Bookseller+Publisher magazine: July issue top picks

The July issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine has landed! Here are some of the forthcoming releases that impressed our reviewers this issue:

Spirit of Progress (Steven Carroll, Fourth Estate, August)
Clive Tilsley of Fullers Bookshop in Tasmania reviewed Steven Carroll’s Spirit of  Progress, a ‘prequel’ to The Art of the Engine Driver, the first of Carroll’s ‘Glenroy’ trilogy. ‘Reading Spirit of Progress was one of the most enjoyable things I have done for a long time,’ writes Tilsley. ‘While it begins and ends in 1977, most of the story is set in the immediate post-war years in Melbourne as the country starts life afresh… I am sure everyone who has read the ‘Glenroy’ series will welcome this addition.’

Babylon (Stephen Sewell, Victory, August)
Rachel Edwards, events manager at Fullers Bookshop in Hobart, declares Babylon ‘a taut and unpredictable crime novel from Stephen Sewell, who is best known as a playwright and scriptwriter and who recently adapted the film Animal Kingdom into book form’. Charismatic psychopath Dan is driving a stolen black Chevrolet when he picks up Mick, a young English backpacker. ‘Dan’s flair and immediate power over the vulnerable Mick are slowly teased out in an extended cop-chase/road-trip through a dark and mythic east-coast Australia,’ writes Edwards. ‘This is a tightly written literary crime novel.’

Cargo (Jessica Au, Picador, August)
Bookseller+Publisher
journalist Eloise Keating says former Meanjin deputy editor Jessica Au’s debut novel Cargo is ‘a stunning and compelling read’. The novel weaves together the stories of three teenagers finding their way in the early 1990s in Currawong, a small Australian coastal town in which the lives of residents are invariably influenced by the water that surrounds them,’ writes Keating. ‘Au captures the rawness of her protagonists’ emotions with compassion and skill, as well as refreshing honesty… the complexity and uncertainty of growing up is celebrated in this unique snapshot of adolescence which will be appreciated by readers of all ages.’

The Courier’s New Bicycle (Kim Westwood, HarperVoyager, August)
Perth-based bookseller Stefen Brazulaitis said that while Westwood’s novel ‘will definitely appeal to science-fiction readers’, he’d recommend it to adventurous literary fiction fans too. ‘Salisbury “Sal” Forth is a bicycle courier in a future Melbourne, running contraband through the back streets of a society in turmoil. Mass vaccinations against the latest super flu have tipped the body chemistry of most of the population into endocrine crisis and infertility. With the government dominated by anti-technology Christian fundamentalists, the illegal hormone packages that Sal delivers are the only hope some have…’

RPM (Noel Mengel, UQP, August)
Reviewer Jarrah Moore was impressed by Noel Mengel’s novel, set in 1984 in a small silo town in Queensland, about ‘a mismatched group of dreamers and cultural outcasts’. ‘What connects the characters is their shared obsession with music, and the same thing holds the book together,’ she writes. ‘This is a book with heart, delicate characterisation and a striking sense of place: the small-town world with its wide open spaces and narrow minds, and the vibrant music aficionados scene that springs up around the record store RPM come together in a way that is both idealised and deeply honest.’

Melbourne (Sophie Cunningham, NewSouth Books, August)
In nonfiction, bookseller Veronica Sullivan enjoyed the fourth in NewSouth Books’ series of popular histories of Australian capital cities: Sophie Cunningham’s Melbourne. ‘As a former editor of Melbourne-based literary journal Meanjin, Cunningham is uniquely qualified to dissect the city. She offers an intimate, nuanced perspective of Melbourne past, present and future. This is the Melbourne of Graham Kennedy, Helen Garner and Mick Gatto, but also of generations of artists, cyclists, Collingwood fans and the covert urban explorers known as the Cave Clan,’ writes Sullivan. ‘This book is lively and accessible, with a voice that is informative but not didactic, making it ideal both as an insiders’ guide for locals and an introduction for curious outsiders.’

A Small Book about Drugs (Lisa Pryor, A&U, August)
Portia Lindsay says A Small Book About Drugs by former Sydney Morning Herald columnist Lisa Pryor is ‘a persuasively written and thought-provoking essay that warrants serious consideration by young people, parents, politicians, law enforcement and the media’. It ‘offers a controversial perspective on recreational drug use, as discusses many aspects of the practice that are often taboo in mainstream debate,’ writes Lindsay.

