Monday, May 15, 2006

Something from the weekend

Is it my imagination, or are there more rows and ding-dongs going on than usual? Anyway, here are a few (usually bad-tempered) exchanges which have been going on in the last day or two.

London's next book fair

OK. So there's been a London book fair for a good few years, for agents and publishers to go sell a few rights, get drunk, and screw each other's socks off, as per usual. Last year it was moved, and people wanted it put back where it was before. Reed, the firm that moved it, said get used to it. Then the organisers of the Frankfurt book fair said that they would run a book fair in London that would be cheaper, more central, lots more parties, free cocaine, nice clean girls from the very best local brothels, and so forth. So then Reed said they would go back to the old place anyway. And the Frankfurt guys, who thought they had a deal with the Earl's Court/Olympia exhibition hall that Reed have now said they are going to be using again, are pissed.

Says Publishers Lunch:
Just days after Reed Exhibitions UK chief Alastair Gornall explained why Earl's Court was a bad venue for a book fair and urged the trade to trot out to Excel one more time, the organizers of the London Book Fair have done a complete turnaround--and apparently have screwed the folks at theFrankfurt Book Fair who inspired the change in the first place.
And so it goes. Details, if you really must have them:

Oh, and there'll be a whole lot more.

The ?best! novels of the last 25 years???

I really am going to have to give up reading all this shit, I really am. Anyway, it seems that the New York Times have consulted the good and the great, who have decided that the best American novel of the last 25 years is Toni Morrison's Beloved.

I really cannot be bothered with this. Especially when I find that one of the top dozen or so is A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole. Anyone who thinks that Toole's book is one of the 'best' books of any period longer than three days, in a bad week, is just plain certifiable, and no two ways about it.

Jessa Crispin on Bookslut wasn't too impressed by the NYT; neither was M.A. Orthofer on the Literary Saloon. Or Galleycat. Well, as far as a newspaper is concerned, it all helps to fills up the white space between the adverts, doesn't it?

Mention of Toni Morrison reminds me of an incident which happened a good few years ago. And for which I accept no responsibility whatever. I simply relate the facts.

There I was, sitting in the senior common room, minding my own business and contemplating the state of nature, with the aid of a cup of coffee, when up hove a friend, with a gleeful expression on his face.

'Tell me,' he said, 'why did Toni Morrison win the Nobel prize for literature?' And he said it in the tone of voice that one uses to ask 'Why did the chicken cross the road?'

'I don't know,' I said, moving into straight-man mode. 'Why did Toni Morrison win the Nobel prize for literature?'

'Because she's black, female, and unreadable! An unbeatable combination!' And off my friend went, chortling happily to himself.

The whole NYT farrago of nonsense reminds me of a book which I wasn't even going to mention: The Test of Time -- subtitled What makes a Classic a Classic? and published by Waterstone's (with the aid of the Arts Council if you please, i.e. taxpayers' money) as a device to shift a few books.

Edited by Andrew Holgate and Honor Wilson-Fletcher, this book also sought the opinions of the good and great, who were asked various questions, such as What is your definition of a classic novel? They were also asked to nominate ten essential classic novels for the next 100 years, whatever that means, and to nominate up to ten books which they believed should never have been called classics.

Published in 1999, you may find a secondhand copy of this paperback in some charity shop or other (as I did), but I really wouldn't advise you to go looking for it. Not unless you wish to have the digestion of your dinner disturbed and your blood pressure raised. It's all waffle and piffle.

Steve Clackson takes flak

Steve Clackson, as mentioned here last week, posted some chapters from his novel Sand Storm on his blog, and found that they were not universally admired. Go to the May archives of the blog and scroll down and you will find masses and masses of comments.

There are even comments on the comments on other blogs. See Edward Champion, for instance.

Well, if nothing else, this procedure has certainly got Steve's book noticed. And now he has posted a few more chapters.

Google trends

OK, this one isn't controversial. Or bad tempered. Yet.

Google has developed a facility called Google Trends. (Link from Publishers Lunch.) You type in various terms and it draws you pictures, from which, according to the caveat at the bottom, you should be wary of drawing any conclusions.

Well, I tried a few multiple terms, as per the example, and couldn't get a lot of sense out of it. If you use single terms, such as books, you don't get much either. Except that in the case of books, the top city listed is Chennai, India. Which is what you would expect, really. (The world is flat, remember.)

Times books

Some weeks, I can go through the Books section of the Saturday Times in about three minutes flat, but last Saturday, for a change, there were some interesting things in it.

Jeanette Winterson, for instance, has a weekly column called Her Word, which must be a nice little earner. Pays a lot better per word than writing novels, I'll bet, though Jeanette is a considerable earner there too. Anyway, this week she's on about damp squids, and giving up the goat, and so forth. She wants other examples, but I'm not clever enough to think of any.

Then there's a review of Jilly Cooper's new book, which I don't want to read, thank you, though they're amiable enough. Jilly is a huge seller in the UK but doesn't do much, so far as I know, in the US. Anyway, somehow or other I got the impression that the new one was shorter than some of the others. So I checked the figures. It turns out to be 864 pages! Wicked, as I believe the young people say.

And finally, a well deserved success. About a year ago I reviewed, with some enthusiasm, Marina Lewycka's novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. At that point, the novel was not very well known. True, it had been shortlisted for the Orange prize, but I doubt whether that shifted many copies; and it had been the clear winner of the Wodehouse prize, for comic fiction, although I did not personally find it all that amusing; it has its dark side. And then later on, Tractors was longlisted for the Booker.

However... in what I take to be a clear result of word of mouth recommendation, rather than a consequence of any of the above, the paperback version of Marina's book has been a very substantial seller. The Times's top 50 bestsellers list shows it at number 8, with 16,536 sold last week alone, and it's been selling at that rate for a couple of months. Couldn't happen to a nicer lady, and it's all well deserved.

Elsewhere in the Times Books bit, there's an interview with Elmore Leonard, and if you haven't read one before he's worth a look.

And finally, the Hot Type column reports that two self-publishers are doing well, partly, it claims, because Waterstone's supported them; which suggests that the source of the info was a Waterstone's press release.

Jack Linley, writing as Jack Sheffield, has got a two-book deal with Transworld on the strength of his semi-autobiographical novel Teacher, Teacher! (Looks as if it might be fun.) And Imran Ahmad's Unimagined, which is an account of growing up Muslim, has been bought by Aurum Press.

So much for Saturday's paper. The Sunday Times has an interview with Gail Rebuck, who is described as 'the most powerful woman in British publishing'.

Business as usual

Just in case you found that story (above) about Jack Sheffield and Imran Ahmad sort of heart-warming and encouraging, here's one which will prove that nothing much has changed. Joel Rickett, in the Guardian, reports that Chantelle has got £350,000 out of Random House (boss lady Gail Rebuck, see above) for her 'life story'. She's 22.

Joel describes Chantelle as a "fake" celebrity, but that really won't do at all. True, she wasn't a celeb when she appeared in Big Brother, but she is now all right. However, he may have a better point when he quotes one of Chantelle's fans: 'I fink she shud def rite an ortobiogafy but i dont fink i wud reed it cuz i aint red a buk in me lyf! LOL reedin iz 4 geekz n sad ppl.

Which says it all, really. Have a nice day, geekz n sad ppl.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a fantastic selection to welcome Monday ; well done Grumpy you were in top form - give that man a gold star for his homework !