Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Is This the Worst Literary Gossip Ever?

I don't know quite what I was expecting... This copy of The London Magazine caught my eye, not for its coverage of the 'erotic' as advertised on the cover, but because the contents page listed an article called 'Customers and Friends: Memoirs of a Bookseller' by Kenneth Marshall, although after publication one wonders if he had any customers or friends left. It is exactly the kind of article that one hopes never to end up in: gossipy, indiscreet, sniffy, full of the resounding thud of names being dropped and not a little nasty here and there. One small snippet should suffice:

"During my stay in London I saw The Plough and the Stars and, in company with J. R. Ackerley, Ion Swinley in The Idiot at the Barnes Theatre. Afterwards I stayed the night with Ackerley. He also said he had only bed available, and as there was no offer of pyjamas, I slept in my shirt. I woke next morning knowing that something had taken place. Ackerley was apparently sleeping in another room. I smoked several Lucky Strikes, suspecting that I had been doped, since I was an exceptionally light sleeper. Immediately after a cup of tea I left"

I would have bought the magazine to read the article as I am prone to enjoying a little literary reminiscence and, if not too nasty, I don't mind a bit of vintage gossip about the book trade either. However, the thing that really drew me to this copy was the two sheets of notepaper tucked inside. A quick glance showed me that they were notes on the article by a third party. Each line started with the name of someone mentioned. Clearly I had struck gold and would now be able to publish a book that rewrote the literary biography of the twentieth century. Ah! Alas!

The two sheets have to be the silliest set of notes I've ever seen. An anonymous (it turns out) hand makes a list of this person and that person and makes the most pointless comments ever... "Shane Leslie I met occasionally at parties", "Frank Denny of The Strand Bookshop - I knew all the staff", "Dr Batt, a bibliophile: knew him well", "Nina Hamnett - knew her fairly well - she signed for me my copy of Laughing Torso..." and on and on... There's barely an opinion, let alone a paradigm changing piece of new information unknown to the world. In fact, the only really revealing tidbit was a comment on the author of the original article "Kenneth Marshall I met many times. NOT and endearing character". So the moral of this story is simply this: if you are going to write secret notes on the people you have met and known: give some thought to your readers!

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