Thursday, 13 November 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ November 2014

Did you see on TV the two episodes of Brilliant Creatures, Howard Jacobson’s documentary about Clive James, Barry Humphries, Germaine Greer and Robert Hughes?

It was fascinating and brought back many good memories about bookselling in Sydney. Such as the day when Robert Hughes’ book The Shock of the New: Art and the Century of Change was rushing out the door.... Tom Hughes, famous Sydney Silk, came in and declared “I have to buy my little brother’s book”. There is a revised edition now, published in 1991 and definitely in stock at Abbey’s.

When I look at our Bestseller list (click The Top Tens on our homepage for the latest list), prepared by Kelly each week, I can see that quite a few people are intending to do what I intend to do. That is, re-read (or read for the first time) Robert Hughes’ The Fatal Shore and Clive JamesUnreliable Memoirs, because they have both recently appeared on the list, although they are two books which have always sold well.

David Hill, yes, that David Hill who was also Head of the ABC and the Railways, has just published The Making of Australia: From a Tiny Struggling Convict Settlement to the Remarkable Nation It Is Today. This is a very readable popular history – for locals and visitors. It may not be so full of fascinating details or so full of zing as The Fatal Shore, as only Robert Hughes knows how, but I think it will be a very useful book.

Another memory is prompted by Clive James’ recent and acclaimed translation of Dante’s Divine ComedyWhen I visited my friend Professor Sue Berners-Price in Florence in 1997 I was instructed to take the Dorothy Sayers’ translation published in 1974 in the Penguin Classics edition. I notice in the poetry section there are still many translations, varying from the Everyman hardback edition translated by Allen Mandelbaum to the Oxford Worlds Classic edition translated by C.H.Sisson or the several translations available in Penguin Classics by Mark Musa or Robin Kirkpatrick. Take your pick. We even have a Dover dual-language edition of some Selected Cantos translated by Stanley Appelbaum. How does one choose?

I’m a fan of Howard Jacobson and really enjoyed his Booker Prize-winning novel The Finkler Question. I can’t say the same for his latest, also Booker Prize-nominated, which is called J: A Novel. Not only a difficult title but a difficult book to read. It is being compared to George Orwell’s 1984 or Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. Yet another story set in a dystopian world, which seems to be quite the fashion just now. I don’t want to read it. Reality is hard enough. In J events are set in a world where life goes on after “Whatever Happened, If it Happened”. Too confusing!

I was so fascinated by Jung Chang’s revised view of the Dowager Empress, in Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China that I decided to attempt the updated view of Mao in the book written with her husband Jon Halliday, called Mao: The Unknown Story. Once again the authors have had access to previously unobtainable archives as well as interviewing hundreds of Chinese. The page count is 971 pages and of these 91 pages consist of fascinating back-up notes and 13 pages list the various people, from national leaders, interpreters, journalists and bureaucrats to aged Chinese survivors who told their stories to Jung Chang and Jon Halliday. There is also a Bibliography of Chinese Language Sources, and Index of course. Mao is shown to be a pitiless monster, more than ruthless and with an enormous self-belief. How did he ever achieve the power he wielded? It seems impossible now. Even at his death he saw himself as one of the “fallen kings” and invited Richard Nixon to come for a personal farewell. He was famous for his belief in the power of the gun but he was no battlefield person himself.

Although a devoted fan of Helen Garner’s writing I was slow to read This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trial because of the very sad subject – the death of the small boys in the dam. I remembered how much I was fascinated by her earlier book Joe Cinque’s Consolation: A True Story of Death, Grief and the Law which remains one of my favourites. This House of Grief is another tour-de-force from our great writer. Read it.

Here is some excellent news. The hardworking booksellers in Abbey’s have just completed re-arranging fiction. Why? Because they need more space for AUSTRALIAN FICTION. It wasn’t until the Olympic Games in 2000 that Abbey’s decided Australian fiction could warrant its own section, it could stand on its own against the rest of the world, and certainly visitors to Australia would want to know about our local writers. Now, fourteen years later, Australian writers seem to be first choice. I find a big proportion of my own reading is by Australian writers. And we've had to do the same with AUSTRALIAN CRIME, which has been expanded in order to give more space to Australian crime writers. Great news.

