The Incredible Shrinking Book Pages

Reading & Writing

Some writers keep massive cuttings files; I don’t anymore. At the start of my career a mention in a newspaper was a cause for excitement, a case for scissors and glue, but after a while I became extremely blase about press mentions. This was largely due to the inaccuracy of the reportage caused by speed of writing the piece, the stupidity of the journalist or the paper’s hidden agenda. The Daily Mail routinely rewrites everything you give them, the Independent doesn’t – you soon learn how to use the press wisely.

A Mail reporter once interviewed me, and after we had finished, just as he was heading out of the door, he asked me for a job. I told him I was leaving my company because my business partner was stepping down. He asked about the circumstances and I explained that I would be looking after him during his illness. Despite a request for privacy, the reporter added this to the interview, which read ‘tragic cancer-stricken business partner of Chris Fowler’ – my partner had not yet told his family, and they were horrified. I complained, and the reporter said ‘Well, you told me.’

Meanwhile, The Sunday Times once ran a feature article on me which kept mentioning my ‘eerily tidy’ and ‘oddly over-clean’ house where ‘I apparently lived alone’. This was coding for ‘he’s single but we don’t have the balls to ask him if he’s gay, so we’ll imply it.’

Anyway, turning out the box containing the few clippings I kept (from smart, accurate reporters – and there are some terrific ones), I couldn’t help noticing how the book pages of papers have shrunk or vanished altogether. 10 years ago Time Out had regular book columnists (I was one), and most broadsheets had 3 to 5 pages of book reviews. Now we’re looking at between 2 pages to one half of a page. Rather than expert reviewers we now trust Amazon reader reviews – I have no problem with this, because at least they’ve read the whole book, whereas reviewers don’t always get the chance to complete their reading before the review is due in.

And we can factor in bloggers – fans and readers who know their genres well enough to write about them expertly. Blogs are usually more entertaining than the children of celebrities who are invited to write columns. And the recent row over Danny Dyer’s column, in which he suggested a reader should cut the face of a partner’s lover, raises another point – very few celebrities actually write their columns. I have friends who professionally ghost-write for papers. Again, this is where online triumphs, so if the printed page vanishes, there’s a good chance the coverage level will be topped up on your computer.

5 comments on “The Incredible Shrinking Book Pages”

  1. Alan Morgan says:

    I live the image of ‘eerily tidy’ – it conjures up that you had a roll of plastic sheeting as a rug, to catch the blood.

  2. Mary says:

    I’ve never liked the Daily Mail…quite illogical really, but I’ve always felt it is tactless and boring.
    With regard to your home. Your home looks peaceful and uplifting. I too, spent my childhood in an old Edwardian house, full of dusty books and strange ornaments, so I understand your need for light and clarity.

  3. Anne Fernie says:

    What I do notice is that most so-called reviews are really just a synopsis of the text with about 10% an actual critical analysis. I often wonder if they are just designed for ‘talking heads’ who can’t be bothered to read the books themselves……

  4. Mike Cane says:

    >>>This was largely due to the inaccuracy of the reportage caused by speed of writing the piece, the stupidity of the journalist or the paper’s hidden agenda.

    Yes, and then they stand around drunk in pubs wondering why the bloody hell people hate their rags and why they’re all about to be dumped into cardboard boxes streetside to live in!

  5. Alan says:

    Chris – a strange resonance about “eerily tidy”.

    Divorced, I have a girlfriend but not live-in. And yes – I keep my little flat clean and rather sparse. Straight men can hate grime and clutter too!

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