Sunday, May 13, 2007

Reflective weekend

Sunday lunchtime. Unusually I have bought an Observer. Usually the Saturday Guardian is enough for the weekend. And I am still staring at the Friday examination of e-books.

Andrew Marr asks "Is this the future of reading?" and eventually concludes that the e-book is arriving and eventually somebody will buy one. Meanwhile he explains that 'Start the Week' on Radio 4 is still based on books and that "all my life I've somehow assumed that simply owning books like Tully's (on India) , or the Stalin biography, made me a better person."

He is less kind about newspapers. "In our house, every day we get mounds of newsprint, much of it thrown instantly away." Apparently he has the BBC online news "flickering in the corner much of the time".

However there was no sign of this on BBC1 earlier this morning. He was clutching Sunday newspapers as he announced the agenda of guests looking through the Sunday newspapers. The TV screen was on furniture holding books, not DVDs. Maybe there is a computer screen round the corner, but the newspaper is still the prop of choice.

One downside of this is that any judges watching the BBC may continue to believe that the London newspapers are significant. The decision to ban UK media from mentioning Al Jazeera and a recent trial in the same report is clearly not able to block internet discussion about UK policy. More on this in the Froomkin fan blog.

I recently went through old copies of the Guardian I was unable to read at the time. I don't know when it ended but there was once a review that included books together with music and film etc. My current guess is that the move to a books only review will later be seen as reactionary. Why is there a separated world of literary authority?

There is a mention of blogs in the Saturday Review. Sarah Crown is credited at the end of her blog selection as editor of Guardian Unlimited Books and then there is a link to the blog. This is in six point type.

By contrast the Observer Review has a section for books at the back, after the films and music. The Browser's column ends with a plug for in bold type, maybe 14pt, certainly bigger than most text. It may be all the pop culture that allows a context for this. Paperbacks reviewed include 'The Long Tail' so web ideas are considered. "Sales of bestsellers have slumped by as much as 25%, threatening the basic economics of traditional book and music stores."

The paperback reviews from Saturday include a contentious remark. Nicholas Lezard reports that after writing about Tintin for the Guardian's arts blog "one of the ill-mannered vermin who infest cyberspace posted a comment saying that I had disgracefully copied every idea from the book under review." The world of literary criticism is often more polite. For reasons explained in the blog roundup. Ysabeau Wilce is so aware of the agony and work involved in writing that "if i love a book, you'll hear about it here. But if I hate a book, you will not."

Possibly this kindness could be extended to the people who add comments on the Guardian website.

Tim Brooks, Guardian MD, recently told Revolution "When we first started the site's Comment Is Free section, there was internal resistance. The journalists said 'what? we're actually going to let the readers come back to us in the comments column?' And when the comments started coming back, some of them hostile, that reaction only intensified."

So this online stuff has been imposed on the journalists. My impression is that they would prefer the Saturday Review style of format to continue indefinitely.

My own response is to spend more time on blogging. I will continue to post comments on Guardian Talk ( as will787, my own name had gone) but don't expect any response from Guardian staff. I still find Talk is better than Comment from my point of view as the topic stays open and there is more choice over the agenda.