Another piece of good news is that Lindy Jones has been invited to join the Miles Franklin Award panel of judges. This will be a big task for Lindy, one of our Senior Booksellers, but it will be one she will relish. I think it is an excellent choice. I was a Miles Franklin Judge in 2005, 2006 and 2007 but I was semi-retired then, so Lindy, who is still working, will be burning the midnight oil. She will join Richard Neville (State Librarian), Craig Munro, Murray Waldren and Susan Sheridan.

And one final note: Entries for the Calibre Prize for an Outstanding Essay close on 19 January 2015. Enter online at

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 19 September 2014

Lindy Jones has been reading... September 2014

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Helen Macdonald

MacDonald has been obsessed with the archaic traditions of falconry since early childhood, training small falcons and generally immersed in the fellowship of falconers for many years. When her beloved father dies unexpectedly, she is overwhelmed by loss and decides to take on the greatest challenge of all - to train a goshawk. In the process of building a rapport with her hawk, MacDonald learns what it truly is to be human through her association with the wildest and largest British raptor of all.

A lyrical and beautifully crafted meditation on grief, connection, wildness and control, it is also intertwined with her re-reading of T H White's little known book The Goshawk , which details the celebrated author's attempts to train such a bird himself. White and his mistakes, his writings and outsider status, all become essential to her own attempts to make sense of what has happened in losing her father.

I can't recommend this highly enough, and any fan of the ilk of Robert MacFarlane or Roger Deacon, will appreciate this fine book.

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My Father the Great Pirate by Davide Cali & Maurizio Quarello (Illustrator) at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Davide Cali and Maurizio Quarello (Illustrator)

Sometimes there are books in the children's section because they are illustrated and in a picture book format, so therefore they are for kids. But often enough, these books can't be categorised, and shouldn't be limited to young readers, because they truly transcend age barriers and can speak to anyone who reads. This book is one of those undefinable and special experiences.

As a young boy, the narrator's father goes away, and only returns once a year. The child knows this is because his father is a pirate, a great pirate, who tells him stories about the places he's been, the ships he's attacked, the treasures buried and his shipmates. But one summer his father doesn't return and the boy's mother gets a telegram…

I won't tell more of the story, but I will say that every adult I have inveigled to read this book, has stood quietly and thoughtfully when they reach the end. I don't know how a child would react to it, but I know it moved me unutterably. There are themes of love and what we do to protect our loved ones, of bravery and resilience and that moment when childhood is put behind even when understanding has yet to catch up with experience.

The illustrations are coloured in a muted palette, soft greys and creamy yellows with occasional splashes of warm umber, and convey as much meaning as the simply related text.

Have a look for yourself - I think this is one of the best books I have seen in my picture book section this year. Or for that matter, anywhere in the shop.

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Sophie Collins

Just for something different, a book that shows how to create a menagerie of different animals with just the aid of a torchlight and the shape of your hands. With a little practice, make silhouettes of things like elephants and camels and dogs and birds…

Hours of fun for child and adult alike, simple and effective and a great boost to imaginative play!

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Viviane Schwarz

Now, just occasionally, I have gotten customers boxed in, and read them my favourite cat books: There are Cats in This Book and There are No Cats in This Book by Schwarz. They just beg to be read aloud! This new title is (I apologise in advance!) going to be another I take great delight in reading to unsuspecting enquirers about books for youngsters…

The cats, Tiny, Moonpie and Andre discover that there is a dog in their book - and all cats know all dogs are scary, smelly, yappy and snappy, so they try to hide. But the new puppy soon finds them, and the cats realise they have found a new friend.

Bold bright illustrations with interactive features and a lovely direct style of narrative. Even if you don't ask nicely, I am all too ready to share this one with you!

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Rupert Wallis

James is trapped in a nightmare life - his mother dead, his stepfather violent, neglectful and begrudging, school dreadful. He often seeks refuge in the deserted house on the hill, where he keeps a record of how many days until he's 18 and able to escape. One day though, he discovers a man there - beaten very badly and obviously in trouble. Webster however is not an ordinary man and when the travellers turn up asking about information and promising gold for the knowledge of his whereabouts, James is tempted to reveal what he knows. But the travellers aren't telling the truth, and James and Webster end up running from their respective enemies...

