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!

 

An imaginative book full of great characters, action, horror, humour and sadness, told by a masterly story-teller

9781408819708Review – Maddaddam by Margaret Atwood

MaddAddam is the third book of the trilogy which began in 2003 with Oryx and Crake and continued with The Year of the Flood . Judging by the thanks offered by Atwood in her ‘Acknowledgements’, without the encouragement of her readers, “including those on Facebook and Twitter”, it might never have been written. But it does not matter if you have not read either of the first two books, this one can stand alone. In fact, I found the outline of the earlier books, which prefaces MaddAddam, totally confusing in spite of having read them, and I resorted to making a sort of flow-chart of the characters who had already appeared. It was unnecessary.

“There’s a story, then there’s the real story, then there’s the story of how the story came to be told”, says Toby, who is the writer-protagonist of this book. And this is the way the book unfolds, with the back-story of several of the characters and events from the earlier books being told, as well as a more detailed account of Toby’s own story. She is one of the few survivors of the ecological/biological disaster which has destroyed most of humankind, and her ongoing diary begins with the final events of The Year of Flood. Amongst the survivors are the murderous Painballers, the injured Jimmy, The Snowman, and a small group of Crakers,  bio-engineered, gene-spliced, human-like beings who are “free of sexual jealousy, greed, clothing and the need for insect repellant”. The Craker males are also sexually voracious and this becomes the cause of distress and curiosity amongst the few human women, but with potentially hopeful results for the whole group.

In 2003, Oryx and Crake described seemingly outlandish inventions, corporations and social changes, and Atwood had fun inventing appropriate names: such as ‘Pigoons’ for “gen-mod” pigs with human characteristics; the powerful ‘CorpSeCorps’ technocrats; and  ‘BlissPluss’ pill for sexual energy and prolonged youth. Now, bioengineering is well established, gated communities and powerful technocrats are common, and ecstasy and other ‘life-style drugs’ have taken on the agenda of BlissPluss. In fact, as Atwood remarks in the ‘Afterword’ to MaddAddam, although the book is fiction, she has not included “technologies or bio-beings that do not already exist, are not under construction, or are not possible in theory”.

In fact, MaddAddam is less science fiction than the earlier books and more a gripping adventure thriller and love story. The chapter headings suggest the story-telling nature of the book: ‘The Story of How Crake was Born’, Snowman’s Progress’. ‘Moontime’, for example. ‘The story of Zeb and Fuck’ is particularly funny, as Toby tries to support the Crakers’ assumption that the exclamation “Oh Fuck!” calls on a God of Misfortune for help.

Atwood’s dark humour, her concern for our survival in a changing world, her intelligence, and her clear-eyed, wry, dry observation of human nature are always apparent. Some may find the Crakers too simple and too fanciful an invention but, for me, her loving depiction of them and of Toby’s humorous and gentle interactions with them as she tells her stories, are a delight. The innocence and curiosity of a young Craker boy, Blackbeard, and his pleasure at learning from Toby that the dark marks she makes on her pages mean sounds which can also be heard by other people who see them, is tempered by Toby’s concern for the results of this learning “What comes next? Rules, dogmas, laws? The Testament of Crake?”. It comes as no surprise that these people who purr illness and hurt away, sing joyfully at the slightest provocation (so that Toby has constantly to restrain them so she can continue her story) and can communicate with the Pigoons, ultimately save Toby and her companions from death.

Forget labels like ‘science fiction’, ‘futurist fiction’, ‘dystopian fantasy’, ‘ecological disaster novel’. MaddAddam is an imaginative book full of great characters, action, horror, humour and sadness, told by a masterly story-teller.

Buy the book here…

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Copyright © Ann Skea 2013
Website and Ted Hughes pages: http://ann.skea.com/
Sylvia Plath, Ariel and the Tarot: http://ann.skea.com/Arielindex.html

Cramming for book club

It’s Friday night and you know what that means – it’s book club night!

Well, book and wine club. As I discovered last time, the first rule of book club is that you are totally allowed to talk about book club, provided you bring some wine. So while I might not be donning a micro-mini and stilettos and painting the town red this Friday night, I can assure you there will be enough drinking, carousing and lively debate committed while wiggling a wine glass for emphasis to ensure we start the weekend in proper order.

I have actually done my homework too. I have to admit, I nearly faked reading this month’s pick, Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin. It’s not that I didn’t like the sound of it; I do like Atwood‘s writing and had read this book a few years ago. But when I went to find my copy in the labyrinthine depths of my amazingly over-stuffed book shelves I discovered, much to my annoyance, that it must have been lost in one of my moves. Well, that or my books have turned cannibal.

