Last week The Bookseller reported on a furore in the world of e-Book publishing. Erotic self-published novels appeared next to children’s literature in the WH Smith online store, which is powered by Kobo.
Robert Sharp, head of campaigns and communications at English Pen, told The Bookseller: “We need to remember that great literature is very often ‘offensive’, and that alone should never be the trigger for suppressing books. If the Kobo/W H Smith collaboration had existed in the mid-20th century, then Lady Chatterley’s Lover or Lolita would have caused similar presentational offence. Fifty Shades of Grey was originally a self-published novel, so its only by luck of recent history that E L James’ books were not removed from sale in a similar manner.”
Obviously booksellers such as WH Smith have the right to sell only the books they want. There’s no law that says they absolutely must publish erotic fiction! But this principle has prfound implications when just a few big players dominate the e-book market. Failure to get an e-book listed on platforms like Kobo and Amazon is a huge impediment to author’s ability to disseminate their work, especially when the retailers also control the devices that readers use to access the text. Are the content policies of the big retailers inadvertently impeding free expression?
Something I have always found inspiring is the short acceptance speech made by Steven Soderberg in 2001, when he collected an Oscar for directing Traffic.
What I want to say is, I want to thank anyone who spends part of their day creating. I don’t care if its a book, a film, a painting, a dance, a piece of theatre, a piece of music… anybody who spends part of their day sharing their experience with us, I think this world would be unlivable without art, and I thank you…
A battered side street in the old part of Buenos Aires. The tarmac seems pockmarked. Parts of the curb are missing, and the serrated edge of the paving slabs are exposed, like the diseased gums of an old Gaucho.
A modest cafe. It seems rooted to the sidewalk, like the weeds. Other shops have long since shuttered, and their proprietors have escaped to the suburbs. But this establishment persists.
I scrape back one of the metal chairs.
“Un cafe, por favor?” The young waiter rolls his eyes. Is he annoyed that I have not ordered more, or is he casting judgement on my formal, European Spanish? Whatever: He clearly understands, and he slopes inside.
To my left, a croak. “English?”
I turn my head. A man sits alone, his mouth drawn down on one side. A stroke, perhaps?
“Yes,” I reply. “London.”
“Where else!” he replies. And now a smile. So no, not a stroke, just a crooked face. But he does not look straight at me. He cannot see very well. Continue reading →
As is my wont, I made a book to illustrate this. Physical objects are useful props in debates like this: immediately illustrative, and useful to hang an argument and peoples’ attention on.
James Bridle is probably best known as the artist who first articulated ‘The New Aesthetic‘, but he has run many projects on books and technology. His project ‘The Iraq War‘ is a favourite of mine – the entire Wikipedia Edit History of the ‘Iraq War’ article, from 2005-2009, which stretches to twelve volumes. He’s also the creator of a Book of Tweets.
James’ projects are the inspiration of one of my own – The Defamation Act 2013: Complete & Unabridged. It collects together, in chronological order, every single parliamentary document published during the passage of the recent reform of our libel law. These include the various versions of the Bill (which I have previously published in a spliced together version, ‘Tracked Changes in the Defamation Bill‘), the parliamentary Hansard transcripts of the debates; and the amendment papers. Continue reading →
Who drives our culture? Conventional wisdom says it is Hollywood. After all, it is the ﬁlm industry that produces the most highly paid artistes and the most visible ‘A listers’. Film is a visual medium and it churns out icons at a steady, lucrative rate. The four-hour Oscars telecast is beamed live around the world.
By contrast, the announcement of the Man Booker Prize does not even get its own TV slot in schedules. The announcement is allowed to interrupt the news broadcasts, but the analysis and reactions are made to wait until a scheduled bulletin and it’s never the lead story.
Film claims global relevance, whereas publishing is parochial. Film claims to be popular, whereas publishing is elitist. Continue reading →
I enjoyed this short essay promoting Lauren Leto’s book. It’s honest and (I assume) true to the book it seeks to promote.
It’s also presented in an interesting manner, native to the digital world. I wonder if would be as engaging if it were on a couple of pages (either printed or HTML). Probably not.
This type of presentation is not new. Last year Robin Sloane created a ‘tap essay’ called Fish that was published as an iPhone app. Like Leto’s essay, there is no back button, which (according to this Wired review by David Dobbs) provokes the reader to read more closely.
Listening to the Overthinkers over-think video game culture (last week) and films (this week), I have begun to worry that video games will never be ‘culture’. More generously, I am concerned that video games will never attain the same cultural currency as other art forms.
This is because people do not absorb the culturally significant video games of the past, as they do with significant literature, film, and music. Continue reading →
I watched Charlie Kaufmann’s Synecdoche, New York the other day. It is at times compelling, hilarious, and mysterious.
The story follows a theatre director, played by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Awarded a grant to produce a expansive artwork, he recreates scenes from his own life inside a huge warehouse. But of course, after a while, his own life revolves around producing the theatre piece… So that gets recreated inside the warehouse too. He has to recruit an actor to play himself, and eventually an actor to play the actor that plays himself! Likewise with the other important people in his life and the production. The play becomes more and more recursive, in the manner of Borges’ The Circular Ruins (a dream within a dream).
I have only just got around to reading John Lanchester’s delightful meditation on the London Underground. I missed it when it was published in the newspaper, but enough people shared it on social media that Twitter saw fit to e-mail it to me as a recommended story.
The essay deals with the rich topic of how we manage to be ‘alone’ in public places. Lanchester describes of the masques we wear and the techniques we use to create mental space to dwell within even though our physical personal space is invaded by other people at rush-hour.