Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Le Carré Refuses to Come in From the Cold.

The Man Booker Prize is no stranger to the machinations of the murky world of public relations. In fact, this particular literary award is one of the most publicity-driven in the industry.

Each year, in the run up to the award ceremony, an unrelenting wave of press releases issue forth from Man Booker HQ, with the express aim of drumming up the maximum amount of media attention. And in this endeavour the Man Booker organisers have been spectacularly successful; the publicity generated for the shortlisted nominees makes the Man Booker one of the most sought-after awards in the industry (although, the £50,000 prize pot is hardly a disincentive either!). In short, PR has become the lifeblood of the Man Booker Prize.

Spare a thought, then, for the Man Booker International Prize. Often regarded as the poor relation to the more widely-known Man Booker Prize, the International award was set up in 2005 as a biennial event to complement the original. The International Prize focuses on a writer’s entire body of work, and judges the author on his or her overall contribution to literature. Unfortunately, the Man Booker International Prize has failed to capture the imagination of media commentators and has not managed to achieve the dizzying heights of press attention enjoyed by its older cousin … until now.

Today, in the Great Hall of the University of Sydney, with a relatively modest amount of fanfare, the short-listed nominees for the 2011 Man Booker International Prize were announced. The press reaction was largely muted and perfunctory – until one of the nominees, John le Carré, author of such celebrated novels as The Spy Who Came in From The Cold and The Constant Gardener, whipped up a maelstrom of controversy…

In a move which will doubtless have Man Booker International’s PR minions doing a happy dance around the office in unrestrained glee, le Carré dramatically requested that his name be withdrawn from contention. In a statement issued through his publishers, le Carré said, "I am enormously flattered to be named as a finalist of the 2011 Man Booker International prize. However, I do not compete for literary prizes and have therefore asked for my name to be withdrawn."

If this was not enough to get the pundits salivating, the response of Rick Gekoski, the chairman of the judging panel, certainly was. Gekoski pointedly disregarded le Carré’s request by saying, "John le Carré's name will, of course, remain on the list. We are disappointed that he wants to withdraw from further consideration because we are great admirers of his work."

And so it appears that the Man Booker International Prize is faced with a stand-off between an unwilling nominee and a dogmatic judge … and it seems neither party is willing to concede ground.

Although it is highly unlikely that the judging panel will now award the prize to their recalcitrant nominee, le Carré’s refusal to participate has generated enormous publicity for the Man Booker International Prize, ensuring it will be one of the most closely watched literary awards in recent years – and this can only benefit all concerned.

Three cheers for John le Carré!

The complete list of the 2011 Man Booker International Prize shortlist is as follows:
 - Wang Anyi (China)
 - Juan Goytisolo (Spain)
 - James Kelman (UK)
 - John le Carre (UK)
 - Amin Maalouf (Lebanon)
 - David Malouf (Australia)
 - Dacia Maraini (Italy)
 - Rohinton Mistry (India/Canada)
 - Philip Pullman (UK)
 - Marilynne Robinson (USA)
 - Philip Roth (US)
 - Su Tong (China)
 - Anne Tyler (US)

Previous Winners of the Man Booker International Prize:
 - 2005 Ismail Kadare (Albania)
 - 2007 Chinua Achebe (Nigeria)
 - 2009 Alice Munro (Canada)

The winner of the 2011 prize will be announced at the Sydney Writers Festival on May 18th.

Update: The Man Booker International Prize for 2011 was awarded to Philip Roth.  The decision was not unanimous - feminist author and publisher, Carmen Callil has resigned from the judging panel in protest.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Virginia's Last Letter

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the death of Virginia Woolf. On March 28th, 1941, at the age of 59, the writer took her own life by filling her pockets with rocks and wading into the fast-flowing River Ouse near her home in Rodwell, East Sussex. Her body was found three weeks later by children playing near the banks of the river, a long way downstream from where she died …

Virginia had struggled with bouts of severe mental illness for most of her life, and had attempted suicide on more than one occasion. She relied heavily on the support of the husband Leonard, and many believe that his love and devotion was the reason Virginia managed to survive so long against the relenting onslaught of the demons that plagued her.

