Bargain paperbacks continue the Penguin tradition

Sixty years on, Australians are celebrating the paperback by buying pocket-sized morsels of work by 60 writers. 

WHEN the author Gerald Murnane was eight, he saw his first Penguin paperbacks at his grandmother’s house. It was the 1940s and, in the unerring way families have of ensuring the very behavior they want to discourage, his aunts warned him that such books were not fit for children.

But when Murnane finally sneaked them away he found their contents more puzzling than enlightening. He was left with a strong sense that words such as “mistress” and “affair” held worlds of meaning he had yet to explore.

Later, Murnane qualified for university but disdained it in favor of “a typical young-man project of educating myself and becoming a writer at the same time”. For this he read Pelicans, the Penguin imprint for educational non-fiction.

He still has his paperback works of Hume and Berkeley, histories of England and introductions to art.

In the 1950s he returned to the Penguin family for his sex education but this time his luck was out. The Psychology of Sex, which he was inspired to buy after seeing it in the hands of many other young hopefuls, turned out to be a ponderous psychoanalytic tome that probably read little better in its original German.

Penguin paperbacks are woven through the reading lives of nearly three generations of Australians. In 1935 Penguin was launched with 10 sixpenny titles by authors including Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway; soon they were selling in their millions.

The company is marking its 60th birthday this year with a special issue that echoes its original aim of supplying ordinary people with good writing, cheaply. A publisher’s sell-out of 500,000 copies of Penguin 60s, pocket-sized morsels of work by 60 writers from Marcus Aurelius to Poppy Z. Brite, has gone into Australian bookshops, where they retail for a phenomenally popular $1.95.

For half the price of a glossy magazine, the reader gets about an hour’s taste of a writer’s style in the form of a chapter of a novel, some short stories or, if it’s Marcus Aurelius, a series of meditations. In England last July, eight of the mini-books cracked the top 10 non-fiction paperback list and three made fiction’s top 10. Their success might lead to increases in sales of other works by those authors; like the titbits a butcher barbecues outside his shop on a Saturday morning, the mini-books are designed to be delectable little temptations enticing readers into buying more.

That’s the part that exasperates Morris Lurie, who happens to be a Penguin author. “They should be giving them away free when you buy a Penguin, because they’re only promoting other books,” he snaps. “They’re only a few pages, and it’s their birthday and they do make 10 trillion dollars a year.

” But the former Premier, Joan Kirner, finds them a delight: “They’re terrific for aeroplanes and things. It’s nice to have something small and light that you can fill in an hour with and they’ve got large enough print for me to be able to read them.”
When she was a child, Kirner’s family had a few hardcover children’s classics such as titles by Mary Grant Bruce and the “royal albums”: “How to grow up like the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret!” It was when she got to teacher’s college, a working-class girl determined to make good, that she discovered the paperback mostly in its second-hand form.

She still has a bookcase filled with the orange and blue spines of the Penguins she read and studied then.

For her and for many other Australian public figures, the paperback was the only affordable gateway into the world of ideas. Lurie says, “That’s where we found out about all sorts of authors William Faulkner, Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald.

The books have a great tendency to turn brown Penguin have always used cheap paper but they introduced us to lots of people.”
For Patsy Adam-Smith, author of books including The Anzacs and Goodbye Girlie, paperbacks were her lifeline to the world when she was an unhappy young wife in an isolated Tasmanian town in the ’50s. “I had to buy books; I couldn’t borrow, I don’t think there were people who read.” She remembers in particular Clochemerle, the satiric novel of French village life “It would have delighted me at the time; I didn’t know people who spoke out honestly” and Homer’s Iliad, which she loved so much she named her daughter Danae.

The writer Morris West has never been published by Penguin but remembers being asked to join its stable by its founder, Allen Lane, “back in the days when he was adventuring”.

West sees Lane’s launch of the paperback in the English-speaking world as “a seminal event, like the Internet”, and not just for readers. Suddenly authors who would have thought themselves lucky to be selling tens of thousands of books found they were being read by millions.

