Sunday, 30 December 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Rebecca

A fascinating and enjoyable read. A seemingly simple plot – a stranger invited to a dinner party gets up between main course and dessert to lock himself in the spare bedroom – sets the stage for a multifaceted exploration into a variety of characters and themes. The ideas of memory, history, relationships, and existence all come into play in this wonderfully crafted novel that will leave you pondering long after you’ve finished! 

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Karma

The first of Susan Sontag’s collection of journals, Reborn, provides insightful fragments of a remarkable intellect. Beginning in 1949 from the perspective of a 16-year-old Sontag, the journals document a personal journey oscillating between subtle and sharp reflections of a woman who was becoming a cultural and intellectual icon. Between longer passages are lists, stray thoughts, and incomplete ideas, all charged with potential, with many forming the bases for future essays. From her youthful yet completely self-aware curiosities, to her emotional clarity in intellectualising her emotions and relationships, Reborn presents snapshots of a great mind exploring the potentialities of life.

The thing I like about Miranda July is her ability to stray beyond what is considered “normal” with a completely genuine eccentricity and matter-of-fact approach, which has the added result of making you feel completely together. Her 2005 book No One Belongs Here More Than You: Stories sums this feeling up perfectly. Her most recent book, It Chooses You, is a collection of short interviews accompanied by photographs. The process of creating the book has just as much appeal as the interviews themselves: July was procrastinating from writing a screenplay and instead took to replying to classifieds ads of people selling their everyday items. The book is a charming collection of interviews with the sellers about their objects and the meanings they hold to them, which does much to highlight our own stories about the objects we choose to keep and those we throw away.

Home/World: Space, Community and Marginality in Sydney’s West – Helen Grace, Ghassan Hage, Lesley Johnson, Julie Langsworth & Michael Symonds

A book with lingering relevance, Home/World presents themes found across all urban spaces: marginality, home, community, modernity, nature, and migration.  This collection of essays illuminates not only the ways in which Western Sydney has been negatively represented as a place of disadvantage and grim fates, but also presents rich, grounded reflections of home, community, and possibility. Home/World explores the contradictions, nuances, and ambivalences of feeling at “home” in a city with scattered thoughts on multiculturalism, national identity, and belonging. A very interesting read that lights up intellectual lightbulbs.

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Barbara

Rachel Joyce is an award winning English playwright and this is her first novel.  It was longlisted for this year's Man Booker Prize. Six years ago Rachel wrote The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry as a play for the BBC Radio 4 and it won an award for the best radio play.  Rachel wanted to write a book for many years and was persuaded by her colleagues to write "Harold's" story as a novel. She wanted to write a story that didn't quite fit the rules and make the implausible, plausible....and I think she succeeded.  Harold has retired and lives with his wife Maureen in a southern Englist town. Maureen's a bit of a shrew and criticises him all the time and poor Harold wears it without a murmur.  He receives a letter from a work colleague he hasn't seen for 30 years.  She writes that she is in a hospice and wants to thank him for his friendship many years before and to say goodbye.  Harold immediately writes to her and sets out to post the letter.  He contemplates at the post box and decides to move on to the post office.  When he reaches it he makes the amazing decision to just deliver it in person.  The problem is that he lives in southern England and the hospice is in the north of the country 627 miles away!  And so his pilgrimage begins.  Sounds implausible I know, but the people he meets along the way, even the television crews, make this a quirky story with many surprising dimensions. I've had Shearer's customers who didn't want the novel to end as they loved it so much.

Tom Keneally is an inveterate storyteller.  Tom has written a World War One novel from the fresh perspective of the nurses rather than the soldiers.  The story begins in the Macleay Valley of New South Wales with two sisters Sally and Naomi Durance.  Both are nurses, one leaves and the other stays home combining work with looking after aged parents.  When the war begins they both sign up but they are hiding a dark secret.  The Durance sisters witness first hand the work and everything  the war has to offer.  This is a novel about the closeness of siblings and love.  The Daughters of Mars also touches on some interesting subjects, the changing face of medicine during the early 1900s, conscription, Quakers and the plight of conscientious objectors.  Tom is renowned for his meticulous research and the story was inspired by journals of two Australian nursing sisters written during the Great War.  It is a story that stays in your mind long after you read the last page.

Arthur Conan Doyle brought Sherlock Holomes back from the dead following a public outcry.  Ian Rankin just yanked Detective Inspector John Rebus, the dour Scottish detective out of retirement and the news has thrilled his fans throught the world (including me)!  Rebus finds himself at odds with Rankin's latest protagonist Malcolm Fox when all he really wants to do is to discover the truth about a series of seemingly unconnected disappearances stretching back to 2000.

Rebus wants to investigate the crimes but nobody else is interested.  Of course that doesn't thwart Rebus, not even when his own life and the careers of those around him are on the line.  Ian Rankin not only creates great characters but his description of place is so stunning I even looked up an atlas to follow the areas of Scotland he was visiting in search of answers.  The title, the first scene and the last scene in the novel all come together in a very clever piece of writing.  Mr Rankin is indeed a great storyteller.

