Author Archives: Steven

Miles Franklin shortlist!

Comrades!  The shortlist for this year’s Miles Franklin award has been announced and it is full of worthy and delicious books for you to eat read. The titles are below!

Tony Birch – Blood

Anna Funder – All That I Am

Gillian Mears – Foal’s Bread

Frank Moorhouse – Cold Light

Favel Parrett – Past the Shallows

Very exciting and all in stock!  Except for Birch’s, but we’ll be reordering that in toot suite.

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INTERVIEW WITH THE PULITZER PRIZEWINNER FOR FICTION

In a MASSIVE coup for Sunflower Bookshop, I, Steven Helfenbaum, am delighted to present to you the first ever interview with this year’s Pulitzer prize winner for fiction.

Steven: First, may I just say what an honour it is to meet you in the flesh.  I’ve been reading your books for, god, years now and I am very excited to hear about your first Pulitzer win after 35 years!

No one:

Steven: Ha!  Ok, let’s get down to the interview.  How did you feel when you learned that you, rather than any of the literally hundreds of very deserving authors who released books last year, were announced as the winner of this year’s prize?

No one:

Steven: Mm, quite.  This isn’t the first time you’ve won the prize, but lately you’ve been a bit under the radar.  Do you think this will be a boost to your career?

No one:

Steven: Ah yes.  Would you say indeed, that it has been a boost for literature as a whole, and for reading?

No one:

Steven: How would you say your win reflects on the judging process, and do you think that there’s a particular reason that your win occurred this year?

No one:

Steven: What I particularly liked about your book were the deep insights into the arbitrary and unthinking nature of certain book prizes and those who judge them.  When did that become aware to you?

No one:

Steven: And now of course, I should ask you the questions my coworker and I developed in a bygone chat.  What book do you wish you’d written?

No one:

Steven: When did you know you wanted to be a writer?

No one:

Steven: What book changed your life and how?

No one:

Steven: What advice would you give to aspiring writers?

No one:

Steven: Franzen or Kanye?
WAIT WAIT
In a fist fight.

No one:

Steven: Oh.  Um.  That’s actually pretty racist.  Well thank you for coming in today.  Ladies and gentlemen, the winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

GET IT?

(See also this and this)

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The New Republic by Lionel Shriver

Journalists, you guys.  Does it naturally draw the sanctimonious or do you just have to be that way to apply for the job?  And is any profession more self regarding?  If I have to read another defence of journalistic free speech/vitriol against regulation/hagiography of the Reporter, praising the nobility of taking photos of lady celebrities’ vaginas I will… not be remotely surprised.  Like shoegaze was known in the early 1990s, journalism is the scene that celebrates itself.  Except, you know, shoegaze was actually worth listening to.  So it is wonderful that Lionel Shriver’s book, written in 1998 and full of this smug, self important type has been released now.    If I needed another reason to be a fan of hers after So Much For That (my favourite book of 2010, and in our shop for only $19.99!  Though the trade off for that is a TERRIBLE cover).  It follows misanthropic former lawyer Edgar Kellogg, who all his life has longed to be a larger-than-life character, someone popular on whom every conversation would hang, someone that inspires awe, instead of merely a follower.  Ironically it is his following of his old high school idol Toby Falconer which leads him to journalism as a method of becoming this person.  Kellogg is posted to Barba, a backwater, desolate province of Portugal which is nonetheless home to a violent terrorist group, the Soldados Ousados de Barba or SOB (lol good one Shrives).  Mysteriously, attacks claimed by the SOBs (still funny) have dried up, just as Kellogg’s predecessor Barrington Sadler (just the type of person who Kellogg wants to be) has disappeared.  What follows is a rollicking romp (yup) which, while definitely humorous in tone, has a lot of questions to ask about terrorism, journalism, ethics, and, to lamely quote the blurb, “What makes charismatic people so magnetic, while the rest of us inspire a shrug? Whats their secret? And in the end, who has the better life – the admired, or the admirer?”.  As usual, Shriver’s writing is crackling and full of attitude (I hate myself for saying that but it’s true), and she vividly brings Barba to life in such a way that you never question it’s awfulness.  The characters too are highly entertaining, characters, especially the collective of fellow journalists and Edgar’s mental image of Barrington, with whom he converses often.  An important theme in the book is how we perceive things: Edgar is a master of ‘inversion’, or how the same fact can be presented in two diametrically opposed ways, which allows him to see the positive side of the thoroughly un-positive things he is doing, and his slide into immorality, like the metaphorical train wreck, is engaging in a horrible way, and even though you know what’s going to happen it’s still it remains eminently readable.  Also, unlike a train wreck it’s hugely fun.

