What I’m reading this Christmas: Galina Marinov, Leading Edge Books

Three StoriesThanks for talking to Boomerang Books, Galina Marinov.

Thanks for having me.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at Leading Edge Books and you’re going to share your Christmas picks with us. But first let’s find out about you and your work.

Leading Edge Books has a national profile. What does LEB do? 

Leading Edge Books is a marketing and buying group behind more than 170 independent booksellers from all over Australia. We are part of a wider Leading Edge Group – an organisation providing vital services for small independent retailers – from Books, Music and Video stores, to Electronics, Computers, Appliances, to Jewellery shops. Leading Edge Group also operates in Telecommunication and Technology services.

Members of Leading Edge Books have access to improved trading terms with all the major Australian publishers through group buying and variety of backlist and other promotional offers. In addition, bookstores have access to marketing materials in the form of print and online catalogues, newsletters, POS and merchandise services.

We run a dedicated promotional website under the brand of Australian Independent Booksellers (www.indies.com.au) and its associated social media channels, promoting new publications as well as serving as a gateway to member-bookstores own websites.Galina

In addition to buying and marketing services, Leading Edge Books serves as an entity uniting independent booksellers in Australia and provides opportunities to its membership to exchange ideas, expertise and innovation. We work closely with the Australian Bookseller Association and for the past few years have run conjoined conferences – forums packed full of sessions on topics pertinent to Australian book trade and bookselling – from industry-wide developments and challenges, to small business essentials, and opportunities to hear from authors about their new publications.

All our activities and programs are centered on providing support to the booksellers in our group – from offering marketing support and improved profit margins, to ability to share expertise with likeminded people and businesses. We’d like to think of Leading Edge Books as an organisation that contributes to keeping Australian independent booksellers thriving and prospering in changing market conditions.

SpringtimeWhat is different/special about Leading Edge Books? 

Leading Edge booksellers share a strong commitment to maintaining the highest standard in terms of depth of range, customer service and expert advice on the best books for adults, young adults and children.

Independents are well recognised by the publishing community as the biggest supporters of Australian writing and are instrumental in nurturing and promoting new Australian writing. In recognition of this role, in 2008 we established the Indie Book Awards – awards recognising the best in Australian writing in the category of fiction, non-fiction, children’s & YA and debut fiction, as selected by independent booksellers.

Announced early in the year, the Indie Book Awards are now considered the front runner of Australian literary awards. We are proud to have had as our Book of the Year some of the best Australian books of the past few years – Breath by Tim Winton, Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey, The Happiest Refugee by Anh Do, All That I Am by Anna Funder, The Light Between Oceans by L.M. Stedman and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan which went on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.

We are currently in the process of collating the nominations for the 2015 Indie Book Awards and it is heartening to see so many young and debut Australian authors being nominated.

Why  are independent bookshops  so important and what do you see as the way forward in the book industry?A Strange Library

Independent booksellers are renowned for their passion for books. They know their books and their customers and often serve as hubs to their local communities, encouraging love of literature, literacy and education. As such, they are much more than commercial enterprises; they are indispensable to our society cultural institutions.

We are proud to have in our group some of the best independent booksellers in Australia – from Readings in Melbourne, to Boffins in Perth, to Avid Reader and Riverbend Books in Brisbane, to Abbey’s, Gleebooks and Pages & Pages in Sydney.

Far from the “doom and gloom’’ often portrayed in the media when it comes to the current state of the book industry, these booksellers offer brilliant examples of successful businesses which thrive on change and innovation. Maintaining the core independent bookselling ethos of serving and working closely with their local communities, they are also very active on social media, reach wider audience through strong online presence and view new formats such as ebooks as a way of enriching services to their customers rather than as a threat.

You’re the buyer and marketing manager at LEB – what do these roles involve?

We are a very small team of only four staff members working exclusively for the Books group and as such we all work together across the entire range of services we offer to our member stores.

Absolutely Beautiful ThingsMy main responsibilities lie in the areas of group buying – I work closely with representatives from all the major Australian publishers in offering the best titles for independent bookstores at best possible terms – and I also manage the production of marketing materials for the group. I love being able to see what’s being published across all publishers and imprints, and across genres – from fiction, to non-fiction, biographies, illustrated books to children’s and YA. We work 3 to 4 months in advance, so more often than not I read books that will be published in the future. Love of reading and knowledge of authors and publications are essential to this role, in order to being able to offer titles suitable for independent booksellers and to produce marketing materials and promotions of relevance to our bookstores.