Friday, 28 December 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Nick

I absolutely loved this grand fantasy debut from Patrick Rothfuss. The Name of the Wind tells the epic tale of Kvothe (“pronounced nearly the same as ‘quothe’”), an orphaned young bard with a knack for magic and mischief. It is told from the perspective of an older Kvothe recounting his earlier days, and how his story became part of the mythology of his world. The overarching narrative (i.e. the story of Kvothe) is impressively interspersed with flowing tales of the history and mythology of the setting. Patrick Rothfuss has managed to make a brilliant story about stories and the power of storytelling. 

The Name of the Wind is so much more than standard fantasy. It’s that all too rare find – fantasy distinctly different to Tolkien. The Name of the Wind carries on the grand tradition of wizarding colleges introduced by Ursula le Guin and JK Rowling. Rothfuss takes his cast of likeable (albeit lovably flawed) heroes through an immersive, gritty, and believable setting. Although the standard heroism and adventure of fantasy is tempered by tremendous sadness, The Name of the Wind is never without humour. 

It is a rollicking good read, full of myth, adventure, and action. A must read for anyone who calls themselves a fantasy fan. 

What can I say about Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic tale of adventure that hasn’t already been said!? This is THE pirate story against which all others have to be judged. Before Will Turner and Captain Jack Sparrow, Jim Benbow and Long John Silver set off on the high seas with only treasure and adventure in mind. Written in magnificent prose, Treasure Island has it all! Murder most foul, cavalry charges, sailing in rough seas, pirates, mutiny, buried treasure, ancient skeletons, marooning, and more!! If you like adventure and pirates, you have to read Treasure Island. It’s just as perfect for young boys and girls looking for an exciting read, as it is for those of us who are slightly older, but wish we weren’t.

- Nick

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Layth

Skagboys is Scottish author, Irvine Welsh’s third run at the Trainspotting storyline he started back in 1993. He returned to the characters in 2002 for a sequel, Porno, set about seven years onwards from the events of Trainspotting. Now, a decade after the sequel Welsh has returned to the grey port of Leith in Scotland to tell you how it all got started. Everybody has made a return for this much anticipated sequel; the cynical, red headed Mark Renton; the slick and charming Simon ‘Sick Boy’ Williamson; the dopey yet good natured ‘Spud’ Murphy; the intelligent but easily led Tommy Lawrence and the psychotic and ever threatening Franco Begbie. Welsh takes us back to before most of them became the junkies we were introduced to in Trainspotting. He reaches far back into the pasts of these characters and, having read the other two books in the trilogy by this point, I felt like I was really allowed a deep insight into what makes these people tick. 

My favourite thing about Welsh’s writing is his amazing ability to build extended universes. All of his books, not just those in the Trainspotting trilogy, all take place within the same universe’ more often than not in the Port of Leith or the wider area of Edinburgh. This is done expertly in Skagboys as Welsh not only brings back old favourites but breathes a whole lot of life into characters that were merely passing by in the other novels, or even only discussed and never introduced. Another reason I just couldn’t put this book down, was the way Welsh managed to really give the reader an insight into the social and political upheavals that existed in the turbulent times of Thatchers England and how these factors (among others) went to contribute to the massive heroin epidemic of 1980s England and Scotland. 

In short, this is one of my favourite books of this year, written by one of my favourite active writers at the moment. Do yourself a favour and check him out. (Disclaimer: not for the faint of heart).


A Clockwork Orange certainly needs no introduction by now. Anthony Burgess’ 1962 novella has garnered much controversy both in its written form as well as on stage and screen. 50 years on, this comprehensive edition includes a foreword by British novelist Martin Amis and an introduction by Andrew Biswell. As well as the classic story you have come to know and love quite intimately, this edition also includes notes on the text; a glossary of ‘nadsat’, to help explain most of the gibberish Alex and his ‘droogies’ speak; as well as essays and reviews on A Clockwork Orange and, finally, a never before seen epilogue. This edition is sure to please any existing fans of the novel and any new ones that care to explore themes of human autonomy and the choice between good and evil.

Have you ever seen you dog give you ‘that look’? You know the one, they’ll sit there and stare at you with those big wide eyes, head cocked to one side, tongue protruding from a big wet grin? If so, I bet you’ve wondered what the little menace was trying to tell you. Whatever it was, it probably won’t be in this book.

Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Author Interview: Brian Falkner

Brian Falkner was born and raised in Auckland. He is the award-winning, best-selling author of several novels for children and young adults, including, The Flea Thing, The Real Thing, and The Super Freak. His action adventure sci-fi novels, The Tomorrow Code and Brainjack were both short-listed for the New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children & Young Adults and the Esther Glen Award at the LIANZA Awards, with Brainjack winning the New Zealand Post Book Awards, Children's Choice Award (Young Adult Fiction category). Brainjack also won the 2010 Sir Julius Vogel Award, Best Young Adult Novel. Both these novels have also been published in the USA and Germany.

He spoke to Rachel about writing, naming his characters and more.

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Elissa


A YA novel about a boy who decides nothing has meaning and his school friends who try to convince him otherwise. This is a dark story. Not for the faint of heart. But it's good. Very good. It will make you question a lot of things we take for granted. What is meaning? And how do we decide what something is worth?  

One of two books published posthumously after Hoban's death at the end of last year. Soonchild is a beautifully illustrated, wondrous story about a man whose unborn baby doesn't want to come out into the world. He embarks on a magical journey to convince her otherwise. A wise and often amusing tale, partly based on Inuit mythology. 

