Friday, 30 December 2011

Bestselling Fiction of 2011

10. Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey

9. The Summer Without Men by Siri Hustvedt

8. The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje

7. Before I go to Sleep by S.J. Watson

6. Watercolours by Adrienne Ferara

5. All That I Am by Anna Funder

4. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

3. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

2. Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansbach

And our bestselling fiction book of 2011 was...

1. Caleb's Crossing by Geraldine Brooks

Bestselling Non-Fiction of 2011

10. You'll be Sorry When I'm Dead by Marieke Hardy

9. Benji by Benji Marshall & Glenn Jackson

8. The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal

7. Guinness World Records 2012

6. Bill's Everyday Asian by Bill Granger

5. Brain Food by Dr. Karl Kruszelnicki

4. Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson

3. Notebooks by Betty Churcher

2. Jamie's 30 Minute Meals by Jamie Oliver

And our bestselling non-fiction book in 2011 was...

1. The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do

Bestselling Children's Books of 2011

10. The Jewel Fish of Karnak by Graeme Base

9. Alice-Miranda on Holiday by Jacqueline Harvey

8. Too Small to Fail by Morris Gleitzman

7. Press Here by Hervé Tullet

6. Alice-Miranda at School by Jacqueline Harvey

5. What Body Part is That? by Andy Griffiths

4. Con-nerd by Oliver Phommavanh

3. Cabin Fever: Diary of a Wimpy Kid 6 by Jeff Kinney

2. The Golden Door by Emily Rodda

And our bestselling children's book of 2011 was....

1. The 13-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths

Friday, 23 December 2011

Everyday Kindness by Stephanie Dowrick - Reviewed by Walter Mason

Walter Mason is the author of Destination Saigon. You can find him online here

Stephanie Dowrick is by now one of the legendary figures in the world of Australian books. A pioneering feminist publisher in 1980s London, Dowrick transformed herself, first into a novelist and then into a wildly successful writer on psychology, personal growth and, in latter days, spirituality. She has grown and developed with her readership, at times leading and at times listening to the lives of ordinary people. In her latest book, Everyday Kindness, she takes up the simplest concept and creates one of the most inspiring and original books I have read in a very long time.

Born out of her collected columns for the Sydney Morning Herald’s Good Weekend magazine, Stephanie soon detected a theme in her brief writings – the everyday concerns about kindness and respect, and the great difference the cultivation of these can make in our lives. And so she edited, extended and enlarged upon these years of observation, creating this exquisite book devoted to such an unexpected topic. The short, sharp chapters, so perfect for picking up and reading whenever you have a spare moment, are at turns surprising, meditative and inspiring.

And I just kept turning and turning through the pages, filled with ideas about how I could make improvements in my life, and how I could afford to extend more kindness in almost every daily encounter. Dowrick encourages us to shift away from the obsessive worry and constant self-concern that causes so much pain in our lives. By re-focusing on the needs of others, and on the finding of solutions rather than the cultivation of complaints, we grow as people and with that growth comes a concomitant increase in self-esteem. Oddly, the self-love we so desperately search for comes to us more easily when we are actively expressing our love of others.

Encouragement, gratitude and appreciation – those wonderfully old-fashioned virtues that many of us have forgotten – are built up in the book, not just as tools of personal growth and social cohesion, but as ends in themselves. There is a tremendous psychic value, Dowrick suggests, in being joyful about others’ successes and triumphs. In doing so we are answering one of the most fundamental human needs – the desire to be appreciated and valued.

Everyday Kindness
is essential reading, I think, for anyone who is worried about the state of the world and interested in ways that we can make it better. Its focus is on the personal, on the direct relationships that we are most capable of influencing and improving. Dowrick’s voice is refreshing in its simplicity and in its careful regard for compassion and the necessity of building up our personal power through supporting and respecting others.
 Everyday Kindness is available here
Shearer's Bookshop is holding an event with Stephanie on Wednesday 8th February 2012 at 7.30pm. Tickets are $10, you can book on (02) 9572 7766

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Megan

My absolute pick for the year was David Vann's Caribou Island.  Set in Alaska, it is atmospheric yet the writing is spare (it's only 300pp) making this is a book for lover's of  narratives without all the fluff. Much compared to Cormac McCarthy, David Vann has a brilliant knack for setting up extremely tense moments which are extremely visceral. Brilliant!