In his autobiography, The Journey Not the Arrival Matters, Leonard described how the final bout of Virginia’s illness caught everyone by surprise, leaving her family and friends powerless to prevent its destructive and ultimately fatal consequences.
"For years I had been accustomed to watch for signs of danger in V's mind; and the warning symptoms had come on slowly and unmistakably; the headache, the sleeplessness, the inability to concentrate. We had learnt that a breakdown could always be avoided, if she immediately retired into a cocoon of quiescence when the symptoms showed themselves. But this time there were no warning symptoms."
Virginia, for her part, seemed to be painfully aware of the effect her illness had on the lives of those around her. Before her death, she wrote three letters: one to her sister, the painter Vanessa Bell, and two to Leonard. In the last of these letters, she acknowledges the debt of gratitude she owes her husband, and expresses her desire to no longer be a burden to him. It is tender, poignant and unutterably heartbreaking … a final love letter to the one man who brought her happiness …

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that - everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

Virginia by Vanessa Bell
And so it was: on this day in 1941, the dim lights of Virginia Woolf’s troubled life were finally extinguished. Leonard lost a wife, Vanessa lost a sister … and the world lost an irreplaceable literary talent.

To read the New York Times obituary of Virginia Woolf, click here:

Monday, 21 March 2011

How To Become a Famous Novelist

As regular followers will attest, I am quite fond of writing the odd book review. In fact, truth be told, this blog has seen more than its fair share of them … but no more, dear readers! This reviewer has finally seen the error of her ways. The following will be the last book review I will ever write… and even as I put pen to paper* to compose this final dispatch, I do so with a heart heavy with shame and regret.

Up until now, it was my firm belief that the job of a book reviewer was to advance the literary cause. Drawing the public’s attention to good writing, while denouncing the bad was, I believed, a worthy occupation. However, nothing could be further from the truth – at least according to Pete Tarslaw, the protagonist in Steve Hely’s fictional debut How I Became a Famous Novelist.

The book, ostensibly an account of one man’s crusade to become a bestselling author, is in reality a vehicle through which Hely mercilessly lampoons many aspects of the publishing industry, including (you’ve guessed it) book reviewers. Our protagonist’s opinion of reviewers is unequivocal, to say the least. According to him, they are:
“… the most despicable, loathsome order of swine … snivelling, revolting creatures who feed their own appetites for bile by gnawing apart other people’s work… they are human garbage [who] all deserve to be struck down by awful diseases described in the most obscure dermatology journals ..”
Hmmm … there’s nothing quite like being called the scum of humanity (I’m paraphrasing) to make one re-assess one’s career path.  But I digress …

Prejudice against book reviewers aside, this novel is simply brilliant. The premise is rather ingenious - a down-trodden, unlucky-in-love, would-be
writer is eking out a miserable existence in a dead-end job when he is struck by a proverbial thunderbolt. Suddenly recognising the fundamental spuriousness of the publishing industry, our hero comes to the conclusion that the business of writing and publishing is nothing more than a complex exercise in deception. Convinced that bestselling authors are simply con artists who make a substantial living by manipulating the emotions of the reading public, Pete undertakes an elaborate counter-con … using his new-found insight, he sets about writing his own bestseller with hilarious results.

How I Became a Famous Novelist is laugh-out-loud, side-splittingly funny and gloriously ironic. It shines an unforgiving light on the workings of the publishing industry and exposes the pretentiousness which surrounds literary writing, and of course literary review. If you are a fan of no-holds-barred satire, you’ll love this!

And now, I’m off in search of alternative, worthier employment. Maybe I’ll try my luck as a traffic warden? Or a telemarketer? Estate agent? A tax inspector, perhaps? Anything, it seems, would be better than a devilish book reviewer.

How I Became a Successful Novelist is published by Corsair and is available in paperback from March 24th.

(* figuratively speaking, of course; ‘fingers to keyboard’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it?)