I figured I’d probably get away without reading it – I mean, in order to have it go missing from my shelves, I must have read it after I moved to Australia. So that means it has to have happened in the last six years and even my memory isn’t that useless. I figured I could just read a synopsis to refresh my memory a bit. No worries.

That illusion lasted until about page 30 or so of the 600+ page book. So, there’s sisters, Iris and Laura. Oh, one dead sister. Right, I think I remember that. And some newspaper articles about them. Hmm. Oh, a button factory, this seems kinda familiar. And a story in a story. And aliens. Wait, medieval aliens from Planet Zycron. Wait, medieval human aliens who use child slavery to make rugs and sacrifice mute girls to gods they don’t even believe in…

…I have no idea what the hell this book is about. Darn. I’m going to need to re-read the whole thing.

So, with just a day to go, I have been cramming. In a move a bit reminiscent of my college days (“the exam is on Wednesday? I’ll study Wednesday”) I have been snatching every moment I have spare to re-read. It’s a bit alarming that a book – a book that I remember enjoying – can slide so neatly and completed out of my head. It’s a little disheartening that my brain so readily gives up the entire plot of book that won the 2000 Booker Prize but hangs on with grim determination to the lyrics of The Chicken Song by Spitting Image. (Don’t click that, or as the song warns you, you’ll be humming it for weeks.)

Attempting to cram my brain with culture has been reasonably successful – I know the plot! Ish! – but a large part of me mourns the fact that I couldn’t get stuck into my copy of World War Z, which has been burning a hole in my ereader for 2 weeks now. I hope the rest of book club appreciate my last-minute efforts more than my lecturers did. At least with the book club I’m actually allowed to bribe them with wine if they don’t.

For the Love of the Chunkster

Dear Readers:

I have a confession to make. It is a confession that is so monstrous, so remarkably horrid, that your view of me will forever be marred.

*Takes deep breath*

I have never read The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

[I know what you’re thinking: “and here she is, this imposter, purporting to be a FANTASY blogger, no less!”]

Before you pass too hasty a judgment, let it be known that I have watched the Peter Jackson movies and loved them to bits, over and over again. And I read The Hobbit, so really, I feel like I know Bilbo Baggins PRETTY well. It’s not the same, I know. But it’s a start.

On three separate attempts I have made it, at best, about halfway through The Fellowship of the Ring. My excuse for not finishing it? It was TOO DARNED LONG. Too much valuable reading time had to be spent on the series, whereas I could read 15 or so smaller books in the same time bracket! But in my heart of hearts, I know this is a lie.
In truth, if you look at which books I love and have enjoyed the most, refusing to read a book because it is “too long” is laughable. For my very reading existence is almost completely dependent on my love for a particular type of book: for the love of the CHUNKSTER!

I define a chunkster as a book that has at least 500-600 pages, average size font.

Why do I love them? Well, there is something deliciously satisfying about reading a book that gives me the proper amount of time to immerse myself in the story, wallow about in its glorious filth. To know the characters through an intense description of a frock worn, to know a world as it is built, brick by brick around me. And, of course, I feel pretty awesome when I finish something that requires so much time and effort to get through.

Some of my fave chunksters:

Pillars of the Earth, by Ken Follett is a magnificent choice in the chunkster realm. To understand the passion and architectural skill of building a Gothic cathedral, while all these people’s lives are carrying on around it, is just mesmerising to me. After reading that book, I felt like I had built the church myself – ’tis a great feeling of accomplishment;
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, by Susanna Clarke, is 1000 pages or so of mind-numbing faerie Victoriana brilliance;
Cloud Atlas, by David Mitchell, sends me into a spin just thinking about it;
And I have just read Margaret Atwood’s The Blind Assassin, and been absolutely blown away by its intricate content, its romantic Sci Fi, its literary awesomeness. No wonder it won the Booker Prize.

I am also super pleased to report that the fashion of the chunkster doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere fast. The obsession with mass fantasy reads like Harry Potter and Twilight meant that each book in the series had to be larger than the last, to satisfy the starving fans. And you only have to look at 2009’s Booker shortlist to see that chunksters are still considered worthy literary reads (I’m currently digging my way through Wolf Hall with mounting enthusiasm). So, to come full circle – I don’t know why I can’t get through Lord of the Rings. I’m going to try again, mid-year, and let you know the results. As long as another chunkster doesn’t steal my attention… (here’s hoping!)

How do you feel about chunksters? To me, you’re in one of two camps: you adore the chunkster and all that it stands for, or you fear them to the depths of your soul and avoid them like the plague.

Which is it for you? Team Love? Or Team Fear?