Monday, 10 October 2011

Smithy, Super Thursday and the evergreen gift book

Gavin and Stacey’s Smithy did shove up a Severn Bridge toll barrier to ‘break into Wales’. But when all’s said and done, he is no champion of Wales. Still though, James Corden deserves a golden daff just for co-creating the series alongside confirmed national treasure Ruth Jones, not to mention his latest Doctor Who outing as Craig. And I’m not gonna lie to you: Corden’s strip-off on YouTube (‘Get in the Car Smithy!’) is a sure-fire cure for SAD.

What with The Sun’s serialisation of his autobiography May I Have Your Attention Please?, though, and massive publicity for Super Thursday, even I may soon tire of his big smile. Corden’s is one of 225 hardback titles launched on 29 September for Christmas. Skirting the issue of whether comedian’s memoirs are ever as funny as their performances (I fear a tad for Rob Brydon’s Small Man in a Book, trickling out late this week on 13 October), news coverage spun a Death of the Hardback story, focusing geekily on how book dimensions relate to garnering reviews and word-of-mouth buzz.

Predictions of how digitisation will shift reading, shopping and publishing habits are still rumours in the dark. But whatever the discrete threats are to 3-D shops and tomes, the practice of giving books as gifts is safe for now. You may bribe your teenage daughter with a preloaded Kindle for a main present, or fob off a neglected nephew with an iTunes voucher. But a hardback scrawled with a coded (preferably literary) love message carries far more caché. (The difficulty of lending and sharing e-books; the threat to our fantastic heritage of book covers with their seducing suggestion of our impeccable taste; the expense, cost, risk and mess of letting kids’ sticky mitts on an iPad are other thankfully unresolved matters to which I may return another time.)

E ink editions cannot yet handle colour, complex design, tables nor illustration, which is why the proportion of Kindle titles published for the children’s and nonfiction market lags way behind romance and contemporary genre fiction (erotica is the fourth biggest category: advertising personal taste isn’t always advisable). For that reason, specialist art and design publishers such as Thames and Hudson, V&A, Phaidon and Visual Editions may still celebrate the physical this Christmas with linen slip-cases, loose postcards, pop-ups and revivals of the 60s ‘book in a box’ concept. Cheap they are not, but our use for books as display persists. Were I the show-off type, and if someone special bought me Vivian Maier: Street Photographer, with its gorgeous ‘lost’ Chicago pictures, I would let our coffee table shout out ‘Tasteful Cow Lives Here’ right up to Easter. And that cheeky inscription aint available yet in digital.

A version of this was published in Gwen's Insider books column in the Western Mail on Saturday 8 October 2011

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Next week's blog: Graphic novels, Cardiff’s Literature Lounge and the Daniel Owen Festival

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