Most mentioned books this week

David Mitchell has garnered himself much acclaim and many admirers since being named by Granta among its pick of the best young British novelists back in 2003. His most recent work, The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, has earned him top place in our most mentioned chart this week, ahead of local authors Adrian Hyland (Gunshot Road), Luke Davies & Inari Kiuru (Magpie), and former supreme court judge Ken Crispin (The Quest for Justice)–you can read our reviewer’s take on the latter here. Mitchell’s novel transports the reader to the year 1799 and the island of Dejima, a former island for Dutch traders in the Japanese port of Nagasaki. It’s eponymous hero is a young Dutch clerk, attempting to earn his fortune with the Dutch East India Company amid corruption and a varied cast of supporting characters—Media Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: The Quest for Justice (Ken Crispin, Scribe)

Ken Crispin draws on his wealth of experience as a barrister and Supreme Court judge in this comprehensive study of the history and philosophy of our legal system. Crispin’s writing is accessibly academic; he discusses jurisprudence in a way that illuminates the ideology behind our legal system and charts the evolution of law by explaining the theories of great thinkers such as John Rawls and John Stuart Mill. Crispin’s philosophical discussion of law and justice is also grounded in contemporary issues, such as refugee rights and mandatory sentencing, and he writes persuasively and precisely, as if giving a judicial ruling on the performance of the entire system of justice. Crispin is a liberal thinker, advocating a less punitive focus in favour of policies that save lives. He also looks beyond the courtroom to address issues of public and social policy, discussing the ‘so-called’ war on drugs in terms of the courts, the police, education and health programmes. The Quest for Justice is an informative study of our legal system and the policies that have shaped it and is a cogent analysis of how justice can be better administered.

Portia Lindsay works at UNSW Bookshop. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010  issue of Bookseller+Publisher. You can read the April 2010 issue online here.

Emerging Writers Festival: The story so far

The Lifted Brow at Page Parlour

The Emerging Writers Festival (EWF) came to life on Friday night in Melbourne in the form of The First Word, a tasty teaser of things to come. Toni Jordan called writers to action with her thoughts on writing, love and the love of writing. Performers were sent off with a snippet of inspiration to write a play in 48 hours (they were later performed at the Malthouse theatre). Triple J’s Craig Schuftan entertained the crowd by dissecting 80s disco lyrics to reveal their underlying philosophy (he also gave a disco lecture the following Tuesday). Dancing man Vachel Spirason proved that words aren’t even necessary (he was back in Wordstock last night). The night finished after a debate, hosted by the Wheeler Centre’s Michael Williams and featuring Michaela McGuire, Josh Earl and Kate Mclennan, which found–by ‘clapometre–angst is better than love at inspiring the best writing, with each participant debating from both sides of the coin (another band of debaters will show up this Sunday for 2 Sides of the Coin).

The Express Media skill share took place on the weekend with workshops on writing reviews, how to write for television and computer games, and how to edit a publication. The Living Library was a great success, giving writers the opportunity to hire living ‘books’ (experts in the industry) and gather vital information for their writing projects. Small publishers had the chance to display a sampling of their wares during the Page Parlour at Federation Square. A highlight was the Stuck in a Lift sessions, with the afternoon session featuring the delightful author/illustrator Mandy Ord, who showed the audience all the books she loved and grew up with.

Travel writers Paula Constant, Ben Groundwater and George Dunford, and host Ruby J Murray

Estelle Tang has been launching books left, right and centre every day since Monday at her 15 Minutes of Fame sessions, where four authors are each given 15 minutes to launch a new book. Travel writers took to the stage on Tuesday night: Paula Constant talked about walking barefoot across the Sahara and recommended wannabe travel writers avoid frustrating stories that will just bore others. Lonely Planet writer George Dunford mentioned the time he snapped his back in Singapore and warned about writing ‘under the influence’ of advertisers. Ben Groundwater, author of 5 Ways to Carry a Goat (see review), said to just be honest when writing and for an interesting experience travel to the end of the train line. Opinion writing was the focus at the Wheeler on Wednesday night. Crikey‘s Sophie Black gave advice to fledgling writers: ‘just write, publish yourself, spruik yourself up, get a blog and if you have something unique you’ll stand out’. New Matilda‘s Ben Eltham reminded writers that it’s good to make mistakes when starting out. Marcus Westbury from the Age told writers to avoid the trap of gratuitously repeating the same opinions.

