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Darryl Accone on SA’s World of “Indiscriminate” Publishing: “So Many Writers, So Little Writing”

acconeThe Mail & Guardian‘s Darryl Accone is dismayed by the flood of books circulating on South Africa’s bookshelves, and the lack of a correspondingly robust culture of criticism. In a major opening salvo for a series of columns Accone intends to write together with the M&G‘s chief book critic, Percy Zvomuya, he outlays how he hopes to make sense of the commercial dictates of SA’s publishing world and how this affects our reading culture.

Accone says that there is a delicate balance between promoting South African literature (the “‘local is lekker’ mentality”) and simply mollycoddling local writers as a default to nepotism. The latter has “bedevilled the critical response”.

It’s encouraging, he continues, that members of BOOK SA have already called for introspection, for example in a debate last year, sparked by Fiona Snyckers‘ post, “Oh, to be Anon now that Reviews are here”. And we can’t forget Maureen Isaacson’s lament over the issue in a piece written for the Sunday Independent.

Accone ends with two propositions: That writers should spend less time bemoaning their undervalued and miserly existence and more time writing; and, that publishers should exercise some discernment and lessen their supply load appropriately.

Strong stuff. Read on:

Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns, and the title of Ray Bradbury’s dystopian novel set in an authoritarian state where reading is banned.

In this world firemen are paid to start fires, not put them out; books that they confiscate in Gestapo-style raids on the houses of the citizenry provide the combustible matter.

Out in the backwoods, book-loving rebels memorise the great canons of world literature, each adopting as his or her name the title of the book that they are learning and will bequeath to a future in which the oral has replaced the written.

So much for book hell — and for reading purgatory. The situation at the beginning of the second decade of the 21st century is somewhat removed. Instead, we have an excess of fire sales of books that publishers no longer wish to sell and that bookshops no longer want to carry. That annual ritual, the post-Christmas summer or winter (pick your hemisphere) sale of books is upon book-buyers and book-readers (not always the same creature).

Photo courtesy Mail&Guardian


Recent comments:

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    February 8th, 2011 @14:08 #

    Yes, yes, true, true. But when I read "We have a plethora of fiction and non-fiction that appears sometimes to have been rushed to the presses and on to the shelves. Proposition two: "Too many books that could have been contenders", I realise where this is entire series is going: towards the conclusion "IT NEEDED EDITING".

    Which leads straight to the question of WHY publishers don't develop MSS properly and edit them rigorously, which I tackle with great verbiage here: (currently in press in even longer form by the Africa Institute).

    It will be interesting to see if Darryl and Percy, both of whom I admire, come up with anything new.

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    February 8th, 2011 @14:54 #

    Looking forward to the "official" version of that post, Helen!


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