Friday, September 07, 2007

Accumulated stuff

Maud Newton very sensibly highlights the importance of Edmund Wilson highlighting the importance of Edgar Allan Poe and his theories of literature. Those theories have, by the way, been mentioned here, with approval, more than once: for example, on 2 June 2004.

The Oldie carries an advert for I thought the name Guy N. Smith was familiar, and having checked out the web site I now know why. It's because he's the author of over 100 books, most of them in thoroughly commercial fiction genres. You can find details of the man's career here.

Ever since giving up a life as a bank manager, Guy has been writing and selling books. He runs a secondhand book business and a small publishing company, in addition to keeping up with his writing. He is also the UK's pipe-smoking champion.

Madame Arcati reminds me that there is to be a Desmond Elliott prize for a first novel. The enterprise has its own web site where you can read all about it. UK publications only, I fear.

Desmond Elliott was quite a character, as the splendid profile by Liz Thomson makes clear (she also seems to have written the Times obituary). But there's something which irks me about this proposed prize. Elliott was a man who agented or published the likes of Jilly Cooper, Penny Vicenzi, Derek Lambert, Leslie Thomas, Richard Doyle, and Claire Rayner.

I particularly remember Richard Doyle (though you won't) because he wrote an adventure novel called Imperial 109 which Elliott sold to the Americans for (if memory serves) $800,000 in 1977, when that was still quite a serious amount of money. As an ambitious writer myself at the time, I tended to notice that kind of thing.

All of the above-mentioned writers are pretty solidly commercial, you will note, and pretty successful too, under Elliot's guidance. But now that a prize is being offered in his name, it is suggested that likely winners from the past might have included such novels as The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, The Beach, White Teeth, Behind the Scenes at the Museum, The Thirteenth Tale, Brick Lane, The Time Traveler’s Wife, and The Tenderness of Wolves.

Well, sorry, but I sense a certain disjunction here. I don't think it makes much sense to associate the name of a man who represented Jilly Cooper with the likes of some of those. A touch of the O. Henrys all over again.

Essential reading if you care at all about science and progress is an article by Professor William Neal Reynolds in the Financial Times. (Link from the Creative Commons blog.)

Reynolds discusses the online availability, or otherwise, of the reports of scientific research which is funded by the public purse. He draws attention, not unreasonably, to the greed -- sorry, profit-making instincts -- of the commercial publishers of learned journals. More importantly, however, he highlights the irony of the fact that the world wide web is not being fully exploited by the scientific community.

The web was invented by a scientist as an aid to scientific communication. 'In every other area of life,' Reynolds points out, 'commerce, social networking, pornography - it has been a smashing success. But in the world of science itself? With the virtues of an open web all around us, we have proceeded to build an endless set of walled gardens, something that looks a lot like Compuserv or Minitel and very little like a world wide web for science.'

Similar issues were discussed here a few weeks ago in relation to the Martin Rundkvist-edited collection of papers on scholarly journals.

Publishers Lunch tells me that Deirdre Knight of the Knight Agency has just sold an erotic novella by Joey W. Hill to Berkley Heat. It turns out, on investigation, that Joey is one of those highly productive pulp-type authors who produce at a prodigious rate. Pulp-type, by the way, carries no pejorative overtones at all; quite the reverse.

And Joey is a she, also by the way.

The same agent has also sold another (similar) erotic novella to Berkley Heat, this time by Jaci Burton. And guess what -- Jaci is productive too. Also she.

Ansible 242 explains that, in the eyes of any halfway educated science-fiction fan, Jeanette Winterson is making a fool of herself with her latest novels and pronouncements upon same. Pity. Seems like a nice girl. Literary people never seem to learn that you can't just dash off a novel which attempts to use genre conventions without having spent a good many years acquainting yourself with those conventions.

You know what the Booker prize reminds me of? Football.

In England, football (with the round ball; David Beckham-type game) is immensely popular, and it occupies acres of newsprint. Even the Times has a weekly supplement devoted to it. And the characters and the background stories are really quite interesting. It's just that the game itself is absolutely unwatchable. Nothing happens for hours at a time, and when it does it's childish play-acting and cheating.

Same with the Booker. The personalities and the gossip and the bookies' odds are not without interest, and the Bookseller provides as good a summary as any. But the books... Nah, forget 'em.


Thomas said...

On the O'Henry theme: It seems a recurring occurence in the arts that people will borrow the names of some famous dead artist and attach it to an award whose winners bear no resemblance to the artist after which it is named. The Turner prize is another good example.

But its even worse than this. I've seen plays by dead playrights in which the producers re-wrote the thing according to their own tastes and yet still had the cheek to ascribe the famous writers name to it. Why they can't just do the play as it was wrote I do not know.

But if all this is annoying in the arts, this pecuilar form of human behaviour is even more heineuous in other walks of life.

For centuries men have decided to get toghether and set out to slaughter, rape and pillage. Well, that's fine if that's your cup of tea, but these people have to go one step further and appropriate the name of Christ -- that famous war-monger -- as though he sanctions and approves of their activities.

People will always live life according to their own ideas; but to sanctify these and give them more importance they always appropriate the names of the players of history, even if they act in complete contradiction to to the philosophy of that player.

Thomas said...

On the football/booker prize mataphor: well, I suppose it works if you don't like football.

But here's a contrast between the two: people appreciate great football, they appreciate the best. Thus the likes of Zola, Henry and Bergkamp are awarded player of the year.

If the Booker prize factor was present, it would be the likes of David Batty, Lee Dixon and Danny Mills who would win these awards and the judges would come out and say 'we cant think of a more skilfull player in the entire world,' 'he's simply genius,' 'incredible talent and skill, an accomplished master.' 'A pure joy to watch.' Even though they were just a bunch of talentless fools.

You see it seems to me that people can appreciate sporting ability somehow and are not resentful of it. Even though they may hate the stars themselves they can enjoy the product of their skill.

But in contrast, skillful writing or art somehow threatens the average mortal: it is a difficult thing to admit that XYZ or such and such is a great piece of art. Thus in the arts people shut their eyes to what is great and concentrate on what is not great, i.e. things that flatter their intelligence. Thus the Booker Prize.

And one final thing. Football management -- perhaps because it involves thinking -- is more like the Booker prize. Thus Jose Mourinhio fails to achieve even one manager of the month, whilst a non-entity and confused fool like Maclaren secures the England job.

Anonymous said...

"Greed" was a fine choice of words for the silliness going on with scientific papers. $150 for one page from the Journal of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology? The last nanotechnologist I talked to could never afford that.

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