This was an amazingly atmospheric novel, which leaves a lot to the reader's imagination (is Webster cursed? is James doomed to suffer the same fate? what is the puppet the old traveller woman keeps?). It reminded me of Patrick Ness and David Almond, and was as skilful and as thought-provoking as works by either of those fine writers. 12+

Michael Grant

Mara wakes up in an unknown place, remembering nothing but her name. A mysterious young man, dressed in a black coat with silver skull buttons, appears, and he knows who she is and what is happening. With no choice that she can see, Mara follows Messenger, and finds herself reliving the final hours of dead teenager Samantha Early's life.

As different characters appear, and the taciturn and seemingly harsh Messenger unveils more of Samantha's life, and as Mara witnesses the moral choices made by others, she realises that she is caught within a balance she does not understand, that forces greater than her own existence are in play - and she is just one piece in a vast battle of justice and retribution.

A gripping and occasionally creepy beginning to a new series - I couldn't put it down! 13+

Shane Koyczan

This began as a video that went viral. Koyczan, a spoken-word poet, grew up being picked upon, and his powerful poem is a response to the harmful effects of bullying behaviour - whether you are victim, instigator, or witness. It is also a poem about inner strength and finding the way to move past such negativity. The words are enough on their own to start conversations and reflections, but it is raised to another level by the illustrations.

Thirty different artists from around the globe have contributed work, including Australians Armin Greder, Kathleen Jennings and Phil Lesnie. A thoughtful book with an essential message - no age limit to this!

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ September 2014

There has been much discussion about a book from a French economist named Thomas Piketty (which doesn’t sound very French) called Capital in the Twenty First Century.

It is being compared in importance to Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History and The Last Man after the fall of communism. Perhaps free markets will not solve all our problems, especially as we witness the growing inequality in our society. I’m not quite up to reading all 692 pages so I am quoting from a review in August's Australian Book Review by Mark Triffitt, previously Director of Strategic Communications for the Business Council of Australia. In essence, capital is saleable financial assets such as stocks and bonds and property which return rent, dividends and interest. Returns on capital grow at faster rates than normal economic outputs such as workers wages. The logic of capital, and the free markets it lubricates, is such that it can only ever drive major disparities in wealth.

I was a reluctant reader of Donna Tartt’s latest big novel The Goldfinch, winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize. I think you are either a Donna Tartt fan or not and I’m always reluctant to start a book with more than 600 pages. This has 864 pages. Theo Decker is a thirteen year old New Yorker, son of a devoted mother and absent father. His mother is killed in a terrorist blast at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The Goldfinch is a miraculous little medieval painting which Theo takes with him when he, also miraculously, escapes unnoticed from the chaos after the blast. The book is devoted to his life and the life of that painting. It is a very New York book, with a sojourn in the abandoned suburbs of Las Vegas. The story wanders between High Society, dodgy Antique Dealers and Russian gangsters, and is filled with sumptuous detail. The narrative is terrific but for me the detail was too much – I wanted to find out what was happening.

Last year when the Tour de France was filling the screens of SBS we sold many many copies of Peter Smith’s lovely children’s story, Monsieur Albert Rides to Glory and this year the paperback is out and we’ve sold lots more. There’s a hush in the crowd as the Mayor lifts his gun, then an earsplitting bang and the race has begun... What's more, Peter is a bookseller at Abbey's! Famous Australian illustrator Bob Graham has done the witty drawings. It’s just one of the many, many children’s books waiting for you at the far corner of the shop.

I’ve recently been in hospital to have an operation I swore I would never have – a full knee replacement. I took along a new book from a wonderful Australian writer, Joan London, with me. It is called The Golden Age.

