2016: A Year in Books

When I’m not writing, raging in public or watching live music while supping beer, I like to read. For those who care, and also those who don’t, and for my own posterity, here’s a list of the books I’ve rad or re-read in the last 12 months.

 

Derek Raymond – The Devil’s Home on Leave

Chuck Palahniuk – Beautiful You

William S. Burroughs – The Electronic Revolution

Nicholson Baker – The Anthologist

Mickey Spillane – The Long Wait

William Gibson – Neuromancer

Ed McBain – Axe

Joseph O’Neill – The Dog

Paul Scott-Bates – Hitting the Black Wall

Edward Bunker – Stark

Douglas Coupland – Girlfriend in a Coma

Richard Stark – Parker

Peter York Dictators’ Homes

JG Ballard – Kingdom Come

Derek Raymond – How the Dead Live

Chuck Palahniuk – Make Something Up

John Niven – The Sunshine Cruise Company

AD Hitchin – Consensual

Colin Wilson – The Mind Parasites

Charles Bukwoski – Ham on Rye

J S Gordon – Life Pervert

HP Lovecraft – Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre

Dennis Lewis – The Fevered Hive

Ellis Johnson – Peep Book

David Peace – Nineteen Seventy Seven

Michel Houellebecq – Submission

Derek Raymond – A State of Denmark

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty

Dashiel Hammett – The Maltese Falcon

Ed McBain – Give the Boys a Great Big Hand

Laura A Munteanu – Street Dog Music

Harry Harrison – Wheelworld

Brett Easton Ellis – The Informers

Ed McBain – Cut Me In

Glen Taylor (ed.) – More Exhibitionism

David Peace – Nineteen Eighty Three

All the Rage

I’m not really one for New Year’s Resolutions. Similarly, I’m not one for anything that’s ‘trending’ or could otherwise be considered conventional. As such, I’m weary of the general approach to writing / publishing / performing, even in the lower echelons of the industry. in other words, the deal whereby one writes a book, reads excerpts at various events and spoken word nights, flogs said book, and goes off to write another.

I’m no fan of Jack Kerouac’s writing, which I find tedious and indulgent, but I very much admire the fact he elected to read from an unpublished work, with notes from his as-yet unpublished work-in-progress tucked inside the pages of his breakthrough novel, On The Road, just when he was breaking big. For 2015, I’ve elected to break the cycle of reading from published works, and shall instead be focusing on a work-in progress, that’s geared not toward publication, but performance: The Rage Monologues. There’s theory behind the method, but I’ll return to that later, in another post.

As such, I don’t have any major publishing plans this year, and will instead be taking The Rage Monologues on the road. Many of these performances will be guerrilla works, delivered at spoken word nights to unsuspecting audiences, although planned dates will be posted here in advance.

Be warned, however: The Rage Monologues are seriously nasty and not for wimps. Here’s a taste.

 

 

Planned performances to date are as follows:

Platform Thirsk, Little 3, Platform St, Thirsk, 7th March 2015. 7:00pm (7:30 start)

Speakers’ Corner, Golden Ball, Cromwell Road, York. 11th March 2014. 7:30pm (8pm start)

Nevermind, 8-10 Stonebow House, York, 19th March 2015 5-7pm

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

2013: A Year in Books

When I’m not writing music reviews or books of my own, I spend a reasonable chunk of my free time reading books, for pleasure or for education. I’m not all about the hot new releases, the recommendations or the best-sellers. I read what I want, when I want, and occasionally, I read what I get sent (which is usually something I want to read anyway, which is a double bonus in many respects). So, in 2013, I read 28 books. They’re listed below. It’s not a ‘best of’ list, and the list isn’t about critical appraisal. I enjoyed some of the books I read more than others. Some, I’ve reviewed. Most, I haven’t. A handful of them I’d read before, the majority I hadn’t. So there you have it.

Warren Ellis – Gun Machine

Stewart Home – Mandy, Charlie and Mary-Jane

Arthur Miller – Focus

Davis Schneiderman – Blank

Davis Schneiderman – Drain

John Tottenham – Antiepithalamia & Other Poems of Regret and Resentment

JG Ballard – Concrete Island

Carl van Cleave – Incisions, Collisions and Aborted Missions

Michel Houellebecq – The Map and the Territory

James Higgerson – The Almost Lizard

Christopher Landon – The Shadow of Time

John D. Chadwick – The Theosophical Teapot

Robert Silverberg – The Second Trip

Jim Thompson – Savage Night

Mark Thomas – Bravo Figaro!