Claire Halliday

It was a great night on Wednesday night to get some advice on freelancing in the comfort of a Brunswick St pub. On stage Chris Flynn, Claire Halliday and Ben Pobjie read their first published articles. In all his Irish charm Flynn told his story of the hacky-sackers he despised–to the amusement of the crowd. Halliday read a feature article about a rural newspaper. Pobjie said sorry to Andrew Bolt about reconciliation in the form of satire. The special guest Catherine Deveny spoke her piece of thick-tongued ranting hilarity, followed by some great advice on writing. All panellists explained how hard freelancing can be, but gave interesting advice on making it work.

Catherine Deveny

This weekend at the EWF is looking to be jam-packed with sessions for writers emerging from the Melbourne underground. Watch out for the Zine Bus, learn out how to pitch your manuscript at The Pitch, see the winner of the Overland Judith Wright Prize, and listen to some great writing advice among the many Town Hall panel sessions.

During the whole week the EWF has been running a series of interesting and entertaining conversations via Twitter. Anyone can join the TwitterFEST by adding the tag #ewfchat to their tweets.

Oh, and Bookseller+Publisher will be there, at our stand in the Portico Room at the Town Hall, so come and say hi.

Bestsellers this week

Four books in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse series, Club Dead, Definitely Dead, All Together Dead and From Dead to Worse (Hachette), have appeared in the fastest movers chart, behind The Way We Were (Elizabeth Noble, Michael Joseph). Charlaine Harris has been writing the mystery-romance-vampire series since 2001, but these books have only recently become so popular after their adaptation to television as True Blood. In June Hachette releases the 10th book in the series, Dead in the Family. There’s not much change in top 10 bestsellers again this week. Our Family Table (Julie Goodwin, Ebury) remains on top, followed by Stieg Larsson’s ‘Millennium Trilogy’ (Quercus), then House Rules (Jodi Picoult, A&U). In sixth place is This Body of Death (Elizabeth George, Hachette) and Burned:House of Night (P C Cast & Kristin Cast, Hachette) in seventh. The highest new entry for this week is Belle the Birthday Fairy: Rainbow Magic (Daisy Meadows, Hachette)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

And …

I’m an absolute Twit. There, I’ve said it. I’m referring, of course, to the social networking phenomenon of Twitter, where (it could be argued) I’m spending way too much of my time. But it is a fascinating—and, I would argue, extremely useful and valuable—‘virtual agora’, where ideas and opinions are flying around in all directions, all the time (one of the reasons it’s so addictive).

I’m involved in a lot of threads on Twitter about ‘the future of the book’, and clearly a lot of the discourse revolves around digital publishing, ebooks, ereaders, etc. But I’m keenly aware that ‘the future of the book’ discussion is pulling in a few contradictory directions, and I’m increasingly concerned that far too much of the ‘noise’ is about an ‘inevitable’ shift to digital, about disruption and new ways of doing things;  and far too little is about print, and bricks-and-mortar stores, and the degree to which many things will stay the same … and that new and old will live alongside each other.

