With the Christmas book bonanza approaoching, Kristina Woolnough introduces our 9-page book special.
A neat end to a progressive book-selling decade. 1989 has been another big book year for punters and publishers. as volume after volume rolled off the presses and onto the shelves. Some sank (thankfully) without trace. some left ripples on the water. some stayed aﬂoat. but few created tidal waves. Salman Rushdie‘s The Satanic Verses continued to be the most mentioned title (although published in 1988). Those who bought it to see what the fuss was about invariably found it
almost incomprehensible. while those who didn't buy it and wouldn‘t read it seemed to find its message crystal-clear. The death threat against Rushdie‘s life was repeated. and the novelist is still in hiding. In terms ofpublicity. The Satanic Verses and Peter Wright‘s atrocioust badly written Spy Catcher reigned supreme in the 1980s.
Smaller publishers seem to have survived intact. with many of them achieving growing recognition. New products also livened up the book scene: the stumpy. plastic-coated. designer-and-bath-friendly Penguin Originals gave fresh hope to young writing blood and revived hope to ageing but hitherto unsuccessful blood. Chatto's (.‘ounterB/asts series
BOOKS FOR CHRISTMAS
of polemical pamphlets proved to be collectable sounding-off boards for world-weary writers and debaters.
In Scotland. acclaim (although reputedly unwanted and scorned) nearly came to James Kelman‘s A Disaffection via the Booker Prize shortlist. (.‘andia McWilliam. William Mcllvanney. Allan Massie. George Mackay Brown and other Caledonian regulars all produced with some success. New writing found some form. while old (in the shape ofpoetry anthologies) found several new venues.
No doubt gearing up for 1990. a veritable spate (well. more than two) of ironically lavish. frequently glossy books on Glasgow and on Rennie Mackintosh by Scottish publishers has recently poured forth.
Also unsubtley milking an obvious cow have been the publishers who took up the green challenge. Consumer guides. out-size books on African mountains (some proceeds to some funds). travel books with a record-it-now-before-it‘s-gone slant and books on intelligent animals defiled by two—legged ones have all devoured forests of non-hardwood trees.
As usual. it‘s been a good year and a bad year. Monumental amounts of garbage (by anybody‘s standards) continue to get published. while books ofa consistent quality do manage to slip through too. The following pages add to the paper-pile. as The List‘s section editors and others peruse recent and less recent titles.
Alastair Mabbott wades through the Christmas funnies and finds a lot of ﬂat jokes and few belly laughs.
What is it this time? Adrian Edmondson‘s How to be a Complete Bastard? Pamela Stephenson‘s How to be a Complete Bitch? Neil's Book of the Dead? Janet Lives With Me] and Griff? Go to Bed with Jonathan Ross? No. this year‘s heavyweight entrant in the celebrity scrapbook stakes is Lenny Henry's Well-Hard Paperback (Virgin £4.99).
It‘s a part oflate-Eighties' celebrity that at some point you will lend your name to at least one book cobbled together by seasoned scriptwriters. lavishly illustrated with photographs ofyourself (better still. a photo-strip or two) and sprung on to the bestseller shelves (on the day of publication in Len‘s case) in time for Christmas. More often than not. they have the air of rag mags — old gags recycled into a flimsy book that. with its covers removed. could be Spitting Image [1 or The Hale and Pace Book of Writes and Rons (Arrow £4.50).
Lenny‘s convinced his book is a cut above the rest. and he explained why when l thumbed a lift from John Menzies to Gordon‘s Trattoria.
‘I basically wanted to collaborate with the people I‘d collaborated with on my TV series. because I wanted to be secure and know that it was all going to be funny. and know that they were thinking of the same standard as I was. We had lots of meetings. and Stan Hay and Andrew Nichols, who wrote Delbert. edited
the book. I think the last couple of
months of tying up the loose ends was the hardest work. there were meetings twice a week. rewriting things. last-minute adjustments on photographs. all that kind ofstuff. It‘s not a novel — it is aimed at the traditional funnybook market — but it is ofa really high standard. and I‘m pleased about that.‘
He‘s not joking about putting his stampon it. Icounted 119 photographs of Len (and almost as many cartoons) in 84 pages. including covers.
‘Last year there was a glut ofthem. but the problem with a lot of these books is that unless you write them yourself. or unless you‘re there when they‘re talking about what ideas go in. things can get by you. and people can say. Wait a minute. what‘s this? A lot ofbooks aren‘t up to that
Exclusive! lie-discovered pages from the Street of Shamelessness.
standard because people don't participate that way.‘
The Well-Hard Paperback isn‘t that much more side-splitting than any other celebrity funnybook. but it‘s a fair enough effort of its kind. One wonders. though. how much thought he really gave one particular item. a pastiche of an Independent Magazine article, which gets its yoks from London‘s homeless by trivialising them to the level of his own creations Delbert Wilkins and Theophilus P. Wildebeeste. Worse is its proximity to two equally trivial one-pagers on the subject of conference hotels and what people really say on their earphones. Considering the way he puts the boot into Bill Cosby— ‘that‘s what I want. lots ofdrama. but lots of niceness’ — it leaves a pretty bad taste.
Clive Anderson. the man with the freeze-dried charisma. has absolved himselfofall responsibility for Whose Line is it Anyway (Century Hutchinson £4.95) by making it plain that his only part in the making of it was ‘to write the foreword. provide some notes about the scoring and agree to have a truly awful photograph of myself on the front cover‘.
Basically an expanded guide to how to play the famous C4 improvisation game. it's one of those books where it's hard to tell if it was drawn together in an afternoon. or was sweated over like one of Hercules' Seven Labours. The proof ofthe pudding is in the eating. of course. and while funnier than Len‘s tome . Whose Line is it Anyway (Anderson count: 52. and the cover pic is one ofthe better ones) only confirms that it really is as difficult as it looks. We got as far as a naff attempt at improvising Proust's Ala Recherche dtt Temps Perdtt in the style ofJim Bowen (a beginner‘s one. really) before falling back on charades and making our art listings compiler mime Sex. Lies and Videotape for our sadistic pleasure.
A pleasure to report that A lexei Sayle's Great Bus Journeys ofthe World (Methuen £3.99) is all his own. Except for the bits by David Stafford. But who cares who did what when you can hear it inwardly as a stream of Sayle's surreal, wobbling-on-the-edge monologues? I never got off much on these columns when they appeared in Time Out. but collected here they‘re the belly laugh of the season. lfSayle bursts in on the Booker jury next year with halfa pound of coke and twenty colour televisions. shouting ‘WhatevchG Ballard’s offering l‘ll double it!‘. he might have a better chance with this under his arm as well.
Custom-built for the stocking are collections of newspaper strips. usually around 7l/2in wide and Sin tall. and also of ﬂoppy cover. and here. in Helen (‘usack‘s instance. is where I let myselfdown by admitting [don‘t know of her work. or whether the cartoons in Rocking the Boat
The List 24 November — 7 December 1989 77