Skip to Content

Comment from the book world in May 2005

May 2005

Books - 'the raison d'etre for libraries'

30 May 2005

'Libraries' biggest problem is the neglect of their core area: books. The public library service now holds fewer than two copies for every UK resident, and spends just 9p in the pound on books. These are shameful figures. Tired and poorly selected stock inevitably leads to fewer loans. About 561 million books were borrowed from libraries in 1992-93, but 10 years later the figure was 361 million. Barely one loan is made per visit. On this evidence alone libraries are failing the public...

But reading remains libraries' most important activity, and more needs to be done to put books back at their centre. Providing internet access is useful, but books are the raison d'etre for libraries. In the foreseeable future almost every home will be online, but how many will possess the thousands of books a library holds?'

The Bookseller editorial

'Underestimating the reading public'

23 May 2005

'I would say the biggest problem is underestimating the reading audience. I've always written cross-genre books: a suspense novel with a love story inside and some comedy. But publishers resisted this strenuously. Everything has to be labelled, and sold that way. If you're writing a series, there is pressure to keep things narrow and not break out. Books like Herman Wouk's The Winds of War and James Clavell's Shogun have largely disappeared from the bestseller list. The common wisdom is that readers don't have the patience they once did. But underestimating the reading public is a very big mistake. If there was more trust in the public, it would pay off. An editor once told me that if I didn't keep my vocabulary to 500 words I'd never make the best-seller list.'

Dean Koontz, who sells about 17 million copies of his books and gets over 30,000 fan letters a year, in the Wall Street Journal.

'The power of stories'

16 May 2005

I said when I set out on my Laureate's journey two years ago that I wanted to go far and wide, telling stories wherever I could. I wanted to remind people of all ages of the power of stories, the joy of simply listening and reading, to do what I could to bring literature back to the heart of literacy. In that time I've visited 12 countries, talked to tens of thousands of children and parents and teachers and librarians. I've talked in remote island schools in the Hebrides in Scotland to a dozen children at a time, in city concert halls to a couple of thousand at a time...

By the end of May another Children's Laureate will be appointed to pick up the torch of children's literature. I know who it is, but I'm not telling you! I wish him or her the same joy I've had, more wouldn't be possible. It's been the most intense and productive time of my life.

Michael Morpurgo on his Children's Laureate website:

'A medium of limitless potential and surprise'

9 May 2005

'Too many books? It's true that Britain alone publishes about 120,000 new titles a year, a ten-fold increase on 1905. So what? Most of these new books have the shelf life of yoghurt and get recycled into lavatory rolls quicker than you can say The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.

In an age of rampant capitalism, in the middle of a colossal information-technology revolution unparalleled since Gutenberg, it would be surprising if there was not a colossal overproduction...

No, the barbarians are not at the gate. It's an age of awesome variety we are living in. English in all its thrilling, international forms, from romance to rap, is finding more colour and expression than at any time since Spenser, Marlowe and Jonson.

Indeed the kaleidoscope of English and American publications today is probably closer in spirit and self-expression to the Shakespearean extravaganza, offering a medium of limitless potential and surprise, in a language that media corporations such as the BBC should be grateful for.'

Robert McCrum in his excellent column in the Observer

'Books that have literally changed my life'

2 May 2005

'When you write a book it's not a real thing, but the ripples are real. I've read books that have literally changed my life - my moral sense is different, my sense of humour is different. These things have very real implications for the rest of the world. I treat people differently. I spend my money differently. All because of these non-existent rocks that were thrown into a lake.'

Jonathan Safran Foer in the Bookseller