Bad Sex Is Good For Us All

The SlapBefore I kick off this post, I need to issue the disclaimer that it acknowledges the existence of sex and, while not graphic, does quote some rather lame and comical descriptions of it. It may not be suitable reading for little people, people unaware of sex’s existence, or people who wish they were unaware of sex’s existence.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s time to celebrate the fact that the 2010 Bad Sex in Fiction Award—aka ‘Britain’s most dreaded literary prize’—has been announced. It’s the award that both makes us chuckle and reminds us that even the best writers don’t always get it right. In short, bad sex is good for us all.

2010 winner Irish author Rowan Somerville scored the dubious honour this year, the 18th inaugural awarding of the prize, for such passages of text from The Shape of Her that: likened a nipple to the upturned ‘nose of the loveliest nocturnal animal, sniffing in the night’; and the almost indecipherable ‘Like a lepidopterist mounting a tough-skinned insect with a too blunt pin he screwed himself into her’. Yep, the latter one’s so odd I’m not sure I want to look lepidopterist in the dictionary.

Other 2010 nominees were the esteemed Jonathan Franzen (for sex scenes from Freedom, the masterpiece everyone’s hailing as the best book that’s ever been written and that ever will be), Alistair Campbell (best known for being Tony Blair’s former spokesman), and Australia’s own Christos Tsiolkas (for—you guessed it—The Slap).

The Shape Of HerI won’t go into the myriad reasons why I disliked The Slap (if you’re keen to find out, you can check out my previous blog entry), but I was overjoyed that someone with the power to bestow or remove critical acclaim was finally on my not-liking-the-book side. One of the judges, Jonathan Beckman, reportedly told The Guardian that The Slap was nominated partly because of the sheer volume [and relentless, boringness] of sex it contained. Dubbing it ‘repetitive’, he noted how two characters ‘f—ed for ages’ is ‘just one example of slack writing’. Youch but so, so, incredibly, I-told-you-so true.

Dreamed up and set up by the late Literary Review editor Auberon Waugh ‘to draw attention to the crude, tasteless, often perfunctory use of redundant passages of sexual description in the modern novel, and to discourage it’, the Bad Sex Awards also serve a secondary, albeit unintentional, purpose for the writers and aspiring writers among us. That is, to send the clear message that no writer is perfect and that, even after years of experience and after having their work gone over by the best editors in the world, clunkers make it through.

Somerville is in esteemed company, with the award having been previously won by the likes of Tom FreedomWolfe and Norman Mailer, and was gracious in his acceptance of the award. Film director Michael Winner, who presented the award to Somerville, said that he avoided sex in his own books because, ‘as we all know, sex starts with a joke and ends in tragedy’. I’d say that it starts with a joke and ends in comedy, because as Somerville said in his victory speech, ‘There is nothing more English than bad sex, so on behalf of the entire nation I would like to thank you.’ Indeed, I think bad sex is good for us all and for simply nominating The Slap, Bad Sex Awards, I want to thank you.



How I Cracked The Slap And Lived To Tell About It

One of the first Australian ebooks I ever purchased legitimately through an Australian e-tailer was The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. And in order to read it I had to crack the DRM. DRM (digital rights management) is the extra bit of software attached to ebooks to stop people from copying digital products as they like. It’s a divisive issue, but it is at the centre of publishing ebooks in Australia.

At the time it was the only place I could find this book electronically (legitimately – there were plenty of pirated copies floating about). I was about to travel overseas with my Kindle and wanted to bring it with me without carrying the whole book. The book was sold as PDF with DRM by Adobe. Before I bought the book I googled whether it would be possible to crack the DRM, as I knew my iPhone and Kindle were not capable of reading the DRM on a PDF. There are thousands of people around the world interested in this kind of thing, so it took only a few minutes before I’d downloaded the software, downloaded the book and had cracked it using the software. These kinds of cracking programs pop up with different software authors every few months before getting shut down and then reopening somewhere else. They’re very difficult to stop, and I believe that as long as there is DRM there will be people willing to spend time and effort cracking it and making it available on the internet. From what I’ve read there is not a single major type of DRM that has not been cracked (the DRM used on the iPad is the only one that I haven’t seen a crack for – but I’m sure the situation is temporary).

All in all this is not something the average internet user would be bothered doing. Instead, they just wouldn’t buy the book at all. The current crop of people who read ebooks in Australia don’t significantly overlap with readers of paper books. If I want a book electronically, I either get it electronically or not at all.

