All posts by Karen Seligman

About Karen Seligman

Karen Seligman is a librarian working in public libraries. As a lifelong booklover, she loves having access to a library’s worth of books! As a librarian, an important (and fun) part of her work is about connecting people to new ideas and new books. Karen is a literary magpie who can't settle on a single favourite genre – she loves narrative nonfiction, historical fantasies and food writing.

The book launches we are excited about

The months leading up to Christmas are, traditionally, the busiest time for book releases. This season, booklovers are more spoiled for choice than ever – many releases had been rescheduled from earlier this year to now.   With new books ranging from important to high-impact to crowd-pleasers to cult-classics, here are some book launches we are excited about:

Boy on Fire : The Young Nick Cave by Mark Mordue

Boy on Fire is the first instalment of the long-awaited, near-mythical biography of Nick Cave, written by author, poet and veteran rock journalist Mark Mordue.  Focussing on his earliest years, Boy on Fire is Nick Cave’s creation story – how his friends, family, the Victorian countryside (in particular the town of Wangaratta) and subsequent schooling in Melbourne, had influenced and shaped Nick Cave into the artist he would become.  Not only is Boy on Fire a biography about a fascinating person, it is also a lyrical and evocative history of a  bygone time and place.

Fight for Planet A by Craig Reucassel

Following the huge success of War on Waste, Craig Reucassel turns his comedy / satire talents to  the issue of carbon emissions, Fight for Planet A.  Fight for Planet A not only explores how we can reduce carbon emissions on an individual level, it is also a call to arms, encouraging Australians to initiate conversations about climate change, that can drive systemic change within our local and wider communities.  There’s no Planet B, so we’d better fight for Planet A! This book version provides a handy reference to ideas and strategies mentioned in the original TV series. 

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

A Promised Land – the first volume of Barack Obama’s two-part memoir about his presidency –  is probably the most significant new book of 2020.  Expectations are high – this long-awaited memoir follows the astonishing success of Michelle Obama’s Becoming, which has sold over 60 million copies to date.  Available in 25 languages,  A Promised Land starts with Barack Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, ending upon the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and is an account of both public progress and personal growth.  Expect additional interest in this account, following the results of the recent US elections.

The Dressmaker’s Secret by Rosalie Ham

She’s back!  The Dressmaker’s Secret continues the story of Tilly Dunnage and the rest of the beloved cast of Rosalie Ham’s acclaimed The Dressmaker.
It is 1953 and Melbourne society is looking forward to a full social season celebrating the coronation.  Tilly Dunnage is toiling away in a second-rate Collins Street salon, lying low after exacting her revenge on her hometown of Dungatar. Her plan to evade the furious townsfolk of Dungatar was working well, until Tilly’s talents – and her name – started to feature in the fashion pages…  Reprising the mix of drama, high fashion and dark humour found in the original novel, The Dressmaker’s Secret looks to be another terrific holiday read.

Ready Player Two by Ernest Cline

Ernest Cline was so energised by the process of adapting his beloved novel, Ready Player One, into a movie, that he created a surprise sequel. Ready Player Two starts only days after the end of the original novel.  Our hero, Wade Watts, stumbles across a new and unexpected quest – a last Easter Egg from James, Halliday for his heir.  Not only will it make the OASIS more wondrous and addictive, but
Wade has to beat a dangerous new rival, who has murder on his mind.  Ready Player Two offers the same winning combination of fun action-packed adventure and pop-culture nostalgia that has delighted millions of fans.

The Office: the Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s by Andy Greene

The Office was not just Ricky Gervais’ first step towards superstardom, it is also (in its American incarnation) an influential piece of pop culture. This award-winning show ran for nine seasons until 2013, and is still regularly screened. Its alumni, including Steve Carrell, Mindy Kaling and John Krasinski, have gone on to successful and varied careers as writers and performers. Andy Greene’s book is perfectly timed to celebrate the 15th anniversary of The Office’s premiere. This is an oral history based on a whopping 86 interviews with cast and crew, as well as archival material. The result takes fans behind-the-scenes, with celebrations of favourite episodes, as well as plenty of previously-unpublished anecdotes.

Be Inspired by Leadership Stories

The concept of leadership – and what qualities define a good leader – came to the fore this year as countries worldwide started to navigate through the turmoil associated with COVID.  Many of us have craved guidance on a personal level as well, as we tackled the disruptions we experienced.  So this week, as inspiration, we share stories about remarkable leaders who have tackled tremendous challenges with courage, tact and resilience.

Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela

Long Walk to Freedom was first published in 1994, only months after Nelson Mandela was elected President of South Africa in its first, democratic and post-apartheid election. Begun secretly during Mr Mandela’s long imprisonment, this autobiography was decades in the making. Despite knowing the worldwide reverence for his resilience, dignity and courage, the Nelson Mandela revealed here is surprisingly human – he is a naive and headstrong youth, a neglectful husband, a distracted father; a pragmatist who chooses tactics over principles. Yet it is indeed his famed resilience and positivity that enables him to survive, and even accomplish political objectives, during his 27 years at the notorious Robben Island prison.  Long Walk to Freedom is also available as a picture book suitable for younger readers aged 5 and up.