I’m home recovering well now and must tell you that The Golden Age is a beautiful book. As it is set in a hostel for children recovering from polio it was probably not the best choice to take into hospital with me but it turned out to be perfectly lovely. Beautiful prose presented on good cream paper with a nice type face and well set out.  The tender, observant story concerns two very different families. One a Hungarian refugee Jewish family, whose thin young son Ferenc (or Frank) is grasping life and struggling to be a poet, while Elsa, a graceful, beautiful young woman is the daughter of a bank clerk. Elsa and Frank are the two oldest patients and find solace in their friendship. Frank is the first person Elsa has met who talks about his emotions. The story is set in Perth in the 1950’s so there are some superb vignettes of episodes such as the Royal Visit of the Queen and “her sailor husband” during the polio epidemic, or a school concert featuring Ida, the refugee from Budapest. There are some interesting character portraits and there is a quietly satisfying conclusion. Read this perfect little book with pleasure. Joan London’s other books are Gilgamesh and The Good Parents. Both of these books have won awards.

Keep well,


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Monday, 18 August 2014

DEMOKRASI: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald ~ ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK

Demokrasi: Indonesia in the 21st Century by Hamish McDonald at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Hamish McDonald

ABBEY'S BOOKSELLER PICK ----- Like many Australians, my knowledge of Indonesia was next to nil. When it did cross my mind, the picture ranged from that of a mythical tropical land of exotic and mystical delights, to a hotbed of Islamic fundamentalism. With the recent elections in one of the largest democracies in the world, my interest was piqued with this book by Hamish McDonald, a Walkley Award-winning journalist who has a long association with Asia.

McDonald takes us on a sweep across the history of the archipelago as the ebb and flow of colonial and military power and cronyism are revealed. The structure is well thought-out as each chapter focuses on a key facet of the society or history. The 'disguised coup' from which Major-General Suharto assumed power from Sukarno is the subject of The Crocodile Hole. The embedded nature of the military within the fabric of civil, economic and political life is covered in Beyond Dwifungsi (Dual Function). Capital takes us through the development of the economy and the strained relations with non-indigenous tycoons and nepotism. Moving through history, later chapters deal with Papua (their claim for independence from Indonesia is a sore that won't heal), and the battle against pollution and environmental plundering.

The peppering of Indonesian words throughout also provides a strong sense of the culture. We learn of 'preman' (gangster-thug-enforcers for hire) and 'cukong' (roughly meaning 'boss' but which evolved to also imply a Chinese businessman who had thrived under military patronage).

All-in-all we get a strong picture of emergence. Indonesia is on the rise but it is certainly not a straight line. Key reforms in education, welfare, anti-corruption and democracy run alongside brutal suppressions and corruption. The pattern identified by McDonald is of good intentions, policy and reforms at the top level being watered down or simply ignored by entrenched corruption and poor administration, combined with inadequate resources for enforcement.

The dust is still settling on the Presidential election and it appears that the triumph of Joko Widodo is a lucky escape for the nation, with his defeat of the Suharto-era former general Prabowo Subianto representing a further break from the military regimes of the past.

Craig Kirchner 

Limited time offer: Buy DEMOKRASI now using promo code WHEREIDEASGROW online and save 10%.


1 September 2014

Indonesia Update Conference 2014
The Yudhoyono years: An assessment
19 – 20 September 2014

More reading: An excellent article on a new paradigm for leadership
Soft power, the bazaar and voting for Indonesia's future

INTERVIEW Margaret Throsby speaks with Hamish McDonald on ABC Classic FM

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Lindy Jones has been reading...

Lindy Jones ~ Australian Bookseller's Association Inaugural Bookseller of the Year 2011

When the Night Comes by Favel Parrett at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Favel Parrett

ABBEY'S CHOICE SEPTEMBER 2014 ----- Set in the 1980s in Hobart and on the southern oceans, this finely crafted novel is as deceptively simple as Parrett's first, award-winning Past the Shallows.

Isla and her brother have been taken to Hobart by their mother who is escaping an unhappy marriage. It is a grey sort of life for all of them, until her mother befriends some Danish sailors who are crew on the Nella Dan which supplies the Australian Antarctic bases under contract. One sailor in particular, Bo, brings a different way of seeing the world to Isla, and for a few weeks each summer, his kindness and quiet practicality brighten her life.

