Greville St Bookstore

January 29, 2010, 1:36 am
Filed under: Design

Hey folks

We are now selling tickets to Semi-Permanent Sydney 2010 at Greville St Bookstore!
For program details check out

Ticket prices:

Student 1 Day – $80
Student 2 Day – $120

General 1 Day – $150
General 2 Day – $190

best music writing
January 18, 2010, 4:10 am
Filed under: Music


by Suze Rotolo

pb $24.95

You’ve got to feel for Suze Rotolo. Sure, she’s led an interesting life, managing to pack more experience into it between the ages of seventeen and her early twenties than most of us. But, let’s be frank, would any publisher have given her more than twenty seconds of their time if she hadn’t dated Bob Dylan in the early sixties?

Rotolo’s claim to fame therefore rests on a several year relationship she had with Dylan, covering the period soon after he arrived in New York, in 1961, through to around 1964, when she was unceremoniously replaced with the more high-profile Joan Baez. On the strength of that, she’s been given a few hundred pages to tell her own story. To her credit, she’s never traded on the Dylan connection. But there she is with him, for instance, walking arm in arm on the cover of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.

The news is not all bad. Rotolo gives us a detailed snapshot of Greenwich Village in the late fifties and early sixties, when the folk movement was first taking off. Familiar names crisscross the pages: Dave Van Ronk, Tom Paxton, Ramblin’ Jack Elliot. Into this scene swaggers the young Dylan, “oddly old-time looking, charming in a scraggly way”, sure about his talent if not yet his place in the world. Dylan and Rotolo first met in July 1961 at a marathon folk concert at Riverside Church in Upper Manhattan. By the time they separated several years later, he’d signed a contract with Columbia Records, headlined Carnegie Hall and the Newport Folk Festival, given the world ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and a dozen other timeless classics, and gone from underground folkie to national icon. Not bad in a few short years.

While Rotolo was there to witness much of Dylan’s rise, her book lets us down by not giving much of the game away. She says at the outset that she always protected her privacy, and “consequently his”, and the result is a tale that dwells long on her own experiences, but sheds too little light on what made Dylan tick in those early years. In the end, rather than the seminal work it might have been, it feels like one more in the unending cycle of works that tries, yet ultimately fails, to come to grips with the greatest poet/musical troubadour of the twentieth century and beyond. Roll on volume two of Bob’s Memoirs, is what I say.


by Craig Mathieson

pb $29.95

It was unfortunate timing that Craig Mathieson’s investigation into the health of the Australian music scene was published at the same time as Robert Forster’s excellent book of music essays The Ten Rules of Rock n’ Roll. While Forster’s book didn’t necessarily limit itself to Australian music, there was enough overlap for reviewers to lump the two together, generally to the detriment of one or the other. Of the two writers, Forster, to my mind, has the better ear. His writing is more expressive, his prose seems to get to the nub of the music in the space of a few short paragraphs, allowing the reader to almost hear it, regardless of whether we know the music he’s writing about or not.

Craig Mathieson is a long-term music critic for the Australian media, and has published several previous books on Australian rock music. Playlist-ed comprises some thirty or so essays, covering a wide range of Australian artists – The Drones, The Veronicas, Kylie Minogue, Silverchair, Sarah Blasko, The Living End, Jet, The Vines, Powderfinger, You Am I, The Presets, Frente, Regurgitator, and others. Mathieson brings a more academic bent to his writing; he’s a little more didactic than Forster, intent on his mission to report on the state of the Australian music industry. But, at times, the choppiness of individual essays, each between about four and ten pages in length, works against a more coherent narrative, one that might get to the beating heart of how and why Australian music has developed the way it has over the past decade.