Interventions: a Life in War and Peace by Kofi Annan with Nader Mousavizadeh

For over 40 years, Kofi Annan was at the centre of international diplomacy, working for the United Nations on issues including health, refugees and peacekeeping, culminating in his appointment as the Secretary-General. Interventions: a Life in War and Peace shows us glimpses of the complex and difficult task of balancing the interests of 190+ UN member states.  Mr Annan writes eloquently yet candidly, not only about the successes (the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, and being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001), but also UN’s failures (such as the Bosnian War and the Rwandan genocide), as well as highlighting the ongoing challenges due to a general slow retreat of world governments from the UN’s founding purpose.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama

The release of A Promised Land, the first volume of Barack Obama’s memoirs about his presidency, looks to be the biggest publishing event of 2020 – with an initial print run of over 3 million copies in 25 languages.  A Promised Land starts with Mr Obama’s presidential campaign in 2008, ending upon the death of Osama bin Laden in 2011, and “aims to provide an honest accounting of my presidency, the forces we grapple with as a nation, and how we can heal our divisions and make democracy work for everybody”.  It is an account of both public progress and personal growth.  Expect fascinating insights and assured writing – Barack Obama was already a successful author before becoming President.  

The Other Side of the Coin: the Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe by Angela Kelly

The Other Side of the Coin offers a rare and authoritative glimpse into the life of the Queen by a still-serving, senior member of staff.  Angela Kelly is the Personal Assistant and Senior Dresser for the Queen, and has personal royal approval to reveal these charming anecdotes and never-before-seen photographs. The Queen’s distinctive outfits – which are often imbued with meaning and used as a tool of diplomacy – are not only curated by Angela Kelly, but sometimes created by her as well.  Behind the focus on fashion, The Other Side of the Coin shows us the logistical demands of running the Royal Household, and glimpses of the Queen’s famed commitment to duty, hard work and service.   

In Extremis: The Life of War Correspondent Marie Colvin by Lindsey Hilsum

Intrepid, uncompromising, hard-drinking, a great raconteur –  Marie Colvin lived the life of a stereotypical war correspondent. She was much admired for her journalistic prowess, and also famous for her glamorous personal life – full of wild parties and unsuitable relationships.  Marie Colvin’s realisation that journalism can save lives motivated her to take ever greater risks in uncovering stories.  In 2012 she died in an explosion while reporting in Syria.  Lindsey Hilsum wrote In Extremis as a tribute to her friend and peer, drawing on unpublished diaries and interviews with friends, family and colleagues.  As a fellow war correspondent, Hilsum’s own knowledge of the world’s conflict zones adds great depth and enlightenment to the narrative.

Being Nixon: a Man Divided by Evan Thomas

Richard Nixon: villain or misunderstood?  Acclaimed biographer Evan Thomas balances sympathy with criticism as he tries to unravel the psyche of a complicated man.  Nixon was socially awkward, insecure, solitary, and self-conscious of his humble origins – not the ideal personality for a politician.  These behaviours created a tense internal balance – at their best, these insecurities gave him the drive to push past self-doubt, to dare to be brave, and get things done; at their worst, they fuelled petty vindictiveness, racist outbursts, and a wilful disregard of the law – leading to his spectacular downfall.  And despite its ignominious end, Evan Thomas reminds us that the Nixon presidency had many significant achievements, including détente with China and the Soviet Union, the creation of the EPA, and proposing major health-care reforms.

Booko Picks – Popular Science Books

We live in a golden age for Popular Science writing.  Gone are the days when books about topics such as astronomy, neuroscience, and maths (and engineering as well) were mostly written by experts for other experts – informative but daunting.  These days, popular science titles combine expert knowledge with great storytelling, so we can be informed and entertained at the same time.  Here are some of the delights currently on offer:

Humble Pi: a Comedy of Maths Errors by Matt Parker

“Stand-up Mathematician” Matt Parker uses his maths background to great effect, as the basis of very funny performances and books.  In Humble Pi, he uncovers the sorts of disasters that can happen when you get maths wrong.  The stories range from trivial and quirky (such as advertising images of interlocking gears that can’t possibly turn) to deadly and expensive (wobbling bridges, Y2K and aeroplane disasters).  The wide range of examples he uses underscore the message that maths can be found anywhere and everywhere, and that it may be more important to everyday life than many people realise.  

Calling Bullshit: the Art of Scepticism in a Data-driven World by Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West

How do you separate bullshit from the truth, when every side in an argument uses data to support their claims?  Calling Bullshit is a very timely book that looks at how to spot misused data, and how to refute it persuasively.  Based on the popular university course that the authors teach jointly, Calling Bullshit describes how data can be manipulated deliberately, or through false assumptions (such as confirmation bias or false equivalencies) or even due to carelessness or laziness.  Carl Bergstrom and Jevin West also describe tools that debunk bullshit constructively, because effective bullshit detection is essential for the healthy functioning of democracy and society.  This eye-opening and empowering book is essential for anyone sick of the proliferation of Fake News and Conspiracy Theories.

Infinite Powers: the Story of Calculus, the Language of the Universe by Steven Strogatz

In Infinite Powers, Steven Strogatz takes on the challenge of making calculus accessible and entertaining.  He explains the history and development of calculus (which originated in ancient Greece, and involved many big-name mathematicians including Archimedes, Newton, and Descartes); he also highlights how, as a tool to understand constant change, it underlies most modern technologies including radio, television, GPS navigation, and MRI imaging; and it informs fields as varied as meteorology, economics, and medicine. You don’t need to know any calculus to enjoy Infinite Powers; but as someone who understood the How but not the Why of calculus, this book gave me valuable context to help me appreciate the history, value and meaning of what I was doing.

Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil DeGrasse Tyson

Not your usual science book, but Letters from an Astrophysicist is all the more profound because of it. This is a selection of letters to Neil DeGrasse Tyson, since he came into the public eye over two decades ago.  Topics cover anything and everything, from taxes to aliens to God; the questions are from friends and strangers alike – some ask for advice, some point out mistakes and some proclaim opposing beliefs. His replies are wise and funny, candid but uncompromising.  Even in the face of “hate mail”, he stands his ground and defends the importance of science.  Letters from an Astrophysicist is not just a glimpse into one brilliant mind, but also a reflection of how space has inspired curiosity, learning and passion in many of us.

Why We Sleep: the New Science of Sleep and Dreams by Matthew Walker

Why We Sleep received a positive review from none other than Bill Gates – no mean feat, considering he’s a prolific and discerning reader whose recommendations attract a lot of attention. Why We Sleep aims to create cultural change by highlighting the significant health, social and economic value of sleep.  Using statistics, anecdotes, and well-researched studies, Matthew Walker, an expert sleep scientist, explains how neglecting sleep can reduce creativity, decision-making and memory, and can even damage heart-, brain- and mental-health. Luckily, he also offers us helpful tips on how to change bad sleep habits and improve sleep hygiene.  And don’t worry if you end up reading this book slowly, because you have become inspired to take naps; the author will be delighted, rather than offended by such a change.

We have No Idea: a Guide to the Unknown Universe by Jorge Cham and Daniel Whiteson

Engineer-turned-cartoonist Jorge Cham has partnered with particle physicist Daniel Whiteson to create this lighthearted look at the biggest unsolved questions about the universe.  From the Big Bang to time travel to extraterrestrial life to dark matter, Jorge and Daniel describe what we don’t know (as well as the bits we do know), and why it’s really exciting to keep exploring at the edge of these unknowns.  You’ll also meet hamsters, evil twins, Doctor Who, Pi charts, pop culture, and Lego philosophy in these entertaining yet deep explanations for some of the most complex concepts in astrophysics.

The Best Books to Grow your General Knowledge

“General Knowledge” are the bits and pieces of information – some useful, some mundane, some weird and wonderful – that we pick up without intense study into specific topics.  Having general knowledge can help us win a quiz, win an argument, and become more entertaining (!?).  Satisfy your curiosity about the world around you, by dipping into these funny, surprising and informative books:

On This Day in History by Dan Snow

Dan Snow is one of Britain’s favourite historians, the creator of the hugely successful History Hit TV channel and podcast.  On This Day in History is his carefully chosen collection of 365 historical events – one for each day of the year.  Crisscrossing 3000 years of Western civilisation, Dan Snow describes events that range from important (D Day), to influential (the meeting of Lennon and McCartney), to obscure (the Anglo-Zanzibar war, the shortest war in history), and even strange (Napoleon escaping from rabbits).  He also raises the interesting question of what we choose to remember, and what we might have forgotten.

The Second Book of General Ignorance by John Lloyd and John Mitchinson

Named after the final round topic of the long-running quiz show QI (short for Quite Interesting), this second instalment of trivia focusses on General Ignorance, as in common mistakes and misunderstandings found in our “General Knowledge”.  Read this and you’ll realise that Napoleon wasn’t short, octopuses actually have six legs, and oranges often aren’t orange.  In revealing these curious misconceptions, Johns Lloyd and Mitchinson, respectively the series-creator and head researcher for QI, also try to show how these urban myths and mistaken assumptions arise.  With a foreword by Stephen Fry, the original host of QI.

The Big Ideas Box (Philosophy, Psychology, Sociology) by DK

This Big Ideas Box contains three titles from the Big Ideas Simply Explained series, covering Philosophy, Psychology and Sociology. True to DK’s form, this series uses innovative visual design to make information interesting and easier to understand.  A mix of high-impact graphics, succinct summaries and more detailed articles help to tease out these huge and complex areas of learning – covering 2500 years’ worth of philosophical thinking, the development of psychology since the Ancient Greeks, and of sociology since the Middle Ages.  These primers will invite teens and adults to think, discuss and seek out further reading.

Brilliant Maps: an Atlas for Curious Minds by Ian Wright

Brilliant Maps is not so much about geography, as a smart and imaginative way to use maps to explain interesting facts about people, countries, culture, and more.  (Ian Wright would argue that maps are the original infographic.)  The hundred maps in this book present information that range from the sobering (number of executions by state) to the curious (countries with no rivers) and whimsical (countries with no McDonald’s).  
Linked to the Brilliant Maps website, the facts presented here are thought-provoking, revelatory, and simply fun.

Answers to Questions You’ve Never Asked: Explaining the “What If” in Science, Geography and the Absurd by Joseph Pisenti

This book of fun facts and strange questions will be especially appealing to kids and teens. Joseph Pisenti, better known as RealLifeLore, is a popular YouTuber whose main channel contains video musings on the absurd side of history, geography, economics and science.  Answers to Questions You’ve Never Asked combines nonsensical humour and serious analysis to answer off-beat questions such as “Where can I move so that I will never be tempted by McDonalds again?”, and “If Plato came back to life what would he think of modern democracy?”.  A fantastic encouragement to stay curious about the world around us.

Interesting Stories for Curious People by Bill O’Neill

Bill O’Neill is a huge trivia buff who has written books of fun facts covering topics as diverse as World War I, American Presidents, and rock music.  Interesting Stories for Curious People is his trivia book about a bit of everything – a collection of entertaining and fascinating stories about history, science, pop culture and just about anything else you can think of.  Great for aspiring trivia champs!

