Bestsellers this week

The Heffley family is trapped indoors during a blizzard but when the snow melts, 13-year-old Greg is going to have to face the music after an incident at school. Cabin Fever: Diary of a Wimpy Kid (Jeff Kinney, Puffin) is the sixth book in the ‘Wimpy Kid’ series and is top of the bestsellers chart this week. Down a spot from last week are Inheritance (Christopher Paolini, Doubleday) in second place, and The Opal Desert (Di Morrissey, Macmillan) in third on the bestsellers chart. The paperback (Puffin) and hardback (Viking) versions of Jeff Kinney’s Cabin Fever: Diary of a Wimpy Kid are in first and second place respectively on the highest new entries chart. Topping the fastest movers chart this week is Eamonn Duff’s book on the Schapelle Corby case, Sins of the Father (A&U), followed by Donna Hay’s cookbook Simple Dinners (HarperCollins)–Weekly Book Newsletter.

A Factory of Stories

In May this year, the Sydney Story Factory was officially launched. The factory is a not-for-profit centre designed to help children and young adults, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds, with writing.

The centre is getting ready to open its writing centre and shop—the Martian Embassy—in Redfern in 2012. Pilot programs are being held in local schools in this area, and this week the factory is holding an art exhibition and auction called Judge a book, buy its cover.

The exhibition showcases work by local artists who have recreated the covers of books selected from a list of Sydney’s 50 favourite books (as voted by readers of the Sydney Morning Herald). There’s 25 new book covers: from classics such as Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, to contemporary favourites like Tim Winton’s Dirt Music and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. To see the artworks, click here. To see the complete list of 50 books, click here.

The Sydney Story Factory was founded by Sydney Morning Herald journalists Catherine Keenan and Tim Dick, and is inspired by similar projects in the United States. A number of Australian writers support the centre, including Geraldine Brooks, Markus Zusak, Peter FitzSimons, Anna Funder, Leigh Sales, James Bradley, Tom Keneally, Malcolm Knox, Gail Jones, Mardi McConnochie, Debra Adelaide and Michael Robothom.

To find out more about the Sydney Story Factory, visit www.sydneystoryfactory.org.au.

BOOK REVIEW: The Sweet Spot (Peter Hartcher, Black Inc.)

Peter Hartcher’s new book is a 21st-century reply to Donald Horne’s classic The Lucky Country. Hartcher argues that while Australia enjoys unprecedented prosperity, security and freedom, this has very little to do with luck. Rather, what transformed Australia from the world’s biggest prison into one of the most desirable countries in which to live was courageous and prudent governance. Hartcher cites the economic reforms started by Hawke and Keating and continued by Howard and Costello, which set up Australia as a social and economic model for the rest of the world, and helped the Rudd government to steer Australia through the financial crisis. Yet despite their success, Howard and Rudd lost their jobs with little thought given to their sound economic management, and Gillard and Abbot’s embrace of populism could bring this ‘Australian Model’ undone, suggests Hartcher. This is another cracking book from publisher Black Inc., which will appeal to readers of Hugh McKay and Bob Ellis. Hartcher, a well-known journalist and political and international editor of the Sydney Morning Herald, should attract plenty of reviews and media coverage. This should be a big seller in nonfiction this Christmas.

Dave Martus is the manager of Dymocks Neutral Bay in Sydney. He has many years’ experience as a bookseller and buyer in Australia and the UK. This review first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Bookseller+Publisher, available online here. 

