The Cons Of Prose

Books

Things like this can make you paranoid. 

Let’s be clear; books are published to make money. I’m lucky to have Transworld behind me, a company with integrity and admirable loyalty to their authors. Not everyone is quite so traditional in their outlook.

I was shocked when the ‘sock puppet’ scandal broke (authors leaving nasty reviews on their rivals’ pages under pseudonyms). Then I heard about ratings wreckers. Books that get 100% reader ratings on certain websites garner greater attention, especially for award nominations. All it takes to remove a perfect score is for one troll to leave one hate-filled review.

I looked back over my own reviews. Generally readers seem pleased enough to give me five stars on Amazon – but a one-star troll popped up with a rather hysterical and odd foot-long diatribe against ‘Oranges and Lemons’. I did some checking and found the troll on other sites, doing the exact same thing almost word for word. I started to wonder if they were planting one bad review to destroy a perfect score.

While I always try to learn from readers who have valid, well reasoned criticisms I take no notice of trolls. But what it they have an agenda? Things like this can make you paranoid. 

When I started writing in the mid-1980s, the range of books published in any genre fitted a certain standard. It was understood that authors needed a high level of competence to get published at all. With the advent of social media, self-publishing and blogging this has changed.

Are we being misled?

As publishers become more aggressive it’s clear certain writers are published not because they write well but because they fill a marketing niche. Recently I read a historical whodunnit that’s actually a pulp novel misleadingly published as serious fiction, and a psychological mystery that turned out to be a supernatural pulp. Slipping books into a more popular category is a tactic I’ve not seen since I found a paperback of Boswell’s diaries published as if it was a Hammer tie-in.

For the first time I’m finding illiterate books that make Victorian penny dreadfuls look like War and Peace, with more porn and violence. Most come from publishers no-one has ever heard of, but a few have started appearing from respected houses.

Counterbalancing this I’ve read four very fine novels by authors self-publishing through the Amazon programme in cheap-looking print editions. Still, I’m grateful that these four got published at all. They’re all great reads that deserve critical plaudits.

Well, you say, the world is unfair. But here’s the shocking part. On Amazon, the badly researched whodunnit has 2,689 reader ratings and a rave review from the Daily Mail among many others. The last beautifully written self-published thriller I read has just…36 reviews. To put that into perspective, when I last looked ‘Oranges and Lemons’ had only 62 reviews.

Perhaps readers prefer simple stories

As a handful of unscrupulous publishers manipulate ratings, it seems likely that readers are being misled. If you want to be published now you have to impress the marketing board. That means coming up with a TV-type hook, dumbing down the prose and creating a brand and an image.

So today’s questions are; have you ever been misled by a book’s sales pitch? Are books getting dumber? Does it matter if some are?

Certainly language is simplifying. Pick up one of Colin Watson’s popular Flaxborough novels now and the complex sentence structures will completely throw you. If he was starting out today his style would be heavily edited.

We now like our sentences short and our ideas simple. But perhaps there was always a section of the market like this. All thoughts on the subject welcome.

 

45 comments on “The Cons Of Prose”

  1. Brian+Evans says:

    I don’t do “social” networks. I gave up as I think they do more harm than good. They seem to be full of imbeciles with unsatisfactory lives-the sort of vicious people who used to send poison pen letters. Also, they are full of fake news-ie lies that uneducated morons choose to believe. We only have to look at the last appalling US elections to see how mis-information almost brought democracy down in the USA. The frightening thing is it may happen next time. God forbid. Another eg is the crap written by anti-vaxers.

    I don’t do reviews of books on Amazon. I don’t quite know why. What I would never do is write the sort of hurtful review that “Oranges and Lemons” got. Even if I didn’t like a novel I could never put up a nasty review. I would be honest as to why I didn’t like it but in kinder and more measured terms.

    As for modern writing, I find so much of it easier to read than older books. Try Gladys Mitchell! The school teacher who wrote as a part-time job a whodunnit once a year. I tried two and found them impenetrable due to their verbal diarrhoea (thank goodness for spell check). They were truly appalling. I love Dickens but only as dramatisations. I did get through “Pickwick Papers” and liked it, and “Hard Times” -difficult, but short. The classics also leave me cold. Except when they are dramatised.

    The worse thing today about fiction is when they are historically inaccurate. It is the same as fake news-not telling the truth and misleading readers. Though I seem to recall one of Admin’s blogs a while back that was reasonably supportive of inaccurate detail in fiction. Though, I may be getting him mixed up with someone else.

    I have never read Colin Watson’s Flaxborough novels. However I bought the box set of their TV dramatisations (called “Murder most English”) and found them dreadful. There was not one iota of truth in the writing, but this could have been due to the screenplays written by the normally excellent Richard Harris. I gave up watching them

    One of my favourite films is “Night of the Demon” based on the short story by E.R.James. Try reading the story-at the very least it needs a good proof-reader.

    One of my favourite writers is Alan Bennett. He wrote a play called “Getting On” which opened at the Queen’s Theatre in the West End in 1971. I saw it when it came out. It has some rather long and complicated speeches, especially for the lead who was played by Kenneth More. He kept cutting them down as he couldn’t be bothered learning so much-or wasn’t capable of. Due to what More considered interference from Bennett, he actually had him banned from the theatre. Can you believe anyone being so short-sighted when it come to Alan Bennett? I have the script in front of me now, and yes, it is a little on the verbose side-yet quite brilliant as all the speeches have a point and are superbly written. It beggars belief that an actor tried to get the now national treasure Alan Bennett banned from the theatre.

  2. Bernard says:

    Delighted to see a reference to Flaxborough, reminds me to reread those lovely novels. The television series of the books had Anton Rodgers perfectly cast as Inspector Purbright. Come to think of it, Rodgers would have been a good choice to play John May.

  3. Davem says:

    Strangely enough I have just been reading a thread about this on a forum that I occasionally frequent.

    The book in question has over 10,000 reviews on Amazon, with an average of 4/5, including 4 gushing reviews from different parts of the Times newspaper empire.

    However, on the forum it has been torn apart. It appears that many were first drawn in by the ‘beautiful’ cover, and additionally by the underlying subject matter (travel) which accorded with many peoples interests (it’s a factual book).

    It seems that most have pointed out that parts of the content are obvious fabrications, the prose is primarily one of ‘woe is me’ and garners no sympathy, it’s full of scathing sarcasm against people who didn’t go out of their way to help them, and … going against what would primarily attract people to a travel account … it fails to describe any of the wonderful scenery through which they would have travelled.

    There are over 20 reviews of this book … on a forum which doesn’t have that much traffic … and the book fails to gather any positive reviews. The following is a good summary of how the readers felt:
    – ‘tedious and snobby, definitely avoid it.’
    – ‘Didn’t warm to the writer at all and throught the writing was workmanlike at best.’

    It’s a genre I like to read, but will avoid this book.

    And yet this book was on the bestseller lists!

  4. Ian Luck says:

    I don’t really think that Montague James was bothered about proof readers that much, honestly – his stories were written as a Christmas amusement for a literary club in his university. The minutiae of his subject matter – people, places, things, were taken mostly from his own experiences. The nasty odds and ends, though, well, not even Monty was 100% where those came from. As the supernatural is a rather imprecise area, subjective from one person to another, it’s not really an area where total accuracy is essential. But certainly, ‘Night Of The Demon’ is as perfect as a movie can be. As long as some Hollywood moron in a suit doesn’t try to remake it, with a young cast with a CGI demon, then everything will be fine.

  5. mike says:

    I’ve stopped reading sales pitches/ cover blurbs since they all became “How far would you go to protect/ save/ help a loved one/friend etc.”
    Does one person with a limited knowledge of English and an tiny phrase book write them all?

