Sunday 1 June 2008

An extended sneer at Australia's bestsellers [Part Two]

(Continued from the last post)

5: Underbelly by John Silvester and Andrew Rule
The true-crime account of Melbourne's ongoing gangland wars, waged by apparently moronic criminals intent on wiping each other out. This was recently a hugely successful TV series with lots of violence and lashings of nudity. Hence this cover, which puts this book into the weird genre of non-fiction accounts with fictional versions of the protagonists on the covers: see, for example, the memoirs of Iris Murdoch which feature Judi Dench and Kate Winslet, or the Truman Capote biography with Philip Seymour Hoffman on the cover. Very odd, when you think about it.

4: Change of Heart by Jodi Picoult
When I worked in a bookshop, my boss described Jodi Picoult's books as being novels for people who don't like to read. Though that's probably a bit unfair, they're not much good. Nor is this dull-as-dishwater cover. It looks like a paracetamol ad. More interesting is that Picoult recently did a short-lived stint as writer on the Wonder Woman comic, Wonder Woman being a character created by the deeply odd psychologist William Moulton Marston, "polyamorist", co-inventor of the lie-detecting polygraph machine, and bondage enthusiast (see almost any issue of the comic which he wrote).

3: Breath by Tim Winton
Holy shit--a genuine work of literature by a genuinely good writer, with an attractive cover. What's it doing on the bestseller list? Excuse me while I fall off my chair.

2: A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle
The publisher Penguin get a lot of raves on this blog for their classics line and many of their cover designs. On the other hand, they do publish some real, Z-grade raw sewage. This mimsy, Oprah-hawked self-help cod-philosophy book does its best to ride on the coat-tails of Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth in the promo material, which conveniently ignores the fact that it's exactly the sort of self-obsessed, it's-all-about-me, blinkered mindset that books like this inculcate which has helped contribute to the hideous state of the world we are now dealing with. The leaf skeleton on the cover does indicate the threadbare nature of this book's contents, though I suspect that was not the designer's intention. Go and read some Emerson or some Thoreau, you Oprah-addled numbnuts!

1: 4 Ingredients by Kim McCosker and Rachael Berminngham
My wife's impressive collection of food books attests to the huge leaps that food photography and cookbook design have made in the last couple of decades. There are many, many genuinely gorgeous books in this field. But sometimes a publisher decides, "Fuck it, let's go for the boring, the obvious, the uninspired!" And the book becomes a number-one bestseller, thus showing that all the design brilliance in the world appears to mean fuck-all to the average book-buying punter.


Anonymous said...

Jodi Picoult's books have been rejacketed in the UK recently. Partly this is no doubt to screw more money out of hard-of-thinking Picoult fans who might not realise they have the book already ("Read the title? I didn't come into a bookshop to read!"), and partly to abandon any pretence that these are anything other than undisguised hot-topic tomes, where all normal literary interests - story, prose, characters - are abandoned in favour of lots and lots of issues.

Hence instead of a quote by a women's magazine on the front, it has a tagline, a little like a straight-to-DVD shocker, summarising this particular book's moral topic-for-discussion. The one most recently released - of course I don't know the title - says something like "Would you grant your enemy's dying wish to save your child's life?" Which isn't even much of a moral dilemma really, the answer being yes: my enemy dies and I get to save my kiddy's life!

JRSM said...

Yes, you're right about the DVD-style cover. I feel sort of bad having a go at her, since she's obviously so in earnest, but she really isn't much of a writer.

Kylie said...

I love the comments on 'A New Earth'!

I buy quite a few second-hand books and sometimes haven't been particularly impressed with the covers but now I'm developing a new appreciation for them, and I like them much more than the covers of my newer books. I also love the new Vintage covers.

Excellent blog!

Steerforth said...

Yes, the '4 Ingredients' cover is terrible, but maybe its rejection of the traditional 'tasteful' jacket design has won over those people who would normally regard cookbooks as a bit poncey.

It's interesting how Jodi Picoult knocked Anita Shreve off her perch.

Kylie said...

I don't think it was a conscious decision to move away from the nicer designs - I think they were just being cheap! I don't think it was ever expected to be so popular, or perhaps they might have put more effort into it.

I have a copy myself, and it certainly could have done with some editing - the numerous little comments are very off-putting.

JRSM said...

When I was younger (slips into old man mode) I remember the older covers--and second-hand-books in general--used to depress me with their lack of newness and their tattiness. Now I can't get enough of second-hand bookshops (though they all seem to be dying off, one by one). I just got back from a few days in Sydney (your neck of the woods I think, Kylie), and brought back a pile of out-of-print books I found at Gould's. That shop looks the way my wife fears our house will soon become.

Kylie said...

I only discovered Gould's last year and didn't have enough time to look around properly. You really need a full day don't you? One of these days I'm going to take a day off work and do a book crawl through Glebe and Newtown etc.

I'm the same as you - I can't get enough of second-hand bookshops now. I think my 'used' books outnumber my new ones now.

Anonymous said...

jrsm, why feel a little bad just because Picoult's so earnest? :)

I read an interview with her in the books section of an Australian paper in which she claimed to be a modern day Dickens. She implied that, like Dickens, she is a great author who is under-appreciated by the literary establishment of her time, if she does say so herself!

Picoult doesn't only write manipulative books and write them badly, she comes across as a rather unpleasant person as well.

JRSM said...

I didn't know that about her (The Dickens thing, I mean--I did know she wrote badly!). Thanks for letting me know. It seems she has a bad case of the Jeanette "I'm the greatest writer ever, nobody can approach my brilliance!" Wintersons.