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Things in the Shop that You Should Buy: Money

Welcome to (what will possibly become) a new feature on this here blarg, Things in the Shop that You Should Buy, in which I, Steven Z. Helfenbaum, recommend to you, I don’t know your name, books, not necessarily new, that we have in the shop and that you totes owe yourself to read.  Starting today with Martin Amis’s classic, Money.

Money by Martin Amis

“It must be the booze, it must be the junk, it must be all the pornography

Money tells the story of John Self, a successful ad executive turned movie producer, and the perfect consumer of fast food, drink, drugs, and pornography.  Throughout he travels between New York and his home in London, making a semi-autobiographical film (his father, Barry, hilariously and terribly, sent an invoice to John on his maturity for expenses involved in raising him) with young, tanned, athletic producer Fielding Goodney.  Money is a satirical look at all the excesses of late 1980s ‘greed is good’ capitalism (and not surprisingly it works just as well today).  Self is a hideous character concerned only with gratification and a desire for greater riches, and is the very embodiment of his self-centred age.  But he’s also very funny.  Consumerism and pornography saturate everything, creating an oppressive, ugly mood that Amis can create so well (see also London Fields, which is amazing), and the book rife with clever literary allusions to Shakespeare, in particular Othello.  Important to the book is the question of motive, or rather the lack thereof in late modern society.  Money is also very clever: Amis writes himself into the novel, in doing so implicating himself (and the reader as well) in the hyperconsumerist monster, and also allowing some interesting meta-fictional exchanges about Amis’s role in the novel (as character and author).  As vital today as it must have been 30 years ago (I’m too young for the 80s buddy), Money is a fantastic novel.  It’s in our shop and you should buy it.

Money by Martin Amis, $12.95

ToB: The Sisters Brothers vs Open City CHAMPIONSHIP ROUND

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You guys!  Yes!  A surprising and surprisingly large victory for The Sisters Brothers aka The BEST Brothers over the also fantastic Open City.  Look, when it comes down to it Open City probably has more literary merit.  It’s deeper and stays with you longer, and if you want a proper (mini) review see what Vivienne said the other week.  I haven’t read any Sebald, so I don’t have that as a reference point (I CHALLENGE YOU to find a review that doesn’t refer to him) but it’s a beautifully lyrical and haunted book, and Julius is a fascinating and evasive narrator.  That said…

F YEAH (family friendly small business blog) THE SISTERS BROTHERS!  That book was the best!  I loved it, AS YOU KNOW.  Did you love it?  If you didn’t GET A COPY NOW ($19.99 at the incomparable Sunflower Bookshop!).  If you did, I know right!  Hands down the most entertaining book I read last year, full of rich evocation of place and time, picaresque characters and adventures, fantastic protagonists (for sociopaths) and a wonderful story about greed, conscience, fate, mercy and murderin’ folks.

And to think I thought the CHAMPION would lose in the first round!

And with that victory celebrated thus ends the 2012 TOURNAMENT OF BOOKS!  My favourite literary event of the year is over, and now the long drudge of the REST of the literary awards.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  And, although the excitement of the tournament is over, keep reading the Sunflower Bookshop blog for more news, reviews, and whatever else I post on a particular day.

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Miles Franklin longlist

Oh yeah ASIDE from ToB stuff some less interesting things have happened today in the land of books, most importantly the announcement of the longlist for the Miles Franklin Award for Australian fiction.  Here it is bellow fellas:

Blood – Tony Birch
The Spirit of Progress – Steven Carroll
Spirit House – Mark Dapin
The Precipice – Virginia Duigan
All That I Am – Anna Funder
Sarah Thornhill – Kate Grenville
Five Bells – Gail Jones
Autumn Laing – Alex Miller
Cold Light – Frank Moorhouse
Past the Shallows – Favel Parrett
The Street Sweeper – Elliot Perlman
Animal People – Charlotte Wood

Aaand that’s that.  As you can see Fay’s bffl Elliot Perlman is on there so, you know, good for him.  And everyone else too!  After last year’s controversies on how the judges were sexist pricks the pressure for them not to be this year was PALPABLE.  And so it’s a pretty equal list.  Especially for white people!