The readers, at least, would disagree with George Orwell’s comment in 1936: “The Penguin books are splendid value for sixpence, so splendid that if the other publishers had any sense they would combine against them and suppress them.”

First published in The Age.

Peace on earth …

Rushing towards death on an operating table, Louise Diamond suddenly found out why she wanted to be alive. She told Karen Kissane about her work with people at war.

LOUISE DIAMOND is a product of the ’60s. She tells you so herself, her clipped American accent sliding into a wry drawl, one eyebrow cocked in amusement. So when she realised she would be working with violence, especially military violence, she knew she had to excise some of her sensitivities.

“I read every Vietnam war book I could get my hands on, ” she says. “I went to every Vietnam war movie I could find; I have never before or since that time gone to a violent movie.

I did it until I got to the point where I could understand, from the inside out, blood lust; until I could feel it in myself; until I could see how it is that people could kill, rape, maim and slaughter each other and really enjoy it.”
Diamond says this with composure and waits coolly while her interviewer regains hers. This is not what one expects to hear from someone who works as a professional peace builder.

So what does her blood lust feel like? She says, consideringly, “I could feel in myself, reading some descriptions, a certain excitement. I could see how people get high on violence. There’s a certain adrenalin rush. It was important to understand this if I was to be of any use.”
Diamond is the executive director of the Washington-based Institute for Multi-Track Diplomacy. At last week’s Feminist Summit for Global Peace in Taiwan, she described her job as training ordinary people in skills to develop peace in divided societies.

“The term `multi-track’ refers to our basic premise that peacebuilding is the responsibility of people from many sectors of society, not just political officials,” she says. “For sustainable peace systems to emerge from the ashes of war and violence, a peace treaty is not enough; we must build peace from the bottom up, through social and institutional means, as well as from the top down, through political means.

” Diamond began her adult life as a high school English teacher but now works to defuse tensions in places as diverse as Israel, Cyprus, Ethiopia and Liberia. Academically, she is well qualified for the new field of professional peacemaking she has a background in applied behavioral science and her fourth degree was a PhD in peace studies but unexpected twists in her personal life have contributed at least as much to bringing her to where she is today.

At 28, she was surrounded by loss: in the throes of a divorce, caring alone for an 18-month-old daughter and facing her second mastectomy. She later discovered that her chances of surviving recurrent breast cancer at that age were almost zero. She survived not only that, however, but a massive haemorrhage on the operating table that almost killed her.

“It was a classic near-death experience, right out of the literature,” she says. “A tunnel of light, a sense of incredible peace and feeling so happy but hearing a voice saying that it wasn’t time, I had to go back, and then feeling such a sense of loss.” It took her some time to work out what had happened, as this was not a commonly described experience 21 years ago. But when the meaning of it hit her, “It transformed my life from the inside out.”
Diamond decided that what mattered was not when or how she died she could live for years or be run over by a car tomorrow but whether she would be full of joy and peace at her death.

“Every aspect of my life that wasn’t aligned with that goal had to be changed,” she says. “The way I thought about myself, my relationship with my family, with my religion, with my sexuality, all had to change.”
So did her relationship with the wider world. Four years later she found herself back in her native Washington nursing her dying parents. She cherished that task but found that she loathed the city and all it stood for. “I finally had to confront that reaction,” she says. “I had to dive into it. One of the principles I operate on is that where there’s a great aversion there’s also a great attraction. This was a power centre in terms of governmental politics, and I found that I felt that I had a contribution to make.”
Once over her initial shock “Who me? Work in the international arena?” she began re-educating herself and in 1992 teamed up with former US ambassador-at-large John McDonald to establish the institute. She now does with international communities the kind of work she did with individuals and families in her time as a psychotherapist and organisational consultant.

Take Cyprus, an island with a violent history and so divided that its Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot communities had no transport, phone or postal connections with each other; Diamond says this left them “to stew in the trauma of war.