How did you get this job?

I’ve been with Leading Edge Books for over six years now. The sum of all my previous experience (and of course love of books) led me to this role.

I was lucky my first job in Australia over twenty years ago was with a library and educational supplier. They were also an agent for a number of overseas publishers. That period of my early career was a crash course on who’s who of Australian publishing and the relationships between publishers, booksellers, libraries and agents.

After finishing a post graduate Diploma in Library and Information Sciences, I could have well gone down the road of Twelve Days of Christmasbecome a reference librarian (my dream at the time) but ended up taking up a position with Doubleday Book Clubs, first as an editorial assistant, then as a product manager within the new member recruitment team and later as a product manager/club director for some of their specialty book clubs. Product selection, buying, creative, marketing, editorial was all part of the job. I met and worked with some incredible people, read widely both fiction and non-fiction, and loved every minute of it. Unfortunately by mid-2000 the book club concept was on the way out and the clubs failed to re-position themselves in the new online selling environment.

I went on to work as a senior product manager for Random House – a role that gave me the opportunity to work within a publishing company. The learning curve was steep but extremely rewarding – I was responsible for the product management of the Random House UK list and for local reprints – and I absolutely loved the idea of working for the publisher of some of my favourite authors, both local (Peter Carey, Matthew Condon and Christopher Koch were all published by Random House at the time) and UK literary giants such as Ian McEwan, Salman Rushdie, Julian Barnes and Louis de Bernieres, just to mention a few.

Then the offer for this job came and I could not resist the opportunity to see it all from the bookseller side of the industry…

The Rosie EffectI enjoy seeing you at writers’ festivals and know how passionate you are about the books you come across, but could you tell us about some that you particularly love.

Like anyone who works in the book industry I read a lot and I buy a lot of books. My library is full of ‘my favourites’ – way too many to list here, and the moment I finish writing this I know there will be dozens more that will come to mind, but here are a few offerings.

Anything Jane Austen – I’m a huge Jane Austen fan – and especially Pride and Prejudice.

Then in no particular order – from modern classics to more recently published, some of my favourite books are:

84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
Atonement by Ian McEwan
Lovesong by Alex Miller
The Tiger Wife by Thea Obreht
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway
Educating Alice by Alice SteinbachMuseum of Innocence
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes
People’s Act of Love by James Meak
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Fingersmith by Sarha Waters
The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Museum of Innocence by Orhan Pamuk
etc, etc

Which authors have you been especially thrilled to meet?

Meeting authors and listening to author talks at writers’ festivals, bookseller and publisher events, is one of the most rewarding aspects of working in the book industry. I’ve met some remarkable writers and again the list would be too long but if I have to choose just a few, I would mention listening for the first time to Alex Miller at the Sydney Writers Festival, Alain de Botton at the Sydney Opera House, Simon Winchester at an event at Pages & Pages, Hilary Mantel in conversation with Michael Cathcart via video link at the SWF, Richard Flanagan’s speech at the Leading Edge conference in Adelaide in 2013. More recently I was absolutely thrilled and star-stuck meeting George R.R. Martin at HarperCollins Publishers and in September this year I went to an event with Salman Rushdie at the Melbourne Writers Festival.

What are some must-reads over Christmas?

There are so many wonderful books being published this Christmas season; there is truly something for everyone.Amnesia

For fiction lovers, there are new books by some of Australia’s most loved writers – Amnesia by Peter Carey is a satirical exploration of the big issues of our time and our recent history. There is the follow up to the bestselling The Rosie ProjectThe Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion, short stories by Christos Tsiolkas, Merciless Gods, and J.M Coetzee’s Three Stories, a jewel-like novella by Michelle de Kretser, Springtime, to mention a few. And for everyone who hasn’t read it yet, there is the remarkable The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan.