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Warhol's Blue Queen

Betty Blue
Andy Warhol was nothing if not resilient. Throughout his life, he faced many challenges, from a childhood marred by extreme poverty and mystery illnesses to widespread criticism of his work in adulthood. Warhol, however, managed to overcome it all thanks to an unshakeable (some would say deluded) self-confidence and an astounding commercial insight. Love him or loathe him, his tenacity cannot but be admired. And now, almost 25 years after death, the work he left behind is proving to be just as resilient …

Amid much speculation about how the bleak economic outlook is impacting on art sales, Warhol’s work continues to hold its value. At a recent sale by Bonham’s auctioneers, Warhol’s 1985 screen-print of a young Queen Elizabeth II, sold for a better-than-expected £37,500. The print, which shows HMQ resplendent in blue and purple hues, her tiara twinkling with a liberal sprinkling of diamond dust, was part of Warhol’s Reigning Queens collection, which included the monarchs of Netherlands, Denmark and Swaziland.

The sale of this portrait, which interestingly is the only one The Queen has neither commissioned nor sat for, is evidence that the pop artist’s appeal remains strong. 

His notoriety, which has lasted for considerably longer than fifteen minutes, continues unabated.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Gatsby House - Beautiful and Damned?

Overlooking Long Island Sound in New York stands an imposing white mansion called Land’s End. Built in 1902, in the Colonial Revival style popular at the turn of the 20th century, the 25-room house was one of many built in the area by wealthy families keen to escape the demands of city life. (In the early 1900s, New York’s urban sprawl had not yet engulfed the Long Island area, making it an attractive destination for those wishing to flee the hustle and bustle of the city.)

Over a century later, it is obvious that the passage of time has not been kind to these once-magnificent buildings. Most have disappeared, while the few that remain have fallen into a state of chronic disrepair. Land’s End is no exception – now virtually abandoned, the dilapidated house is a weak reflection of its former brilliance, its faded grandeur only vaguely hinting at the halcyon period of its glory days during the 1920s.

It came as no surprise, then, when it was announced that the present
owner plans to demolish the crumbling house, and in its place build five new mini-mansions, expected to be worth about $10 million each. Land’s End, one of the last remaining vestiges of a by-gone era, looks set to become yet another victim of the unrelenting march of ‘progress’…

This in itself is hardly newsworthy. After all, it is a story that has played out many times before. Yet, the impending demise of Land’s End has been making headlines all over the United States. Why? Well, it seems this particular house has some quite unexpected literary connections …

According to local legend, Land’s End was the inspiration for one of the greatest novels in American literature - F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It is widely believed that the author was so enamoured with the house that he used it as a model for Daisy Buchanan’s mansion in his seminal 1925 novel. The fact that Fitzgerald was a regular guest at the property when it was owned by his friend Herbert Bayard Swope adds credibility to this urban legend.

Unsurprisingly, the current owner has attracted much criticism for his plan to raze such an important cultural landmark. Both conservationists and literary buffs alike are outraged at the prospect. In response, the beleaguered owner argues that he is left with no choice. In an attempt to avoid demolishing Land’s End, he tried to sell the property - but potential buyers baulked at the $30 million price tag. It seems that the house is something of a money-pit, costing the owner an astonishing $4,500 per day for maintenance and security – an unsustainable amount even for the wealthiest of property developers.

So, how is this story to end? Is the beautiful house doomed, like the characters in Gatsby, to a tragic and ignominious demise … or will a deep-pocketed benefactor materialise to bestow on the house an eleventh hour reprieve from its date with the demolition ball?

Let’s hope for the latter …

Update: On April 16, 2011, Lands End was indeed demolished - a great loss for literary history. See a report on the demolition from CBS:

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Frankenstein Looms Large in the West End

London’s West End is enjoying something of a resurgence in popularity of late. I’m not talking about box office sales figures here, although certainly there has been an increase in takings in recent years, despite the economic slump. No, what I’m referring to is the number of big-name Hollywood actors and directors who have been beating a path to the stage doors of the capital’s renowned theatre district. Once the stomping ground of bohemian and impoverished thespians, the West End has now become the destination of choice for screen actors as diverse as Jeff Goldblum and David Hyde Pierce – and in their rush to thread the hallowed boards, many agree to work for a fraction of their normal salaries.