Another couple of shorties that I loved this year were both from Siri Hustvedt. They were The Summer Without Men and The Shaking Woman. The first is fiction and the other non-fiction, however both explore very similar themes surrounding women and their lot. As moved as I was by both these books, it is The Summer Without Men that brought laughter, and The Shaking Woman which reminded me of how brave and insightful her writing is. These are incredibly good books.
For my Aussie pick, I think Peter Salmon's The Coffee Story was hard to go past. Raw, verbose and completely original, this story about a dying and sometimes not quite lucid coffee magnate is terrific.  Peter's writing is loud and the narrative is violent, fast-paced and even somtimes crude. A good one to blow away the cobwebs.
And last but not least, I must mention Patrick DeWitt's The Sisters Brothers. Is it naughty for a bookseller to say that the cover is initially what drew me to this book? Oh well, who can go past a skull that consists of two cowboys? Clever! And the writing is not bad either... no really, this book was a terrific, rollicking, droll-humoured winner. Not the winner of the Booker Prize (it was short-listed), however if you're not looking for worthy, but downright entertaining, The Sisters Brothers, which is about two cowboy brothers, is a sure thing.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Mark

Honourable Mentions:

And here are the seven books that are my picks for 2011:


Favel Parrett's debut novel has stuck with me ever since I read it earlier this year. It's written in stark prose that strongly evokes the cold and lonely area of Tasmania's coastline where it takes place. I felt the cold and damp that the characters felt. It also packs a lot in for such a small book, with the result that you're given a brief but engrossing glimpse into the life of the characters and the place.

This worthy winner of the Booker Prize is a wise and beautiful novel that plays with memory and perception. It's about a man looking back on the events of his youth and coming to understand that his sense of what happened may be wrong. Another brief book that is all the more impressive for how much it conveys with so little.

An awesome horror novel from an exciting new talent. Nevill's previous novel, Apartment 16, was an interesting and well structured novel but it was too over the top for my tastes. In The Ritual, he pares back the excesses of his previous work and focuses (for the first two thirds at least) on the relationships between the four main characters and the place that brings them so much despair. Like Past the Shallows, the setting lives and breathes in this book, a character as dark and menacing as the horrific creature that stalks the forest.

This was such an unexpected pleasure. When I first heard that this Western was shortlisted for the Booker I was expecting a Blood Meridian type of tale. Instead, deWitt delivered a funny and engrossing book that features two truly unique main characters. It is also one of the best designed books of the year.

A collection of stories and anecdotes from Marieke Hardy's life, it is worth the price of admission for the chapter about Bob Ellis. Marieke reflects on her life, her friends, her family and who she is. The stories are often funny, sometimes hilarious. But they're all punctuated with her sense of style, meaning that they flow like a conversation and feel quite personal. 

A razor sharp novel that delivers many laugh-out-loud moments and is a bruising satire of the publishing industry. I loved this book for so many reasons, but the description of the protagonist's life in the opening chapter is achingly funny, as the excerpts from the fake novels Steve Hely has concocted.

I was actually quite conflicted about placing this book as my top pick of 2011. It's a book that you can have a different relationship with each time you read it. And it's a book that cries out to be read more than once. Some of the concepts in Embassytown are so strange and the characters so bizarre that when you read it you can get a little distracted by them. But no book has sparked more conversations for me this year. But maybe that's more to do with the people I hang out with. The story is about Avice, who lives in the far future at the edge of the explored Universe. The planet she lives on is home to a native species called Hosts, who have a 'literal' language in which it is impossible to lie. Miéville explores linguistic concepts, themes of race and colonialism, plus the tropes of science fiction in a book that I chose because it's like nothing else that was released in 2011.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Pip

This year has been great for readers of Australian fiction. I was so pleased that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin. What an extraordinary novel! He weaves history, language, discussions of national identity and belonging with poetry and a killer story that just keeps evolving in complexity. This remarkable work of fiction cracks open a space for us all to re-think what being Australian means. It is a true classic and needs to be read widely.

My second favorite is Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears. It is set in northern NSW from the Second World War onwards and takes us through the lives of three generations of the Nancarrow family, famous for their horse jumping at country shows. Mears’ clear-eyed unsentimentality for her characters, their tough lives and the changes wrought by war and progress is a breath of fresh air and the lyricism she brings to the landscape (and the way the horses’ hooves pound the hard earth of One Tree, the Nancarrow property) has stayed with me a long time after finishing the book. I’ve just given it to my mother for her birthday and she is loving it. 


Favel Parrett’s debut novel Past the Shallows was a complete surprise. Yes, it is a story we have heard before – three brothers, a bitter father, a dead mother, and the remoteness of far south Tasmania and Bruny Island. But, Parrett tells her story with an emotional authenticity and clarity that kept me reading the whole book in one sitting. It is also suitable for the more mature 16+ readers who want something a bit real and dark.