That said, there’s plenty to feast on here if you take a smorgasbord approach, plenty to argue with and against. Mathieson remains a dogged fan and champion of this music, relishing the opportunity to confound orthodoxy – shredding Silverchair’s Young Modern one minute, making us re-think our attitude to a Delta Goodrem the next. At their best, the books by Forster and Mathieson have drawn attention to the literary possibilities of the contemporary Australian music essay, an art form that deserves to be championed.


edited by Greil Marcus

pb $32.95

Of course, anyone truly interested in the music essay as an art form will no doubt already be familiar with this excellent annual series, now celebrating its tenth year. Whether combing through last year’s contributions to well-known magazines like Rolling Stone or Oxford American, or trawling little-known web-sites, or dipping into the liner notes of album re-issues etc., it’s the guest editor’s job to come up with the best of the best, irrespective of music genre. This year’s candidate Greil Marcus, one of America’s leading writers, has come up with thirty-four essays, some as little as a page, others heading for forty pages, that define the current state of music writing. Stand-outs include David Ramsay’s beautiful account of how Lil Wayne helped him survive his first year of teaching kids in New Orleans; John Jeremiah Sullivan’s moving saga of the blues, that takes him from ‘Last Kind Word Blues’ to John Fahey, to the Pre-War Revenants album, to blues collector James McKune; and David Remnick’s endearing portrait of radio DJ Phil Shaap, self-confessed Charlie Parker nutcase, who has run a program called ‘Bird Flight’ on Columbia University’s radio station for the past 27 years. But eclecticism is the key here – Britney Spears, Axl Rose, John Peel, Funkadelic, Jay Reatard, Jerry Wexler, J Dilla, Pete Seeger, all jostle amongst its pages. After 10 years, Best Music Writing remains required reading for anyone interested in the state of music writing. An afterthought: time for some enterprising local publisher to consider starting up a home-grown version?

—— reviewed by Des

January 16, 2010, 5:59 am
Filed under: Art, Photography

Martin Parr
Chris Boot, $75

In his epitaph to the age of conspicuous consumption and wealth, Luxury features Martin Parr’s photographs from five years of watching the rich and fabulous at international champagne-fuelled gatherings. In a series that manages to be both satirical and warmly affectionate towards air-kissing luxury-victims, Parr’s subjects include parties, horse races and notable luxury events including the Millionaires Fair, Moscow, the Dubai Art Fair and the Art Basel, Miami. Designed with an appropriately luxurious silver-foiled padded leatherette cover and introduced with an argument for a new morality by leading British fashion designer Sir Paul Smith, Luxury is the powerful statement about the era before the bubble burst.

January 16, 2010, 5:14 am
Filed under: Art, Design

The Floating World: Ukiyo-e
John Warwicker
Steidl, $115

Inspired by the ancient Japanese artists of Ukiyo-e and a polymath’s myriad references, John Warwicker has for over 10 years been one of the most original thinkers in the design and creative industries. As a founding member of Tomato, he established an international reputation in the 1990s and has been formative in shaping popular media. The Floating World: Ukiyo-e is the first monograph of John Warwicker’s work. Rather than simply collecting together old work from commercial commissions and personal projects, Warwicker has written and designed an extensive book that only occasionally references prior work and which sets out to document his experience in an authentic voice. He has taken the themes, ideas, histories and memories which have informed and influenced him to produce a sophisticated and yet elegiac book constructed from his critical writings, photography, drawings, film, print, typography, poetry and prose. Every text page is an original artwork, delicately constructed in layers of typography, and the interwoven illustrations confirm Warwicker as an innovative visual artist.

January 16, 2010, 5:07 am
Filed under: Art, Design

Design for Obama
Spike Lee, Aaron Perry-Zucker and Steven Heller
Taschen, $70

This book features the poster art of the Obama ’08 electoral campaign: the graphic innovation that helped make history. Hundreds of pro-Obama posters appeared on, a website for artists and designers wanting to support his candidacy. This selection of the very best, by renowned artists and up-and-comers, is an important social document of the most inspirational campaign in living history. Its message of inclusion and empowerment was spread by thousands of volunteers, drawn together by a grassroots organisation of unprecedented size and enthusiasm. Design for Obama built on this spirit by creating an online forum where artists, designers, and advocates could upload their artworks and download others, all for free. Shepard Fairey’s social realist ‘Hope’ poster became 2008’s enduring image, inspiring scores of artists to take their designs to the streets, rallies and registration drives, and homes and in offices around the country. Edited by founder and graphic designer Aaron Perry-Zucker and filmmaker, author, and activist Spike Lee, this collection showcases the 250 best posters. Contributors range from prominent graphic and street artists to young up-and-comers. With essays by Spike Lee, Perry-Zucker, and design historian Steven Heller, this outstanding poster collection serves as a matchless historical document of the most innovative and inspirational electoral campaign in living history, and the widespread visual creativity that helped spur Obama to victory.

