If timing is everything is politics, so it is in publishing. Journalist Paddy Manning, a former colleague hereabouts, has some sweet synchronicity going with his latest book, Born to Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull, which is due from MUP on October 26. Manning’s previous biography, Boganaire ( an awful title for a good book), was about another self-made multi-millionaire, Nathan Tinkler. Unlike the new Prime Minister, however, Tinkler is also a self-unmade multimillionaire. David Marr, one of our finest journalists, could have had more luck in timing with his just published Quarterly Essay on Labor leader Bill Shorten, reviewed on this page by Troy Bramston. Marr’s QE was about to hit bookstores when the simmering Liberal leadership tensions boiled over. He quickly added some thoughts on the Turnbull ascendancy. Given even the pet shop galah thinks the whole game has changed for Shorten and Labor, Marr, the author of game-changing QEs on Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott, probably wishes he had a bit more time on this one.
Speaking of pet shop galahs, the man who added that phrase to the vernacular is the willing subject of the most anticipated political book of the year. Kerry O’Brien’s Keating is being billed as a “collaborative biography” and the nearest we will get to an autobiography or memoir by the former treasurer and prime minister. The book is based on unused material from O’Brien’s celebrated four-part ABC TV interviews with Paul Keating, plus subsequent interviews. Due from Allen & Unwin in November and weighing in at a shelf-buckling 800-plus pages, it promises to be the definitive account of one of the most polarising figures in Australian political history. A month earlier, A&U will publish the autobiography of another divisive Labor politician, Peter Garrett. Big Blue Sky will be a cradle-to-present memoir, covering Garrett’s childhood, rock star career with Midnight Oil, environmental activism and his time as a minister in the Rudd and Gillard governments. This one will be 450 pages or so, and I’m told he has written every word himself. Further to last week’s discussion of the Nobel Prize in Literature, a couple of points of interest I didn’t have room to mention. First, Australian poet Judith Wright received two nominations in 1964, the most recent year for which we have access to the archives. Whether Wright was nominated beyond 1964 — she lived until 2000 — we do not yet know. We do know of course that she did not receive the Nobel. Which brings me to the second point: you have to be alive to win it. Prior to 1974 you could die any time in the year of the announcement and receive the prize posthumously, as happened with Swedish poet Erik Axel Karlfeldt in 1931. But a tightening of the rules in 1974 restricted that window to the two months between the announcement in October and the award ceremony in Stockholm two months later. Whether this factor has any influence on the decision is anyone’s guess, but it may be worth noting that one of the perceived frontrunners of recent years, Syrian poet Adonis, is 85. Philip Roth, generally considered the best chance of breaking the American drought since Toni Morrison in 1993, is no spring chicken at 83. It’s definitely worth noting that the 50-1 I’ve seen some bookmakers offering on EL Doctorow is way under the odds. Finally, while long and interesting arguments might be held about the most deserving writer not to win a Nobel, starting with Tolstoy in 1901, it’s difficult to think of an unluckier contender than Spanish philologist and historian Ramon Menendez Pidal in 1956. Of the 167 nominations received that year, 103 were for Menendez Pidal. The Nobel went to his poet compatriot Juan Ramon Jimenez, who received one nomination. And, as my old grandfather used to say, that is why punters catch the tram and bookies ride in limos.