Monday musings on Australian literature: More on small books

Why is it that when we humans see change, we tend to prognosticate doom? I’m thinking how it was argued that TV would be the end of radio, and videos the end of cinema. It hasn’t happened has it? These older industries may have had to rearranged themselves a little but they have survived. Then a few years ago, with the advent of e-books, it happened again with commentators forecasting the end of the printed book. That hasn’t happened – yet, anyhow, and I really don’t think it will happen anytime soon. What drives all this? Fear I suppose. Enough of that, though, as my aim here is not to philosophise about change. Rather, I want to talk about the small book …

Yes, I know that I wrote about them only a couple of weeks ago, but since then I’ve come across more discussion of them, and more initiatives. Short books, it seems, are gaining in popularity – or at least a number of publishers seem willing to give them a go, and not just for publishing cheap classics which they can expect to have an audience. No, as I wrote in my previous post on the topic, some are publishing contemporary material, sometimes specifically commissioning or putting a call out for contributions or even holding competitions.

Giramondo, an independent Australian publisher, started their Shorts program back around 2012. Giramondo Shorts is, they say:

a new series of short form, short print run books, designed to take account of the new technologies of digital printing, and to appeal to a community of literary readers. The series carries a quote from Les Murray’s poem ‘The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever’: ‘it is time perhaps to cherish the culture of shorts.’

There are now 8 books in the series, and the books have an unusual square format. At $19.95 each, they are priced a little higher than many small books, but the fact that they are continuing suggests some level of success. It seems like digital printing technologies are enabling Giramondo to produce their books more efficiently.

One of the reasons that I decided to write this follow-up post was because in my role as Literary and Classics coordinator for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, I came across Jonathan Shaw’s review (for his blog Me Fail? I Fly!) of the Going Down Swinging Longbox. This is a set of  “five slim books” containing pieces the literary magazine had rejected for publication in its magazine. Shaw calls this little collection “a beautiful artefact”. It is for this reason that I particularly wanted to mention it, because not only are these small books, but beautiful design is an important part of their production. In other words, they are a long way from the cheap Penguin 60s initiative. After all, there’s nothing like holding a beautifully designed book is there – something that is hard to experience in the e-format. (Going Down Swinging is a literary magazine that has been publishing in print, and later also online, since 1979.)

Finally, for this post anyhow, there’s Griffith Review’s novella project. Including this is a bit of a cheat, really, because in this case the book itself is not especially small, and these two posts have been focussed on physical smallness, not just smallness (or shortness) of content. However, I thought it was worth mentioning because it represents a commitment to the novella form, which as you know is a favourite form for me. Here is what they say:

In 2012, Griffith Review 38: The Novella Project played a major role in enabling Australian and New Zealand authors to gain a foothold in the English language revival of the novella underway internationally. In 2014, Griffith Review 46: Forgotten Stories – The Novella Project II published five novellas with an historical dimension in a confronting, moving and provocative collection.

And so, Griffith Review 50: Tall Tales Short – The Novella Project III has just been published. It contains five novellas which were selected in a blind-judged nationwide competition.

The printed book, in other words, looks to me like it’s not going anywhere soon. There might be a bit of a shake-down as publishers explore what is going to work best and for whom, but it is exciting to see them continuing to explore the possibilities of print, including producing short works in new forms and formats.

22 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: More on small books

    • A pleasure Jonathan. Yes, I did think about sound – many old formats have disappeared – wax cylinders anyone? But vinyl? It seems to be making a comeback. We’ve come across a few hip restaurants and cafes are now playing their music through vinyl. I’ve been surprised. I loved the covers but have no nostalgia for turntables and scratched records, only 20 minutes a side, etc!

  1. Small books, eh ? – hmmm. Mebbe I should start cogitating regarding something along those lines. 😀
    Naah: it’s all gone. I’m glad books haven’t, even if I can’t read them any more.
    I hope all is well in the netional cepital.

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