Vintage Children's Classics 

I could say a lot about numerous titles in this series. If I had three or four pages I could rave about all the different titles here that I'm so happy to see again. Given that there are so many well known authors on this list I have to take this chance to mention some who aren't as well known to modern audiences.

Joan Aiken's The Wolves of Willoughby Chase is exceptional. And the cover is just great. It's a mystery/ adventure story set in an alternative history with wolves in England.

Erich Kastner's Emil and the Detectives was written in 1928 and is about a young boy who falls victim to a thief and engages a gang of children his own age to apprehend the criminal. While I was investigating this series I found the Vintage Children's Classics website and discovered that Kastner was considered anti-German by the Nazis and copies of Emil were put to the flames in 1933. Kastner was even present at the time. Thankfully not all copies were lost so we can all still enjoy this fantastic story.

There's something here that will interest every child and they're only $9.95! Needless to say my bookshelves have significantly less room now Edith Nesbit, Arthur Ransome and Mark Twain have invaded.

- Elissa

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Event: For The True Believers - Great Labor Speeches that Shaped History Book Launch

This past Wednesday night, Shearer’s was host to the launch of For the True Believers. Edited by Troy Bramston, speechwriter and advisor to the Rudd government, For the True Believers is a collection of speeches from Labor leaders that have shaped not only the identity of the Australian Labor Party but Australia itself.

Darcy Byrne, the Mayor of Leichhardt, introduced the discussion by recalling the power of Gough Whitlam's 1972 'It's Time' speech over his mother, describing the way she burst into tears as Whitlam started “Men and Women of Australia-”, the way it brought back memories of the power of John Curtin’s wartime address and everything it entailed – the loss, and the unity of the people of Australia.

This shaped the tone of the rest of the night, an insightful and lively discussion between Troy Bramston and Geoff Gallop, former Premier of Western Australia, on the history and personality of Australian Labor speeches, as well as the importance and art of speech-making.

Geoff Gallop kicked the discussion off by describing his ideas around the makings of the perfect Labor speech. Contextualised by democracy, he explained, Labor speeches must pass two tests: the 'True Believer Test', winning over the 'mind and muscle' of party members, as well as the 'Marginal Voters Test', bringing the people at large together to form the majority. He went on to explain that Us Vs Them must be addressed, and throughout the discussion highlighted the importance of this idea today. Class struggle is still relevant today, with Us representing the people as 'workers, small business, farmers and professional types' and Them 'the privileged, wealthy and conservative'. Though many Labor targets have been achieved, such as fair wages, Medicare and Occupational Health & Safety, with Work Choices more recently overturned, there are still issues that affect the life chances of people such as lack of dental care, disability wages and gaps in the health system.

Bramston generally disagreed, explaining that to him a Labor speech was far more characterised by seeking to uplift rather than to divide people, that the Labor party seeks to represent everybody. He explained that the power of classic Labor speeches is their the bringing together of philosophy, policy and political stance. In his mind, the recent push of Us Vs Them is an error, instead bringing forth images of George Black's address at the birth of Labor party with men with pitchforks, farmers hats and muddy clothes, that Labor should still seek to “represent those who laid with mind or muscle, with hand and heart”. What is most important, Bramston says, is a speech-maker with intellect, courage and vision, with a solid argument and authenticity.

They both agreed, however, that a great speech is a breakthrough speech, one that presents a different understanding or interpretation of something already familiar.

Other topics of the night included a comparison of the views (such as Hawke and Keating's opposing views on the importance of speeches inside of parliament to outside), as well as Gallop's breaks into interesting and amusing anecdotes on the importance of build up, venues and even translations in speeches (such as a slight mistranslation of Kim Beazley's speech to repressed Papua New Guinea locals inciting them to action thinking he was literally joining the fight, and causing Beazley to have to flee the scene).

Bramston also explained the process in selecting the speeches featured in
True Believers, leaning on speeches that shaped the history of our country. As an example he picked a speech that would lead to the building of the Sydney Opera House – the transcription of which he had to dig through party achieves to find. It was with this one speech that Premier Joe Cahill won the people over, despite never seeing a symphony orchestra or opera himself. He urged the public “to aspire to the finer things in life” and said the cost would “only be a ripple in the ocean” - though in the end it cost ten times what he estimated. And with that, an Australian icon was given life.
As the night drew to a close, the pair concluded with a discussion on the direction Labor should take, and of where speeches go wrong. Troy Bramston implored the Labor party to take Bob Carr's stance, to avoid dead, stale language. He argued against the “diminishing art of the oratory”, that the reliance on sound bites and recycled keylines is a step backwards. A speech-maker instead should speak confidently and freely to an audience because the public want a discussion, not a lecture.

Hand in hand with this, and regaining the Labor Party's focus and identity, will ensure many more great Labor speeches in the future.

- Hannah

Watch: Troy Bramston looks at the greatest speeches by Labor leaders and asks if great political speeches are still possible.

