Ah. You can tell it’s December here because the sun is hot, the cicadas are chirruping, and there are bright coloured winter themed picture and recipe books glittering in snowy northern hemispherical glory alongside displays of beach-towels and light summer holiday reads. I can tell it’s an Australian Christmas just from checking my email inbox. There’s shilling posts describing top ten lists of Tim Winton novels and beautiful copies of Shaun Tan books. I’ll never know exactly why Australian books get such plugging beside all the Christmas-themed stuff while Australian films tend to falter in the discount bins and Iron Man box-sets twinkle in shrink-wrapped and vacuum-packed plastic glory.
I like to believe, because I have a self-indulgent faith, that in Australia’s commemoration of good old
commercial Christian values, we tend to think a bit more about what we read. Sure, there will be wrapped copies of Stephen King and Neil Gaiman and John LeCarre under most trees, but there’s this huge brand power in Australian literature and publishers that our music and film and even game publishing industries simply do not see a jot of.
It’s easy to forget in Australia, with all the American and British media that we are inundated with on our televisions and in our ear buds (and I love those shows and albums, so I’m not being critical of them here) that our bookstores are surprisingly full of Australian authors. It is only really noticeable when you travel somewhere internationally, walk past the bestsellers list at an airport store, and realise that a lot of familiar names are missing.
We’ve got a far smaller publishing industry and back catalogue compared to the other two big source countries of our pop culture. We produce far smaller print runs, and our books cost more. We spend some of the highest retail prices in the world for new paperback novels, and part of that is because we’re willing to pay those prices for local literature made with pretty good quality paper (compared to pulpier mass-market paperbacks). Even with all this, some Australian books are hugely popular.
I do not get very much into the Christmas spirit, but I love the yearly reminder that there is a strong appreciation of Australian voices and local culture (particularly indigenous). I also take delight in each and every recipe book I see that doesn’t discuss roast dinners and heavy puddings, and every children’s book that has a distinct lack of snow. I don’t dislike wintry Christmases, it just feels odd to see so much snow being thrown about the place when the days are swelteringly hot.