Holiday non-reading

Some perennial themes of book blogs clash and implode over at the Guardian. Jean Hannah Edelstein wrote an apt piece called "Frank nonsense and gold: the mystery of the Christmas bestseller", in which she took a book with the ghastly title of "Do Ants Have Arseholes" [no link will be provided by me], currently number 1 on the Amazon bestseller list, as an example of the mindless, derivative rubbish that is published at this time of year. She also discusses the motives of those who buy this sort of book as a gift, and concludes: "My fellow dedicated readers, now is the time for us to rise up against the tyranny of the derivative Christmas book!" Good for her, say I.

In an extraordinary countermove, Nicola Barr, the agent who sold this title to the publisher, and who is now therefore raking it in, herself was given space on the Guardian book blog to write a shamelessly self-interested, complaining piece called "If you’re going to rubbish a book, read it", in which she attacks Jean Hannah Edelstein’s article as if it had been a review of the book, plugs (and links to) two allegedly good reviews in the UK national press, and continues with her onion well to the fore to provide a detailed account of the saintly work of literature and all connected with it.

There are many comments to Nicola Barr’s article, several of them incoherent and several more from people who don’t seem to have read the earlier article (which is clearly not a book review but an article about this type of book and its marketing — complete with an off-putting quote from the blurb as evidence) but are not short of an opinion on it. That apart, I was relieved to see that Nicola Barr did not get any sympathy: her article is mainly characterised as a disingenuous piece of marketing, her claims that the book is a "word of mouth" bestseller being received cynically. The book isn’t one that many commenters (if any) feel inclined to buy even after reading Nicola Barr’s fervent pitch for it. At time of writing, the comment thread ends with a gracious paragraph from Jean Hannah Edelstein herself, who demonstrates a good nature as well as excellent conflict-resolution skills.