A couple of weeks ago, I was wandering round my local street market (Thursday mornings, and you meet a very nice class of person) when I noticed a new stall. It was selling cheap paperback books.
I went over and had a look round, and, not for the first time when looking at a display of books, I found myself feeling pretty depressed.
Most of the books were clearly remainders. That is to say, they were books left over after the publisher had sold as many copies as he could at full price, or what passes for full price these days. The 'remainders', once the market has soaked up everything it can, are sold off at (quite often) amazingly low prices. Perhaps, if the publisher is exceptionally lucky, he might get 10% of the cover price. Or perhaps only a penny per copy. Or perhaps (and it has been known, particularly with hardbacks), the publisher had to pay someone to take them away so that he could clear some space in his warehouse.
Anyway, there they were, row upon row of the great unwanted. And every single one of them had a quote from someone famous on the cover, saying what a great read it was; how the author was a genius; and everybody better buy it or they would be missing a treat.
And, again not for the first time, I found myself muttering: What a mug's game this writing business is.
In such circumstances I look around desperately, with the panic-stricken air of a man who is drowning and is frantically hoping that someone might turn up to pull him out. And what I look for is something -- anything -- that I can buy in the hope that it might turn out to be halfway worth reading, and thus may go some way towards convincing me that I have not wasted years of my life in reading, writing, and thinking about, the world of books.
At last -- on this particular occasion, my eye fell on a book which had a more or less naked young woman on the front. True, the main points of interest in the young woman's anatomy were obscured by the author's name and the book's title. But it was the only interesting cover in the whole display. And the title wasn't bad, either: The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own. Author, one Periel Aschenbrand -- who turns out to be female, and posed for the cover herself.
Bush, to abbreviate it, was first published in the US in 2005 by Jeremy P. Tarcher, an imprint of US Penguin. It's a very respectable imprint, and one that many people would sacrifice a couple of teeth to get in with. The market-stall edition that I bought was published in the UK by Corgi, as a mass-market paperback, in April 2006 (and it may not be officially remaindered, I hasten to add).
Furthermore, you need to know that Bush is not a novel. It's a fragment of autobiography. Periel Aschenbrand turns out to be a young woman with ambitions as a writer, an almost total lack of inhibition, and a fairly marked set of opinions on a great many things -- opinions with which she is not slow to acquaint us. In short, she is young, female, smart, mouthy, and sexually active. She has a Mom and Dad, and various other relations, who clearly have to put up with a great deal.
The publisher's blurb and the quotes on the back of the book try to make our Periel sound like some sort of revolutionary, and although I found it all tolerably entertaining, I have to say that she is not that. What she has to say is plain speaking writ large, but she is, after all, writing rather more than forty years after Lenny Bruce died.
She gives us, for instance, a good many pages describing a visit to a Mormon church service, and a subsequent discussion with a girl friend who is a practising Mormon. The net import of these pages is that Mormons are barking mad. But while this may be kind of daring in certain politically correct circles, it is scarcely any kind of news to the rest of us.
And there's a lot more of the same. Most of us are not going to be shocked by discussions of tampons, or by an outspoken discussion of shit (during which she actually says quite a lot of sensible things). And we are not even going to be all that taken aback by hearing about her bruised haemorrhoid (bruised as a result of anal sex, apparently, the name and gender of the perpetrator being shrouded in anonymity).
Periel's mother is loving but concerned. Whenever Periel talks to her in her in-your-face way, e.g. when telling her that the doctor who looked at her arse had an erection, Mom expresses some concern.
Mom: Are you writing about this?
Mom: Oh my God. Oh my God, this is terrible. This is really terrible.
I think I'm on Mom's side here. And here is Mom's assessment of her daughter, from a page towards the end of the book. 'You don't want to do anything except smoke cigarettes, go shopping, talk about serial killers and disgusting things that happen on the Internet. You're obsessed with lowlifes and filth. And you use foul language. I'm very concerned about you. And you're too skinny. I'm sure you're not eating properly.'
Did I mention that Periel belongs to a Jewish family? Or is it obvious?
The greatest virtue of this book, in my judgement, is that it is short. Oh, and I suppose I ought to mention that the title derives from a certain knack that Periel has in coming up with T-shirt slogans for good causes. Here's one: What would you give for a great pair of tits? That one was used to raise money for breast cancer research.
There's a lot more about Periel on her web site.
I am inclined to think that Periel Aschenbrand's principal skill is not so much in writing as in marketing. I suspect that she used these skills to good effect in getting this book published. Either that, or her uncle runs the company.