  6. Ian Luck says:

    If I’m feeling down, then I often flick through the Amazon book and music reviews for a good laugh – in a way, I liken it to the equivalent of an 18th century visit to Bedlam – look at the nutters – poke’em with a stick, if you like. A lot of reviews are a single word, so why bother at all? Then you have the ones where the reviewer hasn’t read the book, but has seen the TV show, or movie based on it; these are sometimes obvious, where a character’s name has been changed or the spelling altered, and the reviewer has used that. Then there are the people with an IQ not much higher than Paramecium, but who think that they’re Professor Brian Cox (see ‘Dunning Kruger effect), and write one of those rambling diatribes that makes everyone who reads it, quite a bit more stupid than they were before they read it. Then there are the ‘One Size Fits All’ reviews, generally written by someone who doesn’t really care, but feels duty bound to say something. Then there are the obvious trolls, whose fate is to remain totally unread after the first ten words or so. Generally, these are by illiterate people, who probably have trouble following an episode of ‘Eastenders’. My favourite reviews are those that elicit a genuine ‘What The Fuck?’ response, being often of the appearance of an undecrypted Enigma machine message. There are lots of those. What were you reading/watching/listening to? Or is it a review for a Slowcooker, or 100 reels of baling twine? We’ll never know.

  7. Frances says:

    “So today’s questions are; have you ever been misled by a book’s sales pitch?”

    Yes, indeed. If I am looking at a book on Amazon which has a very high score, I deliberately read the very low scores of the same book. I find you have to read both to get some idea of whether the book will suit your tastes. But I do occasionally get burned anyway.

    The Flaxborough series has been a godsend during the pandemic. Just the opening chapter of Broomsticks Over Flaxborough can cheer you up for days. Another enjoyable series is the Calleshire Chronicles by Catherine Aird. They are full of obscure little nuggets of knowledge you have to look up. I enjoy a book which doesn’t talk down to me.

  8. Brooke says:

    Answering your questions in order:
    1) No. I’m put off by sales pitchs for books. E.g. “an emotional new tale of two sisters, an ocean of lies, and a search for the truth.” If a book looks interesting, I download a sample and/or find copy in local bookstore, library, before I purchase.. Besides I did my time helping colleagues boost their book ratings with starred reviews; I know the game.

    2) Yes, books are getting dumber… so is the general population, according to cognitive/educational research folks. I’m doing deep dive research on ignorance/stupidity in various forms (generally but misleadingly known as agnotology); there are financial and power rewards for promoting dumbness. Including sales/profits from books that cater to dumbness.

    3) Perhaps it does matter alot. Promotes inability to read and follow complex thought and language. Therefore more attachment to meme thinking, i.e. slogans that substitute for thinking and making an effort to understand others. I distinguish “dumb” from “simplify.”

    Bet you’re sorry you asked.

  9. Peter+T says:

    Totally with Brooke.

    I discovered the value of reviews after hiring a builder who has excellent reviews on various websites. Six years later, I’m still repairing his work. If only he were a rubbish author, who’d written an awful book, that I’d been fooled into buying…

  10. Roger says:

    Orlando Figes – sorry, Professor Orlando Figes – was the most famous user of ‘sock puppets’, I think. He reviewed the works of fellow-academics pseudonymously on Amazon and harshly criticised them. When challenged, he denied responsibility for the reviews and threatened to sue the people who suggested he was the author. When it was shown (thanks to his technical ignorance) that he had written them he admitted he was entirely responsible and paid damages to some of the people he had attacked.
    A fine example of cowardice and personal and scholarly dishonesty. Figes is now Professor of History at Birkbeck College. When I said that he ought to have been drummed out of Academe I was told I was a sentimental idealist.
    If someone supposedly involved in questions of fact involving high standards of personal integrity can behave like that and get away with it, of course the people in the dirtier reaches of Grub Street will do whatever they want and can to increase their profits.

  11. Roger says:

    Who are thecognitive/educational research folks, who say the general population is getting dumber, Brooke? It wouldn’t surprise me if it’s true, but it’s interesting that it accompanies a steady rise in collective IQ.

  12. Brooke says:

    Roger, by general population, I meant US population. Sorry for sloppy language. And to tidy up rest of my statement, by “dumb” I mean deficient in core skills such as reading, math and problem solving. I’m referring to US college and young adult population, compared to students in other countries, based on OECD studies compiled by a widely used testing/analytics US based company (ETS).

