Phosphorescence: Julia Baird’s bestseller wins book of the year | Books | The Guardian

A comforting and inspiring read for many during the pandemic lockdown months, Julia Baird’s Phosphorescence: On Awe, Wonder And Things That Sustain You When The World Goes Dark was awarded book of the year on Wednesday night at the Australian Book Industry Awards in Sydney.
The event brought together publishers, writers and booksellers after a year that saw book sales soar during lockdowns.
Awe, wonder and the overview effect: how feeling small gives us much-needed perspective | Julia Baird Read more Blending science writing and personal memoir, Baird’s bestselling book explores the impact of happiness and contentment on our health, weaving in the story of her cancer diagnosis and subsequent surgeries.
In her moving winner’s speech on Wednesday, Baird, an award-winning journalist, said: “We write to be able to put our arms around another person. Writing this book has shown me there are so many people with a hankering to find all the things that unite us. There’s so much more that brings us together than divides us.”
Phosphorescence also won the non-fiction category, seeing off competition from ABC presenter Richard Fidler’s biography of Prague, The Golden Maze; and Un-cook Yourself: A Ratbag’s Rules for Life, by the acerbic YouTube personality Nat’s What I Reckon.
The literary fiction category went to Sydney writer Jessie Tu’s A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing . The Matt Richell award for new writer of the year went to Vivian Pham for her debut novel The Coconut Children , who thanked her “three furry sisters Happy, Lucky and Bambi” for always sitting next to her while she wrote. Audiobook of the year was won by singer-songwriter Archie Roach, for his narration of his memoir Tell Me Why .
Vivian Pham, winner of the Matt Richell award for new writer of the year. Photograph: Penguin Random House The ABIAs are hosted by the Australian Publishers Association and are judged by more than 250 industry figures. The awards recognise success in Australian writing, publishing and bookselling, with a bent toward sales.
Archie Roach’s Took the Children Away: the story behind the stolen generations lament Read more Last year’s event was a virtual one due to the pandemic. This year, the awards were presented in a simultaneous live and virtual event at Sydney’s Carriageworks, in association with the Sydney Writers’ Festival.
Writer and broadcaster Casey Bennetto hosted the evening, with live guests including authors Charlotte Wood and Michael Robotham, singer Courtney Act and minister for communications Paul Fletcher. Virtual guests included actor Cate Blanchett, author Trent Dalton and former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, whose political memoir A Bigger Picture lost out in the biography category to centenarian Holocaust survivor Eddie Jaku’s The Happiest Man on Earth.
Jaku was thrilled with his win. “Every day when I wake up, it’s another day for me when I’m supposed to be dead,” he said in a prerecorded video. “When this number was put on my arm I was condemned to die – at Auschwitz – and I didn’t die! This is very nice, I’m really happy. Happiness is something, if you share, it doubles. If you keep it for yourself, it’s nothing, but when you share it, that’s important.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a profound but largely positive effect on the Australian book industry, with sales figures up in many categories. According to sale monitor Nielsen BookScan, after a slow start, adult fiction sales rose 12% in value in the first eight months of 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
Book sales for young readers were also up, as parents and carers opted for entertainment without screens during lockdown. Garth Nix’s The Left-Handed Booksellers of London won the category for over-13s, while Amelia Mellor’s The Grandest Bookshop in the World won in the category for children aged seven to 12. Picture book of the year was awarded to Our Home, Our Heartbeat by Adam Briggs, Kate Moon and Rachael Sarra, adapted from Briggs’ song The Children Came Back.
American novelist Kiley Reid won international book of the year for her debut novel Such a Fun Age. Penguin Random House Australia won publisher of the year, while Avid Reader in Brisbane won bookshop of the year, and Readings in Melbourne won book retailer of the year.

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