Thursday, 24 May 2012

Jeanette Winterson Will Make You Happy

I’m going to be honest here - I’ve never read a Jeanette Winterson book. But I certainly plan to now. I went to see her speak at the SWF last week on a recommendation from another Shearer’s staff member, and it was one of the most enjoyable writer’s talks I’ve been to.

I’m not often one to go see an author whose work I haven’t read, but I think Jeanette may actually have changed my whole approach to writers’ festivals. Usually, I feel a tightening in my chest as the event arrives and I can count the authors I’ve never even heard of, let alone read. Rather than relaxing into the program, I find myself frantically trying to calculate how many books I can read before the festival comes around. Never enough.

But I went along anyway, after quickly checking out her website so I wouldn’t be completely in the dark. For those of you who remain unconvinced, even after this blog, the first chapter of Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal is online on Jeanette Winterson's site and if you're anything like me you'll be hooked from the first line to the end of the available chapter. And the same by Jeanette in person. Rather than the usual 'in conversation' that is the norm at these events Jeanette came storming out by herself and controlled the stage for the rest of the evening. She was simultaneously entertaining, intelligent and funny, a difficult trio at the best of times. Rarely have I seen an author so confortable in front of such a large group of people, and in the intimidating shell of the Opera House, no less.  
Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal is Jeanette's memoir that delves into her bizarre and painful upbringing as the adopted child of Pentecostal parents who kicked her out of home at the age of 16 when she fell in love with a woman. The title of this memoir is the devastating question her mother asked when Jeanette was walking out the door. And all of this came after years of strange and unusual abuse. But despite the dire seriousness implied by it's topic this memoir is described by a reviewer at the Times as 'Laugh-out-loud funny' and the Sunday Times as 'Brave, funny, heartbreaking'. Which is the same as her talk - somehow, through sheer theatricality and an ability to turn hardship into material Jeanette manages to leave you feeling uplifted, perhaps because of her evident success in escaping and forging her own life despite this upbringing. And thank god. This would be a very different type of book if its author appeared less well-adjusted and less like she was thoroughly enjoying herself.

Either way, she convinced me, and Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal is waiting for me on my bedside table as I type. And even without reading more than I chapter I highly recommend you pick it up too.

By Lex

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

10 Aussie Books To Read Before You Die

The First Tuesday Bookclub has thrown it out there - what are the ten Aussie books that you absolutely must read before your time is up? They've put together a list on their website at that includes everything from Cloudstreet to Picnic at Hanging Rock, from The Magic Pudding to Jasper Jones.

My Picks? How about Frank Moorhouse's magnificent Grand Days, thrown in with Christina Stead's Sydney romance For Love Alone, another book set between Australian and London, Patrick White's Wanting and Kim Scott's That Deadman Dance for Nat. Along with a whole lot of books that I'm adding to my list!

By Lex

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Sebastian Barry visits Shearer's

Sebastian Barry popped into the shop on Saturday. He signed copies of all his books and, while he had to rush off to a lunch, he made time for a cup of tea and a chat. I told him that one of my friends had impressed upon me her love for Willy Dunne, the main character in A Long Long Way. Her father had fought in the Great War and she thought Barry’s book was a beautiful and awful telling of that war.

‘Well, you guys celebrate the war don’t you,’ he said. ‘I actually wrote that book because we (the Irish) don’t remember or commemorate the war and the men who fought in it. A Long Long Way was a great success in Australia and partly, I think, because it tapped into some feeling of Australian war history. It’s a curious thing,’ he said.

Barry is as considered, poetic and reflective in person as he appears throughout his fiction. It was a pleasure to have him in the store. Here’s the proof!


