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

The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obrecht

The circumstances under which I read this book were not promising. Pages snatched on long-haul flights, changing time zones, waiting for connections – conditions not normally conducive to a satisfying reading experience. Despite this, The Tiger’s Wife by Téa Obrecht turned out to be a revelatory and completely engrossing read. It is a book that demands a second reading, not just for the haunting story but also for the beautifully crafted prose.

The story is set across several generations in an unnamed Balkan city (which I have subsquently pin-pointed as Belgrade because I couldn’t stand not knowing). Told in two voices, it concerns the circumstances of the death of a doctor, and the unravelling of his final few days, by his grand-daughter, Natalia. Natalia is also a doctor. She has crossed the border into hostile territory to administer medicines to a remote village orphanage ostensibly left resourceless after the war in the 90s. From there she travels to the village where her grandfather died,  hoping both to retrieve his belongings and to get some clue as to his demise. She muses over the stories about his childhood, when, on the cusp of World War Two, internicine conflict was played out with bizarre and unpredictable twists by villagers whose lives were as much about superstition as they were about politics and ideologies.

Along the way, Natalia pieces it all together with her own childhood memories – the tale of a rogue tiger, the deaf-mute young woman said to be the tiger’s wife, her grandfather’s obsession with his pocket copy of The Jungle Book, the “deathless man” whose predictions of mortality proved to be strangely prescient.

The Tiger’s Wife has a fable-like magic realist quality to it. The story is certainly intriguing but it is the prose that is the real drawcard. Obrecht’s writing is lucid and she handles words with the confidence of a much more experienced writer. Indeed, it is no surpsie that she was included (as the youngest) on the New Yorker’s top 20 writers under 40 list. Unpublished until now, she now joins an alumni that comprises Jonathan Franzen, Jeffrey Euginedes, Jhumpa Lahiri and Junot Diaz among others. Impressive stuff indeed.

Tea Obrecht

Big names are backing this luminescent novel.

From Ann Patchett:

The Tiger’s Wife is a marvel of beauty and imagination. Téa Obrecht is a tremendously talented writer.

From T.C. Boyle:

A novel of surprising beauty, exquisitely wrought and magical. Téa Obrecht is a towering new talent.

From Colum McCann:

Téa Obrecht is the most thrilling literary discovery in years.

If you liked the Life of Pi or the early works of Isabel Allende, this is certainly going to appeal to you in spades. There is much here for book clubs to enjoy as well. My only regret is that I had to shed my proof copy in an airport lounge. This is definitely one I want to keep in hard copy form in my bookcase.

The Tiger’s Wife is available to order now for delivery from March 24.

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

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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…

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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

Coming in December: The Man Who Loved Children by Christina Stead (Good start. Now publish all of her work.)

“I am convinced that tens of thousands of people would bless the day that this book was published, if only they could be exposed to it.” JONATHAN FRANZEN

The Man Who Loved Children is Christina Stead’s masterpiece about family life. Sam and Henny Pollit are a warring husband and wife, he a fully blown narcissist and she spoiled and prone to fits of despair.

Their hatred, aggravated by too little money and too many children, lies at the centre of this chilling and brilliantly observed novel about relations between parents and children, husbands and wives.

The Man Who Loved Children is acknowledged as a contemporary classic of Australian and international literature.

Christina Stead was born in Sydney in 1902. She left Australia in 1928 and lived in London, Paris and the United States, writing and travelling with her husband, the novelist and political economist William Blake. In 1953 she and Blake settled in England. Widowed, she returned to Sydney in 1974 and died in 1983. Her first work, a collection of stories, The Salzburg Tales (Please publish this in a cheap edition), was published in 1934. It was followed by Seven Poor Men of Sydney (Please publish this in a cheap edition) (1934), The Beauties and Furies (1936)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), House of all Nations (1938)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), The Man Who Loved Children (1940)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), For Love Alone (1944)(Please publish this in a cheap edition), Letty Fox: Her Luck(Please publish this in a cheap edition) and many others.

Rereading ‘The Man Who Loved Children’

By JONATHAN FRANZEN

Published in The New York Times : June 3, 2010

Re-publish me! Re-publish me!

There are any number of reasons you shouldn’t read “The Man Who Loved Children” this summer. It’s a novel, for one thing; and haven’t we all secretly sort of come to an agreement, in the last year or two or three, that novels belonged to the age of newspapers and are going the way of newspapers, only faster? As an old English professor friend of mine likes to say, novels are a curious moral case, in that we feel guilty about not reading more of them but also guilty about doing something as frivolous as reading them; and wouldn’t we all be better off with one less thing in the world to feel guilty about?

To read “The Man Who Loved Children” would be an especially frivolous use of your time, since, even by novelistic standards, it’s about nothing of world-historical consequence. It’s about a family, and a very extreme and singular family at that, and the few parts of it that aren’t about this family are the least compelling parts. The novel is also rather long, sometimes repetitious and undeniably slow in the middle. It requires you, moreover, to learn to read the family’s private language, a language created and imposed by the eponymous father, and though the learning curve is nowhere near as steep as with Joyce or Faulkner, you’re still basically being asked to learn a language good for absolutely nothing but enjoying this one particular book. More…

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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