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Megan


I was highly amused by A.M. Homes book May We Be Forgiven. In the tradition of Jonathan Franzen (however with characters you can actually like) we find ourselves ensconced in the domestic dramas of American people going about their privileged yet dysfunctional lives. That's not to say that the characters in this book don't have good cause to be acting up, afterall one of them has just killed an entire family in a road crash, and the rest seem to be struggling with the guilt that has engulfed them all. What's funny so far, I hear you say? Well, that's a good point. This book walks that narrow line. Whilst it is a moving exposition of tragedy, the sublimely farcical elements that are injected throughout make this a completely compelling read. Very dark, very funny, very readable. My favourite book of the year. 

I've put this book on my list mainly because it was just so memorable. An unusual book that blended the writer's journey with a historical fiction narrative, HhhH is the story of Heydrich, one of the most feared officers in the Nazi regime and second in charge to Himmler. Laurent Binet, the author of HhhH inserts himself into the book by clueing the reader into his writer's angst. How can a novelist be true to the reader and also be true to history? Does a simple description of a favoured vehicle reveal a lack of research, does a thought attributed to a real person mislead? At times, Binet's insertions detract from the story of Heydrich, however the book as a whole is utterly fascinating, thought-provoking and refreshingly original. 


Okay, so I'm showing my true colours now. I love design, but I also love having a little knowledge about a lot of things. It's a character flaw, but how can I help it when publishers like Phaidon keep on feeding it. The Archive features 500 influential graphic designs on each "page" with one large image on one side and descriptions from experts and further illustration on the other. Just looking at it makes you smarter. Okay, so they are not really pages. The Archive is one large file box with 500 cards which you can organise and re-organise to your heart's content by whatever filing method you might choose (okay showing another weird peronality trait). You can even choose to frame them or use them as educational cards during dinner parties when your friends show a complete lack of knowledge about the font you used on their place cards. I've already had a lot of fun with my Archive. But in all seriousness, this is the book for design enthusiasts. Great content and above all a kick-ass presentation box that will guarantee a happy dance from the coolest of your friends.

- Megan

Monday, 10 December 2012

Joey's Book Club - Favourite Reads of 2012

This novel was loved by all members of the book club so it was not surprising to see that it was voted our number one read for the year. This was a most gripping and engrossing novel full of well-crafted complexities and many unexpected twists and turns. The reader rapidly finds themselves hooked in and becomes emotionally invested in the characters. Gillian Flynn is a brilliant writer and the group felt that this novel represents the epitome of a literary crime/thriller novel. It is also one of Jennifer Byrnes top picks from the First Tuesday Book Club.

This novel was also universally loved by all members of our book club. It is a debut novel by author M.L. Stedman, and is a very well-crafted piece of literature, which explores what happens to good people who make bad decisions.  It is a very complex and morally riveting story, which provides a great insight into the psyche of a childless woman and the great desperation which she feels. It is a heartbreaking story which will tear you apart as you grapple with the notions of right and wrong and love and loyalty.

Our book club thought this was an exceptional novel and is an epic in both scope and content. It has several stories running concurrently, with one set in the twenty-first century and the other in WWII, however, both are intertwined. We all appreciated the extraordinary amount of research Perlman undertook into WWII history and we felt that we had learned a great deal, such as details about the Sonderkommando uprising at Auschwitz, which none of us had ever heard of before reading this novel. It wasn’t an easy read, with many complexities requiring a great deal of concentration, however, it was well worth the effort.

- Linda

Saturday Book Club - Favourite Reads of 2012

Choosing the three best books of  2012 was quite a challenge, while we readily agreed the top three it proved more difficult to rate them.

Ultimately we agreed with the Man-Booker panel and rated Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies number one. For those who have not yet read this book, it focuses on the period in English history, when Henry VIII is seducing Jane Seymour and relying on those around him to find a way for him to be rid of wife number two Anne Boleyn. His loyal supporter (or is he) Cromwell, plots and schemes to rid Henry of Anne and give him his hearts desire.

The Boleyn family scheme to keep Anne on the throne and pray for the birth of a son to secure their power, while the Seymour’s manipulate Jane into a relationship with Henry in an attempt  to increase their power and gain greater access to the king and his money.

Cromwell, the puppet master plays all sides while the only people he is really trying to benefit are his family and supporters.

It was more difficult to choose second and third, finally we settled upon Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper for second, and Patrick Gale’s A Perfectly Good Man for third, while very different books, both authors are excellent at observing  interpersonal relationships and the small things that make all our lives richer.

Perlman's The Street Sweeper has as its centre three characters an academic, a street sweeper and an old dying patient at a hospital. The characters are tied together by Perlman in the narrative that reaches from modern day New York to the concentration camps of the second world war. Through their lives we experience the holocaust, loss of family  and the impact of history on people long after the event.

The story winds it way through the lives of the various characters, leading to an ultimate redemption for the central characters and a greater understanding of human nature for the reader.

In A Perfectly Good Man Gale returns to his two recurring themes of god and sex. Set in a small community in Cornwall, the first chapter asks the question of the reader: is Barnaby a good man? We are never given the answer to this question, but by traversing Barnaby’s life and the lives of those who matter most to him the reader reaches his or her own decision.

The book follows the lives of the characters through their life in no particular order, offering insights into why Barnaby does what he does and the forces that have shaped his lives and the lives of those he loves a lot and far less so.

