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This item is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Letters from Iain Bamforth, Denis Rixson, Silas Gunn
On Selling Books


I appreciated your editorial (PNR 213) on the pernicious effects of the repeal of the Net Book Agreement not only on small publishers (and low-earning writers like myself) but its wider and creeping effects on the organisation of knowledge. And who can say what form that will take? Perhaps people will stop reading even The Economist. It would certainly require the kind of projection into the future nobody makes today. Supposedly taken in the interests of 'consumer welfare', the repeal decision has patently been to the benefit of large publishing conglomerates and a few bestselling authors. The book market simply mirrors trade in general now: quantity has been favoured over quality. However, I was mystified by your comments on the situation in France, especially since I referred to this in my letter 'Selling Books', which you published in PNR 192.

Jack Lang, Mitterrand's Minister for Culture, reversed the decontrolling decision made by the previous government in August 1981, after two years of turmoil which saw many small publishers go to the wall, and reinstituted vertical control of pricing. Book prices in France and Germany can only be discounted by 5% from the recommended retail price. Strasbourg, as I said in my letter, currently boasts a dozen good bookshops, far more per head of population than a comparable British city -  and they seem to be surviving in an economic climate that is not particularly encouraging. French and German culture in general still reserves a privileged place for books, and you can still find talking head programmes where authors discuss their works on TV.

Interested readers should consult this autumn's The Author, which carries an excellent article, 'Foreseeing the inevitable?' by Jean-Claude Bologne, a historian and president of the leading trade association for French writers: its subject is digital books, but it also gives an account of post-war French legislation governing intellectual property and copyright and the fixed book price system imposed by law in 1981.

By email


Unfortunately they will never bring back the Net Book Agreement. Our only hope is that government might eventually tackle Amazon over taxes and, just as importantly, rates.

Oswald Street Bookshop, Glasgow
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Details, Details


Marius Kociejowski's piece (PNR 213) neatly ties up his opening sentence with the quotation from Christopher Middleton at the end. However, he refers to 'a Medusa's head of hair'. There was only one Medusa in Greek myth, although there are a number of medusa jellyfish, albeit without a capital letter. Wouldn't the deletion of the article leave the sense intact and be more true to what our language does with proper names? Secondly, it is a little strange to read a reference to 'the Chinese of Rihaku'. If one assumes absolute ignorance on the part of PN Review's readers, which even these days is probably a tall order, then it's misleading. If, as I imagine, readers know that Li Bai's poem formed the basis of Pound's poem, then what is Kociejowski getting at? Elsewhere he resurrects that tired old opposition between poetry and science, something at which I'm sure that the presiding genius of the piece, Christopher Middleton, poet and master of what we in the other part of Europe call philological science, would raise an eyebrow.

Paul McLoughlin's illuminating review of Maurice Rutherford's poetry is flawed by an anachronism. Ivor Gurney was 'committed' to a mental institution. 'Sectioning' entered the language after the 1959 Mental Health Act.

These are tiny details of grammar and etymology, but great buildings are worn away to nothing by the scouring of sand grains. Thus with language and the art I practise.

By email

Marius Kociejowski replies:

Clearly Silas Gunn has got up on the wrong side of bed. I do not know why Pound chose to adopt the English transliteration from the Japanese for Li Bai or Li Po or even Li Bo but it is what he did (see The Translations of Ezra Pound, Faber, 1953) and, for better or worse, I decided to follow his lead. If I may hazard a guess, it could be that Pound was acknowledging the distance between the original and his own, superbly inaccurate, version. Perhaps Mr Gunn in his dotage is falling for the political correctness that causes an embarrassed silence at the table when instead of 'Mumbai' one dares to utter 'Bombay'. I searched through my piece for any mention of the opposition between poetry and science and I find none. Empedocles came up with a theory that is scientifically unsound but which still has value for one with a poetic as opposed to an overly literal cast of mind. 

This item is taken from PN Review 214, Volume 40 Number 2, November - December 2013.

Readers are asked to send a note of any misprints or mistakes that they spot in this item to
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