It’s Books Of The Year time in the posh papers and magazines, and writers are nervous.
After all, most of us are skint, and many of us are drinking to forget our sales figures. Add the sheer exhaustion of having to pretend that you’re still doing as well as ever, and it’s a miracle that any books are written at all. But we still have Christmas.
During the next few weeks, Britons will buy millions of books for friends and relatives who don’t really want them. Which title should they choose? The one with the prettiest cover, or something recommended by someone off the telly in the paper the previous day?
So Books of the Year pages are important to us. It’s a great honour to be invited to contribute to them (I currently do one every year but I’m available for others, hem hem) but it’s even better to be featured in them. Publishers will look forward to splashing “Book of the Year” on the paperback, and agents might invite you to their Christmas parties after all. Everyone assumes it’s just a recommendation by a friend of yours, which makes it all the sweeter when someone you have never met recommends your book. But we’ll take a bit of log-rolling if we can get it. We might even roll a few logs of our own. It’s as near to physical work as some of us ever get.
But why does everyone object so? There’s always a funny article in Private Eye at around this time detailing the Books of The Year favours various writers have done for each other: nominating their best friends’ books, favouring their own publishers and so on.
I will admit that I did mention a novel by a friend of mine this year, but it was published in 1994, I hadn’t read it before and it genuinely was one of the best books I read. (I’d like to think it says more about my choice of friends than my reading matter.) But I will also admit that I bought most of the Sunday papers yesterday just in case my book about middle age, A Shed Of One’s Own (Little, Brown, £12.99), was mentioned in any of them. And what did I find? Nothing. Not a word. The bastards.
Which is the real problem, of course. Too many Books of the Year contributors are thinking not of their friends, but of their own reputations. They nominate something achingly highbrow that no one would want to read, or something brutally expensive they were given for free, or something out next spring that they have just read in proof.
This isn’t log-rolling, this is showing off, and it does no one the slightest bit of good. So my recommendation is clear. Ignore all Books of the Year recommendations. There’s only one name you need to remember when shopping on Amazon this week, and that’s mine.
Marcus Berkmann’s latest book is ‘A Shed Of One’s Own’, published by Little, Brown at £12.99