Perfect for Father’s Day – the Top Selling Books Around the World

Father’s Day in Australia – which, unlike in many other countries, is celebrated in September – is made for book-loving fathers.  It comes at the start of an annual publishing peak, when a slew of enticing titles are released in the lead-up to the holiday season. Try gifting some of these goodies to make Father’s Day extra happy for the father or grandfather in your life:

Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man by Mary L. Trump


Mary Trump’s book about her uncle Donald is THE highest profile new book at the moment.  It is so damning that President Trump has tried – and failed – to block publication of the book in a lawsuit.  Too Much and Never Enough is full of gasp-worthy stories that reveal the meanness, greed, and emotional dysfunction displayed by the entire Trump Clan.  Ever the clinical psychologist, Mary Trump also turns her professional eye on her uncle, identifying signs of sociopathy and narcissistic personality disorder.  Too Much and Never Enough is deeply cringeworthy, yet strangely compelling – fathers who like to be on top of the latest happenings will find it hard to resist its sensationalist delights.

Roughy by Jarryd Roughead


This one is for all of the Dads who are sports fans…and those who enjoy a great autobiography. Cancer doesn’t discriminate. When things were at their worst for Jarryd Roughead, his four premierships, two All-Australian gongs and a Coleman Medal counted for nothing. Being that rare footballer who was as loved by opposition fans as his own was no help either. As he spent his days vomiting or curled up with the cat, and his nights in a pool of sweat, fully clothed yet freezing, rolling out of bed every couple of hours to dunk his feet in cold water to douse the feeling that they were on fire, all that mattered was that he didn’t stop believing. Belief is one of those intangibles that puts great athletes above the pack. But this was no game. Roughy is the story of a footballer who lived the dream, the country boy who not only became an AFL star, but was a key player in a Hawthorn team that will be remembered as one of the greats of any era. When in 2015 a spot on his bottom lip was diagnosed as melanoma, we could relate to him all the more. When it returned as spots on his lungs the next year, the gravity we routinely attach to football’s wins and losses seemed ridiculous. In Roughy, you’ll discover the resilience that got him through horrendous immunotherapy and helped him to not only play AFL again, but as Hawthorn captain.

The World’s Worst Parents by David Walliams


A gift of David Walliams’ latest book is an invitation to share it with your favourite young people. After exposing the naughty and terrible deeds of children and then teachers, now misbehaving parents are coming under David Walliams’ microscope. The World’s Worst Parents are ten tales that tell of the world’s most spectacularly silly mums and deliriously daft dads.  Fizzing with fun, with all the hallmarks of David’s flamboyant imagination and surreal humour combined with his genius for character, these hilarious stories are guaranteed to bring on the giggles. Another superb partnership between David Walliams and illustrator Tony Ross, whose art complements the stories perfectly.

The Order by Daniel Silva


Under Daniel Silva’s masterly plotting, Israeli operative and art restorer Gabriel Allon has been through a lot.  In The Order, the 20th book about Gabriel, he is tasked with the secret investigation of the death of his old friend, Pope Paul VII. To unravel this mystery, Gabriel must find the link between the Pope’s death, a missing letter written by the Pope to Gabriel, right-wing extremism, and a rumoured lost Gospel.  With its mix of art, religion, current affairs and exotic locations, The Order might just be the new Da Vinci Code.  Perfect for Fathers who love suspenseful thrillers.  


White Fragility: Why it’s so Hard for White People to Talk about Racism by Robin Di Angelo

For fathers who like to understand the big issues – White Fragility is one of the most in-demand books during the current debate on institutional racism.  Robin DiAngelo is a sociologist who works in diversity training; here, she initiates uncomfortable discussions about how white people are complicit in society’s institutional racism – intentionally or otherwise. She coined the term “white fragility” to describe the disbelieving defensiveness that white people exhibit when they are challenged about race, and particularly when they feel implicated in white supremacy – with profound implications particularly for people who consider themselves liberal or progressive. Provocative and challenging, White Fragility is a must-read for anyone trying to understand racism and race relations. 

How to be an Anti Racist by Ibram X Kendi


Like White Fragility, How to be an Anti-Racist is an unsettling, but important, read that helps us navigate the complex debates around racism.  This memoir by Ibram X. Kendi charts his own journey from internalised anti-black racism, to anti-white racism, and finally, antiracism. He proposes a provocatively simple binary – an idea, action or policy is either racist – that is, contributing to a history that regards and treats different races as inherently unequal – or it is antiracist, because it is trying to dismantle that history.  There is nothing in-between – especially not the popular self-declaration of “not racist”. Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses, such as power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture and gender, as well as offer guidance on how to dismantle racism.  How to be an Anti-racist is an honest and compelling memoir as well as a powerful textbook for change.

Goodreads Choice Awards Winners

Do you use Goodreads?  Goodreads is popular book recommendations and cataloguing website. It’s a great place to find book reviews and recommendations, and you can also use it to keep track of books you have read, owned, or want to read.
Goodreads also runs the annual Goodreads Choice Awards, one of the biggest popularly-voted book prizes around.  There are 20 different categories, and winners are chosen in November each year.  For your reading inspiration, here’s a selection of the winners from last year:

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood (Winner for Fiction)

Margaret Atwood was inspired to write this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale when its TV adaptation resonated so strongly with audiences around the world. The Testaments is set 15 years after the events in Handmaid’s Tale, and is ostensibly the story of how Aunt Lydia – the highest ranking female oppressor in Gilead – joined the Establishment. In doing so, Margaret Atwood has created a tense and riveting novel that challenges us to question the truth and value of testimony. Besides the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction, The Testaments was also a joint-winner of last year’s Booker Prize.

