Reading Habits in Publishing
I am reading Philip K. Dick’s “The Penultimate Truth” at the moment. It’s starting to perk up – Dick’s sci-fi is always laden with vaguely gauche but nonetheless compelling lingo and future slang. It also has plot twist after plot twist – remorseless in some cases – which perfectly justify his work being in the Sci-Fi Masterworks series at Gollancz. The completist in me wants the entire series. The realist in me has read “Valis” and knows that there needs to be a quality control at play. Not all Dick is good Dick.
Being a Twitter user, I’m connected to a lot of publishing types. I suppose I follow them out of obeisance to what I ‘should’ be. My brother recently, and cuttingly, described me as ‘brainwashed’ and there is a sense I think of having been somewhat institutionalized. I realized that there are so many people in a certain place and rank in publishing tweeting and tweeting at each other little ‘cool’ bits of knowledge, and always talking about what they are reading. It always something vaguely hip, or of the moment, or shortlisted. I don’t really read like that, and never have. I’ll follow my instincts, my urges and read what feels natural. Admittedly, buying this latest batch of Dick novels (ha ha) came in the remainder section of Waterstones (Gower St, I almost feel compelled to add, to reaffirm my status – this was not a purchase in Waterstones Swindon or Windsor, darling). But that was part of a malaise that I’d felt for a while that I was just reading reading reading what I felt I had to read. “The Lay of the Land” by Richard Ford, the third Frank Bascombe book, was huge and sprawling and really needed an axe taking to it on the cutting room floor (to mix metaphors). I am a huge fan of Richard Ford but the novel spoke of an almost invisible ‘editor’. Copyedited very finely though – no mistakes.
We live (and have lived for a while) in an era of cultural capital. There are books on Bourdieu on my actual list. Oh, I’m reading this, I watched this, I went this play!, and working in an industry like publishing this is constantly on display. It’s why drinking with the Production department is so refreshing – to have a pint with people who are quite happy to end the night eating cold baked beans out of a shoe. They also drink much better in quantity and have a generally higher level of anger : not so much micro-management frustration at slipping deadlines but more an incandescent rage at everything that exists. Production are nihilists and drinking with them is fun. Editorial drinks seem to slip into a bit of a gossipy soft-soaping that leaves you feeling like someone has covered your head in a paper bag and made you breathe stale air for four hours. People will moan about ‘systems’ and look back to the glory days and resemble the sad quarterback in the Springsteen song. Glory days! Oh they pass you by.