Whole generations were being raised to think of the other side as the enemy without any contact to check out whether this was really so.”
Four years ago, members of the Greek Cypriot side, later joined by Turkish Cypriots, invited Diamond in. Diamond and her crew worked with people from the two communities separately for more than a year, teaching them conflict resolution techniques such as active listening. Eventually, participants from the two groups decided they would like to try out their new skills with each other. “We don’t bring people together to make decisions, only to reach understanding,” Diamond says. “And then action unfolds from that.”
Now more than 400 people have been trained and 100 more turn up to each new seminar; there are special programs for public policy leaders, business people, teenagers and the media; 15 bi-communal projects have been established in areas ranging from arts to women’s studies; and a bi-communal conflict resolution centre has been set up in the UN buffer zone.

The Cyprus project mirrored the institute’s programs: capacity- building, teaching individuals how to deal with group conflict; bridge-building, developing activities that bring the warring sides together and, finally, institution-building, setting up formal systems to keep the process going.

“The people of these two communities have done what their leaders and the international community have been unable to do for 30 years and that’s start a policy of rapprochement, ” Diamond says. “They had to face bomb threats and media campaigns against them `Traitor talks to other side’ but they persisted.

” `Dialogue’ looks kind of soft, but it can have a powerful effect if it goes on over a long period of time. It develops a momentum that changes the way people think about themselves and each other and their capacity to make change. Who knows where it will lead?”
Diamond is often asked whether she ever feels overwhelmed by the size of her task. She thinks of it this way: she might be holding only a tiny drop of water, which will count for almost nothing in a vast empty bucket. But if she throws in her drop, others might follow, and then the bucket will start to fill.

And the world has no choice but to turn to citizen peace building, she says; the United Nations has been unable to intervene in more than 90 per cent of conflicts since World War II because they have been between peoples within the same nation and the UN’s charter forbids it to interfere in a country’s internal affairs. “Since there are 185 nations in the UN, yet more than 5000 distinct peoples on this planet . . . this trend of conflict over identity and sovereignty is likely to grow,” she says.

Diamond sees humankind as a collective facing the same crisis she faced as an individual, all those years ago. It is critically ill, facing potential death from nuclear or environmental disaster and must make important decisions about its future.

“We all know that the military machine is big, it’s well- funded, it’s relatively efficient, and it has a deeply rooted infrastructure that allows it to operate all over the world, ” Diamond says. “What’s the infrastructure for peace-building?
It needs skilled people, culturally appropriate methodologies, adequate funding, co-ordination, alliances.

“I recently found out that one Patriot missile the kind they used in the Gulf War costs $270 million. I won’t tell you how many they manufactured last year; it’s in the billions of dollars. Imagine what we could do with $270 million: put a peace institute in every country of the world, with money left over to train people and send them out into the countryside.

All for the cost of one missile.”
Diamond says she is a happy woman, intensely so since her brush with death; she has learned her purpose in life and what fuels her. She also has no fear of dying, something she finds extraordinarily liberating. And she hopes her legacy will be that vision of a world full of institutes for peace: “For me, this is the greatest gift we could give our children. “

First published in The Age.

Defusing world time bombs

A feminist perspective on peace was the focus of an international meeting of women politicians. Karen Kissane reports from Taiwan.

WAR used to be about the loss of sons and husbands and fathers.

It still is, but the nature of conflict has changed. Ninety per cent of the world’s disputes are now “intra-national” (between peoples who live in the same country), and women and children are suffering as never before.

In some African countries, boy and girl soldiers as young as 10 carry arms and kill. Many of those fighting in domestic conflicts use access to food supplies as a weapon, starving civilians in sieges or forcing them to flee as refugees.
Dr Musuleng Cooper, Foreign Minister of Liberia, says: “The UNHCR (United Nations High Commission for Refugees) reports show that women and children comprise 80 per cent of the direct and indirect victims of military actions today. Where military personnel were the main targets of action in World War II, today, women and children . . . are exposed to more horrors, to death and mutilation caused by exploding mines, shells and rockets.” Dr Cooper spoke at the Feminist Summit for Global Peace in Taipei at the weekend to mark the anniversary of the end of World War II in the Pacific. The conference brought together politicians, diplomats and representatives of non-government organisations from the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Speakers challenged the way international disputes are handled and some questioned the principle that nations should not interfere in each others’ internal affairs.