We would also like to give a thumbs up, for a racy novel about the current day political and intelligence elite of Canberra; The Marmalade Files by Chris Uhlmann and Stephen Lewis. This is a book that makes you laugh and cringe in equal measure at the goings on in the nation’s capital. Good summer reading with a cold one. The top three  are both character driven and beautifully written, and thus the reason chosen by the Saturday Morning Book club as the top three for 2012, The Marmalade Files is just a fun read.

- Paddy

Monday Night Book Club - Favourite Reads of 2012

Third Monday Bookclub - Top 3 books for 2012
The final book written by the Pulitzer Prize author Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety was a firm favourite for the group.  Beautifully written, layered characters and relationships between two couples, with exquisite depictions of country and nature in Vermont and Wisconsin.  The group had a very animated discussion when it came time to talk about this one as we all loved it for it's depth of relationships and natural beauty of landscape and writing.  It was clear to us as to why this is now considered a modern classic.  This will be stay with me for a lifetime, providing a very high benchmark for others to attempt to near. 
The latest offering by one of Australia's finest contemporary authors, The Street Sweeper provides a delicately and cleverly written intertwining book, dipping between eras such as the American Civil War, the Holocaust, equal rights movement in the 60's and contemporary America.  While some content was harrowing, it was clearly real and extensively and accurately researched, giving this book realism and depth to a story that could otherwise be nonsensical.  Broad in scope, some say epic, and yet quite a personal story with intimate character portrayals. This was the first book I read of Elliot Perlman's, but has since lead me his other novels and short tales.   
Like Elliot Perlman, Anna Funder researched this book with great depth, threading together a tale of courage and defiance throughout Nazi Germany and leading us back to contemporary Sydney through the main character of Ruth.  While all the group enjoyed this cleverly written Miles Franklin award winning novel, we appreciated the complexity and marvel of The Street Sweeper more.
- Marita

Monday Morning Book Club - Favourite Reads of 2012

1. Crossing To Safety by Wallace Stegner

Our Shearer's second Monday of the month book club opted to read Wallace Stegner's Crossing To Safety following an extraordinarily positive endorsement by all on the panel of ABC TV July's First Tuesday Book Club.
Our group was unanimously equally smitten, and, by a long shot, voted it as our favourite book this year.
The novel recounts a long adult friendship between two couples who meet in 1937, and, over the following four decades, by a quiet, but totally engaging narrative alchemy of flashback and reflection, we learn of the highs and lows of their marriages, their aspirations, and the complex bonds and strains of their friendship.
Stegner's characterisation is gifted, with his characters drawn with such psychological accuracy, depth and insight, they resonate as if they are real people.
Truly, a masterpiece.
- Carol

I was fortunate that our Book Club group chose this story to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of Dickens’ birth.   It’s amazing how I recognized many contemporary characters as Dickens perceptively described every nuance and foible of each of the many characters.   Every element of a great novel is  there – travel, adventure, romance, tragedy, hatred, evil, goodness, parsimony, poverty, snobbery and much more.  The language is so rich and stretches the reader’s vocabulary but he also introduces his own words which don’t need his dictionary as they are so bizarre and descriptive that the reader perfectly understand the author’s intent and meaning.  I urge everyone to read at least one Dickens every year as it reminds us why we love books and storytelling.

- Caz
3. The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman 

‘The Street Sweeper’ is an absorbing work of fiction within the context of well- researched historical facts. It spans half a century and encompasses the civil rights movement in USA, the Holocaust, Chicago unions and life in twenty-first century New York. Some fictional characters are based partly on real people (see Author’s note).

Lamont Williams is an African American on probation and working as a janitor in a hospital. Adam Zignelik, an Australian historian, is an untenured professor at the University of Columbia. Both men are struggling with aspects of their lives. Their stories are linked through connections with friends, family, acquaintances, strangers and others whose lives ebb and flow through the story.

At risk to his own future Lamont befriends a patient, Henryk Mandelbrot, a Polish Jew and Holocaust survivor, dying of cancer. As the friendship develops through empathy and acts of kindness Henryk entrusts Lamont with his story of life in the ghetto and concentration/death camps, especially his time in the Sonderkommando unit, Jewish prisoners who were forced to bury the bodies from the gas chambers.

 In a library storeroom Adam discovers the original tapes of the first interviews with Holocaust survivors after the evacuation of the camps. These tapes tell the story of the Sonderkommandos uprising at Auchwitz-Birkenau and the courageous women who smuggled quantities of gunpowder to the men in the camp.

Although the Holocaust is a powerful component of the book with the depiction of terrible events and injustices, its scope is much wider. It is a story of hope, resilience, love, courage, healing, happiness, heroism, kindness, survival and the way stories and lives can connect and intersect in unexpected ways within community and varying social strata.

There are many interesting and intriguing characters, which the author develops with understanding and sensitivity enabling the reader to feel deeply for them. The Street Sweeper portrays the complexities of life across a broad range of experiences, emotions and time. It is a long book but interest does not wane as the author moves the story with great skill from one situation to another and back again.

This is a powerful story, which revives our recollections of history, engages, enlightens, informs, and challenges us to reflect on the human spirit. It is a remarkable, well-crafted book - one of the best this year (if not the best).