The cracking process wasn’t difficult, but it helped to know a bit about the ins and outs of ebook formats and computers in general. However, the longer ebooks are available, and the more ubiquitous ebook readers become, the more readily available and easy-to-use these types of software packages will become. DRM generally makes early adopters pretty angry with publishers and record labels, because it makes the process unnecessarily difficult for legitimate purchasers. In general it is far easier to download a pre-cracked pirated version of a book than it is to crack the DRM on a legitimate purchase. DRM tends to push early adopters towards the easiest option – which in this case happens to be illegal.

I prefer to buy legitimate copies of books, because they tend to be formatted and typeset properly, unlike the scanned and digitised copies you are likely to see on pirate book websites. The care and attention given to them is (or should be) equal to a published book, and it pays off while you’re reading. However, I’m increasingly frustrated by DRM. Most of the people I know reading ebooks are doing so on their iPhone, their Kindle or their Sony Reader. Out of these three dominant readers (likely to be followed by the iPad shortly), very few Australian publishers support files readable on any of these devices. This type of scattered support is very frustrating for readers of ebooks – no publisher is ever going to be capable of covering every version of ebook format with DRM that can be read by every type of ebook reader. However, if books were sold without DRM in the first place, legitimate buyers of ebooks would be able to easily convert the book to the format of their choice – with the added benefit that the book would be ‘future proof’ (most types of current DRM will eventually become defunct and render reading of the copy-proof versions impossible).

Australian ebooks are currently sold at the same price as their paper counterparts. This is an economic decision I understand, but when you take into account how crippled the formats that are sold actually are, it is little wonder legitimate ebooks are selling so slowly.

What do you think? Have you ever cracked the DRM on an ebook? Does DRM turn you off purchasing ebooks? Are you willing to break the law in order to truly own a book you have paid for?

Why the iPad is Not Going to Save Publishing

Today’s release of Apple’s iPad in the United States and the absolutely hysterical reaction to it is as good a time as any to take a moment and think about the impact of devices like the iPad on publishing.

As you may or may not know, many publishing companies, particularly in newsprint, are not faring well. Newspapers across the world lost billions of dollars in the last year – their worst result in recent memory, and the word is that it’s only going to get worse. Books are faring a little better, but publishing folk are looking askance at their newspaper buddies and getting worried. This fear is partially what fuels the distaste for ebooks in the first place.

But not everyone in publishing is a backwards-looking nostalgic with a Luddite agenda. Some of them are tragic optimists as well. In fact, many people in the book trade herald each new device as the ‘killer’ gadget, the one machine to save us all. People said it about the Kindle, they’ve been saying it about gadgets like Plastic Logic’s Que for years (it still hasn’t been released) and they said it about the Nook, until it turned out to be a steaming pile of fail.

There are also a lot of people like me, who believe – wrongly – that the killer device has not been released yet, but fervently hope that when it is all our problems will be solved.

The truth is that no single device is going to save publishing. Publishing of all kinds will save itself – or die trying. Just as with the digital music revolution and the average punter’s passion for music, there is still an overwhelming fervour out there for the written word in all its guises. We still buy millions upon millions of books, from huge bestsellers like Harry Potter or Twilight to stuff like The Slap. What all these purchases prove is that people still like to read books – content is king. At the moment, particularly in Australia, consumers simply do not have access to the electronic content.

I’m not trying to point fingers here; there are plenty of publishers who are putting off the inevitable when it comes to ebooks, and plenty out there doing great things (Allen & Unwin and Macmillan, I’m looking at you). Equally there are booksellers who have been on board with ebooks for years, and others that are doing nothing. There are also authors who have been on the digital bandwagon for years, and others who are still thinking about starting a MySpace page next year.

The point is that the future isn’t going to be any different because you drag your heels and moan about the smell of books. You’re just going to get left behind. The iPad isn’t going to save publishing either – it’s just a platform with great potential. If you have any ideas for how you want to read books (or make them) in the future, then educate yourself and start making demands now. Because whether you like it or not, things are going to change, but how it changes and into what is still up to us.

July Book Giveaway

Another month, another giveaway. July’s is Ashes-tinged and filled to the brim for cricket fans and avid readers alike, so be sure to register HERE for your chance to win copies of:

Cricket Kings by William McInnes  SIGNED
Step into the lives of a team of regular middle-aged men who meet each week to play cricket in their local park. With these characters William will make us laugh and cry. And never again will we think that someone is just a regular bloke – everyone can be a king or a queen in their own suburb.

 

Glenn McGrath: Line and Strength by Glen McGrath SIGNED
From working the land in Narromine to winning cricket’s World Cup three times, Glenn McGrath has always faced life with fierce determination and an unerring will to succeed despite the odds. Now, following his retirement from international cricket, McGrath shares the story of his life – in cricket and off the field.
 