When asked about the reasoning behind their decision to forsake the bright, sunny climes of LA, in favour of a gruelling three month run in front of unforgiving London audiences in equally unforgiving weather, many of these actors respond with the usual platitudes – a desire to return to their ‘acting roots’, a yearning to get in touch with real audiences, a longing for the credibility reserved only for stage actors …. All of these explanations may be to a greater or lesser extent true, but one can’t help but feel that the real reason for this mass exodus to London lies squarely with one man – Kevin Spacey.

Back in 2003, when Spacey, a hugely successful Oscar-winning actor, all but abandoned his glittering Hollywood career to take up the position of Artistic Director at the Old Vic,
his express intention was to re-invigorate the British theatre industry by coaxing British and American acting talent back to the stage. And sure enough, thanks to a bulging contact list, a massive media blitz, and a liberal sprinkling of Spacey star-dust, the big names soon came flocking to our shores. A mere trickle at first, quickly grew to a tsunami: before long, London stages were groaning under the weight of movie stars … because, as we all know, if there’s one thing Hollywood can’t resist, it’s a craze.

And so, a new golden age of theatre was born – and 2011 is proving to be its best year yet…

Currently, dotted around the West End, celebrities such as Keira Knightley, Elizabeth Moss, Matthew Fox and Sienna Miller are busy trying to prove their theatre-acting chops. However, the most exciting of all the current batch of big name productions has to be Frankenstein, the National Theatre’s blockbuster dramatisation of Mary Shelley’s classic gothic novel.

Directed by none other than Danny Boyle (who brought us Slumdog Millionaire, 127 Hours and Trainspotting), it also stars Jonny Lee Miller (another Trainspotting alumnus and ex-husband of Angelina Jolie) and Benedict Cumberbatch (fresh from his success playing Sherlock Holmes in the BBC’s eponymous drama). With such a cast of characters on board, this show could not fail to hit the mark. In fact, even before the show was previewed, whispers abounded that this would be a show not to be missed - a prediction that proved to be true.

Thanks mainly to Boyle’s unique re-imagining of a now-familiar tale, and the astonishingly visceral acting of his leading men(Cumberbatch and Miller alternate between the roles of Victor and Creature), the show has proved to be an astounding success.
Having recently opened to rave reviews, with critics falling over themselves to heap praise the production, the run is completely sold out. Demand is such that the National Theatre has agreed to the unprecedented move of beaming two performances of the show live to cinemas around the world. (Whether this massive demand is due to the inspired direction and stellar acting, or to a legion of women desirous to see the leading men naked in their role as Creature, I cannot say.)

The outstanding success the production has, in accordance with Spacey’s vision, proved to be a boon for British theatre.
Frankenstein has attracted unparalleled media coverage, drawing the world’s attention to the London stage and re-igniting interest in the theatre. This will ultimately benefit everyone – actors, theatre-goers, theatre owners alike. Everyone wins. If this is the result of the unlikely blending of new Hollywood with the old British theatre tradition, long may it continue.

All hail the genius that is Kevin Spacey.

For further information on cinema screenings of Frankenstein, see the National Theatre's website:

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Picasso’s Nude Grabs the Spotlight

Today’s art world is replete with big personalities – and even bigger egos. It goes with the territory in our celebrity-obsessed society. Fame, and occasionally notoriety, have become a by-product of artistic success: remember how Tracey Emin became front-page news when the most reclusive of art dealers, Charles Saatchi, plucked her and her unmade bed from relative obscurity?

Unfortunately, the cult of personality that springs up around successful artists often has a diminishing effect on the work they produce. The art is left to languish in the shade, while the artist soaks up the spotlight: the artist outshines the art. One only has to look to artists such as Damien Hirst and Banksy for proof - they are classic examples of those who have built a brand around their legendary name rather than their actual work.

This is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is a trend that can be traced all the way back to the early 20th century, past Warhol and even Dalí, to the granddaddy of infamous artists – Pablo Picasso.

Let’s think about this for a minute. Picasso was a huge celebrity during his lifetime, famous not just for his ground-breaking work in Cubism, but also for the unorthodox life he led, his tangled love-life and the bohemian company he kept. (Picasso forged friendships with the likes of Chanel, Serge Diaghilev, Jean Cocteau and Stravinsky, and courted controversy by joining the Communist Party in 1944.) Eventually, inevitably, the Picasso legend surpassed the Picasso art, and this has remained true right up to the present day. Most people have heard of Pablo Picasso, but how many have seen his work?

