Thursday, July 30, 2009

So Long Borders Oxford Street

Hello Lots of Books I Probably Won't Read

(Don't worry, there's a QB preview quiz down below. Just scroll down past the free-wheeling tat. It's Kerouac's Big Sur all over again)

Not being a London denizen at this moment in time, I was completely unaware that that Big Book Shop in the middle of filthy touristy makey me really angry Oxford Street was shutting shop ('tis the rent/recession/downsizing/Amazon - blame them all). So when I was chaperoning someone to the capital today I popped in and found MASSIVE discounts.

Pity it was the equivalent of literary vapours lurking round the store, as it had been going on for near on two weeks and I had missed the real scrummaging for the most tasty stuff.

Which is lucky, cos you know me. I can find really good wispy vapours. And loads of them, if I look hard enough.

I just buy buy buy books, because I want to build a suffocating fort of literature inside my bedroom (it's coming on really well, though I think I need more hardbacks) and we need good fire-fodder for the coming Mayan Apocalypse. Remember I am the kind of guy who has 389 books in his Amazon "Save for Later" Shopping Basket section.

Therefore my final tally was 21 books for £32. I mean, that's crazy, as in crazily good value. It made me think of hyenas stripping an elephant carcass, or that scene in Lord of War with the cargo plane.

In my case, I managed to find just a few books I might have bought had I already bought a load of books I wanted to buy first. Like the Schott's Almanac 2007, 2008 and 2009: £1 each (I knew they would go rock bottom cheap one day, and I was so right). Or the slightly disappointing despite the mucho media attention 2009 novels from (twatty young art scamp) Richard Milward and (I'm Not Just Mr. Zadie Smith) Nick Laird. Disappointing not in terms of my critical verdict (I mean, I just bought them today), but disappointing in that they turned out to be too insular to translate into really good sales. The numerous interviews went out and within a matter of months I find their £14.99 books being flogged for a quid. You could feel slightly sorry for them. Though, inevitably, I don't.

I read the Laird's plot off the hardback just to remind me what his new book was about, despite the fact I had read it in at least three reviews, and my eyes suddenly slid down like rusty shutters as my brain went into a kind of stultified trance. Apparently posh English people in London, a bit of sex, art, something really quite unexciting when you think about it, etc. I certainly wouldn't buy it were it not offered for 100 cupro-nickel pennies.

It's the London literary circle jerk innit? In the old days, writers could get away with a lack of ambition or real adventure and earn a decent living. Nowadays, don't we want something more from our novelists, though I shy away from using the dread word "concept"? Even if that's indicative of how jaded and pathetic we are; exhausted by multimedia bombardment; turned into freaks with the constant need to be judgemental and justify ourselves at the cost of any sense of true perspective.

And look, let's remind myself that I haven't actually read a single bloody word of Crispin's Glover?? (honestly, if I look up the title of Laird's novel it would really kill this buzz man), so I'll like, um, read it.

Then there was Mordecai Richler on Snooker, a Patricia Highsmith biog, an encyclopedia of "Focal Photography" (far better than the "Focal" makes it sound), another John Berger book I will never read (I own four, and only managed to get through 30 pages of Ways of Seeing, before it disappeared into the ether; the ether being the goddamned hellish mess in my room that's even irritating me to high heaven) .... and this could take all night, so I'll just say that when I paid 1/2 price for the only non-£1 books I bought - The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing and Angel by Elizabeth Taylor (no, not that Elizabeth Taylor, this Elizabeth Taylor) - I felt somehow conned. But that's the nature of goal adjustment, or whatever it's called, something to do with Amazon and Wired editor Chris Anderson's new sodding zeitgusty book, and free stuff and why we're just not appreciative enough of increased customer convenience. We merely think that we deserved the shopping breaks all along (because we bloody do).

Still, I was very annoyed they didn't have a copy of Wolf Hall left. I like Hilary Mantel's novels (Beyond Black was superb and I've always had a soft spot for the Tudors, no, not Those Tudors, even though James Frain's decent portrayal of TC may have helped me in my enthusiasm) and I am not ready to be violated with the £10.25 Amazon hardback price just yet. Of course, there was no chance there would be any left, but still a little harumph goes through me when I think about. I was also pissed off by tweenagers and their lack of book flicking etiquette. I mean, that was MY row. You don't go messing with MY row while I'm still going it with the fingers back and forth you know. Ooh it gets me all riled up, it does.

But come to think of it; it's not like I bought many books from that particular branch. I was far more likely to go in there when I wanted to save money on magazines and take a bunch (Blender, the New Yorker, Rolling Stone, Sight & Sound, even FHM, anything in fact I didn't feel like paying for) then go to a secluded corner of the shop (there were so many) and just read read away, with a nice neat psycho-pile.