JG Ballard – Rushing to Paradise

Jim Thompson – The Killer Inside Me

Valerie Solanas – S.C.U.M. Manifesto

Brendan Behan – Borstal Boy

Davis Schneiderman – [SIC]

Elmore Leonard – Djibouti

Martin Amis – The Information

Aldous Huxley – Brave New World

JG Ballard – Kingdom Come

Clinton Heylin – Bootleg! The Rise & Fall of the Secret Recording Industry

Ed McBain – The Heckler / See Them Die

Michel Houellebecq – Whatever

Mark Manning – Crucify Me Again

Paul McKenna, Gnostic Bastard – The Power of Persuasion and the Great Hypnotic Con

Since the new year, there’s been a large poster on the bus shelter where I catch the bus to work each morning advertising Paul McKenna’s latest book, Hypnotic Gastric Band. The first time I saw this poster, bleary-eyed at 7:45 on January 7th, I misread the title looming out of the darkness at me as Gnostic Bastard. Having made this rather curious error, I’ve since had to force myself not to read it as such each subsequent morning. In order to do so, I’ve found myself staring long and hard at the hoarding, and each time with growing consternation.

The poster itself is fairly bland: a large image of McKenna’s book, with the title and subtitle (‘The New Surgery-Free Weight-Loss System’) at the top, and at the bottom, the deal-clinching information that there’s a ‘free CD and DVD’ with the book. This is the same text that appears on the book cover itself, meaning the same words appear twice on the poster. Since repetition is the most basic but often effective form of brainwashing, I can’t help but wonder if this isn’t some form of brainwash to make people go out and buy the book – beyond the overt premise of the poster being an advertisement and therefore designed for that explicit purpose, I mean.

The book’s cover itself is interesting. On the face of it, it looks like any other crappy mass-market self-help book. The typeface is plain and bold, clean white lines on a darker background. It says ‘empowerment’. McKenna’s face stares out of the cover. But whereas most self-help gurus wear an expression that shows tranquillity, assurance, confidence, trustworthiness, in a way that say ‘I understand your problems and your pain. I’ve been there. I’ve turned my life around and I can help you to do the same. Have faith. I’m not going to lie to you or fob you off. I’m happy with my life now, and with my help, you can be too’, McKenna’s gaze is focused on… you, of course. He’s looking into your eyes, into your very soul. It’s not a calm look of inner peace. He’s lasering straight into your brain.

You’re so engaged in eye contact with Paul that you don’t really notice that nebulous cloud of lights, a little like a cut-out-and keep magazine rendering of an astronomer’s chart, over his shoulder. It’s a little fainter than McKenna’s image and the strong text above and below.

Within this two-dimensional representation of a multi-faceted polygon, fainter still, is a pale blue sac with tubing above and below – a representation of a stomach, no less, with something resembling a belt pulled tight like a noose just above the top of the bulbous mid-section. This, of course, is a gastric band. Because you need to visualise that band, drawing tight around your intestine, restricting your capacity for food. You’re not hungry, you’re full, and if you eat any more that band will draw so tight and constrict your internal organ that you’ll die.

The image itself is curious and compelling in equal measure. On the one hand it’s quite obvious what its purpose is, there on the cover of the book. On the other, it’s rather weird. I mean, in short that it looks odd. Compositionally, representationally. A sanitised, pseudo-scientific representation of a bulging pouch of muscle in the lower reaches of the intestine in the middle of something not dissimilar from an architectural sketch of the done from The Crystal Maze. What is it saying, and precisely to whom is it speaking when it issues forth those enigmatic utterances?

The kind of people who don’t really consider what they’re consuming to the extent that they may require a gastric band are the kind of people who struggle to associate images of life-threatening obesity, enlarged organs and stupendous amounts of fat when they’re shown on television with their own ruined bodies. But this image on the cover… As I stand, waiting for my bus to arrive, music injected into my ears through my in-ear phones attached to my MP3 player, I find myself mesmerised and wondering as I’m drawn into the billboard, is the gastric band itself hypnotic?

Never mind how the ‘system’ works (note, it’s not a ‘diet’ – largely because any food intake is a diet and we’re looking specifically weight-loss diets here, but more to the point, ‘weight-loss system’ is a perfect example of pseudo-scientific meaninglessness), I find myself totally absorbed by the image. And then I remember it’s all utter bollocks. If it was as easy as all that for the people this book is aimed at to exercise mind over matter to lose weight or otherwise remain at a size that’s considered healthy by the medical profession, then there’d be no need for the book, with or without the ‘free’ CD and DVD. And while only an idiot would believe that the CD and DVD are actually ‘free’ rather than incorporated within the purchase price (CD and DVD cost pennies and the cost of producing a book that’s a mere 144 pages in length (at least in the quantity of print run this is indubitably produced in) is negligible against the RRP of £12.99 which is approximately 9p per page), equally, only a complete cretin would buy into this crap. Let’s face it, The Hypnotic Gastric Band is another way to shift responsibility from the lazy and the weak-willed: which plus-sizer wouldn’t want the results of a weight loss diet without actually dieting? When it comes to mind over matter and the power of persuasion, the only trick here is getting desperate and gullible chubbers to part with their cash. But it’s a massive market (in all senses), which probably explains why the book’s sitting comfortably in Amazon’s top 10 right now….

