BOOK REVIEW: After (Morris Gleitzman, Viking)

Continuing the story of Felix from Once, Then and Now, After follows the events of Then. The war is still going on and for the past two years Felix has been hiding in a hole in the barn of a man named Gabriek. When the farm is burned down, Felix has no choice but to join the partisans in the forest. We see Felix (who is now 13) become a medical assistant to the partisan doctor, find a mother figure in Yuli and in turn act as a parent to a group of orphaned children—including both Jewish children and a couple of members of the Hitler Youth. Surrounded by the violence of the partisans we see Felix grapple with the idea of killing. As a reader you will wonder if the horrors Felix has seen will turn him into a hardened killer or if he will retain his sensitivity. There are a few moments of humour slipped in—Felix has been reading the ‘Just William’ books while hiding in the barn and at times prays to Richmal Compton. While Felix still has an innocence about him, his narration is much less naïve than in the first two books. This is a very emotional read. After is recommended for readers aged 12 and up who are interested in historical fiction. Some violent scenes do occur so be mindful with readers at the younger end of this spectrum.

Amelia Vahtrick is the children’s book buyer at Better Read Than Dead in Newtown. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: Gaysia: Adventures in the Queer East (Benjamin Law, Black Inc.)

Benjamin Law embarks on a wild ride through Asia to investigate queer culture in Gaysia. In Indonesia he meets the moneyboys who prostitute themselves to Western men, usually preferring the rich older men. In Thailand he visits the world’s biggest beauty pageant for transsexual women. In China he learns about the gay men who marry lesbians in sham-weddings to please overbearing parents and the unhappy straight women who unwittingly marry gay men. He encounters the comedic-feminine stereotypes of gay men presented on television in Japan. He attends sessions aimed at curing homosexuality, run by religious groups in Malaysia. And among the devastating poverty of Myanmar, he meets the men who are 42 times more likely to contract HIV than anywhere else. Law also attends a queer pride march in India where colonial anti-homosexuality laws were recently overturned. Gaysia is like a Louis Theroux documentary in book form, achieving a similar style of gonzo journalism to Theroux, with the hilarious Law becoming part of the story and experiencing the culture firsthand. Of course, this book will challenge those who find homosexuality confronting, but an unrestrained Law flushes out fragile readers early on with imagery from the poolside of a clothing-optional gay resort in Bali.

Andrew Wrathall is the publishing assistant for Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: The Rise of the Fifth Estate (Greg Jericho, Scribe)

The Rise of the Fifth Estate is a well-researched and engaging look at the world of social media and blogging in the context of the Australian political system, and author Greg Jericho (aka political blogger Grog’s Gamut) makes a convincing case that social media has been a positive force. The book opens with a comparison of how different media outlets—both ‘new’ (online) and traditional—have reacted to recent leadership spills in our major political parties, before presenting a snapshot of the current state of the Australian political blogosphere and twittersphere. Jericho also picks up on some of the important issues facing new media platforms such as the apparent lack of female voices in online political discussions, the increasingly nasty nature of online comments, and the ongoing battle between amateur and professional political writers. While the book’s casual tone might not appeal to everyone, its strength lies in the personal experience that informs it. Jericho has had first-hand experience of the battle between bloggers and the mainstream media: as Grog’s Gamut he is an avid blogger and tweeter (with close to 13,000 followers) and writes a weekly column for the ABC’s The Drum. The Rise of the Fifth Estate is an important contribution to our knowledge of how Australian politics and the Australian media operate, and is a book that all media professionals, and indeed anyone who is interested in politics and the media, should have on their shelves.

Eloise Keating is a journalist with Bookseller+Publisher. You can follow her on Twitter at @ellykeating. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website in July. View more pre-publication reviews here.

INTERVIEW: Steve Grimwade, director/CEO of the Melbourne Writers Festival

This will be Steve Grimwade’s final year as director of the Melbourne Writers Festival (23 August to 2 September), with Lisa Dempster recently announced as his successor. Grimwade spoke to Andrew Wrathall.

Can you explain this year’s festival theme ‘Enquire Within’? 
The theme is, centrally, a call to action. The most obvious reading of the theme is that a writers festival gives us the prime opportunity to investigate the ways in which writers make us think and feel. The theme also speaks to the very heart of the festival experience—to seek to go further into the writers mind. Finally, to ‘enquire within’ is an invitation to a great gathering—and to our hub at Fed Square. It’s a call to bring together people who are passionate about ideas, curious about our lives and the society we live in.

What do you anticipate will be the highlights of this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival?
This is an unusually hard question, given that highlights are to be found where individual fancy lies. I can imagine that looking over Roz Chast’s shoulders, as she draws live in the Atrium, will send quite a few people aquiver. But fans of This American Life may rather enjoy the festival’s home-grown equivalent—The Radio Hour—sixty minutes of A-grade documentary radio created right in front of your eyes (with writers, musicians and technical sorts all on stage making it happen). Many in my own staff team are longing to meet the delightful Pico Iyer, a man whose being and writing chime with lyrical beauty. Highlights are where you find them, and they’re just as often on a small stage as they are a large one.

What sessions or which authors do you think will attract the biggest crowds?
An easy question! Our audiences have been unreservedly drawn to the gregarious, thoughtful and delightful Simon Callow, and they have equally, unanimously, joyously been electrified by our New Yorker writers. (Those New Yorker events that are yet to sell out are just seats away from that very eventuality.)

What about your personal picks? Which authors are you most looking forward to hearing talk about their work?
Each and every one of them. But I suspect that a more direct answer may be: John Lanchester, a writer whose suite of talents astounds me; Gillian Mears, who speaks so graciously about her work (and who is a charmed writer); and Martha Nussbaum, a major philosopher whose energy is breathtaking.

