I visited the house of a book reviewer the other night. He and his wife have bookshelves all over the place, on every spare bit of wall. They have a large upstairs toilet and four of us spent quite some time in there, looking at and discussing the novels in the L to P section (two walls). I borrowed two new books from the early alphabet in the bedroom (the latest by J M Coetzee and Robert Edric). But the scariest books, from a writer’s point of view, were in the spare bedroom. They weren’t on the shelves, but in two large piles, mostly paperback, from which Sue and I were invited to take our pick. That’s right, every reader’s dream. Anything you fancy, have it. Second hand bookshops won’t buy them. I’ll get round to taking them to Oxfam one day, but they won’t miss a few.
What’s scary about that? You may well ask. The frightening thing was that, in these two, metre high piles of unsolicited books from reputable publishers (several who’ve published me, several I’d love to be published by), there wasn’t a single book that either of us wanted to read. There wasn’t even a single book by anyone we’d heard of. These were novels, mostly, and it was pretty easy to see what kind of genre most of them fitted into, which best seller they were trying to imitate (or, to be fair to the authors, which best seller market the publicity department and/or cover designer were trying to tap into). But the vast majority of them were destined to disappear without trace. And for someone entering his fourteenth year making a precarious living as a novelist, that’s a pretty worrying sight.
These friends had one room without any book shelves – the same room as in our house, where the only books allowed are the ones currently being read. Their living room, like ours, was dominated by music. However we have a problem: our living room has way too much music. I have a vast collection of recordings. Most of the LPs live in the hall, and my 2,000 7″ singles are behind me, in the study where I’m typing this, where I have a (second) old record player. But all of the CDs are in the living room. And, since I have a CD recorder, and an ever growing collection of ‘field recordings’ or ‘boots’, traded with fans all over the world, the damn things keep proliferating.
Sue has finally put her foot down. This weekend, the little boxes and small piles of CDs in paper and plastic sleeves (the cases take up too much space) have to find a new home. But where? I need instant access to them. I might need to play one, or copy one for somebody, at any moment. They can’t go up in the attic, with all of the junk and the bits of the comic collection I never look at, the academic books we might just need one day and the pictures we no longer want on the wall but paid to have framed and can’t bring ourselves to give away. So something has to go up there to make space for the ever increasing hoard of CDs.
Bye bye, video tape library. Most of the prerecorded tapes are already up there and we haven’t missed them. Next go the two hundred, carefully indexed, home recorded VHS tapes of movies and TV shows – including several series of Hill St. Blues, the complete Sopranos, loads of Dennis Potter plays, nearly every Woody Allen movie, most of Hitchcock, Brian De Palma, Powell and Pressburger and Orson Welles. I’ve pulled out a handful of things I really do mean to watch soon. They can join the thirty or so tapes above the widescreen telly that make up our current ‘one day we’ll get round to this’ pile. But the rest will go into ‘just in case’ boxes, where they’ll stay until the technology becomes obsolete (like my Video 2000 collection). They’re there if I really need them, but, with hundreds of satellite channels to choose from, and much better quality available on dvd (with all those extras), I know that their day is done. Videos are for timeshifting, not collecting. (I’m keeping the eighty or so videotapes containing over 20 years of music broadcasts downstairs though. Some things are sacrosanct… for now).
PS The latest Coetzee is really disappointing. Unless you’re a major fan, I wouldn’t bother.