 

Hypnotic Gastric Band

Paul McKenna: Gnostic bastard or con artist?

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

2012: A Year in Books

This is not a ‘best books of 2012’ list, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to review or comment on the books listed here (other than those I’ve written reviews for or otherwise commented on, and those reviews can be found here and there and wherever). I spend enough of my life reviewing stuff and spouting opinion: I read for pleasure and research and reference and sometimes purely to learn. Some of the books I read during 2012 were books I had read before (Bukowski’s Post Office and Cunt by Stewart Home) and some of the books I read I enjoyed more than others. Many of them have informed my own writing in one way or another, or may do so in the future. The order they’re listed in is the order I read them in. So here it is, just because: my year in books. Nothing more – but nothing less.

 

Henry Sutton – Get Me Out of Here!

Adam Kotsko – Awkwardness

Jurek Becker – Sleepless Days

Alain Robbe-Grillet – The Voyeur

Marek Hlasko – Killing the 2nd Dog / The 8th Day of the Week

Various – A Dream of Stone and Other Stories

J G Ballard – Cocaine Nights

Chuck Palahniuk – Survivor

Henry Sutton – Bank Holiday Monday

Ian Price – The Activity Illusion

Carl Weissner – Death in Paris

J G Ballard – The Crystal World

Harry Harrison – Homeworld

John Steinbeck – Tortilla Flats

J G Ballard – The Unlimited Dream Company

Terry Taylor – Baron’s Court, All Change

Alain Robbe-Grillet – Repetition

Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer – The Dialectic of Enlightenment

Malcolm Mc Neill – The Lost Art of Ah Pook is Here: Images from the Graphic Novel

Malcolm Mc Neill – Observed While Falling: Bill Burroughs, Ah Pook and Me

Supervert – Necrophilia Variations

Colin Wilson – Adrift in Soho

Dire McCain – Raising McCain

Steve Urwin – Tightrope Walker

Charles Bukowski – Post Office

Roger Protz – 300 Beers to Try Before You Die!

Stewart Home – Cunt

Carl Cederstrom and Peter Fleming – Dead Man Working

Karl van Cleave – Incisions, Collisions and Aborted Missions

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism XII: Applied Economics and the Kindle Generation

Sometimes it’s better just to keep your mouth shut. I know this. I may be opinionated, but there’s a time and a place to express those opinions. More often than not, 9:05am in the office is neither the time nor the place. But sometimes I just can’t help myself.

It was just another day at the office, same as any other. I was trying to do something productive, because despite my abhorrence of ‘the system’ and working for ‘the man’, I appreciate that I’m being paid (albeit not nearly enough) not only for my time, but to use that time fruitfully (when IT permit) and besides, I’m one of those people who prefers to actually make busy rather than feign being busy. Perhaps I’d feel differently if I felt any affinity with the goons who occupy the desks within conversationable proximity to mine, but endless drivel about ‘Corro’ and ‘I’m a Celebrity’ fills me with a compulsion to burrow myself into a small dark corner, meaning that more often than not, I’ll bung a CD in the player or find an album on-line to stream, plug my phones in and create my own virtual cocoon in which to work. But sometimes I find it’s impossible to shut out the babble, and equally impossible to keep my trap shut.

Such was the scenario the other day. Three or four people seated behind me had been discussing books. Books I wasn’t bothered about. By which I mean, I’m not big on thrillers, and am wholly indifferent to the works of multi-million selling thriller author James Patterson. I was able to let the debate over whether or not his name was Patterson or Pattinson drift by, although I was pleased when one of the debaters thought to look him up on-line, and was also thus able to confirm the title of one of his books, courtesy of Amazon.

And so the subject moved to the topic of the Kindle.

“I love having my Kindle,” pronounced the middle-aged woman in the centre of the conversation, who’d been recounting how she’d hooked her husband on a certain author’s books by buying him one once. “But Kindle books are so expensive!”

“I know, I’d have thought they’d have been about a quid or something,” replied the colleague to her left, a tubby guy with a beard and spectacles in his mid to late twenties.

