I went out the other night! It was fun. I went to a book launch, because that’s what sophisticated, literary people like me do.
The launch was for Paul Ewen’s London Pub Reviews. I won’t give an account of the event, because it will make you jealous of my fun.
But the book. It’s terrific, of course: If you haven’t encountered Paul and his reviews before, you can read a few at the website linked above. They’re shortish pieces, a few pages long, in which the narrator-reviewer goes to a real London pub, and then imagination and reality get into a muddle and narrator is ejected, arrested or assaulted. They’re deadpan pieces, plain-voiced with nice little flourishes, very odd and very funny.
I’ll expand, if you don’t mind. I really like the fact that there’s a neat, repeated form there; also that the tone is strong and clear. If you’d described it to me without my having read it, I would have been intrigued, but worried that it might fall into that pseudo-surrealism that taints a lot of writing, particularly stuff that’s circulated on the web. The style and form prevent that. I also like that the reviews really are grounded in the pubs; so, if you know The Champion, you’ll recognise the stained-glass representations of Victorian sportsmen. Also that the acuracy is a jumping-off point for the strangeness; so, in the Champion, Paul turns to glass, and gives a precise description of his new state. It appeals to my imagination too: it’s full of time-slips, living figures in pictures, lots of great fun stuff like that.
Haha I just thought up this sentence: ‘the important thing is that it’s funny; however, the funny thing is that it might be important.’ It makes me want to punch myself; however, if you scrub the euphuistic chiasmus, it’s not too far from the mark.
It’s published by ‘Shoes with Rockets’, which is essentially Paul: he had offers from houses I like a lot, but decided to keep control. The book looks terrific: good cover, nicely designed page, well-set and accurate. We’re very, very far from old-school self-publishing here (and, from what I recall, the bulk of Athena Press books don’t feature blurbs from Toby Litt, Tom McCarthy, Dan Rhodes and Steven Hall.)
There’s a lot of this coming up this year: interesting, good-looking books coming out from one-man (or woman) operations. Some are self-publishing, others aren’t. Social Disease is the most obvious example coming out of web world, but there are other things brewing. Small presses have been around forever, yes, but this I think is something new: costs are down, design tools are more easily available, and, if still hard work, it’s all a bit more possible. This is the interesting story at the moment: papers should be paying attention to that, rather than saying ‘omigod the offbeat brutalists use teh myspace!’.
I’d guess this one of the big themes over the next year or two; interesting writing – and writing that’s made for the page, that isn’t designed to be read on a screen – getting into print thanks to publication bars being lowered by the spread of design technology and short-run printing. Plus there’s a developing community around this – but I’ll get my crayons out and draw a map of this world on another day.
Maybe it’s just a last hurrah for the medium. But there are people thinking more carefully about the future of the book than me.
In summary: London Pub Reviews is very good.