And that’s all I have to say about that.  Most of these books we have in stock, the ones that we don’t we can order, call me back when the short list comes out.

Fay: Yay for equality! Though may I remind you that last year’s longlist was pretty even too, the shortlist is where they weed out the ladies. I am personally excited for Favel Parret who has a cool name and had written a completely beautiful first novel that flew kind of under the radar until the indies. And, of course, our Elliot.

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ToB: The Sisters Brothers vs. Open City AND The Sisters Brothers vs. Lightning Rods

Oh! pleasant exercise of hope and joy!
For mighty were the auxiliars which then stood
Upon our side, we who were strong in love!
Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive,
But to be young was very heaven!

- Steven Helfenbaum, 2011.

Well my friends, this year’s Tournament edges towards its inevitable conclusion with round after round of joy.  First The Marriage Plot is eliminated, then through the magic of the Zombie Round my two favourites, Open City and I THINK YOU KNOW THE OTHER ONE (of which we have three more copies in stock!),  both live to fight another day.  AND the last book left that I haven’t read is eliminated!  (Though I bear it no ill will it is certainly easier to talk about books I HAVE read).  Whatever happens after this point will suit me just fine: either one of my two favourites will win or The Art of Fielding will, and that was ALSO totes great!  So in the way of commentary, I don’t have much.  Yay for everything I like winning lots and yay for The Sisters Brothers for being popular enough to come back?

In the commentary Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner asked a couple of guests what book they would have had in the Tournament if they could, and for me that answer would totes be The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips (which is STILL unavailable in paperback in Australia, and thanks to a pesky thing called the law I can’t get the overseas paperbacks in for the shop).  It’s just such a fun, clever, meticulously written book and I loved it and it was the best.  DON’T WORRY YOU GUYS I can give it a proper review if it does come out in paperback and we get it into the shop.  (And I say pfft to hardbacks, what am I a BILLIONAIRE? [No.  Also if only]).

But with the Tournament fast coming to a close my favourite literary event of the year is over, and FURTHERMORE we are totes left with a gap in bloggage.  I won’t lie to you folks, blogging the Tournament was an easy and excellent way to generate good book content, and it was great fun.  So will the blog be able to continue without the Tournament?  You’ll just have to find out by READING IT.

Love yas,
Steven

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EUGENIDESTRUCTION 2012

Steven: Well Fay, your favourite/the worst book of the tournament is out.  HOW DOES IT FEEL?  Look, this isn’t a chatz format, let the readership know that I wrote these arguments in advance giving Fay PLENTY OF TIME to rebut.  (Fay: while Steven has more time to research, as referenced by his prodigious referencing.) But I hope the truth shines through and that EUGENIDESTRUCTION 2012 is a resounding success.  Allow me to begin with the most glaring fault, Madeleine.  As one of the three central characters, probably the one with the most pages devoted to her, you’d expect her to be more than just a hollow, agency-less shell right?  Noooope.  Madeleine is boring.  Here is what we know about her: she’s preppy, she likes order and neatness but ALSO she secretly loves the punishment of disorder.  Aaaand that’s as far as her depth goes.  To quote Hmgillispie in the ToB comments, “Madeleine has no personality except for her views on literature”.  Amen brudah, and something a number of people seem to have picked up on.  What I’ve seen mentioned a bit in the ToB comments and elsewhere is that the people who like Madeleine either associate her with themselves, or someone they know, thus filling in the gaps in her character.  Fay, if I may be so bold to suggest that you may well fit into this category.  In addition!  Name one thing that Madeleine does in the book that isn’t about either Mitchell or Leonard OH WAIT YOU CAN’T.  Oh sorry, she goes to a conference and decides to study post-grad Victorian literature WHOA SLOW DOWN THERE EUGENIDES!  Throughout the book, all of her actions are precipitated by one of these two men.  She goes to Cape Cod to be with Leonard, and then… actually I’m just going to paste this same argument from a discussion here by Nika Knight at Full Stop: “Even when she scandalizes her mother by moving in with her boyfriend, she’s just following him to a place where she has no job and no goals and no friends. Even when ending her marriage, she does so by acquiescence”.