It’s a common complaint. If you read reader reviews of books on Amazon, there’ll invariably be a number harping on about the price of the Kindle edition – especially with new publications – to the extent that some titles attract dozens of one-star reviews without a single mention of the writing, the plot, the characters or any other aspect of thee contents of the book itself. Many of the reviewers aren’t even in a position to comment on the book, having posted their review in a fit of pique at the rip-off price being asked for the text with remarks like ‘I refused to buy it at that price’ and ‘I’ve ordered the paperback instead, but will have to wait several days for it to arrive in the post. And I’ve had to pay shipping on top!’

In today’s culture of immediacy and instant gratification, no-one wants to wait. And no-one wants clutter, either, hence the popularity of the Kindle. As the people behind me noted, it’s possible to store several hundred books, which would otherwise require many feet of shelves, on a single, portable device. But no-one seems to think it reasonable that they should pay for this convenience: they want it now, and they want it cheap, or better still, for free. But of course, that isn’t how capitalism works. Exploitation may be a significant feature of consumerism, with both consumer and producer being exploited for the benefit of the capitalists who hold the real power, but there has to be as degree of give and take, and if there’s no profit to be made from a end product, there’s simply no point in producing it, however useful it may be. But by the same token, the more useful or desirable a commodity, the higher its value in the marketplace. Whether that value is real or perceived is largely down to supply and demand, the market and marketing. It appears the perceived value of an e-book is comparatively low.

And so they whinged on in this fashion for a couple of minutes or so, bemoaning the fact that Kindle e-books are overpriced considering the fact there are no production costs involved.

As someone who has experience of publishing, both as an author and a publisher – albeit on a small scale – I felt qualified to wade in on this debate. Not that these individuals would have been aware of this: I tend to keep myself to myself, and not to talk about my writing or publishing activity in the workplace. Nevertheless, on this occasion, I found it impossible to let it go, and the fact my involvement in the publishing industry is on a small scale means it’s something that’s particularly close to my heart: it’s something that’s real and tangible, whereas with large-scale publishing – as with any large organisation – the realities become more abstracted as the process becomes increasingly distant. As with the music industry, Joe Public only conceives of the colossus: the multi-billion dollar international labels and the major-name chart acts. It’s understandable, of course, but the big names – and the big money associated with them – only account for a fraction of the whole. The common misconception is that everyone who has a book published is coining it in, because they hear about the immense earnings of the likes of J. K. Rowling and E. L. James. The majority of people don’t seem to realise that there are countless books that aren’t on the bestseller list, that aren’t published by Penguin or Bloomsbury. These are the people who buy one or two books a year, or possibly three when they raided a 3-for-2 offer at Waterstones or WHS or maybe their local supermarket. These are the people who, in the days before Kindle, would make sure the one, two or three books they purchased were at least 400 pages long because a 400-page book represents better value for money than a 250-page book that costs roughly the same. They’re the people who read series books because they know the characters and are comfortable with them, but are reluctant to try anything else because they don’t know what to expect: they might not like it. Better to play safe and go with what you know than risk disappointment and wasting money.

I don’t actually believe that all artists (by which I mean musicians writers, film-makers, dancers, whatever) should be able to make a living from what they do, even if such a scenario was feasible. There simply isn’t room for every artist, aspiring or otherwise, to achieve such widespread recognition as to sustain a living wage from their work, and there are many who simply aren’t worthy or, to be blunt, good enough. But I do believe that all artists should be fairly paid for what they do, just as any other form of labour should receive reasonable recompense.

If Kindle e-books really did all cost in the region of £1, you can guarantee that the ones who would see the biggest reduction in their cut of the profit (and there’s scant profit to be made on anything costing a pound) would be the writers. It hardly seems fair that the person responsible for the creation of the product should be paid less because some consumers choose to purchase a different format. The end product may be different, but the input itself remains the same. Would an office worker – the likes of the individuals idling away large portions of their working days debating the ways in which they spend their disposable income and leisure time – consider it acceptable to be paid less for dealing with emails instead of printed letters? Of course not: in fact, I suspect the opposite would be true, and that they would probably consider it reasonable to expect to be paid more, because the reduced overheads associated with e-comms over conventional paper and envelope snail-mail would logically enhance company profits – why shouldn’t they benefit? And this made for the starting point of my interjection into the conversation.

