The Fetish of Bookishness

Recently I was looking at the Twitter timeline of a local author. The tweeter described themselves as a ‘crime writer’ although I could find no evidence of either published works or, in fact, any attempt to get published. Such was this writer’s personal confidence and dominance of their local writer’s group that publication seemed a secondary aim. Forceful airing of views on writing craft, plot and the industry of publishing seemed to be enough. The writer had fetishized being part of a trade they could, at best, be deemed to exist on the periphery of. Curious at this self assured timeline I continued to find literary agents recommended to other potential authors by this unagented tweeter, rallies to other writers to ‘just write!!’, ‘edit edit edit’ and ‘research!!’. I was struck by this rock solid self-belief and wondered whether bookishness has become a fetish. One that perhaps eschews the entire publishing process?

With bookishness in mind I continued to examine the competition element in local writing groups and found that number of books read and owned appears to be a key factor in setting oneself apart from other unpublished writers. As someone who recently took a year out of publishing one of the most rewarding things I found was reading for pleasure and without pressure- what a joy! I would urge any writer wishing to be published to read less but increase quality and relevance. Yet writing groups appear to pressure their members to read at a volume I’d expect on an MA course list. A writer belonging to an amateur writing group setting themselves a public reading challenge seems intimidating in its one-upmanship. One could wonder whether it’s really a form of very vocal protest from someone who reads very little- in other words a fetish for writing and for books and all that entails. The process of submitting work becomes secondary because that involves, at some stage or another, rejection.

Form of writing; longhand or Macbook- (it’s always a Macbook), purchase of notepads and pens, hours worked, tweeting and favouriting latest Kindle deals., bellowing about every open submission deadline, vigorously agreeing, disagreeing and befriending agents on social media appear as a feature of this ungraceful trend. The book fetishist is aggressive and defensive in equal measure.

This is why I am skeptical about Bookaday a recent book blog appeal to ‘Read one book a day for each day of the summer vacation’. Bookaday’has been successfully running for six years and my doubts will not halt its popularity. For myself I’d rather hear about one affecting book in a lifetime than the seven someone read competitively this week. The idea of averaging out at one book a day for six weeks (sometimes three a day, sometimes none) is appallingly reductive to me. Read lots, if that’s what you enjoy, but do not feel a commitment to do so. Of what value is the skim reading of one book per day?

I thought of one of my very favourite books: JL Carr’s A Month In The Country. It is a decade since I last read Carr’s immersive story of the renewal and healing of soldier Tom Birkin in the peaceful summer of 1920. Yet it remains vivid to me. Imagine if I had read it in a day- slim though it is. Would I have noticed its beautiful rhythmic (slow) pace or the beauty of Carr’s writing? I loved it so much I didn’t want it to end. Even so, I’ve never felt the need to read it again.

I therefore announce the Ki Agency book lovers appeal. Here are the tenets:

Readers:

Strive over the next year not to listen to recommendations about the volume or regularity of your reading.

Don’t be pressured by a voluminous stack by your bed.

Don’t, in fact, allow a stack to develop at all.

Limit yourself to one book on the go at any time.

Try to find a book every six months that you will remember for years.

Writers:

Write less but write better.

Read the market segment you are aiming for and read the best books in that segment.

Spend less time reading and more time thinking of your potential reader.

Pass on books you’ve read and declutter- keeping only the finest writing to adorn your home.

Don’t enter into any debates about Kindle vs hard copy.

Understand that the materials you use to write with are not important. It’s the writing that counts.

Daniel

Landmark

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It’s widely reported today that Google has won the case against the Authors’ Guild in the States.  Judge Chin says it’s OK for Google to freely digitise all books, for the purposes of showing snippets.  People can now search to see if a book is relevant to their research or interest.

To me, this still raises an issue as to whether anyone should scan a book without the consent of the author.  It feels similar to the issue with Google’s street views, which inadvertently showed people in the street at the time, also without   their consent.  It feels like an infringement of rights.  It feels like part of our growing lack of privacy and control.

That being said, any student could go into a library and flick through books, to see if they were going to be useful.  Besides academic uses, there’s an already-established practice of being able to skim some of a book on Amazon before deciding to buy it.  Looks like this ship has sailed.  What used to be restricted because it’s labour-intensive (you’d have to go to a library or shop in person, pick up the book and glance through it), is now easy – and global.

I feel rather fazed by the enormity of it.  But, optimist that I am, I’m going to put my faith in Judge Chin’s diligence and wisdom, and hope that it does indeed mean that more people buy more books.