Discounted Till We Die

We can't carry on lifing in a Bargain BasementI’m just on the train back from a very interesting (if you are a publisher) Q&A session with James Daunt of Daunt Books and Waterstones (I really miss that apostrophe) fame. In it I learnt three things that got me thinking about the way that we, as publishers, approach publishing, and have come to the conclusion that we may be doing it Poorly.

What follows is a short summary of those three points, followed swiftly by my horribly utopian vision of a better way of doing things (perhaps). I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this, so please do give them to me through comments below, or via Twitter (@robbieguillory). Continue reading

Advertisements

Under the Covers

charlie+and+the+choclate+factoryYou’ll notice that there’ve been more book cover posts than reviews recently – I’m currently plodding my way through Lauren Beukes’s The Shining Girls (not the easiest read of my life) and trying to avoid reviewing books from last year. But anyway, I thought this new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover warranted a mini post since everyone seems to be talking/complaining about it.

I think a lot of the criticisms of this cover are just knee-jerk responses: ‘It’s not as good as Quentin Blake’, ‘What does it have to do with the story?’, ‘It’s pornographic!’, ‘It’s supposed to be a children’s book, this isn’t appropriate’. There’s obviously some basis to these critiques, but mostly they seem to be coming from old Roald Dahl fans – those familiar with the old Quentin Blake version. Some people just don’t like change. Certainly, it’s different to the covers illustrated by Quentin Blake, but is different always bad? It’s arguably a more mature cover, but, as many people have said already, the content of the book is very mature. Instead of trying to downplay the explicitness of the content with a younger cover, we need to be more aware of the ability for young readers to digest mature content. This can be seen across all kinds of media: film, music, books and games. But anyway, that’s a topic for another day…

As for it having ‘nothing to do with the story’, I disagree. The story explores the nature of children who have been spoiled and ruined by their parents – it’s about children, family and the relationship between the two. The cover represents that perfectly. Also, I don’t see how this could be inappropriate, and people who think it’s more closely linked to Lolita are out of their minds. Just because there’s a little blonde girl on the cover. Sigh.

All that being said, I don’t particularly like it. I prefer the Quentin Blake covers. But this all just comes down to modernisation, and targeting new readers and new markets. If you don’t like the cover, you don’t like the cover. I think this one just comes down to personal taste. Like it or lump it.

Under the Covers (HP part 2)

hp bloomsbury cover 1So I wasn’t planning on writing a blog post today, but then I stumbled upon yesterday’s Guardian article about Bloomsbury’s new Harry Potter covers, designed by Jonny Duddle. It seems like only yesterday that they redesigned them – maybe the radical modernisation of acid green and fuscia pink covers didn’t do much for sales figures and they thought they should retrace their steps.

There are things I like and things I don’t like about this. On the one hand, I like the original style best. I like the reproduction of scenes from the book. I like how they bring the book to life with magic and colour, and I appreciate the fact that they stimulate the imagination of young readers – the original audience of the Harry Potter books. That is to say, I like it when it’s done well, and I’m not entirely sure that these covers fit the bill. Especially when paired along with the Scholastic US covers. I’ve already written at length on these covers, but here’s an example if you haven’t read it:

new_cover2This isn’t the best example, but Google them and have a look. There’s something about them that couples imagination and magic with the more mature voice that Harry adopts as the story progresses. Really wonderful stuff!

I can’t help but think that the new Bloomsbury covers are a bit bleh (technical term). Harry looks like a child in these covers – even the later ones where he’s a bit older and wiser.

hp bloomsbury cover 4Look at his wee face! That isn’t the Harry that I’ve come to know and love, sorry Bloomsbury. Even though I didn’t particularly like the neon covers that were just recently published, I still admire the bravery of taking such a different approach, and I like that there’s something different out there for new, older readers. With these books, I feel like Bloomsbury are just returning to an old formula but some ingredients are missing or muddled.

hp filmOne last thing I’ll say about the covers (maybe ever on this blog, as I think we’re getting a bit HP heavy…) is that I like how we haven’t just been punted books with film stills on the cover. At least, I haven’t seen any. If they exist, please let me know in the comments! I think it’s pretty great that the publishers are so innovative with the HP covers, still designing and creating and imagining. So let me just finish by saying that, although I don’t love the new Bloomsbury covers, I still appreciate the effort. Thanks Bloomsbury and Scholastic for being brilliant!

(I’m honestly not obsessed with Harry Potter, just appreciate a good bit of book cover art!)

 

Last week, Freight Books read…

The Original of Laura cover

The Original of Laura, by Vladimir Nabokov (Penguin Modern Classics). This is my first blog post in a wee while. and I’m ashamed to say that it’s because I’ve been drawn into the world of young adult fiction. Namely the Divergent trilogy: Divergent, Insurgent and Allegiant. I thought that, after my Hunger Games post, folk might not be interested in reading another review on a teenage angst trilogy. If I’m wrong, by all means let me know and I will write that review! But anyway, today I will be rambling on a bit about The Original of Laura by Nabokov, his last, unfinished novel about the seductive Laura, or ‘Flora’ as is her real name. She is immortalised in fiction by one of her many lovers, and the knowledge of her infidelity drives her husband to self-destruction.

A short description of her appears at the beginning of the book, and it beautifully highlights the way that the reality of Laura intermingles with the fiction that has been invented:

She was an extravagantly slender girl. Her ribs showed. The conspicuous knobs of her hipbones framed a hollowed abdomen, so flat as to belie the notion of “belly.” Her exquisite bone structure immediately slipped into a novel – became in fact the secret structure of that novel, besides supporting a number of poems.

I don’t know if, had Nabokov had more time to finish the novel, he would have revealed more of this woman to us, or if the whole point is that she never gives herself wholly to any one person. She seems fragmented, illusive. Not entirely likeable, but that’s not the point.

Vladimir-Nabokov-001

The novel has been published, admittedly, against the author’s will, as he requested that the work be destroyed if he were to die before completion. His wife agreed to this, but never managed to fulfill the promise. Nabokov’s son, Dmitri, writes extensively in the introduction to the book on his decision to publish against his father’s will. He explains that it was entirely likely that his father did not believe that Vera, his wife, would be able to destroy the manuscript (as she had rescued an early draft of Lolita from the fire in the past) and that he knew that the book would eventually be published. I feel torn with regard to this. On one hand I think that the author should decide whether or not their work ever sees the light of day, but on the other hand I can’t imagine a world without Lolita, and it would have been burned if Vlad had had his way. It’s so tricky to know what the right thing is.

Having read The Original of Laura, I can see why Nabokov might have made such a request. His writing style is not one that lends itself to a posthumous publication. He seems to just write things as they come into his head, constantly adding notes to himself, and reproducing copy at different stages in the manuscript to work out where it should appear in the final piece. Solely taking this into consideration, I would argue that Dmitri had no right publishing the book at all, as it isn’t an accurate representation of Nabokov’s work and skill – the final piece pales in comparison to Pale Fire and Lolita.

the-original-of-lauraindexcardHowever, there was another reason to publish the book. Dmitri has given an insight into his father’s life as a writer, and has also reproduced the index cards with Nabokov’s scrawled notes and writing. It’s fascinating to be able to closely inspect his writing process, to see the words scrubbed out and replaced with better alternatives, the underlined phrases that he deemed important for some reason or other. It adds a whole new layer to textual analysis. The book even has serrated pages, so you can remove the index cards and rearrange them as Nabokov probably did.

It’s definitely worth a read, not only for the romantic and delectable turns of phrase so unique to Nabokov, but also for the fascinating insight into the author’s thought process. Any Nabokov fan should have Nabokov’s last novel on their bookshelf.

Ciao!

So, you haven’t heard from me (Robbie) in a while, because I’ve been on holiday, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t seeking out interesting gobbets of information to feed you with, one of which to follow. I’ve also got reviews up my sleeve for a whole plethora of books, including Evie Wyld’s debut novel, Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck, and the 1180 page epic tome by Michael Schmidt, The Novel, A Biography (I admit, I haven’t read it all yet, but I will make that clear) and many others that I can’t bring to mind at this moment. For now, though, let me tell you about an Italian publisher who is doing something rather special.

Beautiful sea urchin

There are a lot of sea urchins in Italy (I think this is a different species, however)

Whilst I was on my version of the Italian Grand Tour (going to as few places as possible, and only if they are very quiet) I came across a bookshop, and being of a mothlike bookish persuasion I was drawn inescapably in, even though I struggle to find enough Italian to ask for a glass of white wine. Inside I saw a lot of books, some of which I liked the look of and some that I didn’t, but one particular imprint caught my eye for three reasons: they were brightly-coloured enough for my sun befuddled eyes to be able to see them clearly, they were by ‘canonical’ authors I could recognise easily, and they were cheap. Seriously cheap, and for reasons I will go into in the following paragraph-but-one I will tell you why this is praiseworthy, and why it should be held up as an example to the publishers of so-called classic literature in this country. But before I do that I should give you a picture of one of these books, because so far all I’ve given you is a sea urchin, and tell you a bit about the publisher (I only know a bit).

