Saturday, December 16, 2006

Books of the Year? Not a chance.

It's traditional to give a list of ones books of the year, but so patchy is (a) my buying and (b) my reading that it's near impossible to think of something I've actually read that came out in 2006. I did enjoy Tobias Hill's "Nocturne in Chrome & Sunset Yellow", a collection of poetry mostly about living in London, yet finding the pastoral in the city, rather than merely the everyday. A welcome romanticism that also finds room to namecheck iPods, and is contemporary enough to let the outside horrors of the Asian tsunami in. And I've just received from the very handsome "Up is Up..." about the downtown New York literary scene - the size of the Argos catalogue but infinitely more inspiring its a single-book archive, featuring artwork and photographs as well as the literature. An exemplary work from the always excellent NYUP. Its been a year when we saw the wonderfully diverse Verberate nights come to an end, and magazines like Transmission, the Quiet Feather, Citizen 32 (I've a short article on self censorship in the latest issue), and Parameter consolidate themselves. (See links on the side of the page for these and other magazines.) In other words; our very own downtown literary scene is going very nicely. Interesting, as well, that now magazines like Unquiet Desperation and Libertine are using Myspace as a way of growing their audience. (Blogs are so last year, don't you think?). I have some concerns, of course. The blog and the Myspace - and the internet in general - seem to be good at potting, concising, anthologising, cataloguing. They are quickly read, half-read, hardly read. Great for journalism (and indeed for "journal"-ism such as this) and for informing and selling, but the art, the culture remains elsewhere, in the book, the film, the album that we're writing about or selecting from or pointing to. Perhaps its because its so difficult to monetarise the web - that any good art created on it, soon moves off it - to the book deal, the record deal, the film deal.


I've talked before about the difference between British and American novels/novelists - and its interesting to read that the American's like our writers, yet according to novelist Benjamin Markovits, "England, as it appears in the US bestseller charts, is the country of Oxbridge and public schools." The thing is, he's not wrong is he? Our Ian McEwans and Zadie Smiths and Kazuo Ishiguros are all happiest in "traditional, elitist, class-ridden" England. There's many other Englands, yet our most successful writers ignore them, or only acknowledge them when set against the status quo of the establishment. Whilst these writers are our most successful exports, what chance that publishers will look elsewhere?

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