Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Book-Buying Crisis...Things Fall Apart

RTomens, 2016

I was out of reading - disaster! But how can you be? LJ would ask. Look at all those books! Yes but most of them are non-fiction and what isn't I don't fancy. It's Albert Camus' fault. Not him, you say, just the binding, which is getting old. No, it's him, he brought about the physical collapse of this paperback by comparing organised society to piranhas cleaning people up with their 'swift little nibbles', along with illuminating the existential doom of life, no doubt, although I didn't get further than page 11. I know his cynical ideas transferred to the paper conduit carrying them and it fell apart. It had a crisis. Is there a metaphor in this incident? Are we all ragged books gradually shedding pages as our stories are lived out? Probably not.  

I knew I'd get something over Kentish Town, with all it's charity shops, so I cycled there and started looking. Nothing in the first, nor the second, nor the third, but that was OK, the Oxfam bookshop awaited. Nothing. Almost a Muriel Spark but I hated the design so much I couldn't bring myself to buy it. Now, design rarely puts me off because it's the content that counts, right? But some books, often from the late-70s or 80s, are so damned ugly that I couldn't face holding them for weeks, every night and seeing them lying around. I turn over publications with offending covers, often The Guardian's Guide supplement, the covers of which are usually photos of modern tossers in whom I have no interest. I've even torn some off.

Oxfam...nothing? This can't be right. Look again...nothing, not even in the Modern Classics section. Crime, no...Science-fiction...no, mostly thick, modern books, those series authors knock out once-a-year and sell millions of...often aimed at teenagers.

Now I start to have a book-buying 'existential' crisis, wondering why I can't pick one out of hundreds available for just £1.99. You know why? Because I don't buy:
Modern novels with cartoon characters on their covers
Thick (over 250 pages) novels
Novels for thick people
Modern thrillers
Modern science-fiction
Classics (old) rarely
Anything with 'heartbreaking' in the blurb
Anything with 'profoundly moving' in the blurb
Anything with 'romance' in the blurb
Anything with a couple on the cover, therefore anything about couple, love, marriage, divorce etc
Anything recommended by the Richard & Judy book club, or Oprah Winfrey.

You see? Now usually, allowing for all of the above, I can find something.  The trouble begins when I start reading...because after decades of doing so I now know that 99% of all novels are not to my taste. Yes, I'm fussy, very fussy. I finish 1 in 20 that I start. Life's too short to waste on mediocrity, isn't it? One reason I could never join a book club. Imagine having to read something you regard as mediocre then being prompted for a response in front of others. Hell.

So I went back to the first shop I'd called in and picked this...

...a page-turner! What's more, a 'No.1 Bestseller'! Quite out of character but, you know what? I just fancied a change. John Mortimer said it 'makes the flesh creep' - I do hope so. The Independent On Sunday said 'Its depth, invention and characterisation lift it well into the realm of literature' - great! I could do with some literature. Hold on, I keep trying that and it usually fails, although some of my favourite novels aren't 'literature'; such as Burroughs' Nova Express, Simenon's Red Lights or James M Cain's The Postman Always Rings Twice.

I read the opening lines and liked them. The premise (the Nazis won the war) is interesting...but I'm buying a classic 'airport novel'! What's wrong with me? I'm slumming it! Funnily enough, Camus refers to Nazi atrocities in the opening pages of The Fall so perhaps he subliminally influenced my choice of Robert Harris' Fatherland. Either way, I sense I'm going to enjoy it and I can tell by the binding the pages won't fall out as I turn them. TTFN.

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