Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Book post as literature


A necessary part of the mainstream author's life, especially of non-fiction, is that they have to promote themselves by writing articles about how they wrote the book that is just being published.

(Obviously it helps if they already write regularly for the papers.)

Johann Hari promoting his new book about drug addiction.


Robert Macfarlane promoting his new book about landscape words.


I am reading Macfarlane's earlier book The Wild Places at the moment. It's often a really good book however undisguisedly a book written to the non-fiction formula of today.One of the best things about it is the studied deployment of the enhanced vocabulary that his new book centres on. But I haven't got time to think about the winter night on Ben Hope now, nor the holloways of Dorset.

The promotional-article-about-the-book, as evinced by the above, is also a genre with its own formula. For example, all those sentences that say "I did this interesting thing, I did that other interesting thing, while in still another interesting place I was emotionally stirred by hugely interesting things that I go on about in the book."

At the same time, in this internet world where all digitized products tend to become free, there's an awareness that the article will get more readers than the book itself, and accordingly it had better contain the heart of what the author would like us to know.

Because there are too many books, and we can't read any but a tiny fraction with the attention that they deserve and that all book-lovers would love to give but can't, it's a sensible faute-de-mieux to rely largely on these digests to gain a literate and informed view of what's going on in the world. Many of my clever colleagues in IT read no books at all; they have already forgotten Robert MacFarlane's name, but they remember something about the remarkable words for specific states of rain and ice; not the words themselves, but the fact that they existed.

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At 12:01 pm, Blogger Vincent said...

Yes, I clicked on your links the moment I encountered them and read through to the end (not R Macfarlane, had got the gist soon enough), and the blog pieces were enough, as digests of the entire book.

Whereas I have sometimes bought a book on the basis of a slender quote which has fired the imagination.

It is gratifying that we agree on this, that the book post is literature in its own right, undermining the impulse to buy the book. Gratifying to me because I cannot imagine promoting myself; or even making a distinction between a published book and the articles that make up my blog.

And when I go to our local Waterstone's the only bookshop in town, I see that every non-fiction book there is laced by some equivalent of monosodium glutamate to make you desire it, which I imagine equates to the "non-fiction formula of today" that you mention.

Is that formula writeable, I wonder? Could you have a go at defining it? Not that it would influence me [he alleged - Ed.]

At 4:20 pm, Blogger Michael Peverett said...

I hadn't thought of that - yes, it's true, posts such as yours are quite a pure instance of writing, they do not have much metatext like trailers or adverts.

I suspect being an author is always quite a lonely existence but I do get the impression with the mainstream professionals that their impulsive wanderings are overseen by mysterious unseen hands - people who arrange interviews and track down interesting contacts. Whatever the book's topic, the author's own life is somehow idealized in an aspirational way - how we would all love to travel to remote places, to campaign, to discover, to be confided in, and to write up our slightly airbrushed experiences for an expectant public. It's an important part of the book's meaning, along with the anecdotal delivery of information.


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