Then, of course, a few times I actually did read entire graphic novels (300 can be done in about 20 minutes) and various non-fiction works, like whichever memoir Stuart Maconie brought out that week (surprisingly easy and quick to read when the afternoon stretches into a seeming infinity).

I know, I am a parasite riven with corruption. However, those magazines asked too much of my income, so I did the sensible thing. Anyway, that sensibility is now driving me on to the Charing Cross branch magazine rock with my bad, but entirely reasonable in this economic climate and the cutting in pagination and the general decline in quality magazine journalism, habit. When I get the chance.

So some books questions. It appears an appropriate time to conjure them up.

1. Which Bangladeshi writer was the Best First Book winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for her debut novel A Golden Age?
2. Which “newspaper” was “First published in September 1843 to take part” in “a serene contest between intelligence, which presses forward, and an unworthy, timid ignorance obstructing our progress”?
3. Created by Dale Messick, which glamorous, intrepid reporter debuted in a June 30, 1940 comic strip?
4. Which Italian poet, philosopher and philologist wrote the anti-Caesarean manifesto Pompeo in Egitto (‘Pompey in Egypt’; 1812) at the age of 14? His collection of notes, observations and aphorisms, the Zibaldone di pensieri, was published posthumously in seven volumes in 1898.
5. Who wrote the first published Australian Aboriginal novel, Wild Cat Feeling (1965), and its sequel, Wild Cat Screaming (1992), which chart the misfortunes of a part-Aborigine at the hands of the racist white establishment?
6. Controlled by Fininvest, Silvio Berlusconi’s family holding company, it was founded by an 18-year-old in 1907 in order to publish a magazine called Luce!. What is Italy’s biggest publishing company?
7. Who is said to have found his true vocation when he wrote the world’s first kiss-and-tell memoir, the 12-volume Histoire de ma vie, which he began in earnest by 1789?
8. The author Chyngyz Aitmatov died aged 79 on June 10, 2008, in Nuremberg, Germany. He is the best known figure in the literature of which country?
9. Sid James made an early appearance as a barman in the 1949 British gangster film No Orchids for Miss Blandish. It was based on whose 1939 debut novel of the same title?
10. Which 1797 poem ends: “He went like one that hath been stunned / And is of sense forlorn / A sadder and a wiser man, / He rose the morrow morn.”?








Answers to the Above
1. Tahmima Anam (b.1975). Her father, Mahfuz, is the editor of The Daily Star, Bangladesh’s most prominent English-language newspaper. Both her parents, who were freedom fighters, inspired the novel.
2. The Economist. Founded by James Wilson, it calls itself (and is registered in the UK as) a newspaper. Even though everyone can see it is a magazine.
3. Brenda Starr. Created for the Chicago Tribune Syndicate, she married the mysterious, eye patch-wearing Basil St. John and was played in a truly terrible 1989 film by Brooke Shields.
4. Giacomo Leopardi (1798-1837). Afflicted by deformity and spinal disease, the self-taught prodigy and self-described patriot commonly known as just "Leopardi" became infused with pessimism. In 1824, the confirmed classicist wrote the brief dialogue essays Le operette morali, and Canzoni and Versi collections.
5. Mudrooroo (aka Colin Johnson and Mudrooroo Narogin Nyoongah; b.1938)
6. Mondadori (Arnoldo Mondadori Editore S.p.A). Marina Berlusconi, Silvio’s first daughter, is its chairman. Founded in Ostiglia, Mantua, it is headquartered is in Segrate, Milan. Magazines in its portfolio include Grazia, Chi and Jack.
7. Giacomo Girolamo Casanova de Seingalt (1725-98). He did it as “the only remedy to keep from going mad or dying of grief”. Casanova died a librarian – writing the story of his life also relieved the high boredom of the job - in Duchcov, while working for Count Waldstein of Bohemia.
8. Kyrgyzstan. The name Chingiz has the same meaning as Genghis. His debut work published in Kyrgyz was White Rain (1954). His novel, Jamilya, appeared in 1958, while The Day Lasts More Than a Hundred Years was originally published in Russian in the literary magazine Novy Mir in 1980.
9. James Hadley Chase (1906-85). Chase was the pen-name of Rene Brabazon Raymond, who also used James L. Docherty, Ambrose Grant and Raymond Marshall. No Orchids was written in just six weeks after he was inspired by reading James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice.
10. ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ (by Samuel Taylor Coleridge)


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