Most mentioned this week

Ahead of the bicentenary of his birth next year, Charles Dickens was all over the papers this week thanks to a new biography Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens: A Life (Viking). Receiving equal mentions were Joan Didion’s Blue Nights (Fourth Estate), an honest examination of her life as a mother, woman and writer; P D James’ Death Comes to Pemberley (Faber), which recreates the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and sets a dectective mystery at its heart, and Wade Davis’ Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory, and the Conquest of Everest (Knopf), which draws connections between the first World War and the conquest of Mount Everest in the 1920s. Geoffrey Blainey’s A Short History of Christianity (Viking), which describes many of the significant players in the religion’s rise and fall through the ages, also appeared on the most mentioned chartMedia Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: Griffith Review 34: Third Annual Fiction Edition (ed by Julianne Schultz, Text)

With this third annual edition of short fiction and memoir, The Griffith Review shows why it is has become one of the leading literary journals in Australia. Not only is the collection of work displayed here diverse and entertaining, showing as it does the work of emerging and established writers, but its commitment to the printed short story is laudable at a time when literary journals are feeling the lure of the online world as a way of reducing costs and reviving shrinking readership bases.

Of course, for readers, any collection of this sort will be a little uneven, but there are certainly enough strong stories here to engage readers fully and in often complex ways. After reading them all, what lingers is a sense of courage. These stories aren’t afraid to be both personal (sometimes revealingly so) and political in the sense that they often have connections with current events: the things that concern us now.

Overall, the stories manage to weave things like the expatriate experience, the environment, fears of terrorism, drugs, crime, age, gender and Indigeneity into often subtle and entertaining stories that don’t suppress the needs of good narrative storytelling to their central concerns.

Of note is Jane Williams haunting ‘A Matter of Instinct’, in which a woman who has separated from her family occupies an old house on a remote island to try to ‘live alone’. Soon she finds herself the subject of torment from a recently divorced but well-meaning neighbour. The tension of this woman alone being harassed becomes quite chilling as we realise that new beginnings bring with them both terror and grief.

Cory Taylor’s ‘Continental Drift’ is also a fine piece of work, dealing with that typically Australian feeling that ‘life is elsewhere’ . Here the young girl at the heart of the story finds herself constantly drawn overseas in search of ’being someone’. It is a story told with a deft touch and leaves one with a deep sense of sadness.

There are stories that don’t deal with Australia. Probably my favourite of the whole collection, Nicolas Low’s ‘Octopus’ , is set in New Zealand and cleverly combines Maori culture with fears of terrorism, fears of the outsider, and fears of an ancient, apocalyptic understanding. The collection also includes a handful of compelling memoirs, but it is the stories at once comfortable and thought-provoking, edgy and familiar, that will draw the reader through its pages.

Shane Strange is an ex-bookseller and writer who teaches writing at the University of Canberra. This review first appeared in the November 2011 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine, available online here

BOOK REVIEW: Tony Robinson’s History of Australia (Tony Robinson, Viking)

English actor, author and comedian Tony Robinson brings his characteristic charm and enthusiasm to Australian history, charting our story from before the First Fleet (and possible discovery by the Dutch, Spanish and French) to the present day. Tony Robinson’s History of Australia is a companion book to the TV series Tony Robertson Explores Australia, which aired on the History Channel earlier this year. As always, Robinson pokes just the right amount of fun. He unearths some interesting events from the history books, including some that may come as a surprise to many locals. For example, who knew there was a Founding Orgy? Or that an Australian was President of the United Nations? He also covers more recent events such as the apology to the Stolen Generation, and takes a stroll with the award-winning author Anh Do. Inevitably this book races through our nearly two-and-a-quarter centuries of European contact, including the Indigenous history of occupation. Overall, however, it is a wonderful book, written in Robinson’s inimitable voice. While some of the content is a little PG, it should appeal to Tony Robinson’s fans of all ages, and Australian and international readers alike.

Jessica Broadbent is a former bookseller who is currently studying to become a librarian. This review first appeared in the October issue of  Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

The name’s Coronel, Tim Coronel…

Man of mystery.

Some say he is an exiled royal of the Russian Empire, living an anonymous life of wealth and good taste in the states of South East Australia.

 

Some say he is the real-life inspiration for Ian Fleming’s James Bond—an international man of mystery with a penchant for classic cars and even more classic watches.

 

Some say he is a lover of the simple life, happiest with a good book in one hand, an (Irish) coffee in the other and a cat on his lap.

 

Some say he speaks twelve languages.

