Publishers and booksellers go into The London Book Fair next week on a wave of optimism. The (soon to be) Booker Prize has found a benevolent new home, Foyles’ future is secure, Waterstones is announcing new stores (Edinburgh) and one of the country’s best-loved indies Topping & Co, has also announced a new store – also in Edinburgh, where another independent, Portobello, is about to open. In fact, Edinburgh is the place to be, with three new bookshops heading its way.
In other energetic, positive announcements, Matthew Hamilton has left Aitken Alexander and established his own agency, The Hamilton Agency, just in time for the book fair, with offices in Michelin House in South Kensington, where Reed Consumer Books had its home in the Nineties; and booksellers have enjoyed a run of new title announcements: from Philip Pullman, Jojo Moyes, Thomas Harris, Margaret Atwood and Stephen King, all of whom either have new titles or sequels coming.
The establishment of a standalone agency, and the announcement of new bookstores, all indicate a healthy industry, though, as ever, there is a two-part caveat. The first begins with B, but we’ll leave (ha!) that this time around. The second part is the worrying survey from the National Literacy Trust (NLT) that reading for pleasure among children and young people has declined from 43% in 2015 to 25.7% today. Kirsten Grant, director of World Book Day, said grimly: “These figures from the NLT tell us that reading for pleasure is in long-term decline.”
The mobile and Netflix are to blame, of course, with the digital world being like a virus of distraction that has been let in and has now become like the self-replicating creature from Alien. Sorry, an exaggeration. Social media can be book-related, can send people to books, just as Netflix can create book sales, as with the YA success Thirteen Reasons Why. But one has to ask a simple question about the masses of content that is undoubtedly being consumed on devices every day – how much of this is publisher-produced, paid for content? When a novel works, there is nothing else like it: the escape is intoxicating; but in the world of social media, books have to work harder than ever before to gain attention. Library campaigner Tim Coates points out also, that the closing of libraries has not helped because it has reduced access to books for children.
Some welcome help for US indies has come from Penguin Random House. It has partnered with the Book Industry Charitable Foundation to launch ‘Indies with Impact’, a new grant opportunity open to independent bookstores “to recognise, support and strengthen” the already robust connections bookstores have with their communities. A $1500 grant will be awarded to a bookstore that works in tandem with a community non-profit or organisation of their choice for a program that strengthens their local communities and encourages a passion for reading.
All US bookshops have also had another piece of good news, with PRH also involved. A new Dr Seuss novel has been discovered in the home of his creator Theodore Seuss Geisel who died in 1991. This is a bit like a previously unpublished Roald Dahl being found. Dr Seuss’s Horse Museum will be published later this year with Random House Children’s Books planning a 250,000 print run.
There have been some lovely tributes to Dorotea Bromberg, who founded the Swedish publisher Brombergs with her father Adam in 1975. She will receive The London Book Fair Lifetime (LBF) Achievement Award at The LBF International Excellence Awards next week, with Ian McEwan describing her as a true bibliophile, “one of those rare publishers whose personality and authority infuses the house that she runs”. He added: “When the anti-Semitism of communist Poland drove Adam Bromberg and his family into exile, no one could have guessed at the cultural enrichment of Sweden that would result…. The London Book Fair have made a brilliant choice. How honoured, delighted and proud Adam Bromberg would have been to see his lavishly gifted daughter recognized at this international gathering.”
A lifetime achievement award has also been given in Australia, to Helen Garner (The Monkey Grip, The Spare Room and many others). She received the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature which “acknowledges the achievements of eminent literary writers over the age of 60 who have made an outstanding contribution to Australian literature”.
Roger Tagholm writes our Snapshot of the Week.