Showing all posts tagged: books

Seventy-five of the best sci-fi books, but I only ever read one

16 July 2024

I might be a fan of science-fiction stories, 2001: A Space Odyssey, Star Trek, Star Wars, and the like, but of the seventy-five titles listed by Esquire magazine, on their best sci-fi books of all time, I’ve only read one. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. That’s it.

1984, by George Orwell? No. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley? Ditto. Dune, by Frank Herbert. Same. And I’m pretty sure none of these were required reading at school either. The list of non-reads, of course, goes on. I have seen the film adaptations of a few of them though.

Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, which ranks at number nine on the Esquire list, is definitely a novel I’d like to read, and is on my TBR list. One day I’ll be able to say I’ve read two of them.

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Australian bookseller Booktopia in voluntary administration

3 July 2024

This is sad and concerning news.

The Melbourne based bookseller had become well ensconced in the Australian literary realm, since being founded about twenty-years ago. The company, which is also listed on the ASX (though trading of shares has been suspended), had been struggling financially in recent years though.

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The Honeyeater, the new novel by Australian author Jessie Tu

1 July 2024

Cover image of The Honeyeater, the new novel by Jessie Tu.

The Honeyeater is the second novel by Sydney based Australian writer Jessie Tu, and will be in bookshops on Tuesday 2 July 2024. That’s tomorrow.

I read Tu’s 2020 debut A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing almost four years ago. It was the story of a once child prodigy musician, who wasn’t always successfully navigating life as a twenty-something adult. It often made for difficult reading. In contrast, The Honeyeater seems more like a thriller:

Young academic and emerging translator Fay takes her mother on a package tour holiday to France to celebrate her birthday. It’s a chance for the two of them to take a break from work and have a little fun, but they both find it hard to relax. Her mother seems reluctant to leave their room in the evening, and Fay is working on a difficult translation. On their last night in France, Fay receives the shattering news that her former lover has suddenly died.

Back in Sydney, Fay seeks solace from her mentor, Professor Samantha Egan-Smith, who offers her a spot at a prestigious translation conference in Taipei. But can she trust her? Does the Professor know more than she is admitting, or is Fay being paranoid? When a shocking allegation is made, Fay chooses to keep it secret. Is she protecting the Professor or exercising power over her?

Fay arrives at the conference in Taipei. Career opportunities abound, but it’s ghost month in Taiwan. Her mother had begged her not to go at that time, warning that she would be susceptible to dangers and threats. And there is almost nothing a mother won’t do to protect her child.

And coincidentally, Tuesday 2 July 2024 is also when the shortlist for Australian literary prize, the Miles Franklin, will be announced. Not that The Honeyeater will feature on that list, though who knows, it may in 2025.

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Are more first time authors struggling to get published?

18 June 2024

Kate Dwyer, writing for Esquire:

Almost everyone mentioned that debut fiction has become harder to launch. For writers, the stakes are do or die: A debut sets the bar for each of their subsequent books, so their debut advance and sales performance can follow them for the rest of their career.

It might be harder today to launch a debut novel than in past decades, but people still succeed in doing so. What sort of sales might be generated by a “successful” debut novel, is another matter though. Spoiler: probably not a whole lot, unless the title is the next Harry Potter, or has enjoyed some sort of celebrity endorsement.

Promotional channels are more fractured, and maybe the number of people who want to write a book is greater. Everyone has a book has in them, after all. It could be tools such as word processors, and access to helpful resources online, empower more to try getting published.

So what to do, to help debut authors? Encourage more people to read newer fiction? Place less emphasis on the classics? Why not? If people are reading books that are centuries old, when is there time to read contemporary work? For my part, I rarely look at anything over ten years old nowadays.

I tried though. Don Quixote, by Miguel de Cervantes. Mansfield Park, by Jane Austen. Both cornerstones of Western literature, no doubt. How many novels feature a key character, having been out of the country on a prolonged absence, returning home, unexpectedly, late at night? We can thank Mansfield Park for that.

But despite my interest in these novels, I finished neither. I’m sure they’re both great books, but they’re just not for me. Ditto Vanity Fair. So contemporary fiction it is. Call me shallow and uncultured, but hopefully I’m helping a new or emerging author at the same time.

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Intermezzo by Sally Rooney, on bookshelves in September 2024

17 June 2024

Cover image of Intermezzo, the new Sally Rooney novel.

Intermezzo, the fourth novel by Irish literary fiction author Sally Rooney, will be published on 24 September 2024*. The synopsis is classic Rooney:

Aside from the fact that they are brothers, Peter and Ivan Koubek seem to have little in common.

Peter is a Dublin lawyer in his thirties — successful, competent and apparently unassailable. But in the wake of their father’s death, he’s medicating himself to sleep and struggling to manage his relationships with two very different women — his enduring first love Sylvia, and Naomi, a college student for whom life is one long joke.