International fiction offers a wealth of books to choose from – from Colm Toibin’s Nora Webster and Marilynne Robinson’s Lila, to new offerings by Michel Faber (The Book of Strange New Things), Alexander McCall Smith’s latest in the Mma Ramotswe’s adventures The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe and a re-imagining of Emma, Haruki Murakami’s The Strange Library, and short story collections by Hilary Mantel and Margaret Atwood.

I am also looking forward to reading Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, Miss Carter’s War by Sheila Hancock and First Impression by Charlie Lovett, which as the title suggests promises to delight all Austen fans.

As usual non-fiction covers a variety of subjects and genres – from biographies on the lives of politicians (My Story by Julia Gillard and The Menzies Era by John Howard) and artists (Bill: The Life of William Dobell by Scott Bevan and John Olsen by Darleen Bungey), remarkable true life stories (Walking Free by Dr Munjed Al Muderis and A Bone of Fact by the creator of Mona in Hobart, David Walsh) to TV and sports personality books.

Once Upon an AlphabetA stand out for me is What Days are For by Robert Dessaix – a small but profound book on what makes a meaningful life.

There are also beautiful illustrated books on offer – from gorgeously produced cookbooks (my pick is A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to France by Dee Nolan) to books on art, gardening and interior design – a must-have is Absolutely Beautiful Things by Anna Spiros.

And of course, for children there is plenty of fantastic picture books – my favourites are Once Upon an Alphabet by Oliver Jeffers, In My Heart: A Book of Feelings by Jo Witek, illustrated by Christine Roussey and a gorgeous edition of The Twelve Days of Christmas by Alison Jay. Withering-by-Sea by Judith Rossell is my pick in junior fiction and Laurinda by Alice Pung is my choice for teen readers.

What is your secret reading pleasure?

I love historical fiction – from literary masterpieces such as Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, to the genre-busting A Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin (which strictly speaking are fantasy books of course), to historical sagas. I’ve been reading one particular series – The Morland Dynasty books by Cynthia Harold-Eagles since the late 1990’s. It follows the life of an English aristocratic family from the Middle Ages until recent days. I’m looking forward to reading the latest volume #35 over the summer holidays.

I also love reading poetry.

… And did I mention, Jane Austen – there is always a different edition of Pride and Prejudice to re-read.

Thanks very much for speaking with us, Galina.Bill

You are very welcome. Thanks for the opportunity!

 

A Feast of Books

Last week I blogged about my desire find a house with a library (preferably one behind a hidden door), where I could pander to my love of reading and store my ever-expanding collection of books.

I’ll cheerfully admit that my reach definitely exceeds my grasp on this one. House with libraries tend to come with wings and servants and other items that I can’t really afford, no matter how much I want them. I have lavishly-illustrated coffee-table book tastes on a mass-market paperback budget, sadly, so I need to look at other options for indulging booklovers’ desires.

Instead of insisting on a full library, you could always just get really creative with where I put my bookshelves or invest in some bookshelves that double as decoration, as some places have done.

Or you could pick up a spectacular piece of book art, such as Brian Dettmer‘s intricate and amazing creations, made from out-of date encyclopedias, medical journals, illustration books and dictionaries. He uses knives, tweezers and surgical tools to cut, carve and shape these old books into three-dimensional works of art. Nothing inside is relocated or implanted as he manipulates the books to forms sculptures that reveal and revel in the books’ contents and their breath-taking complexity of illustration. His work isn’t cheap but if you did find between $3,800 to $32,000USD down the back of the sofa, you could be the proud owner of one of these pieces.

If you want to go the whole hog*, but don’t want to spend a king’s ransom**, you could always indulge your love of books with a culinary adventure, such as Gastro Park’s Game Of Thrones’ feast. Inspired by the TV adaptation of George R R Martin’s infamously bloody series, this fantasy-fueled banquet will set you back a pricey but affordable $100.

Much like the books, the meal is not for those scared of a bit of gore. The feast opens with bloody strips of raw venison, pinned by arrows and garnished with eyeballs and dirt. That grisly appetizer is followed by charred raven’s feet in broth, then a huge portion of crispy suckling pig (complete with a large knife for back-stabbing), and then the dessert; a glistening dragon’s egg, served on a bed of snow and sand and topped with a generous pouring of pure liquid gold.

