Friday 21 December 2007

4 Books

I’m selling something: books. Four of them, and they are good books, and each of them is roughly the price of a packet of cigarettes, and I am not being very successful, just now, at selling them. A few are out in the world, making their way, but most are in boxes, around me. They are published by CB editions, which is me. Here they are:

I know very little about most things but I do know something about books. I have read many, and written a few, and have worked in publishers’ offices for donkey’s years, and when I say these are good books, trust me. They have sentences in them that will do things to you that nothing else can, and you think: how did he, or she, do that, with those words?

I like that, when I read: to be surprised, and made to wonder. It doesn’t happen often. One of the reasons for what I seem to be doing is that so few of the books I sit at this desk copy-editing (and typesetting, proofreading) have this unexpectedness; and if no one else was going to put these particular four books between covers – all of which, I believe, do have this quality – then I had to do so myself.

The other day I picked up a couple of publishers’ catalogues for spring 2008; now they are in the bin, because they promised so much but were so quickly depressing. Like porn mags: the over-designed come-and-get-me covers, the hype, the sultry or solemn or pouting faces. Doubtless there are some good books in there; I do believe this; but paraded like this, they blur into one another. Publishing – mainstream publishing – is in a bad way. And the argument from the more high-minded ones that they have to publish celebrity biogs, etc, in order to subsidise the poetry, etc, doesn’t wash. The end never justifies the means. They publish the safe-bet high-gloss stuff in order to survive in the manner they’ve become accustomed to: big offices, large staff, multimedia promotion campaigns. To publish good books you don’t need any of that.

There are, thank god, some fine and noble publishers around. They tend to be small ones. Telegram Books, for instance, which I’ve only recently found – wonderful.

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