A scary outlook for books in 2010

Robert McCrum in yesterday’s Observer asks the question “Is it really doomsday for books?” and comes up with some interesting answers.  As he says “2010, not three weeks old, bears all the signs of a watershed year”.  Borders closed at the end of last year and sales at Waterstones are down.  Barnes and Noble stores are experiencing a similar slump and so they have created the Nook, an e-reader which will compete with Amazon’s Kindle.  Speaking of which, last December 25th saw Amazon e-book sales overtake print for the first time.

Writers are experiencing a similar crisis with publishing house slush pile discoveries becoming a thing of the past and advances to authors dwindling.  Nielsen Bookscan has found that of 86,000 new titles published in the UK in 2009, 59,000 sold an average of 18 copies, which I suppose must be the average number of family members and friends that an author can convince to buy their book.

It’s all very depressing for an as yet unpublished novelist!  However I refuse to be beaten down by bad news.  I am somewhat heartened to hear that celebrity memoirs are finally beginning to loosen their hold on the public.  A world in which Katie Price has not one but three autobiographies on the shelves is not a world I particularly want to live in.

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William Styron

William Styron was an American author most well known for his books Sophie’s ChoiceLie Down In Darkness and The Confessions of Nat Turner, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1968. Suicide Run has just been published, the only one of Styron’s works to be published posthumously, and it draws upon his experiences in the US Marine Corps in the Second World War and the Korean War.

Styron is one of my favourite American authors. I first came across him in a Paris Review interview (he is the only author to have been interviewed twice) and his gruff manner and world weary attitude instantly appealed to me. I started with his memoir of his experience with depression, Darkness Visible. Styron’s description of the bleakness of his mood, his suicidality and subsequent hospitalisation is extraordinarily brave and agonisingly truthful. Unlike many books dealing with this subject, I feel it accurately and movingly explains the inertia and hopelessness of living with depression.

The next book I chose was Lie Down In Darkness, Styron’s first novel published when he was just twenty-five. It is the story of Peyton Loftis, a psychologically damaged young girl, and her experiences with her emotionally dysfunctional Virginia family, which leads eventually to her suicide. The end of the book is an admirable example of stream-of-consciousness narrative and can be seen to be influenced by that other venerable Southern writer, William Faulkner.

I have not yet read Sophie’s Choice, which will be familiar to most people from the 1982 film version starring Meryl Streep, who won an Academy Award for her performance, Kevin Kline and Peter MacNicol. Nor have I read The Confessions of Nat Turner, which generated huge controversy at the time of publication due to the fact that Styron was a white man writing a first person narrative from the point of view of a black historical figure.

Suicide Run will definitely be added to “The Pile” but perhaps not for a while. “The Pile” has grown so big since Christmas – in danger of toppling off my bedside table – that I have had to turn it into two smaller piles!

(Photo by Kathy Willens/The Associated Press)

Steve, Don’t Eat It!

“Steve, Don’t Eat It” has provided me with many laughs since I first discovered it.  It’s part of Steve’s blog/zine (bline? zog?) and is pretty self explanatory; Steve undertakes to eat foul substances and then reviews them.  As the man says himself, “join me in saying F-YOU to my tastebuds”.  In the hands of someone less funny, this would be akin to torture, but it’s Steve’s commentaries that make it must-read stuff.

Take the time he realised that he found the ultimate test, right under his nose, at home; breast milk, or as Steve calls it “wife juice”.  Steve says, “the time has come…I’m off to The Booby Bar to see what they’ve got on tap”.

Or the time that Steve voluntarily eats Cuitlacoche, which looks like this:

Or the time he ate “Bun Dae Ki” or “Silkworm Snacks”, pictured below.   In Steve’s words “the yellow oval on the can says High Protein – great side dish when drinking alcohol. I imagine this came from the silkworm marketing team when faced with the nagging question “Who the fuck’s gonna eat this?!” The answer: DRUNKS!”

I reckon Steve should definitely try eating coddle, although it may be a day in the park for him after some of the vile substances he has ingested.  But boiled sausages and rashers?  To a vegetarian, the idea alone acts as an emetic!

