Friday, 30 July 2010

‘A, B and C are limited, self-satisfied and arrogant, says D’

It could be Rooney, Terry and Ferdinand, says Fabregas. It could very easily be that. But it happens to be McEwan, Barnes and Rushdie (et al), says Josipovici. Yesterday the Guardian, after talking to Gabriel Josipovici about his forthcoming book from Yale, What Ever Happened to Modernism?, printed the result as a news story; it was followed up by two pieces on a news page in the Evening Standard.

Josipovici’s thinking about the novel is not news. It has developed over decades of engagement with the form and can be tracked through his own novels and critical work over that period. It has contributed to a way of thinking about fiction, and books that are worth the writing and worth the reading, that goes back a long way, but happens to differ from the ways in which fiction is usually reviewed, ranked and even recognised at all by the mainstream media.

The Guardian knows this. But its only way of ‘covering’ books outside the review pages is to translate them into news, which involves the reduction of any variation of ideas to a playground conflict between named names. Other staple set pieces in this books-as-news genre are prizes (the myth of the ‘best’ book); accusations of plagiarism; insult and gossip (as in Ruth Padel’s candidacy for the Oxford professorship of poetry). All of these trade on the cult of personality – of which Josipovici is deeply critical, but of which, in becoming ‘news’, he has now himself become a victim.

Publishers, who need publicity for their books, collude in this process. I collude in it: by writing this, and by not neglecting to mention that Josipovici’s novel Only Joking will be published by CBe in October. So am I pleased with the publicity now attending to Josipovici? I fear that the reception of his new work (as well as the Yale book and the CBe book, there’s a new and selected stories from Carcanet in October) will be coloured by certain phrases (‘embittered academic’, for godsake; there are worse terms for the sub-ed who conjured that, but he/she won’t have to face the music) printed yesterday. I hope that people will read the books and respond directly to those.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Markson’s books

David Markson’s bookshelves, as anyone who’s read This Is Not a Novel will know, must have been well-stocked – decades of reading, of eclectic hunting-and-gathering, of turned-down corners and underlinings and ecstatic or pugnacious marginal comments. He died in early June. What happened to those books? See here.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Where are the toilets?

Prodded, cajoled, etc, I’ve stumbled into Facebook. It’s like starting a new school: what happens down that corridor / behind that door? Where are the toilets? Can I go home now? Some of the rules I don’t understand (why is the email address for CBe ‘invalid’?). To make a CBe page , I first have to sign in as me; there do seem to be ways of inviting folk directly to become ‘members’ of the CBe page, but the method the system appears to like best is for me first to invite a load of ‘friends’ over to my place (which is going to suffer from neglect and dust) and then to suggest they move across to the CBe place (which may be a little busier and tidier). As in all systems, assumptions are being made.

But oh, look, there is Jane, and there is Michael, and it may be OK after all.

Sunday, 25 July 2010


The top photo is of an old window frame I found on the pavement yesterday, now on the wall. The lower one is an old drawer I found a few years ago, also on the pavement, now with ships added and also on the wall. I seem to have a thing (a typesetter’s thing?) about grids.

Not crosswords or sudoku, which I can’t manage at all. With those, what you enter into the grid is either right or it’s wrong; the content is predetermined. The window frame and the drawer are more like traditional forms of poetry, a sonnet or a ballad; the structure is a given, you don’t have to worry about that, but as for how you fill them in – and how you make the content play with or against the structure – the possibilities are infinite.

Two years ago I went to the house of an art collector in north London. Except that he didn’t collect paintings, he collected frames – hundreds of them, all over the house, carefully hung, empty. Well, yes; but they were lifeless things, waiting for something to happen inside them.


Someone used this word in an email to me on Friday night, and then there it was again on Saturday in a brief review in the Financial Times of Marjorie Ann Watts’s ‘slightly left-field stories’ in Are they funny, are they dead? (‘The feistiness of her heroines . . . would surely have pleased the late Angela Carter.’)

I naturally lean to that side, I’m left-handed. Not really relevant, but so was Morandi, of whom John Berger wrote: ‘That he was left-handed is, I feel, important, but I do not know why.’

Thursday, 22 July 2010

The same but better

The re-jigged website is live today. Not wholly new: that’s still my father in the rear-view mirror, still driving along in the 1940s, still with a packet of Gauloises in the glove compartment and still before he met my mother (and he could so easily have turned right instead of left or gone straight on but he didn’t). But a lot of tinkering: for each of the books there’s more information and review quotes, and excerpts you can download. They’re grouped in two and threes; economy, but there’s also the suggestion that if you’re buying this, you may want to buy that as well. Like browsing along a shelf.

The standard price for all the books is now £7.99 – which is up from £7.50 for many of them but still cheaper than equivalent books from just about any other publisher you can name, big or little. And see this: FREE DELIVERY for all books ordered from the site. So for most orders, despite the book price going up, you get them for less than before.

(The system to date, which has loaded a P&P charge onto all orders, has been swings-and-roundabouts: those in the UK ordering a single slim book have usually been paying more than the actual postage, those ordering from abroad have been paying less. The somewhat basic paying package doesn’t allow much fine tuning; setting different P&P rates for different regions in the world would have meant adding a hideous number of buttons; so let’s just scrap P&P altogether. Simpler. Easier.)

Whether it makes it makes any kind of financial sense I’ll find out. I’m hoping, of course, that more kind people will buy books from the site, now that they don’t have to pay an extra 20 per cent for me to send them off. I’m hoping too that those buying from Texas and Timbuktu will think of how far the books are travelling and maybe feel moved to press the DONATE button. There it is, on the About & News page. A little thing, adding a voluntary element to the whole process.

First dozen people to use that Donate button and enter a a fiver or more get sent a copy of the US edition of Jennie Walker’s 24 for 3 (‘I loved it,’ said Mick Jagger of the CBe edition, which is now out of print).

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Czy nas znaja?

I can’t tell you much about this, other than that it’s a Polish website page about ‘Polish books that conquered the world’, and the UK section has three books and two of those are CBe books, Bursa and Grabinski, both translated by Wiesiek Powaga.

(Yellow covers on that page, I’m afraid, veering on bilious. For the rejigged CBe website, due later this month, there’ll be proper scans of the true brown.)

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Suspicion, disbelief, trust: Knight Crew

Let’s go back a few steps.

Tonight on BBC2 is the final programme in the Gareth Malone series about the making of the opera Knight Crew at Glyndebourne (and you know, you just know, it will have a triumphal ending: that’s the genre). Before the TV series was the opera, before the opera was the book, and before the book became a book there was a writer who went into a prison.

The piece by Nicky Singer that I’m linking to here isn’t really about writing at all, and though it says a lot about prisons it’s not really about them either; it’s more about the things that writing can and sometimes should be about. Don’t go there unless you’ve got 20 minutes to spare. (Which really isn’t long, compared to a prison sentence of five and a half years.) But if you do have the time, go.

(And then you might care to buy the book. ‘Out of stock’ at Amazon, as usual, but over the next two weeks I’ll match their price if you buy it from the CBe website.)