Get Reading with Booktopia

Here is a question for you. Is there a scent that you associate with books? I don’t mean the smell of the paper, or the leather when you walk into a room full of old books. I mean, is there a smell that immediately transports you to reading heaven? Do you associate a perfume with a particular memory of reading, or a particular book?

For me, it is an easy ask. The minute I catch even a whiff of jasmine, I am in sensory heaven – jasmine poking through the paling fence, a sprig or two tucked behind one ear, sun on my back, book in my hand, sheltered from the cold early spring wind in a walled courtyard, pot of tea steaming by my Continue reading

Brendan Cowell, author of How It Feels, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

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The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Brendan Cowell

author of How It Feels

Ten Terrifying Questions


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

Born in Sutherland Hospital August 16th, 1976 and named after the great Irish poet, IRA man and alcoholic Brendan Behan. I have gone on to achieve two of my namesakes achievements. Raised in nearby Caringbah. Schooled at the De La Salle College Caringbah and then De La Salle Cronulla for Years 10-12.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

When I was twelve I wanted to play cricket for Australia. But I didn’t quite have the commitment, and, perhaps, the talent with the bat. At eighteen I wanted to be a journalist, but that quickly turned in to writing plays and such. And at thirty I wanted to be a novelist, and here I am, allegedly.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

At eighteen I believed life was there for the taking and smashing up, now I think life is a fragile thing and you have to take care of it a bit.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

Catcher in the Rye by J.D Salinger, which I read at 20 years old when at University in Bathurst. I honestly felt, finally, like I was not alone, and that voicing your fears and observations, however strange and dark, could be important. The Cure’s Disintegration album made me feel like my feelings were shared, and it was ok to have them and to feel them deeply. And perhaps Rothko’s Maroon paintings, for these are what art is about for me, a series of rich doorways leading to an even richer place, and so on.

5. Considering the innumerable artistic avenues open to you, why did you choose to write a novel?

I’ve always wanted to write a novel. I never thought I would do it so young is all. I love reading books, they’ve given me so much, and so, in a way I wanted to give back. But I first tried How It Feels as a play and a movie, and it didn’t work. It wanted to be a book. It told me that very clearly, and so it is now. I also wanted to write for the sake of writing, not for producers and directors, but for Continue reading

Reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen (A review, of a kind by John Purcell)

I once read a book review written by Theodore Dreiser . The book he was reviewing was Of Human Bondage by W. Somerset Maugham. What I recall of that review, read many years ago, is that Dreiser had come clean, saying something like – it took Maugham 500 odd pages to convey all that is conveyed in the novel, and so much is, what hope have I of giving you an impression of such a novel in a short review? All I should say here is – read it. For it is only by others reading it that my review will be written.

When I sat down to write a review of Freedom by Jonathan Franzen I read through the notes I had taken while reading and found no recognisable pattern in them. If I were to write a review I would have to draw together these disparate reactions and manhandle them into one congenial whole. I found I couldn’t do this.

In the midst of my frustration, I remembered Dreiser’s approach. I was very tempted to follow his example to the letter, but I changed my mind. Readers today have umpteen million novels to chose from (and more every minute). In such bountiful times we all need help to decide what next to read. So, for what they’re worth, here are my notes. They are my thoughts whilst reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and, depending on your reading of them, they will either extinguish your desire to read the book, or increase your desire. I kinda a hope it’s the latter.

Update: A much cheaper edition of Freedom has been released – you can buy it here – if you want…


Franzen opens Freedom with a teaser, he says, these ordinary people, Patti and Walter Berglund, living ordinary lives, are not what they seem. Then he draws a pen portrait of Walter and Patti as seen through the eyes of their neighbours. Yep, we readily agree, these are ordinary people. And yet lurking in the back of our minds is – he said all is not what it seems. And we turn the page. Continue reading

Booktopia Buzz – the September newsletter

Booktopia Buzz Sept 2010

Spring is in the air, the election is behind us (well, sort of), and there seems a new sense of possibility about everything. In the book world, it really is an exciting time.

The September issue of Booktopia Buzz is packed with great reading.

Yesterday was Indigenous Literacy Day, and the whole publishing and bookselling industry got together to support this worthy cause. Here at Booktopia, we donated 10 cent of our profit  to the Indigenous Literacy project, so a big thank you to all of our customers who got on board and supported the cause!

The annual Get Reading promotion kicks off in earnest today as well. Fifty great titles to choose from, your choice of two wonderful new free books – what could be better? More on that further on in the newsletter.

If thrillers are your thing, we have a stunning deal on Kathy Reichs‘ first novel, as well as the low down on her latest. And for great reads, you can’t go better than The Tiger, and Lights Out in Wonderland, two remarkable books that are my books of the month for non-fiction and fiction respectively. Meanwhile, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom is being hailed as the book of the century (I kid you not).

All in all, it is shaping up to be a great month of reading.

To read the rest of the newsletter, with all those fabulous reviews, click here.

Toni Whitmont

Editor in Chief

Booktopia Buzz

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

It has taken Franzen nine years to complete Freedom, the follow-up to his 2001 bestselling novel The Corrections, and the wait seems worth it. The novelist just made the cover of Time magazine, the first living author to enjoy that distinction since Stephen King a decade ago. And the positive reviews are beginning to pour in all of which point to it being that rarest of things: an ambitious literary novel and a bestseller.

When I say positive, I mean positive. The Guardian is claiming it as “the novel of the century” with a wrap that starts a formidable and harrowing work, Jonathan Franzen’s new book is on a different plane from other contemporary fiction.

That is some claim. I am a little more tempered but it certainly is a great novel. While the structure at times seemed awkward,  Franzen’s ability to create fully-realized, three-dimensional characters and, more so, to inhabit their minds with such penetrating psychological acuity, is seemingly limitless. Sam Anderson says much the same in his article for New York magazine. We have excerpts from that review and others here.

Fourteen years ago, Franzen declared that sweeping socially engaged novels by serious writers had lost their appeal. He then went on to write one, and to sell more than 1.5 million copies of it. A decade later he is attempting to prove himself wrong a second time.

Freedom is a multi-generational epic that follows an idealistic young couple who settle in the rough neighbourhood of St Paul, Minnesota. A very powerful insight into the disillusion of marriage and a story about the challenges, burdens and opportunities of personal freedom, the novel is full of the more generous ironies that endeared The Corrections to readers and literary reviewers alike. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s intensely realised characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.

Click here for more details or to buy Freedom
Delivery after September 1


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