Rachel DeWoskin, author of Big Girl Small, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Rachel DeWoskin

author of Big Girl Small

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?

I was born in Kyoto, Japan, because my parents were adventurous academics, there studying and teaching. I spent my infancy sleeping in a suitcase, my childhood excavating ancient instruments and eating sea slugs in rural Chinese villages, and my adolescence falling in love and writing bad poetry about it. I went to college in NYC and wrote lots of academic papers about very good poetry. When I was 21 I moved to China and acted in a ludicrous Chinese soap opera called “Foreign Babes in Beijing,” about sexy Western girls falling in love with macho Continue reading

Changing My Mind by Zadie Smith – Reviewed by Kylie Ladd

Zadie Smith is one of those writers other writers love to hate. Not for her the years of unpublished obscurity, the endless tweaking of the query letter, the rejection after rejection after rejection that the rest of us tell ourselves is an unavoidable and indeed vital component of becoming a novelist.

Instead, Smith was offered a publishing contract for her first novel on the basis of some short stories written in her second year at Cambridge University and included in a student anthology. She turned that down, electing to be represented by the highly sought-after Wylie agency, who subsequently sold her unfinished manuscript to Hamish Hamilton (a division of Penguin) at a highly-contested auction. Smith completed the novel, White Teeth, in her final year at Cambridge. On its release the following year it quickly became both a commercial and critical success, winning the Guardian First Book Award and the Commonwealth Writers First Book Prize. The Autograph Man, her second novel, was again a bestseller, while her third, On Beauty, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and won the 2006 Orange Prize for Fiction.

For all these reasons I was quite prepared to resent her when I first picked up White Teeth five or six years ago. The book had been out for a while by then, but I had eschewed it, intimidated by its success, until my husband finally bought a copy, devoured it avidly, then shoved it under my nose and insisted that I read it. He was right to do so. White Teeth, which deals with immigrant families in London adapting to their new society, is a masterpiece- clever, funny and full of heart. On Beauty was even better. Smith reminds me of a younger, sexier AS Byatt- they share the same aggressive intelligence, innate Britishness and absolute command of language, as well as simply knowing a hell of a lot about pretty much everything.

All these qualities are on display in Smith’s collection of “occasional” essays, Changing My Mind. As the author herself acknowledges in the foreword, such books are written essentially by accident, and- in contrast to a novel- with no unifying theme or voice. Quite possibly as a result, I found Changing My Mind significantly less accessible or Continue reading

Penguin: The Mini Modern Classics Box Set

Call me a nerd, I don’t care. This boxed set of

50 Mini Modern Classics

has to be the sexiest thing I have seen for years.

Order the box – here – or order the titles individually – here

To celebrate our 50th anniversary Penguin are publishing 50 Mini Modern Classics: the best short fiction by the greatest writers of the last century – from Beckett to Kafka, Nabokov to Saki and Updike to Wodehouse. Each little book is a quick literary hit, a satisfying shot of storytelling. And though they don’t take long to read, they’ll stay with you long after you turn the final page.

How much is the sexy boxed set? Click here to find out.

Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (A review by John Purcell)

Lolita is a book which both gains and suffers from a reputation for being immoral.

It suffers because many people purchase the book for the wrong reasons. They buy it for the smut. The truth is, there is no smut.

But Lolita gains, too. How so? Works of great literary merit are seldom best sellers – they seldom make it onto the shelf of the average reader. Without its bad reputation, its reputation for wickedness, Lolita would not have gained access to the very people Nabokov intended to stimulate –  the great suburban mass.

Of course, many of these readers having searched desperately for the dirty bits to no avail, abandon the attempt. But some are persuaded by the prose, and it is sublime prose, to read on and on.

This audience could not have been reached without the court cases, the press, the banning, the tut-tutting and the general hysteria caused by the book’s plot. At the time, 1955, the Sunday Express editor damned it, calling it “the filthiest book I have ever read” and “sheer unrestrained pornography.” No wonder it sold well.

But that was in the 1950s, no one would find it offensive now – surely? Penguin Books recently published Lolita in their Popular Penguin range. You know the ones – the retro, orange covered Penguins you find in bookshops and on display in Australia Post Shops. Well, Australia Post had to remove Lolita from the displays, because of customer complaints.

What were they complaining about? Nothing real. Those who have not read Lolita know that Lolita is a book about a grown man having sex with a child. That is enough to damn it. Such logic would have us banning all crime novels, all war novels… and, well, to be on the safe side – all novels. (Really!? Do all novels promote and sanction the acts depicted within them?)

Yes, Lolita is about a grown man’s infatuation with a young girl. But it isn’t a Dummies guide to hebephilia. Lolita is about the damage this infatuation causes. But it is also about unequal relations of every kind and the damage these cause. It is about youth and age. It is about mind and body. About thought and action. It is about the relationship between the new world and the old – Europe and the USA.

When I read Lolita, it is about the relationship between knowledge and ignorance or, put differently, experience and innocence.

I’m not going to deceive you, Lolita is a difficult book. It is many layered, and it is complex. One reading will not do it justice, and you become aware of this as you read it. Nabokov seems to be alerting us to our intellectual deficiencies, pointing out the enormous gaps in our knowledge. He wants us to go off to read, to learn, to become a reader worthy of his book and the questions it raises.

As I said, it is a complex book. It is also an interesting book, a rewarding book. And, for more reasons than the obvious, Lolita is a challenging and disturbing book. It examines many of the preconceptions that uphold the framework of our lives, finds them wanting and asks us to establish better ones. Something we have still yet to do. Which is why, ironically, Lolita can still cause a stir in the local Post Office.

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To coincide with the publisher Weidenfeld and Nicolson’s 60th anniversary, a special limited edition of nine classic novels has been produced, all designed by the award-winning advertising agency Fallon with special endpapers commissioned from ground-breaking artists. The endpapers of Lolita have been created by Louisa Scarlet Gray.

Others in this series include:  A Suitable Boy, One Day in the Life of Ivan DenisovichSophie’s World, The Color Purple, The Reader, The Siege of Krishnapur, The World According to Garp and The Shadow of the Wind

Other Editions of Lolita Available at Booktopia:

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