The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides (Winner for Mystery and thriller)

The Silent Patient of the title is Alicia, a famous painter married to Gabriel, an in-demand fashion photographer.  Alicia adores Gabriel, and their lives seem perfect, until the day she shoots him and then stops speaking.  Six years later, Theo Faber, a criminal psychotherapist, seeks out Alicia because he is fascinated by Alicia’s crime.  He is determined to make her talk, and thus unravel the mystery surrounding her case.  Alex Michaelides has cleverly built a modern psychological thriller around the ancient Greek tragedy of Alcestis, and his own extensive knowledge of psychotherapy.  In tight, uncluttered prose, he slowly peels back the layers of Alicia’s past, skilfully building tension until the novel’s shocking denouement.

Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo (Winner for Fantasy)

Leigh Bardugo, beloved YA author of the Grishaverse, has extended her range with Ninth House, her first adult fiction book. She brings her immersive world-building into an urban fantasy setting, creating an alternate-Yale that marries the mystique of normal-life social privilege and traditions, with mysterious secret societies that practise powerful magic.  Ninth House skilfully weaves together many elements, including noir, criminal procedural thriller, fish-out-of-water otherness, and personal growth, into a grungy, sinister and alluring story. Compulsively readable.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston (Winner for Romance, and best Debut Novel)

Casey McQuiston won both the Best Debut and Best Romance awards for her funny, upbeat romantic comedy, Red White & Royal Blue. Set in an alternate reality, it applies the classic enemies-to-lovers trope to a secret romance between the Prince of Wales and the First Son of the United States.  Full of pop cultural references and a sweet optimism, its popularity exploded by word-of-mouth. Red White & Royal Blue is a great example of queer rom-coms that is adding fresh, diverse fun to the Romance genre.  You can catch Casey McQuiston at this year’s Melbourne Writers Festival Online, later in August.

Dear Girls: Intimate Tales, Untold Secrets and Advice for Living Your Best Life by Ali Wong (Winner for Humour)

Dear Girls is structured as a set of letters to Ali Wong’s daughters, but is definitely not for kids!  Her writing is a direct extension of her raunchy, uncompromising comedy shows, and if you’re already familiar with her work, you’ll be hearing this book in her voice.  Ali Wong uses her sharp, self-deprecating humour to tell wide-ranging, intimate stories about her life, from her sexual experimentation, failed gigs, drug experiences, her heartbreaking miscarriage and the impact of her father’s death.  Dear Girls is also surprisingly inspirational – time and again, Ali Wong turns failure and vulnerability into personal strength and motivation for betterment.

Girl, Stop Apologizing: a Shame-free Plan for Embracing and Achieving your Goals by Rachel Hollis (Winner for Non-fiction)

There’s something about Rachel Hollis’ pithy, down-to-earth, just-between-us-girls voice that is both quote-worthy and has the urgency of a siren.  She is inspirational yet totally relatable – a successful working mom of four who tells it like it is, is full of positivity and isn’t afraid to be vulnerable or to admit failure. Girl, Stop Apologizing is her clarion call to women to stop apologising for their desires, hopes, and dreams, and instead to go after them with passion and confidence. She argues that women are brought up to prioritise the needs of other people, and provide useful strategies to help change this mindset and start prioritising and investing in ourselves.

The 2020 International Booker Prize Shortlist

This July, Booko has been highlighting award-winning literature of the last 12 months.  This week, we’ll take a look at the shortlist for this year’s International Booker Prize, whose winner will be announced shortly (in August).  The International Booker Prize is awarded annually for a single book, translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. It celebrates the craft of translation as well as of writing – with its substantial prize money to be equally divided between author and translator.  The prestige of the Booker brand is further supporting the growth of “in translation” works – bringing additional richness and diversity into English-language publishing.

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar; translated from the Farsi by Anonymous

Set in Iran in the decade following the Islamic Revolution in 1979, The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree views the chaos of the post-revolution era through the eyes of a family of intellectuals.  Using a magical realism reminiscent of traditional Persian storytelling, it is a powerful and moving story that speaks of the power of imagination when confronted with cruelty.

Shokoofeh Azar is an Iranian journalist, artist and writer, who fled Iran as a political refugee, eventually settling in Australia.  The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree is banned in Iran, and is her first novel translated into English.  It has already been honoured in the shortlist of the Stella Prize, and the University of Queensland Fiction Book Award.  The translator is remaining Anonymous due to possible political repercussions.

The Adventures of China Iron by Gabriela Cabezon Camara; translated from the Spanish by Iona Macintyre and Fiona Mackintosh

The Adventures of China Iron is a daring, playful story of a young woman in pursuit of a freer life.  China Iron, the child bride of Martin Fierro, escapes an environment with entrenched violence against women. China and Liz, a Scottish adventurer, travel through the Pampas in an ox-drawn wagon.  There are loving descriptions of the Argentine landscape, as well as thoughtful reflections on the effects of Gaucho culture, Argentinian nation-building and British colonisation on indigenous communities.  The women (now lovers) eventually find refuge and a peaceful future in a utopian indigenous community.