The chapters are interspersed with Bo's point-of-view as he works as a steward on the Nella Dan (a ship that engenders strong ties and affection in all who serve on her) and these sections are highly evocative of shipboard life and the wonders of the icy south. This is a quiet and reflective novel, pared down but beautifully formed. It is a story of small actions that generate great significance, of the helplessness of children who can only work things out in an incomplete manner, and of how adults bumble their way through life, not having all the answers themselves.

Deeply moving, and highly recommended.

Limited time offer: Pre-order now using promo code WHEREIDEASGROW online and save 10%.


Nest by Inga Simpson at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Inga Simpson

ABBEY'S CHOICE AUGUST 2014 ----- From the author of Mr Wigg comes this beautifully crafted novel of an artist re-finding her purpose and place in life. Jen is licking her wounds after the dissolution of her long term relationship with a man she has never gotten over, nor seems to want to recover from, and her mother’s death has given her the chance to buy a house and piece of bush near her childhood town. Jen left many years ago, but having nowhere else to go, has returned in order to resume her painting and her life. She tutors a promising young boy, Henry, works on her house and block, and observes the birds around her.

When a young girl who is Henry’s close friend goes missing, Jen’s past rears up to confront her, because when she was Henry’s age, her best friend went missing, never to be seen again. And so too, did her father, at the same time – and the town has never been convinced of his innocence. When the town starts remembering, Jen has to accept that her life will change yet again... An outstanding novel with a finely worked narrative line and fully realised characters.

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Wayne Macauley

Seven old friends decide to spend the weekend in a house perched above the Great Ocean Road. It is to be a total escape from the pressures of their various professional and domestic situations, with good food, good wine and stories. No papers, no television, no mobile phones or computers and no children - it should be a restorative break from modern life. Waiting for the last couple to arrive, they decide to take turns telling stories - true or invented? - as the weather starts to close in.

When Marshall does finally turn up, it's not with his wife but with his daughter, and the dynamics of the group shift into uncertainty - and recriminations. And the stories being told are less innocent, and when the house is cut off by a huge storm, their old friendships are called into question…

A sly social commentary, a thoughtful examination of tale-telling and its forms, and a cleverly constructed novel with unexpected flashes of cutting humour.

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Britta Bolt

I don't usually read a lot of crime novels, and the ones I do should provide me with interesting characterisations and situations rather than gory details! This one is set in Amsterdam, and the main character, Pieter Posthumus, works for the Department of Emergencies and Internment in the section known as the Lonely Funeral team. They provide dignified funerals for the unclaimed, anonymous and forgotten.

When one of the bodies belongs to a Moroccan immigrant, Posthumus feels there is something that needs explaining about the situation, and he starts to look for clues. Meanwhile, an elite police squad is hunting for terrorists but one of the detectives starts to suspect all is not above board in their investigation…

Twists and turns, and a portrait of contemporary Dutch life to boot!

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Darren Groth

Justine and Perry are twins. Their Dad died just before their 18th birthday, their Mum is long gone, and Justine has deferred university (and her slightly overbearing-in-a-nice-way boyfriend) to take care of Perry, who has a brain condition that causes him to react differently to situations he finds stressful. The two of them are off on an overseas holiday care of insurance, and Justine wants it to be memorable for Perry, as he is moving into assisted accommodation when they return to Australia. And it will be, if not for all the reasons she thought before the trip started…

Told in alternating voices of both Justine and Perry, this is a sensitively told story of what matters most, whatever your age or however others see you. Ages 14+ 

E. Lockhart

Cadence Sinclair is the eldest granddaughter of a patrician old-money family. Each summer they holiday on their private island off Marthas Vineyard - grandparents, aunts and cousins. The aunts are all vying for favour from their bigoted father, the littles and the golden retrievers are tolerated with amusement, and the older grandchildren - Cady, Mirren and Johnny form their own clique. Gat is an addition to their circle, a brown-skinned politically aware boy who Cady falls deeply in love with from the very beginning.

But something unspeakably horrible happened to Cady on the island of her fifteenth summer - and no-one speaks of it. She is continually plagued by debilitating headaches, has missed a lot of school and her cousins don't return her emails.

