Sunday, 23 October 2016

The Man Booker Shortlist: A Guide for the Perplexed

When the Booker shortlist was announced a few weeks ago I proclaimed that this was the year I would read the entire selection of six novels. I make many stupid proclamations, but unfortunately I said this one out loud in front of people I like and respect.

The Man Booker Prize is a strange, unpredictable beast — now that I have read all the books on the 2016 list I cannot say for sure what it is those judges look for except that the novels are all inventive, assured and have a dark side. I have been surprised, delighted, confused, challenged, provoked and moved, but never bored.

I'm not sure if there's quite something for everyone on the list, but there are definitely some things for some people. Happy reading!

1. Hot Milk by Deborah Levy

Hot Milk is a fantastically strange, sexy and blackly funny novel. It was the first one of the list I read, and probably the one I will recommend to the most people. Set in a coastal town in Spain, the story follows Sofia and her mysteriously ailing mother as they seek treatment at an unconventional clinic run by the beatific Doctor Gomez and his eccentric staff (including a pregnant cat named Jodo). At its purest, the novel is a coming-of-age story, but don’t expect a traditional narrative arc – Sofia’s journey is as bizarre as it is compelling.

You should read Hot Milk if: you see weirdness as a virtue, and have unresolved issues with your mother.

If Hot Milk comes up at a dinner party, you might like to make the following pretentious, yet enigmatic assessment: ‘I particularly responded to the visceral poeticism of the language, and let’s just say I’ll never look at jellyfish the same way.’

2. Eileen by Otessa Moshfegh

Eileen is a grim, unforgiving, claustrophobic character study of the eponymous Eileen, a young woman who lives with her sadistic alcoholic father and works at a juvenile prison. Although she presents herself as thoroughly unremarkable, the story’s claws catch on the casual, even comical way she reveals the more disturbing parts of her personality. Reading Eileen is an exercise in withstanding the grotesque; through the loose structure of a noir thriller, Otessa Moshfegh masterfully chips away at the soiled, encrusted parts of ourselves that we don’t want to acknowledge. It’s a novel about shame, desire and the unstable nature of morality.

You should read Eileen if: you hunger to explore the darkness that lives inside us all. Not for the faint of heart or unstable of stomach. 

If Eileen comes up at a dinner party, you might like to make the following innocuous comment: ‘Moshfegh has really pushed the boat out on the unlikeable protagonist front – she renders the abject like it’s nobody’s business.’

3. The Sellout by Paul Beatty

Paul Beatty’s novel is lightning in a bottle. It’s an uproarious, savage satire of the least politically correct kind. The language has an inimitable swagger and the multi-layered political, historical and pop cultural references flow so thickly and quickly you may need a literary decanter to process the message underneath. Make no mistake, this is very likely a work of genius, but it is a hugely challenging read as it gallops along, lacerating the state of American race relations until there's nothing left but shreds of indignity. This is an important novel, but I fear that on my first reading I’ve barely processed its true depths and comedic achievement.

You should read The Sellout if: you’re after a fresh take on US race politics and are ready to take on a tsunami of inter-textual allusions which culminate in an exhilarating ride through a hyper-racial world. 

If The Sellout comes up at a dinner party, you might like to make the following grandiose announcement: ‘This might be the great satirical work of our generation.’

4. All That Man Is by David Szalay

David Szalay’s novel is made up of nine discrete sections, each of which drop you into an entirely new universe with new characters’ flaws to judge. Set in locations all over Europe, each of the stories is about a man, and these men become older with each chapter beginning with a 17-year-old on a not-so-sexy European adventure and ending with a dying man in his seventies. These characters are constantly travelling away from home – in cars, on planes, on yachts. Are they chasing the unattainable? Or are they merely running to escape themselves? Their stories throw up questions about masculinity, exile, disenfranchisement and the trappings of class, with a dash of schadenfreude thrown in for good measure.

You should read All That Man Is if: you enjoy short stories, and feel the urge to invest in a series of largely unsympathetic men who secretly hate their lives.

If All That Man Is comes up at a dinner party, you might like to suggest offhandedly: ‘Aren't all these stories just exploring one question – what happens when the entitled become disempowered?’

5. Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

Madeleine Thien’s Do Not Say We Have Nothing explores the trauma and silence born out of the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and the power of music to embody and transcend suffering. From contemporary Vancouver to the deserts of southern China, the story roams across time and place stitched together by a constant preoccupation with music and a set of hand-written manuscripts that safeguard family secrets. The book is like a tapestry, with each character's journey its own piece of folklore, gradually coming together to create a whole picture. This is historical fiction in its most understated form, with all of the pathos but none of the sentimentality.   

