“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness ……it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”
Charles Dickens opening words of A Tale of Two Cities.
I thought I’d open with a book….
Here in our very own city of Melbourne, it is the best of times for books.
The 2009 Melbourne Writers Festival broke all previous box office records with attendances in excess of 50,000, over the entire 10 day event – which to put it in a context we can all understand, is about the sort of figures you get at the MCG when the Demons play Freo. And it’s not raining.
In fact the MWF had become so popular McDonalds has applied for a permit to set up an outlet in the atrium at Fed Square.
Book clubs are sweeping through Avon and Amway territory out in the suburbs. Middle-aged women - and strange men in cardigans - are signing up in their thousands for yet another excuse to gather around a crate of cleanskins and get pissed.
Monday nights: poledancing
Tuesday: book club.
Libraries are reportedly doing a roaring trade.
People come for the cookery classes and ‘move-it-or-lose-it’ yoga-lattes, but they leave clutching a swag of books.
Librarians have become so sexy they’ve even got their own tv show!
Written and produced in Melbourne.
The productivity commission brouhaha has been on page 3 of The Age so often even the Herald Sun has started to take an interest.
Ladies and Gentlemen, we are indeed enjoying‘the season of Light and the spring of Hope’ for books in Melbourne – and recently it got a whole lot better, when, from a short list of possibly 2, Melbourne became the UNESCO City of Literature.
The Cit of Lit !!!
And, whatever that means, it doesn’t get any better than that.
But Ladies and gentlemen, in this glorious and clever-clever city of literature of ours it is also the best of times for bogans.
Crown Casino is cramming in extra tables and widening car-parks.
DFO is apparently opening a 20-acre site linking Sydney Road with Brunswick St. Fitzroy. Site developers have pledged to preserve the original façade of Henry Maas’s Black Cat Café and not allow a Mrs Fields or Gloria Jean within a 50 metre range of Marios.
The Spring Racing Carnival has cancelled all actual horse races in order to cram more punters onto the track.
An arcade of plasma screens will be installed across the old finish line, where you can watch, bet on or, indeed, ride a motorised horse in front of, footage of vintage races – if you still hanker after a horsey-sort of experience with your Jaeger-bomb and goon.
All over this city of ours muffin-topped babes and low-pants’ed, underwear and plumbers’ crack flaunting drongos are taking photos of each other with their phones and texting, texting, texting. ….
On trams and buses, they sit, staring into space, white wires dangling from their lugholes and glum expressions on their faces.
On the Book of the Face, bald-headed men with grey pigtails and pissed housewives are whiling away the hours – posting stuff like
‘Fuck, I’m bored’.
People are bubble writing their names on walls without actually creating anything worth signing.
Newspapers have started putting ads for what’s coming up next in the paper at the top of the page you’re already reading – striving for us all to have the attention span of a gnat and make us throw away the paper altogether and head straight for the website.
Attention spans, considered thoughts, are being Twittered out of existence.
And Hey Hey It’s Saturday is back on television.
It was the season of Darkness, it was the winter of despair..”
A miracle seems to have occurred.
Just as Charles Dickens in his opening chapter of that book set around the French revolution hinted that:
“rooted in the woods of France and Norway, there were growing trees…already marked by the Woodman, Fate, to come down and be sawn into boards, to make a certain movable framework with a sack and a knife in it, terrible in history.”
So too rainforests in Indonesia and Tasmania have been systematically pulped with a purpose which could not have been foreseen.
Despite dire predictions to the contrary and the onslaught of technology, book sales in Melbourne seem to be going through the roof.
People are still buying books - and quite a lot of them are reading them too.
But…how many people came to the MWF? Over 50,000?
Population of Melbourne? Nudging 4 million?
There can be only one explanation for these phenomenal book sales.
Bogans are buying books.
Not the kind of books, shortlisted or long, for the Booker prize.
Books about vampires and boy wizards and angels and demons and extra virgin oil. Books about cleaning products and cooking.
Big fat books for big fat bogans.
Government sanctioned weight-loss programme books.
Bought in bulk at book barns.
Bought by the kilo.
Bogan book clubs are burgeoning from Broady to Bentleigh.
Bogans are reading books.
Publishers have begun begging their serious authors to get on board this juggernaut.
Surely JM Coetzee could whip up a volume of Disgraceful Recipes?
And what about On Chervil Beach – a new herb compendium from Ian McEwan. Come on Christos Tsiolkas! What about The Slap and Tickle Guide to Toddler Taming? Is it too much to ask Salman to ghost as Salmon Rushdie and dash off some Satanic Sauces?
Ladies and gentlemen, in this bi-polar city of ours – a city of books AND bogans – a line has been crossed.
The Secret is out.
Babes with poker-straight hair and yellow platform shoes, home-made sushi-toting men with man-bags, have declared that reading a book is noice, different and unusual.
That reading a book is a far, far better thing that they do now than watching Big Brother or Baywatch or Backyard Blitz had ever been before.
Melbourne is, without doubt, a City of Books.
(This speech brought to you by the letter ‘B’).