Category Archives: Miscellaneous

Book Club Recommemdations for 2019

For those lucky enough to be in a book club, we’ve got twelve recommendations that might have gone under the radar for your next year’s worth of reads.

FICTION
Happiness – Aminatta Forna
A novel of coincidental meetings and the unseen side of London
A Gentleman in Moscow – Amor Towles
Charming historical fiction that paints a picture of Russia after the fall of the Czar
The Death of Noah Glass – Gail Jones
A beautiful and lyrical novel about grief and love, with a compelling mystery at its heart
Circe – Madeline Miller
This feminist retelling of The Odyssey pays homage to the original while breathing new life into the ancient myth
Pachinko – Min Jin Lee
A sprawling family story over several generations of a Korean Japanese migrant family
Normal People – Sally Rooney
Two young people orbit each other in this intimate and beautiful novel about class and power
An American Marriage – Tayari Jones
A young married couple is ripped apart by injustice – will they find their way back together?

NON-FICTION
Eggshell Skull – Bri Lee
A gripping look at the justice system for victims of sexual abuse, from both sides of the courtroom
The Trauma Cleaner – Sarah Krasnostein
The biography of an incredible woman, working with society’s most vulnerable
Amateur – Thomas Page McBee
Page McBee analyses the complicated relationship between men and violence as he trains to fight in an amateur boxing match
Built – Roma Agrawal
Humans have sought to build higher and higher throughout history, but what advances have we had to make along the way to satiate our need for height?
The Feather Thief – Kirk Wallace Johnson
The invaluable theft of bird specimens from the British Natural History Museum is examined in compelling detail

Mostly Books turns 41!

On Thursday, November 8, we threw ourselves a birthday party to commemorate 41 years of business. We were joined by more than 70 loyal customers, trade representatives and past and present staff to share a toast to independent bookselling. Surviving for over 40 years in any industry is an achievement and we are proud to remain Adelaide’s oldest independent bookshop. Thank you to all those who attended, as well as the maker of our beautiful cake Mim Gollan of Four Seeds – it was the star of the show!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Local author and long-time customer, Carol Lefevre, was kind enough to say a few words to mark the occasion and we have included the full text of her speech below.

Carol Lefevre’s birthday speech

In a time when things can change in a flash, it is wonderful to think that Mostly Books has endured in our midst for forty-one years, and this through one of the most volatile periods in the history of publishing and book selling.

The business was founded in 1977 by Jacqueline Cookes, and bought by the current owner, Charmaine Power, in 2008, the same year I moved to Unley.

But that year, as well as Mostly Books, there was a book shop in Unley Shopping Centre. And later there was a second hand bookshop on the corner of Arthur Street and Unley Road. Going further back, when I returned to live in Adelaide at the start of 2005 there were many more books shops in the city – Borders, Angus and Robertson, Mary Martin’s in Rundle Street. You probably know of others.

Slowly but surely, with the rise of the internet, eBooks, and massive online stores like Amazon, these lovely stores closed their doors. Technology can do this, promise to lead us towards the light, and we are swept along. But at some point we look back, and that’s when we see that familiar lights have gone out, that the places we knew have gone dark. For a while it seemed inevitable that we would lose all our book shops, and I remember feeling very gloomy for the future of paper books around that time.

There is a quote I often return to by the English writer and critic G.K. Chesterton.

The way to love anything is to realise that it might be lost.

While I have never needed to be reminded to love books, that quote does make me think about the things that gradually slip away – because we’re busy, we’re tired, we’re stressed – and a little while ago I started to make a list of the things that have vanished in my own life time, everything from milk bottles and milkmen, to dip pens, blotters, cursive handwriting, typewriters, vinyl records, steam trains, outside bathrooms and dunnys (no real loss, you might say). But the suburban delis that were once on so many street corners – I really miss those. Then, one and two cent coins, dollar notes, petrol stations where someone pumps the petrol and checks under the bonnet, reel to reel tape recorders, cassette tapes, sixpences, bonfire night, with skyrockets and sparklers, slide evenings, department stores with lift attendants who recite the contents of each floor, and so much more.

And then there is the endangered list – public telephone boxes, suburban letterboxes, handwritten letters, possibly even the entire postal system, including stationery and beautiful stamps, postmen, and the joy of finding a personal letter in the letterbox.

I read recently a list of endangered, or at least fast-declining professions, and these included things like photographic processors, and travel agents. Libraries, too have been struggling in many places.

