Friday, May 20, 2011


I've been thinking a lot about books lately. I know you all think that I think about books all the time, and maybe I do, but as I keep telling anyone who will listen, the world of books is a very large one, with a lot of various crinkly little islands to explore.

I realise at this point that I've been WELL this week, which is why I'm thinking about something besides feeling unwell. You only feel well in hindsight, don't you? Takes something like a beach or a sunset or a smile to make you realise, but there you are, caught out, feeling well.

Anyhoo, books. I've been thinking about artist's books, but that's another post in draft form because I've been looking at the Megalo BOOK members' show.

I've also been thinking about 'real' books, the books people have in their houses, only 'real' in the disrespectful sense that 'normal' works in most circumstances. What the hell does 'real' mean? What the hell is 'normal'? Why do people always want simple answers from me about books? What the hell is 'simple'?

Rick Gekoski (I keep spelling his name wrong, but that's ok because today he spelled mine wrong) is one of those people who can seemingly pull out simple statements about books and book-buying and reading and his distaste for the internet, but often simple (or trite) statements come from unshared deeper thinking. I saw him this afternoon at the National Library, in 'conversation' with Colin Steele, and the most lasting impression I got is that he entertains the masses with the tritely amusing, and saves all the best bits for over a glass of something in front of a fire, maybe with a cat on his lap. He'd be a much more entertaining person one-on-one, unlike myself, as I'm vastly entertaining en masse and quite dull in person.

I love the National Library as an institution, and am a Friend of it, but when I go to events there I get quite smothered by the thick fug of Smug in the air. You know the stuff: an entire theatre of people who Know They Read The Right Stuff. It's probably gathering about Sydney Harbour as I type, as the various venues prepare for the writers festival. I'm not complaining about ALL readers, or even people at festivals, but of people who don't like Genre Writers (although a thriller/murder mystery every now and again is perfectly fine, darling).

There were two moments of audible crowd reaction this afternoon. The first was when RG -- no, three! three moments of audible crowd reaction. Nobody expects the Spanish -- was giving us the red hot dirt on the International Booker Prize judging: "Carmen said she would ferret out some Chinese writers, came back with twenty novels. A ferret on speed, more like it." {{Titter}} went the happily scandalised audience. ("Bet someone's going to tweet that, damn them." No, just blog it, Rick.)

The second moment was when he said that reading good books didn't make you a better person, it just made you a better reader. That got a shockwave of disapproval; he obviously says that at every gig to get a reaction. He rationalised it beautifully, spoke of Leavis and the canon, but for me it was a DUH moment. I always mix my oats with some fruit. Last week I was reading Jackie Collins, this week Ruth Park, next week, who knows?

The third was when he stated that the internet had killed the antiquarian book industry, and got a sympathetic tutting and nodding of heads. Well, yes, because it meant a sharing of information that killed the inflated prices that suppressed information allows. But, as I pointed out in question time and afterwards in private, you won't totally lose secondhand booksellers and dealers because people need to see and feel what they're buying, and while people are buying more new books online, or secondhand books for basic reading, the need to inspect and feel will always be there for collectors.

Now that you can easily buy e-books for reading, publishers are falling over themselves to make collectable editions of both new and reprint books. They are setting up the future book collecting industry, where you will be able to collect all the various chicklit editions of Jane Austen, or only books with 'American' bindings (the ones that keep or manufacture a deckled edge on the pages). Books are shifting in the same way that all obsolete technologies go: to the scrapheap, or to the collections. Some survive, many don't. If they all survived, how boring! The hunt, the thrill of the chase, continues, and will continue on into the so-called paperless society everyone keeps banging on about. When/if there is no more paper, paper products will be fetishized, even more than they are now.

So there. That's another two cents from me.

Later I also asked RG, as he signed my sketchbook (my copy of his book is in the garage waiting for the bookshelves. He signed it 'For Karen, and Karen's book in the garage. Liberate the Books!') about the difference between the Fine Press book trade and the Rare Book trade, and we nattered on happily while the person in line behind me scowled and sent hate waves into the back of my neck. RG said, 'I always know when I meet someone who prints fine press books that I'm going to dislike them; they're always softly spoken with weird little beards, sandals, and fishy handshakes.' I laughed and shook his hand firmly and said goodbye, resolving to make fewer absolute statements in the future.

I've failed already, haven't I? Oh well.

One thing I do know -- I'm painting our bookshelves this weekend, and by the end of it, I'll be wishing I could never see a bloody book again.


Elephant's Child said...

I don't believe you. Books are an addiction. And no matter how much you (I) promise to give them up, IT DOESN'T HAPPEN. I can't imagine a day without books. 'Good' books AND agreeable trash. And I am betting that when you have painted the bookshelves this weekend book aversion will not be your dominant emotion.

Cat Drawings said...

What fun. And I think you are quite entertaining in person. Miss you.

Mindy said...

"I'm vastly entertaining en masse and alsoquite lovely in person.

There fixed that for you. I'm glad you go to these events and blog them. I can't stand the smug myself.

Penthe said...

Agree with the others that you are also entertaining in person, although have not seen you performing to the masses. I am very much looking forward to seeing you with your small beard and sandals next time. *I just made a bit of a Beavis and Butthead throat snort, sorry*

Ampersand Duck said...

Ooh, thank you darlings, I didn't mean to fish for compliments... honestly, I wasn't, it was just a stupid throwaway line. But I am much more confident with groups than with individuals. Maybe it's the lack of commitment needed :)

Yes, have been cultivating the small beard. If I stop plucking my chin, I'd have a lovely Fu Manchu beard.