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Literary Escapades: Australia

Regular readers of this blog know (or have guessed) that I was lucky enough to spend three weeks in Australia this summer. This is not a travel blog, so I won’t share details about my trip except the bookish ones. Reading Australian literature before visiting helped a lot during my stay, I had a better understanding of what I was seeing. Since I was with my non-bookish family, I didn’t specifically seek out literary places. I just took note of what I stumbled upon and visited bookstores along the way.

There’s a Writers Walk in Sydney, near the bay. It’s made of plaques on the ground with the name of the writer and a quick bio. I didn’t look at all of them but they were mostly Australian writers and foreign writers who stayed in Australia. To be honest, I’d never heard of most of them.

Of course, I tend to visit bookstores when I’m abroad. When I’m in a non-English speaking country, I can only watch which writers are on display. Here I came with the idea to get myself some Australian books. I visited bookstores when I had the chance and was very disappointed for the first two thirds of my trip.

At first, all the bookshops I found had books I don’t read. Lots and lots of mainstream fiction I’m not interested in and even the crime fiction section was a letdown. Literary writers have little room in these stores. Tim Winton and Peter Carey seem to do alright but otherwise, lots and lots of colourful cheesy covers with embossed letters. Yes, you see those in your mind eye. One of those sold new and second-hand books that were called Pre-loved books. I like that concept.

And, the horror, these books were expensive. 20 to 30 AUD, which means 13 to 19 euros for a paperback. In France, paperbacks cost from 5€ (classics in the public domain) to 12€ (fancy editions or small publishers)

I eventually found a bookstore in Alice Springs that sold Australian literature, Red Kangaroo Books. By then, I had adjusted to the local prices of books. I tried to focus on buying books I couldn’t find in France or in French. After reading Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the SeaMarie Munkara’s personal story, a book I really recommend to everyone, I decided to try her fiction, A Most Peculiar Act.

After seeing the cover, my children asked me if I was now into horror books. And I have to admit that it looks like a book by Stephen King with a psychopath doll, don’t you think?

I’d heard about Growing Up in Aboriginal Australia on Lisa’s blog. It is a collection edited by Anita Heiss in which fifty Aboriginal Australians relate their personal experience about growing up as an Aboriginal Australian. I should be interesting.

The good thing about traveling so far is that you get a 30 kg allowance of luggage. Yay! More room for books! I ended up in a bookshop called Readings in the Carlton neighbourhood in Melbourne. It was their flagship, according to their website. It’s the size of my favourite bookstore in Lyon and they had a large enough section of Australian literature. I stayed a moment there, browsing through books before deciding upon four new additions to my TBR.

I wanted to read the Anita Heiss but couldn’t get it in France, so I knew I wanted to buy it in Australia. I’m lucky they had it at Readings because Aboriginal writers seem hard to find. (except at Red Kangaroo Books) I’ve already read Madeleine St John and I enjoyed her Women in Black.

I remembered reading about Tony Birch on blogs, Blood was listed for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and the blurb sounded good. We’ll see how I like it. Five Bells appealed to me, it’s published by Penguin so I expect a certain literary quality.

This was my experience with bookstores and I didn’t go out of my way to find them during my stay since I’m the only one obsessed with books in my family. There are probably incredible bookstores in Sydney and Melbourne that I didn’t see, they aren’t on the touristy paths, that’s all.

Seeing the price of books, I sort of felt relieved for Australian readers to encounter so many libraries. At least, there’s a way to read without depleting your wallet. The reading room in the State Library in Melbourne in stunning:

They have sculptures from children books in the forecourt. I didn’t recognise the characters, they were from Australian books but I find it nice that the entrance of this intimidating building is made to speak to children and not only to bookworms. Well, literary nerds have their corner with the James Joyce Seat of Learning.

It looks like a lectern to me, I can understand how Ulysses can be a bible to some but still. There’s a stone from Joyce’s house in Dublin embedded in the desk, like a relic in a church, which enforces the Catholic vibe. I thought it was a little weird, especially since Joyce never set a foot in Australia.

Another way to have free access to books is to check out Street Library boxes. There’s one in Katoomba, in the Blue Mountains.

And according to their website, there are tons of them in Australia.

This initiative exists in lots of countries and I love it. For France, you can check out the website Boîte à Lire. One of these days, I’m going to set one up in my street.

I also bought the literary number of The Big Issue. It’s one of those magazines that homeless people sell on the street. Several Australian writers are involved and donated either their time and/or their stories. It’s the first time I’ve seen one with a fiction edition and it’s a great initiative.

