Former leading New Zealand publisher and bookseller, and widely experienced judge of both the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the Montana New Zealand Book Awards, talks about what he is currently reading, what impresses him and what doesn't, along with chat about the international English language book scene, and links to sites of interest to booklovers.
Wednesday, December 03, 2008
If you think books have dumbed down … Think back to what was setting the tills ringing in the 1970s Penny Anderson, blogging in guardian.co.uk, Tuesday December 2 2008
If you ever look at today's bestseller lists and fear that literarate culture is going to hell in a celebrity handbasket, a look back to the late 70s might actually cheer you up, my friend.
Then again it might just depress you, as so much mainstream reading matter then ranged from the questionable to the downright nasty.
Walk through the average bookshop in 1979, you'd pass huge stacks of the preposterously twee Country Diary Of An Edwardian Lady, along with it affiliated tea towels and coasters, dump bins of the Dr Atkins' Diet Revolution enjoying its first taste of bestsellerdom, and a long queue furtively awaiting their copies of The Joy of Sex. (People used to claim the latter was bought mostly by vicars - an urban myth, of course, though I did once see not one but two clerics lining up to buy.)
The bestseller shelves were also crammed with lusty tales of comely young wenches, often underage, captured by pirates and sold into sexual servitude in a harem. The usually ended up quite enjoying this. Often written by men but aimed at women, each book contained at least two rape scenes. Gradually these awful books were replaced by doorstop bonkbusters, like Lace.
As for the men, well there being no Andy MacNab, they were catered for by Sven Hassel, a specialist in grim, cruel books about the second world war from the German point of view. Hassel's claim to have fought on the front is disputed, but his popularity was never in question. His prose was brutish, ugly, and ultra-violent, and his covers were horrific, often depicting (if memory serves) a skull in a Nazi uniform.