After missing one summer on the island, she returns the next, only to find there is a lot more she hasn't been told about - her grandfather's senility, her aunts' deterioration, her cousins refusing to stay in their allocated family homes. Spiky and energetic writing carries along a clever, gripping and twisty story. 14+

Claire Saxby & Graham Byrne (Illustrator)

Following on from their successful book Big Red Kangaroo, the creators turn to the other symbol on our coat-of-arms. A father emu gathers up a clutch of blue-green eggs, and incubates his brood. Non-fiction blended with a simple story and accurate and artistically rendered illustrations, so that young readers learn interesting facts wrapped up in the narrative.

John Corey Whaley

Travis has woken up after what feels like a nap to him. He had terminal leukemia and volunteered to undergo a procedure where his head was cryogenically preserved until the time a suitable donor body could be found. At the time of his death, he thought that would be a long time in the future, but it turns out to be only five years - just long enough for people to have come to terms with losing him and picking up the pieces of their lives. Including his girlfriend Cate and best friend Kyle.

It's hard enough dealing with adolescence but dealing with the fact your birth certificate says you're 21 when you're still 16 and the people you relied on have grown up and you haven't, let alone the associated publicity that comes from being grafted onto someone else's body and considered a miracle - well Travis has a lot of catching up to do. And it won't be easy…

This was brilliant! A fascinating concept handled deftly, with a lot of interesting questions and thought-provoking scenarios, but also with humour and insight. Ages 13+ 

Bob Graham

Somewhere in an Asian country, a young sparrow flits about finding food where he can. One day he discovers a sack of grain, and before he knows it, he is transported by truck and ship to a strange land, where he eventually finds a new home. Then he comes into contact with Elsie, who is in a stroller pushed by her loving grandparents, and by chance and the actions of a dog, Elsie discovers one of the greatest pleasures in life…

As always with Bob Graham's books, this one has a quiet message and delicately expressive illustrations that capture both the freedom of the bird and the wonderment of the child.

Another beautiful book, sweet without sentimentality, that will appeal to anyone who loves picture books!

Find this at

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Friday, 1 August 2014

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ August 2014

I suspect you might have to be of “a certain age” in order to fully appreciate the new novel from Linda Grant, Upstairs at the Party.

It concerns the lives of a group of young people in the Seventies attending a new university just built in York, in England. A friend asked me what I meant by a “red brick university”. Has that term gone out of use? Not everyone will recognise the significance of a new shop opening selling sprouts and lentils! She goes on to describe how their lives were changed by this new-found opportunity to attend University. Linda Grant is an especially entertaining writer who has an ability to evoke a time and place while describing the clothes people wore at that time. Her book The Clothes on Their Backs, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize, is a favourite of mine and she has also written The Thoughtful Dresser which examines fashion, from a social aspect not from design. How our clothes reflect who we are. You might have to special order this. It came out in 2009. Linda Grant was born in Liverpool with Russian-Polish refugee parents and she says much of this book if autobiographical. If you like Margaret Drabble’s stories you’ll enjoy this although she is a bit tougher.

I recently watched a DVD of The Monuments Men - the film George Clooney made about the art historians who helped rescue important works during the final days of the Second World War. The film was disappointing so I got a copy of the book from Abbey’s. The book, by Robert M Edsel with Bret Witter, is much better. Such a good story needed to be told.

The mass market edition of Jung Chang’s terrific book Empress Dowager Cixi: The Concubine Who Launched Modern China is now out. This is a huge turnaround – Jung Chang has been able to read the originals of historical documents recently released and shows Cixi to be the driving force opening Ancient China to the west – to railways, telegraph, electricity and an army and navy with modern weapons, not the cruel despot we imagined as we looked at the Summer Palace and the giant floating marble boat in Beijing. It is very readable. I’m going to give a copy to grandson Will who studies Chinese at High School.

