Monday, September 25, 2006

The weekend press

I remarked here not so long ago that I can sometimes go through the books sections of the Saturday Times and the Sunday Times in about three minutes flat, without finding anything of the slightest interest. This last weekend, however, things were different.

More on Kathy O'Beirne

The news section of Saturday's Times carried a further article about Kathy O'Beirne (see last Thursday's post).

Incidentally, I note that the online version of this story has a different heading and is considerably shorter than the print version which reached me on Saturday a.m. Now I wonder why that should be? In any event, that being so I will reproduce here some of the quotes which didn't make it into the online version.

The print version of the story says that O'Beirne claims to have documentary evidence proving the truth of her story, but, when asked to produce it, refused. She has, however, prepared a follow-up book to Don't Ever Tell, called The Aftermath: Who am I?; this will, she says, vindicate her.

A spokesman for Mainstream, which is 50% owned by Random House and which published the first book, said that although no contract for book two had been signed 'we would love to do it.' Mainstream also add their opinion that the current uproar 'is a family dispute which we don't want to get involved in.'

On some databases, e.g., Michael Sheridan is listed as a co-author (presumably ghost). He is quoted in the Times as saying that O'Beirne's family is 'a time bomb', and that he found O'Beirne to be a very reliable witness. 'What went on in that house was worse than it was portrayed in the book,' he said.

There is a photo of O'Beirne in the print version, and to be quite frank she looks a bit of a bruiser. Furthermore, I get the distinct impression that some people would not care (a) to cross her and (be) to meet her in a blind alley at midnight. Says the Times: 'Experts on the dark past of Ireland's religious institutions said that they did not wish to be caught up in the controversy. "My instinct was to give her a reasonably wide berth," said one researcher, who did not wish to be named.'

Perhaps you, like me, had done a bit of arithmetic and had noted that out of a family of nine, seven had spoken out against sister Kathy, and one hadn't. In that case, you might like to know that Kathy O'Beirne has a brother, Joseph, who claims that he too was beaten and abused as a child and is writing a book about it.

To cap it all, O'Beirne says that she has not seen any money from her book. 'Most of the advance I gave away to charity. I haven't got a pot to pee in.'

Well, it's all part of life's rich tapestry, isn't it?

The Dangerous Book for Boys

The Times has a chart for the top 10 sellers in independent bookshops, and number two this week is The Dangerous Book for Boys, by C. Iggulden and H. Iggulden. I haven't had chance to have a really close look at it, but a quick shufti revealed that it is a sort of anthology of all sorts of bits and pieces, including -- now hold your breath, please -- including several chapters on grammar!

Yes, and I think I was sober when I looked at it too.

Authors' Licensing and Collecting Society

Here in the UK we have a body (the ALCS) which collects, and annually distributes to authors, fees which are charged in respect of photocopies made of journal articles and books. (Various other sources of income are involved too, including I believe repeats of old TV shows and the like.) For instance, I will shortly be getting £43 paid into my bank account.

But American authors, and, I presume, other non-Brits, will not be so lucky. This is bad news for the estate of F. Scott Fitzgerald, because The Great Gatsby is, according to Nicholas Clee in the Times, via the ALCS, Britain's most photocopied novel.

Somebody, in fact loads of people, must be teaching it. God help us all, I feel inclined to add. Is there really any benefit in large numbers of students writing essays on such stuff? Is there no better way for them to occupy their time?

Amanda Craig gets it right

I don't usually read Amanda Craig's regular Saturday Times column about children's books, but a subliminal glimpse of something provoked me to do so this week. And I'm glad I did.

Auntie Amanda points out that, these days, well over three quarters of children's books are fantasy, and that, unlike most critics, she is an unabashed fan of that genre. 'Which makes me,' she says, 'all the angrier at the bad stuff being published.'

She goes on to single out for a thoroughly deserved kicking the latest over-rated output of G.P. Taylor. Taylor, you may recall, is an English clergyman who self-published a novel called Shadowmancer, which he parlayed into a decent seller and then got a contract with Faber.

Amanda Craig's verdict: 'I am appalled at the way this author has managed to rise on a minimum of talent and a maximum of self-publicising stunts.'

