We went to Australia convinced that the high price of books Down Under would discourage us from buying any. This theory—much like the "only buy little books" strategy for our Canada trip earlier in the year—crashed and burned within a week of getting to Australia. As you can see below, we picked up much more than we planned to. Even though we had some books shipped back to the U.S. by Pulp Fiction, we still wound up buying a large suitcase to accommodate the rest. At this point, I no longer believe in any kind of Book Containment Theory. From now on, I will dispense with the pre-trip strategies. Because none of them work...and part of me is glad they don't...
PS Some of the descriptions below include reviews of the books we've already finished since we got back.
ARNOTT, JAKE – The Long Firm, He Kills Coppers. Crime novels set mostly in 1960s London. Amazing stuff. I think I prefer The Long Firm with its five different views of the same crime boss. I really think these books are going to become classics. Great evocations of a very specific historical period.
BALLARD, J.G. – The Drowned World. An illustrated series of excerpts from his stories and novels, with great full-color plates by Dick French.
BLUNT, GILES – Black Fly Season. This is the third Blunt crime novel featuring detective Cardinal. I loved his first one, Forty Words for Sorrow, but wasn't as high on the second. This one looks like a return to form. Blunt was at the Brisbane Writers Festival, where I had hoped to meet him, but all my events were at the same time as his. Ah well.
BOURKE, NIKE – The Bone Flute, The True Green of Hope. We met Nike in Brisbane, without having first encountered her novels. Both Ann and I found her fascinating to talk to, and just a really nice person. Then we bought her novels and starting browsing through them. Winner of a 2000 Queensland Award for best emerging writer, Nike Bourke is an excellent stylist, writing devastatingly personal prose. She's the kind of writer you re-read for the muscularity of the sentences. I highly recommend her work—and I'm excited to hear that her next novel has a fantastical element to it. (I believe Nike is also a Tiptree Award judge this year—an excellent choice by the administrators.)
BROOKMYRE, CHRISTOPHER – Not the End of the World. We had to go all the way to Australia to pick up a copy of this LAPD cop mystery featuring a Scottish photographer. And four scientists gone missing from a research vessel in the Pacific. What the ?! Well, looking forward to seeing how all of this holds together.
BROWN, SIMON – Born of Empire. Everyone kept telling us we had to read some Simon Brown, so were glad to pick up a copy via the extremely generous Pan Mac Australia.
BURDETT, JOHN – Bangkok Tattoo. There was no excuse for buying this book in Australia because it's already out in the U.S. I guess my eyes got too big for my stomach, as they say. Anyway, I loved Burdett's first Bangkok mystery and this one looks just as good.
CAMPBELL, ERIC – Absurdistan. A collection of essays by an Australian Broadcasting Company correspondent about his journalistic travels. From Kabul to Kosovo. It looks interesting.
CARTER, ANGELA – Nights at the Circus. A compact little mass market Picador edition of her classic novel that I didn't have already.
DOWLING, TERRY – An Intimate Knowledge of the Night. A recommendation by David Lynton at Galaxy Bookshop. I've read some individual Dowling stories, but not any collection. Am looking forward to it.
DUNCAN, GLEN – Weathercock. A recommendation from David Lynton at Galaxy Bookshop. For some reason, it reminds me of less cruel Will Self. I could be wrong.
EARLS, NICK – Bachelor Kisses, Zigzag Street. Nick was one of the nicest people we met in Australia, and is also a wonderfully entertaining writer. Like Nick Hornsby, when Hornsby is on. Ann's read these and liked them quite a bit. I'm looking forward to reading them.
ELLIS, BRETT EASTON – Lunar Park. Glamorama was Ellis' Waterloo as far as I'm concerned, but the new one, whatever its flaws, looks like a bold move at the very least. I'm going to read it, whether it's brave or a train wreck. One of the books given to us by the generous and fun folks at Pan Macmillan Australia.
FLINDERS, MATTHEW – Trim. A cool little edition about the cat that accompanied Flinders on his circumnavigation of the globe from 1799 to 1804. Anne Sydenham and Anna Tambour gifted us with this neat book.
GREENWOOD, KERRY – The Phryne Fisher Mysteries. Kim Wilkins' visage graces the cover of this two-fer of mysteries published by Pulp Fiction Press. A really nice package design-wise, too.
