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Erikka Askeland: It’s all about turning pages, not stomachs

JK Rowling launches her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. Picture: PA

JK Rowling launches her first novel for adults, The Casual Vacancy. Picture: PA

BOOKS. You just can’t avoid them. Unless you have been walking around with your head wrapped in sound muffling and Duck tape this week, you’ll probably have noticed there is a bit of hype going on.

Usually the headlines are more exciting than “author publishes book”. But we are in the season of what is known in the industry as “super Thursday”. This is the magical, hype-filled, pre-Christmas time when all this year’s potential hard cover blockbusters are released.

Publishing watchers (yes, there are those) try to guess which day in September-October super Thursday will fall. And while the trade magazine, the Book Seller, has its money on 11 October, it probably happened this week with publications from the likes of Michael Morpugo, Jack Straw, and someone called Tulisa Contostavlos, whatever that might entail.

And, of course, JK Rowling. Assuming that there are few who will have the temerity to give Aunty Joan the year’s biggest seller so far, the mummy porn bonkbuster 50 Shades of Grey trilogy for Christmas (she probably already has it), you are now more likely to giftwrap JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy. Bookmakers (the betting shops, as well as the people who make the books) have put odds on it.

Rowling’s new novel, too, has some racy bits, apparently. And with blanket coverage ahead and on the day of its launch, you will have probably heard by now that it’s not about a boy wizard and his chums, either.

The excitement around the rash of big, new books is good news for the struggling book publishers and shops, which expect the super Thursday hype machine to produce an uplift in sales as people rush to pick them up.

Yet most of what the trade expects will be its biggest sellers are for people who don’t usually like to read, it seems to me. Or, in the case of Jamie Oliver’s 15-Minute Meals – the bookies rate this neck and neck for biggest under-the-tree tome with Rowling – books for people who don’t even like to cook. I’m surprised the clever folk in the publisher’s marketing department didn’t come up with the idea to call it 50 Shades of Beans on Toast.

But then I’m probably not one to judge what the publishing industry needs to do to keep itself afloat as people abandon books in favour of Kindles. Mainly because I fell in with a bad crowd in high school.

We formed a little gang that would skip classes (mainly PE, or maths) to do some serious rummaging in second-hand book stores. The rules of the game were unspoken but clear – obscure and pretentious trumped. So my find of Sartre’s Nausea beat Tony’s selection of EE Cummings poems. At the same time, we were looking for that mythical, if dusty, second-hand bookseller who would gesture gnomishly to the stash of books that would change our lives forever, or at least would give us bragging rights among a certain circle of fellow book snobs on the bus. The closest I came to meeting him was a dishevelled bookshop man who tried to persuade me that the red wine stain on the slim volume of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl was of immense importance, and not just soiling. Even then I knew it probably wasn’t such a big deal that someone, probably wearing a beret and drinking too much, had read it, but I bought it anyhow.

Not that I mean to do any disservice to Rowling. I love her backstory – the struggling single mum writing what would be a global phenomenon in a cafe. I expect I will be reading her new book along with the estimated 2.6 million people who ordered it, in the way I have read all her books thus far.

Though I have to admit there was always something compulsive but strangely empty about the Harry Potter series, as if it was the literary equivalent of candy floss. While I enjoyed blowing through them, I retain little recollection of what happens in each. Could I list the key plot twists of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire? Do I know which book uncle whotsits gets it? Nope, sorry.

But reading the books always did give me a vague feeling that I might be able to cast spells if I knew the right words, which probably means the stories seeped in somewhere deeper in my head than I thought.

So feel free to put her new one under my tree, nieces and nephews. As long as it doesn’t have “grey” in the title.

 

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