    I distrust some reports and studies–vested interests in identifying deficits and “skill gaps.” When I clear the piles of research papers from desk, chairs, floor, kitchen, I’ll find more sources for you.

  13. Jonah says:

    What are the four very fine self-published books please?
    Hasn’t poor fiction been the curse of increased literacy for at least two centuries? Penny-dreadfuls, pulps, Harlequin romance novels – literally cheap fiction. Today there is just so much more of it. Anybody can pick up a pen, or a word processor, and write a story – or pick up a camera, and make a movie – but should they? Reminds me of the “People Like Us” episode with Bill Nighy as an incompetent artistic photographer.
    It seems the publishing industry has gotten very careless, or else they’re following the literacy standards of Hull University.

  14. admin says:

    The self-published hits were The Bloodless Boy and The Clockwork Assassins (five star ratings on Amazon, readers persuaded to buy from my review on Radio 4). A novel about Byron’s physician, which I’ve forgotten the title of, The Rozabal Line by Ashwin Sanghi and quite a few others. They’re out there but sometimes you have to take a punt.
    Brooke, I am now exploring the term agnotology…

  15. Mark+Pack says:

    Ah, Colin Watson! Used to love reading his novels. Must dig out one again sometime soon.

    I do find Amazon’s approach to weeding out fake reviews disappointing. As someone who used to write quite a lot of legitimate reviews (as a way of saying thank you back for all those reviews from other people which I’ve found useful), I get quite a lot of approaches wanting reviews in return for payment. Although I diligently report them to Amazon, Amazon often seems not to know what to do with such reports and it’s hard to spot evidence of action being taken.

  16. Paul C says:

    The reviews on paperbacks themselves are often misleading not just those on Amazon. Private Eye is good at pointing out which reviewers are friends of – or even married to – authors they have provided reviews for. An example is Nick Hornby whose sister is married to Robert Harris. Curiously Hornby and Harris find each other’s books brilliant and include them in their Books of the Year round-up.

    Anthony Burgess reviewed one of his own books (written under a pseudonym) and gave it a bad review – the newspaper still fired him when this came out. As Gore Vidal pointed out, it was a very rare example of a reviewer actually having reading the book…..

    Best bet is to read the first couple of pages instead of relying on the blurbs. If the first two pages are poor then the rest of the book will be worse.

  17. Brooke says:

    Mr. Fowler, re: agnotology is fascinating, much like the hynotic sway of poisonous reptiles. Search “Robert Proctor” for more.

    “Ratings” for Rober Lloyd’s series prove my point: there’s no common definition for 1 star, 2 stars, 3 stars and so forth. Amazon’s rating system (like most such systems) is a marketing tool and a badly defined and used opinion poll, like something from the Daily Mail. When I read your praise for TCA I was going to blast you. It’s horrible. What was that awful tavern chapter for? If you had a meeting with Isaac Newton (which was highly improbable given his abhorrence of people), would you spend it speculating (wink wink) about his sex life? Sometimes you scare me.

  18. Brian+Evans says:

    Ian Luck, just in case you are unaware of the book “British Gothic Cinema” by Barry Forshaw, you may find it well worth a look. eg, Chapter 8-Nights of the Demon: The English Supernatural Story on film. A cracking read!

  19. Roger says:

    The problem with deducing that US students are getting dumber, by looking at the “US college and young adult population, compared to students in other countries” is that, as far as I can tell, nearly everyone in the USA goes to college, so it may be a comparison of a random and a selected population, Brooke.
    I can’t remember if you took part, but there was a discussion here recently about how every British further and secondary education establishment had been forced to become a “university” and nearly all young adults “persuaded” to go to university at a high cost. My own guess is that it makes the unemployment figures look better.

  20. Stu-I-Am says:

    I’m waiting for an Arthur-in-the-18th C. one-off. Even a short story. Maybe a “duet” with Charles Lenox. With your seemingly bottomless knowledge of British, and London arcana, in particular — quite frankly I think most of us PCU aficionados would care less about which artifice you use — dream, drug or another self-poisoning.

