Sunday 23 November 2008

The good, the bad

Last year a friend met someone at a party who recommended a book and said he’d send her a copy and she didn’t really expect it to arrive, this was just one of those things people say at parties, but the book came – sent by Bill Samuel, vice chair of Foyles.

The above photo was taken in Foyles Charing Cross Road last week. When Foyles say they’ll order books, they mean it. And then they sell them, because that’s their job.

We like Foyles. And one or two others, who also follow through. John Sandoe’s, obviously; the Broadway Bookshop in Hackney; Daunts in Holland Park.

The link between what people say and what they actually do is rarely so straightforward. I used to work at Faber (whose CEO, Stephen Page, is described in the Guardian as ‘a cheerleader for an independent sector that has been buffeted by the increasing dominance of large rivals’). Last year, out of the 20 or 30 people there I worked with, drank with, gossiped with, two people bought CBe books. This year they still say nice things but not one has bought a book.

Thursday 20 November 2008

A nosh: replay

Remember Giles Coren's OTT letter to The Times subs of a few months ago? (They'd removed an indefinite article.) If you don't, it's here.

Now this. Brilliant. Oscars all round.

Wednesday 12 November 2008


I’ve seen the future, and it sucks. Westfield, the biggest in-city shopping mall in Europe, half a mile down the road, thanks. 265 shops, 50 places to eat. In the words of its website: ‘You’ve never seen anything like this in London before. A central Atrium the size of a football pitch, 16-metre wide malls fashioned from marble with decorative swirls of granite and an exclusive, boutique-style enclave devoted to luxury brands all combine to create a truly captivating experience. Once you’re here, you’ll never want to leave . . .’

For leave, read live. I went there today (because there’s a Foyles, and maybe they’d like to stock the locally produced CBe books) with an open mind, honest, because Hamish, my friend down the road who used to run a wine bar and then became a maths teacher, went there a week ago to buy a pair of socks and came back surprisingly even-tempered, not ranting at all. But it’s hideous. It’s cheap, it’s nasty, it’s almost as bad as Heathrow (it may be worse, I haven’t decided), it has that deadening over-warm used-air smell, and H&M (according to my son, who has a friend who works there) took in a quarter of a million on the opening day.

I’ve already done, in a column in my local paper, my grumpy-old-man piece about Westfield as a temple of consumerism, whose ruins will in a few thousand years inspire wacky theories about the civilisation that built it: liberty defined as the freedom to buy what you want, etc. So today no arguments, just horror.

And then, recovering (wine, cigarettes), I think of that American journalist who went to the Soviet Union in 1921 and said ‘I’ve seen the future and it works.’ He was wrong. That particular future killed its own people, millions of them. There are others.

Tuesday 11 November 2008


Another online review of Lichtenberg & The Little Flower Girl here. Good. There are at least a couple of online reviewers I trust and respect more than almost anyone writing in print, but it’s hard to overturn the quaint convention whereby newspaper reviews are considered of higher status than online reviews.

We need column inches to get booksellers interested in stocking the books. Should we publish novels by former New Labour spin doctors? But if one such came along, quite apart from not being able to afford the required advance I doubt I’d think it worth publishing anyway.

Friendly fire

Feeling picky today, and as nothing’s off-limits I’ll go for the websites of small independent publishers. It’s nice to see The Celestial Omnibus, a little-known collection of stories by E. M. Forster, published by Snowbooks, but to categorise it as ‘Crafts’ is barmy and the sales blurb (‘Great for gift’) has been written by the person who translates manuals for cheap washing machines from the Japanese. Have they actually read the book? There’s a video on the site showing you how to create ‘a 20 page, 60 title catalogue in under a minute’, so you’d think they’d have time to. The same writer turns up on the website of Social Disease: ‘Established as an antidote to publishers who slavishly pander to so-called market forces and therefore rejecting great books as a corollary, Social Disease began as a monthly Literary Mini-zine publishing incredible short stories.’ This can only mean that it's the deliberate policy of Social Disease to reject great books. Which may be true, but it’s not the only thing odd about that sentence. Both the above publishers have received Arts Council funding.

Monday 3 November 2008

Paris Ponge

Here is Beverley Bie Brahic, showing off her CBe Ponge selection and her own book of poems in the Red Wheelbarrow bookstore in Paris. (Which looks nice: vertical books, horizontal books, teetering piles of books. Is there a word, by the way, for that ache in your neck you get after you’ve been reading the spines on the shelves – keeping your head titled to the right – for some time? The French, I think, print their spines the opposite way round, so in a French-English store it would even out.)

If you happen to be in Paris on 25 November you can hear BBB reading at the Red Wheelbarrow. If you happen to be San Francisco on 25 January you can hear her reading at the City Lights bookstore. If you’re stuck in the UK you’ll just have to buy the book and read it here.