I know I’m late to the party, (and yes, he is a New Zealander) but I discovered Lloyd Jones this year. His latest, Hand Me Down World, is a cracker of a read. Jones sets us up for a straightforward crime novel but weaves in a story of a woman searching for her baby son against the contemporary geopolitics of Europe and refugees in general. It is on my list to re-read over summer.

And the book that is going to be the Christmas present for each of my family members this year is Thirty Australian Poets, edited by Felicity Plunkett. This collection of poets born since 1968 is elegant, sophisticated and crackles with energy, ideas and a worldliness that will inspire you. Australian poetry is clearly in good hands!

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Elissa

Stuck is the story of a little boy whose kite gets stuck in a tree, and his ingenious and downright mad attempts to retrieve it. This is, like most of Jeffers' work, not a story for the literal minded. If you've read any Oliver Jeffers before you know what you're in for with his latest picture book. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for?

Back last century when I was a little girl my father had a collection of Rackham's illustrations on old wooden runged posters. I used to sleep with 'Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens' above my head. I've always been a sucker for beautiful illustrations and now I've got these sumptuous Rackham illustrations snuggled quite comfortably next to E.H. Sheperd's.

This beautiful book covers Rackham's work from beginning to end, including sketches and some of his correspondence. But it isn't just about Rackham's work, written by art historian James Hamilton it also examines Rackham's personal life.

The Great Penguin Bookchase

At last! Trivial pursuit without all those boring sport questions! Unfortunately it still has a 'science' genre but you can't have everything. I bought this as a Christmas present for myself, not to be taken out of its shrink wrap until Christmas Day so the whole family can argue about the virtues of Goethe's 'Faust' over Marlowe's 'Faustus'. It has little books to put on little bookshelves and over 1200 questions. I can't decide if I'm more excited about this game or my sister's honey mustard ham.

I originally picked these up because of their lovely covers. Then I noticed one called A Dissertation upon Roast Pig by Charles Lamb and I was sold. I've collected a few of the titles now and my favourite is Recipes from the White Hart Inn by William Verral. A highly amusing and highly delicious description of being the landlord of an inn in Sussex in the eighteenth century and introducing French cookery to his customers.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Andrew

This has had mixed reviews, partly because it's not seen as measuring up against his unmatched (and perhaps unmatchable) In the Skin of a Lion (1987) and The English Patient (1982). This book should not be dismissed, however, as it is a charming evocation of a childhood journey by sea. Fans of the above-mentioned books will also find much to appreciate in the later sections of the book when Mynah, the thinly-veiled Ondaatje character, recalls episodes from his adult life.

I haven't yet read anything else by Eugenides (I'm not whether sure seeing Coppola Jr's film version of The Virgin Suicides counts), but this book has inspired me to go on to read his much-lauded Middlesex (2002). I get the impression The Marriage Plot is not as weighty as his 2002 novel, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. This is undoubtedly in no small part due to the fact that much of the Eugenides character Mitchell's university experience closely mirror my own, although the favourable reactions of others who have read it suggest that there is more to it than that.


I only finished reading the prior novels just before this was released, so I've yet to suffer the long wait his other fans have. This one ends on as tantalising a finish as his others, however, so I'm steeling myself for years of angst before the next arrives. A Dance with Dragons fleshes out even more of the world previously only mentioned in passing, visiting infamous historical sites and paying off more set-ups than the earlier works. A must for all fans, including those who have just joined through the TV series.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Picks of 2011 - Natalie

Kim Scott is a brilliant writer who weaves together Australia’s past, present, histories and myths in the captivating story of Bobby, a Noongar boy, who struggles to find his place and identity in Australia during settlement. That Deadman Dance is the best and most important book I have read all year – no wonder it won the Miles Franklin Award.

I read this book in one sitting, so in all honesty, I couldn’t put it down. The Sense of An Ending is a wonderful meditation on the subjectivity of memory and truth while at the same time being an enthralling mystery that keeps you guessing until the final page (and beyond). Barnes uses the first person narration perfectly to illustrate how unreliable our understanding of the world around us is – what and who do we really know?

David Brooks is an Australian poet, writer and scholar whose various guises fuse together beautifully in his latest book. Sons of Clovis is more than a new account of the fictitious Australian poet Ern Malley, it is a intricately crafted and thought-provoking exploration of poetry and the nature of literary hoaxes themselves. If you love the detail of language and the connections in life between people, times, ideas and events then you will love this book.