Mark’s Say, August 2020
If you’ve been a customer at Readings you’ve come across Alison Huber, either directly or indirectly. She’s been with us since 2003. For many of those years, she moonlighted from her day job as an academic at the University of Melbourne. Prior to that, she worked at the Melbourne University Book Room and the Dymocks at Melbourne Central (now gone). Bookselling just didn’t seem to let her go. In 2015, when Readings’ books manager Martin Shaw announced that he and his family were decamping to Germany, Alison was faced with an important decision about whether to continue with her academic career or put her hand up for Martin’s job. In Alison’s words, ‘the planets aligned’ with her decision to put universities behind her.
In her role, Alison leads a team of colleagues in making decisions about the range of books Readings stocks and features in each of our shops. A voracious reader, Alison is committed to making Australian stories a focus of her energies: ‘I have read more Australian literature over the last decade than I ever have in life. We need a diversity of local stories and voices more than ever, and I see it as a huge and hugely important part of my job that Readings helps Australian writers find their readers.’ (Read the full interview here.) Alison is a trailblazer, generous in mind and spirit, so it was no surprise to me that this year Alison was the recipient of the Australian Booksellers Association Text Publishing Bookseller of the Year Award.
Normally at this time of the year we’d be preparing to set up our bookstall at the Melbourne Writers Festival but, like so many public events, it’s been disrupted by Covid and will this year be presented totally online. This year’s festival has been put together by the associate director, Gene Smith, while the festival searched for a new director to replace Marieke Hardy. The festival recently announced that the director of the Sydney Writers’ Festival, Michaela McGuire, had been appointed and would take up the position with MWF next month.
Gene has put together a festival that would be the envy of any other writers’ festival. It runs from 7–16 August and features an eclectic mix of local and international writers. Some will be known to you, such as Kate Grenville and Elizabeth Strout, but others will be wonderful discoveries. One of my favourite books of last year was Patrick Radden Keefe’s Say Nothing, a massive book about the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Keefe has also released a wonderful podcast about the German band the Scorpions and their 1990 hit ‘Wind of Change’ (which is also the name of the podcast). During lockdown, I read A Burning by Indian writer Megha Majumdar; this political thriller has already become a simmering hit at Readings and I’m looking forward to hearing more from her. These are just two of the writers involved in this year’s festival; there are so many more to discover. For more details about the program, head to the MWF website.
In the wake of the death of George Floyd, books about racism and by diverse authors have been in demand. One book that I believe hasn’t got the attention it deserves is Travellers by Nigerian author Helon Habila. This novel about African immigrants and refugees in Europe is a beautifully poignant and important work – I recommend it.