Mark’s Say: September, 2021

I always get a thrill when one of my colleagues or a friend has a book published, but at the moment, as Victoria enters its fifth week of lockdown with the prospect of it continuing indefinitely, that feeling is bittersweet.

Tony Birch is a friend and a habitué of our Carlton shop; he’s lived in Carlton for years and several present and former staff were his students when he taught creative writing at the University of Melbourne. He used to say he was coming to work for us when he retired from academia. So there was great excitement on 1 August when we filled our Carlton shop window with copies of his new collection of short stories, Dark as Last Night. We made it our August Fiction Book of the Month and our reviewer Bec Kavanagh wrote: ‘ Dark as Last Night is a reminder of the lives that can be shared through the short story, and what a punch they pack when written well. In this stunning, timely collection Birch brings a softness to real and fictional spaces that is sorely needed right now.’ Three days after we filled our Carlton window, we closed the door to our shop. We would have expected to sell several hundred copies, but so far, we’ve only managed half our usual sales for Tony’s book. Tony is a writer whose star has been on the rise; with his most recent novel, The White Girl, he attracted a new cohort of readers. For writers without Tony’s profile, releasing books during the lockdowns has been disastrous, and it’s likely they will never regain the lost sales. Years of work and effort lost. Well-meaning people ask me optimistically that we must be doing OK as people are home reading; we’re not, as sales have plummeted by 40% on our pre-COVID-19 figures. It’s a similar story in New South Wales; our friends at Gleebooks reporting the same as they near their eighth week of lockdown.

This month, two Readings staff have new books coming out. It was going to be a time of great celebration with big launches in our shops and huge displays, but sadly those launches are now postponed or cancelled, and in-store displays are unlikely as Victoria’s case numbers continue to rise. Miles Allinson has worked at our St Kilda shop for many years; his first novel, Fever of Animals, won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript and there is a great buzz around his second novel, In Moonland. We’ve chosen it as the second book in our Melbourne City Reads program, an initiative designed to bring people back into the city bookshops with events and a special price of only $23 at Dymocks Melbourne, Hill of Content, Mary Martin Bookshop in Southbank, North Melbourne Books and The Paperback. The narrator of In Moonland has just become a father, and he begins to think about his own father who suicided when he was young. He reaches out to his father’s old friends in an attempt to discover what kind of man he was and why he may have died. It’s a powerful and compelling book.

Gabrielle Williams works as a bookseller at our Malvern shop and runs the Readings Prizes and the Readings Foundation; she’s also the successful author of four novels for young adults. Her new book, It’s Not You, It’s Me, comes out this month and had its launch cancelled. The book follows 40-year-old Melbourne woman Holly, who inexplicably wakes up in 1980s Los Angeles inside the body of teenager Trinity, while Trinity is trapped in Holly’s body. Former Readings marketing manager and YA author Nina Kenwood describes it as an absolute delight. As I said, September is bittersweet – two wonderful colleagues have two marvellous books coming out in our locked-down shops. Please support them and other Australian authors – you can phone and collect from our shops or order online.

Mark Rubbo is the managing director of Readings.

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Dark as Last Night

Dark as Last Night

Tony Birch

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