As I write, it’s that time of year when there is a flurry of awards: the Nobel, the Booker and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, to name a few. But for me the most interesting announcement during the last month was that of a shortlist for a new award, administered by the Small Press Network – a representative body for small and independent Australian publishers.
The Most Underrated Book Award (or MUBA) seeks to recognise those books that appear to have slipped under the cultural radar in the last year. On that note I guess it’s gratifying to see that the four books chosen by the judges (see the shortlist in our news column) were all reviewed at their time of publication in our monthly newsletter. To my mind this reinforces the value of the Readings Monthly as a publication that’s always eager to give exposure to as broad a range of local publishing as possible. And it’s a compliment to all our many reviewers who give up their time to read and write about books. As the November Readings Monthly is almost our last issue for the year, it seems to me a good occasion to thank them for all their hard work. Uncovering jewels is, after all, what working in this industry is all about!
This month, however, we just have to accept that the forthcoming festive season starts to dominate the publishing program of all the larger publishers, and the smaller ones tend to wait until the new year to present their wares. Nevertheless, there are still some very worthy titles amidst the blockbusters. Geordie Williamson offers a spirited reclamation of the unjustly forgotten gems of Oz Lit in The Burning Library; there’s an epic biography of our greatest living writer, J.M. Coetzee, with author J.C. Kannemeyer granted access to his private papers and manuscripts; and those fine folk at the Griffith REVIEW give some welcome exposure to the novella, too often rendered near-invisible in contemporary publishing culture.
There is also one author this month who has heretofore had rather a small cult following, but for whom I think that’s all about to change. A.M. Homes burst on to the literary scene many years ago with the confronting The End of Alice, but, despite several subsequent novels and story collections, hasn’t had much of a profile outside the US since. Several of my colleagues are now raving about her latest, May We Be Forgiven.
Finally, at this time of year I always nominate one title that seems to me the cleverest or quirkiest of the Christmas season. This year, by a long rope-length, it’s Fifty Sheds of Grey, a hilarious send-up of that book phenomenon.
Martin Shaw is Readings’ Books Division Manager.