I thoroughly enjoyed our recent excursion into the dusty, mysterious nooks and exotic grannies of the bookshop world in search of long- forgotten authors. So much so, that I would like spend a little more time succumbing to my bibliophiliac urges.
Publish and be damned!
One thing that struck me was how pitifully ignorant I am of the world of publishing. What similarities are there between publishing houses and record companies? Are some writers like boy bands: a flash in the literary pan? And do others resemble, for example, Van Morrison, Neil Young or Paul Simon: a long distinguished career with some big hits and a few dodgier efforts.
Is Finnegans Wake the literary equivalent to Troutmask Replica? A work of deranged genius. But please don’t ask me to read it.
Some people know which label their favourite albums are on and who published the books they’ve been reading. Not me! I am currently reading a fine historical The Gallows Pole by Benjamin Myers. I scurried off now to check the publisher. Now on Bloomsbury, it was originally from Bluemoose Books near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. A feisty, independent outfit with a rather nice sense of humour. I am very pleased I have discovered them.
First question: Do you have any favourite publishers? You see their logo on a book and know it will be worth a look.
The Gallows Pole has won the Walter Scott Prize, the most prestigious award for historical fiction. Last week’s thread was about lost masterpieces and forgotten writers: the “losers”. Now I want to hear about the “winners”.
Which brings me to my next question. Which are the writers and books that are so established that no library or bookshop can be without them? What gives a writer staying power and ensures that they will stay in print? Who are the Untouchables?
I appreciate that this a very regional or national thing. French bookshops must have Moliere, Hugo, Maupassant and Camus. Swedes will want Moberg, Lagerlöf , Strindberg, Boyer, Mankell and Stieg Larsson. The Great American Novel tradition means Fitzgerald, Steinbeck, Franzén, Melville….
And in Scotland you must have Walter Scott. Last week @Hawkfall reminded us that Sir Walter invented Scotland. And set himself up for posterity. Railway station named after him, wacking great monument in Prince’s Street. Billy Connolly hated having to read Ivanhoe in school. But Scottish schoolkids are lumbered with the Laird of Abbotsford.
And let’s not forget, in his day, he was a superstar. Thousands of screaming fans would turn up to see him wherever he travelled in Europe.
A final question: do you have a favourite bookshop?
I bought my copy of the Gallows Pole at the English Bookshop on Södermalm, I am just so chuffed that in this age of brutal competition, a small, independent bookshop like this can survive and build up a loyal clientele. Well-stocked; friendly, helpful staff who remember me from my last visit; a cosy, slightly DIY atmosphere; cute lady readers browsing the shelves in search of the Next Big Thing. I love it.
Finally: a recommendation. The Little Book of Calm! Do not leave home without it.
The sun is shining. The squirrels are frisky. The Merry Maids of May are blushing coyly and tempting us to come and enjoy their pole-dancing. But I intend to lurk in the bookshop for a while. Please come and join me!