Last week, I heard someone say they were surprised by the news that Blockbuster had gone into administration – surprised, because they didn’t know Blockbuster was still going. Very tongue-in-cheek, but then what isn’t funny about the impending closure of a major high street retailer, the loss of thousands of jobs, and a further move to consolidate online retailing in the hands of a select few business megaliths?
For all that BookMachine is emphatically not a site about the merits of individual books, it hopefully doesn’t come as a shock to any regular visitors that we’re all readers nonetheless, and that, as readers, we enjoy some books more than others. For my last post of the year, then – and, to be honest, mainly so I seemed less onanistic than if I had done this alone – I asked my fellow contributors to the site to pitch in on the best things we read this year. Stick two fingers up to the Mayans and join us when we return in January.
In a case we might call The Plot Against the Literati, were we at the intersection where readers familiar with the work of Philip Roth meet babbling, hyperbolic idiocy (we have never claimed to be familiar with the work of Philip Roth, ohohoho etc.), this past weekend saw the selfsame author of Portnoy’s Complaint and American Pastoral take to the pages of The New Yorker to pen an open letter/potential future memoir chapter directed at Wikipedia.
In the latest in a series of slow news day-saving incidents that we might as well group together under the headline ‘Chris has had a long, tiring day and needs a big, fat, easy target’, full-time Fifty Shades of Grey cheerleader and occasional novelist Bret Easton Ellis has once again refused to let a piffling thing like flat-out rejection by its makers stand in the way of his weighing in on every aspect of the book’s forthcoming cinematic adaptation. Remember when people used to freely admit to reading Bret Easton Ellis? Weird times.
The Guardian points to a particularly nausea-inducing case of cross-platform synergy – more than usual, even, where the words ‘cross-platform synergy’ are concerned – courtesy of those loveable pseuds at Chicken Soup for the Soul, the self-described ‘famous book publisher and world leader in life improvement, inspiration and wellness’. The world’s fuzziest purveyor of vague, unquantifiable claims (which is also a registered trademark that has laid claim to the url chickensoup.com) is no longer just a metaphor for the life lessons you can learn from your cat or NASCAR, but will soon give your actual insides a tangible hug with its new line of soups, if by ‘a tangible hug’ you mean ‘diarrhoea, probably’.
Now usually I don’t do this, but uh, go ahead and break ’em off with a little preview of the memoir: now I’m not trying to be rude, but hey R. Kelly has a book, the way he dishes out them truths reminds me of Margaret At-a-wood, that’s why I’m trying to tip the scale, reading you The Handmaid’s Tale, so that reference I just made doesn’t have you saying ‘what the hay-ell?’, so baby gimme that toot toot, lemme give you that peep peep, running her hands cross my shelves, while we’re reading ourselves, and… something, something, uh, elves – it’s the memoir of R. Kelly, you’ve seen him on the telly, trying to cover his scandals just like he’s Machiavelli…
Can’t say there’s been much news this week – no big mergers to report, and no-one has invented the Next Big Thing to save/destroy publishing, which leaves me discussing something rather close to my own heart. Something I see all too often when I’m trawling Twitter, or browsing pins, or trying unsuccessfully to suppress a rage-induced hernia while posting on Facebook. Something more horrifying than a Justin Beiber fan and more plentiful than 50 Shades of Grey knockoffs.
In what is fast proving to be a bad year for beloved, revered authors who have shaped the minds of entire generations, Ray Bradbury died yesterday, aged 91, at his home in Los Angeles. His massively influential body of work included such seminal touchstones of the fantastic as The Illustrated Man, The Martian Chronicles, Something Wicked This Way Comes and, of course, Fahrenheit 451. No word yet on whether his passing was a deliberate move on Bradbury’s part to spite the publisher who last year forced his hand on the digitisation of his work that he had for so long resisted. He was an ornery sort, so I wouldn’t put it past him (if I may once again quote the great man: ‘to hell with you and to hell with the internet’).
It’s a jarring moment when you first realise there aren’t any gay superheroes in the mainstream (i.e. an Avenger or some kind of -man with an animal or the word ‘super’ at the start of his name. There’s a couple of X-Men, and there were a couple of secondary characters implied to be such in Watchmen, but don’t get me started on whether or not Alan Moore’s nut jobs even count as superheroes). It’s a bit like realising that Obama is the first sitting US President to make public his support for legalising gay marriage: this doesn’t feel like a conversation we should still be having this far into the 21st century.
Between the re-publication of Mein Kampf and the revelation that Osama Bin Laden liked to keep up on his correspondence (which at least explains all those missives to the Daily Mail signed ‘Outraged of Abbottabad’ that were uncharacteristically gay-friendly by the paper’s usual standards), this is very much shaping up to be the summer of the dead megalomaniacal tyrant in the world of letters.
Well, here’s another one to throw on the pile and set alight in an ironic tribute to the fallen despots: Raghad Saddam Hussein – daughter of… eh, let’s say George Foreman – is shopping around international publishing rights to Hussein Sr.’s memoirs which, like Bin Laden’s letters, are handwritten. What is it with these guys and writing manuscripts by hand? Man, you’d think they lived in a cave or something.
There’s been a lot of bad shit going on in publishing of late. Stuff that genuinely makes me worried, and I think rightfully so, about the future of the industry. But hell, if the Frankfurt Book Fair is the Glastonbury of the publishing industry, then surely London Book Fair is Reading, where a bunch of publishing people get together and share some ideas – though not app sales figures – and rock out to some cool conference sessions, and, from what I understand, share the love for authors and books. Which is why I think it’s the perfect time to take some advice from The Singing Detective (yes, that’s a thing) and accentuate the positives.
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