BOOK REVIEW: The Sound of Pictures: Listening to the Movies, from Hitchcock to High Fidelity (Andrew Ford, Black Inc.)

Andrew Ford—writer, composer and ABC radio broadcaster—spent five years scrutinising 400 films, as well as interviewing film directors and composers, in the creation of this book. The undertaking has proved worthwhile. Ford vows upfront to avoid obfuscating academic jargon, along with the peddling of any grand theoretical paradigms. He opts instead for an accessible, erudite narration in what is a considered exploration of the multifarious uses of music and sound editing throughout the history of cinema. Wisely, Ford acknowledges that even lousy films can generate interesting discussion, and so The Scent of Green Papaya is devoted no more exegesis than, say, Sliding Doors. Indeed, Ford is refreshingly egalitarian, surveying not only the classy (Les Enfants Du Paradis, Fanny and Alexander) and classic (Citizen Kane, Psycho), but also the popular (The Bodyguard, Die Hard), the recent (In Bruges, Samson & Delilah), the lurid (Suspiria) and the downright dire (Mamma Mia!). Of his interview subjects, of which there are 10, Ennio Morricone, Sally Potter and Peter Greenaway offer most food for thought. While there might inevitably be blind spots, Ford’s roving curiosity and inclusive prose ensure The Sound of Pictures holds premium interest for all movie enthusiasts, casual and committed.

Gerard Elson is a writer, film blogger and DVD buyer for Readings St Kilda. This review first appeared in the Summer 2010/11 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

RiP Ruth Park

Penguin publishing director Bob Sessions recalls the publishing life of his friend and mentor Ruth Park: 

I was very saddened to hear that my dear friend Ruth Park has passed on. She held a very special place in my life, both as someone I held in immense respect, and also as a remarkable author and lovely human being. Ruth’s manners and thoughtfulness took these attributes to new heights. Ruth was a beautiful woman for all of her long life.

I am writing this in Vietnam, without being able to check dates and details. But I think my close relationship with Ruth Park goes back to her Miles Franklin Award-winning novel, Swords, and Crowns and Rings, which I published in 1977 when I was at Nelson. My colleague (she was actually my mentor although she ostensibly worked for me) was the great editor Beatrice Davis. They were two of the best mannered people I have ever known, but both with wills of steel. ‘My Dear Beatrice … editing is one thing, but wholesale cuts is something else entirely…’ and so on. I watched with awe.

I like to think I persuaded Ruth to write her autobiography–although of course no one persuaded Ruth to do anything. When she finally did, I will never forget reading the first few pages of the first volume, A Fence Around the Cuckoo, which, with a nod to the novelist she was, she started in the third person, as reader watched (with her) a young girl moving down the upstairs corridor of her house in New Zealand, and of course the young girl was Ruth. What a wonderful way of introducing the subject of an autobiography!

The hugely successful Playing Beattie Bow I published when at Nelson and then the paperback came out when I moved back to Penguin. The book was never off the reprint list, as child after child devoured the magical tale of those children in early Sydney.

Most of Ruth’s books are in print in Penguin, and as we all know, generations of Australians will remember her for her marvelous Muddle Headed Wombat series.

I never met her writer husband, Darcy Niland, but Ruth often spoke of him and it was quite obvious that theirs was a love that endured. I had the pleasure of being involved in the publication of books featuring the work of her daughters, Kilmeny and Deborah. During my many years at Penguin I have been responsible for reprinting The Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange at least annually.

She was included in The Bulletin’s list of ‘The 100 Most Influential Australians in 2006, and was made a member of the Order of Australia in 1987. She was extremely modest and often chose not to attend awards ceremonies and official events.

There have been three hugely influential Australian women of a certain age in my literary life: Beatrice Davis; Thea Astley–and Ruth Park. I miss them all very much.

RS, 17 December 2010.

List of lists: Best books of 2010

Quite a few best books of 2010 lists have crossed our paths recently, so we thought we’d put them together in a list of lists! If there’s a great list we’ve missed, let us know in the comments.

For now:

Best books of 2010

Best children’s books

Best cookbooks

Best business books

Best science fiction and fantasy

Most mentioned this week

Authors of the top-five books on our most mentioned list should be feeling pretty proud of themselves this week. They were up against hoards of Christmas book suggestions all fighting for a spot on our slim list. In Seasons in My House and Garden, Holly Kerr Forsyth (Miegunyah) takes the reader into her house and garden month by month and season by season to share her gardening secrets and wisdom from years in the garden. Inside the house, she offers ideas on how to transform the produce into dishes, as well as tips for flower arranging and table setting. Two music-related titles made the list: Keith Richards’ Life (Hodder) and Andrew Mueller’s Rock and Hard Places (Affirm Press). How it Feels (Brendan Cowell, Picador) and Human Chain (Seamus Heaney, Faber) also made the list–Media Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: The Circle of Silence (Shirley Shackleton, Pier 9)

Last year’s film Balibo re-ignited public awareness of the six Australian journalists murdered in East Timor in 1975. Shirley Shackleton, widow of journalist Greg Shackleton, has now told her side of the story in an engaging, funny, gutsy and often heart-rending memoir. Hers is an extraordinary life: from public relations careerwoman to motherhood, and then, following the loss of her husband, nearly 35 years of activism. While The Circle of Silence is a personal memoir, it tells little of Shirley Shackleton’s private life after the first 80 pages. On page 81, Greg Shackleton dies. Or maybe that’s the point: after her husband’s death, her fight for justice was her life. It’s a moving tale of grief, anger, determination and courage, as Shackleton uses her PR nous to campaign internationally, which included some hair-raising visits to East Timor. As time passed, Shackleton’s activism extended beyond the journalists’ fate to protesting against Indonesia’s treatment of the East Timorese (the book includes grisly details of torture and rape), and trying to stir successive Australian governments to action. The Circle of Silence is a book for general readers. It should also have a long life on media, history and politics shelves.