January 16, 2010, 4:58 am
Filed under: Design

Mike Walsh
Phaidon, $49.95

Over recent years seismic changes have taken place in the structure and direction of the media and entertainment industries. Mike Walsh has been at the heart of this consumer revolution from its beginning and has been advising on how to react to it since. Futuretainment offers the sum total of his experiences and commentary, and offers an accessible approach to this complex and evolving subject. The book encompasses the traditional forms of media and entertainment and reveals how the rise of the internet, mobile devices, social networking, audience networks, user generated content, ubiquitous networks and the ‘adaptive web’, amongst other advances, has affected them forever. Futuretainment explains how consumer behaviour has combined with new technologies to enact these changes and reveals what this means for the future of entertainment.

the “really really great books I read last year” list
January 6, 2010, 5:58 am
Filed under: Literature

… and the only reason they’re not on the Top 10 List is… because basically they’re pretty hard to get or were published originally some years ago, but no matter, they are all true remarkable works that sent me to many spectacularly exotic places and states of mind…

by Andrei Makine
US hardback

Oh my god, Makine left me staggering in awe of his perception and facility for evoking not only a place of extremes, but also that particular moment of youth on the cusp of adulthood, when many things are still possible. Once Upon the River Love follows the imaginary and other adventures of three friends from Siberia, who dream of love, adventure, and different world after seeing a film starring the French matinee idol, Jean-Paul Belmondo. My synchronous moment came during last year’s Melbourne International Film Festival watching Jean-Luc Godard’s Pierrot le fou, starring none other than Jean-Paul Belmondo, and accepting that, though long past any notion of ‘cusp’, I too could catch a whiff of dreaming…

by J.M.G. Le Clezio
pb $24.95

One of numerous titles by the 2008 Nobel Winner for Literature, now available locally. My choice of Terra Amata was entirely arbitrary but not in the least disappointing. Le Clezio reminded me of the great European literature I used to read, from the Surrealists to the Existentialists to exponents of the Nouveau Roman. Terra Amata make me both think and weep, a brilliant combo! Currently I’m reading his most recent novel, Desert, which looks like it will be available here in May. Can I say “oh my god” again? Set in Morocco and the North African desert, it is as slow, repetitive and unrelenting as the sand, the sun, the wind — utterly mesmerising!

by Roberto Bolano
US hardback

I’m getting all my non-Anglos out of the way first because these works in translation were my strongest revelation of 2009. I had been concentrating so long on Anglo writing I’d forgotten how dazzling it could be to read from other cultures. Of Roberto Bolano, I’ve read The Savage Detectives which I regard as a work of genius, combining the classic hero’s journey/road trip with the literary roman à clef with a great raucous call to revolution. I’ve read Amulet, which tells the story of a minor character from The Savage Detectives. I thought at first it was a minor work, until I got to the end and understood the meaning of “amulet”. That was the cue for the waterworks! I intend to read his magnum opus, 2666, but have not yet been able to commit to 898 pages. And I did read The Skating Rink, a much smaller (in length) work, both thriller and love story, and peopled by Bolano’s usual cast of crazies, depressives and savants. I would read anything by Bolano!!

by Shirley Hazzard
pb $22.99

Sadly late (or better late than never) in concurring with everyone else’s conclusion that this woman is a stylistic genius. I mentioned in an earlier post how great I thought this contemporary classic was, and at least it is still in print!

by Pete Dexter
US pb $32.00

A total must for any fans of the TV series Deadwood by David Milch. Though not specifically based on Pete Dexter’s version, Milch must definitely have been aware of it. Dexter’s is equally well researched and his language is definitely just as ‘fruity’!! I loved it, being a bit of a western fan and enjoying another sojourn to the Dakota Territories with Wild Bill and Charlie Utter, whose friendship, amongst other things, is so movingly related.

by A.M. Homes
pb $23.95 (available but has to be ordered in)

So great! This lady is the genius of contemporary angst, kind of like a literary Seinfeld Show, if you know what I mean. What I wrote in my diary at the time: “Total breakdown material! How I feel and behave A LOT; sick of being adult and responsible. Homes’ ‘adult’ characters acting out of childish ‘want’. She has such awesome insight into human relations.” And if you can’t get hold of Music for Torching, there’s always her brilliant depiction of man-on-edge-of-breakdown in This Book Will Save Your Life.