You should read Do Not Say We Have Nothing if: you’d like learn about the Chinese Cultural Revolution, and feel many feelings at the same time.

If Do Not Say We Have Nothing comes up at a dinner party, you might like to proffer knowingly: ‘We often think of music and creativity as a form of outward dissidence, but Thien shows it can be an inward rebellion as well.’

6. His Bloody Project by Graeme Macrae Burnet

It took me a while to buy into this 19th century-style novel, but once I was in I was ALL IN. His Bloody Project rests on the premise that the book comprises found archival documents relating to a triple homicide case in 1869 in rural Scotland – the story is a collage of different perspectives on this one gruesome event. The bulk of the novel is an articulate personal memoir written by the accused, which forms the undercoat on which other opinions are painted. This is no ordinary murder mystery – we know who did it – rather it’s an unexpectedly deep meditation on the nature of truth and intention, and whether we can ever really know the mind of another (or our own).

You should read His Bloody Project if: have a penchant for psychoanalysis; want to improve your Gaelic vocabulary; or have read all of the novels actually written in the 19th century and want more please.

If His Bloody Project comes up at a dinner party, you might like to ask provocatively: ‘Considering how meticulously Macrae Burnet mimics the 19th century style, how is it that this novel feels so modern?’


While I am loathe to expose myself in this way, I might as well go ahead and write my vague predictions for the prize, which is being announced this Tuesday (October 25th) in London.

Most likely to win: Hot Milk or The Sellout 

Least likely to win: All That Man Is and Eileen

Wild cards: His Bloody Project and Do Not Say We Have Nothing

By Kate Steinweg, Potts Point bookseller, reader and opinion haver (

Monday, 29 August 2016

Indigenous Literacy Day -

September the 7th is Indigenous Literacy Day and we will be donating 10% of our sales from this day to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.  

I would like to take this opportunity to tell you a little more about the Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) and the great work that they are doing.

The Indigenous Literacy Foundation (ILF) is a national charity of the Australian Book Industry. Their aim is to reduce the disadvantage experienced by children in very remote Indigenous communities across Australia. The focus  of the ILF is to improve literacy rates and instil a lifelong love of reading. Our programs focus on creating a special relationship with reading from an early age with free books, some in First language, and though publishing stories from communities.

In May of this year I travelled to the Tiwi Islands to see the ILF in action.  We were a group of nine, five ILF staff and Board members and four ambassadors - Richard Flanagan, Alison Lester, William Barton and Jared Thomas.  On Melville Island we ran a series of workshops with kids at Milikapitti School and Tiwi College.  It is hard to put into words how amazing the response was to these workshops.  As part of the program children and community members also received books to take home and enjoy.  Living in the city it is hard to imagine a world without books or even a world without any written signage but in Australia’s most remote and disadvantaged communities there is nothing and whilst literacy might be second to everyday survival the opportunity to make lasting change in communities is there and must be embraced.

The ILF runs three core programs - Book Buzz, Book Supply and Community Publishing Programs.

Book Buzz supplies books to play groups and appropriate community contacts for the youngest of children. The Book Buzz program also translates books into First language so the books are more accessible for families where English might be their second of third language.

Book Supply provides a range of books to communities. These books are carefully selected to be culturally relevant and interesting with the long term goal of cultivating a culture of literacy. So far in 2016, the ILF has distributed 50,000 books to 210 communities and have plans to expand to another 50 communities over the next year.

Last, but not least is the Community Publishing Program which involves sharing and documenting stories making Indigenous stories available to their community but also sometimes to a wider audience.  Some of these books are commercially available, please pop in to the shop and look at No Way Yirrikipayi! a fabulous collaboration between the children of Milikapiti school and Alison Lester or Tiwi Girl  which was written by the Senior Girls from Tiwi College.

This year on Indigenous Literacy Day the Spinifex Writing Camp will be launching their new book - The Goanna was Hungry.  A great book showcasing the efforts of ten young writers from Tjuntjuntjara, Mt Margaret, Menzies and Melbourne working with acclaimed author/illustrators Sally Morgan and Ann James. 