Saturday, 19 May 2012

Video Interview: Barbara Arrowsmith Young

I was so looking forward to meeting Barbara Arrowsmith Young.  I first became aware of Barbara after reading Norman Doidge’s The Brain That Changes Itself.
Barbara was invited to Sydney Writers’ Festival and I jumped at the opportunity and quickly rang her publisher, HarperCollins.
I was delighted when my request for a short interview and some book signings was granted and Barbara came to Shearer’s on Thursday. 
Barbara’s strength is in her understatement of what she has achieved, which makes her feats so much more powerful. I must confess that I “lost it” at the end of the interview.  I was so overcome with her story that I couldn’t speak I had such a huge lump in my throat as I was so affected by her story and her achievements. 
I’m captivated by her book The Woman Who Changed Her Brain and look forward to finishing it this weekend.
What a Woman!                                             -Barbara Horgan

Friday, 18 May 2012

Video Interview: Jeffrey Eugenides

A new Jeffrey Eugenides book was the highlight of the publishing year in 2011 and the highlight of 2012’s Sydney Writer’s Festival is going to be an engagement with that same author.

Shearer’s Bookshop was incredibly lucky to have the author visit them in Leichhardt to sign some books, imbibe some caffeine and answer some questions from a very starstruck bookseller before his Writer’s Festival event.

The Marriage Plot cements Eugenides as a must-read author.  The narrative introduces us to Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell, three students just about to graduate from Brown University.  We discover three young people all playing at Understanding Life  through their college experience who then embark on life’s journey still wondering at how to use the lessons they have learnt, both in and out of the classroom.

As Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell go about the business of responding to life’s blows - manic depression, unrequited love, unrealised potential - the reader is treated to some wonderful passages and inferences about literary theory, religious parity, elitist idealism, intellectual ennui and last, but not least, the powerful nature of love in all it’s forms.

Check out what Jeffrey Eugenides had to say when he spoke to Shearer’s yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Hannah Richell Video Chat

Hannah Richell came in to the store yesterday to have a chat to Barbara about her stunning debut novel Secrets of the Tides - already a hit in nine countries.

Every family has its secrets. Some are small, like telling a white lie or snooping through a private drawer. Others are more serious, like infidelity and betrayal. And some secrets are so terrible they must be hidden away in a deep, dark place, for if they ever came to light, they would surely tear a family apart.
The Tides are a family full of secrets. Returning to Clifftops, the rambling family house perched high on the Dorset coastline, youngest daughter Dora hopes for a fresh start, for herself and the new life she carries. But can long-held secrets ever really be forgiven? And even if you can forgive, can you ever really learn to love again?
Secrets of the Tides is out now in trade paperback for the RRP of $29.99.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Operation: Mother's Day

Well folks, Mother's Day is upon us again! It's that time of the year where mothers everywhere are showered in love in the form of burnt breakfasts (if they're anything like ours were), and the kids try to behave for five minutes.
If you still aren't sure what you're getting mum, fear not! We have a plan. The usual fare of scented candles and flowers that are already wilting the next day, however, these are not. Here are our suggestions from some of our in-store selection:

My Mum
Anthony Browne
$17.95 Paperback
 I Love My Mummy
Giles Andreae & Emma Dodd
$12.99 Boardbook
The Greatest Mother's Day of All
Anne Mangan
$14.99 Hardback
The Messy Mother's Day
Lucie Billingsley
$16.99 Paperback
Tina Fey
$22.99 Paperback
The French Cat
Rachael McKenna
$29.95 Hardback
Annie's Garden to Table
Annie Smithers
$49.95 Hardback
Lyndey & Blair's Taste of Greece
Lyndey Milan
$39.95 Paperback
A Cook's Life
Stephanie Alexander
$39.95 Hardback
Antonia and her Daughters
Marlena de Blasi
$32.99 Hardback
How Tea Cosies Changed the World
Loani Prior
$29.99 Paperback
The Night Before Mother's Day
Doug MacLeod & Judy Horacek
$9.99 Hardback
Paris: A Guide to the City's Creative Heart
Janelle McCulloch
$49.99 Paperback
The Wisdom of Women
Candida Baker
$29.99 Paperback
Agatha Christie: The Grand Tour
Mathew Prichard
$39.99 Harback

Click here to return to our online store.

Under Covers: W.H. Chong

‘Speaking as a reader, this is one of the most exciting reading opportunities I have ever come across’, W.H. Chong said. And Chong should know. He is the designer of the covers for Text Publishing’s new Text Classics series and Chong has read all thirty books in the newly published series.


‘Some of the books I had read a long time ago, like Cosmo Cosmolino. I had a lingering feeling and image from that book from my first read, and because that image had stayed with me it grew into the cover. I really couldn’t tell you what the story was, just this feeling of the night sky’, he said.