Nicola Robinson has worked as an editor and bookseller. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Bestsellers this week

Topping the highest new entries chart this week are two cookbooks; Donna Hay’s Fast, Fresh, Simple (HarperCollins) is in first place followed by MasterChef Australia: The Cookbook (Volume 2) (HarperCollins) in second. On the bestsellers chart, Jeff Kinney’s The Ugly Truth:Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Puffin) is still at the very top followed by Bryce Courtenay’s novel Fortune Cookie (Viking). Courtenay’s novel is also first on the fastest movers chart. Parky’s People (Michael Parkinson, Hachette), a transcripted collection of the author’s best TV interviews with celebrities over the decade, is second on the fastest movers chart–Weekly Book Newsletter.

BOOK REVIEW: The Goannas of No. 1 Martin Place (Vicki Steggall, illus by Danny Snell, ABC Books)

When the goanna family is driven out of its ancestral stomping ground in Sydney’s botanic gardens, they must find a new home. While this requires some searching, Go-Pa finally finds the perfect quarters at the top of the GPO clock tower. As Go-Ma, Go-Pa and Moreton adjust to life in their new neighbourhood, and the newly arrived baby Martin adjusts to life in general, adventures are had and acquaintances are made. Plop becomes a valuable friend, as does Oris from the Laughing Prawn cafe. But not all is well because the Pitt Street Cat is on a rampage. Even more dangerous, Moreton has discovered a human is watching them. I love an animal story with a difference, and The Goannas of No. 1 Martin Place delivers, with heroes of less glamorous and often despised species (Plop is a pigeon and Oris is a rat). The carefully rendered, brightly coloured illustrations are realistic and expressive, and not only complement the text but break it up to make it more accessible to younger readers. This works as a first chapter book but also as a read-aloud book for any age, with amusing turns of phrases and instantly likeable characters.

Clare Hingston is a bookseller at the Younger Sun in Yarraville and a librarian in training. This review first appeared in the November issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Andy Griffiths visits Warburton, WA with the ILP

Ambassador for the Indigenous Literacy Project (ILP) and bestselling children’s author Andy Griffiths writes about his field trip to Warburton, WA in November 2010.

The Indigenous Literacy Project is committed to providing books and resources to help foster literacy in remote Indigenous communities, and those remote communities don’t come much remoter than Warburton.  Located in Western Australia, 1050 kilometres South West of Alice Springs—and 1500 kilometres North East of Perth—Warburton is home to around 700 members of the Ngaanyatjarra people.

Last week I had the great pleasure of travelling to Warburton with three other members of the ILP team to help launch Book Buzz—the ILP early reading program—at the Warburton Playgroup.

It took five hours to travel from Alice Springs to Uluru on bitumen, and then another seven hours by dirt road from Uluru to Warburton. Trip leaders Deb Dank and Maddy Bower were expecting the road to be a lot worse and had packed not one but two spare tyres in anticipation. As it turned out the road was better than it had been when they’d last visited in June and, fortunately, neither spare was needed. As an added bonus—at least for us wimpy white-skinned Southerners—the weather for this time of the year was unusually mild, hovering around a relatively balmy 25 to 29 degrees. (Deb, however, was wishing she’d brought a coat!)

Travelling through the unusually green desert was continually amazing. We saw camels, kangaroos, goannas, thorny devils, pink galahs, falcons and seemingly endless rivers of fast-moving ants flowing in all directions across the fine red sand, but the highlight for me—apart from the bizarre sight of a tree festooned with old tyres—was the silence. Like a sort of effortless meditation, all we had to do was to get out of the car, listen and there it was. Or perhaps more accurately, there it wasn’t. (At the Uluru visitors centre I’d been struck by the following piece of Anangu advice about not climbing the rock: ‘That’s a really important sacred thing that you are climbing. You shouldn’t climb. It’s not the real thing about this place. The real thing is listening to everything. Listening and understanding everything.’ I don’t know about understanding everything, well, not yet anyway, but I’m starting to get the hang of listening.) Continue reading

Most mentioned this week

As newspapers prepare their summer reading lists, Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom (Fourth Estate) has come out on top on our most mentioned chart this week. During three consecutive weeks in August and September Freedom appeared in three most mentioned charts, but never at the top. Other frequently mentioned books include: The Hundred-Foot Journey (Richard C Morais, A&U), the tale of restaurant rivalry between a new Indian kitchen and a traditional French restaurant in Paris; Somebody to Love (Steve Holden, UQP) a debut novel about a transs-xual mortician; Gary Shteyngart’s Super Sad True Love Story (Granta), the story of 39-year-old angry Russian immigrant janitor in an economically and politically collapsed America; and Bryce Courtenay’s latest novel Fortune Cookie (Viking), set in the world of advertising in the 1960s–Media Extra.

Bestsellers this week

The Ugly Truth: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) is top of the bestsellers chart this week followed by Australian footballer Ben Cousins’ memoir, Ben Cousins: My Life Story (Macmillan). Cousins’ memoir also tops the highest new entries chart followed by Bryce Courtenay‘s novel, Fortune Cookie (Viking), in second place. Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars (Hachette), a collection of four novellas linked by the theme of retribution, tops the fastest movers chart followed by Portia De Rossi’s Unbearable Lightness (Hardie Grant)–Weekly Book Newsletter.