Book reviewing ain't goin' nowheres, ya hear?

HT to Bookninja reader CS for this interview that should be encouraging but just makes me sad. I have seen first hand the death of book coverage. My fourth book back in 2007 got 17 reviews/interviews/profiles; my fifth in 2010 got 12; my sixth in 2012 got 8; seventh in 2015 got 6; and eighth in 2017 got 4.

Now an assistant professor of sociology at McMaster University in Ontario, Chong researches how fiction book reviews come to fruition, trying to solve the puzzle of why some books get reviewed and why so many more are ignored. Her new book, Inside the Critics’ Circle: Book Reviewing in Uncertain Times makes the case for the persistence of old-guard professional criticism even in the Internet age.

Now, in fairness, there are probably some extenuating circumstances for my diminishing returns, chief among them that I’m now a straight, old, white guy and people are finally and properly interested in perspectives other than mine.

RIP: Christopher Tolkien

The guy who jealously guarded his father’s money minting operation literary legacy has taken one of Círdan’s White Ships across the sea to the Undying Lands. And like with most people who pass beyond the reach of men, no one seems to be mentioning that he was a bit of a dick.

from The Guardian

Although he worked tirelessly to protect his father’s legacy, he was not impressed by what he saw as the commercialisation of his work. He was famously critical of Peter Jackson’s Oscar-winning film adaptation of The Lord of the Rings. In a 2012 interview with the French newspaper Le Monde, he said: “They gutted the book, making an action film for 15-to-25-year-olds.”

Nobel folks fought over Beckett

Turns out not everyone agreed with giving the prize to a guy they thought held contempt for humanity. In fairness, they weren’t wrong. But I see that as a plus for liking him rather than a minus.

But with Nobel archives being made public only after five decades, documents have now revealed there were major disagreements within the Swedish Academy over the choice of the Waiting for Godot author. According to Svenska Dagbladet, the split was between Beckett and French writer André Malraux, with other nominations including Simone de Beauvoir, Jorge Luis Borges, Pablo Neruda and Graham Greene.

Overheard in bookshops

BookRiot has a neat piece on things overheard in local bookshops. I once had a long discussion with Janet Inksetter at Annex Books about her choice to have a shelf tag that read “Canadian Literature Ends / Poetry Begins”. Then I published just that as a found poem in one of the early issues of the groovy zine “dig.”

Bookshops are wonderful places. Obviously, they’re full of books, which is enough to make them wonderful, but they’re also full of interesting people who love books. Our kind of people, in other words. And it’s always fun to eavesdrop on those people.

LitCrit nerds rejoice

Well, about half of LitCrit nerds, anyway. James Wood lays out the stakes of literary criticism.

This writerly critical tradition continues to flourish, both in and outside the academy. Of course, nowadays even nonacademic literary criticism (I mean criticism written for a general audience) has been shaped and influenced by formal literary study. Many writers have studied literature at university, academics and writers teach together, attend conferences and festivals together, and sometimes almost speak the same language (think of Coetzee’s fiction and academic post-colonialist discourse, Don DeLillo’s fiction and academic postmodern critique, Toni Morrison’s fiction and academic critiques of race). The rise and steady institutionalisation of academic literary criticism means that the long tradition of literary criticism is now really two traditions, the academic (Stakes¹) and the literary-journalistic (Stakes²), which sometimes flow into each other but more often away from each other. Too often, Stakes¹ imagines itself in competition with, disdainful of, or simply inhabiting a different realm from Stakes², and vice versa.

The bookselling power of Twitter

This is a great story. Indie bookseller posts pics on Twitter of the first day in 100 years of service that the store didn’t get any paying customers at all, and it trends on Twitter, resulting in £1,000 of new orders and 1100 new followers. We should make this a rotating event. Once a week, Twitter invades an indie bookseller.

An independent bookshop that failed to sell a single book on a rainy day this week has been inundated with customers after publishing pictures of its empty aisles on social media.

The Petersfield Bookshop in Hampshire sent a melancholy tweet revealing that it had not welcomed one paying customer, probably for the first time in its 100-year history.

Within a few hours, the fantasy and science fiction author Neil Gaiman retweeted the post to his millions of followers and, as if by magic, orders came flooding in from across the globe.