Systematic failure and cores for concern
In the past week or two, the Times has been featuring occasional correspondence on the use and abuse of the apostrophe, and other simple but common errors in grammar and spelling.
There was, for instance, a correspondent whose son had received a commercially printed birthday card which declared proudly 'Now Your 18'. She asked her son whether he could see anything wrong with this. Nope. Looked OK to him. So she asked all his friends. Blank looks all round.
Then there was the person whose offspring was at a university. This particular institution decided that, in some parts of a building, it was necessary to don protective clothing. So a sign went up saying 'Where over all's'.
And today we have a story about the manager of a local supermarket who periodically pins up a sign for customers which reads 'You're toilets'.
Education is the industry to which I devoted an entire working lifetime, and this is the result. I think I may have to fall on my sword. However, I did my bit. The boys in my English class certainly knew the difference between your and you're. And about fifteen years ago I took part in a public debate in the pages of the Guardian, about whether or not it was important to teach children such things. After the dust had settled the features editor of the Guardian wrote to me and said that she and I had been the only two people, out of scores of contributors, who had thought that the teaching of grammar, spelling and punctuation were remotely important. For the rest, all that mattered was that children should 'express themselves'.
Fifty million and rising
The Financial Times on Saturday had a not very interesting article about blogging, but it did contain the information that Technorati recently tracked its 50 millionth blog; and revealed that 175,000 new weblogs are being created every day.
A cartoon accompanied this piece. It showed a gang of monkeys working on keyboards, and in the background one scientist says to another, 'They never managed to produce a Shakespeare play on typewriters but we're confident they'll create a viable blog.'
Ho ho ho.
Meanwhile, the Sunday Times says that Washington has been hit by 'the curse of the kid bloggers'. What is happening, apparently, is that the children of leading politicians are going online and are saying things which might prove embarrassing to their parents. Embarrassing, that is, if you live a life of breathtaking hypocrisy, which is what most politicians do.
I was going to say that none of this is remotely surprising. Why should we expect, I was going to say, that politicians' kids would be any different from anyone else's? But actually, when you think about it, there are quite good reasons why politicians' kids should be whackier than average.
For a start, Dad is never there. He's far too busy being an important mover and shaker. Secondly, when he is there, the kids hear him sounding off about this and that in forthright terms, only to see him on TV the next day saying the exact opposite, or making a statement which, when examined closely, says absolutely nothing at all. Such close exposure to the political process is pretty much guaranteed, one might think, to engender a more than usually high level of disgust, distrust, and contempt. Hence the habit of some daughters of dancing on bar tops and posting the pictures on the net. Fuck all that, you can practically hear them saying, this is what life is really all about.
Game for anything
Speaking of the young, I had my vocabulary enlarged yesterday. I found a new meaning (well, new to me) of the word 'game'.
Game, it seems, is the ability to talk people into things. Used-car salesmen have game. Real-estate agents have game. The people who talk you into buying an extended warranty on a washing machine, they’ve got game. And so, of course, have the young men who excel at chatting up the ladies.
Should you wish to pursue the matter, there are books on the subject. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these seem to concentrate on the sexual side of things. You could try, for instance, Neil Strauss's The Game: Penetrating the Secret Society of Pickup Artists.
This was published by Regan Books in 2005 and comes in a leather-bound edition. (Leather-bound? No, I have no idea either.) And if you go to Amazon.com you find that the book has an average of 4.5 stars from 355 reviews, which is like serious stuff man. Most of us can summon up two or three friends who will say nice things on Amazon, but 355 must include a few genuine readers.
The Publishers Weekly review, quoted on Amazon, is worth reading for an insight into life as it is lived today. Although, if you've been watching Sex and the City, you probably know all about that already.
Neil Strauss is not without online references. You can find him on wikipedia and there is also quite an interesting interview with him on the Attraction Chronicles. Apart from anything else he seems to be a more than capable writer, both under his own name and as a ghost for celebrities.
There are other writers on the same subject, such as Tariq Nasheed: essential reading if you have ambitions to be a successful pimp.
But what, you may be wondering, does this have to do with publishing? Well, apart from shifting a lot of books, which is of more than passing interest, surely these techniques could be adapted by the shy retiring types who are having trouble finding an agent, publisher, or both. It is certainly clear that, in order to succeed in today's high-pressure book world, you need to be a first-class hustler. And if, having finally got a book into print, you can get out there and talk the talk, so much the better.
Deja vu time
You won't believe this, but there is yet another story circulating that Tim Waterstone is putting together a bid for his old shop. This is the seventh attempt, according to the Scotsman. (Link from booktrade.info.)
Also in the Scotsman, Stuart Kelly wonders why people attend book festivals, his context being the book festival which runs in Edinburgh alongside the Fringe and everything else.
This is a good question. I was in Edinburgh at the time of the book festival, and I looked through the programme and found nothing that I was really keen to see. A couple of things that I might have gone into to get out of the rain perhaps. I also live within comfortable reach of Bath, Cheltenham, and Frome, all of which have literary festivals of some sort each year. And in ten years I've bothered to go to two items, only one of which was worth the effort (agent Mark Lucas talking about ghost writing).
Come to think of it though, I did once have a play performed in Bath for two nights, as part of a tour, and that was, technically, part of the literary festival. So I have actually taken part. Crumbs.
Last Friday's Graudian carried a disquisition upon British readers' current taste in books. Mark Lawson clearly knows his stuff and writes well. He points out that, of the top ten bestselling books in the UK last week, eight are depressing. Only eight?
Well, we still haven't cleared the backlog of stuff backed up from last week. But lunch beckons.