The Cricket War by Gideon Haigh SIGNED
It was the end of cricket as we knew it – and the beginning of cricket as we know it. In May 1977, the cricket world woke to discover that a businessman called Kerry Packer had signed 35 elite international players for his own televised World Series Cricket. The Cricket War is the definitive account of the split that changed the game on the field and on the screen. In helmets, under lights, with white balls, and in coloured clothes, the outlaw armies of Ian Chappell, Toney Greig and Clive Lloyd fought a daily battle of survival. In boardrooms and courtrooms Packer and cricket’s rulers fought a bitter war of nerves. A compelling account of the top-class sporting life, The Cricket War also gives a unique insight into the motives and methods of Australia’s richest man.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas SIGNED
A novel about the relationships between children and adults, and the new Australian multicultural middle-class from the controversial cult author of Loaded and Dead Europe.

 

 

 

Starting An Online Business For Dummies by Melissa Norfolk
Turn your dreams into profitable reality with this straightforward guide to setting up and running an online business. Including strategies to help you identify your market, set up a website and promote your business online.

 
Just Macbeth by Andy Griffiths
Take one Shakespearean tragedy: Macbeth, add Andy, Danny and Lisa the Just trio, whose madcap exploits have already delighted hundreds of thousands of readers for the last ten years. Mix them all together to create one of the most hilarious, most dramatic, moving stories of love, Whizz Fizz, witches, murder and madness. Ages 9+.

 

Brief Encounters: Literary travellers in Australia 1836-1939 by Susannah Fullerton
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, countless distinguished writers made the long and arduous voyage across the seas to Australia. They came on lecture tours and to make money, to sort out difficult children sent here to be out of the way for health, for science, to escape demanding spouses back home, or simply to satisfy a sense of adventure. In 1890, for example, Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife, Fanny, arrived at Circular Quay after a dramatic sea voyage only to be refused entry at the Victoria, one of Sydney’s most elegant hotels. Stevenson threw a tantrum, but was forced to go to a cheaper, less fussy establishment. Next day, the Victoria’s manager, recognising the famous author from a picture in the paper, rushed to find Stevenson and beg him to return. He did not. In Brief Encounters, Susannah Fullerton examines a diverse array of writers, including Charles Darwin, Rudyard Kipling, Stevenson, Anthony Trollope, Mark Twain, Arthur Conan Doyle, DH Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, HG Wells, Agatha Christie and Jack London, to discover what they did when they got here, what their opinion was of Australia and Australians, how the public and media reacted to them, and how their future works were shaped or influenced by this country.

Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark
This is the modern traveller’s bible. Travellers and pilgrims seeking a unique experience can now uncover the ancient secrets of convents and monasteries around Europe. We reveal these atmospheric and affordable places that accommodate tourists or those pursuing a pilgrimage or spiritual retreat. Convents, monasteries and abbeys have always been places which generously welcome weary travellers. That tradition continues today and Goodnight & God Bless takes you on a tour of religious hideaways offering tourist and pilgrimage accommodation throughout Europe. Suitable for the traveller, the pious and the curious alike, this user-friendly travel guide provides invaluable information, travel tit-bits and anecdotes against a fascinating backdrop of history and religion.

Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit SIGNED
Enchanted by Bella, the Fairy of Pure Heart, Prince Arthur follows her into the immortal world. Angered by this, the powerful dragon Nemesis captures Arthur. To rescue her prince, Bella must complete the Great Dragon’s Hunt, and collect five magical tokens. As Bella and her butterfly friend Teague carry out her quest, they meet many mystical creatures, including a witch and a werewolf, elfins and leprechauns, and two very forgetful goblins.

A big thanks to our friends at Allen and Unwin, Pan Macmillan, Hachette, Random House, Melbourne University Press, John Wiley & Sons, Dragon Publishing and Paratus Press for supporting our monthly giveaway.

To go into the draw to win this month’s prize, complete the entry form HERE. Entries close 31 July, 2009. Don’t forget, it’s a monthly giveaway, so be sure to favourite that link and keep visiting every month. Please note, entrants will be automatically subscribed to our fortnightly Boomerang Books Bulletin e-newsletter.

… A bonus for our Facebook Friends

Need an incentive to join one of Australia’s largest book group on Facebook? Well, we have a great pack of books to give away to one of our Facebook Group members this month, which includes copies of Nemesis and the Fairy of Pure Heart by Ashley Du Toit (SIGNED), Mascot Madness! by Andy Griffiths and Good Night & God Bless: Volume One by Trish Clark.