Monday, 12 January 2015

Notes from Eve Abbey ~ January 2015

I have had great pleasure reading Robert Dessaix’s latest book.

It is a memoir called What Days Are For and is a delightful blend of erudition and plain forthright opinions on love, infatuation, travel, religion, spirituality, friendship and literature. Of course. On a visit to Sydney, to watch the preparations for his new play, Robert suffered a heart attack in Oxford Street. Fortunately he was rescued but then became “an interesting patient” as he defeated death, despite being allergic to his medication.

I’m hoping you have already read his much earlier memoir A Mother’s Disgrace about his childhood as a much-loved adopted child of older parents who encouraged his unusual obsessions, such as inventing his own country and language and learning the Russian language. If not, do read it as it will add to your enjoyment. It is totally enjoyable to hear Robert’s voice again.

You might also like to read the little travel book, a biography of Hobart, in the series issued by NewSouth Books. This is written by Robert’s indispensable partner Peter Timms and is a mix of history and description about the city where they live.

I read a most interesting book called The Map Thief which is about a rather ambitious American with the grand name of E. Forbes Smiley III who became rich and famous as a dealer in antique maps. Antique maps are valued not only for their beauty and their history and even for their practical uses but also for their rarity. Their value can be enormous and they can be irreplaceable so of course there is a special sub-culture of collectors. A very special coterie I think. Unfortunately E. Forbes Smiley III succumbed to the thrill of stealing maps from libraries and universities.

The book includes fascinating historical details about maps and a fascinating account of his fall from grace. He did eventually spend time in prison but many librarians felt it was not enough punishment for the heinous crime of stealing cultural heritage. If you do happen to be a map connoisseur there is great information in here as well as extensive historical detail about early maps from Ptolemy through Mercator to modern times. Remember a similar story about an obsessive collector in Susan Orlean’s The Orchid Thief which was on the bestseller list a few years ago?

After reading The Map Thief I was attracted to a new series for middle readers called The Mapmaker Chronicles by A. L. Tait. The first book in the series is called Race to the End of the World wherein a farm boy is included in the crew of a vessel seeking to find the edge of the world. Why? Because he has a fantastic memory. I’m starting granddaughter Elise on this.

Historian Clare Wright’s book The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka has won several prizes and been short-listed for more. And rightly so. It is a terrific book which tells a great deal more about society in 1850’s Australia than just the Eureka Stockade story which is, nonetheless, described with great verve. It is such a pleasure to read history when the author’s voice comes through so strongly. Fascinating to read the population of Ballarat was more than 30,000 and forty five percent was women and children.

Adventurous young females migrating to Australia, tired of leading submissive lives in England suddenly found themselves much in demand as partners for hardworking men digging for gold. A big improvement on being a scullery maid, despite having to live in tents in the rain! Even better educated women were happy to brave the hardships rather than conform to society’s rules.

The community of Ballarat was well served with women taking leading roles such as theatre manager, poet or editor of the local paper. It’s a dramatic story often told with humour and because diaries, letters and petitions are quoted there is a good sense of the temper of the times. I really enjoyed it. Also recommended is a new edition of a Melbourne University Press publication of Claire Wright’s Ph.D. thesis called Beyond the Ladies Lounge: Australia’s Female Publicans. Now published in paperback by Text Publishing it is a fascinating story of one of the few avenues for women to succeed in business. It’s on my list.

I’ve just read a review of Colonial Duchesses: The Migration of Irish Women to New South Wales Before the Great Famine by Elizabeth Rushen. It is a study of the schemes that brought free, single women to the colony during the 1830’s. How were they chosen, how were they treated, how did they find work? The Government would support them for three months. No more. Lots of fascinating stories about these adventurous, young women who were, of course, both industrious and virtuous! Later on the schemes catered for families but right then brave young women were better value! I’m sure I’ll enjoy this. It will add to the stories in The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka.

There has been a lot of talk about the fall of the Berlin Wall twenty five years ago. Have you read Anna Funder’s brilliant book Stasiland? If not, put it on your list. She was researching this in Berlin and because she was young, and beautiful, and from Australia many of the men she interviewed assumed her book would never be published. So... they told her the most amazing, confidential things about the East German Secret Police. Naturally, her book was published and won the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction that year. Not to be missed.

The great P D James, grande dame of crime, died in November, aged 94. She brought a great deal of pleasure to many readers, all of whom loved her. Peter Milne rang to remind me that when P D James visited Abbey’s years ago so many people turned up we had to decide to invest in a sound system for future author visits and when P D came again a few years later we booked out the Bowler's Club down the road. It was the biggest roll up for any author.

The nearest was Janet Evanovich whose books feature the feisty female bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum. Evanovich had, unbeknown to us, mentioned on radio that she would be at Abbey’s on Saturday and had been featured in a women’s magazine. More than 300 people turned up. We had expected about 100! So checkout the P D James titles and make sure you have read them all. The ones featuring Adam Dalgleish are the most popular.

