Forgive me, I don’t want to get hung up on this celebrity auto/biography topic, as it honestly is not something I am interested in. But having just posted about it, I was struck by an email I have just received from Waterstones.com.
The email starts out: "Dear Maxine, Our mission this week has been to discover the hidden gems that hit the bookshelves at Christmas, but sometimes get lost under the celebrity titles and the books with the biggest PR budgets. We’ve managed to find plenty to tempt us, and hopefully plenty to give you some inspiration for that extra special gift."
"Ah", I thought to myself, "how true! I shall read on and see what little potentially overlookable nugget they recommend". I did not have to read on very far, as the answer is in the next sentence:
"Mandela, the authorised portrait", which according to the blurb in the email is not a "book" as I know it but a collection of bits and pieces about him by lots of people, stuck together.
"The Dirty Bits — for Girls" by India Knight, about which I have no wish to know more. (I do know that India K is a journalist who writes a humorous column and books about topics such as romance and shopping, so this latest of her offerings will not be languishing under a shelf at the back of the shop.)
These books may be very good. Of course, Mandela is the towering figure of our age, not a "celebrity". But I just think it is lying to say that these two books are examples of "hidden gems" that one might miss when going into your local Waterstones between now and Christmas.
I’ve just discovered a science blog called Snails Tails. Do you know of it, Clare (a.k.a. Keeper of the Snails)?
Snails tails has lots of postings about, er, snails and similar creatures. Not all limited to biological research, either: here is a nice entry about the appearance of land snails in Escher’s drawings. Can you spot the one depicted here?
My friend James of New Tammany College sent me a link to an interesting article by John Crace on Comment is Free (Grauniad) on the issue of celebrity (auto)biographies. (See earlier post on Petrona and discussion in the comments to that post.) I was surprised to find the article interesting because my initial reaction was "yawn" – but it’s a persuasive analysis of why these books get published even if nobody buys them (the article gives some examples of just how low some sales are). I recommend reading the article, but if you don’t have time, here is an extract:
"Who cares if you’ve paid £200,000 for a book that only sells a few thousand copies if you’ve recouped most of your cash from a newspaper?
The real losers in all this are the readers. And not just because they already know everything of any interest before they get to page one. When a publisher hands over a large advance, it earmarks a proportionate amount of its marketing budget to selling the book. Celebs are the ones who are going to end up on chatshows and their memoirs will dominate bookshop displays, crowding out other authors.
This Christmas, most people will play as safe as the bookshop buyers and walk out with a Jeremy Clarkson or a Gordon Ramsay, happy in the knowledge it won’t be them who has to read it. Chocolate used to be marketed on the myth that buying someone a box was a sign that you loved and cared for them. In reality, it showed that you didn’t – or not enough to buy them something that requires thought. Celebrity memoirs seem to be working to the same principle."