Sunday, April 15, 2012

(Personal) Kindle update 2

Well, there's no doubt in my mind that Kindles are brilliant for travelling! I'm still frustrated by the inability to skip back and forth in a novel, but my partner tells me he has no such trouble: I just need to learn some techniques. And, contrary to my earlier prejudice, I've found the highlighting feature to be superior to the practice of underlining in a print book: it didn't take me long to be able to do it swiftly, and then rather than having to search back through a whole book for my underlinings (or note them down as I go), I can now simply press a button and call them all up, and press again to see each one in its whole context. And as for the dictionary: no more putting the book aside to check up on the meaning of a word; just press a button and it's there right away at the bottom or top of the screen. I was in Germany and stupidly hadn't taken a German phrase book or dictionary: no problem; I could get one straight down on my Kindle for very little expense, and nothing further to carry around with me! (I did find it fiddly to use at first, but quickly got used to it.)

I'm looking at all those books on our groaning shelves - the old falling-apart paperbacks, the (not so old) hardbacks with their browning paper, all piled two-deep and higgledy-piggedly because we long ago ran out of space, so we can't even find books any more when we want them, and I'm seeing them with different eyes....

Surely not, no... My whole life has been wedded to the physicality of books and their shelves, the way they sat beside my bed on the little white bookcase my parents bought me, or on the planks and bricks I set up in my first-ever flat; the way, on my many moves, I'd pack them carefully into tea-chests before anything else...  What would I be without them?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Literature as comfort blanket

An interesting post by Danuta Kean, which relates to the issues discussed in my last post, below. She asks why some books become bestsellers, however badly written, often without much of a marketing campaign (Dan Brown's Da Vinci Code, she tells us, received only £5,000 advance, 'guarantee of little or no marketing', and I understand that the first Harry Potter had a similar kind of introduction to the world). Kean's conclusion, which seems to me correct, is that they 'tap into contemporary anxieties about our lives' and yet are 'overwhelmingly reactionary', providing a literary comfort blanket (rather than any political challenge).

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Gutless culture

Aditya Chakrabortty, spurred by a weekend he's just spent at a festival to celebrate the life of the Bengali artist and thinker Rabinfranath Tagore, writes an impassioned complaint about the lack of political dimension in the fiction being produced in the West today. Partly, he says, it's because 'economics and politics have been cordoned off from the rest of society: as stuff best left to the experts and careerists', an argument put forward by Zoe Williams not so long ago. More importantly he sees it as a matter of the logistics of the contemporary writing life:
'...literature too has been professionalised, so that authors now go from their creative-writing MAs to their novels to their relentless promotional work. Contemporary literary writers, it sometimes seems to me, are so tightly wedged behind their Apples that they have no time for politics.'
Personally, I'd say the problem is more radically the fact that economics is at the centre of our so-called cultural thinking, and the way this impacts on the kinds of novels that find publication and that writers are encouraged to write or discouraged from writing. And in a similar way to Chakrabortty I returned yesterday from an experience - in my case a visit to the horrendous former Stasi prison in Berlin - which left me pondering these issues, and in particular chilled by the thought that while our government wants to seize the kind of power to snoop on its citizens that was used by the Stasi, our publishing companies turn down novels for not being commercial enough - which all too often means 'too political'.

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

(Personal) Kindle update

I still haven't used my Kindle again, but I'm off to Berlin for Easter and I've downloaded in readiness the novel we're reading for the next reading group: John Banville's Book of Evidence. I also downloaded The Great Gatsby, as, although we already had a copy in the house, my partner and I and a friend are re-reading it simultaneously to discuss it.

Well, my partner was ready to read the Banville before me, so, never having even held a Kindle before, he tried it on mine. He didn't like the experience much, and he hated the book, and was left wondering if the problem was the medium. That was it for Kindles as far as he was concerned...

But then I was hogging our print copy of Gatsby, a book we both love, and he turned back to the Kindle. Guess what, he now loves Kindles!!! He's going to get one himself!

Well, I have always said it's the words, not the format/medium...

Monday, April 02, 2012

Calling foul

Paul Magrs has finally called foul and pulled out of a literary festival for which he agreed to do workshops over four days for no fee whatever, because he has now discovered they are not even prepared to pay his travel expenses! On his blog he replicates the excellent email he sent delineating the reasons why this is simply just not an acceptable way to treat the primary providers, the writers.

Sheenagh Pugh elaborates on her blog, unpicking the fake reasons of economics with which we are insulted on such occasions by festivals charging huge ticket prices to the public.

I urge you to read both blogs.