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.

The Man Booker Longlist – why are we waiting for publication?

man-booker-prize-2014_0

The longlist of thirteen titles has been announced, but we can only get our hands on eight of them? Is this a prize for the public, or just for publishers?

It doesn’t seem entirely fair that the public aren’t able to get fully involved with the Man Booker this year, and what’s more unfair is that certain publishers are choosing to purposefully not bring forward publication for their titles. This is despite the fact that HarperCollins imprint Fourth Estate is to bring forward its publication date for Joseph O’Neill’s The Dog to 31st July since it was longlisted for the prize. It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me…

From a publisher’s point of view, surely being longlisted for the Man Booker is phenomenal for sales – most people will be desperate to get their hands on a copy so they can make their own mind up about who should be shortlisted, and who should eventually win. Isn’t that what book prizes are all about? Generate a bit of publicity, a bit of chatter and buzz about a book and an author, provoke discussion and debate and then ultimately crown a victor to the combined cries of celebration and commiseration? How does any of this work if people can’t read four of the books on the list? What happens if they’re shortlisted? It’s just ridiculous. It’s just squandering free publicity. How frustrating for the public, and undoubtedly for the authors too.

2014_booker_novelsFrom a personal point of view, I often supplement my reading with these book prize longlisted titles, and it’s extremely irritating to have a book flaunted in my face and in the media when I can’t read it. A cynical part of my brain tells me that this is just an elaborate way for the big publishing companies to pat each other on the back about how well they’re doing. It’s a bit of competition between publishing houses, and seems a bit elitist and alienating to everyone else. Is the Booker just a prize for publishers, or for everyone? I really don’t know any more.

In an article on The Bookseller site, Simon Key from the Big Green Bookshop is quoted as saying:

It is just stupid that nearly half the books aren’t even out yet. The Man Booker Prize is trying to stand out from the Folio, why doesn’t it do that by being inclusive and selecting books which are already published so that the public can get involved? What’s the point in keeping it just for the publishing industry? How are booksellers able to make a song and dance among customers when we can’t offer them the books? They have changed the rules so that Americans can enter, why don’t they change the eligibility to ensure the books have to be published?

The word ‘inclusive’ jumps out at me. It should be inclusive, of smaller, independent publishers, as well as the public. The problem with a lot of these big book prizes, and I’m probably the zillionth person to harp on about this, is their exclusivity. As Simon says, the Booker seems as though it’s trying to fight against this criticism by including American titles, but that’s only a small fragment of the whole picture. All we’re asking for is the ability to read the books that we’re being told we should read, isn’t that what you want, Booker Prize? Isn’t that the whole point of you? Sigh.

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.

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

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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

From the author’s mouth

In the first of a new series of posts by Freight authors, Iain Maloney
– whose debut novel First Time Solo will be published on 23rd of June – writes a response to a recent article by Will Self (link below).

Bring out your dead How the Dead Write

On May 2nd in The Guardian, previewing a lecture given on May 6th, Will Self announced the death of the literary novel. At least that’s what the headline stated: ‘The Novel is Dead (this time it’s for real)’. I’m going to give Self the benefit of the doubt and assume it was an over-eager sub-editor who came up with that piece of click bait. 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

Freight’s Friday Feature

 This is almost veering off into Tell it Like it is territory. But I’m not entirely telling it how it is. I’m more attempting to point out how someone else has told it how it isn’t.

jk rowlingSo I read a very frustrating and provocative article by Lynn Shepherd on JK Rowling’s role as a writer who (shockingly!) didn’t immediately decide to give up writing when she earned a ‘vast fortune’ off the back of it.

Before I go into this in any depth, if you haven’t read this article by Lynn yet, you should do it now: click here.

All done? I know there’s a part of your brain going ‘she has a point kind of, doesn’t she? I mean, big bad mainstream authors do kind of ruin it for the little guys, don’t they?’ I have to admit, I sort of started thinking that way – I was reluctant to jump on the hating Lynn Shepherd bandwagon. But then I thought some more about it. It seems as though Lynn is trying to justify this tyrade against Rowling by asking us to agree that popular, arguably mainstream authors are making it more difficult for struggling authors to find agents, publishers and buyers when the books hit the shelves. That’s fine. You can make that argument, and I’m sure many other authors out there would feel that pain and empathise. What you can’t do is couple a self-righteous comment on the closed community of publishing/journalism with an attack (and I think it is an attack, albeit one that seems to constantly premise with ‘I don’t mean this in a mean way, but…’) on one of the world’s most successful, charitable and charismatic writers. Particularly when you haven’t even read any of her most successful works. Continue reading

Tell It Like It Is

Tell It Like It Is is a new column for the blog, featuring Freight employees giving their own views on matters relating to the publishing world. These views are even more personal than the usual personal views being read, and in no way stand for Freight’s philosophy, way of thinking, or direction of movement.

So, A S Byatt has really shaken things up over the last few weeks, hasn’t she. Not in global terms, but in terms relating to the state of publishing in the UK at present. For those of you not keen, interested or inclined to read the London Evening Standard, she said this on the back of only one Briton making it to the shortlist of the inaugural Folio Prize. Continue reading