Monday, October 19, 2009

Introducing a Book of the Day Feature

What do all these people have in common?

Sheryl Gascoigne, Jeremy Clarkson, Peter Kay, Jo Brand, Ozzy Osborne, Jack Dee, Chris Evans, John Barrowman, Katie Price, Jamie Oliver, Rick Stein, Loose Women, Justin Lee Collins, Gordon Ramsay, Al Murray, JLS, Leona Lewis and Ant and Dec...

They all have books out at the moment, and they dominate the front of house sales display in each branch of W H Smith. If ever evidence were needed of our dumbed down culture, this list of mediocre literary offerings provides it. The only quality books in the same display are William Shawcross's biography of the Queen Mother and Andrew Marr's History of Britain. Are there really only two such books which merit a main display? Or is it because the publishers have to pay a marketing fee to get the position, and the only books which will recoup the fee are the celeb books? You know the answer.

I am not singling out W H Smith. The other chain bookshops do the same thing. I understand the financial reasons for operating in this manner, but it still pains me to think of all the brilliant books which are published which don't get shelfspace let alone a front of house display.

Thank God for the internet. Without online bookstores we'd never get to know about half the books which are published.

I am intending to introduce a new regular books feature on this blog. If you want to nominate a new political title you have read and think worthy of mention, do let me know.

60 comments:

Unixman said...

Where do we start? At the beginning with Machiavelli "The Prince" ....

All Seeing Eye said...

Al Murray's got a book out? w00t!

Seriously, when Palin's book is out, that will be worth a review. My copy is ordered already.

A Snob said...

Oh dear. It's even worse than I thought.

Anyone who thinks that William Shawcross's biography of the Queen Mother and Andrew Marr's History of Britain are not themselves examples of dumbing down hasn't ever read a book worth reading.

Shawcross's effort is little more than a tiresome hagiography, well parodied by Craig Brown, and the idea that Marr has anything interesting to say about our history is fanciful in the extreme.

The reality is simply that the best books are always the least read. It's always been like this, for obvious reasons, so "dumbing down" is itself a bit of a specious concept.

I suspect that what you really mean is that there's more low-brow culture out there than middle-brow.

Doug said...

I don't see a problem with Jeremy Clarkson and Al Murray who are both very intelligent guys and thoughtful.

On the other hand Marr's book is absolute rubbish. No wonder they had to pulp much of it (due to Marr's libellous comments).

John Moss said...

Anthony Seldon has just published Trust: How We Lost it and How to Get it Back.

For a professed lefty, I believe he sets out some real options for reform which would go someway to reversing the socialist agenda we have broadly followed since 1946.

Highly recommended.

trevorsden said...

Sorry off topic - but now Brown is giving us all this 50 days to save the planet pre Copenhagen propaganda guff.

Pathetic. Please Mr Cameron show a bit of sense. Read Watts up with that before shooting your mouth off.

mikeyfff said...

How about Douglas Carswell & Dan Hannan's masterpiece 'The Plan' ! It seems have been the source of many a Tory policy

Anonymous said...

50% of the population are of below-average intelligence.

Hence the need for crap books crap newspapers and crap TV.

Anonymous said...

For anyone interested in the American political system (and interesting pointers towards what to look for when trying to work out who may be the republican nominee in 2012), I would suggest getting a copy of “The Campaign Managers look at 2008”. Very interesting read (they do it after every presidential election), especially surrounding the set of circumstances which lead to McCain being gifted the nomination.

BJ said...

This is something I feel quite strongly about, and why you should, whenever possible, patronise your local independent bookseller.

Tragically, the species is pretty much dying out everywhere except London (and possibly Edinburgh and the big university towns).

You'll notice that the windows are chock-full of decent books, and the staff are really knowledgeable too.

Jess The Dog said...

The number of new titles produced annually has decreased 10% since 2007. Many of these celebrity "memoirs" (some aren't even out of their 20s!) end up in supermarkets and then in remainder bins.

The internet is the saviour of quality - it links public demand with authors in all sorts of niche areas.