To speak of a few specific events, I’m hoping I can somehow swing across to Liner Notes as they celebrate David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust; I love the line-up for our You Animals panel (Tim Flannery, Sonya Hartnett, Anna Krien and Charlotte Wood); and I reckon we’ve got the best line-up for ABC TV’s Q&A in quite some time—Simon Callow, Joumana Haddad, Anthony Appiah, Sefi Atta and Germaine Greer. No polly waffle!

How has the festival changed over the past five years and how do you see it evolving after you leave?
My desire has been to open the festival to more readers and more writers, and to honour the ways in which writing connects us all. By continuing to broaden our focus—by not limiting ourselves to one view of ‘good writing’—we’ve drawn readers from a much broader range of backgrounds. (Some 30% of our audience are between 18-35 years of age, and I think that makes for a particularly vibrant festival.)

Significantly the festival has had to deal with two major changes over the past five years—the first, our move to Fed Square, which has been a wonderful blessing on most levels. The second is the introduction of the amazing Wheeler Centre into Melbourne’s cultural landscape. This has been tricky for most literary organisations and event organisers—and we’re only now beginning to gauge the effect of its price point and programming. I’d hope that governments in the near future understand that the festival delivers the most amazing bang for buck, and that increasing our funding levels to those received elsewhere—such as at the Sydney Writers Festival—will enable us to offer far more free events. By doing that I have no doubt that we’d then speak to a much greater audience.

How will the festival evolve?
Well, that’s a question best left to my successor, the fabulous Lisa Dempster. But the largest gap I rue not filling is having the finances to establishing a greater physical presence at Fed Square.

Will the festival be using digital programming to reach audiences online?
We have, for years, been at the forefront of discussing digital publishing’s effect on audiences—and we’ve run public conferences on Digital Publishing and the future of journalism. We continue to run the latter—the New News conference—which is even more of a highlight of this year’s program (and very necessarily so).

We have also, for years, engaged a variety of the city’s favourite literary bloggers to engage with our own guests and to report from our events. This year I believe we have over eight bloggers reporting from events and we’ll be showing a live Twitter stream at our New News events. In addition to this we’re live streaming a small number of schools events and we also record all our events, offering an array of pod and vodcasts after the physical festival is over.

CBCA Book of the Year Award winners 2012

The winners of this year’s Children’s Book Council of Australia (CBCA) Book of the Year Awards were announced today, marking the official launch of Children’s Book Week.

The winning books in each of the categories are:

Older Readers
The Dead I Know (Scot Gardner, A&U)
Younger Readers
Crow Country
(Kate Constable, A&U)
Early Childhood
The Runaway Hug (Nick Bland, illus by Freya Blackwood, Scholastic)
Picture Book of the Year
A Bus Called Heaven (Bob Graham, Walker Books)
Eve Pownall Award for Information Books
One Small Island: The Story of Macquarie Island (Alison Lester & Coral Tulloch, Penguin)
Crichton Award for Illustration:
Ben & Duck (Sara Acton, Scholastic)

To see a list of all the winners and honour books, visit the Bookseller+Publisher website here.

BOOK REVIEW: Hannah & Emil (Belinda Castles, A&U)

Hannah & Emil is the third novel from Vogel Literary Award winner Belinda Castles, and is inspired by the events of her grandparents’ lives. In a similar style to Anna Funder’s All That I Am, the novel begins in contemporary Australia—with newly immigrated Flora discovering journals and keepsakes from her grandmother Hannah’s life—before transporting the reader back to early 20th-century Europe, where we meet Hannah, in England, and Emil, in Germany, as children. The chapters alternate between the two characters as they grow up and begin their journeys to the point where their lives will cross; Hannah as she seeks out independence through her career in the trade union movement, and Emil as he returns to a devastated Germany after fighting in World War I and gradually becomes involved in resistance activities against the increasingly powerful Nazi regime. When World War II breaks out both Hannah and Emil are forced to set out on another journey, albeit a more dangerous one. In the final pages of her story Hannah reflects that she has made ‘a home in movement’. It’s an apt description of her life, and Emil’s, but this sense of movement could also be used to describe Castles’ novel. It never sits still and the reader is left feeling they have travelled as far as the main characters. Fans of historical fiction will enjoy this novel, which celebrates both the everydayness of building a life with someone, and the extraordinary feat of overcoming great obstacles to that life.

Eloise Keating is a journalist for Bookseller+Publisher. This review first appeared on the Bookseller+Publisher website. View more pre-publication reviews here.

BOOK REVIEW: S.C.U.M. (Danny Katz, A&U)

Australians of all ages ought to be aware of Danny Katz by now. If you have not heard the name before, go immediately to the Age/SMH website and look up some of his Modern Guru columns—it’s belly-achingly hilarious stuff. As well as his columns, Katz has been turning his grotty, no-holds-barred brand of humour to children’s books for awhile with the ‘Little Lunch’ series and others, and he does it mightily well. S.C.U.M. (Students Combined Underground Movement—the name Tom gives his group of misfit buddies) takes the reader on a day in the life of 14-year-old Tom Zurbo-Goldblatt, facing school bullies, his amusingly big-nosed best mate Ravo (aka Nostrildamus), teachers both hot and horrifying, ‘footydicks and uncos, arseholes and suckheads, smartarses and dumbarses’, and the trauma of asking the girl of his dreams to the school’s Bush Dance. Fast-paced and full of slang and whacky humour, this book will appeal to teenage boys and girls alike, but is really aimed at that tricky demographic of the 14-15-ish male. It’s not for the fainthearted or those overly concerned with being PC.

Hannah Cartmel is an editor with Macmillan and co-founder of the Rag and Bone Man Press. This review first appeared in the June/July issue of Bookseller+Publisher Magazine. View more pre-publication reviews here.