Mark’s Say: March, 2021
For some Australian publishers, growth has come by expanding into other markets. Publisher Hardie Grant has been very successful setting up companies in the US and UK, and so has Scribe Publications. Black Inc. had a go too, but publisher Morry Schwartz is now trying a different tack by taking over the London-based Jewish Quarterly. Founded in 1953, it was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish tradition. It will be relaunched internationally by Black Inc. in May and will be edited in Australia by Jonathan Pearlman, who also edits Black Inc.’s triannual publication Australian Foreign Affairs. The first issue features some stellar Jewish intellectuals including Simon Schama on democracy, Deborah Lipstadt on antisemitism and some rediscovered letters of the great philosopher Isaiah Berlin.
Henry Rosenbloom’s Scribe Publications proudly boasts that it publishes ‘books that matter’ and has been doing so since 1976. It’s been a long hard struggle and they’ve stuck to their guns. In the last six months their books have notched up some impressive awards: the National Biography Award for Tiberius with a Telephone by Patrick Mullins, the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay, and now Fathoms: The World in the Whale by Rebecca Giggs has just won the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Nonfiction in the US. Fathoms is an amazing book that looks at how whales experience environmental and technological change, and what future awaits them and us.
Readings was founded in 1969 by Ross Reading, Dorothy Reading and Peter Reed. Ross passed away in 2000, and Dorothy in 2019, and last month Peter Reed passed away after a long battle with cancer. Peter began his career as a chartered accountant but hated it and gave it up to work as a bookseller at Cheshires, then Melbourne’s pre-eminent bookshop. There he met co-workers Ian Atkins and Ross Reading, and in 1967, together with Ian Atkins, he set up Jockels Bookshop in Collins Street. It wasn’t a success, and Peter partnered with Ross and Dorothy in a new venture in Lygon Street. Readings thrived but the partnership broke up when Dorothy and Ross decided they wanted to sell the business. Peter wasn’t able to purchase their shares and somewhat reluctantly agreed to put the business on the market and my business partners and I purchased Readings from them in 1976. Peter kindly agreed to stay on as an employee and became a mentor to me.
Peter loved bookselling and loved sharing his ideas and opinions on the trade, and I could listen for hours to his stories. He held very strong views on a lot of things that at times could be both infuriating and admirable. His great passion outside bookselling and his family was betting on the races, an activity he approached with the same fastidiousness as he did to bookselling. He would go to a race meeting at least once a week. One of my most memorable outings with Peter was when he took me and my friend Garth, literally, to the dogs, a mid-week evening dog race at Olympic Park. It was a weird and surreal experience. When Peter felt I was ready he left to work for an educational bookseller, JP Books, and his family eventually took over the business. We lost touch but I was very pleased that he and Dorothy were able to come to Readings’ 50th birthday celebration in 2019. He wasn’t well then and we promised to keep in contact, but sadly we didn’t. With Readings, Peter, Dorothy and Ross left a great legacy.