There is a good Chinese History section at Abbey’s but I also want to recommend a book in biography about an Australian who was important in Chinese history at the end of Cixi’s reign. It is about Morrison of Peking as he became known, the Australian journalist for The Times of London, whose life is truly fascinating. I think the latest edition of this book by Peter Thompson and Robert Macklin is called The Life and Adventures of Morrison of China. It seems to have a lot less pages so perhaps it doesn’t talk about his adventure as a young man walking from the Gulf of Carpentaria to Melbourne only twenty one years after Burke and Wills perished trying to do the same thing. It was first called The Man Who Died Twice.

I’ve just been across to Western Australia on the Indian Pacific train. I had planned to take the Miles Franklin Prize winning novel All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld with me but, horror of horrors, I left my books at home. Daughter Jane, escorting me to the train, lent me her latest crime novel – she is an addict. It was one of Lee Child’s called A Wanted Man and kept me well entertained. I didn’t fall for famous hero Jack Reacher, for whom women lust and who men want to be. I didn’t approve of his system of never washing any clothes – he just gets new ones every four or five days! Good story though. [ Some have had fun costing out Jack Reacher's drifter lifestyle - view article. Ed. ]

Son Donald, now working in Perth for Woodside, is a mentor for several young men in the company. When asked by them if he was a mentor what were they? He hesitated. I think it should be mentoree but apparently it is mentee! When told this the young men protested that they were not lollies! Mentees not Minties says Donald. We looked it up on Google and apparently mentee is the word although certain bloggers say it is an ugly little word in danger of being misunderstood. Rush to your dictionaries now. I’ve discovered Abbey’s doesn’t have a Dictionary of New Words now. No doubt people look words up on Google but still word addicts like a printed copy and Abbeys does always have a decent Linguistics section. Susan Butler, Editor of Macquarie Dictionary has a book coming out this month. It is called The Aitch Factor: Adventures in Australian English. I haven’t seen it yet but I shall certainly have a copy.

As a previous Judge I was invited to the Miles Franklin Award announcement held in a beautiful room upstairs at the Museum of Contemporary Art and like many people there I was surprised at winning choice, although now that I am reading it I do approve. All the Birds, Singing is a pretty tough book. An awful lot about sheep so there’s no doubt about it being Australian.

Keep well.


Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Breaking: Australian musician takes drugs - TALKING SMACK

Talking Smack by Andrew McMillen at Abbey's Bookshop 131 York Street, Sydney

This young man came into our shop this morning and asked about a book about Australian musicians and drugs.

I told him "I'm sorry, we're not that sort of bookshop, sir. Can I interest you in this book on ancient Rome?"

But he was insistent. "It's called Talking Smack and I'm the author."

On hearing this, one of our young booksellers said yes indeed, we did have a book by that title and it came in this morning. The book was brought to the counter. The man, who then introduced himself as Andrew McMillen, said he was a journalist and his book contained in-depth interviews with Australian musicians who were very frank and forthcoming about their use of narcotic substances.

At this, my cheeks reddened as I voiced my objection. "Are you suggesting, good sir, that our fine Australian musicians make their music in a state other than one of complete sobriety?"

He looked at me with some misgiving, before venturing "Well yes. I've spoke with many of them. It's all in the book. See here? Paul Kelly, Tina Arena, Gotye, Phil Jamieson…"

"Phil Jamieson!" I spluttered "From the Christian rock band Grinspoon?!"

"Well, they weren't exac-"

"I can imagine a ne'er-do-well such as that young Farnham boy going wayward, but surely not Phil Jamieson?"

But Mr McMillen assured me this was so and then he whipped out a pen and signed all the copies of the book we had in-store. He then shook my hand with the confident zeal of one bearing 'the Truth' and strode out the door for parts of the city unknown. Well, I think he was going to another bookstore.

Dazed, I stood pondering this revelation. Grinspoon. An odd word, certainly. Powderfinger. I wonder. Midnight Oil. Two words, not conjoined - but still, something… subversive. Savage Garden. Oh my! It must be true! With that I sat heavily, pulling a handkerchief from my cardigan to mop my brow. A cup of tea. Yes, that would do nicely.


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Talking Smack by Andrew McMillen at Abbey's Bookshop 131 York Street, Sydney

Buy these books at Abbey's (131 York Street Sydney) ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers

Abbey's ~ An Aladdin's cave for readers