Archive for December 4th, 2005

The Scatologue

Browsing the other day in a bookshop, a book cover invited my attention.

‘Is It Just Me or Is Everything Shit?’, I was asked.

I like to think that I am impervious to messages sent forth from book covers. I am satisfied that the ‘How to..’ part of ‘How To Be Good’ did not influence my decision to buy the book. My soul, if still I have one, has never required chicken soup.

But I picked the book up and had a look, because I’d had a hard afternoon dodging assorted chuggers and the deaf guy who harasses you with the note asking for 5 Euro. Thus I was lured by the charms of the book title, which, when you start thinking about it, are rather obvious.

A PR man giving blogging tips will tell you that giving a post a title that includes a question is a great way of getting a reader’s attention. This technique will also work for books. The ‘Is It Just Me’ part of the title may prompt the browser to imagine that she can engage in direct, informal conversation with the authors, and the question posed by the full title is not simply the written word of the author wondering out loud, but an direct invitation to participate in rational enquiry. The reader is invited to be complicit in the enterprise.

The ‘Is Everything Shit’ part is intended to demonstrate the irreverent approach to rational enquiry contained in the book, that is: this is for people who want to help find out something important, but, as informal devil-may-care kind of people, they don’t want to be bothered in their free time with the formality that besets their working lives. Oh, and to appeal to people who like jokes about poo, who are surprisingly large in number.

The sub-title to the book, The Encyclopedia of Modern Life, is, in the long tradition of humorous and frivolous books to be kept in the toilet, intended to convey a sense of authority, whilst parodying the authoritarianism to be found in the ‘Everything’ explored within. The reference to ‘Modern Life’ indicates the niche market: disillusioned twenty- or thirty-somethings who know that Blur had an album called Modern Life is Rubbish, and who may feel pleased with themselves for spotting the cultural allusion.

None of this, of course, was immediately apparent to me as I read the entries on, among other things, Che Guevara and Robbie Williams. Indeed, I had to stifle a couple of sniggers at some inconsequential tidbit about Ikea. Then I began to realise that this was the type of book that you buy for someone because you have to buy them a relatively inexpensive present, you don’t know anything about what they like or don’t like, you know nothing about books, and you’ve been trudging around all day in the hope of finding something, and, well, this isn’t great, but it’ll do.

Then I realised that buying this book would be like admitting that the only way to verify the shitness of your life is by handing over the money to prove it. It would be a curious act of sado-masochism.

Things are indeed shit when a book cataloguing shit things is making its authors rich. There is surely little difference between a book that catalogues shit things and a book that catalogues good things. A book that catalogues good things would be like a literary version of ‘My Favourite Things’ sung by Julie Andrews, or maybe a Bryan McFadden song.

Not Saving The Best For Last

Thankfully, I didn’t watch. Why did endless mediocrity Eamonn Holmes have to speak at George Best’s funeral? If that wasn’t bad enough, whose idea was it to have the unspeakably dire Brian Kennedy sing the excruciating Vincent? I note he also sang the brutal ‘You Raise Me Up’, which resembles Danny Boy in its melody and some of its cadences. Thousands of people campaign for pointless causes in Northern Ireland every day. Couldn’t someone find the time to campaign for Brian Kennedy’s deportation?

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December 2005
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