Monday, April 23, 2012

Books, shmooks.

Hello. How are you? Today I would like to talk about books.

Over the last couple of weeks, books have come to mind many times for several reasons. In any ordinary week, I think about books a lot. I love books. New books. Old books. Kids books. Craft books. Crime books. Cookbooks. Travel books. So nothing unusual there.

But several topics have come up in the news in recent times which keep taking me back to how important books are, not just to me, but in growing great kids, remembering and discovering who we are as a nation, and in keeping the fires of literacy stoked through educating the nation to not just have an ability to read and write, but to read and write broadly, and to be passionate in doing it.

The first thing which happened was the scrapping of the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards by brand new premier Campbell Newman early in April. It was a surprise cost-cutting move, saving about $250,000 annually. It was reported as an ominous signal of the new premier's support, or lack thereof, of Queensland's arts industry. I think it's more than that - I think that by extension it shows a lack of regard for the role and status of writing and literature and their importance in educating Queenslanders. A long bow to draw perhaps. Either way, it's a pretty disappointing result for Queensland writers and readers. Every other Australian state has either premier's or state literary awards at least once every two years. Vale QPLA's.

Shortly after that, Columbia University announced the annual Pulitzer Prizes. These literary prizes, established in 1917 through a provision made in the will of journalist Joseph Pulitzer, reward excellence in writing in journalism, letters, drama and music. There is an annual Pulitzer Prize for fiction. Well, usually. There was no 2012 fiction prize awarded. This isn't without precedent, having happened several times in the Pulitzer's history. However the last time the Pulitzer board couldn't get majority agreement on a work of excellence in fiction was 1977. So it ticking off the annual Pulitzer Prize winner is something you have on your Must Read list, your reading requirements have just shortened. Skip to the Queensland Premier's wait. Hmm.

Is this an indicator of where fiction writing is headed? Or just an unlucky year. It's hard to believe that within the shortlisted works, not one could be regarded as 'excellent' enough for the board to make a majority decision to appoint a winner. Take a look at the Pulitzer website to have a look at the list of winners and finalists over time - you will undoubtedly recognise many titles in both lists, many of which have been made into films. Admittedly, I am unfamiliar with the majority of them. I plan to get familiar.

And now to happier outcomes. Coincidentally, both jumped out at me from The Age this morning.

The first, on page 5, was an article by Jewel Topsfield on the approach taken by educators at Parkville College in Melbourne, a new school for juvenile offenders. Having trained to be a secondary school teacher, and deciding I didn't have the necessary chops required to teach a classroom full of precocious and resentful teenagers (I know they're not all like that - just the one's assigned to student teachers...) I dips me lid to you.  I can only have immense regard for the teachers who can persevere with a group of young adults who not only present with massive gaps in their education, but who would often be carrying behavioural, substance abuse and family issues. Secondary teachers, in my opinion, perform miracles as worthy as any neurosurgeon. Sadly the salary is only a fraction. Another can of worms for another time.

One of their hurdles is that many young offenders have bearly read a novel. Reading is unsuprisingly not up there as a focus of many troubled teenagers. Getting them reading, five minutes at a time, until they are eventually not just reading but wanting to read, is, in my opinion, a monumental leap in the journey to repairing wounded souls. I'm no expert. Just saying. Pride + joy = job well done Parkville College.

The other Good News Story for the day was on page 9. 'Culture Rescue' by Michael Short revealed my ignorance of the sorry plight of Australian literature, but happily, Text Publishing is on a mission to rectify that. Did you know that one of my favorite pieces of Australian literature is not currently being published in Australia? Admittedly, my copy of Miles Franklin's 'My Brilliant Career' is a well-thumbed copy from the 1970's, entrusted to me by a friend - I haven't recently gone looking for a brand-new copy. But it would never have crossed my mind that I wouldn't have been able to find it unless I bought it online from an American publisher. And not just Miles Franklin - try finding some classis titles from David Ireland, Peter Corris and even Kate Grenville. It's unthinkable but true.

Why aren't Australian publishers keeping up with the publishing of great, not to mention, award-winning local literature? It is because imported fiction is more lucrative? Probably. More fashionable? Possibly. Is nobody teaching or studying Aussie lit anymore? Pretty much. Well, not as many as used to, anyway. Another can of worms. But I digress.

No matter. Situation currently being resolved. Whew! Thanks, Text Publishing! They have put together a list of 30 brilliant yet out-of-print Australian literary classics which they are reprinting. You can find the full list of Oz classics being reprinted by Text here.

Have a look. Get out your favourite coloured highlighter and pick a few. Then get yourself down to your local bookseller and hand over your cash. Pick a quiet moment to make a cup of tea, grab an Anzac biscuit, and cosy down to rediscover how clever we Aussies are.

We read and write great yarns. Some really well. Enjoy.

1 comment:

  1. Agree with all of this. But it is painful when you have to move the crates of treasured reads. The Kindle is a great backup but I still love my old Balzacs, Zolas and Prousts!