Thursday, July 24, 2008

A bee in her (frilly) bonnet

Speaking of great women, I hear that a certain feisty publisher has got a bee in her frilly bonnet about one aspect of the otherwise extremely genteel Jane Austen Society of Australia (or JASA). She wrote to the society recently: ‘I am contacting you to express my extreme disappointment in one aspect of the JASA website and that is the linking of the website to the US online bookseller, In Australia, we boast many of the best booksellers in the English-speaking world. Their knowledge of books, their enthusiasm and passion for books is one of the greatest un-sung assets to our cultural life. The greatest threat to their livelihoods is for their customers to go off-shore to purchase their books. As a cultural organisation that benefits from a literate, book-reading population I feel JASA should be doing all it can to encourage JASA members to support their local bookshop.’ And on that note, Dear Readers, I bid you all adieu until next month!

Great love letters

I’m sure that like me you wouldn’t have been able to avoid the advertising for a new moving picture based on a television series about some carefree (but painfully thin!) young lasses in New York. In this film, the main character is seen to read from a book entitled Love Letters of Great Men. Fans have been quick to search for this instructive tome, only to find that it doesn’t actually exist! However, the small US publisher who took a punt last year and reissued an obscure and long out-of-print book entitled Love Letters of Great Men and Women: From the Eighteenth Century to the Present Day has had a nice surprise: his little book leapt into the bestseller chart on and is now reprinting!

Recapturing one's lost youth

There was no such controversy about this year’s Miles Franklin pick (or at least there wasn’t at the time I was writing this!), but isn’t it telling that the winning book’s publisher admitted that sales of the winner’s books to date have been ‘modest’—despite his being shortlisted for the Miles three times and winning a regional award in this year’s Commonwealth Writers’ Prize. Let’s hope that finally winning ‘the big one’ sees Steven Carroll rewarded for many years of lonely work. Carroll’s own plans are quite modest: he plans to spend some of the $42,000 prizemoney on something called a Rickenbacker (which my nephew tells me is a brand of electric guitar, once favoured by The Beatles: at least I’ve heard of them!). Carroll told the papers that he traded-in his beloved guitar for an electric typewriter to kick-start his writing career 30 years ago. ‘It was one of these pivotal moments, life-defining moments, it’s got a real sadness to it,’ Carroll said. ‘You can’t buy your youth but you can buy back your Rickenbacker.’

How short should a shortlist be?

Our friends across the pond have been getting worked up over their biggest book awards of the year, the Montana Awards. The problem is the shortlist—it’s too short! The judges only chose four novels for the fiction shortlist instead of the usual five, with one saying that ‘while there were other great books, we did not want to dilute the Montana (finalist) sticker by promoting a fifth.’ The pundits were outraged and newspaper articles, blog posts, and live radio interviews on national radio followed, suggesting many well-received novels that they thought should have been contenders. There was even talk of a defamation suit at one point! Isn’t it nice to see such passion? I can’t recall a good stoush about the shortlist for an Australian literary award for years.

From little things, big things grow?

A friend who understands something of the opaque world of finance tells me that the fortunes of a certain large bookselling chain have improved dramatically in the past six months. From being well and truly in the red, said company has now reported a very healthy half-yearly profit. How much of this good fortune can be apportioned to the company’s slightly controversial practice of adding a few cents here and there above RRP to much of its backlist, my correspondent wonders?