Amuse Yourself: The Virus VS The Story
It’s easy to forget there are actual words inside them
Excellent news; book sales are up thanks to Lockdown; no real surprise there. Fiction dipped slightly but general sales are good, probably driven by desperation for something to do that wasn’t watching Netflix or cleaning out the composter.
But we were already doing well; British publishers generated record revenues of £6.3 billion in 2019, up 20 per cent on 2015, driven by non-fiction bestsellers such as recipe books, volumes of cleaning tips and David Walliams, one-man children’s book hitmaker. I’m not sniffy about this – they’re books and may well encourage more reading. Or cleaning.
But now the aesthetic appeal of bookshelves has risen because of Zoom calls. Nobody wants to reveal a bare wall and backgrounds have become curated. An American website called ‘Books By The Foot’ sells books with nice spines grouped together by colour purely as decorative objects. It’s easy to forget there are actual, you know, words inside them. That’s an extreme example (and to me a somewhat grotesque idea) – isn’t buying books for their looks the wrong reason?
No, because the aesthetic appearance of a hardback or paperback has always been an intrinsic part of its appeal. From the moment I had earned enough pocket money I started buying cheap paperbacks, sometimes just because I loved the covers. Wilbur Smith’s jackets always promised adventure in far-off places. Now there are authors I’ve bought in hardback just because their matching designs appealed.
But it’s not all good news on the book front. Right now commissioning is slow, publishers are working from home and everything is taking much longer. (I recently wrote an article for the Times and realised it will take over 6 months to get paid – this is a standard freelancer’s complaint).
A bigger problem awaits film lovers. In Europe the cinemas are open; in America they’ll remain shut for the rest of the year. No Hollywood movie of any size can open over there, but there’s a dearth of product here because Hollywood won’t release films to Europe before domestic launches (even though it makes half their profits) and the big Euro-hits are hoovered up by American streamers.
Right now probably the biggest movie in the world is ‘Peninsula’, the Korean sequel to ‘Train to Busan’. I’m keener to see that more than any Hollywood release except for ‘Tenet’.
The American domination of European entertainment extends to films and TV, but not to books or theatre. Director Sam Mendes has raised stop-gap cash for the beleaguered theatre industry but most British theatres are Victorian, small seated, packed tightly together and full of bottlenecks, the experience being one of communality. On a practical level there is simply no way to make them safe.
Currently US film product has entirely vanished from the world, and local studios are once more gearing up. The idea that world cinema is dominated by small, intimate dramas has gone; big epic world cinema hits like ‘Peninsula’, ‘Quake’, ‘See You Up There’ and ‘Parasite’ make me wonder if I’ll bother to see ‘Jurassic Park 5’.
Until this mess sorts itself out, I think I’ll read some more.