Monday, February 22, 2010

When Is Buying a Book Like Buying an Organic Tomato?

I blogged earlier about UK small press publishers, Salt, and how they were seriously struggling and initiated the Buy One More Book Campain. yesterday I was chatting by email to Wena Poon about the problems the company faces, and asked her if she would like to write something for this blog.  She sent me this : 
Wena Poon, author and avid book consumer, reflects on a new kind of responsible book buying.

After reading about the swift consolidation of the publishing industry, I now realize that the different brands of books you see in the bookstores are all owned by the same conglomerate. It’s like dim sum – different shapes but all made in the same kitchen.

Now that I have been corrupted by hipster Americans and buy organic produce from local farms, I have also been converted into a new kind of Responsible Book Buying. I make an effort to buy books from Independent Presses. To me, it’s exactly like buying an heirloom tomato, or an artisanal cheese.

Ever since they published my first book, Lions In Winter, for the Western market, I have also begun appreciating the beauty of an independent press like Salt Publishing.

Salt is not owned by Mega Corp. Its books are beautifully designed, bound and printed on quality paper. The ten-year old press has 400 authors and 1,000 books, and is run entirely out of a cute little office in Cambridge, England by a husband and wife team and two young interns.

Salt authors have been recognized by literary festivals and competitions the world over, including, in 2010, the Adelaide Literary Festival and the Willesden Short Story Awards (3 of the 10 shortlistees are Salt authors, including me!)

Salt books are most widely available in England, but if you are not there, there is no reason why you should suffer. Forget it, your local bookstore will never order it. You can die waiting. Try buying a few books of contemporary poetry or short fiction from Salt online. (They’re also on Amazon).

Buying Salt books is the reason why I have started reading modern poetry again, and I find that I rather like it! Like an heirloom tomato, this content is not processed or genetically modified by legions of agents, editors, businessmen, promoters. It tastes real, hopeful, earthy, immediate. Try it!

Recession limited your spending funds? I’ve decided it’s more “worth it” to buy a book than eat a gourmet restaurant meal. The book lasts longer, and it doesn’t show around the waist! The UK tv personality Griff Rhys-Jones said it best: "If the recession is going to take things down, let it be motor manufacturers, let it be bad banks, let it be chains of fast food restaurants. We can lose a few of them, but we don’t have enough small independent and daring publishers like Salt."

Risk averse? Want a recommendation? Try Luke Kennard’s The Migraine Hotel (British Poetry). I bought it and it’s now one of my fav books. Luke is a twentysomething lyrical poet who’s very funny and clever (this is hard for me to admit, since I’m older and get so jealous sometimes.) You can see him on Youtube reading to giggling crowds.

Hardworking student type? Want to read tips about how to write better short stories? Try Vanessa Gebbie’s Short Circuits (Non-Fiction), containing reflections on this art form from Britain’s best short story writers.

Worried about shipping costs to your part of the world, including Australia/NZ/Malaysia? I have not found it to be a problem. Click here to see their reasonable rates.

For updates, and local get-togethers especially if you are in the UK, join the Salt Facebook Fan Page.
The Singapore-born writer Wena Poon lives in Austin, Texas and drinks only small brewery beers. Her latest novel, Alex y Robert, about girl matadors in Spain, is coming out with Salt in July 2010.


sharazad said...

Now, there's an interesting idea. Short Circuit definitely peaks my interest.

I also like buying from Independent bookstores- especially used bookstores.

Jen HE said...

Thank you Sharon and Wena for this - I've been meaning to leave a comment for ages now, but have been so tied up writing bids for grants! Ethical shopping is so important to the indie economy - too many big players piling more of the same high, selling it cheap, will do nothing to make this world a more interesting place and will simply squeeze the creative blood out of anyone trying to make a go of it. Long live the organic tomato!

PS: talking of indies, the Book Depository sells all books world wide, post-free: They're excellent and well worth supporting.