Admittedly, there have been a couple of works by the Spanish cubist master that have emerged from the shadow of their creator, most notably Guernica. The artist’s harrowing and haunting depiction of the brutal bombing of a small rural town during the Spanish Civil War inspires an immense depth of feeling among those who see it, with the result that the painting has become legendary in its own right. This is a work that stands alone, unburdened by the infamy of its creator, but laden down with the terrible legacy of a cruel war.


But now, another Picasso creation has been grabbing the headlines, albeit for entirely different reasons. Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, a 1932 painting of Picasso’s sometime mistress Marie-Thérèse Walter, is fast gaining an infamy to rival that of the master himself. Having been hidden away from public view by a private collector for many years (it was only exhibited once, in 1961, to commemorate the artist’s 80th birthday), the painting resurfaced recently after the death of its owner. Understandably, the resulting auction (at Christies New York) attracted much attention, with a projected sale price of $80 million. After a bidding frenzy, the gavel finally came down on a bid of $106 million (£65 million) and Nude, Green Leaves and Bust entered the history books as the most expensive painting ever sold at auction.

When it transpired that the deep-pocketed buyer was an anonymous bidder, the most expensive painting in the world seemed fated to languish in a private collection yet again, to be viewed only by the privileged few. And so, it is hardly surprising that the painting once again garnered headlines this week when Tate Modern announced, with much fanfare, that the work had been given on loan to the gallery by the mysterious owner.

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust
No doubt, Nude, Green Leaves and Bust will attract countless visitors, keen to see the world's most expensive painting. But will it fall victim to it's own success? The heavy price-tag will carry with it a heavy burden of expectation. Undoubtedly, the painting is a wonderful example of Picasso's genius, but as we all know, being the most expensive does not necessarily equate to being the best ...

The painting’s infamy means it has emerged from the shadow of it’s equally famous creator … but will it ever escape the spectre of it’s gigantic price-tag? Ultimately, it will be up to the viewing public to decide ...

"Nude, Green Leaves and Bust" can be viewed in the Poetry and Dream wing of the Tate Modern, London. Admission free.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Bringing Back the Food!

When I first conceived the idea for this blog, it was my express intention to write about all the passions in my life, namely art, music, literature and food - the blog’s title is something of a giveaway in this regard! However, as regular readers will attest (I’m sure there are a couple of you out there …), the focus of the blog has become skewed towards arty musings and book reviews, leaving the subject of food to languish desultorily in the doldrums. Aside from a few measly restaurant reviews and the obligatory article waxing lyrical on the ubiquitous Jamie O, the food factor has been largely ignored.

Why is this? Why have I all but abandoned the topic of food in this blog? Perhaps it is reflective of the fact that I have a lot less time to devote to the kitchen since I began this writing lark. Or maybe, subconsciously, I believed that foodie topics seemed slightly incongruous when pitted against the more lofty reflections on art, music and literature. Whatever the reason, this writer has garnered her resolve and is now making a concerted effort to Bring Back The Food … and what better day to do this than Pancake Tuesday?

First, a bit of history …

Pancake Tuesday is traditionally celebrated by Christians, who refer to the day as Shrove Tuesday. It marks the last day before the commencement of Lent, a period of forty days prior to Easter Sunday, during which Christians engage in some form of fasting. This abstemiousness customarily took the form of denying oneself rich foods, such as butter, sugar and fat. The tradition of making pancakes was borne out of the desire to use up all the offending ingredients before Lent began. And the rest, as they say, is history.

However, for the more secular-minded or non-Christian among my legion of followers (all 19 of you!), Pancake Tuesday is simply a great excuse to luxuriate in a little guilt-free foodie indulgence (after all, it’s only one day a year – what harm could it possibly do?)

After a seemingly unending search, I have finally settled on what I believe to be the perfect recipe for pancake batter. It is, of course, a recipe by the doyenne of British cooking, the unparalleled Ms Delia Smith.