Most of the cover price is marketing, printing, distribution and the cut of the various agents, publishers and booksellers. Only a small amount goes to the author, who is likely to see around 50p out of a retail price of £7.99 for each book if he/she is fortunate.

Not really enough to sustain a living, given that a book of novel length is 70,000 words plus and this takes a lot of time to research, write and rewrite before trying to flog it! However, the internet also makes self-marketing easier, through sites like WordPress as well as blogs.

bobthedog said...

Its all part of the dumbing down function that makes Celebrity more interesting than other subjects such as history or current affairs!

Its a British Disease and has been rampant for the past 12 years since a certain Mr Bliar inherited the keys to Downing Street with his "Cool Britain" approach, and his obsession with luvvies and celebrity.

Childprotector said...

It is getting to the stage where bookshops will need a small, dedicated section for Books Written By Author...

Roger Dodger said...

You are in prolific mood today.

Nice PMA.

I have to agree a little with snob. If that is Smith's attempt to hit the high brow then I fear for intellectual discourse in this country.

Bill Quango MP said...

Unixman
Where do we start? At the beginning with Machiavelli "The Prince" ....

So Mandelson has a biography out too?

Andrew Efiong said...

I'd start with Nigel Lawson's memoirs, "The View from No. 11". No dumbing down there!

Alan Douglas said...

I nominate "How I learned to stopped worrying and love the Brown", only trouble, it has not, and never will be written.

Alan Douglas

Darren Newman said...

Since we're about to enter a major national strike how about 'Marching to the Fault Line' by Francis Beckett & David Hencke. A detailed account of the 84/85 miners strike and its consequences. Very readable and balanced.

Jabba the Cat said...

Yawn...

tory boys never grow up said...

Why does the nominated book have to be a political title? Perhaps one of the lessons that should be earned from open primaries is that politics is not everything for most ordinary people - and perhaps politicians need to try and connect with ordinary life a little bit more.

Am I alone in being highly depressed by the narrow reading of most political bloggers when demonstrated by those Google widgets?

Anonymous said...

What do they have in common? Most of them are trailer-trash who are unable to put a sentence together!

Nigel said...

Two suggestions:

The Pullitzer Prize winning "Founding Brothers: The Revolutionary Generation", and the equally good "American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies in the Founding of the Republic" by Joseph J. Ellis.

Essential reading for anyone interested in American political history - or indeed anyone with a real interest in politics.

And they're both quite short.

The Purpleline said...

I am looking forward to reading Gyles Brandreth new book, 'Something Sensational To Read In The Train' to be published by John Murray on October 29 at £25but can be picked up for a fiver most probably on Ebay.

It looks interesting for a little light entertainment

Nigel said...

Sorry, neither of the Ellis books are 'new'.

If you want a recently published hardback, then:
"The Hawk and the Dove: Paul Nitze, George Kennan, and the History of the Cold War" by Nicholas Thompson.

Anonymous said...

But if you went to a better class of shop ,like Poundland you can buy a Cameron hardback and a Cherie Bliar hardback all for the sum of £1 each,Iain everybody has their own idea what books they would read and Iam still looking for the book on fishing by JR Hartley.

Glyn H said...

Yes!

Try Heaven and Earth (Global Warming, the Missing Science) by Prof. Ian Plimer. It is about time these lunatics (indeed) from Prescott at Kyoto, via Dr V Pope at the Met Office and Miliband Jnr were brought face to face with the fact that carbon dioxide and humans don’t drive climate change – which has happened over millions upon millions of years, and at greater rates of change than now. The belief that man can halt this natural phenomena is barking; the Witchfinder General out of Canute’s courtiers! And these clowns are basing economic policy on this myth!

Second could be Nigel Lawson’s An Appeal to Reason on the same subject (and yes, I did plough through the near 1100 pages of the View from Number 11); however he did get us into that damn ERM strategy the exit from which paved the way to the golden age which Mr Brown has just comprehensively wrecked!

JBW said...