Dante's Divine ComedyNewton Compton Editori may not seem like the most Italian of names (without the helpful Editori, anyway) but it is Italian through and through, having been started by a Vittorio Avanzini in Rome in the 60s. NC is primarily interested in publishing classic fiction, but have recently moved into contemporary translations, which we thoroughly approve of. They produce two forms of Classic – their paperback, which sells at 1.90€ (about £1.50) and a hardback (3.90€ // £3.10). They have only just put up the prices on their paperbacks, so if you fly out quick you can still swipe copies for only 99 cents (like I did).

Oscar Wilde's the Importance of Being ErnestThe reason I feel like this is noteworthy is that these books are not poorly made, are not going to discolour in a week (I’m looking at you, £2 Penguin Popular Classics). I tested my paperback copy of Bulgakov’s Cuore di Cane in Italy by leaving it in the baking sun whilst taking my siesta, holding it in my armpit whilst walking along the sea wall of the port, and it also spent quite some time lightly folded over in the bottom of my bag on the flight home, where it came out looking pretty healthy. What I am alluding to here is that Classic can be cheap (more on this in a moment) and well made, because you will sell hunners of them so they can be printed in bulk, which reduces the cost of production massively. Flaubet's Madame BovaryRight, cost. I have talked about this in passing before, but this gives me the opportunity to have a good rant. For many of the cannonical classics there is no living author, and often no rights either. Thus, if I wanted to, I could typeset, print, bind and sell a copy of Great Expectations tomorrow and wouldn’t have to pay anyone (If I did all the production). So how is it that companies (Cambridge Modern Classics and Penguin Classics being the big players here) can rationalise a £9.99 price tag (going all the way up to around £17 in some cases) for a book where there is no advance or royalty needing covered?

Bulgakov's Master and MargheritaNow of course, occasionally you will change the cover, or order a new translation, or even deign to actually pay an academic to write a forward, but largely these texts haven’t changes for decades. Just imagine the money being taken, and (in my opinion) taken unfairly.

978-88-541-6972-2I would like to hear any defense of the extortionate prices involved for out of copyright text, so if you have one please let me hear it. I have heard it said that a cheap classic will put people off buying modern fiction, but it just doesn’t wash with me, because what is on offer is a completely different experience.

Last week, Freight Books read…

the_hunger_gamesThe Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (Scholastic).I’m back from my holiday! I can tell you all missed me terribly (unless you didn’t notice, in which case fair play, but also shame on you). I’ve been in Turkey for a little while doing some exciting water sports, but also, most importantly (and relevantly), I’ve been reading.

When I go on holiday, I don’t like to read anything too challenging, or really in any way ‘literary’ (forgive me for using this term, but it hopefully illustrates my meaning). I like to be carried along by an exciting plot, not assessing the author’s use of language or rhythm (although, admittedly, it’s difficult to switch this off when reading anything). Now, I’m going to stray as far away from the term ‘trashy’ reading as possible, but again, you all know what I mean by this. Easy reading. Holiday reading. Some of us veer towards romance, some mainstream fiction (i’m just wildly throwing around terms now, apologies). I lean towards teenage fiction, and this is why I decided to take all three Hunger Games books with me – The Hunger Games, Catching Fire and Mockingjay.

First, I’d like to say that even though I read these on holiday, I in no way mean to suggest that these books are ‘trashy’. I think they’re brilliant. Easier to read because they’re targeting young adults/teenagers, but not lacking in depth. The characters experience real traumas – like, bad things happen to these people. It’s hard going in places, and the dystopian subject matter isn’t dealt with in a subtle way. There is true oppression at work, and society’s fight for political change has real resonance with today’s world. I found myself completely shocked in places, not expecting the violence to be so graphic in what is, essentially, teenage fiction (if you disagree, please let me know, this is just my opinion).