Dr Cooper, who now cares for 13 foster children who have lost families in the bloody civil war in her country, says: “Should the international community stand idle while governments hide behind state sovereignty to violate the rights of their citizens, especially minority ethnic groups?
“Should governments not be held accountable for the protection of all victims of the breaches of international human rights laws?
“Should the United Nations charter, after 50 years, be revised to remove inhibitions regarding domestic jurisdiction and thus give member states legal standing to intervene in cases of massive human-rights violations?”
Phoebe Muga Asiyo, a member of Kenya’s Parliament and its shadow minister for regional development, says: “The concept of global security must be broadened from the traditional focus on security of states to include the security of individuals and that of the planet Earth.” When the sovereignty of the state is used to abuse the sovereignty of its people, the right to absolute national sovereignty should be forfeited, she said.

If wars continue to explode at the current rate, an obligation to intervene in internal as well as cross-border conflicts might prove overwhelming.

Dr Martina Gredler, an Austrian member of the European Parliament, said Swedish research shows that 28 big conflicts (more than 1000 people killed) and more than 22 smaller conflicts broke out in 1993 alone.

The world picture is not encouraging, says Bernie Malone, an Irish member of the European Parliament and the first vice-chairwoman of its foreign affairs, security and defence committee: “More than half the conflicts ongoing in 1993 had been underway for more than a decade and had claimed the lives of some five million people.”
Even when a conflict ends, the suffering does not. War victims must fight to survive in environments devastated by war. Many are homeless and many others are still being maimed or killed by landmines and other devices left by war.

“According to the UNHCR, the number of refugees and displaced persons has risen from 2.5 million in 1970 to 18 million in 1990,” Ms Malone says. “Abandoned or unexploded ordinance, such as land mines and cluster munitions, render large tracts of countryside uninhabitable in some 25 countries . . . The Red Cross estimates that more than 800 people, mostly civilians, are killed by land mines every month.” It all leaves the world’s once-great hope, the United Nations, looking like the ultimate parody of bureaucracy: better at documenting disaster than at preventing it.

Ms Malone is hopeful that a unit about to be set up by the European Parliament will truly help to hose down potential hot spots before they erupt. The Parliament has just approved a proposal by a former French Prime Minister, Michel Rocard, to set up a European Union Centre for Active Crisis Prevention.

The centre’s goal will be to pinpoint looming conflict, allowing action to be taken in time.

“People say that they knew Rwanda was waiting to happen, that they knew Bosnia was like a time bomb,” Ms Malone says.

“It’s very hard to impose a political solution once people are out in the battlefield. Northern Ireland showed that.”
Northern Ireland also showed that the only way to resolve conflict fuelled by long-standing enmity is to invite everyone to the table: “You have to speak to all sides and bring them in, and that includes the extremists,” Ms Malone says. “That’s the key factor.”
Ms Asiyo believes that the United Nations should set up a rapid-intervention force to respond to crisis and fund it with a global taxation on the arms industry. “The establishment of an international crime court to try leaders and governments who commit atrocities and perpetrate wars against their citizens is long overdue,” she says.

The conference endorsed the principle that the violence of authoritarian and totalitarian regimes against their citizens is as unacceptable as violent conflict between nations and that the issue should be part of the global security agenda.

It said that all sexual violence against women, including the enslavement of “comfort women”, genital mutilation and rape warfare, was criminal and should be punished.

The conference also voted to investigate setting up a women’s peace watch organisation and proposed that the UN declare 2000 an international year of global peace and security.

Achieving peace will require strengthening the economies and democracies of nations such as Africa, where the breakdown of traditional life leaves a vacuum often filled by authoritarian figures who maintain power by exploiting the fears of rival groups. It will require commitment and understanding, says Ms Malone.

“We think in the West that we have the answer to everything because of the type of democracy we have evolved but it has evolved over years and years; it didn’t just arrive.

“These countries in central Africa haven’t gone through any of this yet, and our democracies won’t necessarily suit these traditional societies. But they have the power within themselves to resolve their own conflicts. They can make the great leap forward; it just won’t necessarily be the same leap forward that we made.”

First published in The Age.