Ivan is a twenty-two-year-old competitive chess player. He has always seen himself as socially awkward, a loner, the antithesis of his glib elder brother. Now, in the early weeks of his bereavement, Ivan meets Margaret, an older woman emerging from her own turbulent past, and their lives become rapidly and intensely intertwined.

For two grieving brothers and the people they love, this is a new interlude — a period of desire, despair and possibility — a chance to find out how much one life might hold inside itself without breaking.

I’ve liked all of Rooney’s novels, with Conversations with Friends, her 2017 debut, being my favourite so far. I’m yet to see the TV adaptation, but am told the book/screen crossover didn’t quite work.

I don’t know about anyone else, but I find many of Rooney’s male characters not to be all that driven, certainly when it comes to the women in their lives. The men are flawed (as are all of Rooney’s characters), and that’s ok, but they just don’t seem to have much motivation.

But said women are usually the lead protagonists, so maybe Peter and Ivan, especially since they are Intermezzo’s main characters, will be less plodding, less non-committal?

* that’s 24/9/24. Obviously not a palindrome… but does the date have some sort of significance, or was it chosen solely for its, um, numerical symmetry?

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People may not read longer novels, but they do win literary awards

4 June 2024

Tangentially related to the last post. Longer novels might pose a challenge to certain readers, especially those who require apps to do the reading for them. But, longer titles are more likely to win literary awards:

Judgment and decision-making research suggests several causes of the apparent bias. One is the representativeness heuristic: longer novels resemble the tomes that constitute the foundations of the Western canon, and this similarity may subconsciously sway judges.

Winning a prize is obviously great for the author in question, but are they left wondering just how many people read their book, cover to cover? Especially those on the award judging panel

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Conquer your TBR with apps that read books in fifteen minutes

4 June 2024

Such apps don’t exactly read novels in fifteen minutes, but they scan through them, and produce relatively short summaries. Seems like cheating to me, don’t we read books to be taken along on a journey? Still, I imagine these apps have their uses.

Like, where were they when I was at high school? Especially when assigned to read Vanity Fair. With all respect to William Makepeace Thackeray. I did like the last chapter though. Ah! Vanitas Vanitatum!

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Everyone has a book in them, but not every book has a reader

26 April 2024

Everyone has a book in them, or so they say. It’s a pithy turn of phrase, one that’s possibly inspired the writing of a billion plus manuscripts. Slightly less inspiring though, is the revelation that ninety-six percent of books sell less than one thousand copies.

Everyone has a book in them, but how many readers of that work might they have? I’m not saying you shouldn’t write the book you’ve always wanted to, after all, not everyone wants to see their work published. This in spite of the sometimes years of toil that might go into the writing.

For some people, I’m sure, writing a manuscript is an end in itself. But it’s interesting. I looked up the phrase everyone has a book in them to find out more about it. I hear the words frequently, and have uttered them a number of times myself, but I was curious to learn who coined the phrase.

As I discovered though, the actual quote is everyone has a book in them, but in most cases that’s where it should stay. So usually only part of the phrase is in common use. A little like Albert Einstein’s oft quoted words, imagination is more important than knowledge.

It seems everyone has a book in them, etc., is considered one of late British/American writer Christopher Hitchens’ witticisms, but there’s a bit more to the story. Now that we’ve cleared that up, back to the question at hand. If you have a book in you, should you write it?

I say of course you should. Why keep it yourself? Self-publish if need be. But you’ll need to temper your expectations in regards to how many people might buy it.

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The ghostwriters and AI filling the world with garbage ebooks

18 April 2024

An eye-opening article by Constance Grady, writing for Vox. AI and unscrupulous ghostwriters are combining to flood the world with poor quality ebooks, sometimes called garbage ebooks, and giant online booksellers seem to be doing little about it:

Here is almost certainly what was going on: “Kara Swisher book” started trending on the Kindle storefront as buzz built up for Swisher’s book. Keyword scrapers that exist for the sole purpose of finding such search terms delivered the phrase “Kara Swisher book” to the so-called biographer, who used a combination of AI and crimes-against-humanity-level cheap ghostwriters to generate a series of books they could plausibly title and sell using her name.

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The 2024 Stella Prize for Australian literature shortlist

12 April 2024

And talking of Australian fiction, the shortlist for the 2024 Stella Prize, the Australian literary award that recognises the work of Australian women and non-binary writers, was unveiled last week. The following six titles were selected:

I’m a big fan of literary prize lists, be they long or short, given they’re always a great source of reading ideas, since I only sometimes have my finger on the pulse of literary happenings. In the same way Triple J’s Hottest 100 is great for new music discovery, for those unable to listen to music 24/7.

Good to see Melbourne based author Katherine Brabon listed with her latest novel. I really enjoyed her 2021 novel, The Shut-ins. I highly recommend adding it your TBR list, if you’ve not yet read it.

And for reference, here is the Stella’s longlist, which was published in early March. The 2024 winner of the Stella Prize will be named on Thursday 2 May 2024.

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