5 October 2016, Readings' Kids, Carlton, Melbourne, Australia
Welcome to Readings’ new dedicated children’s bookshop. This is the second children’s bookshop I’ve had the honour of being involved in the launching of this year—back in February Little Sun in Yarraville had to move to a larger shop to accommodate demand—which really highlights what a healthy state the children’s book industry is in.
Readings Bookshop, as we all know, occupies a very special place in the heart of Melbourne’s literary scene—it’s the sort of bookshop that welcomes readers and encourages browsing and makes it impossible to leave without finding an essential book you didn’t even know you needed (which is my test of a really good bookshop).
And, apart from ensuring a wide range of brilliantly selected books across all genres, the icing on the cake is that Readings donates 10 percent of its overall profit to The Readings Foundation each year—which assists a variety of charities and philanthropic organisations. And crucial funds are also raised from donations by Readings customers.
Earlier this year Readings was the winner of the Independent Book Retailer of the Year in the Australian Book Industry Awards, as well as winner of the International Bookstore of the Year in the London Book Fair’s International Excellence Awards.
But here at Readings they don’t just sell books, look after readers, win awards and fund worthy causes, they also realise how important writers are to the whole literary process (something that we are all hoping the liberal Government and productivity commission will also realise before too long and before it’s too late).
Readings’ busy events calendar actively provides dozens of opportunities every month for writers to meet their readers up close. They also play an important role in assisting writers to develop their craft by hosting a variety of literary awards: The Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, The Readings Children’s Book Prizeand the brand-new Readings Young Adult Book Prize. (And they have started a Readings podcast as well, which, really, is just showing off.)
Obviously the staff are a key part of what makes Readings so special. Not to single anybody out, but
Danni’s passion for children’s books just shines through—
and of course, Christine, who has been event organiser for Readings forever, and has the lovely quality of being able to supply the equivalent of at least three hundred-excited-kids’ worth of energy for any event.
All of which reflects well on the managing director of Readings, Mark Rubbo, who I’m here to introduce to you.
Mark is a past president of the Australian Booksellers Association, founding chair of the Melbourne Writers Festival, and on the board of the Wheeler Centre and the Indigenous Literacy Foundation. After an event at the Melbourne Atheneum last week, featuring journalist Stan Grant in conversation with author Richard Flanagan, Readings raised over 21 thousand dollars for theILF. (At this point Mark interjected: ‘$21,680 and 76 cents, actually’.)
Mark was awarded a Medal of the Order of Australia in 2006‘For service to the community through fostering an awareness of Australian literature as a bookseller, literary critic, and promoter and supporter of Australian writers.’
But Mark wasn’t always a bookseller—he began his career as a record seller at Professor Longhair’s Music Shop until the owners of Readings offered him the opportunity to take over their shop.
Which is interesting, because there was another bookselling ‘Professor’ who played a very significant part in Melbourne’s early literary history—Professor E.W. Cole, who created Coles Book Arcade. With around two million books on its shelves, it was reputedly the largest bookstore in the worldand was spacious enough to includea menagerie (featuring a monkey house), a fernery,a toyland, a stationery department, a second-hand book department, a glass and china department, a refreshment roomand a confectionery department.
And, as if all that wasn’t enough, customers of all ages were also enticed with a string band, a symphonion(whatever that is) and a mechanical hen that clucked and laid tin eggs. (Although, to my knowledge he didn’t have a multi-tiered reading hill to play on, or the remarkable wall painting by Marc Martin which you see all around us.)
There were also comfortable chairs to sit in and read books, which customers were encouraged to do so by a sign that read:Read As Long As You Like – Nobody Asked To Buy.
All this novelty was not just for novelty’s sake, however—E. W. Cole was an idealist and his book arcade was designed to entice both adults and children to be lifelong readers; he had the revolutionary idea that the most important thing for turning people onto books—and especially young people—was to help them to associate readingwith pleasure—to which end he self-published Coles Funny Picture Book, one of the most successful children’s books ever published in Australia.
Fast forward to 2016 and the idealist Professor Mark Rubbo is carrying on a fine tradition—not by self-publishing a book—well, not yet, anyway, but by expanding the operations of Readings, his own version of Coles Book Arcade, by opening a dedicated children’s bookshop.
And, speaking of self-publishing, that brings me back to my first encounter with Mark in 1992 when I was as an emerging young writer and self-publisher and he was already a successful bookseller.
Inspired by a poet–bookseller Noodle Egg Rope String—a Brunswick street poet who used to write out his poems on the backs of soymilk containers by day and sell them on Brunswick street by night—I produced a range of pocket books, small 12-page booklets (each with their own ISBN!) which I could produce for 5 cents a copy and sell for 50.
Which is how I met Mark. He agreed to stock them, against his better judgement I might add—he was worried people might steal them (obviously not as much of an idealist as E.W. Cole).
Anyway—once a self-publisher always a self-publisher, I guess—so I thought, what better way to commemorate the launch of Readings first dedicated children’s bookshop than with this specially printed, limited facsimile edition of my first self-published pocket book … Just Tricking.
And, Mark, if you order a quantity of 300 you’ll qualify for these two attractive milk carton dumpbins at no extra cost. They are 100 percent recycled. And look! The spout opens up and people can just put their money in the front, and I guarantee I won’t be coming back to get my money or any unsold books.
Because tonight, as a special offer, to allay your concerns about potential shoplifting, they are all absolutely free.
But I do promise I will be coming back on a regular basis—like everybody here—to purchase some quality children’s books at crazy—but fair—prices.