Fay: Ok let me jump in here for a second. This is a complaint I’ve heard a lot and I think it is by people being thoroughly uncreative and unrealistic. Madeleine is not a Mary Sue! She’s kind of wry, but not particularly funny. She’s pretty  enough to make life easier but is not defined by her looks. She’s smart, but not a genius and not confident enough to voice her thoughts in class. [Steven: So far you’re only kinda ADDING to the boring thing] Quiet you! She’s glad that someone else says ‘Barthes’ first so she doesn’t embarrass herself. You know what that sounds like to me (ok other than me [except for the pretty part], I’ll give you that [Steven: Ha!])? A REAL PERSON. Real people aren’t all stunningly and interestingly characterised, they’re ok at stuff, and nervous and unsure sometimes. [Steven: Agreed!  I’m not asking to read a book about perfect people (if I was I’d just write my autobiography HEYOOO) because that would be boring.  My complaint isn’t that she’s not perfect but that she’s boring.  So all this would be fine as a basis for the character!  But there is no development or journey, no change or transformation.  She stays that way through the whole book, and that’s not enough to make an interesting character.]

And yes, she doesn’t do a lot by herself. May I remind you the book is called The Marriage Plot? It’s a take on the freaking Victorian marriage plot and if Madeleine was full of agency and practical ideas about where her life was going she wouldn’t be at the centre of this book. [Steven: Well, first things first, it’s meant to be a late modern take on the marriage plot which takes feminism into account.  It seems that part was forgotten by Eugenides.  ADDITIONALLY, if the book didn’t remind you every 10 seconds (look here’s the name of a book, aren’t YOU clever) it would just be taken as a good ol’ fashioned love triangle.  FURTHERMORE that’s not what I’m saying.  I’m not saying she has to know everything but I am saying that Eugenides short shrifts her.  I can’t say I’ve read any marriage plot books but I assume the women at their centre aren’t simply the pawns of everyone else for the entire book?  EVEN FURTHER she’s not really at the centre of the book.  It starts as hers but really ends as Mitchell’s, which emphasises all the more her lack of agency.  The book ends, once again, in her simple aquiescence] She follows Leonard because she doesn’t know what else to do with herself. Again, REAL PEOPLE may totally finish college and be at  a loss and grab onto whatever is going rather than go back to live their parents’ house. The uncertainty of the newly graduated is part of the setting of this book and why it works the way it does. Madeleine, Leonard and Mitchell are all on the edge of something, moving from a day-to-day life full of literary debate and beatnik one-upmanship into a world where they are suddenly expected to know what to do and how to do it. Madeleine doesn’t, and that’s precisely the point. And who hasn’t clung onto a love affair hoping to recapture their initial feeling? Why does everyone find Madeleine so hard to deal with? To me she is completely real and perhaps fairly ordinary but that is precisely the point.

Steven: Mitchell and Leonard, on the other hand, have a lot more going on.  More depth goes into Mitchell’s idolisation of Madeleine than goes into her character.  Mitchell and Leonard both have Stuff Going On, as well as character development.  Leonard is the most interesting of the three, suffering from bipolar disorder he is either a manic force of nature, bringing joy and excitement into Madeleine’s (and others’) life (until it inevitably goes too far) or he is helpless and demure, in need of Madeleine’s attention.  Both of these states are vividly detailed, and a lot more of Leonard’s personality shines through than Madeleine’s (oh no, she just doesn’t have one).  Mitchell too is more interesting.  Though I found him a whiny, annoying jerk who needs to shut up always (which further says something about Madeleine).  Admittedly THAT last complaint is a personal taste thing.  But let me tell you if there is one thing I don’t want to read about it’s people backpacking in Europe/India.  Actually, that was another thing.  That section was too disjointed from the narrative.  I found in the (roughly) last third everything became a bit too loose and messy, in an unsatisfying way.

Fay: Again, DISAGREE. I found the backpacking section another example of a real person being lost that rang true. The romance of the adventure compared to the realities of being lonely and confused and quite literally lost is something that most travellers will be able to identify with. Especially the scene at the start with Mitchell’s friend ditching him for his annoying girlfriend. I also found it particular interesting as a period piece, a time when backpacking meant being constantly disconnected from everything you knew. Mitchell’s isolation is highlighted by all the letters sent and not sent. And I thought the looseness was again indicative of mental state. Mitchell is isolated and confused, stringing his experiences together in the hope of finding some religious or spiritual meaning. I thought the writing conveyed that really well. [Steven: All of that, MAYBE!  Not caring about white people backpacking and despairing is clearly a personal thing.  But you haven’t addressed its disjointed-ness from the rest of the book.] Ok, maybe because I didn’t find it so disjointed really.  This is a post-college self definining story and it fits in perfectly, as well as being a common experience, with that theme.  Mitchell, who seems to have everything going for him tries to physically distance himself from everything in an attempt to define HIMSELF rather than fall into a path defined for him. Each character spends a lot of the novel feeling profoundly alone, Mitchell just happens to experience this physically as well. It worked for me. Furthermore while I agree with your liking the intensity of the Leonard section, may I controversially say that I found him and not Mitchell to be the annoying one.

Steven: The first third of the book was pretty orright!  I like college/university stories, probably because THAT’S WHERE I LIVE! and I particularly like wanky theories and such because THAT’S WHAT I DO!  So the bits at Brown were fun, where there was still the potential for Madeleine to become not boring.

Fay: Me too! It inspired me to go out and buy a copy of A Lover’s Discourse by Barthes (which I now know how to pronounce correctly) from the one and only Sunflower Bookshop! Buy books there now! I honestly think that you may have liked it more if you had finished uni and were trying to make your life work in the real world. That’s where I live. It is confusing and scary and you don’t always know where to go or what to do. And you’re not the smartest person or the most beautiful person or the most creative person [Steven: speak for yourself! Fay: I saw that coming the second I wrote that.] so you just see what comes along and go where it will take you. Eugenides captures this perfectly [Steven: I will accept this!  But unfortunately that’s not all the book’s about].

So the verdict? We must agree to disagree! Agree or disagree with us Agree with Steven in the comments.

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Someone bought it!

YES WE CAN!  YES WE CAN!

Well, as of 10:02 AM today, the last copy of The Sisters Brothers has departed our fair shores.  Alas, I was not here to see it’s departure and interview it’s new owner (it was one hour too soon!) but I can report that it has gone to the home of a loyal Sunflower customer, who damn well better enjoy her new purchase.

Thank you ladies and gentlemen, and congratulations on getting to the end of this historic journey.

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The Sisters Brothers LAST COPY Live blog!

1:16 PM – Ok, more than half an hour since my original blog post and still no one has bought it.  Keep reading for up to the minute updates!

1:22 PM – Some looks, I thought, but alas they were only for All That I Am.  And now for lunch, hopefully in half an hour I will have good news for you (me).

2:08 PM – After an unintentionally extended lunch break, I have returned to find it unmoved from before.  Going to try to reposition it so as to make it more visible.

2:27 PM – No results yet, but the day has hit a bit of a lull anyway.  I’m still feeling positive about it.

3:15 PM – Well, three quarters of an hour later and still nothing.  I have a new theory, maybe people (people like you?  WHY HAVEN’T YOU BOUGHT IT?  You know, if you haven’t) think it’s TOO good for them?  And I guess on some level, what are we mere mortals compared to The Sisters Brothers.

3:40 PM – Ok, I am prepared to let the lack of purchase thus far slide, as business is irregularly slow.  You hear that?  Like Robin Williams curing Will Hunting, it’s not your fault.

4:01 PM – Could The Sisters Brothers be considered a children’s book?  It has horsies!  That die.  And a little girl!  Who’s evil.  And a dog!  That is poisoned.  (Those last two being in the dreamlike Intermissions in the book).  I guess what I’m asking is can I recommend it to someone looking for a book for a 10 year old girl?

4:23 PM – Well my conscience is clean – no 10 year olds corrupted – but alas the book remains.

4:49 PM – 11 minutes till closing time.  Will a champion come before then or will I have to continue tomorrow?  KNOW THAT I AM FULLY PREPARED TO

5:00 PM – Well, I’m disappointed.  But I will be here tomorrow and I WILL see this book bought.  And I am NOT buying a second copy for myself.  If you’re reading this and you haven’t read The Sisters Brothers, do yourself (and also me) a favour and come pick it up tomorrow.  It may not be here much longer… Hopefully.

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