Sunday 25 April 2010

The amazon reviews kerfuffle

Orlando Figes was clearly an idiot not to admit he’d written the ‘malicious’ reviews himself, and to make blustering threats of lawsuits, but Friday’s Guardian piece by Robert Service is so wretchedly written and silly that I suspect Figes’ reviews may have been not so much malicious as perfectly accurate. Instead of spending his week eating sea bass and running on Walthamstow marshes and going to a concert where a piece by his wife’s grandfather was played and getting stuck in a traffic jam and worrying about not getting on with his next book and being altogether unsure ‘whether I could stand the tension any longer’, Service should simply have challenged Figes to a duel. Pistols at dawn, outside the Amazon warehouse.

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Empty roads

John Sandoe’s bookshop last Sunday had sold out of its initial order of 10 copies of Are they funny, are they dead? and were awaiting more. It’s on Sandoe’s list of recommended titles for the spring: ‘These short stories range from poignant glimpses on the Home Front in WW2 to surprising vignettes of life in contemporary North London. A first book by an elderly author, this collection is unlikely to command much space in the Sunday papers, but it is a gem.’

(Note that this recommendation complies with BSI number whatever. Titles listed in the chainstores’ seasonal lists of recommended book don’t comply: they’re there because the publishers have paid for them to be there.)

At the London Book Fair, where the number of empty desks and stands made it feel like driving in London over Christmas, I meandered and loitered and bumped into people I used to work with ten years ago, twenty, more. (Though not Bookseller Crow, who was there on the same day: note the books his ticket is perched on.) So a good day; but apart from these encounters, and the opportunity it gives some publishers to show that my-stand-is-bigger-than-yours, I still don’t know what the fair is for.

Friday 16 April 2010

3 for 2, sort of

I got sent eight Faber poetry books today: Ian Hamilton, Collected Poems; Stephen Spender, Selected Poems; Lachlan McKinnon, Small Hours; Frederick Seidel, Ooga Booga; Andrew Motion, The Cinder Path; Don Paterson, Rain; Valerio Magrelli, The Embrace, trans. Jamie McKendrick; Hugo Williams, West End Final. Page extents between 64 and 160 pages, cover prices beween £9.99 and £14.99: each a bargain relative to 40 cigarettes, and ridiculously expensive relative to the CBe books.

They keep coming. A year ago I called up to say thank you but really I don’t need all these books, and shelf space is finite; and was told I’m on a list, and it would be more trouble to take me off the list than let things ride; so here are these eight ...

Usually I take some of them down to Notting Hill Books (W8 4RT), a lovely place. But for the above, here’s the deal: order two CBe books from the website and get one of the Faber lot thrown in free (say which you want in the ‘instructions to merchant’ box in the PayPal routine). Or, if poetry isn’t your thing, a copy of the hardback US edition of Jennie Walker’s 24 for 3, retitled The Rules of Play, of which I seem to have a lot of copies.

Those who travel free on buses

Eleanor Ross Taylor has won a big US poetry award. To say I knew nothing of her work before is also to acknowledge one of the more benign aspects of the prizes game – that it can bring the work of relatively unknown writers to new readers. The reporting, of course, focuses less on Ross Taylor’s work than on her age: ‘little-known 90-year-old’. Gosh, shock-horror, old people can write. As if we’d forgotten that there are other qualities and virtues than those monopolised by the young, and among them if not exactly wisdom then at least the kind of perspective that only experience can bring. The average age of the four writers published by CBe in 2010 is eighty-something.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Are they funny, are they dead?

Are they funny, are they dead? by Marjorie Ann Watts – a collection of stories described by Salley Vickers as ‘shrewdly observed and wickedly funny’ – is available now from the CBe website and (for trade orders) from Central Books. Back in a a previous era of publishing, before ebooks and email and indeed e-anything, the author worked as an art editor and illustrator of children’s books (including Catherine Storr’s Marianne Dreams) and wrote and illustrated a series of her own books for children. These new stories are for adults – their subjects include death, the slipperiness of memory and the absurdities of the emotional tangles in which adults get caught up – but they are written with a childlike alertness and irreverence, and a sense of wonder too. Try them.

Audio recordings of two of the stories are downloadable from Spoken Ink. Spoken Ink is a fine place: devoted to the short story, it includes recordings of work by contemporary writers (both the ones you’ve heard of – James Salter, Margaret Atwood, A. S. Byatt, A. L. Kennedy – and the ones you haven’t, yet) and by the old masters too (Kipling, Chekhov, Joyce, Wilde, Poe, Conan Doyle, many others).