The-Hunger-GamesI know The Hunger Games books have been done to death in the media, particularly with the new films, but I don’t really care. I spent nearly two weeks reading these books so I’m going to let people know what I think about them. Verdict: incredibly awesome, though simple language and description in places reminds you that you should probably be reading something else. Why are some of the best books for teenagers? It hardly seems fair…Next stop: the Divergent books! (though I don’t have the excuse of being on holiday for reading these ones… hmmm, when’s the next bank holiday?…)

On eBooks and pBooks

First off, I’d like to apologise for my use of pBook in the title. I could take it away, but I won’t, because it is an experiment on whether it works as a term. I heard it last month at the Publishing Scotland conference, where it fell from the mouth of Faber CEO Stephen Page—

 

pBook

.

And there it lay, quivering as if with a silent mocking laughter. And we took it, folks. We just nodded our heads as if to say, ‘Oh of course, everyone says pBooks these days, we know exactly what you are on about.’ And then, if the rest of the delegates were anything like me, we all felt rather ashamed. Because it is pretty awful, isn’t it? Continue reading

Out with the old, in with the renewed

Century relaunches Star Wars booksSo I recently read on The Bookseller website (one of the few articles I was actually able to read in full as a non-paying freeloader) that Century, an imprint of Random House (or Penguin Random House if you’re being fancy/correct), will be ‘relaunching its Star Wars novels to become part of the “unified Star Wars storytelling future”‘. This bugged me, and I had a think about what my problem was. I mean, I have to admit that I’m excited about the prospect of the new Star Wars films, but is it really necessary to relaunch the entire franchise? Continue reading

Something about Elitism, probably

An article on my RSS feed recently caught my attention, a post by Swapna Krishna on the Book Riot blog entitled On the Perils of Feeling Dumb While Reading. This has now been latched on to by the Guardian, who are doing an open comment feed about Which books make you feel stupid. I think that to some extent Swapna is conflating the issue of not being ‘clever’ enough with not enjoying a book that everyone else seems to rave about, but the main thrust of her argument rings very true with me – for many people the act of reading is not just a pleasurable activity, it is an intellectual exercise. Last week my colleague wrote about the comments of Lynn Shepherd, who among other things said that people shouldn’t read Harry Potter because they should be reading something ‘more stimulating for grown-up minds’. Now, I am in the camp of people who don’t like the wizarding series, but that doesn’t stop me from seeing that this is simply rubbish. Reading is an intellectual act, yes, but it is an intellectual act no matter what is read – the intellectual bit is in the translating of squiggles on a page into brain pictures. This rang small bells inside my head about something I’d read earlier in the year, about people lying about the books they have read. I searched onwards.

Searching for why people read books

In September 2013, the Guardian conducted a poll of 2000 people to discover the books people claim to have read but actually haven’t, with 1984, War and Peace and Great Expectations at the top of the rankings. This in turn seems to be copying (ALLEGEDLY) a poll conducted on Book Riot in July of last year of 828 readers, where Pride and PrejudiceUlysses and Moby Dick triumphed as being the most unread books listed. The one that I find particularly odd is the listing for Ulysees, as I’m pretty sure having pretending to have read that requires you to also pretend to have a solid grasp of about seven European languages, as well as a firm footing in ancient Greek and Latin, and to know your myths like the back of your hand. That would take a whole lifetime of blag. But why do people feel like they have to lie about these things? What is it that we are supposed to think about a person who has read 1984, and what should we think about them if they haven’t? Continue reading

Kickstarter for A Bird is not a Stone: Palestinian poetry in translation

A Bird is not a Stone is a collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry, translated and reworked by Scottish poets into English, Scots, Gaelic and Shetlandic. The bilingual collection will be published by Glasgow’s Freight Books in summer 2014.

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

Book cover artwork provided by Raed Issa

It is our wish to write a blog that deals with books, book covers and other things unrelated to Freight Books, but we decided it was apt to do a small post on one of our titles, A Bird is not a Stone. This publication, edited by Henry Bell and Sarah Irving, is a stunning collection of contemporary Palestinian poetry translated by 25 of Scotland’s very best writers including Alasdair Gray, Liz Lochhead, James Robertson, Jackie Kay, William Letford,  Aonghas MacNeacail, DM Black, Tom Pow, Ron Butlin and John Glenday.

Liz Lochhead

Liz Lochhead

Sarah Irving and Henry Bell have set up a Kickstarter page for the project and are raising money to help fund travel between Palestine and the UK for the poets, as well as to supply Palestinian libraries, schools and universities with this unique new anthology. Continue reading