Buddhist philosophy teaches that the way to face change and impermanence is by developing non-attachment. But while I have successfully achieved detachment towards milk bottles and vinyl records, and even to the extraordinary sight of an ice-man sprinting up the drive to deliver a block of ice for our old wooden cooling chest (and that was a very long time ago) I will struggle long to relinquish the joy of receiving a handwritten letter, or of being able to browse in a real bookshop.

For like letters, books put us into an intimate conversation with the writer, and this conversation can extend across time and space, so that I can pick up the diaries of Virginia Woolf and hear her speak to me, as sharp, as engaging, as fully alive, as the morning or evening  she sat down to write.

Just as the whole of a letter is greater than the words on paper, a book is more than the sum of its materials, and carries a meaning that springs from the heart of the writer. Once you accept that books are a special way of speaking, the next thing to consider is what will be lost if they should ever entirely disappear.

I remember a night when there was a great storm here in Adelaide and the trees in the street thrashed wildly until, inevitably, the electricity went off. With all the usual distractions suddenly unavailable, we lit candles and gathered together in one room, and we read aloud to pass the time. The children still remember what a great night it was, and for a long time afterwards I considered organising simulated blackouts, so that we could do it all over again.

Bookshops have always been a particular source of hope and inspiration for writers. Sometimes I pop in to Mostly Books to see what’s fresh off the press, to check on what other writers have been beavering away at while I have been busy with my own work. Sometimes I come to order a book, at other times I am hoping to stumble across something I haven’t heard of yet but that I will read and absolutely love. If I am struggling with my own writing I sometimes need to come in and visualise where my own book will be shelved when it’s finished, and this sends me back to my work with greater determination and purpose.

A long time ago now, I moved to an island that only one book shop, and I didn’t discover this until I had arrived. It was small, not very well stocked, and situated at the opposite end of the island to where I lived, so each visit required an expedition.

The island’s libraries weren’t well stocked either, and for a long time I suffered for a lack of books. Eventually, a branch of the book chain Ottakers opened: two floors of books and a coffee shop! I wept for joy the first time I went in!  I was a beginning writer then, and in my lunch hours I would walk to Ottakers to work my way along a shelf reading all the first lines, all the first paragraphs, or all the first pages. I bought many books there, but I also used the shop a bit like a library, and the staff never complained. Because that’s another thing about book shops – the people who are drawn to work in them are usually extra special human beings.

And so it is with Mostly Books, and I’m incredibly happy to be still sourcing my books here ten years after first crossing the threshold. My own books have been on the shelves. My latest book The Happiness Glass is on the New Releases table now, which is a special joy.  I hope Mostly Books continues to flourish, and I know that it will, as long as we readers continue to choose and read real paper books sold to us by really lovely, knowledgeable book sellers.

So Happy Birthday Mostly Books! And thank you.

What We’re Reading: September

Annie
Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott and Unthinkable by Helen Thomson

This month I’ve read two books about science and the brain’s influence on our actions and perception of the world.

Give Me Your Hand is a taut, atmospheric thriller set in a lab which is studying PMDD (an extreme form of PMS). Kit, the only female grad student in the lab, is set reeling after a dark stranger from her past joins the team. This is an intelligent, well-written book that examines politics in science while keeping you on the edge of your seat.

In Unthinkable, Helen Thomson travels the world to meet some of the people behind the unusual brains she has read about for so long in scientific journals. She talks to them about what it’s like to live with their different perceptions and experiences – which to them are the only normal they’ve ever known. A great mix of scientific research and compassionate journalism, Thomson takes us inside the heads of nine fascinating people.

Robin
Blue Horses; A Thousand Mornings; and Felicity
 by Mary Oliver

I had never heard of the American poet Mary Oliver until Blue Horses, a slim volume of her work, arrived at our shop. The very first poem that I read took my breath away. Oliver’s poems are direct and vulnerable, casually profound, like chatting with an old friend who just “gets it”. One moment, you’re lazily shooting the breeze, trading gossip and jokes. The next, your friend says something that hits you in the chest with its warmth and insight, and the spinning cogs of your mind pause to let the precious words land. Perhaps you feel tender and exposed, with an ache that is both pain and joy at once. Two more volumes of Oliver’s poetry – A Thousand Mornings and Felicity – have since arrived in the shop and similarly bowled me over. I imagine I’ll be evangelically quoting and recommending her work for years to come.