GRIFFITHS, ANDY – Bumageddon: The Final Pongflict. Another gift from Pan Macmillan, although I shouldn't pass off the responsibility on them, since we'd seen the books everywhere and were curious. Wow. This stuff is worse than Captain Underpants! Turd jokes all over the place. Amazing. Don't know if I can bring myself to read past Chapter 3...
HAYDER, MO – Tokyo. I thought Hayder's first novel, Birdman, was brilliant, if brutal. Her second, The Treatment, was so bleak I almost couldn't finish it. The Treatment was brilliant, too, but incredibly dark and hopeless. I wasn't sure where she could go from there, but what she's done abandoned the horror box to create a thriller-mystery set in Tokyo that looks like it probably transcends her previous novels. Hayder has an eye for detail that's the equal of Thomas Harris in Silence of the Lambs, and a clinical way of describing things that I admire.
HOOD, ROBERT and PEN, ROBIN, eds. – Daikaiju!: Giant Monster Tales. A gift from Cat Sparks. An Agog Press publication. I'm particularly drawn to "Seven Dates Ruined by Giant Monsters." Cool cover.
IRVINE, IAN – Geomancer. I must confess to not having read any of Irvine's work, although it had looked interesting. Luckily, Irvine showed up at Galaxy Bookshop while I was there and when I asked what I should start with, recommended Geomancer.
JURJEVICS, JURIS – The Trudeau Vector. Soho Press is one of my favorite crime publishers. Jurjevics is one of the co-founders of that press. So I kind of had to pick up his novel, out of curiosity. Besides it's set in the Arctic Circle with scientists "dying horrible deaths" and I'm a sucker for Arctic Circle mysteries...
KAFKA, FRANZ – The Great Wall of China. One of those wonderful Penguin samplers, with a bunch of his short stories. This will not be in our house long, since I bought it for a student from one of my Australian masterclasses who had never heard of Kafka.
KERET, ETGAR – The Nimrod Flip-Out, The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God. The short stories of a noted Israeli writer, from Picador in two handsome editions.
KERR, PHILIP – Berlin Noir – Three of Kerr's Berlin novels set in 1930s Germany. Gritty, grisly, gripping stuff. Another recommendation from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. Ron and Ian at PF were determined to make us spend all our money in their incredible store.
KNEALE, MATTHEW – English Passengers. Anne Sydenham recommended this novel, which although set in 1857 doesn't look like your normal stuffy historical period piece. Featuring an expedition to Tasmania, it appears to be a rollicking adventure, among other things.
LAPCHAROENSAP, RATTAWUT – Sightseeing. A nicely designed short story collection from an acclaimed Thai writer. Called "raw and tangy" by Publishers Weekly.
LAWTON, JOHN – Black Out. Another recommendation from Ian at Pulp Fiction. Set during the Blitz in London in 1944. A German murder victim and a Russian émigré detective. Really love the careful prose of the first few pages.
LEUNIG, MICHAEL – Short Notes From the Long History of Happiness, Goatperson. Two books of words and illustrations from a gifted Australian writer/artist. Not New Agey, but containing softly resonant observations and stories. Marvelous illustrations.
MAHOOD, KIM – Craft for a Dry Lake. An interesting Australian memoir set in the Outback.
McMULLEN, SEAN – Call to the Edge. Geoff Maloney kindly gave us a copy of this collection by an Australian writer we hadn't read before. Looks very interesting.
McNAMARA, Peter and WINCH, MARGARET, eds. – Alien Shores. A gift from Geoff Maloney. a landmark collection of Australian SF.
McNAMARA, PETER, ed. – Wonder Years. A collection of a decade of Australian stories, one selected for each year. Including work by Lucy Sussex, Sean Williams, and Geoff Maloney. A gift from Geoff Maloney.
MORIARTY, JACLYN – I Have a Bed Made of Buttermilk Pancakes. Another gift. A light-hearted Aussie tale of the absurd Zing family. I have no idea.
NABOKOV, VLADIMIR – Nabokov's Dozen. Another compact little mass market edition of a book I don't have any copies of. Slowly, my Nabokov collection is becoming somewhat impressive. I've got just about every book of criticism about his work ever written, the Boyd biographies, the biography of Nabokov's wife, Vera, and at least one edition of each of his novels. The problem with Nabokov-collecting is that the McGraw-Hill editions of his novels are so plain.
NIX, GARTH – Sabriel. Nix's classic. Looking forward to reading it!
PEAKE, MERVYN – Mr. Pye. Just a little mass market Penguin of Mr. Pye, but since I don't have a copy...
POTTER, STEPHEN – The Theory and Practice of Gamesmanship or The Art of Winning Games Without Actually Cheating. Anne Sydenham gave us this book, and it's a delightful little tome with a ton of amusing illustrations. Chapter titles include "The Baskerville Lawn Tennis-Marker for Imparting Asymmetry to Home Courts."
RAFTOS, PETER – The Stone Ship. I'd been interested in this book, fascinated by it actually, ever since Sean Wallace pointed it out to me. Published by a small Australian university press, it looks like a unique dark fantasy. So when David Lynton at the fabulous Galaxy Bookshop recommended it, I pounced on the last available copy. Here's the description from the back of the book: "Set in a university managed by a Kafkaesque bureaucracy, The Stone Ship follows the adventures, misalliances, and misdeeds of the suicidal Shipton and the ghost who saved his life; and who demands a favor in return. As Shipton's experiences within the university are played out on the fringes of an administration that destroys lives with paperwork, rioting librarians hunt for students and academics dwell in the half-light of scholarly delusions. Lurking under these crumbling halls of esoteric learning is a creature whose monstrous malevolence is fed by the corpses of the unworthy." I can't wait to read this one.
RICHARDSON, BUCK – Dingo Innocent. An interesting account of the whole dingo-baby incident, by a Cairns resident.
ROBINSON, ALEX – Tricked. I loved Robinson's Box Office Poison. This new one concerns a jaded, blocked pop star, the owners of a diner, a crazed fan, etc. The build up to the ending is quite interesting, but Robinson cheats with a cheap twist and leaves the reader with a deep feeling of disappointment. Basically, Robinson inexplicably uses a lousy, hackneyed plot device. The strength of Box Office Poison is that it wove together a series of character studies. It didn't need a traditional plot—slice-of-life with some resolution was more than enough. I hope whatever Robinson does next doesn't waste its energy on what's basically a pulp fiction structure.
RONSON, JON – Them: Adventures with Extremists, The Men Who Stare At Goats. Two more Pan Mac Australia gifts. Essays about Ronson's investigation of various groups of extremists in the former case and investigations into the war on terror in the latter case. Very timely, and very insightful.
SANSOM, C.J. – Dissolution. Ian from Pulp Fiction in Brisbane recommended this historical thriller/mystery to us. Set in England in 1537. We're told it's pretty edgy. Looks very interesting.
SMITH, ZADIE – White Teeth. Anne Sydenham recommended Smith to us and we picked this up at a flea market in Newton, Sydney. Looks like an interesting novel.
STEINHAUER, OLEN – The Confession, The Bridge of Sighs. Iain Rowan turned us on to Steinhauer, so when we saw the books in Pulp Fiction, we had to get them, for fear of not being able to get them in the U.S. Set after World War II in the Eastern Bloc. Looks like more crime fiction that transcends the genre.
TEMPLE, Peter – Black Tide, Bad Debts, White Dog, Iron Rose. These Jack Irish lawyer-turned-detective novels set in Melbourne were recommended by Ron Serduik, owner of Pulp Fiction in Brisbane. I've found them very entertaining, and I like the local Melbourne color.
THEROUX, LOUIS – The Call of the Weird. Theoroux's BBC series traveling around America doing mini-documentaries on the subcultures of pornography, brothels, semi-pro wrestling, and dozens of others was fascinating. This book where he follows up by re-visiting the same people, a kind of where-are-they-now, is just depressing. It's basically the same story over and over again. Depressing, delusional people who aren't particularly successful. None of the true eccentricity you see from, for example, a Crumb.
WINSTON, TIM – The Turning. We were told by so many people to read Winston that it was a pleasant surprise when the PM A people gave us a copy of this short story collection.
ZUSAK, MARKUS – The Book Thief. Set during World War II, involving a transformative book and a woman who salvages books from book-burnings. Gotten a lot of international press.