My literary escapade in Australia wouldn’t have been as good without a stroll in Melbourne’s CBD with Tony, from Messy Booker. Thanks for taking us to the lanes with street art and explaining what the references were and for pointing out William Barak’s face on one of the city’s skyscrapers. We would have missed this without you and it was lovely meeting you.

And last but not least, we loved having lunch with Lisa and The Spouse on our last day. I’m happy we had the chance to meet IRL, as it’s customary to say. It is always a great pleasure to meet online friends in person. I’m always surprised at how easy the conversation flows but I shouldn’t be because blogging is real life too and the love of books a strong enough connection. So, if you’re in Lyon, don’t hesitate to contact me.

And for the rest of my blogging life, I’m late with everything: writing up the two last billets of last season’s Book Club (The Eastern Parade and Small Country) and the two billets for Portuguese Lit Month (The Alienist and The Anarchist Banker). I didn’t have much time or energy to read at the end of my busy days. I didn’t have time to read other people’s reviews, unfortunately. I’ll try to catch up but I expect to be burried at work in the next months.

  1. August 26, 2018 at 9:41 am

    Lovely to read this, Emma, and I’m so glad you found some books after all!

    Just to explain, Joyce is celebrated here because Australia has strong connections to Ireland. Their ‘troublemakers’ i.e. their political dissidents were sent out here as convicts, and so you can meet their descendants almost everywhere you go. And here in Melbourne, we celebrate Bloomsday, of course!

    Like

    • August 26, 2018 at 7:06 pm

      Thanks for the explanation about Joyce. But why Joyce? There are so many other Irish writers!

      Like

  2. August 26, 2018 at 9:44 am

    Oh, I’m so delighted you got to meet Lisa 👏🏻👏🏻 And yes, books are expensive in Australia but it’s a protected market and ensures Australian authors get paid their fare dues. We’re rather spoilt in Europe/UK because books are so cheap, it does come as rather a shock! By the way, Five Bells is an amazing book. It made my annual top 10 when I read it in 2011.

    Like

    • August 26, 2018 at 7:20 pm

      I can understand why the market is protected and that with a population of 23 million, Australia is a small market compared to France for example, especially since a French book can also be sold in other Francophone countries. So it’s more difficult to absorb the fixed costs of the production and distribution of books.

      But books in Australia seemed more expensive than in the Netherlands (Population 17 million) and with a language mostly spoken there, so the translations are only for a small market too.

      I haven’t done a proper survey, it’s just my impression from browsing books in both countries in the last six months.

      We have protections for books in France too, but mostly to ensure that independant bookstore stay alive through fixed prices for books.
      And VAT is at a reduced rate on books.

      Good to know that Five Bells is good. It seemed to be when browsed through it but you never know. Let’s hope it’s not full of Australian things that I don’t understand.

      Like

  3. August 26, 2018 at 10:33 am

    I’ve just bought Heiss’s Growing Up too. I hope you like A Most Peculiar Act, it’s very funny. I enjoy all bookshops but mostly prefer second hand – more old stuff and better prices.

    Like

    • August 26, 2018 at 7:21 pm

      Apparently, I did well with my choice of books. Kim says that Five Bells is excellent and now you say that the Munkara is funny. I’m looking forward to reading them.

      Like

  4. August 26, 2018 at 6:40 pm

    I’m glad you managed to find some suitable bookshops in the end, what a relief that must have been. And how lovely to hear that you were able to meet up with Lisa and Tony – as you say, it’s always nice to meet online friends in person. Lucky you. I hope the return to work isn’t too traumatic…

    Like

    • August 26, 2018 at 7:24 pm

      I knew I’d find something in Melbourne, the city is such a cultural centre that it must have reliable bookshops.

      It is always a great pleasure to meet online friends in person and it was a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity, right?

      I wouldn’t say the return to work is traumatic but it sure is brutal.

      Like

  5. August 26, 2018 at 7:51 pm

    What a lovely visit you had! And gosh, the prices!

    Like

    • August 26, 2018 at 8:14 pm

      We had a wonderful trip. Beautiful landscapes.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Vishy
    September 1, 2018 at 11:52 am

    This is so wonderful, Emma! The most happiest news for me is that you got to meet Lisa! So nice to know that you got to meet Tony too. Did you get to meet the other Tony?

    Thanks for sharing your bookish adventures and pictures! So beautiful!

    Like

    • September 2, 2018 at 9:28 pm

      Thanks Vishy!
      No I didn’t have the chance to meet the other Tony.

      Like

  7. September 5, 2018 at 10:37 pm

    I love reading your literary escapades, Emma! I think it was through one of those that I first discovered your blog many years ago, when you wrote about Paris. It was great to read about your Australian trip, and I love the photos of the library and the street library! I’ve seen boxes like that in various countries, e.g. around Scandinavia, and they’re such a good idea—especially when books are expensive.

    Like

    • September 8, 2018 at 10:05 pm

      Thanks Andrew. I enjoy writing up these literary escapades.

      I plan on doing one in Paris in a few weeks. I’ve found a guide “Promenades littéraires dans Paris”.

      I’ll be in Moscow on business in a couple of weeks and I AM SO FRUSTRATED: I’d love to visit Pushkin’s house, Tolstoy’s residence, the Bulgakov Museum, Lermontov’s house and I won’t have the opportunity to do it. There are so many writers’ house to visit!!

      Like

      • September 13, 2018 at 4:17 pm

        Oh, that is a shame! Maybe next time. Or who knows, maybe a meeting will be cancelled and you’ll be able to sneak off for a mini-escapade after all 😉

        Like

        • September 14, 2018 at 8:52 pm

          I hope I’ll have some time for a mini-escapade.

          Like

  8. September 12, 2018 at 1:47 pm

    Loved your literary write-up Emma. Readings is a great bookshop isn’t it, and you did choose well. I imagine it was hard.

    And that State Library reading room is impressive too. Although I’m a librarian, I only visited it for the first time a few years ago. Not sure why that is, but I was impressed.

    I’m sorry I didn’t get to meet you. We missed each other in Melbourne by days as I recollect.

    Books are expensive here. I remember being astonished at how cheap they were in the USA. We get used to it though. (Most trade paperbacks here are now $30-35, with the smaller formats coming in just under. You can see why Text Classics – eg your Madeleine St John – is such a wonderful initiative. Good prices, and very nicely designed.

    Anyhow, sorry it’s taken so long to comment. Life’s busy.

    Like

    • September 14, 2018 at 8:51 pm

      Readings is actually in one of my tourist guide!

      I know, it’s a pity we missed each other for a mere few days. Missed opportunity.

      I’ve seen a whole shelf of Text Classics at Readings and yes, I thought it was at least a chance to buy books at a reasonable price. Thankfully, there seem to be a lot of libraries in Australia. That’s helpful for avid readers and doesn’t make of reading an expensive hobby. (As I always say, it’s debatable when you see the price of sport equipment sometimes)

      Like

      • September 15, 2018 at 12:02 am

        Yes, we have a good library system. I used to be a big user of them, but not Ni’s. I have too many books to read without needing to look for more! Partly review copies, partly gifts, some bought currently, but they are the top of a couple of bookcases at least of unread books from the years and years and years of buying and gifts. I have my own library!

        Sports equipment is expensive, true, but a lot of it will last years whereas we keep needing more books to read?

        Like

        • September 22, 2018 at 8:44 am

          I have my own library too, built the same way as yours! It’s easier to be tempted to buy books here since they’re less expensive and the same price everywhere. So when you see one that looks good, you’re not tempted to wait and look for a better price somewhere else.
          It’s good for bookshops, they benefit from impulse buying.

          Liked by 1 person

          • September 23, 2018 at 12:12 am

            Not very capitalistic!!! Here bookshops offer all sorts of discounts and deals but if I want a book I’ll buy it I must say.

            Like

            • September 24, 2018 at 8:39 pm

              Here the price of books is fixed by the publisher and cannot be discounted by more than 5%.

              Liked by 1 person

              • September 25, 2018 at 12:08 am

                Is that national law? Fascinating.

                Like

              • September 25, 2018 at 6:06 am

                Yes. It’s a law to protect independent bookstores.

                Like

              • September 25, 2018 at 6:09 am

                Ah, nice!! Vive la France!!

                Liked by 1 person

              • September 25, 2018 at 6:37 am

                🙂

                Like

              • September 25, 2018 at 2:59 pm

                We used to have the same law in the UK (the Net Book Agreement) but it was cancelled in 1997, and since then, independent bookshops have been closing en masse. I agree, vive la France 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

  1. December 23, 2018 at 7:41 pm
  2. January 3, 2019 at 6:32 pm

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