Good Reading : August 2007
AUGUST 2007 ı goodreading 19 shelf life world which somehow seems safer – and very nostalgic!’ says Clarissa. The reprinting of old favourites is a boon for collectors, who have seen prices for second-hand titles grow increasingly exorbitant on internet sites like eBay and Abebooks.com. As a bookseller,Vanessa once sold a copy of The Chalet School Reunion for more than $500. Rarer titles by Elsie J Oxenham can sell for over $1000. Even ‘Chalet School’ paperbacks can sell for more than $70 if the title is rare enough. These vintage books are, with one or two exceptions, very British, featuring plucky British heroines. Along with other foreign characters in the books, Australians – when they appear – are stereotyped: they are outdoorsy, wayward and describe things as ‘bonzer’ rather than ‘topping’ or ‘super’.The books are also, due to the times in which they were written, very traditional – in the ‘Chalet School’ books, for example, even the very cleverest of schoolgirls eschew promising careers in favour of marrying and having babies with a doctor. So what does the 21st-century Australian woman see in the books? ‘I enjoy reading them because they’re like an old friend,’ says Mandy Proctor, a 46-year-old public servant from Canberra. ‘And, of course, I can look back at the days in which they’re set and feel positive about how far women have come since then.’ ‘They provide a fascinating insight into a different way of life, a slice of social history,’ says Di Henley. ‘And of course there is the comfort factor. Minor characters might die, major characters can suffer terrible injuries – but you know it will all come right at the end.’ ‘I am fond of books I knew as a child and teenager and I enjoy them exactly as I enjoy strawberries and cream and listening to Simon and Garfunkel,’ says Tasmanian author, manu- script assessor and Monica Edwards aficionado Sally Odgers. ‘If they were good then, they’re still good now.’ Kirsty Young, a 34-year-old office worker from Melbourne, sees the ‘Britishness’ and old-fashioned attitudes portrayed in the books as something she accepts as ‘the times in which they were written. It doesn’t seem real to me – I’ve not had to think about it in the real world.’ For Kirsty, the world of the British girls’ school story is, like the Harry Potter books, ‘a particular fictional universe’. Katherine Bruce, a 28-year-old council worker from Melbourne, is a writer of ‘Chalet School’ books as well as an avid reader and collector of them. Her fill-in Peace Comes to the Chalet School was published by Girls Gone By in 2005 and she is working on a second fill-in set in one of Brent-Dyer’s ‘missing’ terms just prior to World War II. She also has a short story in Girls Gone By’s recently reprinted Gay from China at the Chalet School. ‘The “Britishness” of the novels doesn’t seem strange to me because I grew up on Enid Blyton,’ she says. ‘I only really notice the “Britishness” of them when I read about Australian characters, particularly if they are heavily stereotyped.’ The collectors are totally committed to their genre … but what do their families and friends think about their relaxing with a vintage school story or pony book? ‘My friends think I’m mad, but they think that anyway,’ laughs Kirsty. ‘My family think I’m slightly odd,’ admits Di. Says Mandy, ‘They generally regard it with great amusement, but they’re very supportive and they all check book sales for the books.’ ‘They don’t care what I read any more than I care what they read,’ says Sally. ‘Why should they? A reader is equally unobtrusive if she is reading Summer of the Great Secret or War and Peace … except she’s probably having a nicer time with the former.’ Liz Filleul’s murder-mystery novel To All Appearance, Dead, set in the girls’ own collecting world, will be published by Bettany Press in October this year. GIRLS GONE BY PUBLISHERS 4 Rock Terrace Coleford, Bath Somerset, BA3 5NF UK http://www.ggbp.co.uk/ Australian contact (takes Australian dollars): Susan Dunnachie PO Box 2096 Dangar, NSW 2309 firstname.lastname@example.org FIDRA BOOKS 60 Craigcrook Road Edinburgh, EH4 3PJ, UK http://www.fidrabooks.co.uk/index.html BETTANY PRESS 8 Kildare Road, London E16 4AD, UK http://www.bettanypress.co.uk FOR SECONDHAND BOOKS: eBay: http://www.ebay.com.au Abebooks: http://www.abebooks.com Old hardback and even paperback copies of out-of-print girls’ own titles can command high prices on the second-hand market As a bookseller, Vanessa once sold a copy of The Chalet School Reunion for more than $500. Rarer titles can sell for over $1000.