Violin Lessons (Arnold Zable, Text, August)
Lindsay also reviews Arnold Zable’s Violin Lessons in which ‘music in its many forms provides comfort, escape or nostalgia for a variety of trapped or displaced individuals—the Iraqi refugee reunited with his band, the Polish labourer enchanted by his music box, the Cambodian fisherman who serenades the river’. ‘This book is a wonderfully complex, sad and beautiful read,’ writes Lindsay.

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BOOK REVIEW: Off the Record: 25 Years of Music Street Press (ed by Sean Sennett & Simon Groth, UQP)

The free weekly street press is a bible of sorts for music lovers around Australia. While the quality of writing and editing in these papers is sometimes frustratingly bad, the street press informs music lovers of weekly gigs and CD releases, and promotes bands via interviews and gig advertisements. Sean Sennett, editor of Time Off magazine (Brisbane’s street paper since the mid-70s) and Simon Groth have compiled a selection of ‘best of ’ band interviews. Beginning with Hunters and Collectors in 1986 and moving chronologically through almost 100 interviews to Angus and Julia Stone in 2010, Off the Record covers vast ground. It can be dipped into at any page but a chronological read provides a fascinating look at how the music industry has changed over the years, from vinyl to CDs through to the influence of iTunes and myspace. Personal favourites in this collection include Jello Biafra discussing Queensland’s censorship laws and the confiscation of his albums in 1989 and a Jeff Buckley interview from 1996 (a poignant reminder of music’s sad loss). The interviews are concise and not always in-depth, but there’s enough variety within Off the Record to appeal  to music lovers of all styles.

Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller

BOOK REVIEW: Rock and Hard Places (Andrew Mueller, Affirm Press)

London-based rock journalist, travel writer and foreign correspondent Andrew Mueller wears all three of his hats in this collection of pieces, spanning the past 20 years, lifted from such publications as Melody Maker and Uncut. Most of the selections focus on bands—Mueller goes on tour with Radiohead, U2 and The Cure; visits the Elvis Presley Festival in Tupelo; suffers through Woodstock II; etc—while other selections are gonzo-style excursions into trouble spots like Afghanistan and Tehran. The most memorable pieces, such as Mueller’s investigation of the music scene in Sarajevo in 1996, and his coverage of The Prodigy’s tour of Beirut, frequently combine the rock and hard places of the title. Mueller is a talented, unapologetically opinionated, and often very funny writer, whose obsession with music calls to mind The 10 Rules of Rock and Roll, the recent book by that other Australian rock aficionado Robert Forster. Occasionally Mueller gets carried away with his own cleverness, and did he really need to include a piece about his (albeit disappointing) promotional tour of England for his first book I Wouldn’t Start From Here? That said, Rock and Hard Places is an addictive collection, guaranteed to delight all true rock’n’roll fans.

David Cohen is a writer, reviewer, ex-bookseller and former ISBN Agency employee. He currently lives in Brisbane. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

BOOK REVIEW: How to Make Gravy (Paul Kelly, Hamish Hamilton)

Paul Kelly’s story begins with the Spiegeltent in Melbourne in 2004 when he was offered an exclusive show: four nights of never-to-be repeated performances. Around that was born the idea of singing 100 of his songs in alphabetical order, each night consisting of a completely different set-list. Around the songs, storytelling was added for theatrical effect, and as the shows hit the road they were recorded with a view to a CD release and then a book. How to Make Gravy is the ‘mongrel beast’ that emerged, and what a beast it is. Part memoir, part tour diary, part song-writing manual, this sprawling book is filled with all manner of letters, lists, confessions, hymns and yarns. Kelly’s 100-plus songs begin each chapter (alphabetically) followed by a story that loosely or closely relates to the song. That Kelly is a consummate storyteller is evident in his song-writing. Here he has space to explore his storytelling skills further, which he does admirably, weaving in and out of the past and present easily and with an intimacy that invites the reader into his world. This book is full of tales that will delight Paul Kelly fans, and will appeal to anyone with an interest in popular music. How to Make Gravy is also available with an exclusive 8-CD box set entitled The A-Z Recordings and a 64-page booklet of photos for $125.

Deborah Crabtree is a Melbourne-based writer and bookseller. This review first appeared in the October 2010 issue of Bookseller+Publisher.