From Brooklyn to Big Sur – From Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum

by |May 13, 2013

Booktopia’s Editorial Director Caroline Baum lets us in on her amazing bookish US adventure

Good to see Anna Funder settled in Park Slope, Brooklyn, in a street that feels like something out of Henry James. It was used to shoot a TV adaptation of Dickens’ A Winter’s Tale a few months ago, and they laid down fake snow. Each house has an individual gas lamp in its front yard. I have no idea why, but it certainly creates a special ambiance.

Caroline with Jackie Collins

A few days later, I went to Soho to hear current NY It Girl Rachel Kushner talk about her latest novel The Flamethrowers, which is getting rave  reviews. In its, she writes about motorcycles, contemporary art and Italian terrorism. Apparently it’s a bold ambitious book, and Jonathan Franzen is a fan. There was packed house for this midweek event on a cold night. Standing room only in fact. Kushner, who is droll and cool, was in conversation with fellow author,  Joshua Ferris who told such a long personal anecdote to open the event that I thought oh no, he’s never going to ask her a question, but eventually, he got round to a few and she had the confidence to go where she wanted to go. So now that book is on my Must Read list.

I went to meet with Elizabeth Strout, who won the Pulitzer for her novel Olive Kitteridge. She lives right down on the Hudson at FDR drive, and her new book The Burgess Boys is all about two brothers from Maine, both of them lawyers, but that’s where the similarities end. I’ll be writing about her for The Sydney Morning Herald in a month or so.

In San Francisco, I just had to go and see City Lights, the legendary bookshop where Ferlinghetti, Kerouac, Ginsberg and the Beat Generation hung out in the sixties. There, I became entranced by a blonde in a green synthetic fur hat. Her partner wore a headpiece in the shape of  Nemo the fish but I could not photograph him unobtrusively  whereas she was unaware, sitting and reading amongst the bookcases.

When we set out for Big Sur,  we drove  along the edge of Steinbeck country, near the town of Salinas, where John Steinbeck grew up and which now houses a scholarly research centre with public displays  dedicated to the author’s life.  The land around Salinas is close to the sea but fertile,  a patchwork of  fields of peas, strawberries and tall artichokes (Trivia: Marilyn Monroe was once crowned queen at the local artichoke fair.)

The view from Luke Davies porch in LA

Sadly, Steinbeck’s house is only open to the public from the month of June onwards so we pushed on to Big Sur, along the majestic wild coast. I had no idea it was a place that many writers had loved, including  Hunter S. Thompson, Richard Brautigan and Henry Miller, purveyor of explicit sex in books like Sexus, lover of Anais Nin, and others. The area boasts a Henry Miller Library which is pretty disappointing when you get there, it’s just a hippie compound with a bookshop in it, but there’s noting authentic about the place. A sign at the door confesses that the house never belonged to Miller.

And so on to LA, where  what else would you do to get a flavour of the glamour but go and visit Jackie Collins, which is exactly what I did. She lives in Beverly Hills of course and has a new book out in September, which is when she will be visiting Perth and Sydney, so watch out for that faux leopard! I’ll let you know when  my interview with her will come out but in the meantime here is a snap of us together in her very smart library.

By way of contrast, I was going to call on poet  and novelist Luke Davies, but our schedules got tangled and I ended up sitting on the rocking horse on his porch while he was out doing errands. It was a nice rocking chair, looking out on to a quiet street on the edge of Korea town and lined with those ludicrously tall palm trees, as you can see in this snap. Luke will be back in Australia for SWF 2013 to launch a new collection of his poetry.


Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director.

She has worked as founding editor of Good Reading magazine, features editor for Vogue, presenter of ABC TV’s popular bookshow, Between the Lines, and Foxtel’s Talking Books, and as an executive producer with ABC Radio National.

You can follow her on twitter at @mscarobaum

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About the Contributor

Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.

Follow Andrew: Twitter


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