Justine Clarke, Josh Pyke and Deborah Cheetham, all of whom are ILF’s Ambassadors, have produced a fabulous song called “Words Make the World Go Round”.  The children from Gawura Campus at St Andrew’s School have joined them on this catchy song.

The ILF raises all its money without any government funding.  They rely on the book industry, publishers and most importantly any person who believes it is a child’s right to be functionally literate and able to read and write.

What you can do to help

Make a donation to the ILF
- Buy a book from us on 7th September and be safe in the knowledge that 10% of the sale price will be donated to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation
- Every time you have a book wrapped at the Potts Point Bookshop make a gold coin donation which is then given to the ILF
- Buy one of the books that are available through the community publishing program.  We have them in the shop
Buy the great new song “Words Make the World Go Round”

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

National Bookshop Day 2016 - Saturday 13 August

National Bookshop Day is going to be great fun this year, with a line-up of in store appearances, balloons for the kids and an exhibition with local flavour.

This year, we will be joined by legendary caterer Simmone Logue and musician, artist and local legend Jeff Duff.
Simmone will be in store from 12pm, signing books and giving away biscuit samples from her beautiful and tasty cookbook In the Kitchen.

Jeff will be in store from 3pm and he will be signing his outrageous memoir This Will Explain Everything.

We will be featuring in store a gallery of images from bestselling local history book Kings Cross: A Pictorial History.  This is your chance to see some incredible images that tell incredible stories about our neighbourhood up close and personal.

And don't forget - there will be balloons for the kids. 

About the Authors
 Simmone Logue started her food business in a small flat in Sydney's Neutral Bay, hand-delivering her cakes to local cafe owners.  She then leased an old butcher's shop, added pies, braises and salads to her repertoire, and her business continued to grow.  Now 25 years on, Simmone has created a $10 million business in wholesaling, retailing and catering.  

Jeff Duff is arguably the most flamboyant, creative and controversial entertainer Australia has produced. His musical gifts and fantastical androgynous performances parallel the artistry of David Bowie. While Duffo's career kicked off in the 1970s, he continues to grow as an artist, creating new music and performing sell-out concerts to this day. And no man looks as good in a leotard. 

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Anna Low - 2016 Bookseller of the Year

Anna Low, Australian Bookseller of the Year, in good company at the Australian Bookseller Conference.

Our boss, Anna Low, was the recipient of Text Publishing ABA Bookseller of the Year at this year's booksellers conference.  
We are so thrilled that Anna has been recognised for her wonderful contribution to the industry and as an amazing bookseller and boss!
Anna shared the honour with Deb Force of The Sun Bookshop and is pictured above with Magda Szubanski (winner of Book of the Year), Amelia Lush (Young Bookseller of the Year), Deb Force, Robyn Huppert (winner of the Elizabeth Riley Fellowship).

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Paris Up, Up and Away - all the way to Potts Point Bookshop

Paris has come to Potts Point Bookshop and it makes for a very pretty picture indeed.

"The Eiffel Tower is bored today.
Wouldn't it be nice to fly away?
Paris is full of things to do.
The Tower would like to see them too."

Paris Up, Up and Away is a gorgeous book by Helen Druvert (published by Thames & Hudson) which features elaborate cut outs about the Eiffel Tower hitting the high spots on a tour around Paris.  It sails through the night air, glides over the Seine; a short hop away, it finds the Opera.  The Tower weaves through crowds on the streets and in department stores, falls asleep in the sun, and wakes up to the jangling bells of Notre Dame.
This delightful book is not only a stunning piece of artwork but is also a wonderfully imaginative introduction to Paris and it's monuments for young children.

"The sun comes out and the sky is clear,
The Tower lands in a park that's near.
While the children play and the birds fly free,
The Tower snoozes under a tree."

We thought as the Eiffel Tower was going on a tour around Paris, we would invite it to visit our gorgeous picture window which faces onto our lovely garden right here in Potts Point.  A little bit of Paris enchantment at the Paris end of Potts Point.

Come in and take a look for yourself.

Paris Up, Up And Away is published by Thames & Hudson 
and is in store now $27

Sunday, 3 January 2016

Top 10 Bestsellers in 2015

What were you reading in 2015?

It was a year where the colouring book captured people's imaginations, politicians vied for literary status via their competing memoirs and the future of Australian produced illustrated titles (for adults) came into question.

So, what did our customers want to read?  Unsurprisingly, the following ten books are a mixture of the beautiful, the word-of-mouth bestseller, the literary powerhouse, the unmissable insiders read and staff favourites.

