Boyd Tonkin: Remember the art behind the apps

The week in books

In 1982 a prolific writer of children's fiction travelled up to London from his home in rural Devon to attend the Whitbread book awards. His latest title, already well received, was expected to win in its category. It didn't. After a disconsolate return journey, he had a call the next day from a friend and neighbour – another author. The neighbour, a poet, made some stoical and soothing remarks about the sheer lottery of literary prizes and suggested the pair go fishing. And so Ted Hughes and Michael Morpurgo did. As for Morpurgo's War Horse, thwarted at the Whitbread long ago, its spectacular afterlife across new media and audiences will take another turn in two weeks' time with the release of Steven Spielberg's film.

Books, and their authors, survive and evolve in ways that no one can plausibly predict at the moment of publication. At this time of year, it's always instructive to look ahead at forthcoming movies and register again how deep a debt the screen still owes the page. The Hollywood take on Stieg Larsson's Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has arrived, with not only War Horse in the offing but the George Clooney vehicle The Descendants (a novel by Kaui Hart Hemmings), swiftly followed by The Woman in Black (from Susan Hill's ghost story and stage hit) and The Woman in the Fifth (originally by Douglas Kennedy). And so the year will roll on with the accustomed stream of adaptations, to culminate in two mouth-watering versions of Booker winners: Deepa Mehta's film of Rushdie's Midnight's Children, and Ang Lee's of Martel's Life of Pi.

Hardly any of these precious global properties began life earmarked for successs. In book form, most tiptoed hesitantly into an indifferent world, sustained only by the talent of their makers and the faith of discerning publishers or agents. Larsson had already died by the time that the first Millennium novel appeared in Sweden in 2005. Rushdie, at the birth of Midnight's Children, had put his name only to an overwrought debut, Grimus. Life of Pi looked like an eccentric folly from a little-known maverick. Even War Horse, although much loved from the off, had fluffed its golden chance in the book-award stakes.

To underline the long-haul resilience and adaptability of good books may sound like labouring the obvious. Not, however, if you have spent the day immersed in the latest prognostications of book-industry professionals. Of course, they all drone on unstoppably about digital developments and the next moves in electronic publishing. Beyond the swiftly-mutating technology, with which they really do need to keep abreast, book folk know that they can win jobs, promotions and general kudos by seizing a prime position in the digital vanguard.

But this techno-fetishism has a glaring downside. You will listen in vain for any recognition from the industry's trend-setters of the true value of authors' vision and imagination, rather than of the price, or performance, of the latest gizmos that carry their works. In an era of technological turmoil, you might have thought that publishers would grasp the need to act as nurturing homes for literary creativity while the platforms for its distribution change so fast. Instead, they bang on about gadgetry with all the eloquence of a teenage temp in Currys, but without the slightest nod to the individual skill and style on which this vast hi-tech edifice will rest. No wonder that so many authors are now asking whether they should make use of the digital revolution to go it alone and cut out the middlemen.

Not once in the most recent round of book-trade soothsaying did I catch the faintest note of humility in the face of the creative flame that fuels every corner of this business. The cherished successors to War Horse, to Midnight's Children, to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, will occupy a place on our pages, screens, tablets, e-readers, smart phones and so on because authors have reached out to touch us as they always have, whatever the intermediary device. If publishers want to remain within this magic circle, then they could do worse than resolve that 2012 should be the year that they remember to respect the art behind the apps.

Digital sagas, past and future

Across print and electronic formats, Amazon's bestselling title in 2011 was Walter Isaacson's biography of the late Steve Jobs (right). Not much of a surprise, perhaps. Less predictably, the life of the Apple guru also surged to the top – or very near the top – of the book charts in Spain, France and the Netherlands during the run-up to Christmas. Jobs's renown as a visionary genius tends to overcome doubts about the business models he espoused. Not so, thus far, for Amazon's chief Jeff Bezos. And 2012 will see him embroiled in epic battles over Amazon's role and remit – not least in continental Europe. How high will his reputation stand come the next new year?

Scrooge starves the shelves

Against stiff competiton, this year's prize for the most purely Scrooge-like behaviour among cost-cutting library authorities goes by acclamation to Redbridge council in east London. Via the Vision agency, a "charitable leisure trust" which now manages the borough's libraries, the council made 15 library staff redundant on the Tuesday before Christmas. Some are senior figures with many years of service. In yet another spin on one of the familiar stories of 2011, it turns out that the payroll savings involved – of around half a million pounds – will more or less match the cost of upgrading a central library in Ilford. Redbridge does not actually plan to shut down any of its 13 branches. But – protestors take note – budget cuts can leave library provision much enfeebled without councils having to risk the media embarrassment of boarded-up buildings. Thanks to the Ilford Recorder for this salutary, if sadly unseasonable, Essex tale. The name of the reporter, by the way, was Tim Dickens.

b.tonkin@independent.co.uk

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent
    Markus Persson: If being that rich is so bad, why not just give it all away?

    That's a bit rich

    The billionaire inventor of computer game Minecraft says he is bored, lonely and isolated by his vast wealth. If it’s that bad, says Simon Kelner, why not just give it all away?
    Euro 2016: Chris Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Coleman on course to end half a century of hurt for Wales

    Wales last qualified for major tournament in 1958 but after several near misses the current crop can book place at Euro 2016 and end all the indifference
    Rugby World Cup 2015: The tournament's forgotten XV

    Forgotten XV of the rugby World Cup

    Now the squads are out, Chris Hewett picks a side of stars who missed the cut
    A groundbreaking study of 'Britain's Atlantis' long buried at the bottom of the North Sea could revolutionise how we see our prehistoric past

    Britain's Atlantis

    Scientific study beneath North Sea could revolutionise how we see the past
    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember,' says Starkey

    The Queen has 'done and said nothing that anybody will remember'

    David Starkey's assessment
    Oliver Sacks said his life has been 'an enormous privilege and adventure'

    'An enormous privilege and adventure'

    Oliver Sacks writing about his life
    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    'Gibraltar is British, and it is going to stay British forever'

    The Rock's Chief Minister hits back at Spanish government's 'lies'
    Britain is still addicted to 'dirty coal'

    Britain still addicted to 'dirty' coal

    Biggest energy suppliers are more dependent on fossil fuel than a decade ago
    Orthorexia nervosa: How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition

    Orthorexia nervosa

    How becoming obsessed with healthy eating can lead to malnutrition
    Lady Chatterley is not obscene, says TV director

    Lady Chatterley’s Lover

    Director Jed Mercurio on why DH Lawrence's novel 'is not an obscene story'
    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests

    Set a pest to catch a pest

    Farmers in tropical forests are training ants to kill off bigger pests