I’m increasingly placing myself in a position where I’m encouraging digital pundits (themselves online seemingly 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, iPhones gripped in cramped fingers from dawn till midnight …) to think of ‘and’ scenarios:

  • There will be ebooks and print books, alongside each other, for a long time to come
  • There will be small, dynamic publishers and big, slow ones
  • There will be more content with a global aspect and more things that are small and local
  • Large players will dominate and small players will have more access than ever to the mainstream
  • Authors will publish directly to readers, bypassing traditional gatekeepers and authors will want and need agents, editors, publishers and booksellers in order to reach their audience
  • Audiences will engage directly with authors and readers will seek the expertise and authority of gatekeepers (reviews, retailers, publishers)
  • Events will be small and innovative (Emerging Writers Festival) and large and traditional (Sydney or Melbourne Writers Festival)
  • Territorial copyright and separate editions will be old hat and will continue to be important.

Confused yet? I sure am! Enthused and energised by the changes, challenges and opportunities? I sure am.

But what do you think?

Kobo launch: forget about the device, look at the titles

[a version of this article first appeared in Crikey on Friday 21 May as a subscriber-only story. Many thanks to Crikey and its editor Sophie Black for permission to reproduce it here on Fancy Goods—TC]

As the REDgroup rolls out its Kobo ebooks platform, let’s forget about the device for a moment and look instead at the title offer. Mainstream media stories seemed to be all about the Kobo ereader, but this launch represents a notable step in the development of a local ebook market not because of the gizmo but because it’s the first time an ebook retailer has been able to offer a significant range of Australian ebooks to sell, across a range of reading devices. (Dymocks, of course, was a pioneer in launching its ebook offer in 2007, but Dymocks arguably went too early and have been held back thus far by a lack of local content …)

The Kobo reader itself is cheap—at $199 it’s pretty much the cheapest dedicated ereader on the market, and it is pretty basic. But that’s not really the point: ereading is quickly moving away from proprietary devices and multiple formats toward files in a standard format (ePub) that can be read on a range of devices. One of Kobo’s stated advantages is that it is cross-platform: Kobo promises that its ePub titles—while still being restricted/protected by Digital Rights Management to prevent copying/sharing—will be able to be read on a range of devices from smartphones to tablets to laptops to desktop PCs. And if you have ePub or PDF files from other sources, they should be readable on the Kobo reader or in the Kobo apps.  (Frustratingly, if you have already bought yourself a Kindle from Amazon &/or you have Kindle ebook files downloaded on your computer or iPhone, you probably won’t be able to easily read those on the Kobo reader … Amazon supplies its ebooks in a proprietary format that ties them to either the Kindle reader device or Kindle app.)

But what about the list of titles on offer? Kobo seems to have energised and engaged with Australian publishers in a way that the overseas players (Kindle, Apple, etc) haven’t so far. Australian readers will now be able to go to one place to buy ebook versions of books published by up to 100 local publishers, ranging from the local offerings of the multinationals: HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster, Pan Macmillan and Hachette, for example; to books from Allen & Unwin (which has offered many of its titles as ebooks for a number of years), MUP, UQP, Scribe, Text and many others from Australia’s diverse independent publishers. ‘The offer is about us trying to offer as many Australian titles on this open platform as we can,’ REDgroup’s communications manager Malcolm Neil said. Here are some authors whose titles you can buy now on Kobo you can’t (yet) get on Kindle: Kate Grenville, Shane Maloney, Peter Temple, Malcolm Knox, Thomas Kenneally … Continue reading

BOOK REVIEW: 5 Ways to Carry a Goat: A Blogger’s World Tour (Ben Groundwater, UQP)

One day Ben Groundwater sends a call to Aussie expats on his Fairfax travel blog, asking if he can stay the night on their couch. The result is a hilarious memoir of three-and-a-half months of couch-to-couch travel and the random people he meets along the way. Groundwater says ‘bring on the nutters’ and plots his journey from the most compelling emails. He travels through China, Thailand, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Europe, Brazil and America, with some of the more exotic locations providing more interesting reading—including some dangerous places and some places where he is able to do things illegal back home. Groundwater’s goal is a uniquely local travel experience, but he is often thwarted when handed guidebooks and dragged to yet another temple. This story is about meeting interesting people, some slightly insane, others just trying to make a living far away from home. By the end of the book the travel has certainly taken its toll. Brian Thacker has taken a similar ‘couch surfing’ journey with Sleeping Around (A&U), but he doesn’t have the support of the blogging community that Groundwater does. 5 Ways to Carry a Goat is an incredibly funny book about an average guy’s journey into the unknown, recommended for gen-y readers who need a laugh.

