Twenty nights of queer literature

Left to right: Dennis Altman, Sophie Cunningham, Moira Finucane, Neal Drinnan, Kim Westwood, Christos Tsiolkas and two of Moira Finucane's performers.

Melbourne’s queer bookshop Hares & Hyenas recently celebrated its 20th birthday with what must be a record in queer literature events: 20 nights of readings featuring close to 100 authors. The events took place in January and February as part of Melbourne’s Midsumma festival, which celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities. Bookshop owners Crusader Hillis and partner Rowland Thomson admit they are exhausted in running this mini-writers’ festival.

While author events have always been a big part of the bookshop, this is the first time that the City of Yarra has provided funding for the shop’s performance space, which allowed Hillis and Thomas to put on a much larger and more diverse program. This year’s line-up included authors Christos Tsiolkas, Dennis Altman, Jesse Blackadder, Noel Tovey, Jack Charles, Jean Taylor, Joan Nestle, Benjamin Law, Sophie Cunningham, Neal Drinnan, Steve Dow, Kelly Gardiner, Peter Rose, Kim Westwood, Urszula Dawkins and Kerry Greenwood.

Benjamin Law

Christos Tsiolkas, who entertained fans with a reading from his work-in-progress, has a long history with the bookstore. ‘The first thing that comes to mind [about Hares & Hyenas] is a sense of loyalty,’ Tsiolkas told Bookseller+Publisher. ‘It was one of the first places to support me as a writer. It gave me a space and a voice to write. What I love about Crusader and Rowland is that they are about the writing and they’re not about the celebrity.’

Another fan of the bookstore is Queensland author Benjamin Law. ‘When I come to Hares & Hyenas in Melbourne it’s like I’m returning to my spiritual home.’

Reading on the same night as Tsiolkas was Australian academic and gay rights activist Dennis Altman, whose 1972 book Homosexual: Oppression & Liberation (Angus & Robertson) was the first significant study on homosexual oppression to be published in Australia. It was recently republished by UQP to coincide with its 40th anniversary.

Jesse Blackadder

Altman believes queer bookshops have an important role to play in the community. ‘I think that this is a space in which a lot of people are able to come and find out about themselves and their histories,’ he told Bookseller+Publisher, adding that unlike the bar scene or bigger events, which can scare some people off, ‘bookshops by their nature are semi-public and semi-private and what you see in a bookshop like this is that people wander in, they take a while to browse around and they actually learn about themselves.’

Altman observed that while most of the American queer bookshops have collapsed, Australian shops have survived ‘because they do events like this’. The other major Australian queer bookshop is The Bookshop Darlinghurst in Sydney.

Visit Hares & Hyenas online here.

BOOK REVIEW: Utopian Man (Lisa Lang, A&U)

What a delightful novel! Utopian Man is the story of E W Cole, the creator of the legendary Cole’s Book Arcade in 19th-century Melbourne, and the author of Cole’s Funny Picture Book. This book traces his path after he came to Australia from the UK; from the goldmines, to his adventure on the Murray collecting seeds of native flora, to selling pies on Melbourne’s streets, before starting a career as a bookseller. But of course, Cole was no ordinary bookseller. Advertising for a wife, and marrying ‘the only serious applicant’, Cole went on to build a legendary bookshop, with a rainbow across its façade, staff dressed in red velvet and live music. In expanding the store over the years, he installed a lush fernery and a cage of monkeys. Lisa Lang paints a vivid picture of a visionary who sought to bring joy to Melburnians through his exuberant Book Arcade, bringing to life his idealistic and eccentric ideas with little regard for convention. He applied this independent spirit to his principles, writing a pamphlet against the White Australia policy just as it was being implemented. Lang also delves into his sorrow at the loss of one of his children, and the demons that drove him to achieve what he did. Utopian Man is the joint winner of the 2009 Vogel prize.

Kabita Dhara is a former bookseller and the publisher of new imprint Brass Monkey Books. This review first appeared in the September issue of Bookseller+Publisher magazine.

Book buzz: the ones to watch

The Australian Booksellers Association held its annual conference in sunny Brisbane last weekend. Cue a whole load of book talk. Among the highlights was the now regular ‘book buzz’ session, in which booksellers and publishers face off—introducing the audience to their pick of the titles coming up in the months ahead.