Gabriela Cabezón Cámara has taken the epic poem Martín Fierro – an integral part of Argentine national identity – and rewritten it from a feminist, LGBT, postcolonial point of view.  The result is joyous, thoughtful and sophisticated.

Tyll by Daniel Kehlmann; translated from the German by Ross Benjamin

Daniel Kehlmann takes the folkloric character of Till Eulenspiegel –  a trickster and bringer of chaos – and recasts him as Tyll Ulenspiegel, a man who becomes a successful court jester during the bloody and incredibly destructive Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648). As Tyll and his troupe travels through the war-torn European countryside, he becomes a darker, more cynical version of Forrest Gump, interacting with various historical characters – ruler, nobles, clergy – telling them truths they do not want to hear.  Tyll is a magical realist historical novel, a rollicking story that mocks the absurdity of rules and hierarchies, and slyly reveals how memory and self-interest obscures the truth of history.

Hurricane Season by Fernanda Melchor; translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes

The first thing that hits you in Hurricane Season is Fernanda Melchior’s distinctive language. There’s very little punctuation – each of the chapters are one paragraph long, and each of these paragraphs are made of long, often multi-page sentences.  The effect is a rush of oral storytelling by characters who might be long-winded (and perhaps unreliable), but won’t be interrupted.  The characters are sharing rumours and memories of a local Witch, whose murdered body was discovered in her village in Mexico. The chapters reveal a violent environment full of drug abuse, poverty, alcoholism, corruption, homophobia, and misogyny. What’s most horrifying is that the pervasive violence and plentiful foul language perfectly mirror the reality in many parts of Latin America – borne of a depravity that happens when upward mobility is not an option.

The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa; translated from the Japanese by Stephen Snyder

In The Memory Police, our unnamed narrator lives on an island whose authoritarian government routinely disappears concepts and their associated objects, words, and memories – such as toaster, bird and fruit.  The Memory Police then sweep in and ensure that no traces of these remain.  People who somehow manage to retain memories of disappeared things, are at risk of being disappeared too.  In the hands of Yoko Ogawa, this chilling scenario becomes an elegant and enigmatic and surprising story about art, loss, beauty, love, memory, and old age. The political undertones of The Memory Police are remarkably prescient, 25 years after its original publication – resonating with our current issues of authoritarianism, cancel culture and our internet-centric society. 

The Discomfort of Evening by Marieke Lucas Rijneveld; translated from the Dutch by Michele Hutchison

Still only 29, Marieke Lucas Rijneveld is a rising star of Dutch Literature – their debut novel became a bestseller upon release, and has now become the first Dutch novel to be shortlisted for the International Booker Prize.  Set on a dairy farm, The Discomfort of Evening tells the story of Jas, a 10-year-old girl who grapples with grief and a loss of religious faith after her older brother dies in an ice skating accident. The family unit, and each individual member, slowly falls apart; the story is bleak and confronting, yet strangely lyrical due to the vivid imagination of its young narrator.  Rijneveld, who is non-binary, has been praised for giving new perspectives on themes explored regularly in Dutch literature by older, gender-conforming writers.

Books for Those Who Are Going Out on their Own in Business

Perhaps it’s the recent taste of Working from Home; or perhaps you want to diversify your income stream; perhaps you’ve retired, but don’t want to feel idle; or perhaps you want work that fits better with your lifestyle choices. There are lots of good reasons to start your own business, and there are more tools and support for budding entrepreneurs than ever before.  So if you think that now is the time to work on that business idea, we have the right guides to inspire you to stop dreaming and start doing!

Side Hustle: Build a Side Business and Make Extra Money without Quitting your Day Job by Chris Guillebeau

The author of the New York Times bestseller The $100 Startup shows you how to launch a profitable side hustle in just 27 days. Side hustles are income streams that supplement your regular paychecks – it may be your first taste of starting your own business, or you may simply want to diversify your income in these uncertain times.  In Side Hustle, Chris Guillebeau presents a framework for effectively starting your mini-business – from how to generate and select ideas, through development to launch, with the steps broken down into approachable daily tasks.
Peppered with anecdotes and tips from his own extensive experience, Side Hustle shows that you don’t need an MBA or lots of capital to get started.  If you’ve been thinking about turning your passions or talents into profit, Side Hustle is the motivation you’ve been waiting for.

How To Build an Online Business: Australia’s Top Digital Disruptors Reveal Their Secrets for Launching and Growing an Online Business by Bernadette Schwerdt

As a TEDx speaker and award-winning business leader, Bernadette Schwerdt has access to top business leaders from around the world – and she has interviewed many of them in order to create her insightful business books. How to Build an Online Business is a follow-up to her successful Secret of Online Entrepreneurs, which identified strategies and insights through in-depth interviews with e-business leaders. This update features top digital disruptors including Uber, Booktopia, and Catch of the Day. The “warts and all” stories of these companies, plus Bernadette Schwerdt’s in-depth analysis of the strategies, tech tools and leadership principles they used to grow their business, reveal the underlying patterns common to all successful online businesses – what they did right, what they did wrong, what they would do differently and the strategies they used to build an online business.

Company of One: Why Staying Small is the Next Big Thing for Business by Paul Jarvis

Small is beautiful according to Paul Jarvis. In Company of One, he encourages us to redefine what business success means, by suggesting that, for many solo and small businesses, it is smarter, more profitable and more enjoyable to stay small rather than expand.  Paul argues that blind growth is the main cause of business problems, and leads to more time, more stress, more responsibilities, and more expenses; instead he suggests that success can come from developing richer relationships with existing customers, based on trust, humanity, and empathy.  For entrepreneurs wondering about your next steps, this innovative, contrarian book may be just what you need.