The recipe can be found here:

Serve with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, a generous sprinkling of vanilla-infused sugar - or for the more intrepid among you, a generous slathering of Nutella!

So, what are you waiting for? Get flipping, y’all!

And finally, one last Pancake Day factoid ...

Did you know that the term ‘Mardi Gras’ (meaning a period of celebration) comes from the French for Shrove Tuesday (translated literally as 'Fat Tuesday')?

You do now.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Vivaldi's 'Lost' Flute Concerto

First Enid Blyton, now Vivaldi – there must be something in the air!

Tomorrow morning (March 4), Classic FM will be airing Vivaldi’s ‘lost’ flute concerto, Il Gran Mogol, which was recently discovered in Edinburgh at the National Archives of Scotland.

This will be a world premiére for Classic FM – and an appropriate tribute to the Italian composer on his 333rd birthday.

Tune in to John Suchet’s programme tomorrow from 9am to hear the piece!

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

World Book Night - The Debate

With the inaugural World Book Night happening in just a few days time on March 5, debate is raging in the media as to the relative merits of the scheme (or lack thereof). To date, I am still undecided as to whether World Book Night will prove to be a massive boon to publishing or the death knell for the industry.

For those of you who may be unaware of the scheme, here’s a brief outline: In a bid to introduce more people to the joys of reading,World Book Night with the support of various publishing, booksellers and library associations is planning to give away one million books to lucky recipients all over the UK and Ireland – free, gratis and for nothing. The organisers have chosen 25 titles to be part of the world’s first en-masse book giveaway, including works from authors as diverse as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Alan Bennett, John le Carré, Margaret Atwood and Carol Ann Duffy, to name but a few.

The logistics of such an operation are not to be inconsiderable. Probably the biggest task confronting the organisers has been the recruitment of an army of 20,000 volunteer givers, who will each give away 48 books to people and organisations as they see fit on March 5. (Another 40,000 copies will be offloaded by the event planners.) Add to this the need to co-ordinate the printing, boxing and distribution of one million books to pick-up locations the length and breath of the UK, and you begin to understand the size of the task confronting the organisers.

Despite the audacious nature of this undertaking, the scheme was greeted with almost universal enthusiasm when it was first proposed.
Commentators were quick to heap praise on the project, declaring it a bold move in the battle to revive the ailing fortunes of the humble book in our new multi-media world. Big-name publishers soon clambered onto the growing bandwagon. The project soon attracted some high profile and deep-pocketed sponsors – the list of patrons includes such illustrious names as Nigella Lawson, JK Rowling, Tilda Swinton, Dominic West, Damien Hirst and Richard Branson. The BBC and RTĖ (Ireland’s national broadcaster) responded in kind, announcing a raft of bookish programmes to coincide with the giveaway on March 5.

However, the barrage of positive publicity was not to last. As the World Book Night project gathered steam, faint rumblings of discord were heard on the horizon from various splinter groups in the publishing and bookselling industries. Small publishing houses, independent booksellers and struggling writers, who individually lacked the clout necessary to challenge the big hitters, joined forces to voice their concerns. And, as it turned out, they raised some valid points.

The crux of their argument centred around the belief that flooding an already struggling market with one million free books will have a hugely detrimental effect on the smaller players in the industry. How can booksellers hope to sell any of the 25 titles involved with the project when readers are getting them for free elsewhere? Why buy a book when it is given away for free from another source?

Another argument put forward by World Book Night detractors centres on the fact that money spent by publishers in support of the scheme (estimated to be as much as £40,000 each) is money that could be spent publishing a new author.

Adding to the quagmire of negative publicity is the fact that WBN organisers are struggling to cope with the aforementioned organisational nightmare of bringing this project to fruition. High volunteer drop-out rates are resulted in a frenzied, last-minute flurry of activity in a bid to recruit a large group of ‘reserves’, and a plague of computer glitches has seen a number of emails sent to participants with confusing or incorrect information.

So, will World Book Night be an unqualified success, or will its critics' worst fears be realised? Search me! I’m still oscillating, with my loyalties divided between the two opposing sides. Let’s just wait and see how it all comes out in the wash …