Thursday, July 17, 2008

Well Read?

Nick Daws, who runs my favourite writers forum, My Writers Circle recently posted on the forum asking members to come forward to be tagged on a meme (a kind of chain blog from what I understand) regarding what bloggers have and have not read. The list came originally from the US Big Reads Survey, the results of which are as expected, somewhat different to the UK equivalent. This is to be expected since they are different markets and Americans do have different tastes. It also helps to explain why so many US titles are listed, which were not necessarily as successful here. The list though seems to be sweeping rapidly through cyber space. I am not sure who to tag myself to pass it on, since most of my writing friends do not have blogs, so I hope the meme does not stop with me.

Here is what you are supposed to do:

1) Bold the titles you have read
2) Italicise those you intend to read
3) [Bracket] the books you LOVE.
4) Reprint this list on your own blog

Here then is my version:

1) Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
2) The Lord of the Rings - JRR Tolkien
3) Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte
4) Harry Potter series - JK Rowling
5) To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6) The Bible
7) Wuthering Heights - Emily Bronte
8 Nineteen Eighty Four - George Orwell
9) His Dark Materials - Philip Pullman
10) Great Expectations - Charles Dickens
11) Little Women - Louisa M Alcott
12) Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
13) Catch-22 - Joseph Heller
14) Complete Works of Shakespeare
15) Rebecca - Daphne Du Maurier
16) The Hobbit - JR Tolkien
17) Birdsong - Sebastian Faulks
18) Catcher in the Rye - JD Salinger
19) The Time Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
20) Middlemarch - George Eliot
21) Gone With The Wind - Margaret Mitchell
22) The Great Gatsby - F Scott Fitzgerald
23) Bleak House - Charles Dickens
24) War and Peace - Leo Tolstoy
25) The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy - Douglas Adams
26) Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh
27) Crime and Punishment - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
28) Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
29) Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll
30) The Wind in the Willows - Kenneth Grahame
31) Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
32) David Copperfield - Charles Dickens
33) (Chronicles of Narnia - CS Lewis)
34) Emma - Jane Austen
35) Persuasion - Jane Austen
36) (The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe - CS Lewis)
37) (The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini)
38) Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Louis De Bernieres
39) Memoirs of a Geisha - Arthur Golden
40) Winnie-the-Pooh - AA Milne
41) Animal Farm - George Orwell
42) The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown
43) One Hundred Years of Solitude - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
45) The Woman in White - Wilkie Collins
46) Anne of Green Gables - LM Montgomery
47) Far From The Madding Crowd - Thomas Hardy
48) The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood
49) Lord of the Flies - William Golding
50) Atonement - Ian McEwan
52) Dune - Frank Herbert
53) Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
54) Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
55) A Suitable Boy - Vikram Seth
56) (The Shadow of the Wind - Carlos Ruiz Zafon)
57) A Tale Of Two Cities - Charles Dickens
58) Brave New World - Aldous Huxley
59) The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time - Mark Haddon
60) Love In The Time Of Cholera - Gabriel Garcia Marquez
61) Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck
62) Lolita - Vladimir Nabokov
63) The Secret History - Donna Tartt
64) The Lovely Bones - Alice Sebold
65) Count of Monte Cristo - Alexandre Dumas
66) On The Road - Jack Kerouac
67) Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
68) Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding
69) Midnight's Children - Salman Rushdie
70) Moby-Dick - Herman Melville
71) Oliver Twist - Charles Dickens
72) Dracula - Bram Stoker
73) The Secret Garden - Frances Hodgson Burnett
74) Notes From A Small Island - Bill Bryson
75) Ulysses - James Joyce
76) The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath
77) Swallows and Amazons - Arthur Ransome
78) Germinal - Emile Zola
79) Vanity Fair - William Makepeace Thackeray
80) Possession - A. S. Byatt
81) A Christmas Carol - Charles Dickens
82) Cloud Atlas - David Mitchell
83) (The Color Purple - Alice Walker)
84) The Remains of the Day - Kazuo Ishiguro
85) Madame Bovary - Gustave Flaubert
86) A Fine Balance - Rohinton Mistry
87) Charlotte's Web - EB White
88) The Five People You Meet In Heaven - Mitch Albom
89) Adventures of Sherlock Holmes - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
90) The Faraway Tree Collection - Enid Blyton
91) Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
92) The Little Prince - Antoine De Saint-Exupery
93) The Wasp Factory - Iain Banks
94) Watership Down - Richard Adams
95) A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole
96) A Town Like Alice - Nevil Shute
97) The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas
98) Hamlet - William Shakespeare
99) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory - Roald Dahl
100) Les Miserables - Victor Hugo

I make this a rather sad 16, which is a bit pathetic really. I am almost ashamed to say that I have seen more of these books as films, than read the books themselves. I am though a non fiction writer, so most of my reading in the last few years at least, has been non fiction, mostly alternative history and the like. I included The Bible in my list, since although I have not read the whole lot, I have read large chunks of it. I had to for my own book, although it is interesting in its right. Not enough to be included in the 'love it' category though.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Ditch the fat cats !

Job cuts seem to be being spoken of everywhere though, across all sectors of retailing. We often forget that publishing is retail as well, as it is ultimately not about printing, but selling books. It seems that all over the world, in both Britain and the United States, companies are struggling to come to terms with an extremely awkward and challenging environment, one that with a bit of foresight could have been foreseen and quite possibly prevented.

