April 17, 2017

Too many books

If you have ever wondered how many books have been published in the world since printing began, you would be set an impossible task, although that doesn't stop some folk from trying to estimate the figure.

This post from Mental Floss figures that last year (2016) there were 134,021,533 books in existence! And here is the link to the Book Statistics from UNESCO with a running total that makes little sense as it will be seen that many countries' statistics have not been updated for 25+ years. 

Trying to imagine so many books makes the mind boggle. I wonder how high that TBR (to be read) pile might stretch - to the moon and back perhaps?

These images pretty well sum up what happens to nearly all books: how quickly this year’s best-seller or prize-winning book will be relegated to a cave or a pit and become just another layer in the archaeology.

Cave of Forgotten Books, copyright Martin Geupe

Master of the Books, copyright Waldemar Bartkowiak

February 19, 2017

The "Sensitivity Police"

The topic of "sensitivity" is again doing the rounds of writers and readers groups with the inevitable heated discussions both for and against. I am alarmed at the whole idea - who is going to police these "sensitivity police"? 

Here is the latest from The Chicago Tribune.

For a while I have been toying with the idea of re-issuing a couple of my earlier novels in e-book format and putting them out there to either sink or swim, but it is largely because of this prevailing politically-correct attitude that makes me reluctant  (OK, absolutely terrified is more like it!) to go ahead.  One title features a huge cast of characters, each with the potential to offend a section of the community in some way.

The story is based on truth, and I made it as historically accurate as I could possibly could. It is set in Central Africa, c. 1880-1920’s, warts-and-all the way it really was back in those days. I undertook years of solid research as well drawing on my own personal connections to people who knew some of the real characters involved. My main protagonist had some surprisingly tolerant views for the time, but my book is bound to fail to pass muster on too many levels.

The lead character is a man  ...
... As you are a woman writer, how can you possibly understand a male viewpoint?
A South African white man who had some enlightened views ...
... Impossible. South African white men are always crude and bigoted bad guys (Hollywood says so, thus we know this is true.)
He’s been a soldier ...
... Nope, as non-combatant female you are not qualified to write about the horrors of being in a battle, of fighting to the death ... etc.
He's a hunter too ... 
... The fact that he has to shoot endangered or protected animals out of necessity will not endear him to the environmentalists and animal protection lobby ...
He also forms and leads an army of black people ... 
... This would be seen as reinforcing all that squirmingly embarrassing imperialist/racist domination stuff, stereotyping, etc. (even if his one saving grace is that he hates Cecil Rhodes as much as those groups of modern student protesters demanding his statues be pulled down) ...
He also has both black and white women in his life ...
... Deeply personal area - if you haven't been involved in cross-racial sex/marriage, what can you possibly know about it ....
And my white man has a loyal black companion ... 
... Ooh, no, mega problem, how dare you try and imagine what this black man felt, what could you possibly know of the terror experienced when he was a small child witnessing the slaughter of his family by slave-traders ...
Then there is the group of misguided missionaries who end up going to hell with their good intentions ...
... But this is quite OK, because mocking Christians messing around in Africa is cool and trendy, for reference, see musical, The Book of Mormon ...
A maniacal witchdoctor ... 
... The International Witchdoctors Federation will sue you for misrepresentation ...
One particularly vile mixed-race slave trader ...
...  Added sensitivity issue here. Nobody is born just plain evil, he got that way due to bullying and racial identity issues as a child ...

I could go on and on ... 

In a real-life world that is increasingly immune to the worst kinds of violence - towards women in particular - and the most horrendous lies and verbal abuse appear daily in the press - why are some so “sensitive” now about such things in fiction? It’s fiction for goodness’ sake. Nobody forces you read it. It is: Invention. Imagination. Are we no longer allowed to have empathy, to try and to reach out and through our writing discover just a little of what it is like to be somebody else, to walk in their shoes. What it is/was like for any other human being in a certain situation, no matter their race or sex or political persuasion? Banning us writing in this way is sinister and echoes the book-burning policies of authoritarian regimes.

As to another novel of mine, also with a male protagonist who really existed and who was associated with an area not far from where I used to live, I haven’t forgotten the earnest and rather stern individual who came up to me at a book-signing and demanded to know what my connection to this man was and what gave me the right to write about him.

Right?! I was so taken aback I was unable to give a coherent answer, utterly at a loss as to why someone thought there was some impediment to me choosing a historical figure whose private life was a complete mystery, who has no known descendants, and for me to create a fictional personal life for him in a novel.  Should I have first rushed about checking that it was okay with his x-times removed distant cousins in Scotland or the fifth-generation descendants of his neighbours and gain their approval? 

During my research, I had contacted individuals in the area with direct links to the man I was writing about and they had been more than happy to give me information and let me have a copy of a portrait in their possession for my book cover. I did not disparage any of their ancestors in my book, but was dismayed when I discovered another recent novel with the same background that had made them into the complete opposites of what they were historically and switched them from religious teetotalers into irreverent and rip-roaring drunks.  Clearly, this writer had no compunction about "sensitivity" or "right" to the story. 