Start Before You’re Ready: the Young Entrepreneur’s Guide to Extraordinary Success in Work and Life by Mick Spencer

Part memoir and part business manual, Mick Spencer wrote Start Before You’re Ready to encourage and help young people chase their entrepreneurial dreams.  His is not a conventional success story – he managed to develop a sense of adventure and an entrepreneurial spirit, despite chronic health issues and learning disabilities.  By starting his business ONTHEGO (OTG) in his early twenties, and growing it into the international success it is today, he has defied the bullies and naysayers, and achieved success on his own terms.  With plentiful tips on resilience and overcoming adversity, Start Before You’re Ready challenges you to get outside your comfort zone and encourages you to learn ‘on the go’, focussing on what you can do rather than what you can’t. 

The 1 Minute Commute: Turn your Skills into a Business You’ll Love, Be your Own Boss, Work from Home by Robert Gerrish

For many of us, the pandemic has offered a taste of a 1-minute commute (aka Working at/from Home); if this has strengthened your resolve to strike out on your own, then Robert Gerrish should be your go-to guide.  Robert Gerrish has spent over 20 years helping Australians succeed in solo businesses, including as co-founder of Flying Solo, Australia’s largest online community of solopreneurs. His special interest is in developing lifestyle-friendly businesses, helping business owners live they lives they want. The 1 Minute Commute collects his most up-to-date advice, on how to take creative charge of your career and be your own boss.  From freelancers and soloists to entrepreneurs and micro-business owners, this book will give you the knowledge and skills to shape your professional life to fit your lifestyle.

What if it Does Work Out? How a Side Hustle can Change your Life by Susie Moore

Many of us dream of monetising our skills with side hustles – and there are more opportunities to do this than ever – but hesitate out of fear of failure.  Susie Moore’s guide to side hustles focusses on overcoming those fears – as the title suggests, visualising your business Working Out rather than Not Working Out.  Using her skills as both a life coach and business coach, she shows how recognizing your skills, understanding your potential, and knowing your purpose in life can lead you to living a life of full satisfaction. Having helped over 500 clients develop successful businesses, Susie Moore has packed this book with useful advice, tips and resources- the perfect motivational and practical injection you need to get started.

Best Books for Aspiring Playwrights

Playwriting is a special kind of storytelling that requires different skills to other forms of writing.  When you are just starting out, it might seem hard to find advice and support, compared to the bigger and more visible communities of prose and poetry writers.    Here’s how Team Booko can help: if you have stories to tell, and want to tell them within the visual, visceral medium of performance, here are some resources to inspire and support your efforts.


Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller

Death of a Salesman is fundamentally important to American culture because it is a gritty, poignant tragedy about the failure to attain the American Dream. During the final day of his life, Willy Loman (the Salesman of the title) came to the despairing conclusion that he will never achieve the success and recognition he desires.
Death of a Salesman explores themes of mental health, anti-capitalism, expectations  and self-worth – themes that are as relevant and relatable as ever, in our world with its ever-growing wealth gap, and impending economic turmoil.


A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry

A Raisin in the Sun has special significance in the canon of American plays – it was the first play written by an African-American (and a young woman to boot) to appear on Broadway; and it depicted the emotional life of an African-American family in a gritty, realistic way.  It is often considered one of the best American plays ever.  It paved the way for more African-Americans to participate in Broadway, as playwrights, directors and even simply as audience members.  This story of the aspirations and struggles of an African-American family foretold the civil rights and feminist movements of the ‘60s, and in the shadow of the #BlackLivesMatter movement, A Raisin in the Sun still feels immediate  and relevant today. 


The RSC William Shakespeare: the Complete Works by William Shakespeare, and edited by Jonathan Bate and Eric Rasmussen

William Shakespeare is widely regarded as the most important writer and dramatist in the history of the English language. Remarkably, his plays are still performed regularly, and the influence of his work is still evident in contemporary writing. He broke new ground in terms of characterisation, plot development and language use, and he was highly skilful in the mixing of genres – for example, inserting comic characters into tragic plots.  The emotions and behaviours explored in his work are still considered relevant, and indeed timeless.  Let Shakespeare be an ongoing source of inspiration, by investing in this beautiful edition of the complete works of Shakespeare, which includes notes and photographs from performances by the Royal Shakespeare Company.   


Comedy Writing Secrets: the Best-selling Guide to Writing Funny and Getting Paid for It (3rd Edition) by Mark Shatz with Mel Helitzer

Funny Fact 1: neither Mark Shatz nor Mel Helitzer are comedians.  Instead they are both academics  – one in psychology, the other in journalism – who have both used, and successfully taught, humour writing for decades. 
Funny Fact 2: this is literally the textbook in comedy writing, having been the set text for many university-level humour writing courses in America.
Comedy Writing Secrets shows you that humour is a communication skill that can be learnt – that people who are not Born Funny can still develop the skills to become a professional humourist.  It offers a comprehensive survey on comedy and humour-writing, from theory, to the major techniques, to how to apply them to different situations.  Throughout the book there are plenty of tips and examples, as well as writing prompts to help you practise. This may be the only comedy handbook you will need!


