Aussie Author Challenge 2012 – Guest Blogger – February

Aussie Author Challenge 2012

As part of the Aussie Author Challenge 2012, each month I will be inviting an active challenge participant to guest post here at Booklover Book Reviews.

To kick off this guest blogging series, I am very pleased to welcome Tony from Tony’s Reading List. Tony is a long-standing supporter of this challenge and he has real knack for unearthing literary gems.

Tell us a bit about yourself Tony and the types of books you feature on your blog, Tony’s Reading List:

I’m an Englishman who has been living in Australia for almost a decade now, having previously lived in France, Germany and Japan, and I like to read and review literary fiction from around the world. My main areas of interest are Victorian literature, classic and contemporary Japanese literature, German literature in the original language and, probably the most recent addition, literary fiction by Australian writers.

What are the last 5 books by Australian authors you have read/reviewed?

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
All That I Am by Anna Funder
The Fix by Nick Earls
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright
Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

That Deadman Dance by Kim ScottAll That I Am by Anna FunderThe Fix by Nick EarlsCarpentaria by Alexis WrightEveryman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany

Which Australian author do you think deserves broader recognition and why?

One of my favourite Australian writers is Steven Carroll, creator of The Glenroy Trilogy, but I think he is actually fairly well-known, so instead I’ll opt for Arnold Zable. I’ve read a few of his books now, and I love his style of writing, more of a story-telling than a writing of a novel. He uses his works to give voices to other people, often the displaced and war-weary, creating tapestries of individual tales cunningly woven together by the gentle presence of the narrator.

I’d like to briefly highlight two of his books. Café Scheherazde is set in a café in St. Kilda (in Melbourne), and the stories here are of the Second World War and how the old men and women got from there to here. Zable is attempting here to record the oral history of a fading generation before it is lost forever.

Cafe Scheherazade by Arnold ZableViolin Lessons by Arnold Zable

Violin Lessons, his most recent work, is in a similar vein, but foregrounds the writer more, as the stories are those he has picked up throughout his life on his many travels. A blend of fact and fiction, some of the stories are told as they happened while others are a composite of several different occurrences. The culmination, and the highlight, of the book is the final section dedicated to Amal Basry and the SIEVX, a boat full of asylum seekers, which sank off the coast of Australia. It’s a book which everyone should read, especially in light of some of the political posturing we see on the subject…

The Aussie Author Challenge Soapbox is at your disposal…

I’ve read a fair few Australian books over the past couple of years. I’ve received a few from publishers, but the majority have come from my local library – I have bought almost none. Most Australians will know why, but I’ll spell it out for any overseas readers – books in Australia are simply too expensive.

There is a lot of debate, both as to whether this is true and as to why it is the case, but arguing about high overheads and the impact of GST thresholds is simply missing the point. For the average suburban Australian (who does not have access to a favourite indie – or second-hand bookshop), high prices simply mean that these books will not be bought. I am not prepared to pay $30 for a novel when I can buy wonderful books online from all over the world for a third of the price.

Some might say that this is selfish, and that I should be supporting local businesses; perhaps that’s true. It’s not going to change my buying behaviour though, and I’m sure that the majority of people will silently, if not openly, agree. Australia is no longer an isolated backwater, and consumers will go where their dollar stretches furthest, whether that’s at home or overseas.

The sad thing is that it is Australian writing – and culture – that will suffer. When a self-confessed bibliophile like myself spends a thousand dollars or so a year on books, all of it overseas, none of it on Australian books, you have to wonder what will become of Australian literature. Let’s face it, I’m far from being alone in being unwilling to subsidise an uncompetitive industry.

I don’t want to go into specifics as to solutions here (I don’t really know enough about the industry to be able to give any insightful suggestions), but it’s time for Australian publishers, and everyone else concerned with the industry, to come up with a plan for the future.

Otherwise, in ten years’ time, there won’t be an industry.

Disclosure: If you click a link in this post and make a purchase, I may earn a small commission.

Thank you for sharing these less widely known titles with us Tony, and for your candour in raising an issue that I am sure all Australian booklovers tousle with at one time or another.

I certainly know that I am a big user of The Book Depository because it is hard to justify paying 2 or 3 times more for a book than I need to.

This is an issue people are often divided on – share your thoughts with us… and make sure you check out Tony’s Reading List when looking for your next literary gem.


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  1. Lan & Shellyrae – This is exactly what I’m talking about. Now I’d like to hear what publishers have to say – not to hear them justify the prices (because that will change nothing), but to say what they are doing to attract customers. For example, I can’t wait for Text Publishing’s Australian Classics series to come out in May. $12.95 is a great price, and I hope that the booksellers will be stocking them!

  2. Hi Tony,
    Thanks for your post, I also think that Australian publishing is cutting their own throat. I buy maybe a handful of books from Australian retailers out of the 100’s I buy each year – I have a budget and just like when I go grocery shopping I aim to get the most for my $

    Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out

  3. I’ve pretty much given up on buying books from a specialized book store. Besides Amazon and Book Depository, budget department stores like Big W, Kmart and Target sell books for much cheaper than Dymocks and Collins. And forget picking up an Australian book if you’re from overseas. At the end of the day, if publishers and bookstores keep their prices up, they’re definitely only hurting themselves. I’m willing to pay extra money for a book from a bookstore but not when it’s tens of dollars more. That’s insanity.

  4. @Sean – The stories I’ve heard include higher overheads because of better minimum wage legislation and comparatively high rents (this would be a better explanation than freight and materials when it comes to the small matter of why Oz e-books often cost the same as the print copy…).

    That’s really not the point though. The average reader doesn’t care why prices are high, they care THAT they are high.

  5. I had no idea that books were so expensive in Australia. For those reviewers with kindles, check out netgalley ( There are certain titles there available ONLY to Australian reviewers

  6. He should be paying me commission ;)

    I have to say that we’re past the ‘it’s complex’ stage – either prices go down, or businesses go under. It’s good when bookshops care about regular customers, but as I hinted in my post, many of us live in suburban wastelands with perhaps one Collins or Dymocks at the local shopping centre – if we’re lucky…

  7. Last time I looked at it, the high cost of books in Aus was related to a)slightly better materials for construction b)distribution inefficiencies incl freight across the continent

    Not sure but I think BD and Amazon freight costs (the real costs) are subsidized by our mail service.

    I don’t really see a way around this. Ebooks would certainly help but unless the industry utilised POD services around the country I can’t see the cutting down the costs

  8. Great post Tony, and glad you featured Arnold Zable.

    Re the book purchase issue. I think the situation is here is very complex – partly due I can help thinking to our smaller market. I hope some publishers/distributors reply. I do buy from Book Depository and Abe Books but I also use bookshops here … mostly those where I can get some sort of deal (eg they offer a discount because I’m a member of an association such as Friends of the NLA. The NLA bookshop is a wonderful source of Aussie books and gorgeous to potter around). I want to support the local bookshops so I juggle my money a little to share it around.

  9. It’s definitely time for shops and publishers alike to stop putting their heads in the sand and start thinking about what they can actually do. I’m sure local readers are prepared to pay a *little* extra for the convenience of taking a book home immediately – more than 100% extra just isn’t going to cut it though…