I recently visited a good second hand book shop in Loughborough and noticed he had a good collection of aviation books, I asked him if he was in the market for some of my old technical books.

Not interested he said - he gets them in bulk from auction houses at silly prices. Everyone, it seems, is throwing books out these days.

As to books in the windows of Smiths etc - well, why not wait a bit as they will be in the Charity shops by January!

JBW said...

trevorsden said...
"... but now Brown is giving us all this 50 days to save the planet pre Copenhagen propaganda guff."

Didn't labour have a similar phrase for saving the NHS- and look what they did to the that!

vervet said...

Waterstone's are still fighting a rearguard action on the high street. Walk briskly past the 'Top Twenty' shelves just inside the door, and you'll still find the worthy stuff ... and in a 'chav-free' oasis that is so hard to find in our towns these days !
Under politics I would second the recommendations for Seldon's 'Trust' and Carswell/Hannan's 'Plan'.

blackwatertown said...

The book I am absolutely loving at the moment is The Accidental Guerilla by David Kilcullen. Deals with counter insurgency in Afghanistan, Iraq mainly, but also south east Asia. He's an Australian advising the US govt at a high level. Full of sense about where things have gone wrong, and how they just might be put right in Afghanistan. Excellent book, and he appears to be a pretty good guy also.

Charlotte Corday said...

Iain, I agree generally with what you say but what about Hatchards in Picadilly? It's lovely and the staff there really do seem knowledgeable and enthusiastic abot books.

Frugal Dougal said...

Another quality book out in the frotn-of-house displays is Terry Wogan's Is it me?, giving an object lesson in how being unafraid of using the Engish language lovingly can make recounting everyday experiences into high art.

Shamik said...

If only we had a chain of political book shops dotted around the country, eh?!

Now all we need is someone with knowledge of the subject and experience in running a book shop... :)

On a more serious note, if you haven't written the book yourself, and I doubt any of those nonentities you've mentioned have, then you shouldn't be allowed to proclaim so. An end to ghost writing!!

Tony said...

There are still plenty of excellent small bookshops around , particularly in market towns.

phil said...

Butcher & Bolt by David Loyn BBC Journalist in Kabul tracing the two hundred years of foreign engagement in Afghanistan. He came to our University and gave us a talk on the topic and you could tell that he spoke with real authority on the subject and reading the book that comes over as well. AND the hard back profits go to a charity to educate muslim children in Georgia!

Javelin said...

48 laws of power. Excellent book.

If you re-read it every 5 years it rewrites itself.

In politics everything else is stamp collecting.

Anonymous said...

Before travelling in the USA last month I downloaded 'Barnes and Noble' addresses into the GPS and each small city had a branch- no shortage of political books, from Obama glorification to Glenn Beck via Jonah Goldberg 'Liberal Fascism'. American bookshops actually have books!

iain said...

Chips channon's diaries - far superior to pale imitations (inc Alan Clarke's).

One always gets the feeling he is writing for himself and no-one else - much preferable to those who write with an audience in mind and in particular those who believe they are writing their 'place in posterity'.

iain said...

And PS the hackneyed phrase 'dumbing down' is itself a debasing of the English language.

Anonymous said...

I'm quite looking forward to the Chris Evans book.

But Leona Lewis?

gordon-bennett said...

I would recommend Nevil Shute's autobiography "Slide Rule"

As well as being extremely well-written (of course) it also includes a definitive account of the development of the R100 and R101 airships as a contest between Capitalism and socialism.

The socialist built R101 crashed and burned, rather like our current socialist economy built by gordon brown.

Anonymous said...

A few years old- but you cant beat Team of Rivals... the biography of Lincoln and his cabinet. A truly remarkable peice of work.

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Team-Rivals-Political-Abraham-Lincoln/dp/0684824906

sjm said...

I read Hilary Mantel's brilliant novel A Place of Greater Safety (about Danton and Robespierre and the way political idealism turns sour and nasty) as the Major administration was going down the pan.

It would be pretty well as relevant today.

Newmark said...

tory boys never grow up said...
"Why does the nominated book have to be a political title?"

