In a spirit of optimistic support for the APBA’s Book Design Awards, publishers entered 233 books for the 1981 competition, the thirtieth to be held. The judges made short work of their hopes. ‘Best book’ awards were made in only two of seven categories – children’s books and the section for best jacket or cover, won by The Frog and the Pelican (Methuen) and Homesickness (Penguin) respectively. Nineteen other books won commendations. The APBA Andrew Fabinyi prize for the book that best solved problems posed by content or production was awarded to Australia in Figures (Penguin). The judges withheld the $1000 Joyce Nicholson Prize for the Best Book of the Year, as a mark of their disappointment at the standard of entries.
The judges’ report (66 words long) notes the ‘perfectly competent’ nature of many submissions, but complains of a general conservatism of design and a lack of innovation. The tone of dissatisfaction extends to the one-line comments on some of the commended books. How must the recipient of a commendation feel to be told that her sympathetic design and production (Platypus Joe, Hyland House) is ‘let down by jacket/cover design’? How do you rate the pleasure of being commended for a book (Whistle up the Chimney, Collins) whose cover design was considered ‘too gloomy and unattractive’? If this is the year for rubbishing conservatism, why give a commendation at all to a book (A Short History of Australia, Mead and Beckett/Macmillan) of which the best you can say is that it is ‘clear if unimaginative’?