 

Some say he is the publicity-shy author behind such hits as the Twilight series and the Four Ingredients cook books.

 

Man of intrigue.

Some say he is the fiendish puppet master controlling Prince Philip and the international drug trade.

 

Some say he can tweet in his sleep.

 

Some say he suffers apoplectic fits at the misuse of the word decimate, sentences containing ‘myriad’ followed by ‘of’, the use of impact as a verb and the phrase ‘predominantly comprised of’.

 

Some say he once impacted a stakeholder meeting intended to incentivise participants to leverage synergies going forward.

 

Some say he wears the hell out of tweed.

 

Man of many hairstyles.

Some say his filing technique is as mysterious as he is.

 

Some say he was the moody guitarist for a rock band composed entirely of librarians.

 

Some say they were called The Leptons.

 

Some say he taste-tests gin and tonic for a living.

 

Man of means.

Some say he likes hats.

 

All we know is that he’s been an exceedingly excellent publisher, a quiz-answerer extraordinaire, stylish to a fault and we’ll miss him dreadfully.

 

That said, we doubt he’ll be going too far afield.

 

Bless you Tim Coronel, it’s been a lot of fun.

BOOK REVIEW: Silence (Rodney Hall, Pier 9)

Rodney Hall’s collection of short stories comes with a cover quote from David Mitchell: ‘I read Silence in a single day. Brilliant. Brilliant.’ Both men are known for their very fine writing, and Silence is indeed ‘Brilliant. Brilliant.’ However, I couldn’t possibly read it in a day as this would leave no time to savour, contemplate and reflect. Silence should be approached with senses attuned to the sounds, images and emotions that are evoked so vividly by this master storyteller. Each of the 20 or more tales deserves the readers’ undivided attention; each deserves its own space and time. The stories cover several continents and ages. They are told from the points of view of rulers and minions, victors and vanquished, and even, occasionally, animals (well, a dreaming bird). The stories are unlinked, other than being about spaces in between, different kinds of emptiness, and the gaps between the narrator and the other. I came to this book unprepared, and I was completely overwhelmed by the tapestry of its imagery and the echoes of its stillness.

Toni Whitmont is a bookseller, blogger and editor-in-chief at Booktopia. This review first appeared in the October issue of  Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Most mentioned this week

All five books on the most mentioned chart received equal mentions this week. Gillian Mears’ Foal’s Bread (A&U) appeared on the Most Mentioned list again, as it continues to generate interest among reviewers. Cambridge University Press has released its Encyclopedia of Australian Architecture, which includes over 1000 entries from 200 contributors, and 500 photographs and drawings for all those curious about the built environment. Jessica Rudd’s Ruby Blues (Text) has made an appearance on the Most Mentioned list again. Steven Amsterdam’s What the Family Needed (Sleepers) is the tale of a family finding itself, told by each of its members as they discover powers they never thought possible. Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs (Little, Brown) also received a number of mentions this weekMedia Extra.

BOOK REVIEW: Forecast: Turbulence (Janette Turner Hospital, Fourth Estate)

Janette Turner Hospital’s anthology of stories gathers together a striking array of disturbed and disturbing characters—the forthright daughter of a cult leader, a young woman facing her father for the first time in years, the devastated parents of an abducted youth, and two young girls who bond though self-harm. Each story deftly depicts personal struggle in an often indifferent world; the empathy, sadness, shock and occasional horror that I felt while reading this collection is a testament to Turner Hospital’s skill. The theme of family turmoil— particularly in the relationships between parents and children—flows through the collection and is reflected in the central motif of stormy weather. Turner Hospital’s writing is both sharp and intimate. She doesn’t shy away from brutality, and in this—and the theme of individuals struggling among forces much larger than themselves—it contains similarities to Due Preparations for the Plague. The collection concludes with a short memoir piece that considers the idea of individuals caught in the current through Turner Hospital’s own family history.

Portia Lindsay works at UNSW Bookshop. This review first appeared in the October issue of  Bookseller+Publisher magazine.