“The writers have still got to be paid,” I began. “On a paperback, they get pence in royalties…”

Naturally, the precise amount varies between books, publishers and authors, and the range is immense, and the actual royalty will depend on whether or not the book sells at its RRP or at a discounted price. But, for simplicity’s sake, it’s not unreasonable to work on the basis of the author’s royalty for a paperback being it’s around the 8% (although anywhere between 5% and 10% would be considered ‘average’), for hardback around 12%, and for e-books in the region of 20%. If a paperback retails at £7.99, you’re looking at 63p per copy going to the author (before tax). It takes a many multiples of 63p to equal a living wage. Given that it’s reported that 95% of all books published achieve sales of 100 or fewer, you can hardly consider writing a surefire route to riches, and when you also take into account the number of hours it takes to write a novel…

“Of course the writer’s have got to be paid,” agreed the woman, peering over her reading glasses. “But there’s no printing cost with a book on Kindle…”

I realised I needed to keep it brief and simple. And so I elected to pass on the details of the debate, hoping against hope that my sowing the seed may at least give them a prompt that would set these everyday consumers on a track of consideration.

I decided not to explain that obviously, the bigger the publisher, the more people are involved in the process. But against that, higher volumes of sales mean it’s easier to reduce unit costs… although it usually takes a bigger marketing budget to achieve those sales volumes. I also let pass the idea of there being a correspondence between market forces and cost in capitalist culture, namely that there’s a clear logic to charging the most people are willing to pay for a commodity. If a significant portion of any given target market are willing to pay, say, £10 for something, but consider £15 too expensive, why would anyone in the business of business, i.e. making a profit, charge only £5 for it?

The fact she’d already told her colleagues, “I buy loads more now I’ve got my Kindle. I keep finding stuff and thinking ‘What’s that?’” was evidence enough that however unreasonable she considers the price of e-books, the cost isn’t high enough to be prohibitive – and so the equation of balancing cost against demand and convenience works. This woman clearly isn’t alone, and as much as anything, I suspect the convenience is the real key here. The Kindle appeals to the demand everything, demand it yesterday if not sooner consumer society we live in and that the Internet has facilitated. Our needs haven’t changed all that radically, but our expectations have. Consequently, our demands have changed in line with those expectations. This then becomes a self-propagating cycle, and like a junky who experiences diminishing returns with every hit as their habit becomes more complete, so the consumer appetite grows evermore insatiable, needing more and faster. Yet each time the demand is met, so expectations grow, and as those expectations come to be met, so demand grows.

“That’s true,” I countered, “but the print cost actually only accounts for some of the actual cost of publishing a book. With an e-book, you’ve still got the bulk of the other costs involved in the publication process, like paying proof readers, like cover art, promotion… and you have to reformat a text for Kindle. Plus you’re paying for the convenience of the format, of having it instantly. Besides, given how little authors do earn on each book sold, if there is scope for paying a bit more, then that can only be a good thing.”

The woman looked at me boredly, then replied, “Yes, I know and understand all that, but I still would have thought they’d be cheaper. You know, like around a pound or so.”

 

Kindle

A Kindle. Publish a book formatted for this, charge over the odds and make a mint. It works for me! Pass the Bolly, will you?

The Changing Face of Consumerism XI: Back Down on the Street, or, Going for Bust

So a mere matter of days after my last piece on the struggling high street, I woke up this morning to more news of high street stores experiencing a drop in like-for-like sales in comparison to the same time last year, with HMV delivering particularly disappointing figures marked by sales being down 8.2% in December 2010. It is disappointing, too. Of the bigger chain music stores, I always preferred HMV (although Andy’s records had the edge for a while both in terms of pricing and range). First and foremost, they carried a broader selection with less mainstream releases sitting alongside the chart material. And, while a tad pricey, their range of back-catalogue titles was far superior to Overprice / Virgin.

But rather than work to their strengths and make a virtue of their difference, HMV followed the template of its competitors and having killed off the (albeit limited) vinyl section in favour of calendars and games, continued over a lengthy period of time to reduce the music stock – to make room for more games, DVDs and gadgetry. When the music occupies the smallest portion of a music retailer’s floor space, you have to ask questions. HMV’s struggling is an example of how diversification can be counterproductive, and rather than appealing to a broader customer base, can serve to alienate the one already established. How can a music retailer seriously expect to compete in other markets already dominated by specialists. More often than not, gamers will head to somewhere like Game for games, just as you’d probably go to a clothes shop for clothes, a bookstore for books, an electrical store for electrical goods – unless, of course, they go to the supermarket for the whole lot. After a while, I stopped asking questions and also stopped going in, because each time I did I found myself leaving empty-handed and frustrated because they never had the title I was after in stock. I’d invariably end up purchasing my music on-line because I couldn’t source it anywhere else.

I don’t for a second mean to suggest that I’m responsible for HMV’s declining sales (and I certainly played no part La Senza, the purveyors of slinky lingerie, being called into administration with a loss of 1,300 jobs, prompting headlines such as ‘Lingerie firm goes bust’ etc.), but while my musical tastes may be ‘minority’, there are many other minorities just like me, and collectively, they represent a substantial market.

As mentioned in passing in my previous piece, it’s not just music that I have problems tracking down, and it’s not always obscure items I struggle to find in shops either. As if to prove the point, only this week I decided I wanted to get a desk lamp. As my desk also happens to be the dining table and space is of a premium, I figured a desk lamp that clamps onto the shelves to the side of the table would be the best bet. But could I find one anywhere? Working out of time, my choices on a lunchtime were limited, but there is an Argos superstore and BHS Home Store (yes, British Home Stores Home Store) which specialises in goods for the, er, home, rather than home and clothing. A quarter of the store is given to a lighting department, but unless I wanted a lime-green desk-lamp with a regular base I was out of luck. That is, unless I wanted a ludicrously glitzy lamp shade with dangling glass bits all over it, which I most certainly didn’t. Argos carry a much more substantial range of desk lights, from bendy to angle-poise, but the only clamping ones are LED lamps, which just don’t give off enough light. I’d still need to put on the main ceiling light to see my screen, which defeats the purpose of a desk light I can angle in my corner without illuminating the whole room. Really, how hard can it be to find a simple item like a clamp-fitting desk lamp that takes a proper, regular bulb?

The answer is that it’s not hard at all. Five minutes on-line and I found I was spoiled for choice. Even so, on-line shopping is no substitute for real shopping as it’s often hard to get a sense of the precise dimensions or appearance of an item – you can’t ‘feel the quality’ from a description and photo, however detailed. Thankfully, it transpired that a local independent store I pass on my way through town after work had the best selection of all. Once again, hooray for the independents!

 

-clip-on-desk-lamp-black

A clip-on desk lamp, earlier today

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk

The Changing Face of Consumerism IX – Real, Real, Real

Just as the nature of consumerism has changed dramatically during the course of the last decade – not to mention the last half-century – so the nature of industry has also metamorphasised. In so-called ‘developing’ countries (it’s a questionable term. Technological advances could be seen as development, but an exponential increase in fossil fuel consumption and an insatiable need for unsustainable resource is rather akin to ‘developing’ a 40-a-day smoking habit coupled with some heavy drinking), Industrialisation has caught on, dragging them into the global marketplace. By this, of course, it simply means that large corporations can circumvent domestic legislation in favour of giving workers rights and exploit an fiscally impoverished workforce even more ruthlessly. Driving costs down is good for business, as it increases profits, and the shareholders and the City love that.

As more manufacturing has been ‘outsourced’ to developing countries, the nature of employment in the ‘developed’ countries has moved toward tertiary service industries. Collar colours aside, the most fundamental difference between service and manufacturing industries is the tangibility or physicality of the product. The closest you’ll get to seeing or holding your insurance or shares, for example, is in the form of a certificate or other printed document. When you think about it, these objects which represent the thing in itself but are not in actuality the thing in itself – i.e. the signifier to the signified – you’re buying a concept more than an actual product. Of course, this is simply how money works: the ten-pound note in your wallet is not actual money, but a physical symbol of money. The balance in your bank, if you’re fortunate enough to be in the black, does not mean there’s really £500 that you own just sitting there. This is common knowledge, but it’s hard to separate the concept from the reality. You do not have any real money. No-one ever sees ‘the money’. Tom Cruise could yell till he’s blue in the face, he’s never going to be shown the actual money, just more printed paper that promises to pay the bearer a designated sum on demand. But try making that demand and all you’re likely to get another sign or representation.

We live in a virtual world. In his writing on ‘The Political Unconscious’, Frederic Jameson theorises that one feature of postmodernity is a reality that is infinitely deferred. This theory is now the reality as we exist in our virtual worlds projecting ersatz avatar versions of ourselves into the ether. It becomes impossible to distinguish the real from reflection, not only for others, but for ourselves. Do we become the identities we project, or do they become our real-life selves when the layers of the onion that is the multi-faceted personality are peeled back one by one?

On a personal level, my real-life self and virtual self are indeed separate but given to occasional and significant crossover. And so it is that we both like music and books with a passion, but struggle to get to grips with the modern trend for downloading. It’s ok: Deleuze and Guatarri convinced me I’m ok because a schizophrenic mindset is the only sane response to the postmodern, late-capitalist society I find myself in.

Stumbling around the house trying to avoid the partially organised and rather precarious stacks of CDs and books in the office and groaning each time I try to accommodate a new purchase onto the shelf or rack, I can completely understand why people would want to declutter, to reduce their lives. Yet try as I might, I find myself unable to separate the intangible – the music or the words – from the tangible, the physical – the record or CD or the book.

