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Comment from the book world in August 2004

August 2004

'A messenger from the dead'

30 August 2004

'At times it's almost as if there's a telepathic communication going on. You get this extraordinary sense of intimacy with people you're never met. After a while you begin to feel almost like a messenger from the dead, trying to bring people back to life. And that's a very strange feeling, almost a magical one...

'I think that to invite the dead to tell you some truths that it would be unreasonable to ask them when they were alive is to pay them a compliment. You're helping them to be heard again and what they say contributes to the living world. You see, that's what I've tried to do as a biographer: to keep death in its place, and not to let it have the final word.'

Michael Holroyd talking to John Preston in the Sunday Telegraph about being a biographer

'Earnest soul-searching scribes'

23 August 2004

'The very words "creative writing course" can trigger a prolonged bilious attack in any critic whose skin crawls at the thought of all those earnest, soul-searching scribes munching digestive biscuits as they listen to one another's lyrical outpourings. We don't want writers cosily wrapped up in halls when they should be suffering in the time-honoured manner of Kafka or Camus - or experiencing the same infernal torment as the reader trying to wade through 500 pages of The Last Tuna, a postmodern satire about a flooded dystopia ruled by evil talking dolphins...'

'Not that any of these caveats will stop people enlisting on the courses. Writing is a lonely business and most authors I know will stop at nothing to find some excuse to gaggle together, gossip, drink and sleep with one another...'

Rowan Pelling, Independent on Sunday

Updike on meeting authors

16 August 2004

'The meat of the matter is to be had sitting down and reading the books - not by meeting the author. When I was a young, aspiring writer I was thrilled to meet a boyhood idol of mine, James Thurber; I loved the way he both drew and wrote.

Thurber was quite blind by this time, and understandably self-centred, and he basically recited things I'd already read. He told all the same stories, so I came away less enchanted than if I'd never met him. So there's a risk you run when you meet your readers.'

John Updike, interviewed by Anthony Quinn in the Sunday Telegraph

'An unconscious extension of the class system'

9 August 2004

'I think that the perception of genre in this country is an unconscious extension of the class system. People have a dreadful snobbery in their approach to their book-reading. Lots of literary books are marketed almost as accessories that they reflect in the person you are. Lots of people buy literary books because it gives them a poetic image of themselves... '

Looking down on SF and fantasy is 'perpetuated by some of the fiction editors and commentators and professional spitters, like Germaine Greer, who was furious when The Lord of the Rings won Waterstone's Book of the Century poll. They hate the fact that there are people out there unpicking their opinions.'

Graham Joyce, author of World Fantasy Award-winning The Facts of Life, in Publishing News

Jane Austen and what people read

2 August 2004

'One of the things that strikes me so strongly is that her work has been put to every imaginable agenda: people are arguing that she's an intensely conservative writer and then that she's incredibly radical; she was apparently prescribed for shell-shocked soldiers after the First World War, and Emma was made part of the movement to emancipate women in Bengal. It's really quite astonishing.

I help facilitate a reading club at the bookstore where I live, in Davis, near Sacramento. It's taken me about five years to be able to predict what one person will like and what they won't. It's both wonderful and troubling to me to see how we all read the same books, but we all read a completely different book. Some things that seem to me to be very tangential to a book will be the entire focus of someone else's reading.'

Karen Joy Fowler in the Bookseller, talking about her US no 1 bestseller The Jane Austen Book Club