  21. Liz+Thompson says:

    I’ve read, and enjoyed, a lot of the Flaxborough books, ditto Gladys Mitchell. The TV series of Mitchell completely reinvented Bradley of course, but was well enough acted to make it entertaining, if misleading. I get a lot of ebook freebies, some of which FaceBook friends on author groups categorise as DNF, did not finish. If they were actual books, they would be ‘throw across the room and scare the cat’ books. I have a feeling that the fantasy/paranormal genre specialises in cover art that recalls early 1930-40 stuff., that is, exaggerated female and male physique exhibited centre page and bearing no relation to the book contents or plot. Your covers and contents are invariably excellent, but it is very true that reviews tend to reflect enthusiast reader/fans or disgruntled reputation-shredders. The suggestion to read good and bad reviews is sensible, and the idea of reading an extract or first chapter even more so. Buyer beware.

  22. Stu-I-Am says:

    I blame social media (but then I always blame social media), the thrall of comment culture and attention spans reduced to minutes (if that). We have sacrificed reasoning and intelligence on the altar of knowledge and “facts,” or often, what passes for them, to sate instant gratification. And yes — I include ebooks in my curmudgeonly pontification (though I grudgingly read them). A book should be a physical destination at which you willingly arrive, not something you reveal in the same way as those oddly framed photos of that trip to the Seychelles or your unbearably cute Labradoodle.

  23. Brooke says:

    Roger, you make a good point. The methodology behind these studies is obscure.
    Going to college in the US is very expensive; not everyone goes. Unfortunately, employers have long made an undergradute degree a pre-requisite for hiring. Consequently, young people here have huge amounts of debt, which is hot political issue. See references to Senator Elizabeth Warren, who advocates student debt forgiveness. Such forgiveness would represent a substantial boost to the middle class and is therefore opposed by. (guess who).
    Cheers.

  24. joel d ivins says:

    If I am interested because of the synopsis, I will read the 1,2,3 star reviews and see what their problem was. Most of the time, the problems are petty and have nothing to do with the story. Sometimes I buy crap, but most times I have been pleasantly surprised (if it is an author who is new to me). I recently read, “I, Pierre Seel, Deported Homosexual” in a few hours. Fairly short book, but one with incredible weight to it due to the subject matter. I have a few authors that I read strictly because the stories make me laugh out loud, and those books are fairly short (200 ish pages). I don’t always want to read a long book that is dense in detail and story, but when I do, I know who I like and I look forward to their new books. Access to books comes with a price. Technology helps and hurts. And it seems that people are becoming uglier and less caring, because they can be. I suppose it’s a trade off. I miss the simplicity of my youth, but I do enjoy the access to things I would never have been able to get a hold of. Music and books in a small desert town of 3,000 were difficult to come by. But I miss the simplicity.

  25. Martin says:

    The bloodless boy and Clockwork assassins have been picked up by Melville house publishers in the US. Not sure of a release date yet.

  26. Ian Luck says:

    ‘The Bloodless Boy’, and ‘The Clockwork Assassins’ are simply astonishing. A terrible cliché is ‘I couldn’t put it down’. Both titles were started, and read through, a day for each – and I really wish that Robert J Lloyd had written more. Sir Isaac Newton’s main rival, Robert Hooke, makes for a surprisingly good main character – he’s rather similar to Arthur Bryant, in some ways, which is a good thing indeed.

  27. Ian Luck says:

    Brooke – Sir Isaac Newton was a deeply and often unfathomably strange man. He invented the cat flap, for the simple reason that he got fed up letting his cat in and out. In his investigation into optics, he tried an experiment worthy of today’s brain-dead youtube ‘influencers’: he inserted a large needle, or bodkin, into his eye socket, and then manipulated it to deform his eyeball to see how it affected his vision. The very idea of doing that, triggered my gag reflex. One slip, and his investigations into vision would have been a waste of time. He also spent a lot of time trying to ruin Hooke’s career, with money and influence, simply because he was sure that Hooke would outstrip him – and possibly because Hooke was basically a better human being than Newton. One can only imagine Newton’s glee when Hooke died before he did.

