Monday, 16 April 2012


1. I enjoyed this piece about rereading. I am a rereader myself -- saying that you don't reread because there are so many unread books out there seems to me a bit like saying you don't want to go out with your friends during valuable time when you could meet new people. But who would have thought that Philip Hensher regularly rereads Little House in the Big Woods, and Ian Rankin rereads Jilly Cooper's Rivals? (As is appropriate he does so without guilt.) I reread lots, but the problem is that the things you really love need longer and longer between each rereading. It will be quite a while before I can reread Robertson Davies' Cornish Trilogy again, or Neal Stephenson's Baroque Trilogy, or Pynchon's Mason and Dixon.

2. I find fan fiction a very interesting concept, so I read this piece on it even though I don't usually read the Millions' long-form stuff. I had not heard before that there were women corresponding with Richardson while he was releasing Clarissa in installments. I read Clarissa a while ago because I read somewhere that all novels were descended from Clarissa and Tristram Shandy in varying proportions.* I found it readable but absolutely horrible. It reminded me of Hitchcock's sadistic recipe for drama (which I think he actually got from someone else) "torture the heroine". Nasty things happen in a lot of books but in this one for some reason I could feel the mind of the author all the time. Richardson created Clarissa, not perfect but very lovely and loveable, a good person, and then he slowly and precisely handed her over into Lovelace's power, and he made Lovelace torment her and rape her. Lovelace's announcement of the rape when he writes to his friend "Clarissa lives" is somehow the more evil for its understatement. So I find it fascinating to know that while Richardson was slowly building up to this -- it's a really massive book -- women were writing to him suggesting that perhaps Lovelace might not rape Clarissa after all, and perhaps Clarissa could live a long and happy life. I don't think I'll ever reread Clarissa, and I would cross the street to avoid meeting Samuel Richardson. (Not that there's any need, he's dead of course, but you know what I mean.)

3. I love my kindle and I read a lot on it right now. I went into Waterstone's the other day to use up some reward points I'd built up, and it made me feel all sad because now that their 3 for 2 offers are dead I have no real reason to go there. At the moment all the books I buy are either a) cheap and electronic b) cheap and secondhand c) too obscure to have any chance of being in stock in Waterstones. However it is pretty scary how much control Amazon now have over my book-buying, even though Awesome is quite often cheaper and Abebooks can be better at sourcing oddities. Even more worrying is the power they are building up over publishers. Every publisher who insists on DRM for their books is selling themselves into the hands of Amazon, because Amazon are rich and can afford to lose some money on physical devices in return for a long-term monopoly over both book-buyers and book-sellers. Every reader who buys a book published by, say, Penguin with Kindle DRM is that much less likely to switch to another ereader in future, and with every sale like that Penguin gives Amazon power over its business. Charlie Stross thinks that for this reason the anti-trust suit against Apple in the US over its publishing agreements means the end of ebook DRM. I hope that's the case. The whole situation is quite interesting, but a bit worrying. I suppose in the meantime one can buy more things from independents like Weightless Books, like Carol Emshwiller's The Mount.

* I tracked this down! Salman Rushdie, writing about G. V. Desani's brilliant Shandean All About H. Hatterr, attributed this statement to Milan Kundera. It's quoted in this article about Desani (which makes him sound much harder work than he is -- I've never really coped with Joyce and I can take or leave Flann O'Brien but I loved All About H. Hatterr).

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