Perhaps my problem is I'm too sensitive ...

Copyright Calvin & Hobbs?


December 22, 2016

If in need of redemption

Browsing a selection of books on half-price sale with a well-known online bookseller, I spotted a title that I thought I’d read - Redemption Road - but the plot summary didn’t sound familiar so I went looking for the original.

But I was stumped. Just as with my earlier exploration of routes To the Ends of the Earth, I hadn’t realised how many bumpy Roads one can follow out there to Redemption, a title especially popular with self-published authors who are not very good at coming up with something original for their dystopian plots or ones that feature hunky blokes, motor bikes and religion, sometimes all in the same book.

Here are just a sampling of covers and, no, I still haven’t found the one I remember … or maybe I’m thinking of Road to Perdition of which, thank goodness, there seems to be only one.

(Please note clicking on the image goes nowhere and if you are keen to follow any of these Roads, try Amazon or Goodreads which has 8 pages of Redemptive titles.)

Changing it to a Lane makes all the difference.

Designers' choice in covers

Follow-up on previous post, here is what the "best book designers in the business" think of the covers for 2016.

None of them do much for me, these are the only two that I might pick up:

Dark Odes coming.

Been a bit absent from blogging lately due to another house move and associated chaos, but I'm still keeping one eye on the doings in publishing world.

This article from The Huff on new titles for 2017 had me blinking a few times at how ghastly and depressing many of the synopses sound with "dark ode" themes and strange titles.

Several covers go for the disjointed Picasso-esque, dripping paint or street-art font that is almost a trade-mark now for "literary" novels, but there is something compelling about these three that might actually stir me to pick them up and read the blurb at least. 

October 08, 2016

The offending barrel

Yet more flak on the Ferrante exposure from The Guardian by another famous author

As if the article doesn't already overflow with feminist "offensensitivity" *, it contains obtuse phrases like "monomaniacal fixation" and incomprehensible sentences such as - "Women who say, as Beckett did, I and Not I, this is me and not me, this is myself but it is someone else, are driven back from the larger open spaces of the artwork to the smaller spaces of the self." (?) 

And then reading the scorn and sheer vitriol towards another famous author in the comments posted is enough to make one glad to be a nobody in an increasingly vicious social media world where the muck at the bottom of the barrel just gets thicker and deeper with everybody diving in to fling around more of their own effluent and inflated self-importance. This has become so serious you just have to see the funny side.

* As coined by Berkeley Breathed several decades ago.
Copyright Bloom 

October 04, 2016

When author exposure turns deadly

As both a keen reader and regular reviewer of new books, I've commented previously in this blog that I'm probably in the minority as I prefer to know little or nothing about the author so that I can come to my own conclusions without being influenced by too much hype and information.

So I am now bemused, but not surprised, at the determination to expose the hugely popular author Elena Ferrante when a major part of the marketing of her books has been about her anonymity. Why are journalists and readers so keen to know everything about authors? How can gaining insight into their private lives, their politics, even what they wear or eat, improve one's reading experience never mind objectivity?

Surprisingly, movies don't work the same way. How many of us scrabble to know everything about the private lives of screenwriters? Perhaps because we already have the high visibility of the actors on the screen to reflect our aspirations and desires they are unnecessary.

My hubby knew nothing about maritime historical novelist Patrick O'Brian when he started to read his famous series of Jack Aubrey books. When the major revelations broke about O'Brian's past, he was quite upset that his upright literary hero was nothing like he thought he was and found that reading the books suddenly took on a different tone because the author's  allegedly " ... cold, bullying, isolated, snobbish ... " personality tended to intrude, whether or not it was true. Although hubby still regularly re-reads O'Brian today, his enjoyment of them has been diminished and says he has to force his awareness of O'Brian as an individual from his mind while doing so.

There's one author here in Australia who's earned many gongs for his books in a long career, with movies adapted from several. Other than one of his early titles which I read before I knew anything about him, I have since avoided the others simply because he's far too much in the public eye and his pontificating on social and political issues tends to annoy me. I would have a hard time reading his work without being conscious of his opinions and, shameful as it is to admit, his voice and looks. Yes, I'm as shallow and susceptible as the next foolish female when it comes to a handsome face, smooth talk and style, and if he looked and spoke like ... um ... Justin Trudeau ... maybe my arm could be twisted ... 

Speaking of whom, and nothing to do with literature, here are a few images that might make your day. 

L for Lancelot the Liberal? But wasn't it Arthur who pulled the sword from the stone? No matter, who cares about truth when dazzled by knights in shining armour.

Copyright Grooch at Deviant Art

Paper dolls weren't this cool when I was a girl.

Copyright New York Magazine

Now even the subject of a Marvel comic!

Copyright Ramon Perez and Marvel Comics

Copyright Bidness Etc

P.S.  I 'fess up. Here's an image of the Aussie author. Compare with the above. No contest.

Copyright Matt Davidson, The Age