Praise for Declan Burke: “Burke shows again that he’s not just a comic genius, but also a fine dramatic writer and storyteller.” – Booklist. “Proust meets Chandler over a pint of Guinness.” – Spectator. “Among the most memorable books of the year, of any genre.” – Sunday Times. “A hardboiled delight.” – Guardian. “Imagine Donald Westlake and Richard Stark collaborating on a screwball noir.” – Kirkus Reviews. “A cross between Raymond Chandler and Flann O’Brien.” – John Banville.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Is This A Dagger I Don’t See Before Me?

Gosh, but it was a busy old weekend in the world of Irish crime fic letters. John Boyne and Stuart Neville commandeered an entire page in the Irish Times review section to write about Alan Glynn and James Ellroy, respectively (see below), and then Ruth ‘Cuddly’ Dudley Edwards (right) penned a billet doux to Gene Kerrigan, in the Sunday Independent. Gene, y’see, lost out in the Dagger awards, so Ruth (quite rightly) took umbrage, with the gist running thusly:
“As a long-time inhabitant of the crime-writing world, I can report that although his publishers force Gene to make an occasional public appearance, he is one of those self-effacing writers who clearly would rather die than go in for what we in the trade call BSP (blatant self-promotion). Think of the opposite of Jeffrey Archer and you’ve got some idea of Gene Kerrigan as a public figure. He answers questions, tells the truth and then goes home. Heaven forfend that he should hang around schmoozing, or recommending people to buy his books.”
  For the rest, clickety-click here
  Elsewhere in the Sunday Independent, Eilis O’Hanlon (aka one half of the pseudonym ‘Ingrid Black’), took issue with the phenomenon of Book Clubs. To wit:
“Getting beaten up, intellectually at least, is an integral part of the book club experience, as evidenced by the row which erupted last month in the pages of the Irish Times after poet Mary O’Donnell wrote a sniffy piece on “the horror of book clubs”, citing as Exhibit A one woman on The Tubridy Show book group who apparently said she didn’t like to be disturbed by her reading material.
  O’Donnell unwittingly reinforced the impression of the critics of book clubs as elitist snobs who don’t want the hoi polloi storming the gates of literature. She seemed to regard it as a badge of honour for certain writers to alienate readers, and to see the breach as the fault of those readers. That is giving writers too much reverence. Personal intent ceases to matter once the book leaves their hands. The finished work has to fight its own battles …”
  Stirring stuff on behalf of the Wine Clubs, but then O’Hanlon goes further:
“That the vast majority of book clubs are still dominated by women (up to 80 per cent, according to some estimates) is no coincidence. They remain important forums for female friendship and interaction. Fay Weldon’s LETTERS TO ALICE ON FIRST READING JANE AUSTEN is a key text in understanding how women have used books as emotional maps though difficult terrain in their lives.
  But there’s still a suspicion that book clubs, however admirable, have led to a homogenisation of fiction, with preference given to novels which can easily be broken down into their constituent elements, allowing a blander discussion of the various “issues”. Readers can breeze through, ticking off the boxes one by one. It doesn’t make for better books, but it certainly makes for better book club books.”
  So there you have it – book clubs are good for publishers, but bad for writers. Any takers?
  Finally, it matters not a whit in the grand scheme of Irish crime fic letters, but the Crime Always Pays blog passed the ‘200,000 page impressions (aka ‘hits’)’ mark at some point over the weekend, having taken two and half years to get here. Not really a moment for trumpet-blowing, it’s true, but I think I’ll allow myself a faint parp on the ceremonial kazoo all the same, and thank everyone (aka ‘all three regular readers’) who come back day after day to wade through the mindless wittering for the sake of the occasional nugget provided by better writers than I. Much obliged, folks.


bookwitch said...

I've just had lunch, so can't be bothered to work out how many times a day I and the other two have visited you every day. Do you know?

We like it here, so it's not too much of a hardship.

Corey Wilde said...

Book clubs are good for writers, too. Book clubs sell books. After all, we members have to buy all of those books even when they are not what we would ordinarily select for ourselves.

Michael Malone said...

Can this person not be happy that the very existence of book clubs means that people are, god forbid, actually buying books?

And here's to 300,000!

seana said...

Well, it's funny you should mention this because I happened to be thinking about this very thing just in the last couple of days. And my answer is...everybody's right.

I am in a book group, sometimes we have scintillating discussions, sometimes we just get lost on personal stuff, but we do all usually make some sort of serious effort to read the book and discuss it. And we do read all kinds of things, it's not just Oprah titles, though we do overlap sometimes, but that's all right, because many of her choices are well worth reading. So I would say that book groups are great for book culture. Period.

However. The part that I just realized was that the whole book group structure lends itself to the support of certain kinds of titles and not others. Working in a book store as I do, and one which supports book clubs in various ways, I do see a kind of consensus forming around certain books as book group type books. There are lots of exceptions of course, but I'd say mainstream fiction of under 300 pages, often 'topical' has the leading edge. Mysteries and suspense are quite under represented, though I've seen Tana French get taken up a few times--sorry, guys-- and science fiction? Forget about it. Longer works in general tend to not work, and non-fiction is just an occasional respite.

There are a lot of books that simply need a lot more time than a book group meeting can seriously give them. Obviously there are some groups that are set up to accommodate these exceptions--there's at least one mystery book group in town, for instance.

To the degree that people rely only on their book group for their reading selections, to that degree their reading is narrowed. And I often get frustrated when I have an 'assignment' to read at the expense of something I'd rather read. But just when I feel totally fed up with the system, I'll be introduced to something wonderful that I would never have gotten around to. Wallace Stegner's All the Little Live things was only the most recent example.

Donna said...

I've been in a face to face crime fiction book group, and I'm in a couple of online ones. In the face to face one (about 12 people) and one of the online ones (about...errr...500 people I think) we vote on what to read. In both, I've bought books I may not otherwise have bought, read books I may not otherwise have read, enjoyed books that I thought I would dislike and, generally, had a great time in the company of people who love books. And we certainly don't tick boxes when we discuss books - far from it.

And congrats Dec on your 200,000th visitor. I'm sure it must have been me. What do I win? :o)