Archive for July, 2010

Ordinarily, the prospect of books making it into the headlines would have me very excited indeed. But today’s stories leave very few in the publishing world with Great Expectations. Instead, it’s Hard Times all round (excuse the puns). Amazon would seem to be the exception (for now, at least), as it rolls out its supercheap new version of the Kindle and launches its local UK store at the end of August. It will boast 400,000 titles in its library, including Andrew Wylie‘s notorious additions to the mix. Classics such as Lolita and Midnight’s Children, titles run through Wylie’s agency, will be electronically available through Amazon alone, much to the horror of Random House. Victoria Barnsley, chief exec. of Harper Collins UK, noted that Amazon was the only winner in this exclusive deal, but the impact on the publishing world, in its print and electronic guises, runs deeper. Why else would traditional print publishers worldwide be wracking their brains for new app.s and interactive design features to complement their titles?

Andrew Wylie is probably one of the only people in the world who could make such a scandalous move, both a) getting away with it and b) causing such an uproar in his wake. His agency roster includes, among around 700 clients, Martin Amis, as well as the estates of Norman Mailer and Hunter S. Thompson. But Wylie’s decision comes at an opportune time (for the enfant terrible to cause trouble, that is, not for the book lovers) – he’s got a lot of help from the ever-escalating digital craze. Consumers want it, and the retailers want to give it to them – cheap. Amazon’s bargain e-reader (only $139/ $189, depending on whether you go for the 3G or wifi-only version – a tiny fraction of the price of the original Kindle) is just one contender in the e-readers marketplace. In June, Barnes & Noble lowered its Nook e-reader below $200, prompting Sony and Amazon to do the same. With Google launching its own digital bookstore later this year, competition from the virtual world is only set to get fiercer.

Price wars are inevitable in any sort of commerce – so there’s no reason the book world shouldn’t be the same….it’s happening with music and film, why not literature? The problem is that publishers aren’t adapting to the consumer demands as quickly as they could – gone are the days when an editor can happily publish fifty titles, knowing perhaps one will be a hit (we’re in a recession, donchaknow?). And at the same time, on the other side of the till, while it’s nice to have a shelf lined with bound beauties, it’s hardly economic, especially if a new release is going to be available only as a twenty quid hardback, at least for a good few months. At least a Kindle won’t wreak havoc on your modern decor.

Speaking of modern, the modern English novel is having a hard time, says Gabriel Josipovici, former Oxford professor and revered lit. crit. Award winners like Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan and Julian Barnes are searching for an antidote to our superficial electronic lives (how apt), he says, and in the process have shown their true colours, as “prep-school boys showing off.” The editor’s role is crucial, then, firstly in controlling all the now-Hollywoodesque literary egos, and then, secondly, marketing them as something worthwhile and at the same time sellable. It’s a tough job. But print publishers won’t be obsolete for a long while as far as I can see – there are too many influential editors whose opinions still really matter. We need just need them to make the right choices. No pressure.


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Imagine if getting your 5-a-day could be as simple as breathing. Imagine no longer! The lovely guys of Bompas & Parr (aka the Jellymongers) bring you….The Ziggurat of Flavour, an inhabitable pyramid installation containing a cloud of breathable Fairtrade fruit. Sitting on top of the hills overlooking the Big Chill festival this year, it’s going to be a fantastic addition to their already well set (geddit?) reputations in both culinary and artistic worlds. Their fine English jellies (including that infamous example containing a ‘speck’ of Princess Diana’s hair, bought from a US eBay dealer) and bespoke jelly moulds are just tinchy examples of their work. Their projects often operate in the space between food and architecture, exploring how the taste of food is influenced by synaesthesia and setting.

Food should always be shared – a picnic at the park, around a table, on the beach, in the garden…why not in a gigantic pyramid? Taste could never be a more communal thing, spatialised in the Ziggurat of Flavour as a public realm, scaled up from bodily interior to building interior. Fruit will become architecture – an immersive, habitable environment.

Bompas & Parr has already worked with leading architects including Lord Foster, Will Alsop and Rogers Stirk Harbour + Partners to design jelly moulds. Heston Blumenthal used their jellying expertise for his television series Feast and they created Alcoholic Architecture – a walk-in cloud of breathable gin and tonic. I bloody love a good G&T – a cloud of it enveloping me? It’s almost too much happiness to bear….ah, gin….

Now back to the almighty Ziggurat: After negotiating the misty labyrinth of vaporised fruit, Big Chillers will emerge onto a slide at the top of the huge structure. Now, I won’t even pretend to be a scientist when it comes to the next bit, but according to the guys in the know, as you slide down your kinetic energy compounds the fruit cloud, making it denser. Always listen to a doctor though, when he tells you to eat them apples. Cue Dr Oliver Firth of the Centre for Altitude Space and Extreme Environment:

“The ingenious method of vaporisation employed by the Ziggurat should create a fruit-saturated atmosphere, and anyone breathing it will likely absorb a significant quantity via their respiratory tract. How much will clearly depend on the time spent breathing in the fruit vapour, as well as on variations in individual lung performance. However, the absence of heat treatment means that the vitamin content and nutritional benefits of the fruit are likely to be preserved, and hence this method of delivery could potentially contribute to an individual’s 5-a-day quota.” Sounds good to me.

If you’ve got a fruitphobe on your hands, or a kid who’s not eating their greens (take the whole family!), there are probably some considerably better things you could do than take them to a music festival….but, with the Ziggurat of Flavour on the horizon, you could do a hell of a lot worse.

Image: Ziggurat of Flavour (c) Dan Price

Top image: Jelly St. Paul’s Cathedral by Bompas & Parr

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