Well, as a general principle I try not to begrudge any writer any degree of success, however small, but in this case the bandwagon is rolling with such momentum that nothing I say will make the slightest difference. So I can safely declare that I tend to agree with Auntie Amanda.

I tried Shadowmancer when it first came out and very soon gave up. It just didn't work. How G.P. Taylor got taken up by Faber is one of life's great mysteries; but then Faber always was an arse and elbow company.

A global crisis

Now to the Sunday Times, the books section of which leads with an important review by William Dalrymple, who is a historian with a substantial reputation. If you are remotely interested in the future of western civilisation, you really ought to read this article.

Dalrymple reviews two books, the first of which is Celsius 7/7 by Michael Gove. This, it turns out, is a more or less worthless book, written by a self-proclaimed expert on Islamic affairs, and Dalrymple performs an elegant demolition job. Here are a few quotes:

These days it is generally agreed that it is better to be familiar with a subject before proclaiming yourself an authority: plumbers have usually looked at a number of sinks before trying to fix blocked pipes; lawyers have to have a degree in law before entering a court. The exception to this rule appears to be the study of Islam. Since 9/11, hundreds of self-proclaimed experts have held forth on the errors of the Muslim world, and produced instant solutions to its problems, many of them lacking even a passing acquaintance with the subject....

A prominent example of the sort of pundit who has spoon-fed neocon mythologies to the British public for the past few years is Michael Gove. Gove has never lived in the Middle East, indeed has barely set foot in a Muslim country. He has little knowledge of Islamic history, theology or culture -- in Celsius 7/7, he just takes the line of Bernard Lewis on these matters; nor does he speak any Islamic language. None of this, however, has prevented his being billed, on his book's dust-jacket, as 'one of Britain's leading writers and thinkers on terrorism.'

And so on. Gove, it turns out, now sits on the Conservative shadow cabinet and is said to influence his party's policy. Worse still, his dreadful book was named by British MPs as the one most taken on their summer holidays.

What was that I just said about God and help, a few moments ago? 'Blair was bad enough,' says Dalrymple, 'the blind leading the blind; now it seems the madmen are taking over the asylum.' We also learn, without much surprise but with deepening gloom, that long after invading Iraq Bush was still unaware that there was a distinction between Sunnis and Shi'ites. And according to the 9/11 report, only 17 students graduated in Arabic from American universities in 2002.

The article is illustrated, in the print version but not online, with a photograph of Gove which was presumably supplied by the publisher. I can only say that, to my eye, even before I read the article, I had concluded that the picture made him look like a complete idiot. One of the worst kinds of nerd.

The other book reviewed by Dalrymple is The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda's Road to 9/11, by Lawrence Wright. Unlike Gove, Wright is a man who has actually done some 'diligent and painstaking research on the ground in Pakistan, Egypt, Iraq and the Gulf.' Wright is, it seems, a New Yorker staff writer.

New Pratchett

An advert alerts me to the fact that Terry Pratchett has a new Discworld book out: Wintersmith. This is, strictly speaking, a children's book (12 and over), but it features Tiffany Aching and the Nac Mac Feegle, whom I thoroughly enjoyed on previous acquaintance, so I shall certainly be reading this. W.H. Smith are selling it for £9.99 in shops, £8.99 online. And whatever reservations you may have about UK book-pricing policy, you've got to admit that that is bloody good value for money.


Roger Morris said...

Michael, talking of the weekend press, I don't know if you saw it but you were mentioned in the Guardian on Saturday. Sarah Crown was doing a round-up of bloggers' reactions to the Booker shortlist and your views on Sarah Waters' latest were quoted. Very pithy and authoritative it was too.


Anonymous said...

The Dangerous Book for Boys was the summer's surprise hit - it was the Sunday Times number 1 bestseller for weeks until Bryson and Steven Gerrard knocked it off the top spot.

Anonymous said...

"Leading writer and thinker." What a great thing to put on your dust jacket. Puts you right up there with Plato and Pogo.

archer said...

The problem is the irreconcilable gulf between the Sunni belief in Karma and the fundamental Shiite doctrine of hijab. So long as these ancient doctrines clash, as they have since 730 A.D., there will be more problems and anger, etc. Any leading thinker on Islam (such as myself) can tell you that.