Friday 23 February 2018

What's all this about decline of the printed book industry?

Amid the usual dire warnings about the decline of the printed book, the publishing industry seemed to be in rude good health at the splendid Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards dinner last week.

Michael D was in his presidential element as he honoured Seamus Heaney, and Neil Jordan was plainly thrilled that his novel Mistaken was receiving its second major prize of the year (having won the Kerry Group Irish Fiction Award in June), but it was the sheer range of shortlisted books that was really striking.

In fact, more books are now being published than ever before -- Nielsen BookData revealed recently that 150,000 new books appeared in the UK alone last year, of which 78,000 were novels. That works out at about 200 novels a day, which is astonishing, though whether the world needs them is another matter.


There's nothing like a vendetta to liven up the staid world of literature, with historians now taking the kind of umbrage that used to be exercised by angry novelists.

Time was when Gore Vidal, no mean verbal pugilist, got thumped by Norman Mailer in a TV studio and hit back with the rejoinder, "Words, as usual, fail him" or when former buddies VS Naipaul and Paul Theroux fell out publicly for years, only to shake hands finally at a literary festival this year.

But at least these fights were upfront and personal, unlike the internet war waged on rival historians by Orlando Figes, who rubbished them under a pseudonym and was only found out when his wife looked set to take the blame for his vitriolic comments.

Right-wing historian Niall Ferguson, whose analysis of empire made him the darling of the Bush administration, is more direct. Having taken exception to a piece on his latest tome in the London Review of Books, he declared of critic Pankaj Mishra: "I will hound him in print in a way he has never experienced before." If I were Mishra I'd believe him -- there's no one like a dour Scot to hold a grudge.

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