Tuesday, May 31, 2005

swishy, swishy

Men in capes or long swishy things:

Anakin, Mace and Obi in StarWars III
Daniel Auteil's character in Le Bossu (extremely swishy, swishy!)
Van Helsing - though I'm not sure about the polo neck

Hammer Horror vampires
Braveheart (the dangly bit of his kilt)
Ming the Merciless
the orange-haired baddie in the Incredibles

Men who didn't need a cape
Wesley from The Princess Bride
Flash Gordon

Men who really needed something
The Phantom - so wrong, on so many levels

Monday, May 30, 2005

3 for 2 at Waterstones

The hackneyed phrase 'everyone has at least one novel inside them' is, quite possibly, true. Whether the resulting novel deserves to see the light of day, and whether it is a good thing for either author or reader is perhaps more debatable.

I do have a bit of a problem with this phrase - an attitude that is unpopular I know - as although in principle I applaud the sheer number of books now available to us in bookshops, the somewhat slick air of showman-salesmanship and sometimes exploitative element of many of the choices in the bestseller lists makes me uneasy.

On the back of the success of one 'literary' novel about a man's fascination with, say, the history of navigation, come a whole host revolving around such kooky subjects as chocolate, bees, tulips, paintings etc. The arrival of a harrowing autobiographical account of childhood is followed by a glut of similar novels - even down to having the same style dustjackets, as though part of some automated production line.

I don't quite know what I would care for instead. I know I prefer libraries, with their dusty, dog-eared air of quiet and calm, the lack of pressure, where the only agenda is to prevent as many books from being nicked as possible and to stay within budget. I long for the bookshops of my imagination, where proprietors sold books because they loved them, and profit was a happy coincidence.

I don't know why the commercial aspects of the book world distresses me. I regard the worldly advertising element of television with a tolerant, even slightly disinterested, eye. But the case is different. The purpose of most television channels is to produce advertising for third parties (apart from the BBC, which may explain its slightly schizophrenic atmosphere). That's where the money comes from and the way they do this is to provide bait in the form of tasty programming . Its a fairly upfront procedure, and if a good program is created then wonderful, and if its trash then oh dear, but at least we've promoted Lenor Vaporesse to an audience of 2.3 million.

Books are different to me. I feel - rightly or wrongly - that the birth of a novel must have been both painful and dear to the author, that its creation is essential to the author and written because it had to be, not because it is the type of book that 'travels well'. I like to feel that I am participating in something special in reading it. The process of discovering and choosing a book is a private and personal experience for me, so when I see floor-to-ceiling displays of the current hot sellers invariably right by the entrance, tarting themselves in bulk, I am overcome by dismay.

When I avail myself of the ubiquitous 3 for 2 offers I emerge into the sunlight rather guilty, like I've been seduced by some cheap lothario and wondering about my purchases. Nearly always in those situations I find 2 books I truly want and the third is an 'ho hum, I might as well as its free' option. Which is a dreadful way to think of a book, and is a result of my weakness for a bargain, agressive marketing, the sheer weight of books on the market and perhaps most of all, a trend in many books to be samey.To be popular, to appeal widely, in effect - to attract the lowest common denominator.

Am I being too harsh? I am well aware that my attitude to books is a little rarefied, and I am also cringingly aware that in the simple fact of publishing my own words of fairly trivial meanderings I am contributing to the superfluity of stuff that floats about the world without appreciably making a difference for the better - or even just a difference.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Happily Ever After...

So, the girls and I are sitting there eating lunch. The topic has ranged from the impending wedding of one of our number, via the interesting program 'Middle Sex' and ended up at marriages both successful and unsuccessful across the generations.

I mentioned that astonishingly enough, many psychologists think soap operas are a good thing for adolescents and adults to watch as they show what happens to couples after the perfect day of the wedding. You know, when the bills haven't been paid, your partner has lost their job and the washing machine has broken down - again.

Another friend agreed, and stated that some marriages of our parents' generation might have ended due to the inflated expectations inculcated by the happy ever after fairy-tales, where the end of the story is the joyful getting together and skipping off into the perfect sunset, not the beginning.

But perhaps these happy-ever-after stories once had a purpose too? When the reality of a happy marriage to the individual of your choice was sheer good luck rather than your right, then these fantasy tales might have held a measure of applicable make-believe and a pattern of what should be strived for.

Until relatively recently in our history, when you got leg-shackled, it was for life - period. If you didn't get on with your chap then tough, nothing you could do about it short of murder. In those circumstances, maybe the fairy tales gave you an outlet for pent up emotions and something to daydream about, whilst being sufficiently removed from reality and heavily dosed with enough idealism in the sanctity of marriage to make the idea of adultery if not distateful, then at least not immediately attractive. Also the idea that once married, things went swimmingly and that this is the way it should be is a powerful one. If you have no option of leaving each other once married, you better make a bloody good effort to keep it going. The alternative would have led to a great deal of bitterness and wretchedness.

Bizarre that you could trace a connection (albeit tenous) between Cinderella and Eastenders but there you go. One wonders what the next development will be? The mind boggles...