  28. Roger says:

    Newton was pretty weird to begin with, Ian Luck, and it’s thought that inhaling a lot of mercury vapour in his alchemical experiments didn’t do him any good. It wasn’t just Hooke he went for – look at the history of calculus and his rows with Leibniz over priority.
    Early scientists were ruthless in their experiments, both on themselves and others – Edward Jenner. a genuinely good man, by all accounts, was convinced cowpox prevented people getting smallpox, so to demonstrate it he gave a boy cowpox and then tried to give him smallpox to confirm his theory. A real-life case of “Oh, well. Back to the old drawing-board.”

  29. Cornelia Appleyard says:

    Self experimentation still happens.
    Barry Marshall believed that peptic ulcers were due to an infectious organism, and drank a culture of helicobacter pylori derived from a patient.
    3 days later, he developed symptoms, and a subsequent endoscopy showed colonisation by the bacterium, and gastritis.
    He cured himself with antibiotics.
    His awards include a Nobel prize.

  30. Peter+T says:

    Newton, Hooke, Leibniz – it’s a difficult one. Newton had his problems. He avoided circulating his work but expected credit and priority and could be quite petty about it all. In the modern world, academic pressures would most likely have forced Newton and his rivals work into publication and the disputes might have been more contained. Still, Newton was the great genius of the three. Perhaps I have a bias in favour of Newton as he was a favourite of my great maths teacher at school.

    People have always attacked others with or without logical reason. Social media serves to make it easier. Still, why worry about sad individuals with nothing better to do than lament others and promote themselves? They don’t seem to gain any real satisfaction from it. Otherwise, they wouldn’t persist in doing it, would they?

  31. Keith says:

    This is the reason I never look at the reviews on IMDB before watching a movie, I rely on friends who just happen to have a similar taste. How someone can watch a 2-hour film and then go on IMDB and give it 1/10 stars is beyond me. Then again if you get tens of thousands of reviews which puts Breaking Bad as the no.1 series to watch, which it is, then I guess it does, ultimately, seem to work.

    Nothing to do with the above, but whilst waiting for the next installment of Bryant and May I dipped into a Connie Willis short story collection and for people who love stories concerning the London Underground then The Winds of Marble Arch is one to look out for.

    I was left saddened after reading the final page of The Burning Man, as Arthur disappeared into the mist leaving John on Waterloo Bridge with his coded message…. but also relieved to see that ‘Bryant and May will return’. But in what capacity I wonder. C’mon Amazon, hurry up with the follow-up!

  32. admin says:

    Brooke, you’re talking to someone who has not enough patience to finish ‘Middlemarch’ no matter how many times I try. I understand why certain novels are considered great literature but for immediacy I prefer Camus and Kafka and HG Wells. I’d rather have Steinbeck over Fitzgerald and find ‘Jane Eyre’ unbearable. There, I’ve said it. I’m probably a pleb, but I chose to become one after reading a pretty good sampling of the choices. And ‘Gormenghast’ is still my favourite novel.

  33. Andrew Holme says:

    I picked up a cheap copy of ‘The Beautiful and the Damned’ by Fitzgerald the other day,( hurrah, the charity shops are open!) It’s awful. Can people reassure me that ‘The Great Gatsby’ is still…great. I’ve always loved the book but haven’t read it for 20 years now and I’m really nervous about giving it another go.

  34. admin says:

    When I first read it I found it mysterious. The last time, I found it opaque. Some readers just love the frocks.
    ‘An intellectual is someone who admires a Babylonian chimney while ignoring a factory chimney.’

  35. Brooke says:

    @Andrew, I found reading Gatsby a hard slog. Unlike Mr. Fowler, I can read Middlemarch, etc. easily and find them such novels interesting and entertaining. But I dislike Fitzgerald dgenerally and TGG specifically.
    Don’t take our word for it. Melvyn Bragg BBC In Our Time has a podcast discussing TGG with several scholars–try it as an antidote for your Fitzgerald anxiety…like yoga breathing.

