Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Print’s charming

Maybe I’m just benevolently disposed towards The Word at the moment, seeing as how they gave my book so much coverage, but I was impressed by an article that David Hepworth wrote in the current article, suggesting that the Kindle and the Reader and such like won’t present much of a challenge to the dominance of the conventional book. His is not just a fogeyish argument that books have lasted 500 years so they ought to last for at least another 500; rather, it’s a highly modern observation about how we express our identities today:
...a lot of books and nearly all magazines are read on public transport. In the act of reading something with the cover pointing outwards we advertise ourselves and our attitudes. It’s the most complex and powerful sign language we know. An attractive woman makes herself twice as attractive when she is seen reading an interesting book. How can a brushed metal blank or a piece of nice smooth plastic begin to cope with that? We live in a culture of display, where people pay more for a ringtone than for a record. It’s the worst time in history to be hiding what you’re reading.
That said, here’s another view, from Freek Bijl. (Thanks to Ian Hocking for alerting me to this one.)


patroclus said...

"An attractive woman makes herself twice as attractive when she is seen reading an interesting book." Ha, and I forlornly hoped that the Noughties might put an end to that whole male-gaze, woman-as-object-to-be-looked-at thing. Looks like that'll endure for a bit longer too - maybe for as long as we still have books.

Tim F said...

Hmm, yes, did headscratch a little at that bit. One wonders what an ugly woman has to read to get the Hepworth libido up and running. Is he the Leslie Phillips of rockcritdom?

patroclus said...

I was going to say "does he think no women read The Word?", but then I thought "actually he's probably right."

I did read the Noughties review, though, glad to see that Andrew Collins also would have liked more of the 'absence' stuff. You should do a new book!

epikles said...

My view is probably a little warped living here in Silicon Valley, but I notice a lot of people using their iPhones in the same peacock-showy manner - besides the fact they become addicted to those devices - and one of the main things you can do with them is read. I do think the dedicated devices such as Kindle will not amount to nearly as much as these smartphones, but ebooks don't care what platform they're read on. I've already found it a great way to get my own obscure little books out into the hands of total strangers, books that would otherwise never have a ghost of a chance of doing so!

Chris said...

I don't totally buy this notion of Patroclus' that no women are nice for men to look at, or that it is unreasonable for someone to be pleased to find common cultural ground with someone they are attracted to.

As for whether people read books just to show off the cover - I suspect they'll be just as happy to show off an ereader, as soon as somebody puts out a sexy one.

Billy said...

I saw a woman reading the autobiography of Terrence Stamp this morning on the tube.

Erm... Phwoar???

patroclus said...

Chris: it would have been fine by me if David Hepworth had said that a person you're attracted to can seem even more attractive if they're reading an interesting book, as you just did. It's the suggestion that *women* (and not men) are objects to be looked at - and looked at by readers of The Word, who are by implication male - that annoys me.

But you know, not to the point that I'm going to go out and castrate men in the street or anything.

And actually, I do think that it will become less and less socially acceptable to comment on people's looks, to the extent that people 50 years hence will look back on things like this in the same way that we look back on things like the Robertson's golly now.

I hope so, anyway.

Dick Headley said...

David Hepworth doesn't miss much but I bet there are people who feel attracted to Kindle users.

Chris said...

Patroclus: but if the readership of The Word is mostly male, and males are mostly heterosexual, especially ones who read The Word, then who are their writers supposed to be sexist towards? Oh, I see.

At the same time, it is fair to say that women dress more ostentatiously than men - which is a big generalisation, but, y'know, true. Why? To look nice. To look - appealing? I'd say so. Everyone wants to be liked. And women who use clothes & make-up to accentuate their eyes / lips / hips / tits want to be liked, at least partly, for their visual (and sexual) appearance.

I agree with you that a boorish attitude is one of the least interesting positions a writer can take, and that it is dehumanising to talk about women only in terms of their appearance and their effect on men. But I don't really think you can say that women (at least the self-consciously attractive ones) don't like to be looked at.

Chris said...

Call me dim, but I finally worked out what is wrong with what I said there, with the help of Click Opera.

The post to which that comment is attached sparked a furious reaction by asking readers to post photos of 'women you think are totally my type', in 'visual, aesthetic, political, semantic, sexual' terms. Not surprisingly he got accused of sexism several hundred times. The comment itself says:

'I think a certain amount of the ire here comes from the assumption that -- to put it at its simplest -- women are mainly portrayed as sexual objects in our culture, therefore they must never be portrayed as sexual objects.'

This is precisely what annoyed me about Patroclus' comment above. What I hadn't taken into account was the context she was refering to. This, actually, seems to be the main point of her objection, which is not to a single description of a woman's appearance, but to a culture which over-emphasises the appearance of women in general at the cost of marginlising their other attributes.

I don't disagree with that at all, it just makes me uncomfortable when people argue that you can't have an opinion about or a reaction to a woman's appearance, because that implies a double standard.