Friday, 27 June 2008


The V&A was once advertised as a good café with a museum attached; Jennie’s 24 for 3 is becoming a ‘story’ with a book attached.

A little perspective on this: a man writes a book (a short one; whether it’s any good is not for him to say) and self-publishes it, though he disguises this process by using a pseudonym; when the book receives some public attention in the form of a prize, it becomes the subject of a ‘news’ story. (We’re not talking global here, we’re talking the Standard and the local Gazette – which this week describes me as a ‘prankster’: fine old newspaper word, does anyone use it real life? But it’s not scale that interests me, it’s why anyone is taking any notice at all.)

Confusion, I think, is what it’s about. Firstly, no one (even – especially – booksellers) seems to be sure whether a self-published book is a ‘proper’ book at all. (Despite the Hogarth Press, Eliot at Faber, all that.) Secondly, people expect authors to be who they say they are on the title page. Thirdly, a male writer taking a female pseudonym (or vice versa) introduces the whole tangle of gender, a word which quickly translates on newspaper placards into ‘sex’ – and about that we’re in as much of a muddle as we ever were. (Without that third element I doubt the story would have got into print.)

I’m in favour of confusion, which is why I’m enjoying all this. (Though sometimes clarification would help. I’m thinking of using a distributor for the new CBe books but still can’t really figure out the difference between a wholesaler and distributor; all explanations welcome.)

This afternoon, wanting to show someone why I’m looking at other printers for the CBe books – flaps! I want flaps! – I picked one of the lovely Pushkin Press books off the shelves in Foyles; putting it back I saw its title: Confusion (Stefan Zweig). On the way home I got off the Tube, went up the steps, realised I’d got off a stop early, went down again, got on a train going back in the direction I’d come from. I was reading a novel by David Markson called This Is Not a Novel, and had reached the page on which there is this (from Tristram Shandy):

‘–And who are you? said he. –Don’t puzzle me; said I.’

No comments: