price-compare results for meta vendor sites


09 November 2006

Literary Agnosticism

Here in Québec, this time of year in mid-November, we are about to enter the period of book fairs. In French, and I am discussing the French-language book trade as far as this season of exhibitions is concerned, a book fair is termed Un Salon du livre. There are 4 or 5 large Salons du livre in La Belle Province (notre patrie) this fall.

The true believers in books will flood the floors in public venues as massive as any convention centres. Thousands and tens of thousands of booklovers over 2 days or 4, attend book signings and seminars, walk mile after mile along publishers' rows once or twice for some, that many times per day per week for others, while the people who work the booths exhaust themselves greeting and meeting and moving on like Carnival Folk.

Just as there are jazz devotees who spend most of the Monhtreal Jazz Festival week at the free concerts and the big ticket clubs, book devotees will hang out around Place Bonaventure or wherever a Salon is held in Québec City, Rimouski, Hull or the Saguenay.

That 'don't' mean they know squat about books.

Do the attendees at a food fair necessarily know about mislabelling in food products? Do physicians at an exhibition held during a major medical conference know the ins and outs of the pharmaceutical industry? Can music fans (or rather, do music fans) make esthetic distinctions between acoustic, synthetic and digitally spliced sound or the originality, the creativity of execution and production -- live versus recorded?

If all these afficiandos of whatever kept a ton of criteria scrolling in their heads at these various collective bashes, they would tune out, turn off and drop out - just as Timothy Leary advised a generation to do decades ago. Well, we are not living in the '60s friends, no matter whether we'd prefer to or are glad to have moved on. We're on to another dimension of collective neuroses.

I cannot help but see the frenzy over authors and books (and let us include (all the) Metropolis Bleu(x) as (a) literary festival(s) here), nearly all of them, as part of the dynamic of Hollywood's and MuchMusic's starmaking in the zeitgeist of consume, consume consume.

Lest the used book people (many of whom are also in the crowds described above) lest we get snotty and holier than thou about being above the crowd mentality, Cheap Priceless Editions will, in upcoming POSTS, display photos of hundreds of used book buyers elbowing each other out and jealously guarding boxed caches of used book finds at the McGill University Booksale (held in October) where books at a dollar are de rigueur.

(We didn't have our camera for the Thomas Moore Institute's bookfair in Sept. Too bad . . that was a 50-yard dash for the book bins that risked injury to the key players -- the book pickers who sell on the Internet.)

This post is a call for a shot of agnosticism about books and things literary. Frankly, I do not see how you can be anything but agnostic about the book trade. Just read authors and lit mags, especially compare the literary advertisement, and try to distinguish between Toronto, New York, Munich, Paris . . . San Francisco, the coast of British Columbia, Québec or what is coming out and going down in Central and Latin America. The more multilingual your reading habits the harder it becomes to make cultural distinctions about competing literatures. (BTW, here in Montreal, is there a single copy of a book -- in any language -- by the Turkish author who just won a Nobel, Orhan P? I cannot find one. We may be global. We are still insular.)

Globalization versus local culture is certainly still an issue in the print media, but I wonder whether a neophyte to literature (say a well read high school student) is not starting off on more solid footing by seeing books, authors and publishers today as playing the same game everywhere and anywhere around the globe.

We've got plenty of time and space to describe booktrade agnostics versus literary true believers in POSTS & COMMENTS. One observation here, no make that two, and we'll end the post.

In a Euro-centric world of lit, a Mexican recognised as an icon of his Mexican culture is found in permanent residence, where he writes Mexican novels, where else but in London, England. An icon of Québec theatre is found in the Florida Keys, another started her long career (after one first novel) in New England, especially Martha's Vineyard. An American icon taps his typewriter in Italy -- and all of them strive to meet deadlines negotiated with editors who answer to the German or English owners of New York publishing empires.

The last post revealed the accounting principles of book publishing in the US. Although Canada and France fund lit differently and in unique manners, what distinguishes cultures vis a vis books?

What a book agnostic recognizes right away is that tax law and accountancy has just as much to do with the titles displayed and the range of authors out in print as does any wave of inspiration that sweeps over an emerging generation of scribes.

My second, and last point, is that there are no more literary editors living, breathing and redlining MSS (unless he or she is out there in the Small Press house working from home by email and making less than $4.50 an hour) who practise the same hands-on reworking of manuscripts as did Maxwell Perkins, the editor of work by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Ring Lardner and Thomas Wolfe. There are reasons (financial and fiscal, mostly) why such editing and such symbioses between editor-author-publisher-public has become a dinosaur out of our fossilised past.

No comments: