Thursday, August 09, 2007

Mostly cobblers but sometimes not

Aaron Shepard is a smart cookie. Mentioned here as the author of Aiming at Amazon, and other books, he has also developed a software tool for checking your sales position on Amazon. What's more, he has got himself featured in the New York Times. And, as you would expect from a smart cookie, he has a pile of Aiming at Amazon books right where the camera will see them. Oh yes.

The NYT story is mostly cobblers, with its claim that 'many' writers can't get on with writing because they're obsessively checking their ranking -- but hey, this is a newspaper story, right? What the hell do you expect?

One of my books is listed with a sales rank of 4,457,051. I didn't think Amazon listed as many books as that. And it's got a five-star review, too. No, I didn't. That would be naughty.

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If you care about writing for the theatre (and there is life outside books, you know), you should keep an eye on Michael Coveney's blog. Coveney is a former theatre critic of the Daily Mail. He was recommended to me by Madame Arcati, who knows everyone, of course. Coveney writes about the UK theatre scene, but it's also relevant in you live in the US (I guess), as London seems to provide quite a lot of Broadway product.

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If you care about the Booker -- and I must confess that I don't -- then you should know that details of the 2007 long list have been published. Articles in most papers, but here's the Guardian.

When reading some of the publicity details of these books, I am struck, not for the first time, by the wonder of it all. Most of the long-listed books are published by 'major' companies, whose primary objective, naturally, is to make profits. But, if you set aside the remote chance of one of these books winning the Booker, then publication begins to look like an act of charity rather than a rational commercial decision.

Who, for instance, would ever bother to read The Gathering, by Irish author Anne Enright? It's described by the Observer as 'a gruelling portrait of a dysfunctional Dublin family', and is praised for its 'exhilarating bleakness of tone'. Bleakness of tone? Exhilarating? Personally I would have to be paid a substantial fee even to contemplate it.

What saves the publishers' bacon, of course, is the bizarre illusion, fostered on a thousand and one Eng. Lit. courses, that literary fiction is somehow superior to any other kind, and that to be seen reading such is to increase one's standing with one's fellow men. Public endorsement by the Booker judges somehow enhances this effect, leading people to expend money which could much better be spent on a round of drinks for a few friends.

Truth is, of course, that, for some of us, the sight of someone reading a Booker nominee merely generates a politely suppressed snigger. We nudge our friends. 'Look,' we say. 'Another sucker.'

6 comments:

scrimp said...

Speaking of literary type books, something is really bothering me.
There's a site called Critical Mass, the writers on the site are members of the National Book Critics Circle in USA. Once and a while they have a post called "Thinking about New Orleans." I am from NOLA and run The Beatitudes Network - Rebuilding the Public Libraries of New Orleans at www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com. I usually write a comment there something like I lived in NOLA, was rescued in 1965 when my mother pulled out of bed in the middle of the night, and such. I have also left comments about the importance of libraries as well as all reviews (they have a big campaign to save print reviews and seem to think bloggers are, well, substandard reviewers). Now as you know, when you post a comment up comes a notice stating that your post has to be approved. Mine do not; maybe it's because I sign off with the tag line about The Beatitudes Network and my blog address? Is that advertising? Or maybe the gatekeeper just does not get around to my posts - I'm trying to be fair here. I'm giving all of the royalties from my book to the New Orleans Public Library Foundation - directly. If I have to start paying to advertise my cause, then I'm really screwed with the moola. I guess I'm getting really, really cyncical. Maybe it's because I'm not a big-time writer. And then, I suppose blogs are like print journalism...what gets printed is what gets approved, we all have our own agenda. So much for the "democratic" Internet. okay - www.beatitudesinneworleans.blogspot.com ( and no, I'm not being published by one of the big six ...that would strip away the years I have left and leave me with no energy to help New Orleans.
merci mille fois. I need more coffee. last note: The Huffington Post always posts my comments - so there is hope.

Emz said...

About literary type books...it would be intersting to hear your full take on them. Do you think the prizes put undue pressure on the writing to 'appear profound' or do you think many of them are a bunch of rubbish anyway and the prizes just guarantee that a rubbsh self-important book will fly of the shelves and make loads of cash?

Jody Tresidder said...

It's a sign of age, I miserably conclude, when "exhilarating bleakness" is no longer an inviting Booker come-hither.

(I always thought browsing only the biography section of bookstores was the first sign. But I'm only fooling myself, I think).

However please don't stop your Booker coverage!

Martin said...

I'm a native and resident of Stockholm, Sweden. Imagine all the Nobel crap we have to put up with every year. That prize would be an absolute nonentity but for the size of the fookin' cash sum.

Toilet philosopher said...

'Who, for instance, would ever bother to read The Gathering, by Irish author Anne Enright? It's described by the Observer as 'a gruelling portrait of a dysfunctional Dublin family', and is praised for its 'exhilarating bleakness of tone'.

Perhaps its a load of rubbish I dont know, but plenty of people like this sort of thing.

Angela's Ashes was popular and commercial and not bad as a literary book either.

'What saves the publishers' bacon, of course, is the bizarre illusion, fostered on a thousand and one Eng. Lit. courses, that literary fiction is somehow superior to any other kind..'

but actually I have to say it is. In 'The bet' by Chekhov a man is given twelve years to read and starts off reading crime thrillers and best sellers, but in time his tastes become more refined and he reads the classics.

Alright some of the classics are shit and the booker prize is for imitation literary fiction only, but, at its best the classics are where its at, at least they're what I like anyway.

ReadyReckoner said...

Ah yes, toilet philosopher, but "the classics" are not necessarily the same thing as literary fiction. I don't know how big your personal canon is but I doubt that it contains more than one or two novels published in any given year. In which case, of the 110 novels read for the long list, it's a fair guess that most fall not into the "classics" category but into "average literary fiction" - a pretty depressing place to be!