Jess
The Animal Kingdom by Randal Ford

This is a book to pore over selfishly and unapologetically, with no regard for time whatsoever! I know it’s said that you should never judge a book by its cover… but for this book I make an exception. Schika the beautiful tigress whose portrait features on the front cover is only the beginning of the wondrous and breathtakingly beautiful photographs to be found within its pages. Each image is so exquisite in its detail that you could lose yourself in it happily for days (definitely not an exaggeration). The care and love that has been taken to put together this collection is evident on every page. There is also a fantastic section at the end of the book where you can read more about each animal themselves and get to know a little of their story, as well as the artist Randal Ford’s recollections of the sitting. If you are at all an animal lover, a nature lover or simply someone who enjoys the art of photography itself, then do your eyes a favour and ask us for this book.

What We’re Reading: August

Annie
What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde and Clock Dance by Anne Tyler

While I was in the Blue Mountains recently I read two very different books: What We Owe by Golnaz Hashemzadeh Bonde and Clock Dance by Anne Tyler.

What We Owe is a short book that reads like a punch in the face, but I found it compulsive and engaging nonetheless. Nahid is an Iranian refugee who has wound up in Sweden and wears the effects of the many traumas she has faced in her life. A final indignity: she has been diagnosed with cancer and is furious at her lot in life. This novel shook me up while reading and has resonated long after, not least because Australia recently passed five years of keeping asylum seekers in detention. It gives harrowing insight into the trauma that refugees face, and the echoing effects of that even once they reach safety.

A very different book, but equally enjoyable is Anne Tyler’s 22nd novel, Clock Dance. I have never read anything by Tyler (for shame!) but I love similar writers like Ann Patchett, so this was a real treat. I found her style effortless and the story to be slightly meandering but it was a masterful character study. Willa is an incredibly passive woman who has let life roll over her – she is now in her 60s and makes a decision that goes against the grain by moving cities to look after the child of a woman she’s never met. I’ll definitely track down more of Tyler’s work after this one!

Charmaine
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

This month I have continued with my reading of contemporary rewriting of the Greek Myths. Despite the extraordinary violence and misogyny, I find myself devouring these books. Maybe it takes me back to my high school days as a student of Ancient History as it was then known – I was fascinated with Herodutos, The Histories. Here were characters and events that totally shocked and fascinated this 16 yo country girl. So I have read Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles that won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2012. In her version of the epic Trojan War, Achilles joins the almighty battle between kings and gods. By his side is Patroclus who is not a warrior – the two share a special friendship that develops into a tender love. The story is a marvelously rich account of love, tragedy, violence and glory.

Robin
Puddle Hunters by Kirsty Murray and Karen Blair

Puddle Hunters is a joyful, poetic and satisfying celebration of a winter day spent well: a young family out in the open together, romping and exploring and making the most of the fleeting natural playground of puddles after rain. From the bright, masterful watercolor, to the pure, simple fun of the story, Kirsty Murray and Karen Blair have made something very special. For me, the illustrations are close to perfect, hitting that ‘sweet spot’ of picture book art: cute but not cutesy; masterfully-rendered, but not overworked; lines that are loose but descriptive; and child and adult figures who look truly happy and ‘alive’. It conveys both the joy and potential of wandering in the outside world, and the safety and comfort of returning home again. The text bounces along, begging to be read aloud. Puddle Hunters is one of the most delightful new picture books I have had the pleasure of reading. I hope it becomes an Australian classic.

Kate
After Kathy Acker by Chris Kraus

After reading Crudo by Olivia Laing, a work of fiction based on the life of experimental writer Kathy Acker, I’ve moved onto the biography of her life by Chris Kraus, author of cult classic I Love Dick. It traces her career from her early days writing cut-up short fiction, working as a stripper, her complicated love affairs and the struggles of living in New York. I love Acker’s writing, so hearing about her process from someone that can critically analyse her work is satisfying, while learning more relationships has been interesting. This is a biography of Acker’s life, her struggle for recognition as an experimental writer, her compulsive lying and search for love but it is also a biography of New York and the emergence of a new experimental writing scene that gave birth to the autofiction that is becoming so popular now. Kraus is a peer of Acker’s and knows and has researched the people that knew her thoroughly, including finding her extensive correspondence through letters. An amazing writer and a fantastic biography!

Take Six Girls

When I told my colleague Annie that I had just finished Laura Thompson’s Take Six Girls, she quipped that you couldn’t make the Mitford sisters up. Born into an aristocratic British family between 1904 and 1920, the girls were many things: talented, beautiful, witty – and scandalous. Reflecting the opposing political currents of the time, two were fascists (Diana and Unity) and one a communist (Jessica), while Nancy became a world-famous novelist and Deborah a Duchess. Only the good-natured Pamela kept a low profile, preferring the slow, quiet pleasures of rural life to the limelight. Packed with comedy and tragedy in equal measure, it’s little wonder that the ‘Mitford Industry’ shows little sign of abating.

The last major group biography of the Mitford sisters was Mary S. Lovell’s The Mitford Girls (2001). Thompson’s book is heavily indebted to Lovell’s but, for my money, is the better of the two. Although her conservatism irksomely shows through here and there, Thompson’s prose is – not unlike Nancy’s – elegant and wry, with keen psychological insight and a good feeling for the eccentricities of the British upper class. Take, for example, this memorable description of the girls’ iconic status:

They are part Audrey Hepburn as Holly Golightly, part Patti Hearst in the Symbionese Liberation Army,  part Country Life girls in pearls, part Malory Towers midnight feasters, part marble frieze of smiling young goddesses. Their significance has become detached from the realities of their own times, and is now a significance of image; as most things are today.

Thompson’s book is useful and pleasurable because it fully situates the Mitfords in their time and place, a polarised society – not unlike ours – shaped by furiously partisan politics and a strengthening far right. For once, too, Unity’s tragedy is given its full human dimension, the Hitler fanatic portrayed neither jokingly nor sympathetically but rather as a complex and rather sad figure.

Of course, though, it is Diana and Nancy – the ‘white and black queen’ of the Mitford girls, in Thompson’s phrase – who dominate the book. Thompson maps out their very different journeys with plenty of revealing detail, charting the darkly fascinating Diana’s all-consuming passion for the British fascist leader Oswald Mosley, and Nancy’s descent into the hellish illness that would claim her life.

Whatever one thinks of the Mitford sisters – and there is plenty to dislike in their unearned privilege and attraction to abhorrent ideologies – ‘it is impossible,’ as Thompson writes, ‘to find them boring’.

From the Wreck

Humans have always had a fascination for the sea, as well as a fascination for the stars. Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck masterfully brings together these little-understood, far-off places with a truly human story, set in the familiar location of the burgeoning colony of Adelaide.

When a man miraculously survives the 1859 wreck of the Admella, thanks to the efforts of a strange, otherworldly life-form in the guise of a woman, he becomes obsessed with finding her again on dry land. This haunting, lyrical book explores the lengths people will go to when confronted with the unknown, and the universal desire to find one’s place in the world.

Full of spirited, modern characters, this historical-cum-science-fiction novel draws comparisons with Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things and Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries. I highly recommend that you lose yourself in its depths.

The Anxiety Book

Elisa Black is a health journalist from the Adelaide Hills, who has lived with anxiety her whole life. Recently, she has published The Anxiety Book, which is part memoir, part pop psychology – with Elisa herself as the guinea pig. It is honest, searching and well-researched and contains surprising (and necessary) moments of humour.

anxiety book

She chronicles the course of her anxiety alongside the course of her life, as the one has dictated the other in so many crucial instances. She includes stories from multiple other sufferers, showing that there is no one anxious ‘type’ – one in ten Australians experience it every year. Throughout the book, Black pits her anxiety against hope, and it is this hope of living a life without the effects of anxiety that has led her to share her story.

The book arose from an article in the Advertiser that went viral, in which Elisa wrote about her recent success with a simple vitamin regime, after years of trying to find a solution for her crushing illness. By taking folinic acid alongside some other naturally occurring vitamins, Black has been able to correct an abnormality in the expression of her MTHFR gene. While this treatment does not yet have the research to back it up, for Elisa it has worked when so many other methods have not, and she is not alone.

As in the best memoirs, I came away feeling I had a whole picture of a person; what’s more, the kind of person with whom you can drink a pot of tea and have a good laugh (or cry, as necessary).

Come along to Mostly Books at 7 pm on Wednesday the 8th of June to hear Elisa speak about her experiences. Please RSVP via phone or email – tea, coffee and wine provided on the night.

On ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’

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Is there a difference between ‘liking’ something and ‘appreciating’ it?

If you’ve read my review of Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell, you’ll know that I enjoyed reading it but thought it lacked substance (especially given how long it is).

This brought me to thinking about something that has been in my head for a while now: the idea of ‘liking’ versus that of ‘appreciation’. What I mean by this is that there can be a difference between liking something and appreciating its literary merits. Studying texts in a school environment for the past few years has made me more aware of this and now I think that I can form and articulate some cohesive thoughts on the subject.

What is ‘liking’ and what is ‘appreciation’?

In my mind, these two terms have distinct meanings and ideas associated with them.

‘Liking’ is when I enjoy something, regardless of whether it has (in my opinion or in anyone else’s) literary merit.

‘Appreciation’ is when I can understand why something is respected or liked by other people, regardless of whether or not I enjoyed reading it.

