Saturday, January 21, 2006

Into the Valleys

I was interested to read in the Guardian about the establishment of the Library of Wales, an initiative to bring back into print Welsh "classics." The first, Ron Berry's "So Long Hector Bebb" sounds worth a read, a boxer from south Wales making his comeback. It makes me wonder whether we have a fiction of "place" anymore, and what it's validity might be. These, after all, are Welsh writers writing in English. But if there is such a thing as an Australian fiction or Canadian fiction I'm well able to believe there might be a Welsh one. With a not over-ambitious, but not insubstantial aim to bring 10 books a year back into print over 5 years, its a rare undertaking of blinding common sense. Secondhand books websites and secondhand bookshops have furnished most of my purchases over the last few years; so books not being "in print" is not always a problem - and I can only assume that the Library of Wales, like other small publishers, will have a long-term view of its own backlist, otherwise, in 10 years time these editions will be the one's lost and forgotten. There's recently been more talk of "electronic paper" making the eBook a real possibility at last. I guess, for non-fiction, its possible, but for narrative fiction? I'd be surprised to see something in my lifetime. I'm like those few people holding on to their black and white television sets, not intending giving up on books yet. In Stephen Poliakoff's recent BBC play "Friends and Crocodiles", every time some new dot-com startup mentions electronic books, the main character goes back to the old sorts, and, in a moment of absurdist humour recommends that the venture capitalists invest their money in bookshops, because there aren't enough of them.

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