Friday, April 17, 2009


One of the few gripes I have about living only 15 minutes walk from my place of work is that I miss the serious reading time a commute can allow you. While I have only time to listen to a few songs on my iPod between home and work, one of my colleagues, who lives in deepest darkest Northside Brisbane, has been known to get through a whole novel in one day, there and back.

Now commuters in London are being given the chance to read free books on their train journeys, as an antidote from the surfeit of trashy celebrity-filled free "news"papers on offer. The nonprofit scheme, called Choose What You Read, simply asks commuters to add their name to the front of the book and return it to a central depot when they're finished. Genius. Here is the BBC's take.

Another tasty tidbit is the news that Mark Romanek has begaun work on filming Kasuo Ishiguro's brilliant novel, Never Let Me Go. Hopefully they'll do justice to what is a very fine bit of writing. Read the very impressive cast list here.


Just before you head off for a well-earned weekend, take a gander at these little beauties, a co-production between Penguin books and the Magnum Photo Agency. Rare photos + full-bleed covers + removal title stickers = one great set of re-issues! They hit the stands in Australia 29th of June.

The image from the Norman Mailer book has made me reach for my trusty DVD of "When We Were Kings". If you haven't seen it, I thoroughly recommend it. Even if you don't like boxing, which I don't, it's a fascinating documentary. ALI, BOMAYE!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Started the day off not too well today. But what better way to cure mild depression than to rearrange your bookshelves? Finally tired of tripping over the collapsed towers of books that litter my house, I decided to bite the bullet and organise them. I have five bookshelves. The one in the picture below sits in my bedroom, and is now full of books I own but either haven't read or only read part of. It's quite worrying, really. Please note the mildly autistic colour-coding, and the high number of books I absolutely should have read by now (and a fair number I've claimed to have read all the way through...). If I'm lucky, you won't be able to recognise too many of the titles.

The other good thing about rearranging books is discovering titles you forgot you owned. Among the highlights:

Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson -- This belongs to a friend of mine, and I thought I'd lost it. I had so little hope of finding it, I ordered my friend a brand new copy from the US with a much better cover. Which I now shall keep. Apparently the movie of this book is also good, but I will never watch it, because it stars one of my nemeses. No, not these ones. This one. Why is he my nemesis? Because of this fucking debacle.

Kasper Hauser's SkyMaul -- An hilarious parody of The Sky Mall catalogue (The US equivalent of the Innovations catalogue, discoverable in every seat pocket on US airlines). Why not order your Hitler-Turning-Into-Werewolf Nightlight now!? How about a pair of Pre-9/11 Fantasy Slippers? Or Petrified Frozen Yogurt? For more information, click here. If you like it, why not order a copy from your friendly local bookshop?

But my all time greatest forgotten book find was this:

I would show you the back cover, but then I would go to gaol.

Monday, April 13, 2009


You've read about it already, but here is a great response to the more than slightly sinister Dymocks email urging their customers to support the ban on parallel importation of books.

Then there's the Amazon censorship scandal, where everybody's favourite non-GST-paying book supplier is denying sales rankings (and therefore levels of searchability) to books it deems to contain "offensive content" (i.e. anything dealing with human sexuality - duh!). There are a few ways to combat this draconian and ridiculous decision (which Amazon have recently fended off as a harmless "glitch", ahem...). The first may be to read and forward this letter. The second, which is my favourite, is to click this link. Say, three times every minute. Sit back and watch the sales ranking rise.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


When all that’s left is to sit down and eat your cheese bread and really enjoy that DVD you’ve saved up all week, there’s a knock at your door and when you haul up and walk over and look through the peephole, you see the fisheyed view of a famous person and it’s so unusual to see them from outside the square prism of television it takes you some time to recognise them until they turn to one side, maybe checking the plasterwork on the side of your house, and you realise it’s a gameshow host and not just any gameshow host but the host of a show you have recently been on yourself as a contestant which was a total surprise because you never thought you’d actually get on there and sort of called up the number that comes up at the end of every show sort of as a joke, as if it was just something you had to tick off in your life but then you got that phone call which seemed to be a joke at first but then you realised it was real and swore at the production assistant and then apologised and then couldn’t stop saying no way, no way, until you calmed down and she gave you the address of where to go and when, which was sooner that you thought, but you shuffled some things around at work and eventually you got there and it was during the day, which at first you thought was strange, but then you thought well just because they show it at night doesn’t mean they film it at night, which was what a lot of the other contestants also thought when you talked to them, which wasn’t for long because soon you were shuffled into a studio and patted down with thick makeup so you all looked like sideshow clowns with rouged cheeks and then before you knew it that familiar theme music had kicked in, quieter than on television, and you were there staring out into a kind of blackness behind the bright lights which was where you stupidly imagined the television was where whoever was watching was sitting but then you snapped out of your thoughts because the host was there, taller in real life, and he asked you what you did for a living and you said you worked from home and when he asked what you worked on at home you told him clocks and you said you fixed clocks, actually, sometimes over the phone if it was a really simple problem but more often that not people dropped them off for you so really it was always working from home, which prompted the host to make a joke about wearing pyjamas all day and you laughed at it, but it wasn’t really that funny and not really what you think people at home who tuned in to watch the game show would really be interested in, but then the host kept talking to you, asking questions about clocks, and then he said that he had an old clock at home that he needed to get fixed and that he should drop it by some time, to which you laughed and said sure, not really thinking about it more than to stop him talking at you which by this stage was getting quite annoying, but then he moved on to the next contestant and eventually started the game, which, it turned out, you weren't actually very good at, despite the evidence collected from home viewings, but the strange thing was that, throughout the show, the host kept referring to his clock, as if this was the only thing he had to talk to you about and even when the show had finished taping and you were getting ready to go home, the host came up to you and shook your hand for such a long time that you started to get worried, but not as worried as you are now, looking out through your door’s peephole at the host, standing right outside you house, with a clock under his arm, a clock whose hands, you can clearly see, are working just fine.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009