Nevertheless, I like my intangibles to present a physical form. The way I respond as a reader to words contained in the books I read is a complex process, which, while admittedly develop through conditioning and personal experience, is nevertheless intertwined with the act of reading. An audiobook may contain exactly the same words, but will not cause me to react in the same way. On a purely personal feel, the act of reading also entails the turning of the page, the look, feel and smell of the book. The quality of the paper, however poor, the print, the formatting, the cover, while peripheral, are all integral to varying degrees in combining to create the experience as a whole. Even the process of sourcing books is a part of the relationship I have with it: memories are made in the locating of a book in a little secondhand shop while on holiday just as much as they are of recalling where I was when I read the book, and how I was feeling at the time.

The same is true of music and many other objects – objects that now clutter my home, but collectively tell a version of the story of my life. This isn’t to suggest in any way that I am my possessions, or that my possessions own me and not vice versa. Nor would I really describe myself as a materialist in the conventional sense.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I want to feel as though I’m actually buying something when I part with my money. Yes, I know that in reality that it’s the production – the recording, the creative process – that is where the bulk of the cost actually lies. The physical object – the CD or the book – coat pence each to manufacture. A CD may cost in the region of 49 pence to produce, but paying the artist a wage of some descrption, that allows them to eat while they record the album, for which it’s necessary to hire (and pay for) a studio, engineer., etc., soon becomes a substantial expense, and one that must be recouped – usually before the artists gets paid, too. Then there are the designers, the PR people, and all the rest. So, the difference in production cost between a CD and an M3 version of an album comes down to the medium. However, this is only partly true: depending on the size of the manufacturing run, the cost of producing a CD is in fact negligible, and the same is true of a book. Yet as a consumer, I don’t really care about these matters: it feels like the difference is a yawning chasm that spans half the universe.

It’s not just the sound quality (I know the sound of Mp3 files has improved enormously in the last few years, but even if an MP3 isn’t compressed to fuck, it’s still inferior to the digital spectrum we were once sold as being the glory of the CD, which in turn lacked the vibrance and depth of vinyl. Forget clarity, that clinical crispness strips something from the recording that can’t be substituted or compensated, and the MP3 is the CD’s poor cousin, lacking the physical presence and lyric booklet in much the same way that a virtually turning page is not, however hard it might pretend to be, a fair substitute for an actual page.

I’m aware of the issues of storage, perhaps more than most. 1,500 or so LPs and 12” singles, 600 7” singles and in excess of 2,000 CDs are a real bastard to house in a two-bed terraced property, and to move when it comes to relocation. But at least I know where my money’s gone and what I need to insure. Picking up a storage device no bigger than an audiocassette knowing that it contains not only my entire music collection, but also music to the value of something in the region of £30,000 is almost inconceivable. The same is true of a virtual library. The fact that a fire tearing through the house would – or could – have the same effect regardless of my choice of ‘file’ type is really beside the point.

It’s curious to note how times have changed: time was when an extensive library of books and an expansive record collection were perceived as accomplishments. They inspired respect, even awe. Now, the owners of large volumes of material possessions are considered to be simply behind the times, information dinosaurs plodding a Luddite land of clutter that’s cumbersome and difficult to navigate. Why would anyone want a 10-volume encyclopaedia when mankind’s entire learnings can be obtained on-line via Wikipedia (or other sites if more specialist knowledge is required, but why would you want that, really, unless you’re a real nerd)? In fact, what’s the point of a space-hogging PC base unit and monitor when you can have everything you need on a tablet? A music collection and library that not only occupies considerable space, but cost a fortune and took a lifetime to accumulate seems entirely redundant beside a small, flat piece of digital kit that costs around £300 and can be transported anywhere. And I suppose if you’re happy or able to accept a life of precarity, instability, endless mobility, that’s fine, but it’s not for me.

