This is a great time for book lovers.
Books are more plentiful and cheaper than ever before.
The rise of online bookshops, notably Amazon and the Book Depository, have helped Australian readers avoid costs associated with the outrageous protection of Australian publishers (one of the Rudd Government's sillier decisions); the main exception being new and recent Australian titles which are still very expensive. The advent of ebooks and ebook readers has not only seen book prices fall further, but now I can also read a book review in the NY Times, for instance, and then download and start reading it straight away.
I still visit these places, but where they were once exciting now they are more often a little sad and disappointing (not too mention expensive). The range is limited by comparison with the huge online databases that I regularly trawl through and the serendipidity I used to relish on dusty shelves I now find from a myriad of online sources.
Online sources for finding out about books have also proliferated from social networking sites like goodreads to highly successful blogs like Reading Matters, run by London based Australian journalist, Kim Forrester.
The world's best literary review magazines can now be read on a Tablet for about the cost of a couple of newspapers, see for instance the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, the Asian Literary Review and the Boston Review. Many of my favourite magazines are also moving to make the most of the new tablet / mobile environment. For instance, the New Yorker and the newly re-launched New Republic. There are many more. Not only are these magazines good for finding out about books, they also contain some of the best long-form journalism available anywhere.
As well as these old favourites from a pre-existing paper-only world there are also some emerging online only titles. Notably, the remarkably succcessful Los Angeles Review of Books and back home a new entrant in the form of the Sydney Review of Books.
Australians now have cheap and ready access to a global literary culture, which seems to be expanding rapidly.
Overall the Internet has been a boon but it is not without its regrets. Walking down Pitt Street south of Town Hall in Sydney the other day I felt a little sad remembering the great little second hand bookshops that used to be located around here. These were the places I went to get a cheap copy of my next Orwell, Waugh, Fitzgerald, Hemmingway, Greene, Kerouac etc. But this is just nostalgia.
With our easier access to global culture from far away Australia, do we risk losing a national literature?
Sybil Nolan and Matthew Ricketson seem to suggest the answer is probably yes in a recent article in the Sydney Review of Books. They seem to think that the future of a vibrant Australian literary culture depends a lot on the fate of the Fairfax newspapers and the space they devote to book reviews.
If you look on places like Reading Matters you can find a lot of coverage of Australian books. Similarly, a lot of Australians are active on goodreads and a lot of Australian books are being reviewed and rated there.
I would like to see a follow-up analysis to that of Nolan and Ricketson which looks at the extent to which the Internet might be providing new ways of creating a national literary culture in Australia.
But at the end of the day, I admit I don't care much. The access to cheap books and places to find out about them online is just too exciting.