Booktopia Buzz with Caroline Baum
June 2014 | Breaking News
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BUZZ IN BRIEF
June is all about secrets, unmaskings and revelations. Secret shames shared, secret agents exposed. Revelations of personal pain and triumph from two women of strength and character -Sian Prior and Tara Moss-  and one young man  Liam Pieper, a newcomer who morphs from flower child to cokehead with comic ease.
 
Just as crime novelist Moss sheds her trenchcoat, this month fiction  goes undercover, playing with double identity and shadowy loyalties to state and ideology. In June, books are the weapons of choice.

Booktopia is proud to present a special two part podcast edition of The Buzz with Caroline Baum:

Part 1

Part 2

Kind Regards

Caroline Baum
Editorial Director

Booktopia Buzz

The largest Australian owned and operated online bookstore.

Follow me on Twitter: @mscarobaum

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BOOK OF THE MONTH
Click here for more details or to order SHY
by Sian Prior


Caroline Baum: Memoir, and the misery memoir in particular, are continuing to enjoy robust health, but this book does not fit that category any more than it fits the kiss-and-tell category, despite the fact that there is a broken relationship with a famous partner at its centre.

It is a category-defying work of intellectual agility, jumping from mode to mode with playful interruptions and bold asides: lists, interviews, elegiac remembrances, painful confessionals, detached professional interviews. Woven together these elements create an intriguing patchwork: each square contributing to an overall understanding of what it means to be shy, and how Prior has navigated her own social anxiety in various public and private roles. She is in turns poised, witty, sharp, anguished, angry, but always unflinchingly honest. 

Her research uncovers fascinating physiological and psychological information about the shyness spectrum and its many manifestations, leading her to investigate a world of experts (the origins of blushing, how to do small talk and what is happening in your gut when life makes you want to run away and hide). Given that forty per cent of the population identifies with this condition, and that those who do consider it a handicap this is a book that will find many appreciative readers. But don't you dare call it self-help.

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MEMOIR/SOCIAL COMMENT
THE FICTIONAL WOMAN
Click here for more details or to order by Tara Moss

Caroline Baum: Tara Moss is many things, but shy is not one of them. Immensely articulate, she wields her always forthright words and awesome physical presence with unique force. Many have chosen to underestimate her, dismissing her as a writer of pulp fiction. They do so at their peril. Impressive media appearances on shows like Q and A have helped reduce that prejudice, but it lingered until she took on social media, became controller of her own message and championed unpopular causes with admirable fearlessness and tough resolve.

This book, part memoir, part manifesto, catapults her into the frontline as a public commentator who demands serious attention. She is a welcome addition to any conversation about social justice, public ethics and the objectification of women, about which she knows a great deal.

While her fictional character, private detective Mak Vanderwall may kick ass, Tara Moss is  a far more redoubtable opponent.

Click here to see our interview with Tara Moss

Click here to watch Tara Moss label Booktopia's John Purcell!


Click here to order The Fictional Woman
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THRILLER
Click here for more details or to order THE LIE
by Hesh Kestin


Caroline Baum: There is no more secret secret service than Mossad. There is no lower flash point than the Middle East. Any thriller set in this part of the world is playing with the highest stakes. Kestin knows that, and has constructed a tight, tough plot full of plausibly terrible twists and turns. At the heart of this briskly paced, jump-cutting novel is Dahlia, a 44 year old human rights lawyer who is recruited by the Israeli police to serve as arbiter in interrogation procedure. Until now she's been an advocate for the Palestinian cause, making her appointment extremely controversial and uneasy. Her mother, a feisty activist, is appalled. Dahlia is defiant, confident that she can prevent the Israeli apparatus from resorting to torture.

Of course the plot skewers her certainty: when Dahlia's soldier son Ari is captured  by Hezbollah and tortured, she stops at nothing to get him back. All too real, this is a powerful, urgent, heart-racing page turner that will no doubt be turned into a film any minute.

Click here to order The Lie
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BRITISH FICTION
Click here for more details or to order ELIZABETH IS MISSING
by Emma Healy


Caroline Baum: Elizabeth is Missing sounds like it might be in the Gone Girl (can't wait for the film, not sure about the trailer) psychological suspense genre but it's not. It's a novel about the onset of the absent-mindedness (making a cup of tea and then forgetting to drink it) that can be a sign of dementia, and the unsettling way that memory comes and goes, to everyone's confusion and frustration. Maud knows her only surviving friend has gone missing, but no one seems to care or believe her, so she has to undertake her own investigation, despite her daughter Helen's objections. A poignant, bittersweet examination of the impact of aging that will offer solace to those watching their parents lose and forget themselves and their loved ones as the fog descends.

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MEMOIR
Click here for more details or to orderMY SALINGER YEAR
by Joanna Rakoff


Caroline Baum: This is being promoted as the literary equivalent of The Devil Wears Prada. The comparisons are obvious but not entirely accurate: the narrator is not quite the same kind of ingénue and her boss is not a monster, just a typically highly strung neurotic professional. What makes this such an enjoyable and compelling read is the way it takes us inside the world of a literary agency in New York with one very important client, the almost mythically famous and reclusive JD Salinger.

A writer who has shut himself away from his adoring public for decades and around whom there are very strict rules of engagement. Rule number one: letters from fans are never to be passed on.     

Rakoff has a likeable, light tone that hovers between the earnest and the self-mocking, as she strives to please her boss. It's hard not to share her heart-racing excitement when Salinger calls and she speaks to him a little more each time, while at home, her love life disintegrates.

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Click here for more details or to order THE FEEL-GOOD HIT OF THE YEAR
by Liam Pieper


Caroline Baum: This is one of those 'you had me at hello' reads. The title, with its tongue-in-cheek meaning, signals a refreshingly cheeky take on life but nothing quite prepared this reader for the comic absurdity of a teen drug dealer selling dope to his hippy parents. 

A disarmingly charming rogue, Liam Pieper documents his precocious entrepreneurial talent as he slides out of school and into dealing, with hilarious deadpan understatement and the delivery of a seasoned raconteur. A mostly funny (apart from one tragic episode), very laid back, at times preposterous fable of urban alternative lifestyle taken to extremes.


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MEMOIR/SURVIVAL
Click here for more details or to order MY YEAR WITHOUT MATCHES
by Claire Dunn


Caroline Baum: My Year Without Matches: a hard-line wilderness survival memoir which looks like it will appeal to those who enjoyed Wild.

Blurb: Disillusioned and burnt out by life as a city 'greenocrat', Claire Dunn quit her job, her partner and her comfortable life to embark on a year-long wilderness survival skills program on the mid north coast of NSW. Her new forest home became both ally and enemy as reality, and not just the voracious insects, soon bit.

Claire's story unfolds in four parts, structured by the seasons and the order of survival: Shelter, Water, Fire and Food. After arriving at her wilderness location in summer, buoyant with idealistic enthusiasm, Claire struggles with shelter building, matchless fire-making and other physical challenges - the heat, the cold, getting lost and a terror of the dark - until the wilds of her emotional landscape threaten to unravel her.

Part adventure tale and part personal quest, My Year Without Matches is the story of one woman's search for belonging until an unexpected friendship emerges and the beauty of the bush opens to reveal its wild heart.

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AMERICAN WRITERS
Click here for more details or to order HALF WORLD
by Scott O'Connor


Caroline Baum: Inspired by the true history of the CIA's shockingly primitive early mind control program (think of the real early experiments that resulted in the plausibility of The Manchurian Candidate scenario then, The Bourne Identity and Homeland today). In the 1950s, the CIA began a clandestine operation in which unwitting American and Canadian citizens were subject to clumsy and dangerous drug experiments which destroyed not only the lives of the subjects but the testers and their families.

Novelist Scott O'Connor has turned his personal horror at these events into a superbly taut and sinister literary thriller that examines questions of duty, conscience, patriotism and secrecy. Of course these themes have great moral resonance and relevance today, as notions of privacy and political paranoia play out across all media and national boundaries. Classy, vivid, disturbing story-telling with an acute psychological edge.