In the shop now, this series puts back into print thirty classic Australian titles. Some of the books are by writers none of us have ever heard of, some are early books by writers now household names, some are re-prints of contemporary classics and some are out-of-print Miles Franklin winners. The list of titles includes The Mystery of a Hansom Cab by Fergus Hume (first published in 1886), Ned Kelly’s The Jerilderie Letter, Careful He Might Hear You by Sumner Locke Elliott, The Glass Canoe by David Ireland, and The Plains by another award winning author, Gerald Murnane. 

Reading all of these books must have been overwhelming. ‘Of course’, Chong laughs, ‘skim reading isn’t recommended but when there are so many books it is hard not to feel the pressure. Keneally’s book, Bring Larks and Heroes, though, slowed me down. It is so modern and yet, incredibly, it was first published in 1967’, he said.

Chong is an award winning book cover designer, a sketch artist, and painter and takes time in thinking about connections and the words required to translate the reading, designing, discussing process.

To be given the task of designing the covers for this series must have been daunting. ‘Oh yes,’ says Chong. ‘Jokingly, I said to Michael (Heyward, Text Publisher), I’ve got a spare weekend, let’s do it! But really, it was thrilling when Text offered this series of books to me. It was the start of a marathon’, he said.

Chong believes there is a distinct difference between designing fiction and non-fiction covers. ‘I think you can find a way of visualising a cover of a non-fiction book by reading around the edges of the manuscript but literary novels are a bundle of lines and feelings and to be able to reduce them to a representation on the cover, you have to read it to have a sense of where the lines lead and where the emotions gather. Hopefully, while I’m reading the book something materialises for the cover’.

Discussing this process feels like a grasping, or a reaching for tangible glimpses of ideas, it is almost an esoteric exercise. ‘I don’t want to sound too precious’, Chong said, ‘ but I feel that I need to respond to the book with the responsibility of an artist. The writer uses words and I use images,’ he said.

The series covers are startlingly bright and bold while being individual and resonant of each individual book and I wondered which one was Chong’s favourite.

‘I think the most startling book for me is Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower. I asked around and mostly no one had heard of her. If they had, they hadn’t read her. And why? The Watch Tower is a contradictory and powerful book. It’s full of darkness but is sunlit throughout. It has a real pull of shadow and gravity. An amazing novel but how do we not know this author? And Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant is like reading Jane Austen with wit. We have these extraordinary authors who seem to have been shut away – why? – when these writers are as good as anything from England.’

It is a list that will be extended into the future with more of David Ireland’s work to be re-published later in the year. I wondered where this first list had been drawn from and Chong comes back to Michael Heyward’s passion for Australian writing.

‘Michael came across Watkin Tench in The Future Eaters: An Ecological History of the Australasian Lands and People, by Tim Flannery, and pursued him to the State Library. When Michael read Watkin Tench’s diaries from 1788, they, quote unquote, ‘blew his mind’. But, no one reads him now,’ Chong said. ‘So, this series is Michael identifying literature he thinks is important.’

The design for the series had to cover off a few objectives but initially, no one really knew what they wanted, Chong said. ‘Working out the wrapping was the hardest task. It had to be something that competed with Penguin and Vintage and really made a splash on the shelves. But once we had that, it became easier because I could fill the tableau of each cover. Yes, I needed to find thirty different illustrations but that was the fun part,’ he said.

As an aside, Chong also designed the cover (and won an award for it) of my favourite book of 2010, Lloyd Jones’ Hand Me Down World. It is a beautiful, blurry painting of an African woman in a blue coat side on to the viewer. He discusses his design process for that cover on his blog Culture Mulcher where you will also find more of Chong’s world of literature, books and art.

Further reading:
The Nation That Lost Its Own Stories - A great article from the Sun-Herald about the Australian ‘canon’.
Culture Rescue - Michael Heyward in The Zone on Australian literature.

- Pip Newling

The first 30 Text Classics are out now! You can read more about Text's new collection, a brilliant celebration of Australian writing, on their website.

May Books of the Month: 15% off the RRP!!