For those of you who can’t get past the first two pages of a novel
without nodding off, the federal government has the answer. Books Alive
is an annual initiative
funded by the Australia Council promoting 50 “great read” books across
a range of genres. The 2005 program was launched this week and has
roped in the internationally best selling author
of Ice Station and
Hover Car Racer
, Matthew Reilly, to extol the virtues of reading. Reilly has even
written a free, limited edition, self proclaimed “page-burner” to mark the launch, entitled Hell
. “I write big fun action-adventure
novels,” he says on the Books Alive website, “so I know that my books won’t win too many literary prizes – but
I do know this: my books get even the most stubborn non-readers
reading… reading is not only as good as TV, movies, Xbox and
PlayStation, it’s better.”

But Dr Jeremy Fisher, Executive Director of the Australian Society
of Authors (ASA) has a bone to pick with Books Alive. The Australia Council “should spend Australian taxpayers’
money promoting
Australian writers,” says Fisher. “Our beef is
why is the Australia Council funding this program when at least 25 of
the authors on the list are from overseas?” And another thing, says
Fisher, “why does the Books Alive
list mainly include books that are
already selling well? What about
the poor
authors who are struggling to survive? This program is promoting Maeve
Binchy and other best selling overseas’ authors who are already
supported by multinational companies and have sold
millions of copies.”

Dr Fisher says the Australia Council’s
role is to “promote Australian creators, and to be pushing
a reading campaign where you’re not pushing Australian authors seems
strange.” Add to that the fact that the
books were selected by an industry panel that “lacked any author
representative,” he says.
Among the panel are “two literary
editors,” he says, “one from that noted literary publication, The Women’s Weekly.”

A spokesperson from the Australia Council defended
the program to
Crikey. “As a government initiative, funds for the project are
separate from
the Australia Council’s general budget,” adding that the
includes 26 Australian titles out of 50.” The spokesperson also maintained that
Books Alive was created to “support the
Australian book industry” but pointed out that the “industry is more
than authors – it includes publishers and
booksellers and libraries.” The “overriding goal” is to
“promote the intrinsic value of
books, reading and literacy.” And for the record, the spokesperson says panel
members Sandy McCutcheon and Lisa Highton are both “published
Australian” authors.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey