Skip to content

Reflections of a working writer and reader



Presque vu V

The publishing Web site Bowker reported that there were more new book titles sold in Great Britain last year – 206,000 new titles, an increase of 28 percent – than in the United States -172,000 new titles, a decrease of 18 percent.


This is from Rilke’s third Sonnet to Orpheus:

. . . song is existence. Easy for the god. But

when do we exist? And when does he spend

the earth and the stars on our being?

When we love? That’s what you think when

you’re young;

not so, though your voice forces open your mouth, –

learn to forget how you sang. That fades.

Real singing is a different kind of breath.

A nothing-breath. A ripple in the god. A wind.


The Devil seeks out the writer and says, ‘I will make you the best writer of your generation. Listen, never mind generation – the best writer of this century. Even this millennium. I will make you not only the best, but the most famous, the richest, and I’ll make you very influential so all other writers will copy your style and your glory will live for ever. All you have to do is sell me your grandmother, your mother, your partner, your kids, your dog and your soul.’

‘Sure, says the writer. You got it. Absolutely – give me the pen, where do I sign?’ Then there is a visible hesitation, a pulling back. ‘Just a minute,’ looking the Devil right in the eye. ‘What’s the catch?’


Bob Dylan’s first new album in five years is Modern Times. And it was worth waiting for. A mixture of blues, swing and rock’n’roll with Dylan’s soft voice and some surprisingly catchy melodies. The title is a nod to the 1936 Chaplin film of the same name, which showed The Tramp struggling to live in modern industrial society with the help of a young homeless woman. Seventy years later, Dylan depicts the lower classes returning to unsure wages, homelessness and insecurity, this time at the hand of globalization. Many of the songs on the album seem to suggest that salvation can be found in the love of a good woman, but the sixth track, Working Man’s Blues #2, has a strident chorus which includes the lines:

Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the frontline
Sing a little bit of these workingman blues.



5 Responses to “Presque vu V”

  1. Andy says:

    I had heard little Dylan before his new album – I came along too late – but I find his new recording absolutely amazing. Very, very, VERY good.

    I also wanted to say I noticed you got a heads-up on the 9rules blog. Congrats! x

  2. The Narrator says:

    I haven’t fully hooked in to the new Dylan. I think I will always think that he peaked absolutely with Blood on the Tracks, but I am glad new generations are discovering him.

    The US publishing industry is crashing. They are so dedicated to finding “the big book” that instead of giving $5,000 advances to a dozen writers and seeing what comes of those dozen books, they insist on minimum payments of $60,000 to one pseudo-ex-celebrity in hopes of scoring big. It’s sad. A walk through the typical American bookstore is quite depressing. A Dublin bookstore can cram twice as much diversity into one tenth the space as a bookshop in Chicago.

    jb says: Yeah. Blood on the Tracks was the one.
    And the UK publishing industry is going the same way you describe. Publishers are exclusively interested in shifting ‘product’.

  3. Steve Clackson says:

    Thanks for a good laugh on this miserable cold rainy day!

  4. Dick says:

    Love the gag!

    Yes, the Dylan album definitely confirms a late flowering. Interesting how where once he nicked tunes with impunity, now it’s titles – Working Man Blues (Sleepy John Estes), Rolling & Tumbling (Muddy Waters), The Levee’s Gonna Break (When The Levee Breaks – Memphis Minnie). But who cares? Dylan’s in the ascendant 45 years on!

  5. Mikeachim says:

    The relatively wee Great Britain tops the stonking vastness of the United States in new book titles – raw figures? So, not only is it in decline in the US, it’s grotesquely disproportionate anyway?
    (Or maybe the Brits are neoliterariphiliacs).