Maybe because this is a political blog.

Newmark said...

Shamik said...
"... if you haven't written the book yourself, and I doubt any of those nonentities you've mentioned have, then you shouldn't be allowed to proclaim so.

I suspect that Al Murray has written his book himself.

He has a degree in history from Oxford and is a descendant of William Makepeace Thackeray.

Anonymous said...

they are easy christmas presents so sell by the tonload, thats I think the marketeers push behind them, and if it keeps publishers going to do the more interesting stuff then fair enough. its when the celeb biographies are being done to the exclusion of everything else we should worry.

Anonymous said...

That nice man Mr Peter Kowalczyk did us all a favour when he slapped Leona! What on earth does she have to write about at 24? Here's to more such forthright literary criticism ...

Anonymous said...

Have you read A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY by Bill O Rielly?
So called because one day while running in the corridor at school he ran into a female teacher, who took him by his ear and said,"well you are a bold fresh piece of humanity".(or similar)
I would love a copy but don't know how to get one(American you see).
Not over the internet because I refuse to put any of my bank details into cyberspace.
Thanks

bigV said...

Try Canadian jounralist Dan Gardner's Risk ; not strictly political, but an excellent read.

Nigel said...

>>A BOLD FRESH PIECE OF HUMANITY by Bill O Rielly?<<

Pretty putrid, these days.

Anonymous said...

Nigel re bold fresh..why?

tory boys never grow up said...

Newmark says

Maybe because this is a political blog.

You are missing my point - my objection was against political titles. Politics can be found in many things which might interest normal human beings if political anoraks are bothered to make the connection.

Don't you think that perhaps Jane Austen was trying to make a few political points in her novels? Eventhough the Tory Party is just beginning to get to grips with them ;)

Why when all the ill informed discussion is going on about Stalinism and Nazism isn't some attention paid to writers like Koestler, Ambler and Furst who were either there at the time or who have clearly spent a lot of effort observing what really happened?

I'm afraid most of the political books mentioned so far would only serve to increase the interest in celebrity trash!

Jess The Dog said...

I'd recommend Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. Booker prize winner as well, so good chance to show off (not hide it under a newspaper or other dustjacket like Harry Potter or Dan Brown!)

It's very long...and it moves very slowly, at an agonising pace through Henry VIII's interlinked attempts at divorce and getting into the silken undergarments of Anne Boleyn. It paints a vivid picture of the protagonist Thomas Cromwell as a waif and stray and a later protector of waifs and strays, as a family man cruelly deprived of his wife and children, as a devoted servant of Wolsey and Henry, and not quite the arch-enemy of the sainted (and obstinate) Thomas More as some have portrayed (in particular Robert Bolt). Also shines a light on other characters, in particular Henry, his first and second wives.

Nearly finished it.

mum in the east said...

I have enjoyed "American Wife" for a bit of light reading.

Savonarola said...

It is 1049 pages. "It is quite simply the finest biography I have read. It is more than that: it is one of the finest works of literature I have encountered."

It is 'Master of the Senate' by Robert Caro part of a trilogy on the political life of President L B Johnson.

I preferred 'Path to Power' covering Johnson's early years in Texas.

David Logan said...

Ahem Iain.
Thank God for independent bookshops also! Remember them? When the chains have all gone, we will be the only places where you can actually look at a book.

We try very hard not to stock celebrity rubbish and seem to survive, if only just.

Fred said...

good idea, Iain. The best and most thought provoking "political" book I have read this year or in the past few years is The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett.

Hunter-Gatherer said...

What about the Joe Trippi book 'The Revolution Will Not Be Televised'. This has influenced the eay that future Prime Minister / Presidential campaigns will be run.

Philipa said...

Excellent notion.

But does it have to be restricted to a new 'political' title? Historical books have political resonance and even fiction can send a political message.

Philipa said...

Incidentally the fiction that sprung to mind was 'The Appeal' by John Grisham; the perfect antidote to religious political ranting. But not new. Out in paperback tho so good cheap stocking filler.