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Click here for more details or to order WE ARE CALLED TO RISE
by Laura McBride


Caroline Baum: Las Vegas is such a rich setting for fiction (some of the best parts of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch bear this out). No wonder this feels authentic - it's written by an insider who lives beyond the Strip, in the real city on the edge of the desert.  In this novel, four lives intersect in a catastrophic minute based on a real life incident.

The very best American fiction right now takes its strength from its country's weakness. Here a writer harnesses her humanity to newly arrived immigrants and traumatised returned soldiers wrestling with the broken remnants of the American dream. Each of her characters is sensitively drawn as a pervasive sense of dread signals their collision.

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Click here for more details or to order THE RISE AND FALL OF GREAT POWERS
by Tom Rachman


Caroline Baum: A welcome addition to the genre is The Rise and Fall of Great Powers: a truly baffling, playful, enigmatic work from Tom Rachman, author of The Imperfectionists, a justifiably lauded debut. That novel was about wordsmiths, journalists working on an English language newspaper in Rome.

In this novel, Rachman maintains his passion for those whose livelihood centres on words, but from a different perspective. His main character is the enigmatic Tooly Zylberberg, who owns a failing bookshop in a tiny Welsh village.

Reading the first sixty pages of this novel I must confess I have no idea where I am going: I am in several countries, without a map or a clear sense of where the plot is heading but I don't much care because the prose is so entertaining and energetic and the characters so rich. From the captivating first sentences, I've decided to trust the author to take me on some meandering journey without caring too much where we end up. It's the journey, not the destination, right?

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Click here for more details or to order THE CONFABULIST
by Steven Galloway


Caroline Baum: The Confabulist is also full of intrigue and espionage, but set mostly in the 20s when Harry Houdini transfixed audiences around the world with his feats of escapology. What is perhaps less well known (at least to me) is the fact that fledgling intelligence agencies in various countries thought he might be useful to their covert operations. How he gets involved with the imperial Russian household and extricates himself from some near fatal tight spots makes for high drama.

The traditional bookshop, like the tiger, is an endangered species. Maybe that is why it is enjoying a 'moment' in contemporary fiction as rarity confers mystique: there is almost a 'bookshop genre' in literary fiction now, with clever narrative puzzles constructed around erudite clues in secret tomes. The bookshop has become our favourite location of knowledge, of stories behind stories, and also the domain of eccentric characters no longer confined to the pages of books but as living breathing  figures hiding in the backroom, often reluctant to part with their stock.
 
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MINI MONOGRAPH: ALICE WALKER BY CAROLINE BAUM
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' We are the ones we have been waiting for' is a line that Alice Walker often quotes to end speeches. It's taken from a poem by June Jordan. Well at SWF this year, Alice Walker was the woman we have all been waiting for, the undisputed tribal elder of the festival. She is so much more than a writer: activist, campaigner, humanitarian advocate. A fighter, and a lover, a sister and a mother, a friend, a gardener, a spiritual adventurer.

You can hear my conversation with her at SWF here: I don't feel I got to the essence of this complex and often paradoxical woman, but I tried!

Walker has produced a prodigious body of work embracing poetry, fiction and non-fiction. Every time I turn around there seems to be another title. Even those unfamiliar with much of her more recent prose will know her controversial novel The Color Purple, which earned her the Pulitzer Prize - the first black woman to be so honoured. Incredible as it may seem, that book is still the subject of banning attempts in the US for its explicit depiction of abuse and domestic violence within the black community.

Walker's most recent book, The Cushion in the Road, is a collection of articles, reviews, essays and meditations on the current state of the world as seen by a woman  who retains an open heart and a vigorously playful, curious and engaged mind on all the big topics of humanity and social justice. She is passionate, joyful, melancholy, indignant and serene, her mood changing through the book like a tropical weather pattern. Usefully, along with essays on Obama in his first heady days and now, her passionate advocacy for the Palestinian cause, her opinion of the novel The Help, there is a recipe for Anxiety Soup. Anxiety because you might, as a reader, feel worried that you cannot hope to accomplish what Alice has, or to care as much as she does.

If that book makes you want to plunge more deeply into Walker's work, her early novel Meridian charts the emotional chaos of a young black activist; the most personal and sensual stories are in her collection The Way Forward is with A Broken Heart , which charts her many relationships with lovers of both gender, and how each offers a facet of her personal and political development, in prose that is always sensual and life-affirmingly energetic. Her novel Possessing the Secret of Joy, is a ground-breaking work exposing the horror of genital mutilation in young African girls that is still horribly relevant today.

IN CASE YOU MISSED IT
Click here for more details or to order LITTLE FAILURE
by Gary Shteyngart

Caroline Baum: No contest, the most hilarious memoir of the year.

Born in St Petersburg, the only child of squabbling parents, Gary Shteyngart immigrated to the US with his parents at the age of seven. The experience turned his world inside out; he had to switch from making up folk tales about Lenin to fitting in with extreme capitalism. When he worked out what that meant, all he wanted to do was eat burgers, get laid and write.

Along the way he plunged deep into psychotherapy, battled addiction and narrowly escaped a girlfriend who subsequently tried to murder her lover with a hammer. Think of this as a straight David Sedaris with extra gravitas (as conferred by ideological culture shock). Borscht-snortingly funny.

Click here to order Little Failure
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SYDNEY WRITERS' FESTIVAL HIGHLIGHTS
Click here for more details or to order FAR FROM THE TREE: A DOZEN KINDS OF LOVE
by Andrew Solomon


Sometimes your child - the most familiar person of all - is radically different from you. The saying goes that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But what happens when it does?

Drawing on interviews with over three hundred families, covering subjects including deafness, dwarfs, Down's Syndrome, Autism, Schizophrenia, disability, prodigies, children born of rape, children convicted of crime and transgender people, Andrew Solomon documents ordinary people making courageous choices. Difference is potentially isolating, but Far from the Tree celebrates repeated triumphs of human love and compassion to show that the shared experience of difference is what unites us.

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Far from the Tree: A Dozen Kinds of Love

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Click here for more details or to order LOST & FOUND
by Brooke Davis


A heart-warming debut about finding out what love and life is all about.

Millie Bird (aka Captain Funeral), seven-years old and ever hopeful, always wears red gumboots to match her red, curly hair. Her struggling mother leaves Millie in a local department store and never returns.

Agatha Pantha, eighty-two, has not left her house or spoken to another human being since she was widowed seven years ago. She fills the silences by yelling at passers by, watching loud static on the TV and maintaining a strict daily schedule.

Karl the Touch Typist, eighty-seven, once used his fingers to type out love notes on his wife's skin. Now he types his words out into the air as he speaks. Karl is moved into a nursing home but in a moment of clarity and joy, he escapes.

A series of events binds the three together on a road trip more...

Click here to order Lost & Found
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Click here for more details or to order FOREIGN SOIL
by Maxine Beneba Clarke


In this collection of award-winning stories, Melbourne writer Maxine Beneba Clarke has given a voice to the disenfranchised, the lost, the downtrodden and the mistreated. It will challenge you, it will have you by the heartstrings. This is contemporary fiction at its finest.

Winner of the Victorian Premier's Unpublished Manuscript Award 2013.

In Melbourne's western suburbs, in a dilapidated block of flats overhanging the rattling Footscray train lines, a young black mother is working on a collection of stories.

The book is called Foreign Soil . Inside its covers, a desperate asylum seeker is pacing the hallways of Sydney's notorious Villawood detention centre, a seven-year-old Sudanese boy has found solace in a patchwork bike, an enraged black militant is on the warpath through the rebel squats of 1960s Brixton, a more...

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Click here to see Caroline Baum's interviews

Fiona McFarlane, author of The Night Guest, in conversation with Booktopia's Caroline Baum

Ceridwen Dovey, author of Only the Animals, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Daniel Bergner, author of What Do Women Want, in conversation with Caroline Baum
 
Jean Kittson, author of You're Still Hot to Me, in conversation with Caroline Baum

Booktopia presents: The Poet's Wife by Mandy Sayer (interview with Caroline Baum)

Caroline Baum catches up with the Monday Morning Cooking Club, authors of The Feast Goes On 

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In This Issue




Memoir

Memoir/Survival

American Writers

Mini Monograph: Alice Walker

In Case You Missed It

Sydney Writers' Festival Highlights

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FICTION
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EBOOK
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AUDIO BOOK
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