If you count the number of reviews generated, 2013 was a great year for the AWW challenge.
Participants wrote and published nearly 1800 reviews of books by Australian women in all genres. Plenty of people found excellent books to read, among them bestselling new releases such as Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites and Dawn Barker’s Fractured. Popular, too, were outstanding books from past years. Not least among these were the Stella Prize winner Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds, Michelle de Kretser’s Miles Franklin winning Questions of Travel, and books by Stella Prize shortlisted author Margo Lanagan.
Many participants reported reading far more books than they’d signed up for. Several bookbloggers and Goodreads users read and reviewed over 100 books each.
There was one notable exception.
Jon Page of Pages and Pages Booksellers, Mosman, former President of the Australian Booksellers Association, wrote a wrap up post entitled, “How I completely failed the Australian Women Writers Challenge in 2013.” Jon admitted he didn’t read one book by an Australian woman this year.
His admission generated dozens of replies on Twitter. Comments came from authors, readers and those in the publishing industry.
So why would such a prominent bookseller not find any books by Australian women to his taste?
For one thing, Jon claimed, there are so many great new books, not just Australian books, clamouring for his attention. Particularly, though, he dislikes the marketing of some books by Australian women, especially the ones with AWW stickers. (That’s Australian Women’s Weekly stickers, not anything to do with our AWW.)
Poor covers also came in for a serve.
Seeing his tweet that he likes “dark gritty crime”, I asked if he’d contemplating reading Random House’s latest thriller offering, Hades by Candice Fox. Jon admitted the cover didn’t appeal – not because it’s gendered, just because it doesn’t grab him. (Incidentally, I read that book without seeing either the cover or reading the “blurb”: I downloaded it as a cover-less ebook via Netgalley.)
As Jon also mentioned he likes literary works, I asked whether he’d read Jessie Cole’s Darkness on the Edge of Town. It’s a wonderful book, dark and gritty, and literary. He hadn’t heard of it. That’s right, a prominent Sydney bookseller hadn’t heard of a book published by HarperCollins in July 2012, a book that has all the elements he looks for in a great read. In the next tweet he announced he’d download a preview on his Kobo.
Clearly the ‘discoverability’ of good books by Australian women is still an issue.
Throughout the day, Jon and I exchanged several more tweets. He wondered if Eleanor Catton (from New Zealand) could be counted as an Aussie. I told him I counted M J Hyland (who no longer lives here). Had he heard of Carry Me Down? It’s gritty and literary. He hadn’t. He seemed interested.
In his wrap-up post, Jon wrote that he wouldn’t be signing up for #aww2014, but we’ll see. I pointed out that with one more book, he’d have enough to sign up at Stella level (and you can just sign up to read). He’d read Eva Hornung’s Dog Boy (Prime Minister’s Literary Prize winner), right? Er… no.
What is the significance of this exchange?
The only reason I knew about Cole’s book was because others had reviewed it for the AWW challenge. I either saw it tweeted about, or discussed in one of the monthly round-up posts. Or maybe I saw it while perusing the AWW Review Listings page. I can’t remember.
I knew of M J Hyland’s and Eva Hornung’s books because I found them in the library when looking for books by Australian women. I discovered they’re both beautiful and moving. Dog Boy was published in 2009; Carry Me Down in 2006. I’ve only just now discovered, researching this, that Carry Me Down was shortlisted for the Booker Prize. It doesn’t surprise me.
My point is, good books don’t have a use-by date. If new releases don’t grab you, look back at prize winners. If literary works don’t appeal, find other AWW participants who share your tastes and read their reviews, see what they recommend. Join in the conversation and spread the word.
That’s the real success of the AWW challenge. We are helping to create an ongoing, online conversation that brings the best books by Australian women – in all genres – to the attention of readers who might otherwise never hear of them. Even prominent booksellers, it seems.
Happy reading and happy new year!
PS I may not have convinced Jon, but someone who participated in our exchange just signed up for #aww2014.
PPS Jon, you can sign up all year.