The “ones that didn’t get 3&1/2 but probably should have” list!
January 4, 2010, 6:22 am
Filed under: Literature

Ok, so in answer to your question, the “not quite 3&1/2” books are all really really great and terribly well written and realised, but had perhaps something just “not quite” about them, for example:

parts of Dog Boy are really really gross;

Homer and Langley is not nearly as great as Doctorow’s Ragtime or The March;

Byatt’s didactic presentation of her research for The Children’s Book can get really really irritating;

even I, who am a HUGE fan, got a little tired of Occupied City‘s stylistic repetitions;

Geoff, Jeff and Death, I thought was really really funny and I loved the first part in Venice, but the second part in Varanasi I wasn’t so convinced by at the time, though now, it seems to me, that it too was very very good;

Sunnyside was a great sprawling larrikin of a book but lacked the cohesion of a central character to impel the narrative;

and the poor old Anthologist I read after the baroque genius of Shirley Hazzard, so it took me a while to appreciate the joys of contemporary American minimalism again, though I was completely inspired by Mr Baker to pursue my poetic ambitions…

So there you have it! for what it’s worth…

Dog Boy
by Eva Hornung
pb $32.95

Homer and Langley
by E.L. Doctorow
pb $29.99

The Children’s Book
by A.S. Byatt
pb $24.95

Occupied City: The Tokyo Trilogy Part Two
by David Peace
pb $32.99

Jeff In Venice, Death In Varanasi
by Geoff Dyer
pb $32.95

by Glen David Gold
pb $32.99

The Anthologist
by Nicholson Baker
pb $32.99

PS The real real list is yet to come; the list of books that equal or outscore my best of best list, and the only reason they’re not on it is… TBC… Rata x

Rata’s top 10 of 2009!
January 3, 2010, 6:22 am
Filed under: Literature

I seriously wonder whether my ‘star’ system is actually working when I think of some of the books I’ve had to leave off this list because they only scored a 3 instead of 3 and 1/2! It really does depend on “where your mind is at” at the time… That said, Anne Michaels was the only one to score 4 and 1/2 out of a list of extraordinary novels, several of which I could say I adored, not least of which is Peter Carey’s Parrot and Oliver in America. The other odd thing you may not notice is the 50/50 breakdown in the top 10 between male and female authors. Purely coincidental I do assure you! And, how the majority of male authors are Australian, but none of the females… Does any of this mean anything? Probably not.

Rata’s Top 10 in not too particular an order:

The Winter Vault
by Anne Michaels
pb $32.99

Oh to inhabit a world of such acute memory, beauty and erudition!

Parrot and Olivier in America
by Peter Carey
hb $49.95

Two great characters; two great voices; fabulous setting; brilliant!

by David Malouf
hb $29.95

Superb evocation of the strictures men impose on themselves and what happens when the masks are lifted.

Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
pb $22.99

A Pulitzer Prize winning portrayal of an irascible ageing woman and her small-town life. We all cried buckets at the end!

The Lost Life
by Steven Carroll
pb $29.99

Rhythmic and poetic portrayal of youth, first love, lost opportunities, memory, peace and moving on.

The Lacuna
by Barbara Kingsolver
pb $35

A moving and spirited story about living a life: passion, revolution and righteous action!

The Song Is You
by Arthur Phillips
pb $32.95

Beautiful meditation on the conjunction between grieving and music: the crazy things we do to cope.

The Tricking of Freya
by Christina Sunley
pb $32.99

The only debut novel in this list provides an awesome combination of Icelandic folklore, Canadian history and the tragedy of families secrets.

Blood’s A Rover
by James Ellroy
pb $32.95

Brilliant and tragic indictment of both right-wing and left-wing violence and all the damaged crusaders. A wild wild ride!

American Wife
by Curtis Sittenfeld
pb $24.95

An insight into the workings of a liberal conscience, the American political system and the reasons a woman might choose a man who is so clearly her intellectual inferior.

PS Writing up this list I’ve just realised how romantic all these novels are, even the Ellroy(!), and how nostalgic, for moments and people lost and for opportunities missed. Makes you wonder what was going on with me last year… LOL Rata x