So who pitched what this year?

Brett Osmond, sales and marketing director at Random House Australia, spruiked To the End of the Land (David Grossman), Trash (Andy Mulligan) and I Came To Say Goodbye (Caroline Overington); Matt Hoy of Hachette Australia recommended Even Silence Has an End (Ingrid Betancourt), The Brave (Nicholas Evans) and Things Bogans Like (E C McSween); while Allen & Unwin CEO Robert Gorman talked up The Hundred Foot Journey (Richard C Morais), Sunset Park (Paul Auster) and Mice (Gordon Reece).

As for the booksellers, Catherine Schultz of Fullers Bookshop in Tasmania had good things to say about Juliet (Anne Fortier, HarperCollins), Theodora (Stella Duffy, Little, Brown) and The Baby of Belleville (Anne Marsella, Portobello Books); Chris Page of Sydney’s Pages & Pages will be recommending In the Company of Angels (Thomas E Kennedy, Bloomsbury), The Body in the Clouds (Ashley Hay, A&U) and The Tiger (John Vaillant, Hachette); and  Suzy Wilson of Riverbend Books in Brisbane spruiked Room (Emma Donoghue, Picador), The Report (Jessica Francis Kane, Graywolf Press) and It’s a Book (Lane Smith, Walker Books).

Fancy Goods questionnaire: Clive Tilsley of Fullers Bookshop

Clive Tilsley is the owner of Fullers Bookstores in Hobart and Launceston and a regular reviewer for Bookseller+Publisher magazine. Here, he shares his reading choices with us…

What are you reading right now?

Caravaggio: A Life Sacred and Profane by Andrew Graham-Dixon, due in August. I just love all that madness mixed up in art, sex, religion and being Italian.

What book do you always recommend?

A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistery. This is such a complete look at humanity.

What book are you most looking forward to?

A catalogue raisonne for Picasso with top quality reproductions! Could I afford it?

What book made you wonder what all the fuss was about?

Anything by Madonna, makes you wonder when Lady Ga-Ga and Pink will enter the literary market.

What’s the best book you’ve read that no-one’s ever heard of?

Red Shift by Alan Garner—does anybody remember it? This is the most violent book I have ever read and I have never forgiven the female ‘cheater’.

Obligatory desert island question—which book would you want with you?

Robert Hughes book on Frank Auerbach—the best piece of writing on art.

Is there a book you’ve bought for the cover?

There was a bottom on a Jilly Cooper novel that looked good on the shelf spine out. I can’t remember the title because I never read it.

Hardback, paperback or digital?

Hardback for art and paperback for fiction.

If I were a literary character I’d be…

Probably Smiley in the John le Carre novels. Or on a sunny day Tom from How Tom Beat Captain Najork and His Hired Sportsmen. Tom after all ended up with Bundlejoycosysweet!

The best thing about books is…

They are full of ideas and new things—the best way to keep the grey cells firing.

The Fancy Goods questionnaire: David Gaunt

David Gaunt is the co-owner of Gleebooks, an independent bookselling chain about to open a new store in Dulwich Hill, NSW. He is also chair of the Indigenous Literacy Project, which launches its 2010 campaign at Adelaide Writers Week today.

Gaunt agreed to answer a few reading questions for Fancy Goods:


What are you reading right now?

Alone in Berlin (Hans Fallada).

What book do you always recommend?

The Tall Man (Chloe Hooper, Penguin).

What book are you most looking forward to?

The sequel to Wolf Hall (Hilary Mantel, Fourth Estate).

What book made you wonder what all the fuss was about?

The Prime Minister Was a Spy (Anthony Grey). (Harolt Holt, now living in China!)

What’s the best book you’ve read that no-one’s ever heard of?

Footsteps:Adventures of a Romantic Biographer (Richard Holmes).

Obligatory desert island question—which book would you want with you?

Middlemarch (George Eliot).

Is there a book you’ve bought/read for the cover?

South with Endurance (Frank Hurley).

Hardback, paperback or digital?

Hardback (easy for me, I own ‘em).

If I were a literary character I’d be…

Written out by page 50.

The best thing about books is…

They capture and offer the best in all of us.