Andrew Wrathall is publishing assistant at Bookseller+Publisher magazine. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue. You can view the April 2010 issue online here.

Most mentioned this week

Political writer Christopher Hitchens, author of God Is Not Great, has written a memoir entitled Hitch-22 (A&U), which has gained top place in our most mentioned chart this week. In his book Hitchens speaks about his opposition to the Vietnam War and how, after the September 11 attacks, he became an advocate of the war in Iraq. Next on the most mentioned chart is Laura Munson’s This Is Not the Story You Think It Is (HarperCollins). When Munson’s husband of 20 years proclaimed not to be in love with her anymore she wrote an essay about the experience and the unlikely happiness she found in refusing to let him leave her; This Is Not the Story You Think It Is is based on her original essay. Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand That First Held Mine (Headline Review) and Colm Toibin’s Brooklyn (Picador) also gained a place on our most mentioned chart this week, along with James Shapiro’s Contested Will: Who Wrote Shakespeare? (Faber) on the authenticity of Shakespeare’s work—Media Extra.

Australian Book Design Awards: winners announced

The winners of this year’s Australian Publishers Association Book Design Awards were announced in a special event in Sydney last night. The winning books were:

Best designed cover Best designed book Best designed cookbook
Best designed nonfiction book Best designed fiction book Best designed literary fiction book
Best designed reference/scholarly book Best designed specialist illustrated book Best designed general illustrated book
Best designed YA book Best designed children’s fiction book Best designed children’s nonfiction book
Best designed children’s picture book Best designed children’s cover Best designed children’s series
Best designed primary education book Best designed secondary education book Best designed tertiary & further education book

Also announced on the night was the Young Designer of the Year award, which went this year to Swerve designer Adam Laszczuk for a body of work that also included the following titles:


What do you think? You can check out the shortlisted books on the Australian Publishers Association site here.

From the archive: INTERVIEW: Anne Summers on ‘The Lost Mother’ (MUP)

Oure reviewer Sue Bond spoke to Anne Summers about her memoir The Lost Mother: A Story of Art and Love (MUP) back in the July 2009 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine. The book has now been released in paperback.

The title of your book refers in part to a lost painting of your mother by Australian artist Constance Stokes (née Parkin). Does the title also refer to your relationship with your mother, which you describe as having been difficult at times?

To my great surprise, I learned a lot about my mother in the course of writing this book. I read the diaries that I did not know she had kept and they were quite revealing, especially in the opinions she expressed about family members, but I also found myself starting to see certain things from her point of view, and this was something I was never able to do when I was younger.

I’m intrigued by what you write about Constance Stokes as an artist, wife and mother. You note that she complained about her lack of freedom to paint since becoming a mother, and yet the period when she had three small children was her most productive. What do you think made it so creative?

This is one of the central paradoxes of Constance Stokes’s career and it is one I have puzzled over. I have been able to unearth the basic facts of her life, to document the main trajectory of her extraordinary career, and to have some insights into how she was thinking through having access to her journals. But many questions remain. I think that maybe a full scale psychological biography is needed to explore how it was that the very thing she felt held her back in fact unleashed her greatest period of creative genius. It was while her children were young that she produced most of her masterpieces, was admired by critics and other artists alike and was bought by all the serious Melbourne collectors, public and private. It was when her children got older that she seemed to flag. Even so, she continued to paint—and to draw—until her death, and the quality of her later work was still remarkable. She fully deserves further exploration. Continue reading