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Books about booksellers too

For a project in November we are gathering information on novels and stories set in bookshops, that are about fictional booksellers, or in which there are characters who are booksellers.

Let us know what you know under the “suggest a fictional publisher or bookseller” tab above.

Why we need publishers of liberated literature

In Stanisław Lem’s The Futurological Congress (1971) the annual meeting of the Futurological Association takes place in Costa Rica in the same hotel as the Convention of Publishers of Liberated Literature and the Phillumenist Society (matchbook collectors). These groups seem to have better parties: “there were plenty of barefoot girls in waist-length fishnet dresses, some with sabres at their sides; a number of them had long braids fastened, in the latest fashion, to neck bands or spiked collars”“Behind some editors from the publishing house of Knopf stood naked secretaries – though not entirely naked, for their limbs were painted with various op designs. They carried portable water pipes and hookahs filled with a popular mixture of LSD, marijuana, yohimbine and opium.” This is a publishing world of its time.

When disaster strikes, the narrator describes how the wounded are “tended by the secretaries of the liberated publishers; now chemically converted, they were all bawling like babies. They had put on modest clothing and even wore veils, so as not to tempt anyone to sin; a few, more strongly affected, had actually shaven their heads. On the way back from the first-aid area I had the miserable luck to run into a group of publishers. Though I didn’t recognize them at first: they were dressed in old burlap bags tied around with rope (which they also used to flog themselves); crying for mercy, clamouring, they threw themselves at my feet and beseeched me to whip them properly, for they had depraved society“.

Waking up in 2039, to a world where pharmaceuticals are used to control just about everything, Ihon Tichy finds a world without publishers or physical books. Knowledge and entertainment are ingested and what seems to be the only remaining physical manuscript, in the last words of the novel, “slipped from his hands, hit the dark water with a splash, and floated away – off into the unknown future.”

Were the publishers of liberated literature a cause of publishing’s demise? Or do we need them to preserve us from a bookless future?

Stanisław Lem, The Futurological Congress, 1971

A book is a kind of lavatory

Anthony Burgess did not write about publishers in The Malayan Trilogy, but close to the end of the last book, Beds in the East, his main character Victor Crabbe exchanges these words with a Chinese assistant manager.

“The Japanese killed my father,” smiled the Chinese. “They poured petrol on him and then threw a lighted match.”  He laughed modestly. “They made me watch.  They were not very good people.”

“History,” said Crabbe, battering his pain with words at random.  “The best thing to do is to put all that in books and forget about it.  A book is kind of lavatory.  We’ve got to throw up the past, otherwise we can’t live in the present.  The past has got to be killed.” But, in saying that, off his guard with the pain in his foot, he reverted to his own past, and pronounced the very word in the Northern style, the style of his childhood.

Do books help us to preserve the past, change it or put it in its place so we can focus on the present?

Anthony Burgess, Beds in the East, 1959