Saturday, July 30, 2011

publishing history

After the closure of the RedGroup bookstores, and our local A&R outlet, some enterprising newcomers took a short term lease on the shop and shipped in tons of remainders, all going out for $5 each. There had always been heaps of remainders in this store before, but there was no way I was going to pay full price for them.

One great find has been a book called 1989: The Year That Changed The World [the untold story behind the fall of the Berlin Wall.]

Before the wall fell, in early 1989 the Hungarians opened some of their section of the Iron Curtain, along their border with Austria. Because Hungary was a Warsaw Pact country, East Germans often took holidays in this area. The opening of the border had been well publicised, but people seemed cautious about crossing the border, fearing border patrols might still shoot them.
Some radical Hungarians, sensing that Gorbachev really did want change, proposed a picnic demonstration near Sopron where the barbed wire had been cut. Hungary's leaders invited the Austrian government to get involved, and the Pan European Picnic of 19 August 1989 went down in history as the day heaps of East Germans - after pfaffing about nervously all day - finally discovered they could just walk across the border. Austrian buses were queued up, waiting to whisk people away as they crossed.

But if the Hungarian border opening paved the way for the fall of the wall, the first really free elections in Poland in 1989 were what kick-started it all. It was the first open defiance of Russia which had not resulted in the arrival of a couple of million tanks.
Which finally brings me to what I think is the best part of the $5 book by Michael Meyer:

"At their dying day, all but finished and out of steam, Poland's communists mustered the strength for one last perversity, a final crowning act of unwitting but utter self-humiliation. They devised an electoral system whereby Poles would not vote for candidates of their choice. Instead, they would cross out those they did not like...
Revolution by deletion! The pen, at last mightier than the sword, became a weapon of glorious retribution, wielded with style. Some voters slashed their ballots boldly, decapitating the old regime with flourishing strokes, like a charge of Polish cavalry, sabers drawn and glinting in the sun. Pfft! Pfft! Whole pages of communists were x-ed with disembowelling slashes. Others savored the moment, deleting slowly, perhaps puffing a cigarette as they paused over this or that name, not so much considering their choice as pleasuring in this or that special deletion. Oh yes, he jailed my cousin. Pfft! ..."

This 'show don't tell' approach to writing history left me wondering what it would be like if, instead of being asked to number boxes, we were asked to delete the names of people we did not want to vote for... would there be less informal votes? It sounds like fun.
Commenting on my post about some Australian books, Andrew and Red Nomad Oz have raised the interesting issue of how much publicity is enough or too much when promoting a book?

Sell-air-brity [celebrity of the most vacuous kind] seems to guarantee a minimum number of sales, and the offer of a personally signed copy can drive sales through the roof.
A hardback copy of John Howard's autobiography Lazarus Rising costs a whopping $59.95. At a time when retail sales are plummeting, 75,000 copies had already been shifted by mid-May this year. Who bought all those copies? More to the point, why?
Christine Nixon's autobiography Fair Cop is close enough to $37 in paperback. [for foreigners, like people who don't live in Victoria] Nixon is a former Victorian Police Chief, who was in charge when the Black Saturday bushfires roared through Victoria.
The Herald-Sun is whipping up a storm over this book. Nixon was originally criticised in the press for leaving emergency command on the Saturday to work on her biography, get her hair done, and eat a meal at a North Melbourne pub.
In her book, Nixon lashes out at the press, the Royal Commission, and people who are sexist and/or fattist. Naturally, a lot of people are lashing right back.
Is it true there is no such thing as bad publicity?

So now we know that at least 12 copies of a public figure's biography go to journos and a couple of other enemies, but how many copies of this one will sell before it's remaindered? If I see it for $5 will I buy it? If the Herald-Sun publishes enough of the content in the interests of a fair public debate, will there be anything left to read if I do pay $5 for a copy?

If I don't buy it, will this make me fattist or sexist? Would this make me tallist? Would this mean I am intelligent or stupid, or just plain tight with money? What if I just have copophobia?
If I try to borrow it from my local library, will I discover that it's in the catalogue and marked as available but some mongrel has, once again, nicked a book I want to read from the collection?

When enough time has passed for me to know the answers to these questions, will I still care?

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