Monday, July 18, 2005

Resisting temptation to buy an expensive book

In today's blog :
Resisting temptation
Patrick O'Brian and Dirk Bogarde biographies
Book Lust
To Kill a Mockingbird
Richard Curtis on books in the 21st century
Prostituting John Murray?

Resisting the temptation to buy an expensive book

Browsing in a St Peter Port bookshop this week, I was almost irresistibly tempted to buy a biography of Patrick O'Brian by his stepson Nikolai Tolstoy.

But it was a hardback priced at £20 sterling [ you can check the equivalent in your own currency here] and I felt that was an extravagant amount to spend when almost certainly a much cheaper paperback edition will be published next year.

Also I already own the paperback of Dean King's comprehensive biography of O'Brian and I hadn't read any reviews of the new biography. So I resisted temptation, a decision applauded by my husband, also a fan of O'Brian but also someone who thinks twice before he spends serious money.

'They call £20 serious money? What kind of crackpots are these people?' you may be thinking. All will be explained in my memoirs. Meanwhile the short answer is : if you've ever been seriously hard-up, in later life you never spend money thoughtlessly. Or not if you've got a particle of sense.

Patrick O'Brian and Dirk Bogarde biographies

Talking of memoirs, I didn't jib at paying £13 in 1986 for Backcloth which Sir Dirk Bogarde (1921- 1999), film star and writer, thought would be the final volume of his autobiography. In 1993 I spent £16 on what actually was his last memoir, A Short Walk From Harrods.

But when John Coldstream's biography of Bogarde came out last year, I decided to wait for the paperback. Vain, waspish…and a consummate artist was the heading on Michael Coveney's review for The Guardian newspaper in October 2004. Coveney wrote
I am surprised that Coldstream and other Bogarde supporters have taken umbrage at the serialisation of this book in the Daily Mail, claiming that a serious hagiography was sensationally distorted. It was not. Coldstream, a former literary editor of the Daily Telegraph who knew Bogarde as a contributor to his pages for seven years, does a warts and all job on the actor and should have known, when selling to the Mail, that the warts would be of most interest to them. Coldstream is admirably even-handed in trotting out bad reviews and charting Bogarde's retreat into bitterness.

The paperback of the Bogarde biog. comes out in August. You might want to read another review by Mansel Stimpson

Getting back to the Tolstoy biog. of O'Brian, a Google search for reviews led to a site where, judging by first impressions, I may become a regular visitor. It's the New Zealand Listener "the country's only national, weekly current affairs and entertainment magazine" covering the political, cultural and literary life of NZ. Founded in 1939, it is edited by Pamela Stirling who, commenting on the fact that the Listener had been chosen as 2005 Magazine of the Year Supreme Winner by the Magazine Publishers Association, wrote –
Twelve months ago, we sat down as a team and worked out, with your feedback, how best to take this magazine forward. Our vision was to honour the past and create the future – as a truly world-class magazine; a magazine that has, as the judges put it, "leadership in the current affairs sector" and one that is "spirited, with a new look, new ideas and depth".

At the magazine's website I found a review headed The other life of Patrick Russ [which was O'Brian's real name] by Hugh Roberts.

There was no potted bio under the review but, later, I discovered that Hugh Roberts, is Associate Professor, English and Comparative Literature, at the University of California, Irvine.

It was the closing paragraph of his review which confirmed that not splurging on the hardback was a good decision. He wrote -
Tolstoy knew the adult O'Brian well and I'm willing to trust his description of the man, if not of his past. But if you, like me, love O'Brian's novels, then my advice would be to stick with the author you imagine and spare yourself this sad imposter's dreary tale. Perhaps, after all, Patrick Russ's greatest creation was the character "Patrick O'Brian" – a man who, unlike him, had sufficient empathy and generosity to write the Aubrey/Maturin novels.

Of course anyone who never buys hardbacks will have boring-looking bookshelves. But mine are already laden with hardbacks so I don't feel the need to add to them unless an irresistible gardening, art or travel book comes out.

Book Lust

I don't know why it has taken me so long to find Book Lust: Recommended Reading for Every Mood, Moment, and Reason by the recently retired American librarian Nancy Pearl. But better later than never.
When Booklist asked Pearl about the provenance of her new book, her answer struck us as the dream of every writer and book lover. "The publisher came to me," she confided, "with the idea of doing a book of recommended reading--incorporating all sorts of books, old and new, fiction and non, for all ages. They wanted it to be friendly and inviting, to sound like I was talking to people who shared my love of reading and good books and wanted some ideas of what to read next."
The publisher certainly approached the right person for the job…it was her brilliant and much-imitated idea to get all the readers in her hometown to read the same book at the same time and join discussion groups about it. The idea has spread from city to city across the country…Pearl sees this book as a personal milestone. "It's the book that I think my whole life (and career as a librarian) has been leading toward. I basically went through my bookcases at home, where I have managed to accumulate most of my favorite books, and figured out categories they would go in." She came up with almost 200 categories…

You'll find the above, and more, by typing Book Lust at Amazon, plus perhaps the best bit of all -
And here's permission from an expert to do what many of us cannot give ourselves permission to do: quit reading a book after 50 pages if we're not enjoying ourselves. As hard as that is to act upon ("but surely it'll get better in another few pages..."), think about how many more books you'd have time to read if you skip the last 250 pages of every book you're really not loving.

To Kill a Mockingbird

"Harper Lee is one of the most influential writers of this century. To Kill a Mockingbird has brought pleasure and inspiration and direction in life to millions of people. It has never been out of print and continues to have a place on many kinds of 'Best Of' lists."

That commenbt comes from a site put up by
Jane Kansas
. I like her answer to the question : Do you answer homework questions?

Less and less often. Rude abrupt requests with no salutations, and poor spelling, don't inspire charity. However, students with thinking of their own to share, who can avoid sounding as if they are ordering burgers at a drive-through window might have a chance. Most need only read the pages or chapters in question and think about them for five minutes. Information is not knowledge and getting information is not thinking. More often it's just an easy way through an assignment.

This week I've been ploughing my way through To Kill a Mockingbird, finding it heavy going and wondering if it's one of those novels which are better read after seeing the movie. However the Guille-Allès Public Library copy of the video of the film, in which Gregory Peck plays Atticus Finch, is out on loan at the moment. Perhaps the reason I find the book dull is because the issues it deals with have been resolved, at least in the area where the story is set. Man's inhumanity to man continues elsewhere, but not there.

Richard Curtis on books in the 21st century

This blog is read by writers as well as readers and they won't want to miss an analysis of the past, present and future of publishing at Backspace – The Writer's Place by Richard Curtis, a leading New York literary agent. He is also the author of numerous works of fiction and nonfiction including several books about the publishing industry.

Like a world held between the gravitational pulls of two stars, the publishing industry is suspended between two great paradigms. One is the familiar industrial model built around tangible objects: bound volumes of paper manufactured on printing presses, warehoused in depots, transported in vehicles and sold in stores; the other, newly born, can be described as virtual. The sun of traditional publishing and bookselling has illuminated and warmed us for a millennium, but it is unquestionably fading, while the other, fueled by the prospect of direct communication between authors and readers independent of physical means of manufacture and distribution, scintillates with possibilities. In the balance lies the fate of one of civilization’s most precious artifacts, the book.

and goes on –
How is the transition from one system to the other affecting authorship today? What challenges can writers expect in the next few years? Is it possible to plot a course using coordinates that are not yet precisely fixed? In this series of articles I would like to describe the old and new models and speculate on how the roles of authors, editors, literary agents, booksellers, and even readers are changing – or must change – to adapt to evolving conditions.

Prostituting John Murray?

Under the heading 'John Murray dimmed', there's a letter in this week's issue of The Bookseller from Christopher Hurst of C Hurst & Co (Publishers) Ltd who writes –
The news that John Murray is being restructured by its new owners, Headline, to publish "high-quality commercial fiction [a possible contradiction in terms here?], aimed primarily at the female market" should induce feelings of nausea combined with rage in any member of the publishing community with a sense of propriety, not to mention history.

Mr Hurst goes on –
Why keep the illustrious John Murray name if they only want to prostitute it? This crime against the light is not unprecedented; those who acquired the also greatly honoured name of André Deutsch did the same. In its latter years Murray did not even publish fiction. Hearken to the spectral voices of John Murray I-VI, if not also to the living voice of JM VII: respect what we stood for – don't use our name at all if you cannot do better than this.

There are many John Murray books on my shelves. Patrick Leigh Fermor's Between the Woods and the Water and Edwardian Excursions from the Diaries of A C Benson 1989-1904 are the first two to catch my eye. I have nothing against popular fiction for women. I've spent a lot of my life writing it. But I have to agree with Christopher Hurst that Headline's plan is like buying a rare and beautiful Worcester dinner service for take-out TV suppers.

Coming next Sunday

'A moral dilemma for library users' and 'Thoughts about blogging' are still being held over.

If you wish to respond to any part of today's blog, you can hit the comment button or email me direct.