar Musa’s Here Come the Dogs was that book, and while it should have been talked about more, those who read it couldn’t stop singing its praises.

2014 saw Omar Musa emerge as one of Australia’s most important voices, speaking with passion on issues like immigration, sexuality and violence. He speaks, and writes, with a firm, eloquent authority we can all learn from. Already an accomplished spoken work performer, you’ll be hearing a lot more about Musa in 2015.

Brooke DavisBrooke Davis

Being a novelist is a romantic profession. Millions try, and millions fail. It’s a tough job. So what inspires people to want to be writers?

Stories like Brooke Davis’, and her journey to becoming one of Australia’s bestselling authors of 2014.

Embarking upon her novel Lost and Found as part of a PhD and a form of catharsis after the death of her mother, Davis spent five years writing it, combining teaching with working part-time at a Perth bookshop (shout out to Beaufort Street Books).

The novel was a hit at the year’s London Book Fair, rights being sold into 25 countries and translated into 20 languages for its overseas release. She also showed off her acting chops in some re-enactments on Australian Story.

That’s a pretty handy year. And just in case you weren’t sure, Lost and Found is a wonderful, emotional read, even better than the story behind it. Nice year Brooke.

Love Australian books?

Don’t forget to check out our Australian Stories collection!

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