The regular Bookhitch newsletter that I receive says that there is an interesting story floating around that 50 or so years ago a mechanic somewhere in the western United States designed a carburetor that could get 60 miles to the half gallon while powering an 8 cylinder car. Rumour has it that a large oil company found out about this, bought the rights and paid to not only silence the mechanic but also made him sign a piece of paper stating that he would never design anything like this again, for the rest of his life. It wouldn't surprise me, as I have heard similar rumours about drug companies when cures for diseases are found.

This though just goes to underline the point that the solutions have been there all along, the problem is as Bookhitch put it, fat cats with chubby hands in the cookie jar.

The motor industry may on the surface look different to publishing, or for that matter the market that I work in, yet retail when it comes down to it, is retail, and no matter what you are selling, the problems and therefore the solutions, are the same. The problems though start at the top and trickle down. It is inevitably the case that those at the bottom who did not make the mistakes that led to the dire situation that so many retailers now find themselves in, are the first to lose their jobs. We are the ones who pay for our company's mistakes, and not those who actually made those mistakes, meaning that they do not learn from these mistakes.

Every year tens of thousands of books are wasted and pulped. Even though the technology is there to prevent this from happening (print on demand) it both abused and underused. Companies continue to use wasteful and outdated methods, paying lip service to the environment, until they are forced to make changes. This to me is pure nonsense and just does not make sense. Print costs are rising to such an extent that is now almost cheaper to use print on demand, and when it comes to quality the differences are negligible. Yet the publishing industry continues to rubbish this method, concentrating on the negatives instead of the positives.

It seems that in many cases, companies are unwilling to act until they are forced to do so. This would be after all be far too difficult, as it would entail the fat cat CEO's actually doing some work, to earn their obscene salaries. This would never do, as they would miss their round of golf and champagne breakfasts. I acknowledge though that not all companies are like this, and pressure from the public is making changes. I cannot speak for the company I work for, since I do not read the city news (far too depressing) and know what the CEO or MD earns, I do know though that my Store Manager has not had a pay rise that is actually worth anything in 3 years, and that the rise I have been awarded (3 percent, and bear in mind that we earn only 1 penny more than the minimum wage, although this is also set to change, no doubt after I have left) is less than the rate of inflation.

What is the solution? I cannot speak for my sector, which I fear is doomed, unless you work in a superstore, but publishers have to stop printing such high runs and remember that it is only the minority of books that become best sellers. Some books written by well known authors may well need high print runs and even second and third runs, but the majority do not. When you see the amount of books on sale in the bargain bins and in remainder shops such as the Speaking Tree, how much did these cost the publisher and author in terms of lost revenue? How much money, ink and paper has been wasted in the last year that could have been put to better use in actually promoting the books and helping them to sell, and also in paying staff and authors decent royalties, not to mention supporting new authors and giving their work a voice. Could those savings have saved or even created jobs? Maybe it is time to re-think what Bookhitch refer to as the three letter word - print on demand. Maybe it is also time to re-think the absurdly outdated notion that books must be returnable.

People in positions of power think that they are invincible (think Amazon) and resist resolutely anything that they perceive as challenging their position, keeping everyone else down. It is though in times of hardship that those who are at the bottom have the chance to excel and show their mettle, as when the going gets tough, the tough get going. I have proven this ten times over with my own attitude these last 12 months. We should then look to the bottom rather than the top as to how to improve things, going back to the floor, as this is where the action takes place. We are the ones who do the jobs and the real work, so we are the ones whose ideas should be implemented and put into place, or at the very least, looked at. We cannot do a worse job than those who are already in charge.

Perhaps we should also take a leaf from Michael Garibaldi's book, a character from Babylon Five. When he inherited a large research company and sacked the Board of Directors for plotting to kill both him and his wife, and embezzling the company, he replaced them with a team of individuals who had done nothing but complain about how awful the company was, figuring that they were the ones who should be listened to. Mr Garibaldi sounds like my kind of boss, and if some of mine had been more like this, then by now I would be one very happy and fat cat!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Wish me luck!

It has been a week now since I got back from Lundy, and somehow I have not felt like blogging at all. Neither can I be bothered to keep looking to see what is happening in the book world, the impetus to do these things just seems to have gone. It just doesn't seem important.

For the first two days after I got back, it felt like I was on cloud nine. I was bursting with energy and confidence, and got some really good sales at work. Then Wednesday came, and with it my day off, and something seemed to shift. It seemed like there was so much to do - go the gym, get the food shopping, go to Edenbridge to get the books that my friend Sue had not sold at the Winchester Book Festival. It was chucking down with rain as well which didn't help. I found myself loitering on the computer just to fill in the time, and using it as a distraction, which is a bad habit of mine, and one that I need to break. When I went back to work on Thursday then the sense of melancholy and disquiet had returned with a vengeance, and most of my get up and go had well, got up and gone.
At lunch time today I had the strangest feeling that I needed to go to Waterstones. So I trotted up there, not really knowing why, as I had no intention of buying books, only to see a sign in the window, full time book seller wanted. My evenings task then is to fill it in and take it back again tomorrow.

How wonderful that would be from both an authors and book lovers point of view, to work for Britain's largest and most influential book seller. Wish me luck !