It’s a feast fit for a king (or, in the case of the liquid gold, for someone who believes they are one). And considerably more delicious than it sounds; the eyeballs in dirt are liquid mozzarella served on tapenade, for example, and the raven’s feet are piquillo peppers in a black squid-ink batter. The spectacular dessert is a work of delicious fiction; some smashing reveals the “dragon’s egg” to be a spray-painted chocolate shell encasing a liquid passionfruit and vanilla centre. And the liquid gold, deployed to such a devastating effect in the books, is a far more feast-friendly orange curd.

The meal is a marketing ploy for the Game of Thrones‘ TV show Australian DVD release. Chef Grant King is less that a bibliophile himself – he had never heard of the books or the show but quickly discovered it to be to his taste: “Anything about chopping dudes up, I’m into that.”

As for this bibliophile? I’m still looking. I have found one ideal home; a lovely and spacious house where one room has walls completely covered in bookshelves. It was love at first sight.  I’m just hoping that love will get the hint and send the several hundred thousand through extra to me I need to purchase this place. If anyone wants me, I’ll be looking down the back of the sofa.

 

*The whole hog is, of course, the suckling pig.

**Okay, there’s just no excuse for this much pun.

 

Killing me softly – fluffy bunnies and character deaths

I’ve always been a softy when it comes to literary characters and, in hindsight, taking both Black Beauty and Watership Down on the holiday may have been a bad move. For books about bunnies and ponies, they both have surprisingly high body-counts. My family had hoped to enjoy a quiet week away with the seven-year-old me occupied by ponies and rabbits, instead they got a week of hysterics as key fluffy characters died and then had to listen to my musings on mortality over every meal. Not really the holiday they had hoped for.

It’s not just fluffy characters I mourn; when it comes to books I’m a full-on optimist with a massive sentimental streak. I find it hard to say a final goodbye to favoured characters, hoping for final reprieves and unlikely escapes long after the point where it becomes obvious that they are due to get the chop. I’m capable of holding out hope even if they have been declared long since dead and unlikely to come back (unless as a zombie). When it comes to losing characters, I’m far better at “au revoir” than just saying a straight goodbye.

Which is odd as this sentimentality doesn’t apply to other art forms. I find it annoying when movies are unwilling to follow through on threats, sparing everyone and wrenching the plot to ensure that everyone walks away in the end. (If you are going to have a move called The Expendables, expend someone). I’m more than happy to see characters killed in full and glorious techicolour. So why is it so difficult for me, and many other readers, to deal with the death of literary characters?

It’s not just readers that finds the death of literary characters difficult. J.K. Rowling had sketched out the deaths in the Harry Potter series years before she started to write the scenes and cried as she wrote some of them. She made herself follow through for the sake of the continuing story, despite pleas from friends, family, her fans and other writers (John Irving and Stephen King famously begged her not to kill Harry Potter in the final book of the series).

“Otherwise what would you do? You would just write very fluffy, cozy books,” she said. “You know, suddenly I [would be] halfway through ‘Goblet of Fire’ and suddenly everyone would just have a really great life and … the plot would go AWOL.” Rowling also pointed out that King and Irving were not in a good position to ask for characters to be spared, with their own high literary body counts. “When fans accuse me of sadism, which doesn’t happen that often, I feel I’m toughening them up to go on and read John and Stephen’s books,” she said. “It’s a cruel literary world out there.”

Not all writers feel so conflicted – or so moderate – in their dispensing of death. You don’t get much crueler than George R R Martin, whose pen scythes it’s way through supporting and main characters alike. But Martin has always been a tough cookie when it comes to killing characters, as he reveals in one interview where he says that Gandalf should have stayed dead:

“I do think that if you’re bringing a character back, that a character has gone through death, that’s a transformative experience. Much as I admire Tolkien, I once again always felt like Gandalf should have stayed dead. That was such an incredible sequence in Fellowship of the Ring when he faces the Balrog on the Khazad-dûm and he falls into the gulf, and his last words are, “Fly, you fools.”

What power that had, how that grabbed me. And then he comes back as Gandalf the White, and if anything he’s sort of improved. I never liked Gandalf the White as much as Gandalf the Grey, and I never liked him coming back. I think it would have been an even stronger story if Tolkien had left him dead.”

And it’s not just the deaths of human characters that reader can find hard to deal with. When Stephen King had a character kick a dog to death in his novel Dead Zone he received more letters of complaint than ever before.”You want to be nice and say ‘I’m sorry you didn’t like that,’ but I’m thinking to myself number one, he was a dog not a person, and number two, the dog wasn’t even real.” I’m not the only one with a sympathetic streak for ponies, puppies and all things fluffy; readers can clearly emotionally invest in anything and everything in a book. So why would a writer choose to kill off characters, and choose to do so with seemingly reckless abandon?

John Birmingham, who’s most recent offering opens with the death of 300 million and goes from there, is unapologetic. After being told he was a “nasty author“, he agreed wholeheartedly.

“I am, I really am. I do terrible things to characters. I try my best to build them up, give them lovable quirks, amusing back stories, make it so you just want to be their friends and know you’ll miss them when the last page is read. Then I shoot them in the throat, or crash the plane into the ground at 1000kmh, or break up their marriages, or … well, I don’t want to give away any After America spoilers, but yeah.

Is that such a bad thing though? When you write books full of explodey goodness, I think you’re shortselling the reader if some of those explosions don’t kill off the odd character. Even a favourite character. One of the great joys of reading a story or watching a movie where you’ve bonded with a character who is in great peril is not being quite sure whether they’re going to survive to the end… Nobody really likes to lose a favourite, but losing them every now and then is what makes having them in the first place so precious. And that can be so of both high culture and low.

When Norman Mailer was asked about the cruelty with which he treated his characters in The Naked and the Dead he replied with a brief lesson he learned about characters from reading Tolstoy. “Compassion is of value and enriches our life only when compassion is severe, which is to say when we can perceive everything that is good and bad about a character but are still able to feel that the sum of us as human beings is probably a little more good than awful. In any case, good or bad, it reminds us that life is like a gladiators’ arena for the soul and so we can feel strengthened by those who endure, and feel awe and pity for those who do not.”

Which is, I guess, a reasonable way of saying that characters should serve the story and sometimes that story includes pain and mortality.

But I’d still still prefer if we could let the fluffy ones live.

 

 

Recent Acquisitions

One of the side perks of writing this blog is thinking of fabulous books to buy that can be the subject of future posts. I’ve been feeling a little vintage lately and noticed that the 60s beehive ponytail is coming back in, so I’ve satisfied my Bardot fetish reading-wise by purchasing a copy of Valley of the Dolls.

Valley of the Dolls, by Jacqueline Susann is all about fame, fortune, and the downward spiral of drugs and depression; the general spaced-out clamity it JUST LOVES to bring. I adored the movie and I’m looking forward to immersing myself in the world of sordid 60s stardom. I instantly fell in love with this inexpensive version on Boomerang, if you’re a collector of pretty/girly hardcovers then I suspect you’d sigh over this just as much as I did – it’s the most perfectly pink shade interspersed with the stark black of wrought-iron gates. Dreamy.

I’ve also turned my attention to reading more high fantasy lately. I definitely have to be in a certain ‘mood’ to read high fantasy or full-on science fiction, so expect me to take advantage of this mood, and in later posts I’ll discuss the books which have caught my eye:

Bright of the Sky, by Kay Kenyon

This seventh novel by Kay Kenyon has been compared to Frank Herbert’s work (of Dune fame), commended for its vivid characters, world-building and superior prose. If you’re just interested in the storyline, however: Pilot Titus Quinn, along  with his wife and daughter, are thrust into a parallel world after a simple space travel expedition goes horribly wrong. Titus makes it back to the first world, but he is much changed and his memory is gone, as well as his family. What happened? And how will Titus get his family back? Ooh, suspenseful!

A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin

This book’s had such a following since its publication in 1997 that it’s currently being made into a tv series (due to premiere in 2011). What drew me to it, aside from its evident popularity with epic fantasy lovers, is that it pretty much sounds like World of Warcraft. And boy do I love a good computer RPG. Apparently heroes die, the story is steeped in medieval history, there are sub-plots galore…and the writing is apparently pretty awesome too.

***

Now I have the books…time to get to reading! Look out for my thoughts on them in future posts.

Any of these you’re interested in, or have read before?