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Comment from the book world in October 2007

October 2007

'Poetry is necessary'

29 October 2007

'A poem is direct, and charged with energy. Its language is not clichéd nor second-hand. Its meaning, whether force or revelation, or slow truth, is something we can actually use. Poems are among the most useful things invented, along with rubber boots and sharp knives. It you are going to wade through the world's rubbish, and know what to cut out and what to open up - perhaps even what to kill off - then poetry is necessary.

A poem generates heat. The friction of the language causes the words to spark and fire. You can warm your hands at a poem; you can be consumed by it. It is, as Adrienne Rich puts it, "wood with a gift for burning".

Jeanette Winterson in The Times

'This biography business'

22 October 2007

'Biography is still, all too often, viewed as the skill of finding as many facts as possible and assembling them into a definitive likeness, as if each piece of paper, each interview, were a clue leading to a solution. On such and such a day the subject said this, the next week they did this, in 1935 they wrote this, and voila!, the portrait is finished. You only have to imagine a biographer attempting to write your life, 50 years hence - the idiots with whom they might discuss you, the motives they might attribute to actions that you yourself barely understood - to realize how extraordinarily parlous it is, this biography business.'

Laura Thompson, author of Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, in the Independent on Sunday

'Books are different'

15 October 2007

'Books are different, as people have always argued through the ages. They are a cornerstone of civilisation, so they're not quite like other consumer products. They are fundamental to intellectual development. The very depressing statistics you read about the coincidence of dyslexia and prison inmates suggest that in the modern world if you can't read and don't enjoy reading it's a major disadvantage. I think a home that doesn't have books is a bit of a sad place, really...

(Books) are tremendously cheap compared to most things, like, for example, mobile phone calls. The amount of time a £6 ($12.19) book provides - 20 hours of entertainment? - means they are fantastic value.'

Luke Johnson, whose company has just bought Borders UK, in the Observer

'No seven year famine'

8 October 2007

'We believe that the web has come to praise books, not to bury them. There will be no seven-year famine. E-books will drive book demand: Amazon is expanding the market, not cannibalising it; print-on-demand will drive book production; and agents and publishers will both thrive because the cake itself, online and in print, will expand.'

Bookseller editorial

'You made it up?!'

1 October 2007

'Most people's lives have a steady mixture of the social and the solitary, in factory or field, office or school. The life of the novelist has no such balance. For three years, you're alone with your thoughts, then for three weeks you're thrown to the microphones in the name of 'publicity'. The modern writer's life is like a cross between that of the Venerable Bede and Naomi Campbell.

(Readers) assume that everything in a novel is based on your personal experience, lightly, or at times not at all, rewritten. When I toured the country doing readings after Birdsong, most people could not conceal their disappointment. They had expected me to be 105 years old, French and, in some weird way, female.

One man asked me how I knew what it was like to fight at the Somme. I told him I'd read a lot of documents, visited the site, then made it up, 'You made it up?!' he spat at me. Yes, I said, that's my job. But he didn't believe me and neither did anyone else there. They thought I'd found a pile of old papers in the attic and passed them off as mine.'