  36. Brooke says:

    Ian and Christopher: I love you and I know Newton, Leibnitz, Hooke and crowd were, well, eccentric. They also didn’t bathe often, nor wear clean underwear everyday and had alot of other disgusting chromosone Y behaviors.. So what; I don’t care… I stand by my rant against Lloyd. TCA’s hero is an aspiring scientist who meets Newton and all we hear about is the cat and sexual innuendo…it’s adolescent writing . But enjoy.

  37. Helen+Martin says:

    Book Reviews. Long form reviews are often a good guide but the little blurbs on the book backs are not.I look to see who has agreed to supply one and what they’ve done to make them worthy of being asked. Joanne Harris and Barry Forshaw turn up on yours, Chris, and I know you are friends there but then I don’t need blurbs where your books are concerned. I don’t trust those blurbs because they can be manipulated eg “Devilishly clever…mordantly funny…sometimes heartbreakingly moving.” Look how easy it would be to turn that into a negative review, not that I think Val McDermid would let you get away with removing negative phrases from the blurb.
    There are a couple of people on Goodreads whose opinion I value, a couple of real life friends whose suggestions I’ll at least try and I look at the Staff Recommendations shelf at the library once I feel comfortable browsing there. I have just started HHhH and have The Dead Mountaineer’s Inn on reserve after reading an outline on Goodreads. This last is a Russian isolated group murder in English for the first time.
    Definitely read the first page or two to get a feel for the style. Definitely ignore the blurbs unless you know the people and can ask them for their real feelings.

  38. Des Burkinshaw says:

    I know how hard it is to get reviews – my first book only has 51 after 18 months – but I’m astonished Oranges & Lemons has so few. To keep my hand in I’ll try a blockbuster every now and again and am often amazed they ever hit big (Girl on a Train I’m looking at you).
    I feel like I need to leave some reviews for you now.

  39. Jonah says:

    Thanks for the recommended self-published novels. I enjoyed a mystery starring a young Lord Byron – “Riot Most Uncouth” by Daniel Friedman. But then I love “The Great Gatsby”, although I didn’t “get” it when read in college; not until I read it in middle age. Someone wrote young people in general don’t get it. They think it’s a celebration of partying and bling, but really it’s an elegy, not for the roaring twenties, but for wasted and lost lives.
    As for book blurbs, here’s one from Groucho Marx: “From the moment I picked up your book until I put it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it.”

  40. Paul+C says:

    Like the Groucho review. Another good book quote is ‘Never trust anyone whose TV is bigger than their bookshelves’

  41. Keith says:

    Unconditional hero,
    Rakish, lofty Peake.
    Light, you wrestled from darkness,
    Sight, you had, unique.
    You entered dark places,
    armed with pen and word.
    Quarrier of heads from Hades,
    and miner of the absurd.

    Yes Gormenghast, is probably my favorite novel of all time too.

  42. Andrew+Holme says:

    Every week I used to take my daughter to her Gymnastics club in Berinsfield via the Abingdon Road. We used pass the care home where Mervyn Peake died. Every week I related a bit more of Steerpike’s rise through the Gormenghast hierarchy. She loved it. Didn’t Anthony Burgess call Titus Groan the first post war masterpiece?

  43. Helen+Martin says:

    Oh, no, am I going to have to tackle that book monstrosity again? Would a third try be the charm?

  44. Paul C says:

    Did anyone enjoy the BBC adaptation of Gormenghast some years ago ? I did but I seem to be a tiny minority.

    The Folio Society edition has an excellent intro by Michael Moorcock who befriended Peake in his declining years – a tragic end.

  45. Rob+Lloyd says:

    Brooke, a little startled by your condemnation of my Newton chapter, I just reread it. I can’t spot a single euphemism, so you may be reading more into it than I meant! Also, I question your conclusion that Newton abhorred people, therefore it’s unlikely he met any.
    I apologise for the tavern scene.

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