Sunday, July 30, 2006

Snoozing While Books Burn

Today apparently people in London are marching to burn a book, but there's been no mention of it in any TV or radio bulletin I've heard today and I can find none in The Observer, not even on the Books Pages. I can see that people might feel that the situation in Lebanon pushes other things out (though not, it seems, a full-page article about a 'movie starlet'), but why is there no discussion there about the potential links, or otherwise, between these two things? (As there is on the web: see Baroque in Hackney's riveting Saturday post.)

If it's disinterest, it's mistaken, but you suspect it's something much worse: fear of inflaming things through discussion, which, as we all know, is the prime tool of any totalitarian state.

As for the literary pages, it confirms the view that they are moribund and lazy and operating nowadays merely as a function of publishing's publicity machine. And if the excuse is that these pages are prepared in advance, well, that simply proves the point.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Books and Literary Heavyweights on Fire

Apparently there's no leech in Brick Lane anyway. Oh, the joy, the horror of people who judge books without reading them! And oh, the joy and downright terror when two great jesters of English Letters weigh in on the fray: on the pages of the Guardian, the long-standing fight between Salman Rushdie and Germaine Greer is being renewed over the issue. Rushdie accuses Greer of simply supporting the campaigners, but her argument in Monday's article was more characteristically opaque than that. 'It hurts to be misrepresented, but there is no representation without misrepresentation,' she says, seeming to slap the campaigners' hands to make them see sense. But then she concludes: 'Bangaldeshi Britons would be better off not reading Brick Lane or seeing the film.' Really, Germaine? Isn't part of the problem the fact that many of them haven't?

Greer is sneering at Ali, Rushdie says. 'As I well remember,' he writes in his letter today, 'she has done this before,' and reminds us about her refusal to support him over the assult against The Satanic Verses. 'She went on to describe me as a "megalomaniac"', he tells us somewhat unnecessarily, before getting back to focus on Ali and the matter in hand.

There are serious issues here, of course, but what are they? It would be hard now to remain involved in this debate without reading this book. Community activists have confirmed that tomorrow a rally will go ahead and copies of the book will be burned. Yet you can't help but suspect that it's publicity for the book and the film which will be fanned.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Curries and Books

It's happening again - people threatening to burn copies of a book, this time Monica Ali's Brick Lane. So what does it mean? That books matter? I wonder. In fact, it's only now that a film comes to made of the book that the protest has taken off and the threat made. 'If [Monica Ali] has the right to freedom of speech,' says Abdus Salique, the lead campaigner, 'we have the right to burn books.' Hm. 'We are protecting our community's dignity and respect,' he says, and what, asks Mohammed Tahir Ali, a trustee of Shadwell Garden Mosque, will the episode in the book, where he says a leech drops from a Bangladeshi woman's hair into a Brick Lane restaurant curry pot, 'do to our businesses?'

Nothing, Mr Ali, as far as I'm concerned. I never got past the very good beginning of Brick Lane, after which I thought it deteriorated rapidly (so I'd never have known about the leech), and far too many of my acquaintances were put off from even trying by the media hype surrounding publication. Besides, we like our curries too damn much.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Horrible Truth

Today The Bitch discovered she had lost her building-society pass book and was obliged to sit in the Building Society giving all her personal details once again while they sorted her out.

'What is your job?' the counter clerk asked me (or counter services operative, or whatever they call them nowadays). 'Writer,' I replied, feeling as always slightly foolish. (I mean, I don't earn millions, I don't get invited to the fashion shows, my name's not Zadie, or Dan or Joanna, for God's sake.)

She looked thrilled. 'Oh, I love reading!' she exclaimed. 'But I don't like anything serious. I love to read to escape. I love magic. I love Harry Potter.'

I do not write books like Harry Potter. I kept the matey, conspiratorial grin plastered to my face.

'My husband loves reading too', she went on. 'But serious stuff which I can't stand.'

Thank God for people like her husband, I thought.

'You know,' she said: 'thriller-type things with gangsters and all in them.'

I think my smile froze. I do not write books with gangsters in them.

But worse, I was thinking: can these market-mad publishers be right?

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Female Waffling

The recent Art of Fiction post about the loss of the Manchester Dutch Pancake House reminds me of one of my more depressing writing experiences.

Having the misfortune of being women writers (and yes, you blasted feminists, I choose my words carefully!), I and a mate of mine were once invited to address The Women Writers' Network in London. One of the main features of this visit was the fact that the committee members would take us out to dinner beforehand at a Dutch Pancake House somewhere near Haymarket.

Indeed, the most important feature: we were greeted with great excitement about the treat in store, and it slowly dawned on us that our main function that evening was to serve as an excuse for this outing. As soon as we had begun to tuck in to our glutinous servings, a conversation began around us about the best store in London to have arrange your wedding list. I kid you not, this was only a few years ago.

Well, after a bit they realised that they were being rude to their visiting authors, and that we were sharing murderous glances, and so they asked us politely: 'Well, where would you get your wedding list from?'

'I don't know what the hell you're on about,' said my mate, and they froze in horror and offence over their blueberry waffles or whatever they were, and the rest of the evening was pretty strained, and that was it for the credentials of me and my mate in the Good Fellowship of Women Writers.

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Robert McCrum at it Again

In today's Observer McCrum pokes fun at book blurbs, and yes, they are damned annoying and we may as well ignore them, but I'm not sure that that's what McCrum is really saying. If it sounds like baloney, he says, it probably is baloney. 'A dark allegory about empathy, nuclear power and contemporary feminism' is not for us. And: ...that lit-crit jargon that says everything and nothing: 'ironic' (up itself) ... 'surreal' (no plot), 'humane' (unbelievably boring). Indeed, McCrum appears to be taking all too much notice, and in the process some of his prejudices are showing.