To say he saw the great painter on the beach would be an extraordinary overstatement, but to all intents and purposes it was him. In his later years perhaps, but still that figure was a famous one, in his deep blue boyleg swimmers. He wandered up through the surf with that nearly orange skin, those mournful gravy eyes, that slight stutter to his step. He shook the water off his arms, stood for some moments, and then turned back to the ocean, perhaps considering.

Monday, April 6, 2009


So often I'll pop over to the nice site that collates all the stats about how many (few) people visit my site. The numbers aren't so interesting, but the keyword searches certainly are. You may notice I put my favourites at the bottom of the blog. But here are a few recent ones that particularly tickled me.

a man suckin a horses wener (#1 Google Ranking for this search -- score!)

celebrity "thick turtleneck" (#11 Google Ranking -- let's get it in the top ten!)

unpacking your childs rucksack humour (#10 Google Ranking -- very proud to be so far up the list in this oft-searched term)

Friday, April 3, 2009


Alright then, how about book covers that improve between formats? Enough of ragging out on B-format bungles. Take, for instance, Joseph O'Neill's marvellous book, Netherland—my sixth-favourite book I read last year (if you want to see my top ten, then read on below). Netherland is about many things, but the hook to really hang it on, if you will, is an exploration of the ex-patriate cricket community in New York. It has little or nothing to with with ice-skating...

First Format, released June 2008

I actually like the above cover, even better than the US hardback edition, which fits more in with the cricketing theme (of which I'm lucky enough to have a signed copy)...

But the cover below is the good shit. It's the second format, due out in Australia in late June. Sort of makes it look important, don't you think?

And for interests' sake, here is the paperback of the US edition (with its bizzaro tilted title), due out there in early June. I've placed it next to another cover which seems to have inspired it..


Thursday, April 2, 2009


One of the big big hand-sell titles for Australian indies last Christmas was Chris Cleave's very strong book The Other Hand, whose cover went through many different permutations before arriving at the final choice. The first time I saw the book was when the publishers sent an advance copy to the shop, along with a batman mask (if you've read the book, you'll get the joke). At this stage, the cover looked a little like this:

When the book actually arrived in the shop on its release date in September 2008, it looked like this (it was also available in a version where the colours were reversed, i.e. with a cream background, black writing and orange detail):

As I've said with other books, this cover leapt off the shelf, and was very identifiable as one book and one book only. Add to this Cleave's successful appearance at the Brisbane Writers Festival, and The Other Hand racked up some impressive sales figures.

Which is why the mind boggles as to the wisdom behind not retaining the branding for the cover for the B-Format (released June 2009) and instead doing this:

Now, again, I don't actually mind this cover, but it does have that overbearing feel of a parenting book to it.

You can also import a hardcover edition, should you wish, with another cover:

Or you may prefer the American edition, which has not only a new cover, but a new title:

*Tomorrow's Format Follies: The Ones That Worked*

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Oh, and to complete the strained pun, The Fighting George Orwells


So you're a venerable, legendary author who's written over 50 novels, winner of the National Book Award, O. Henry Award and Prix Femina. Do you think by now you would have gathered a little respect in the old book cover design field? If you're Joyce Carol Oates, and your book is My Sister, My Love, then no.

Oates, whose fiction is always interesting, provoking and often dark, has been seemingly branded by the powers-that-design as a minion to the realm of that awful umbrella term, "Women's Fiction", with most of the covers of her backlist still available in Australia filled with images of bare feet, empty corridors with flapping lace curtains and sad girls looking through wrought-iron fences (why not just recolour a picture of a couple embracing during WWII and be done with it?).

My Sister My Love is inspired in no small part by the horrific and still-unsolved JonBenĂ©t Ramsey murder case. The story is told through the diary entries of 19 year-old Skyler Rampike, who reflects on the dissolution of his family (and his own sanity) following the murder of this sister—a preturnaturally pretty ice-skating prodigy—ten years previous. The book is unsettling, brilliant, postmodern and not the work of someone who deserves this book cover:

First format, released November 2008:

Now this, the C-Format paperback edition, wasn't that bad, but I have a hell of a time selling it to people. Firstly, because anyone who picks this up expecting a Jodi Picoult-esque moral-dilemma-you'll-never-have-to-think-about-but-can-enjoy-seeing-others-going-through will be sorely disappointed, and I feel obliged to warn them of this ("What do you mean it's got footnotes? It's a fiction book!"). Secondly, those readers who would actually enjoy this (Infinite Jest-quoting hipsters such as myself) were put off by the cover whenever I recommended it to them ("Yeah, I like footnotes, but what is it, true crime?").

So, as you can imagine, I had big hopes that the B-format, released here in June. And then I saw it...

Oh dear God. There are no words. I will not be ordering this book in for the shop. There is just no point. Shame, HarperCollins, shame.

For interests' sake, here is the cover of the American edition:

Now THAT'S BETTER. Artwork, by the way, by Martin Mull, great painter, and everyone's favourite private detective.

*Tomorrow's Format Folly: Too Many Covers Spoil the Broth?*