Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Periel Aschenbrand: The Only Bush I Trust Is My Own

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?

Periel: Obviously.

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.


Anonymous said...

Sounds more like her Publisher had the same reaction to her that her Doctor had.

Anonymous said...

Periel must have a good publicist because there was a long article about this lady and her book in The Observer (April 9th 2006)


Incidentally, on checking I see there are still a few copies of this book with the wholesalers.

Genuine remainders, the quality "bin ends" are a very different matter from the title mentioned. Trading in publisher's ends is not for the feint hearted, but often shows a better return than gambling at casinos or on the nags.

Dick Headley said...

Sounds a bit like Girl With A One Track Mind. It's a genre! Dick.

Maxine Clarke said...

I like "feint" hearted. A true publisher's typo.

Peter L. Winkler said...

"The greatest virtue of this book, in my judgement, is that it is short."

The shorter the better, in this case.

Paul Ekert said...

Piles of books do point us towards the invertible conclusion that writing is a mugs game. But then pray Sir, what is not? Working in a Dilbert Office until your job is out-sourced to developing country?

Writing is a way of life, it's not something everyone can be comfortable with, it’s not what everyone would want to do. Thank God. There are enough around as it is. It is something unique and something from which a lot of pleasure can be derived. And a lot of heart ache too. A little less ball breaking than working under a manager who has been promoted because he/she is related to the boss; a little more satisfying than being on the commute-work-lunch-work-commute treadmill….

I take my writing day by day. I have had a small amount of success with non-fiction; I await the same chance with fiction. I am aware I may die waiting...

Does that depress me? Sometimes. It's the nature of the beast and as such it is something we as writers need to accept… Or retreat from. There is no half measure here, but a little more hope keeps the ideas spinning.

Dee Jour said...

I've seen the T Shirt slogan/the picture on the web, I think many protestors in the US have used that T Shirt blurb too. We had one Independent pollie here protesting about our Health Minister's stance on RU486, and her T Shirt (because the federal Health Minister tried his hand at the priesthood decades ago, before entering politics): `Mr Abbott get your rosaries off my ovaries' and television just spreads these statements like a mutant STD, far and wide.

The addition of 'Bush' to anything these days gets so much attention. I was disappointed that Peter Singer bothered to logically analyse the morality of George W Bush in his book (I'd rather read Animal Liberation).

Then, on the other side of the spectrum there's speculative confession type 'works' that always focus on supposedly 'active sex lives' of either working girls (basically saying to female readers far and wide that 'prostitution is a really great career option, see your guidance counsellor about it'), or women in their sexual peak (and really, if they were so busy gallivanting about getting 'it' frequently, would they have time to write about it in minute detail?).

Is it dissappointing on the whole? Yes.

But the world is always in a state of flux, luckily bargain bins exist.

Anonymous said...

Sand Storm - "Sounds more like her Publicher had the same reaction o her that her doctor had". Sounds like your a typical arogant prick proabably male (or female, although if you are I am extremely disappointed in you). What? A woman can't write explicitly without being offensive or better yet having the presumption placed upon her that the only reason anyone would see (or should that be pretend to see?) any value in her work is that some guy wants to bone her?

You have all missed the point as to what the book is about and don't get me wrong it is no literary masterpiece. But what is being discussed by Periel either intentionally or not, is the fact that there are taboos left in society. Is it that the book and its contents are expressed and written by a woman that it is considered to be in bad taste. Wake up people!!! What Periel is writing about is not actually controversial, nor is it breaking any boundaries. Basically this is what most women talk about - yes we talk about politics, religion, sex and usually in the most "unlady like" of fashions.

Those women (and men) that a) you are judging Periel or b) have posted on this site, need to wake up.

As for the comment by dh "sounds like a girl with a one track mind", I think a girl with a one track mind is the one who is concerned about what to cook for her husband for dinner and what to call her first child, because naturaly being a woman she will choose to have one. your problem isn't with the book it's with the breakdown of traditional roles in society and a woman having the balls to put it out there in print for all to see.

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