1. My Brilliant Friend (Book One of The Neapolitan Novels)
by Elena Ferrante ($23, Text Publishing)

A literary powerhouse and a word-of-mouth phenomenon, our top bestseller of 2015 has started many a conversation in the shop this past year and has polarised (some) opinions.  Set in 1950's Naples, this novel is a compelling evocation of female friendship and a fascinating glimpse of Italy - a very worthy start to the list.

2. A Little Life
by Hanya Yanagihara ($33, Picador)

Talk to Tim he will tell you that this is his favourite book on the list.  Talk to Anna and she will recall staying up 'til all hours at night crying her eyes out (and keeping her husband awake) unable to put this book down.  A Booker Prize shortlisted title, A Little Life is a big New York book about male friendship - confronting, disturbing, but deeply human.

3. The Girl with the Dogs
by Anna Funder ($9.99, Penguin Books)

This small tome proved irresistible to fans of Miles Franklin winner Anna Funder and for those who wanted a small but significant read during the busy Christmas season.
A poignant novella about family and "the siren call of the past", this book was inspired by Chekhov's The Lady with the Little Dog and is a fantastic addition to the Penguin Specials collection - a collection of short stories, novellas and essays all priced at $9.99.

4. The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins ($33, Doubleday)

Not a new book (it was released at Christmas in 2014), but by golly a stayer, The Girl on the Train was touted as the new Gone Girl.  Not necessarily a correct (or promising) comparison, but it has certainly reached almost as many people via word-of-mouth recommendations.
A slow burning psychological thriller, this one will keep you guessing.

5.  All the Light We Cannot See
by Anthony Doerr ($20, Fourth Estate)

Nothing garners attention like winning a major literary prize.  This beautiful book won the Pulitzer Prize in 2015 and went from a word-of-mouth booksellers' favourite to an international bestseller.
Set against the backdrop of WW2, this story which binds together a blind girl and a Nazi soldier will surprise and enthrall.

6.  H is for Hawk
by Helen MacDonald ($23, Vintage Books)

Nothing garners attention like winning a swag of prizes.
Helen MacDonald's powerful memoir about grief won amongst other honours the prestigious Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction and the Costa Award for Non-Fiction in 2014 and solicited a great deal of critical praise and attention.  A beautiful and haunting book, she sold out audiences at the Sydney Writers' Festival when she was here last year with her story about training a goshawk in the wake of the death of her beloved father.

7. M Train
by Patti Smith ($33, Bloomsbury Publishing)

Talk to Marg and she will tell you she has read this book multiple times and will probably read it again and again.  Anna and Megan will also wax lyrical given half a chance to expound on their love for this terrific memoir.
You need not know who Patti Smith is, need never have listened to any of her music or read her previous book Just Kids to enjoy this terrific memoir about solitude, obsession, literature, New York, inspiration ..... and much, much more.  A beautiful book from a unique writer.

8. Flower Addict
by Saskia Havekes ($80, Lantern Books)

The gasps, the envy and the pure delight displayed by customers every day when they pick up this gorgeous book cannot be matched by any other on this list.
This is a collection of the work (photographed by the very talented Nicholas Watt) renowned flower artist Saskia Havekes and her team at Grandiflora produce at their Potts Point premises for events all around the country.  Not only a visual delight, Saskia's words provide insight into her unique world and perspective as an artist.

9.  Nopi
by Yotam Ottolenghi ($60,  Ebury Press)

It was no surprise that Ottolenghi would provide our bestselling cookbook of the year, as he has done so these past few years.  Nopi is not only an extraordinary addition to Ottolenghi's culinary collection (including Ottolenghi, Plenty, Plenty More and Jerusalem), but is also a gorgeous book with it's gold edging and eye-catching cover.

10.  Keating
by Kerry O'Brien ($50, Allen & Unwin)

When Australia's most intriguing Prime Minister sat down to talk to Australia's most respected journalist for the ABC's four-part series Keating, it created landmark TV.
This book, which represents further interviews, provides even further insights into the man, the politician and strategist.  That our copies were signed by both the author and Mr Keating was certainly a boon and we know many a local household will certainly treasure this book in the years to come.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Author Interview - Frank Woodley, comedian and author of the new Kizmet series

PP:  Can you tell us about your new series of kids' books?

