Jul 29, 2005

Books Alive — full of worms?

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 Austr

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 Island. "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 ā€“ 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,ā€ 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 "guide 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 ā€“ 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.

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