Monday musings on Australian literature: Little books

Christmas is coming and those stockings are wanting inspiration. I know I’m jumping the gun a little in terms of the traditional round of Christmas book talk, but it’s never too early to think of book gifts, and I’ve been wanting to write about little book initiatives for a while now. I can’t wait any longer!

Do you remember those Penguin 60s, the little books that Penguin published twenty years ago, in 1995, to celebrate its 60th anniversary? The books were around 80 pages and, before the days of smart phones, they were handy little items to carry around for those reading moments that suddenly open up out of the blue. I loved them, and still own several. I particularly remember reading Edith Wharton’s Madame de Treymes and Jean Rhys’ Let them call it Jazz. They were so popular that they spawned – at least I think it was the Penguin initiative that came first – similar small books by other publishers like Bloomsbury. I have some of those too. Anyhow, for its 80th birthday this year, Penguin has published a Little Black Classics series – and again they have proved successful, according, at least to The Guardian, which concluded that, even in this era of the e-book, it “proves people like their reading matter cheap… and portable”.

I hope they’re right about this because a few Australian publishers are producing their own “little” books, and I thought I’d share them here, as I don’t think they have the same visibility as Penguin – funnily enough!

FL Smalls 7: Carmel Bird's Fair Game

FL Smalls 7: Carmel Bird’s Fair Game

FL Smalls  are published by a small independent publisher in Braidwood about an hour’s drive away from me, Finlay Lloyd. Finlay Lloyd describes the project as

an ongoing project where we give its authors sixty pages to create a book. Published together in groups, the first five Smalls came out in 2013, and now we have commissioned another five to be released in early September this year, shoulder to shoulder, as an offering of vital writing by Australian authors.

You might have picked up a difference here between these and Penguin’s little books. FL Smalls are not classics, and are not reissues of works published elsewhere. They are commissioned, meaning of course that they provide a publishing opportunity for living writers. I love that. They include fiction, non-fiction, poetry, graphic works. I have the recent set, kindly sent to me by Finlay Lloyd. They are priced at $10 each. Reviews will start appearing here, soon. Meanwhile, you can check out Lisa at ANZLitLovers’ discussion of them.

Short Blacks – isn’t that a great name – are published by another Australian independent publisher, Black Inc. They describe the project as being

gems of recent Australian writing – brisk reads that quicken the pulse and stimulate the mind.

Noel Pearson in Short Blacks

Noel Pearson in Short Blacks

These then have been published before – but they are not classics. They are recent works, and seem to be non-fiction. They include Robyn Davidson’s No fixed address which was originally published by Black Inc as a Quarterly Essay, David Malouf’s One day about ANZAC Day, and Noel Pearson’s cleverly titled The war of the worlds about the “colonial project” and genocide in Australia. I bought a couple of these from the wonderful, independent Hobart Bookshop on my recent visit to Tasmania. Twelve have been published and it’s not clear from the website whether it’s an ongoing project. Like FL Smalls they are appealingly, if more simply, designed, and cost only $6.99 each. What a bargain.

Viva La Novella is a slightly different project. An initiative of the online publisher Seizure Inc, it is a prize that was established in 2012

Jane Jervis-Read, Midnight blue and endlesslly tall

First Viva La Novella Winner

to celebrate and promote short novels – because we like them and believe some of the greatest works in the English language are actually novellas.

I wouldn’t argue with that! Since 2012, Seizure has, with the support of the Copyright Agency Cultural Fund, expanded the award to produce more than one “winner” each year. Like FL Smalls, these are new works, but unlike the Smalls, they are all fiction. Also, unlike the previous two initiatives they are not a standard size, due to the wide the definition of a novella. For Seizure, the range is 20–50,000 words, which means that some books some books are 100 or so pages while others might be 190.  I’ve included them here, however, because they are priced at the cheaper end of the Australian paperback market, $14.95 each, and it is a project dedicated to the shorter book. I have bought one of the 2015 winners, so you will see a review of that too in the coming weeks or months.

Do you like little books? I’d love to hear if you have any favourites – and of any initiatives, in Australia or elsewhere, that you’ve come across.

8 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Little books

  1. A great idea. I remember those Penguin 60s very well – they were beautiful and very collectible. Lost them all I’m afraid!

    • Thanks Ian. They were, are, easily lose-able, so I can understand that … And I suppose weren’t really produced for longevity. A discussion I read about them talked of how they were published as single works out of context of the usual publication eg they would have come from a collection or a larger work, and, being from Penguin’s Classics, would most likely have had an introduction. The commentator suggested that this isolated production invited or, at least, provided the opportunity for different engagement with or appreciation of the work. Interesting idea.

  2. Ooh that cover on Fair Game is gorgeous! Seems like you have lots to choose from for stocking stuffers this year! I do like small books, they can be a real treat. Local Indie publishers Graywolf has a nonfiction series called “The Art of” that focuses on different aspects of fiction and poetry and they are small but mighty 🙂

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