Do you have bushwalking friends? If so, there is a wonderful present for them. This is Seven Walks: Cape Leeuwin to Bundeena by Tom Carment and with photographs by Michael Wee. Artist Tom Carment’s delightful drawings are very much in vogue these days and his writing is fresh and perceptive. It is a beautiful book that has been racing out of the shop.

Really exciting news is that New Yorker Magazine not only ran a long essay in October 'Rediscovering Elizabeth Harrower' but in the December edition James Wood put her fifth novel In Certain Circles at the top of his list of favourite books of 2014. He still thinks The Watch Tower is her finest and describes her as a brilliant, austere writer. Text Publishing have done a great job of promoting this great Australian writer.

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, 5 December 2014

Lindy Jones picks her Top Fives for 2014

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

Before we get to Lindy's picks we thought you might like to know 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. Lindy will join Richard Neville (State Librarian), Craig Munro, Murray Waldren and Susan Sheridan on the Judge Panel.

Well it must be that time of the year again: busy, busy, busy! Another couple of hundred books read, another request for best-ofs, so here's a handful of recommendations of books I particularly enjoyed throughout 2014.

Five Books by One Author I Hadn't Read Before.

Ben Aaronovitch

Great fun! I gave these to a friend's mother who gave them to her teenage grandson, and we all thoroughly enjoyed them. A bit of the supernatural, an engaging cast of characters, police and murders in London, and the odd Dr Who reference…

River of London series at Abbey's Bookshop, 131 York Street, Sydney

Five Novels (of the Serious sort).

Favel Parrett
Elegant, deceptively simple novel of family and friendships.

Anthony Doerr
Poetic and moving: war’s effect on innocents.

Christine Piper
Worthy winner of this year's Vogel Award. Japanese experience of being interned in WWII Australia.

Sebastian Barry
Glorious prose and a poignant story of love lost and promise unfulfilled.

Inga Simpson
An artist's attempt to reconcile her present with mysteries from her past. Beautifully crafted.

Four Novels (of a Lighter nature) and One Non-fiction of a guilty pleasure kind.

Jonas Jonasson
Witty and entertaining, a delight of improbable unbelievability!

Alan Bradley
The conclusion to the Flavia de Luce mysteries; our young chemically talented sleuth faces more mayhem.

Brooke Davis
Charmingly off-centre novel about not waiting for stuff to happen, but making it happen.

Nick Earls
Sharply observant but humorous novel about navigating middle age (and technology)!

Ian 'Molly' Meldrum
Pure entertainment, literally! Go on, you know the chorus: do yourself a favour!

Five YA Novels (or Why should teens have all the fun?).

John Corey Whaley
A quirky premise but a serious topic: maturity for adolescents.

Rupert Wallis
A werewolf novel that doesn't even mention werewolves.

E Lockhart
Spiky and energetic writing carries along a clever, gripping and twisty story.

Justine Larbalestier
1930s Sydney - hard men, fast women, ghosts and strays. A clever mix.

Amy Ewing
Dystopia, repression, forbidden love and resistance. Because there has to be one on the list! And my niece loved it.

Five Novels for Other Young Readers.

J A White
Atmospheric imaginative fantasy - probably one of my favourite favourites!

Robin Stevens
Enid Blyton meets Agatha Christie: most enjoyable!

A F Harrold
Illustrated story about what happens when imaginary friends disappear, or their friends do.

Jen Storer
The secret spy returns! More mysterious happening, more strange things to investigate!

Zana Fraillon
Thoughtful rather than entertaining, strong characters and tragedies overcome.

Five Picture Books (or Why should the pre-schoolers have all the fun?).

Bob Graham
Because I love Bob Graham's books. And this one has a sparrow, a dog and Elsie.

Jory John & Benji Davies
An exhausted bear, a bouncy duck and a lot of fun!

Anna Kang
Read this out to your little boy. Lots of repetition, opposition and attitude!

Oliver Jeffers
A new Oliver Jeffers: say no more!

Libby Gleeson & Freya Blackwood
Beautifully rendered picture book about the power of sisters (for bad and good).

Five Non-fiction (because sometimes I enjoy Real Stuff) Or maybe Six. Or Seven.

Helen MacDonald
Poetic, powerful and moving meditation on grief, falconry and the sorrowful writer T H White.

Dr Munjed Al Muderis
A once-demonised refugee’s story: harrowing and uplifting.

John Pickrell
Popular science at its clearest – and truly fascinating! Who'd've thought T-Rex wore feathers?

Helen Garner
Only Garner could make me read about such tragic awfulness and feel I've learnt more about the human condition.

Elizabeth Kolbert
Absorbing and terrifying examination of man's impact on the other inhabitants of this earth.

Tess Lea

David Whish-Wilson
Illuminating and idiosyncratic depictions of two of our lesser known capitals.

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, 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