Between the Covers 01/04/2012


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The Independent Culture

No sooner does Adam Mars-Jones win the inaugural Hatchet Job of the Year Award for "the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past 12 months" than every literary critic in the world starts sharpening his blade trying to get in on the act. Last week, it was The Japan Times critic David Cozy, for a savage review of Noriko Smiling, by none other than Adam Mars-Jones. The book, which was published in November, is described by Notting Hill Editions as a "remarkable essay in narrative reconstruction, which elicits a world of meanings from the reticences of one classic Japanese movie." Mr Cozy does not agree. He writes: "'I can hardly be accused of being an expert on Japanese film,' Adam Mars-Jones assures us early in Noriko Smiling ... Having asserted his ignorance in the second paragraph of his book, he then devotes the remainder to offering evidence in support of his claim, and it has to be said: The case he builds is airtight." Mars-Jones is not upset. "By writing a book about a classic Japanese film from a position of total fascinated ignorance I knew perfectly well I was clog-dancing through a minefield," he tells us. "What I didn't want to do was pretend to understand Late Spring on some transcendent, Zen level without trying to grasp what's going on from frame to frame. I take it for granted that I will have got a lot wrong by asking basic questions, but the film is strong enough to survive my misinformed love for it." Strong enough to survive the hatchet job too, no doubt.


Thanks to Ian Rankin for this whistlestop guide for visitors to the Oxford Literary Festival, which ends this weekend. "Oxford bars update: Chequers was OK; queue out the door at Turf; White Horse poured a decent Doom Bar. Now to the Book Festival ..."

In an almost inevitable legal move, Facebook in America has added "book" to the list of copyrighted words that users must not use when naming their businesses. The UK site already has a clause in its user agreement that users "will not use our copyrights or trademarks ... without our written permission", but it seems that the US arm has gone a step further. Thanks for this news goes to the book-trade website Book2Book (, which is understandably nervous.


"Best use of current events for comedy marketing of books" award goes this week to Waterstones, whose team cottoned on fast when anger about VAT on pasties started trending on Twitter. "Thinking of removing all our 'hot off the press' signs," they tweeted, "in case #pastygate spreads to the book industry."


Thanks to the new book Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops, by Jen Campbell (Constable, £7.99), for the following gems: "Do you have any books in this shade of green to match the wrapping paper I've bought?" "Did Anne Frank ever write a sequel? I really enjoyed her first book." "Do you have any pop-up books on sex education?" And: "Is this book edible?" The book doesn't, but could, have a whole chapter on questions along the lines of "I'll just leave my children here for a couple of hours while ... I go shopping/have a manicure/they tear the head off the tiger who came to tea ...." But some of the requests are more reasonable, for instance: "Do you have a copy of Atonement? But not the film cover, please. Keira Knightley's neck makes me want to punch things."