After all it’s easier to respond than to put forth.
I wrote a long, rambling post about e-readers, and how their effect won’t be to do with bullshit psychology but marketing, that like most of what I write irritated me the next day by seeming dishonest; the act of putting things into words somehow sundering the connection between what I feel and what is said. That’s writing for you, I guess, or at least not particularly good writing. I went to bed late and was knackered for work today for that shit! Not only that, but the next day I see an article, an entire speech no less, that goes into the marketing etc of writing in the future far better and in more detail.
I might demure on a couple of points though. He seems to tie the e-reader in with the financial strangulation of the writer. I think one of the points I was at least trying to make is that it’s the publishing industry that has done this, all on its ownsome. Tight margins and conservative booksellers with high rents made many publishers cagier. The long and the short of it is the writer was fucked anyway. I’ve generally understood you have to be incredibly lucky, skilled, in tune with the stars whether by accident or design, in tune with the public by accident or design, and a very very hard worker, possibly have some money in the background, to even have a hope of getting published by a hard-copy publisher. It doesn’t hurt to have contacts either. Certainly a tiny proportion of writers make money.
No, of course writers won’t make money. They don’t at the moment, apart from the incredibly luck, skilled etc. What they will find is that they can have their words in a place where people might read them. Some people might even pay to read them. There will be lots of ‘more means worse’ people and to an extent that will be true. I’ve said what I think about that in my previous article though. More may also mean more interesting. And yes, issues about gatekeepers and quality and exposure all apply. Will there be readers for instance? I suspect that a mixture of blog communities, book clubs virtual and actual, recommendations on hubs, whether publisher backed or otherwise, purchases through these portals. If money finds a way into digital writing it’ll probably be through this sort of thing, oh, and the old subsidiary rights and tie-in stuff. True crime and sports-based writing will still have a massive market for instance.
As I said in the article, at least what I hope was apparent, is that I think those who predict apocalypse are in fact still seeing things through the glass of the traditional publishing model. Yeah it’s fucked, don’t need an e-reader for that, son.
I feel I need to redress the balance of yesterday’s piece, which seemed a bit gung-ho. I got rid of very nearly all of my books recently. Here’s what I wrote at the time about why and what I felt about it:
So, it’s come to this. I’ve got to get rid of a lot my books? For why? Well, a while ago I started having serious breathing difficulties – could only take incredibly shallow breaths, heart going like a jackhammer all night, no rest, no sleep etc, and it turns out that I’m allergic to dust or whatever it is in dust (mite poo I believe) that people get allergic to. This riles me considerably – I like dusty places, I prefer old buildings to new, a sagging sofa or armchair to a new, carpets to parquet. It also makes me feel like a veakly Wictorian child. Nevertheless, no use railing against an inescapable physical state.
I recently moved flat in the hope that a less dusty place will allow me to get back to sound in wind and limb, and for a while I did, until I moved my books in. I can’t really afford a large place, with the books in one of the wings or stable, so I live and sleep quite close to them. I dusted and vacuumed very carefully, but to no avail. Having been fine until I moved the books in, I now found myself, if not quite at square one, at least at the end of a considerable reverse.
It hardly needs saying that books contain an awful lot of dust.
The situation is not, I recognise, without a certain humour. I love books, they kill me. Love is the plan, the plan is death.
Why worry? Chuck ‘em, right? Of interest only to object fetishists and book bibbers. A material consequence of the implication behind the statement ‘Oh, I LOVE books!’ What, all of them? Even the ones by Clarkson? Anyway, they’ll all be on e-readers soon. Why worry?
Well, I like having them for one thing. I like clambering around the shelves, looking for stuff that occurs to me. Also I’ve got a terrible memory, so if I’m writing something, I’ll frequently have to go looking for the book, which is at the end of the mere thread of a thought my mind is tugging. It’s handy to have an ever-expanding library.
When I was growing up there were huge stacks of books at home. My dad was very much the self-educated man, didn’t go to university, but read a lot. Lot of left-wing history, lot of cricket books, lot of commuter thriller genre fiction, classics, out-of-the-way biographies, anything. Wandering around those shelves gave me a great inheritance. It’s not too much to say that it helped form my interior life – picking up the Myth of Sisyphus or Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, I didn’t know it, but I was picking up something that would shape my future thought, something I would still love 20 years later. Picking them up now contains a memory of when I first picked them up. If I’m lucky/stupid/foolish/careless/blessed enough to have children, then I’d want them to have something similar, not out of vanity, but for the hundreds of universes contained between covers, dissimilar, yet contained in one place and reflective in a diffuse and recondite way of a single personality. Even the serendipitous acquisition both adds to and becomes part of the acquirer. So yeah I do like books. Just not the ones by Clarkson.
Also a lot of the stuff I’d be getting rid of – genre stuff – would be my dad’s and it has some sentimental value, even if the literary value is sometimes dubious. (Adam Hall is absurd).
Still, he wouldn’t want me suffering ill-health as a consequence of a sentimental attachment, and now I must get rid of as many of them as I can bear. A bar to this in the past has been an inability to discriminate. No, I definitely need this James Hadley Chase thriller. Yes, I need two copies of Tennyson’s poems – this one has a nice soft cover and fits easily in the pocket, this one has the sturdy hard boards and wide leading. That sort of thing. It meant that I think in the past years I’ve only got rid of a completely redundant book on double-entry bookkeeping (no idea) and something on ‘50s forensics (and I was rather reluctant about that – what about the ‘50s detective procedural I can now envisage myself writing as I get rid of this?)
So now I’m being indiscriminate. Anything I absolutely can’t bear to be without will stay, everything else, I’m going to get rid of. Down the charity shop. There’s nothing special there – obv I’m keeping the first edition of Wyndham Lewis’ Paleface that was once owned by Bruce Montgomery.
Why not put them in storage? Well, I can’t be arsed basically. I see no point in the nearish future when I’m going to be living somewhere where they’ll be able to go, without a similar situation, and moving them around is too much hassle.
There are questions about what I should keep and what I should definitely throw, the answers to which might not be immediately apparent (what about reference books? aggregated essays? things read and liked but unlikely to be read again? what does the internet replace? do I need that two-volume concise OED?).
It’s probably a good thing. It doesn’t feel like it – but I guess shriving oneself from one’s acquisitions rarely does. Acquisition is only important to those who feel an inner lack, right?
And now for a message: