Mark’s Say: May, 2021
I was doing a bit of tidying up the other week and stumbled upon our Christmas catalogue for 1988. It was a modest production and interestingly a lot of the books we advertised then are still in print, and I was struck by how the prices then aren’t much different now. In 1988 Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines was $12.95. Using the RBA’s inflation calculator that would make it $30.21 in today’s dollars, but instead, it’s only $14.99. It was also the year Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses came out; the hardback was $29.95, or in today’s dollars, $69.86. Interestingly, a movie ticket in 1988 was $6.30 and now it’s $20.50. So in 1988, The Songlines was double the cost of a movie ticket and today it’s 27% less. Commentators often talk about modern technology becoming cheaper but one of the oldest and most precious forms of technology, a book, is considerably less than it was 33 years ago. It’s also interesting to note that our 1988 catalogue only featured one cookbook.
A few weeks ago, when I opened the review section the Australian, I was delighted to see a whole page devoted to three new Australian YA books. One of them, The Gaps, was by my colleague Leanne Hall who has worked with Readings for many years, and whose previous books have won several awards. The reviewer speculated that The Gaps could well be the best YA novel published this year. It’s a brilliant novel about the abduction of a teenage girl and of the unlikely friendship that develops between two students at a privileged girls school in response to the abduction. This year, three more of my colleagues will have books published. In September, Readings Prize manager and Readings Foundation grants officer Gabrielle Williams will publish her fifth YA novel. Titled It’s Not You, It’s Me; the premise is very intriguing, involving time travel, body shifting and a mystery. Sean O’Beirne had his collection of short stories, A Couple of Things Before the End, published just before lockdown last year. Helen Garner has been a great supporter of Sean’s writing, having read a draft of the collection, and launched the finished book with a lovely speech at Readings Carlton. Sean is also a great admirer of Helen’s work and has been commissioned by Black Inc. to write on Helen for its Writers on Writers series. This comes out in October – I suspect it will be a labour of great love. Finally, Miles Allinson has a follow-up to his marvellous novel, Fever of Animals, coming out in September. Miles received a State Library Victoria Creative Fellowship to work on the new book, In Moonland. It’s a portrait of three generations, each grappling with their own mortality. I’m aware of at least a few more ‘Readings’ books that are in the pipeline too.
University High School is one of Melbourne’s most prestigious government schools and fittingly, its library has a marvellous collection. A lot of that was down to the work of Rob Castles and his colleague Kate Marquad. Rob sadly passed away a few weeks ago after a long battle with cancer. A week or so before that, he contacted me and I asked him how he was going. He replied: ‘This dying business is tedious and hard work though I have to say. Can’t say I’d recommend it to anyone!’ The staff at Readings Carlton will miss him.