And on the topic of definitions, I used the term ‘literary merit’ above. To me, this means that a text has inherent value that can be seen by reading critically

Is there a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciation’?

In terms of dictionary definitions, there most certainly is a difference between ‘liking’ and ‘appreciating’ something, but dictionary definitions aren’t the point of me thinking about this question. I am more interested in asking whether a distinction can be made, and, perhaps more importantly, if one needs to be made between these two terms. The latter question is very much subjective, but I think one that is still useful to ask.

Festive Five gift book list #1

The silly season is creeping up on us again – and what better gift for the loved ones on your list than a wonderful, well-chosen book!

Over the next few weeks we will be perusing our collection in-store, and posting some of our top picks here to help you choose. New releases, old favorites, food for thought and fuel for laughter, there’s something for everyone!

Here is our first list of five, to get you started:

1. For Foodies:
Inspire your aspring chef with NOPI by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

NOPI, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Ramuel Scully

“In collaboration with NOPI’s head chef Ramuel Scully, Yotam’s journey from the Middle East to the Far East is one of big and bold flavours, with surprising twists along the way.”
Suggested by Kate

2. For the young and young-at-heart:
Enchant their imaginations with Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall – a true story filled with wonder!

Finding Winnie, by Lindsay Mattick and Sophie Blackall

Truth is every bit as delightful as fiction in this fascinating, adventurous and sweet story of the real-life bear who inspired A.A. Milne to create Winnie-the-Pooh. Warmly told by the great-great grandaughter of the war veterinarian who adopted ‘Winnie’, and beautifully illustrated by Sophie Blackall.
Suggested by Robin

3. For the creatives in your life:
9780500500521Get their stitchin’ fingers itchin’ with The Craft Companion, by Ramona Barry and Rebecca Jobson

Craft has transcended the domestic and is now thriving in every creative sphere – food, fashion, fine art, architecture and more! The craft revival shows an increasing appreciation of community and DIY approaches to life. From embroidery and felting to collage and macrame, The Craft Companion features over 30 new and old crafting techniques. Each chapter looks at the evolution of a craft, contemporary artists working with the medium, as well as tools and techniques to get you started – plus a project you can do at home.
Suggested by Kate and Robin

4. For the wanderlusty:
Dazzle their senses with Lonely Planet’s Beautiful World
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The breath-taking photography in Beautiful World will take you to the planet’s most magnificent places. Thought-provoking insights into these incredible scenes will leave you in awe and with itchy feet.
Suggested by Kate

5. For the story lover:
An extraordinary re-imagining of King David’s rise to power and fall from grace in Geraldine Brooks’ The Secret Chord

Part legend, part history, all drama and richly drawn detail; with stunning originality, acclaimed author Geraldine Brooks offers us a compelling portrait of a morally complex hero from this strange and wonderful age.
Suggested by Ben


And now we’ll stick our noses back into the fabulous range of books in-store to put together our second Festive Five gift book list! Happy reading until then!

 

‘An Ordinary Madness’ – Lorna Hallahan Launches ‘The Anchoress’

Two weeks ago, Robyn Cadwallader’s amazing book The Anchoress was launched at Dymocks in Rundle Mall. I was unable to be there on the night, but a friend was kind enough to email me the beautiful speech that Lorna Hallahan delivered. It impressed me so much that I asked Lorna if we could republish it here, and she has kindly granted permission.

The Anchoress by Robin Cadwallader: launched!

Good evening and welcome.

I’m going to do things in three moves. I’ll do the first and then explain the other two.

Before we begin, I’d like to acknowledge that we meet this evening on Kaurna land, and to pay my respects to Kaurna elders past and present.

I’m going to address all of you gathered here and I’m going to talk about what I think of The Anchoress. Then, Robyn, I want to address you directly.

The AnchoressThe Anchoress starts as such a claustrophobic tale. Take yourself back eight hundred years and find yourself in a room no longer than ten small paces and half that width, with the door nailed shut, a small hole or squint through which to view the Mass, a door to a similarly shut-off maid’s parlour and a heavily curtained window through which you can speak only to other women and a couple of designated men. Imagine committing yourself to live like that for the rest of your life. Imagine that you are seventeen years old. Imagine that many of your memories of your early life are filled with loss, sorrow and fear.  When I got to here I realised I was scarcely breathing, not because I was captured by the thrill of the story but because I was captured. I invite you to also be captured. And I promise I will deliver no spoilers. Continue reading ‘An Ordinary Madness’ – Lorna Hallahan Launches ‘The Anchoress’