Friday, 31 August 2012

Joining the paperback club

Care of Wooden Floors officially came out in paperback in the UK yesterday, although it's been on the shelves in a few places for a few days and might take a day or two to filter through everywhere. It's part of the Waterstones Book Club this autumn, which means you can get it there for a substantial discount and if you don't like it they'll give you your money back. So, a pretty enticing offer, but it's available from all good retailers, be they your friendly local indie bookseller, affable railway terminal stationer or hail-fellow-well-met internet retail colossus. 

Monday, 20 August 2012

Collected Irks

This is a rant concerning a detail that many of you will consider inconsequential. But this is my blog, and blogs are home of the triviality-induced crosseyed hissy-fit. So no apologies.

I love anthologies and compilations of essays and reviews. Love 'em. Can't get enough. I've just finished Christopher Hitchens' mammoth Arguably, presently I'm reading Jonathan Meades' hefty Museum Without Walls, next in line is Mark Dery's welterweight I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts. Such is my taste for the format I might even get the AA Gill. I don't know what gave me this taste for longform episodic nonfiction; Tom Wolfe or Hunter S Thompson, but I can't remember who I read first.

However I have a recurring problem with these anthologies, one that baffles me as much as it irritates me. These collected essays all appeared at different times and in different places. They are often assembled out of chronological order. That's all fine. But the date and location of appearance is mostly only given at the end of each essay. That's annoying. But it can be worse, and worse. Sometimes only the date is given, and the original publication is hidden in the copyright info or the index. Sometimes (and this is the case with the new Meades) only the date is given and there is no way of telling where the essay appeared. And on very rare occasions, not even the date is given.

Date and location of first publication are vital pieces of information, crucial to properly understanding the texts, and they should be given at the head of the essay, under the title. I am sick of having to skip ahead to see if, for instance, X is writing about JG Ballard before or after his death, or Y is writing about George W Bush before or after his re-election. Why are readers treated this way? Is there a rationale beyond mere convention? Do anthology editors believe that readers do not like to be reminded of the fact that they are reading "second hand" pieces? That seems condescending and deceptive. Some other reason? Perhaps essayists or their editors do not like to let readers see how a writer's cloth is cut to suit their clients - how a voice might seem to alter depending on whether one is appearing under the masthead of The Spectator or The Guardian. But this sort of subtlety is precisely why contextual information is invaluable. And we are all adults - surely the intelligent reader will appreciate that writers gotta write.

In summary: knock it off. Please. And to end on a positive note, William Gibson's Distrust that Particular Flavour is a recent example of an anthology that did it right and put the info up front. Sadly it's the only one I can think of. But it can be done. 

Sunday, 12 August 2012

Appearances in August

Is it 12 August already? Crikey, how time flies. Here's where I can be found (the rest of) this month.

Most importantly, I'm appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 22 August. Appearing twice, in fact. At 8.30pm I'm reading & talking with Argentinian debut novelist Iosi Havilio, whose book Open Door is published in the UK by recently-Booker-longlist-anointed And Other Stories. A bit before that, at 5.30pm, I'm participating in the Amnesty International Imprisoned Writers Series, reading in support of imprisoned Ethiopian journalist Eskinder Nega. Please do come along. I'll also be in Edinburgh for a few days around these events, so if I know you & you're in town, drop me a line - it would be particularly nice to put some faces to some Twitter names.

The Edinburgh reading will also be the (fairly low-key) launch of the paperback of Care of Wooden Floors - they will be on sale at the event, an early chance to buy as the official pub date is 30 August. Anyway, please do look out for it in shops from the end of August, with its charming green cover, left, designed by Jo Walker.

I'm in print in a few other places in August as well. Everyone should rush out and buy Icon 111, not because of my contributions but because it's a truly wonderful issue with the theme "Restless Cities". Under that banner comes Geoff Manaugh on the implications of ungovernable "feral" cities, Debika Ray on the neoliberal "Charter city" concept, Fatema Ahmed's interview with professor David Harvey on cities in revolt and Justin McGuirk on Sao Paulo's periphery. My contributions are a review of PD Smith's wonderful book CITY and a short report on Carmody Groarke's Filling Station.

Another review by me appears in this week's Building Design - on the subject of Rowan Moore's Why We Build - ambitious, erudite, witty, gossipy, mostly excellent, with some weak points. Update, 13.8: The piece is now online (subs only, sorry).

For a change of pace, there's an essay by me in the new Architectural Review Asia-Pacific (#127), out shortly, on the "psychopathic interior" - that is, the home decor tastes of serial killers. Check it out.