- Mavis

Thursday Night Book Club – Favourite Reads of 2012

1. Our favourite book of the year was A Perfectly Good Man by Patrick Gale, which was conceived as a companion piece to his earlier book Notes on an Exhibition. The central idea of that book was of the difficulty in growing up with a mother who was a mad genius, and in A Perfectly Good Man the madness is on the father’s side. We admired Gale’s skill in having the plot move in two directions at once spiralling backwards into the main character’s roots and troubled teens and childhood to find out what the answer to his need to be “good” might be and how each chapter felt as contained as a short story. Our group has been a fan of Gale’s since he first visited Shearer’s discussing his earlier work. To have him return to Shearer’s this year to discuss his latest novel and to revisit some of the characters we loved from the first novel makes him feel like one of the family! 

2. Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper was chosen as a very close second. He is also one of our special visiting authors who feels like a family member to us. We admired Perlman’s skill at describing the worlds surrounding two men and their families and how they swirl in and out of history as the forces of the Holocaust, the American civil rights movement, Chicago unions, and New York City racial politics combine in a thrilling cross- generational literary symphony. Despite describing some of the worst horrors of the 20th century, it ends unapologetically happily as ''a young African-American oncologist and a white Jewish historian stood smiling and talking to a skinny black street sweeper.''

3. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn was chosen as our third pick. Beautiful Amy and handsome Nick would seem a perfect match. Our interest in this unconventional crime novel was piqued when we learn that they are both consummate liars with dark secrets they are keeping from each other and the reader. This provided us with many discussion points about relationships, what is the truth and society’s propensity to always suspect the husband whenever a wife goes missing. Flynn has suggested that one of her inspirations was Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - the play by Edward Albee about power games in a toxic marriage performed on film by Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, who ripped into each other with such gusto it was hard to watch. This influence can be seen when we reach the astounding ending.

- Jane

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Author Interview: William McInnes

William McInnes is an Australian film and television actor and writer. He spoke to Barbara about his new book The Laughing Clowns.

Event: Michael Leunig

Shearer’s final author event for 2012 took place on Monday 26th November and what an evening it was! We had a visit from the unique Australian artist, Michael Leunig, to discuss his latest publication, The Essential Leunig: Cartoons from a Winding Path and so popular was he that the event was held next door in the Palace Cinema to cater for the crowd of 180.

Leunig warned us that he didn’t have a prepared ‘spiel’, ‘no pleasing witty talk to deliver’. Instead, he gave us so much more – offerings from his heart and soul as he described for us the 'poetry and spirit in the playful winding path that the semiconscious pen makes on a piece of paper'.

Leunig began by describing the process of collating the 400 pieces, representing his career of over 40 years, for this latest book – many favourites, some never before published and many which had spread out into the world or been kept in public libraries.  Such a process re-awakened various emotions as he was confronted with issues he had lived through and rediscovered parts of himself. The process was not pain-free – expressing yourself over 40 years means making mistakes and airing regrets in public. And he came to realise as he looked upon his odd bunch of drawings, what an odd life he has had!

Leunig’s school experience was not a happy one and he believes he attempted to escape it by creating a mind-space where he could safely invent and creatively express his own view of life. His cartooning career began as a political commentator in a daily newspaper in Melbourne in 1969. Faced with a blank square each day on the Letters page he increasingly felt uneasy about presenting caricatures and point scoring and grew more interested in human nature and wisdom. One day, as an impending deadline grew to a close Leunig, in desperation, drew a duck. To this day he does not know why he chose a duck although he did grow up with them. All he knew was that he wanted the duck.

He grew to realise that it was an image he wanted to offer up, and that the world would be improved with a duck in it. In the political cartoonist’s blank square on the Letters page with its potential commentary on war, death, corruption and political manoeuvres, there went instead an innocent little duck.  And Leunig, himself, was transformed from a commentator into an artist. Now, he told us, he knew that instead of presenting something with a particular meaning or a punchline, he was now offering something lyrical and soulful in its dimensions, opening things up rather than nailing things down. Leunig discovered in this process that the personal is most universal; that the artist’s role is to express what is repressed. This, he explained, can be both the ugly difficult things that embarrass us and the beautiful things that nourish us but which we are too inhibited to express for ourselves. Leunig described sadness as one of the latter – ‘a beautiful door to joy’, a beautiful rich feeling where happiness can appear.

Leunig described his new artistic awareness as getting into a childlike space -more primal, sub-human, messy and daring where good ideas come once the mind is freed up. He described the beauty of watching children paint or draw – how uninhibited and non-judgemental they are. Or the indigenous artists from remote communities in northern and central Australia with whom he has visited and collaborated, who intuitively choose their colours and thoroughly enjoy their ‘mark-making’ and whom he credits with greatly influencing his art, humour and philosophy. Leunig then shared a saying from Lao Tzu to express his philosophy: ‘True art seems artless.’

Leunig’s duck became the catalyst for his receiving a letter from a woman named Marie-Louise, a contemporary of Carl Jung, who wrote of the archetypal significance of the duck in German folklore. He learned that the duck appeared when the protagonists became trapped or blocked on their journey and it would fly them to safety. So, in Jungian terms, the duck represents transcendence or a transition to new territory when the soul becomes blocked. Leunig is rather pleased that his whimsical duck has an eternal meaning, although he also loves whimsy.

Leunig went on to create other whimsical characters such as Mr Curly and Vasco Pyjama as well as the odd teapot. However, a watershed moment came in Leunig's daily cartooning work with the advent of the 'war on terror' following the 9/11 atrocity. As an artist, in dread of its implications and at odds with the political climate of the time, Leunig became filled with sadness and despairing of human nature. His work showed a decline in the more lyrical or gentle themes and he stopped drawing Mr Curly altogether. He eschews the growth of information for the collective masses through TV and movies as much for their hyperactive over-stimulation as for their lack of wisdom. But Leunig continues to try to make meaning of the world otherwise it becomes a trauma.  He offered this as his definition of trauma – an inability to make meaning.

As he grows older, Leunig says he feels more at peace despite the world often ‘going mad’. As he described it, he feels ‘less worldly and more other-worldly.’ He painted a lyrical picture in our minds of little wings fluttering and sometimes lifting him off the ground. And he maintains that it is only the collective that bothers him, the individual is usually lovely.  He still holds a special affection towards his characters, which are always in profile, have large noses, and are of unidentifiable age and sex, yet which portray the human spirit and innocence, mainly through the expression in their eyes. Leunig described the beauty that can be found wherever a human creates something authentic and offers it to the world with love, not for active monetary gain.  He concluded with - ‘Do what you love and offer it to the world.’

Thank you Michael Leunig for carrying us on your wings and transporting us all along your playful winding path of poetry and spirit!


Monday, 3 December 2012

Staff Picks - Best Books of 2012: Sarah

This Moose Belongs to Me - Oliver Jeffers

Oliver Jeffers is a truly failsafe option for the young and the young at heart, with previous titles such as Lost and Found, How to Catch a Star and Stuck flying off our shelves. It was love at first sight for me and this book, with its enchanting illustrations and fabulously headstrong moose character. This Moose Belongs to Me is a gorgeous tale of a boy and his moose, and in true Jeffers style there are poignant messages about friendship and whether animals can truly to owned behind the brilliant colours and delightful story. Without a doubt, this is my favourite book of 2012.

This is Not My Hat - Jon Klassen

The follow up to I Want My Hat Back, what impresses me most about This is Not My Hat is Klassen's ability to use very few words and some fabulous illustrations to create a surprisingly dark tale based entirely around various oceanlife wanting to wear a hat! The simplicity of this story and its laugh-out-loud ending had me sharing this book with all my (adult) friends. Important life lesson learned: never trust a crab!

Gaysia - Benjamin Law

Benjamin Law provides a new take on gay culture across Asia, and it's quirky, smart and sometimes brutally honest. Law has a way with words, and his exploration of what it's like to identify as gay in countries where it is considered an illness or to not exist at all is as shocking and eye-opening as it is genuinely hilarious. From his visit to the ladyboys of Thailand during one of their world-renowned beauty pageants to the time he spends with a group in China who have found a way to navigate through their country's stifling internet censorship to create a vibrant online gay community, Law shares these people's stories with great humour and compassion. A fantastic, thought-provoking and accessible read.       

2012 Christmas Gift Ideas

Books are the perfect Christmas present. There's always a perfect book for every family member, and every difficult-to-buy-for friend. You give more than a gift if you give a book for Christmas: you're giving ideas, stories, dreams, lives, insights, and inspiration. And they're easy to wrap too!

We also offer gift wrapping and are happy to take phone orders. Just give us a ring on (02) 9572 7766.

Here are some of our gift ideas for Christmas this year.

How Music Works by David Byrne
RRP $39.95 (hardback)

From the frontman of Talking Heads comes David Byrne's magnum opus on the subject of music. Touching on the joy, the physics and the business of making music, How Music Works is an irresistible adventure and an impassioned argument for music's liberating, life-affirming power.

Perfect for: the musician in your life

The Science Magpie by Simon Flynn
RRP $29.99

The Science Magpie brings together a hugely diverse collection of classic, common and unusual tidbits from across science and its history. Science, humankind's greatest intellectual achievement, is capable equally of delight and amusement as much as learning and the advancement of knowledge.

Perfect for: anybody you think should learn the Large Hadron Collider rap

Sincerely curated by Marieke Hardy and Michaela McGuire
RRP $29.99

With sold-out live events around the country and a bestselling book, Women of Letters have revived the gentle art of letter writing. In this all-new collection of missives, a dazzling array of noteworthy Australians share their wisdom, wit and wildest dreams.

Perfect for: your pen pal

Flinders by Rob Mundle
RRP $49.99

The exciting story of Matthew Flinders the man who named Australia and the first to chart its coastline. Rob Mundle brings Matthew Flinders fascinating story to life from the heroism and drama of shipwreck, imprisonment and long voyages in appalling conditions, to the heartbreak of being separated from his beloved wife for most of their married life.

Perfect for: geography teachers, history buffs, and map lovers

Give Me Excess of It by Richard Gill
RRP $49.99

Give Me Excess of It is Richard's memoir, tracing his life from school days to the highs (and lows) of conducting and directing an opera company. It's warm, extremely funny, highly opinionated, occasionally rude (where warranted) and always sublimely full of the love of music. We have a limited number of signed copies too.

Perfect for: lovers of music and memoirs
Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith
RRP $19.99

In the words of Alexander McCall Smith: 'You feel the rocking of the train, you hear the sound of its wheels on the rails; you are in the world rather than suspended somewhere above it. And sometimes there are conversations to be had, which is what the overarching story in this collection is all about...'

