Friday, May 25, 2007

The Last King of Scotland… and a word on books

I was going to talk about collecting books yesterday. Yet another thing that’s fallen by the wayside.

In a recent discussion on Crimespace about hardcover vs paperback, I got thinking about a number of things. One of those things was another notation I’d seen recently, about a drop in book sales. It was the kind of frustrating thing that only served to annoy me, because statistics can be skewed to mean anything. I would expect that we would see a decline in book sales in a year that no Harry Potter title was released. It’s been a few years since The DaVinci Code created the stir it did… What other books have stepped in to fill that void in the same way?

You see, there’s something to worry about if you’re seeing a decline across the board, genre to genre, when the numbers haven’t been skewed by some mega-successful book. Face it – there were a lot of people who bought The DaVinci Code who don’t normally buy books. Same with Harry Potter, in reality.

The real way to measure the business is to gauge if regular book-buyers are buying fewer books.

Because of concerns over declining book sales a lot of authors think paperback release is the way to go. I’m not hosting that debate here…

But that was what led me to think about collectible books, the books I cherish.

Just three years ago I didn’t have even one signed book on my shelf. Then I got a signed Ian Rankin book, the only signed Rankin book I have. Then a Val McDermid book. And I have a handful of books Val has signed – four.

From there, I added signed Mark Billingham, Stuart MacBride and Simon Kernick books. I have a signed Steven Torres book that also thanks me in the acknowledgements, which is kind of cool.

And I have a stack of signed Ken Bruen books.

I’ve always been a person who’s loved books, and perhaps it’s silly, but the signatures do mean something to me. I got thinking about this, as I thought about the most important books in my collections, the ones I won’t lend anyone.

They’re all signed. They’re irreplaceable.

From Sean Chercover’s “in joke” signature to Steve Mosby’s amusing note that brings back to Harrogate memories from last year, I enjoy all of them.

In a way, we’re more impersonal than ever. I used to write long letters to friends. Now, it’s instant emails, often quickies. The form allows for that brevity. I mean, if you’re going to take the trouble to write something you may as well write a note, especially if you’re paying to mail it anyway. Email? You can send one-word messages effortlessly.

It’s funny. There are more personal memories stirred up from the front of some of my books than anything else.

I haven’t signed very many books. I got an email earlier this week, asking about getting a signed copy of my book. Why is it when it comes to my book I still think, you really want it signed? but when it comes to books by others I value the ones that contain a note?

I did mention elsewhere one of the things I like about Orion is that they’ll release the hardcover and trade paperback simultaneously, because the recognize that there are different markets for them. If I could go out now and replace all my Rebus books with hardcover, I would. Well, except for the one signed one that I do have.

Am I nuts? Alone? The only person who treasures books? We already know I’m freaky enough to re-read them…

Last night, Evil Kev and I watched The Last King of Scotland. Now, people like Norby understand that I’m a bit out of touch when it comes to movies. (I think she’s given up asking me about movies and tv shows.) This was a good movie, and I’m glad I took the evening off for it. I don’t know how much of it was true, but I enjoyed it.

Although I have to ask, What’s wrong with Canada?

Okay, but setting that aside, it was nice to see Gillian Anderson on the screen – it’s been a while. I’m not big on giving spoilers, but this is a movie that takes you on a young man’s journey. He’s not a likely candidate for working as a doctor (to me) much less helping in an impoverished nation. He’s there as much to have fun as anything. Will he grow up in the end? You’ll have to watch it to find out.

And the actor playing our young doctor Nicholas, James McAvoy, reminds me of Ewan McGregor from back in Shallow Grave.

I recommend the movie. I loved to hate Forest Whitaker on The Shield, and he proves his range with this film.


Vincent said...

I can't remember any Canada moments from 'The Last King of Scotland', but it's a while since I saw it. If it's any consolation, one of the guys in the office has just got back from a two week tour through the Canadian Rockies and everyone who's seen the pictures wants to move there.

Randy Johnson said...

On the love of books, you're not alone. I literally have them in every room of the house. I don't have a lot of signed books(only a few science fiction authors). Sometimes I think my family and friends think I'm nuts for keeping so many books. I get a lot of comments. "You could start your own bookstore." The saddest one I ever heard was, "I haven't read a book since I got out of school." And it was said almost with pride.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Vince, it was at the beginning, when he was spinning the globe. I've been in love with the Rockies ever since I moved out here.

Randy, for me, every book is endless possibilities. Adventures, experiences, new perspectives. I know it's an unfair generalization, but movies are fluff, entertainment... books, intelligent.

There's also something quite sad about the fact people will spend $25-30 going to see a movie (if you're a couple, and possibly more, depending on if you have a meal out) or the same price on a dvd but grumble about spending that on a book. Those movies provide 2-3 hours entertainment, at most. The book? For me, more like 2 days. And if it's a great book I'll read it again.

JamesO said...

I too am a hopeless hoarder of books - and I love signed copies as you know. I've been toying with the idea of cataloguing the collection, but it's a daunting prospect.

As for hardbacks - well I still buy a good number of first edition hardback books, but the list of authors I automatically want to read has grown beyond my budget that way, so some are relegated to paperback status now. Paperback's also have the bonus of being relatively easy to carry around - except that publishers seem to like producing these oversize editions now. No doubt this is to tap into the hardback market without the production costs, but it bugs the hell out of me. And they sell them mainly in airports too. Who wants to lug a heavy tome around on holiday when for the same weight you could have three or four normal books to read?

JamesO said...

Sorry, you said you weren't going to host the hardback debate here;}#

DesLily said...

Oh..well.. i love and collect both, movies and books. For a long time most of my books were paperback..partly because of cost, and partly because I could get 3 paperbacks for the price of one hardback, so I could get more to read.
Fast forward: I now have "floaters" in one eye and it makes it harder to I get hardback books... and slowly am trying to replace many of my old paperbacks (because I too reread ) with hardbacks (many are double spaced which helps with reading).. some of which are impossible to replace into hardbacks *sigh* (I also have a few signed books!) The bad part is some just are not available in hardback and some of my old paperbacks are tan, tan , tan! but then they go and change the cover art on newer versions, when I love the cover art on the originals!!! .. there's just no winning!

Christa M. Miller said...

We just saw it the other night, ourselves. Very intense, very brutal. Well played, though. I liked seeing Gillian Anderson too - would have liked to see more of her, in fact!

Sandra Ruttan said...

James, I hear you re: the pros and cons. I do. I guess we see it differently, perhaps because of where I live. In 2005 I got the hardcover of Cold Granite in the UK for a whopping 10 pounds. Guess how much the trade paperback was in Canada when I came home? $25. And no option on the hardcover. In other words, same price. Annoying.

And another thing - the trade suits those who have a hard time reading small print.

See, there's a market in all directions.

Deslily, you hit on one of my other points - when I'm in bed a mmpb is handy, but nothing beats the hc when it comes to the visual! And the cover art debate is one we could have all day, no doubt.

Christa, I agree. I would have liked to see more of Gillian. Good movie.

norby said...

It's always worth seeing more of Gillian-she's brilliant. And I think what I said was something along the lines of "Forget it-from now on I'm talking to Kevin about movies."

I have two signed books. One is a copy of The Burning Girl by Mark that I picked up at a Waterstones in London. The other one is the one I really value (no offense to Mark).

In college I took two Western Civ. classes. During our WWII section our prof had us read a book called Soldat. It's the autobiography of Siegfried Knappe, a former soldier in the German Army. At the end of the war he was stationed in Berlin and carried messages back and forth from his camp to Hitler's bunker-the man actually spent time in Hitler's presence. He became so familiar to Hitler's guards they stopped taking his weapon from him-he had fleeting thoughts of shooting Hitler.

