Friday Roundup

Back to Abbotsford this week, to film a segment for Newsnight Scotland on literary tourism. I was delighted to hear that visitor numbers are up 25% on last year – a rise I would think that has more to do with “staycations” than the publication of any Scott-related books in recent months. Anyway, it’s an opportunity for me to share the photograph the great Phil Wilkinson took of me the last time I was at Abbotsford. With any luck, next time I’m there I’ll be able to find the spare keys and move in.


It’s the calm before the storm of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, but that doesn’t mean there’s a large number of toothsome literary factoids for you.

Firstly, a very ironic pair of stories cropped up on The Bookseller. John Blake, of John Blake Publishing, has a blog with the heading “No-one Likes Us”, going on to say “taking a populist approach to publishing does not necessarily make you particularly popular” – Blake, for those who don’t know, publishes celebrity memoirs and their darker ilk. Next to said story, as if to prove the point, was the news item “Blake to publish book on Moat killings”. A cut-and-paste job on the Cumbrian spree killings is also in the pipeline, a propos of which Blake said “We feel it’s a very raw subject so we don’t want to seem like we’re exploiting the dreadful murders.” Is that a weeping crocodile I see?

As if news for former Prime Minister Gordon Brown couldn’t get any worse, Private Eye reports that The Change We Chose: Speeches 2007-2009, published by Mainstream Books, has sold a derisory 32 copies. If it were a work of avant-garde poetics that might almost be respectable.

I finished reading The Romantic Revolution by Tim Blanning, a concise but deep look at the entire spectrum of arts and their relationship to that nebulous concept, “Romanticism”. I learned a great fact: Caspar David Friedrich’s painting Man And Woman Contemplating The Moon was, according to Samuel Beckett, the “source” for Waiting for Godot. This week’s review is The Collected Stories by Lydia Davis, and I’d encourage you all to buy a copy. Just read the new Iain M Banks – Surface Detail – which is out in October and is the best Culture novel since Excession – if you want any more whetting, how about the Culture versus Hell?

So whatever happened to the woman?

Ad your heartwarming story for the day: Superman really does help people in need.

I should add a few words about the Booker longlist, but I nearly fell asleep reading the list, let alone the books. Personally, I’d be delighted if it went to either Tom McCarthy or David Mitchell – although Mitchell has sold most copies of anyone on the longlist, and the Booker has never gone to the best-selling book. Thrawn or independent-minded? Disappointments: no James Robertson or Andrew O’Hagan, no Nicola Barker or Jonathan Coe, no China Mieville (always a long shot, but one can dream). There are no debut novels this year either, which might make the Costa a more interesting field come January.  

The rest of this week’s reading included the Essential David Shrigley, a new book on the History of Reading and Geoff Nicholson on walking. The History of Reading has my favourite ever Amazon review – an over-enthusiastic fan of the Christian apocalypse-porn Left Behind series claimed he/she “literally inhaled this book”. Ouch.


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