Perfect for: those often on trains
The One World Schoolhouse by Salman Khan
RRP $29.99

Like Malcolm Gladwell, Jamie Oliver and even Gareth Malone, Salman is a trailblazer who is radically challenging the way we think about the world's big social and personal issues. A gifted and inspiring speaker, Salman Khan's book summarises the ways in which we can radically improve our experience and use of education.

Perfect for: parents and teachers
Vogue On Designers
RRP $29.95 each or $110 slipcase of four

Vogue on Designers is a new series of fashion books which tell the fascinating stories of iconic designers accompanied by world-class photographs and illustrations from the Vogue archive. Available on: Coco Chanel, Elsa Schiaparelli, Christian Dior, and Alexander McQueen.

Perfect for: fashionista history fans
Mastery by Robert Greene
RRP $29.99

'Live by your own rules' - Robert Greene, the 'modern Machiavelli' debunks the prevailing mythology of success and presents a radical new way to greatness. Mastery builds on the strategies outlined in The 48 Laws of Power to provide a practical guide to greatness - and how to start living by your own rules.

Perfect for: masters of their own destinies
Because I Love You by Barbara Toner
RRP $29.99

One mother acknowledges the universal truth that advice should only ever be offered if sought. She's chosen to ignore it, as any self-respecting mother should, in this heartfelt address to her own three daughters. The result is an indispensable guide to be shared by mothers and daughters of all ages everywhere.

Perfect for: your daughter... or your mother
Black Caviar by Gerard Whateley
RRP $45

Written by acclaimed journalist and broadcaster Gerard Whateley, with a foreword by Peter Moody, Black Caviar documents the career of the racehorse who transcended the track to become an Australian icon. Limited number of copies signed by Gerard Whateley available instore.

Perfect for: punters
The Best of Grand Designs by Kevin McCloud
RRP $45

Grand Designs is broadcast in over 130 countries. Its success, says Kevin, is due to ′good old-fashioned story telling; of joy and sorrow, torment and triumph, expressed tangibly in the making of a building′. Kevin delves into the archives to highlight his favourite projects.

Perfect for: architecture enthusiasts
Underwater Dogs by Seth Casteel
RRP $29.99

With over 80 photographs of dogs of every size, shape and breed in a variety of moods - silly, focussed, surprised, primal.

Perfect for: canine devotees
Grace: A Memoir by Grace Coddington
RRP $39.95

The hotly anticipated memoir of the creative genius at Vogue: a dazzling and beguiling story of fifty years in fashion. For decades, Grace Coddington's personal touch has steered wildly imaginative fashion spreads in Vogue magazine.

Perfect for: the most stylish person you know
Antonio Carluccio: The Collection
RRP $49.95

Antonio Carluccio is an internationally acclaimed cook whose worldwide book sales number in the millions and whose television series have screened in over 20 countries. With over 300 of his best recipes.

Perfect for: the godfather (or godmother) of the kitchen
Bond on Bond by Roger Moore
RRP $34.95

To celebrate the film franchise's wonderful heritage, Roger Moore has written a book that features all the Bond movies, along with a wonderfully witty account of his own involvement in them.

Perfect for: aspiring MI6 agents/actors
The 10 Best Games of All Time by Angels Navarro
RRP $24.95

From well-loved favourites like Solitaire or Snakes and Ladders to lesser-known treats like Bizingo or the Goose Game, there's lots of fun here for everyone!

Perfect for: kids, big and small

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs
RRP $79.95

American photographer Steve McCurry is universally recognized as one of today's finest image-makers and has won many of photography's top awards. This special limited-edition monograph brings together the most memorable and beautiful of his images, taken around the world over the last 30 years.

Perfect for: photography fanatics and travel addicts

Outback by Scott Bridle
RRP $49.99

Helicopter pilot and photographer, Scott Bridle offers a unique view of the vast cattle stations and raw natural beauty of outback Australia.

Perfect for: an overseas friend

Infographica by Martin & Simon Toseland
RRP $19.99

Ever wanted to see the world in a new way? Infographica collects intriguing data from across our planet - including how many people were killed by cows in 2011, the average lifespan of people living on each continent and the number of McDonalds restaurants in different countries.

Perfect for: fact fiends, graphic designers and data scientists
Find and Keep by Beci Orpin
RRP $39.95

This gorgeous ideas and craft book features all of Beci's favourite things, from wall murals such as life-size paper Christmas trees, to embroideries and herb gardens and picnic fare.

Perfect for: crafty creatives
Bradman's War by Malcolm Knox
RRP $45

An absorbing and thoughtful account of Bradman's famous 1948 Ashes team that reveals the idolised leader's controversial ruthlessness in pursuit of their record-breaking undefeated tour of England. We also have copies signed by Malcolm Knox, Arthur Miller and Neil Murray.

Perfect for: everyone who spends summer glued to the cricket
Colour: A Journey by Victoria Alexander
RRP $39.99

Explores the implications, history and cultural meanings of colour. With chapters on individual colours, their history and their influence, Colour will inspire you to make creative choices in your wardrobe, your home and your life.

Perfect for: colourful characters