Friday 29 October 2010

One writer, three publishers

A slightly Halloweenish picture of Gabriel Josipovici’s Heart’s Wings (Carcanet: clearly gloss-laminated), Only Joking (CBe: matt) and the Yale Modernism book in the window of Daunts, Holland Park, where the Carcanet and CBe books were launched last night, with glee and wine and fondness.

Sunday 24 October 2010


I forgive people a lot if they can turn a good sentence. Conversely, if someone can’t write, I tend to lose respect, even if they’re on the same side.

This is from a piece on what’s happening to the universities, written by a British academic who teaches History at Berkeley UC: ‘Inevitably these auditing systems produced not only greatly increased the amount of time academics spent talking or writing about the research or teaching they would do if they only had the time to do it. It also catalyzed the staggering growth of management personnel. New Labour only made things worse. Faced with the systematic under-funding of the universities, the expansion of student numbers (funding per student fell 40% from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, and the decline in real terms of academic salaries they answered the call of the last official review of higher education funding . . .’

Would I be happy for my children’s essays to be marked by this man? Would I really want to borrow a heap of money in order to be taught by him?

A few months ago I was shown a university magazine dedicated to explaining the research undertaken by the staff. It was jargon-ridden, un-edited, illiterate.

I do have a prejudice against academics. It’s based on the experience of copy-editing their books: many of them can’t write an interesting sentence, many of them can’t even transcribe accurately from a printed text in front of them. (This prejudice is aggravated by their excuses for returning their page proofs late – they are on sabbatical, or they have exam papers to mark – and the fact that they get paid much more than me.)

The mess that the universities are in – students too: a 17-year-old about to enter college is likely to graduate ‘with debts of at least £50,000 and were he to study in London that could rise to £90,000’ (figures from the Berkeley UC academic) – hardly bears thinking about. By which I mean, of course, that it needs a lot of thinking about, and writing about too. But the kind of writing that many academics put out (there are, of course, wonderful exceptions) helps no one.

I’m guessing that, as third-level educational institutions start to fall apart, smaller, more informal centres of learning may emerge. (I’m holding back on the publishing analogy.) No reason why they shouldn’t have charitable status, and so not be just for the rich. Many of the English so-called public schools were originally founded for, as Wikipedia puts it, ‘scholars from poor or disadvantaged backgrounds’.

Monday 18 October 2010

Cuts & slashes

& belt-tightening, for those who haven’t already sold their belts on Ebay and are making do with bits of string. And the novel is dead (Philip Roth: ‘I think always people will be reading them, but it’ll be a small group of people – maybe more people than now read Latin poetry, but somewhere in that range’). And here are some scary numbers (admittedly US ones, but still): 42% of college graduates never read another book after college; 80% of families did not buy or read a book last year; 70% of adults have not been in a bookstore in the last five years.

Yet in the past few weeks I’ve heard of four new small-scale publishing ventures set to start up in the coming months, and all of them focusing on books rather than ebooks (when is a book not a book?) or online publishing.

Cutbacks as the mothers and fathers of invention? Accident and coincidence? Or are these people simply perverse?

If you think of publishing as first of all a business – which is what the money-men insisted it was, when they moved in a couple of decades ago and demanded profit margins that publishing had never, as a rule, previously delivered, then yes, perverse. If you think of publishing as a vocation (an addictive one), in the way that writing is and maybe reading too, no. Publishers have as much right to starve in a garret as writers. This right is being asserted.

Saturday 9 October 2010

‘As good a place as any to start’

Nick Lezard in today’s Guardian on Josipovici’s Only Joking: ‘it is a complete pleasure’. Full review here.

Amazon, of course, list the book as ‘not in stock’. The relationship between them and ‘the idiosyncratic genius of CB editions’ (Lezard) was forged somewhere very far from heaven. The good people of The Book Depository do stock it. Or, of course, you can buy from the CBe website, here.

Wednesday 6 October 2010


The CBe edition of Christopher Reid’s The Song of Lunch is now officially an ex. Out of print. But we did have a lot of fun while it lasted. This was the agreed plan when Faber took it over; but as they never troubled to tell me the publication date of their edition I’ve been sauntering on, until yesterday, when I got a stern message to stop selling the CBe edition.

Also yesterday, the post included two copies of Vanitas, a US ‘journal of poetry, writings by artists, criticism, and essays’. I met the editor, Vincent Katz, two years ago. The new issue starts with a two-page email I sent him in November 2008. It now feels dated to me, and boring, except for maybe two sentences. ‘Seems to me that public funding can distort the literary scene just as much as the commercial pressures we all criticise the big publishers for bowing to.’ And: ‘I’m still amazed by what can be done with tiny amounts of money and one small contact leading to another.’

If you have a tiny amount of money going spare, consider (after buying a CBe book) this: And Other Stories. A coming together of various people, with various languages, deciding what it would be good to publish, and doing so.

A random Twitter encountered on the net, by someone unknown to me: ‘I’m currently reading a beautifully written, intelligent, crafty and deliciously readable book, called Only Joking, by Gabriel Josipovici.’ The 140-character limit didn’t stretch to a link, so here it is: Only Joking.