Turntablism

The Guardian have picked up on the turntablist phenomenon that has been around for years and was most memorably explored in Scratch, the 2001 documentary directed by Doug Pray.  They are a teensy bit late in bringing turntablism to the public’s attention and I wonder what prompted such a random piece of journalism?  Moving on…

Scratch tells you everything you need to know about turntablism and its roots and pioneers.  DJ Shadow, MixMasterMike, Qbert, Rob Swift, and DJ Swamp are interviewed alongside living legends like Afrika Bambaataa and Jazzy Jay. 

I showed this movie to my Dad, who is a jazz musician, as a method of explaining how decks could be used as instruments and not merely to play other people’s records.  I remember looking over at him as he watched DJ Shadow scratching and seeing the disbelief on his face, and I thought “see?  I told you so”.  Not very mature of me, I know, but trust me, watch Scratch and you’ll see where I was coming from.

A handbag?*

Recently I have been looking for a couple of new handbags.  I need to replenish my stock as the bags in current rotation are in danger of getting very worn out.  Being unable to afford a Balenciaga Lariat (which I have adored ever since they came out) or an Hermès Paris Bombay bag (the epitome of understated luxury), I’ve been looking online to see what catches my eye.

On my travels I came across a couple of great handbag designers on Etsy.  The first is Edward De Lacey, a UK based handbag designer who works primarily in leather.  Edward also sells his designs on his website and you can see details of stockists in the UK there too.  His work looks tactile and innovative and I adore the layered look that seems to be his signature.

Love the detailing on this “Skulls” bag:

While some of Edward’s work is in the “It” bag category in terms of pricing, there are lots of very affordable pieces available.  I particularly love this clutch.

I also fell madly, deeply, irrevocably in love with this spiked clutch from Berlin designer Studio 12345.

Unfortunately there’s no profile information for this designer and only five bags listed on their Etsy site, but hopefully they’ll add to it this year.

(*With thanks to Lady Bracknell)

We’ve all been there

Exerpt from article by Karl Quinn entitled “Don’t mention Sex and the City”, about writer Candace Bushnell.

“…but after more than a decade in New York, Bushnell wondered if it was ever going to happen. Aged 33, and having made just $8000 in the last year, the dream of being a novelist, of making it to A-number one, top of the heap, just seemed too hard.

She had to borrow money from a girlfriend to pay the rent. She had to borrow a slab of foam from an acquaintance to use as a bed on the floor of her studio apartment.

She thought about going back to New England. She also thought about suicide. “When you’re in your early 30s and you’re broke,” she says, “you’re like, ‘This is really not where it’s supposed to be’.”…”

Unfortunately I can totally relate to this, being 33 and completely broke.  Even more unfortunately I don’t write commercial chick lit so my chances of getting published are slimmer than Candace’s.  Is that going to stop me?  Not this week…

Michael O’Donoghue

I recently discovered four articles online written by Michael O’Donoghue which have provided me with much inspiration and entertainment.  These articles sound like a transcription from an hilarious, manic, Joycean comic and are a great introduction to O’Donoghue’s take on the world.

O’Donoghue was the first head writer for Saturday Night Live and one of the first contributors to National Lampoon Magazine.  His humour was dark, acerbic and very irreverent.  Some quotes below:

Excerpt from “How To Write Good” by Michael O’Donoghue, National Lampoon, March 1971.

All too often, the budding author finds that his tale has run its course and yet he sees no way to satisfactorily end it, or, in literary parlance, “wrap it up.” Observe how easily I resolve this problem:
Suddenly, everyone was run over by a truck.
-the end-

Excerpt from Michael’s Spin Column, “It’s Not My Fault”.

What’s this?–OCEAN’S 10, OCEAN’S 9, OCEAN’S 8, OCEAN’S 7, OCEAN’S 6,… Answer–the Rat Pack dying!

Here’s a link to clips from Michael’s segment on Saturday Night Live entitled Mr. Mike’s Least-Loved Bedtime Tales, which includes the brilliant story “The Little Train That Died”.

I have been meaning to buy “Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’Donoghue, the Man Who Made Comedy Dangerous,” written by Denis Perrin, for ages but can’t seem to order it online as many of the Amazon US sellers don’t deliver to Ireland.  It’s a shame as I’d really love to know more about this comedic genius.

Michael died of a brain hemorrage in 1994.  Last Tuesday 5th January would have been his 70th birthday, so it is a fitting time of year to remember his brilliance and salute his memory.