So, here it is: my first post of 2013 and it’s already February. Since my Strawberry Santas melted I have:
- Written a book (or a long short story as a particularly pedantic friend insisted I call it).
- Sold some of my literary gifts to the big, wide world and even got a mention in this month’s O Magazine, all the while choking back new-business terror.
- Chased a Cornish family through time – overground, underground (oh dear, now I’m singing The Wombles theme song) – and into history so distant it feels like myth.
- Ushered the children into a new year at school. The 3 year-old princess now has a real-deal ballet outfit, an obsession with becoming a librarian mother to 4, and is convinced that she is going to win a prize for her handprints. The 8 year-old visionary has joined the choir, reads sneakily in his room ’til well past bedtime, and makes “music” on an elastic band stretched between his feet all afternoon with nary a care for the girls of the house, whose noise-level tolerances are at an all-time low. “You can’t stop creativity, Mom”.
But I think that sometimes you can or at the very least you should.
As you may or may not know, I have been a bookseller since I was 18. Even though I now sell literary gifts, I still consider myself to be one. It is, for me, a noble profession deserving of its own title; no mere ‘retailer’ for those who work behind the counters of book shops. No! We are mighty among men.
However, times are changing: Kindle, ebooks, self-publishing, print on demand, 3 for 2, loss-leaders. It is exhausting and terrifying and it makes me want to rush off to bed with a smelly old book and only wake up when it’s 1891 again.`Keeping me busy though in this new world is the ridiculously compelling Tumblr, Lousy Book Covers. I have spent hours and days “paging” through it. It is a selection of the worst (in the subjective opinion of the site’s author) book jackets self-publishing has to offer.
Looking through the blog, I have wondered if perhaps the art of book jacket design is soon to become an anachronism in a world that has moved on. In a bookshop I do certainly judge books by their covers but on my Kindle, the black and white image that comes along with my purchases does absolutely nothing for me. I hardly look at it.
And I wonder if beautiful book jackets will become just as strange to imagine as a time when these beautiful Victorian sheet music covers were luring people to whip them off shelves.
Sheet music covers representing the beauties of the day, the rock stars (or polka stars as the case may be) of the 1890s: how quaint! How beautiful though too; made almost more so for the fact that they are simply no longer useful. I am a fan of useless beauty.
Dolly Varden is a character in a Dickens’ novel. (Happy birthday for yesterday, Sir) Hers became the name that represented an 1870s fashion which mimicked 18th century style. As is the case with most fashionable fashion only the dandiest followed it and a popular song with the following lyrics was written mocking the flounced up fashionistas:
Have you seen my little girl? She doesn’t wear a bonnet.
She’s got a monstrous flip-flop hat with cherry ribbons on it.
She dresses in bed furniture just like a flower garden
A blowin’ and a growin’ and they call it Dolly Varden
Victorian burlesque shows were also called travesties. Isn’t that wonderful? “All these femmes gallantes with their ankles on display. This is a travesty. This is a Travesty.” The following is the sheet music cover from an 1888 travesty, Faust Up To Date.
The next cover could possibly have been entered into a lousysheetmusiccover.tumblr of the day but it does make me smile. Spirit Rappings was a song written in 1853, capitalising on the Victorian fascination with Spiritualism.
I certainly hope beautiful books don’t disappear in the same way that beautiful music has. I hope Stephen Fry is right (I have a massive crush on Stephen Fry’s brain, so I think he is almost always right) that the e-book will no more replace the book than the elevator did the stairs. But just in case he is wrong, here’s a picture of the future and it’s not pretty.