The bookworld can be a vast and bamboozling place. Each day, a fresh avalanche of imaginative and reality-based matter comes pouring through the publication pipeline. 

What to read? Where to begin? How not to go insane?

To help calm those of us whose hands have been wrung to excess with the overload of choice, bookseller Rowena Morcom launched Good Reading Magazine in 2001. A Balmain resident and all-round lovely woman, she has collaborated with Roaring Stories to provide our community of readers free access to the digital version of the popular mag. You can find the latest issue here.

We talked to Rowena in late April, in the midst of the pandemic lockdown.

What’s the origin story behind Good Reading Magazine? How has it changed over the years?

I am a bookseller by trade. After 20 years managing various stores I managed the opening Collins Booksellers Superstore in Broadway. The number of books we stocked was overwhelming. Add to that the amount of new books each month, it was simply vast in size and scope. Customers were sometimes not so keen to ask for help. So I decided we needed a magazine, just about books to help readers navigate finding a good book. Although the magazine has changed size and shape, had a number of editors and passionate teams of people behind it, it’s always kept to its original premise. We aim to help readers find a good book, to make a confident choice, to encourage them to try something new, to introduce readers to more Australian authors and, most importantly, never judge what people read.

How is social isolation treating you? What are you finding difficult, and are you finding any silver linings?

Does anyone know what day it is? There are many silver linings. People seem to smile at me more often when I’m out walking Baxter. Although physically distant family seem closer as we all try harder to stay in touch. Groups like Peninsula Caring on facebook has shown me what a wonderful senses of community Balmain and Rozelle have. The Bin Isolation Outing Facebook group reminds what a great sense of humour Australians have.

What three new releases are you most excited about this month?

  1. Greenwood by Michael Christie. After his book, If I Fall, If I Die, I’m keen to read this.
  2. A Burning by Megha Majumdar (I’m cheating as it’s not released until July). One of our reviewers has said, ‘The words in this novel can move mountains.’ That’s enough for me!
  3. Bringing the Fight by Merle Thornton. My mother’s name is Merle and she also chained herself to a bar in Brisbane to protest about women not being allowed to be let in.

Has COVID-19 changed your reading habits or preferences in any way?

I think it has made me change from reading non-fiction that is features anything depressing or sad. I am reading Budgerigar, and even the discussion of the stuffing of birds for museum displays in the early 1800s is a bit too much for me. I feel the need for more fiction and escapism.

What book/s are you reading right now?

When I look at my list I have a bit of an unintentional theme going on!

  1. The Lizard by Dugald Bruce-Lockhart. This is one very wild ride!
  2. Budgerigar: How a brave, chatty and colourful little Aussie bird stole the world’s heart by Sarah Harris & Don Baker. Why didn’t I know the budgie is only native to Australia?
  3. Feeding the Birds at Your Table by Darryl Jones. A great book to dip into and must-read if you’d like to feed the birds in your garden.
  4. Eat Like the Animals: What nature teaches us about the science of healthy eating by Dr David Raubenheimer & Dr Stephen J Simpson. This is a fascinating read. I find myself talking about it on Zoom catch-ups with friends and family!

Let’s imagine that, after we die, we get to live in the book world of our choosing. What would be your book world heaven?

I might be a bit predictable here, but I think I would be in the world of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. The Hobbit was a book that relaunched me into reading as a young teenager. After reading my way through all Tolkien’s books I voraciously gobbled up every fantasy novel I could get my hands on. Although once there I think I would like to have a few handy skills bestowed on me. To be able to shoot an arrow straight and true like the elves would be fabulous.

Interview by Kate Prendergast

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