In fact, for many, owning music seems superfluous when you can stream it all via Spotify. It frees up funds to purchasing other ephemeralities and experiences. Again, the idea of a life recorded on Facebook is one that doesn’t appeal to me. The public nature of the medium aside, I struggle with the concept of a reliance on something that may disappear at any time. If there’s one thing we’ve learned in our world of rapid development is that technology attains obsolescence at an evermore speedy rate. There was a time, believe it or not, when the 8-track, the cassette and the videotape were all cutting edge. Betamax, laserdisc and minidisc were all the future, yet despite the qualities these media offered, early adopters were left out of pocket and out of style, not to mention out of the technology loop. CD was supposed to supersede both vinyl and the audiocasette – yet strangely, the MP3 killed both CD and tape while vinyl hangs in there, with a whole new wave of audiophiles sustaining a market that previously didn’t exist. I digress: the point is that Facebook could be next year’s MySpace, and a life on line is only a transient representation of real life: it’s a history that can not only be easily misrepresented and misappropriated, but one that could even more easily be erased. Obviously, nothing’s forever, but the physical – especially if backed up, duplicated somehow – has a greater capacity to be futureproof than anything that relies purely on the intangible (but then I find the idea of playing a virtual guitar while playing at being in a virtual band equally abhorrent and not just a little strange Step away from the console, pick up a real instrument, learn to play and form a proper fucking band if you have any interest in Rock Stardom!).

I’m not doing technology down as such – at all, in fact – but can you imagine future generations, instead of looking through albums and biscuit tins of family photos and shoeboxes of postcards and correspondence, gluing themselves to a screen and reminiscing about the day that prompted that romantic email, the wonderful day out to the coast captured magnificently in 6 megapixel digital colour, or even the idea of returning to that book you so loved in college and forwarding your friend or child the Kindle download to read and share the wonder? In all of the streamlining, the decluttering, something has been lost. An on-line playlist is not a direct or equal substitute for a lovingly-compiled mix-tape with lovingly-written, hand-scribbled notes on a piece of paper torn from an exercise book and inserted, tightly-folded, into the plastic case. If, as Marshall McLuhan suggested, the medium is the message, what sort of message is a medium that’s so theoretical say about our times and its users?

The bottom line is that if I’m spending money on something, I want something to show for it. I’m not suggesting that it needs to be big to justify the expense, but in a world where so little is fixed, stable, reliable, there’s a lot to be said for keeping it real as a means of keeping it grounded, and as a way of keeping it accessible in the future.

 

Vinyl

 

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2011: A Year in Books

When I’m not busy writing, there’s nothing I like more than immersing myself in a good book. In fact, just as I’d describe myself as a compulsive writer, so I’d also describe myself as a compulsive reader. At times, it’s something that can prove to be something of a curse, as I’ll find myself distracted by any text within – or even just beyond – my range of focus. For his reason, rolling news channels can really test me, especially if the screen’s behind the head of someone who’s talking to me.

As a rule, I’m rather a ‘glass half empty’ sort of person, but this year, having found myself required to spend more time travelling to and from places of work (albeit for the same desultory pay-packet), I elected to make the best of a bad situation and use the time in transit to squeeze in a spot of light – and not so light – reading. Here’s a list of the texts I managed to plough through. A handful were re-reads, others were texts I’d stalled on previously and decided to attempt again (successfully this time) and others had been lurking on my shelf for some time. While I enjoyed some more than others, they all had their merits and enriched my life in some way during the last 12 months, and as such, I would happily recommend every last one of them.

Jarrett Kobek – HOE #999

Dennis Lehane – Shutter Island

JG Ballard – The Drowned World

Gary Cummiskey & Eva Kowalska (eds) – Who Was Sinclair Beiles?

James Wells – Hack

Alain Robbe-Grillet – The Erasers

Bill Drummond – $20,000

Chuck Palahniuk – Diary

Frank Kermode – Modern Essays

Mary Beach – Electric Banana

Carl Weissner – The Braille Film

Katrina Palmer – The Dark Object

JG Ballard – High Rise

Stewart Home – Memphis Underground

John Wyndham – The Day of the Triffids

Edward S. Robinson – Shift Linguals: Cut-Up Narratives from William S. Burroughs to the Present

Raymond Chandler – The High Window

Alain Robbe-Grillet – Jealousy

Ed McBain – Sadie When She Died

RG Johnson – American Scrap-Dragon

Mike Meraz – Black-Listed Thoughts

Mark Merlis – American Studies

JG Ballard – The Complete Short Stories Vol. 2

Plato – The Symposium

Roland Barthes – Mythologies

JG Ballard – The Day of Creation

Michel Foucault – Language, Counter-Memory, Practice

Kathy Acker – Bodies of Work

Mark Fisher – Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?

Michel Foucault – The Will To Knowledge 1: The History of Sexuality

JG Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition

Robert Lort (ed) – Azimute: Critical Essays on Deleuze and Guattari

Chuck Palahniuk – Lullabye

Shakespeare – The Tempest

Stewart Home – Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie

Nick Kent – The Dark Stuff

Valerie Solanas – S.C.U.M. Manifesto

Ivor Southwood – Non-Stop Inertia

 

Inertia

 

 

And if you’re loving my work, there’s more of the same (only different) at Christophernosnibor.co.uk