Your Screenplay Sucks! 100 Ways to Make it Great by William M. Akers

Let’s face it – professional Readers (editors, agents, producers) usually have too many unsolicited scripts, and not enough time to read through them all.  They are really just reading until they see a convenient excuse to stop… it can be a small thing like spelling mistakes, or a bigger issue like an unappealing character.  William M. Akers – respected screenwriter, professional critic, and teacher of screenwriting – is here to help you avoid those mistakes and keep your readers interested.  What started as a simple checklist has grown into this guidebook with 100 tips to perfect your screenplay.  There are many funny examples and anecdotes to make the book more engaging. Even experienced writers will learn from this book.  Use it to help you start that next draft (and William M. Akers is sure that it needs another draft).  


The Idea: the Seven Elements of a Viable Story for Screen, Stage or Fiction by Erik Bork

The Idea refers to the core of your story – “a great idea [is] well executed, that grabs [the audience] emotionally, holds their attention, and entertains them”.  Unlike other writing manuals that often focus on the structure and mechanics of writing, Erik focusses on how to develop and polish that Idea, so that it will succeed with your customers (agents, producers or readers). He argues that an idea will success if it contains seven essential elements: punishing, relatable, original, believable, life-altering, entertaining, and meaningful.  As a winner of multiple Emmys and Golden Globe awards, Erik Bork is an experienced screenwriter who has worked with and for some of the biggest names in the industry.  His advice goes to the heart of effective storytelling, and will apply equally powerfully across many types of writing.

Best Book Series for Children

There has never been a better time to get reading – reading can provide entertainment, knowledge and comfort, and is a perfect thing to do at home!  We know that many of you are having more time to kill, and are asking for suggestions of series books – something substantial that can hold your attention for longer.  So this week we are showcasing some of the most popular multi-volume children’s books, guaranteed to give kids hours of reading pleasure – even those who are usually reluctant to pick up a book!

Wings of Fire 1-5 Boxed set by Tui T Sutherland

This fantasy series, set in a world of dragons, has enormous word-of-mouth cred amongst upper-primary aged readers.  Five young dragonets strive to fulfil a prophecy that they will end an ancient war and finally bring peace to the dragon tribes of Pyrrhia.  What sets Wings of Fire apart is that its dragons are the main characters, with a rich and complex civilisation, whilst humans are considered “scavengers” and peripheral to the story. Tui T Sutherland’s impressive world-building has now grown beyond the 20+ books into a big and active fandom.  The first three books are now available in graphic novel format

Slime by David Walliams 

Slime is hot off the presses and sure to delight David Walliams’ many fans (as well as creating many more).  Inspired by the recent craze for slime, this story sees young Ned discover the origins of slime, and use it to wreak revenge on the horrible grownups who love nothing more than making children  miserable.  David Walliams is often compared to Roald Dahl and it is easy to see why – his stories are funny, with touches of the grotesque and the fantastical, all underlaid with a call for empathy.   David Walliams has published 18 children’s novels.  While these are mostly standalone, there are recurring characters to spot, such as Raj the newsagent.

WeirDo 1-9 Boxset by Anh Do

Weir Do is a thoughtful boy with a weird name and a weirder family.  The WeirDo books are slice-of-life stories that are packed with illustrations and laugh-out-loud funny – perfect for fans of Diary of a Wimpy Kid.  The latest is #14 – WeirDo: Vote WeirDo! where Weir’s chances of being elected class captain may be derailed by an EPIC HAIR DISASTER.  WeirDo is the first children’s series written by the multi-talented Anh Do, who has gone on to create other bestselling series including Hot Dog, Ninja Kid, Wolf Girl, as well as Mythix.

Kensy and Max 5: Freefall by Jacqueline Harvey

You may already know Jacqueline Harvey from her delightful Clementine Rose and Alice-Miranda series; now she is trying her hand at spy thrillers aimed at both boys and girls. Kensy and Max are twins whose lives are turned upside-down when they are whisked off to London and  discover their parents are missing.  The race is on to understand the strange things happening around them, and find their parents!  There’s mystery, spy craft, exotic locations and lots of chases.  Volume 5, Freefall, sees Kensy and Max as agents-in-training, struggling with ethical dilemmas while trying to capture a master criminal in New York.

Welcome to the Brilliant World of Tom Gates box set by Liz Pichon

This is a box set of the first 12 books in the Tom Gates series.  (We’re now up to Book 17.)  Tom Gates is a series of illustrated diary stories about an endearing but chaotic boy and his family.  The pages are heavily illustrated with distinctive doodles and funny little details, the tone is chatty, and the situations are funny and totally relatable.  What’s more, Tom Gates is a tried-and-true recommendation for reluctant readers and those who need extra reading support – perhaps Tom Gates books are so accessible because Liz Pichon is herself dyslexic, and she has written these stories to be just what she would have loved to read as a child.  The illustrated diary format might even inspire young fans to create their own Tom Gates-style stories!

The Last Kids on Earth by Max Brallier

The Last Kids on Earth is dystopian fiction with a twist! Unlike dystopian YA, which tends to be dark and grim, this tweens-and-early-teens series shows that a zombie apocalypse can be pretty funny.  13-year old Jack recruits four of his classmates to fight off a succession of monsters after a zombie outbreak hits his hometown.  They have to learn to work as a team to stay alive, and they are the world’s last chance against the evil overlord Rezzoch!  This Wimpy-Kid-meets-Walking-Dead series has zombies, monsters, wisecracks, and crazy gadgets – no wonder it’s a New York Times bestseller.  Now also an animated series on Netflix.