Knappe came to our school to speak, this frail, small old man. He stayed afterwards with his grandson and talked to people, signed books. To this day I have mixed feelings about him-he was a regular Army soldier doing his job, he spent time in Russian camps after the war, but he could have killed Hitler. It might not have ended the war, but who knows what would have happened?

Sandra Ruttan said...

That's a hell of a story, Norby. And it's funny you mention it... you really should watch The Last King of Scotland and work through the same set of questions.

norby said...

I just realized I lied-I also have three books signed by Lisa Scottoline. She did a signing at my mom's library in Ohio and my mom was the person who drove her around. Apparently they got along very well (frightening thought) and my mom had her sign the books for me. Originally she was going to get me one, then I ended up with three. I forgot about them because they are still in the tbr section of the household bookpile.

mai wen said...

I've watched the movie, but haven't read the book of "The Last King of Scotland." I had mixed feelings about the accuracy of the movie, while it was true that Idi Amin loved the Scottish for some reason and I also believe that he did have a white associate, Bob Astles, but I think most of the details from there were elaborated on by the author. I do know that the culture that was portrayed by the movie was fairly accurate from my experiences in Uganda. It is still unstable there, to the extent that a friend of mine in Kampala was just out at night, probably visiting the local clubs, and a Guard stopped him and wouldn't believe him that he wasn't doing anything bad and preceded to hit my friend's head with the butt of his gun and then shoot his knee, with no proof whatsoever that my friend had done anything illegal. I've heard many stories of the gross negligence and abuse of power by the government and police in Uganda that still goes on today.

Anyways, on books, I'm a nut about having as many books as I can possibly own. My husband and loved ones are quite concerned about my book collection, but I have to say, I don't have an affinity towards hard covers or special additions. My dear hubby actually always tried to buy me hard cover because he thought I'd like them more, but I like books as cheap and as travel ready as possible! Do you know what a pain it is not only to find a purse big enough to carry a hard cover but then to have to lug that thing around wherever you go? The books that I am most attached to actually are the nearly falling apart books from my childhood that I've read and reread so many times that I feel as if I'd bled into the book! Now those, those are keepers.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Ah Norby, so many books...

Mai Wen, that's what I wondered about watching the movie - the accuracy. I just took it for granted that some of it (perhaps most of it) had been stretched. Amin certainly had his own reputation. I guess I sort of viewed it like The Boys From Brazil - take grains of truth and make great fiction with it.

And actually, there's a saying: The devil makes a falsehood stick by adding it to a grain of truth.

Sorry to hear about your friend. I do hope he'll be okay. Some parts of the world are prone to instability, sadly, and it's interesting to hear from people with first-hand experience. It never surprised me that a few people died in Berlin New Year's Eve 1989, for example - the place just had that tension. The wall goes down but you could sense what was coming. Which was like living in Ireland in 1990. An eye-opener.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Oh, and those childhood books? So with you. Unfortunately, a lot of mine were lost over the years. Flood damage claimed my first copy of The Call of the Wild, sadly.

Eileen said...

I love signed books- like you I didn't start collecting them until a few years ago. I fear I may need to build up my foundations so that the house doesn't buckle under the weight of all the books.

mai wen said...

Oh, that's so sad about your "Call of the Wild." I actually have a awkward story about my treasured hard cover "Call of the Wild" that I've had since I was a child. I have cherished the book since childhood and the cover is half off and the pages are dingy colored, but I just love it. Well, in a moment of trying to inspire good reading in my young sister-in-laws I lent my treasured version to them, only to quickly regret it, wishing I'd just bought them their own book instead. I had nightmares for months of the book being lost or further damaged until I finally just had to ask for it back before they'd both gotten a chance to read it. I felt silly, but I couldn't help it. Now I know, buy the girls their own books, keep my treasured childhood books safely in my shelves.