FW:  They're based around the adventures of a girl called Kizmet who's a courageous super-sleuth.  She's so smart when she sees a set a footprints information pours out of them like a wikipedia page.  She can tell how old the person was - whether they were walking or running.  I wouldn't be surprised if she could tell if they had freckles or not.  Her dad is a bumbling detective who would love to be here but just accidentally handcuffed himself to a departing helicopter.  The stories are narrated by Gretchen who is Kizmet's best friend.  Oh, and she's a currawong.
"the stories are narrated by Gretchen...... Oh, and she's a currawong."

PP:  Most Mums and Dads would know you from your comedy skits and appearances on TV.  How did it come about that you started writing children's books?

FW:  I just follow my nose.  It's one of the reasons I would never consider rhinoplasty.  My ample nose makes it easier to follow.  I've done lots and lots of narrative comedy, so it doesn't feel very different.  I hadn't written mystery stories before but I think they're quite similar to comedy.  Comedy and Mystery are both about creating tension and then offering a surprise resolution.

PP:  The illustrations in the books are fantastic.  And they are done by none other than... well... you!  Did you enjoy illustrating the series?

FW:  It was really enjoyable.  Drawing is a very introverted activity, and I spend a fair bit of my time showing off so it was a really nice change.
"Comedy and Mystery are both about creating tension and then offering a surprise resolution."

PP:  Gretchen is a bird, but is also the narrator of the Kizmet series.  Why did you choose for Gretchen to be a Currawong, and not a Rainbow Lorrikeet (so pretty) or owl (so wise) for instance?

FW:  A friend of mine, James, lives in the country and a currawong was once taunting his little Jack Russell by dropping leaves on it from the safety of a high branch.  James threw a ball to scare it away and accidentally hit it.  The next day he found an enormous birdpoo in the middle of his windscreen and he's convinced it was the currawong.  Ever since I heard that story I've had this sense that currawongs are very intelligent and cheeky.

PP:  Kizmet's Dad, Spencer Papanicillo is not a very good detective, but he provides plenty of laughs with his bumbling behaviour.  Where (or from whom) did you take your inspiration from when you created him?

FW:  He's pretty much cut from the cloth of Inspector Clouseau and Maxwell Smart, but I must say there's a fair bit of me in him too.  Just last weekend I was trying to run an extension cord across the roof of my garage and I cable tied my thumb to a pipe and was stuck there for an hour and a half 'til my wife got home and could pass me some scissors.
"I must say there's a fair bit of me in him too."

PP:  Kismet is super smart, incredibly agile and is a terrific detective, but she must miss a lot of school going away on all these crazy adventures.  How does she manage to keep on top of everything?

FW:  I'll have to ask her about that.  I think she may be home schooled.  Which in her case almost certainly means that she reads all sorts of books, and watches all sorts of videos and online stuff, and talks to everyone she meets and listens with fascination to what they have to say.... and Spencer watches it all happen in bewildered amazement.

PP:  We've followed the team across the globe chasing down kooky (and hairy) scientists and nefarious musicians so far - can you tell us what you have in store for Kizmet, Gretchen and Detective Spencer next?  Just a hint or little detail.....

FW:  I'm not sure.  Maybe the strange appearance of a person claiming to be from the middle ages.  Or a circus that has it's big top stolen in the middle of a show.  Or a mugger who gets people to give him their wallets by just asking really nicely.  Or a patient who gets an experimental stem-cell treatment for a head injury and becomes a super intelligent criminal.  Or a virus that is taking away the voices of all newsreaders.  Or a boy who every few weeks finds an envelope with a thousand dollars in it and a note requesting him not to play soccer with his local under eleven's soccer team that week.  Or... I 'm just rambling really, I haven't even started yet.

PP:  What was your favourite book as a child?

FW:  It would have to be the Asterix comics.  The gall of that little Gaul.

PP:  And lastly, what sort of books do you think Kizmet likes to read?  And for that matter, Detective Spencer and, dare I ask Gretchen?

FW:  Kizmet loves mainly non-fiction.  All sorts of stuff that gives you new ways of looking at things.  She loved Mind's Eye by Oliver Sacks and Mother Tongue by Bill Bryson.  Spencer reads Jackie Collins romances but puts them in a Wilbur Smith dustjacket.  And Gretchen never learned to read, but she enjoys watching Total Wipeout and having her suspicions that currawongs are more intelligent than humans confirmed.

Kizmet and the Case of the Smashed Violin $10
Kizmet and the Case of the Tassie Tiger $10
are both out now.