Saturday, 18 January 2014

This year could be a bright one for the radical booktrade

One of the radical booktrade successes of  last year was the first London Radical Bookfair, which attracted fifty publishers and booksellers to London’s Conway Hall in May. To everyone’s surprise, and pleasure, the venue proved to be too small for the crowds and this year the Bookfair moves to Bishopsgate Institute on May 10th. There is already a longstanding Radical Bookfair in Edinburgh run by Word Power Books. In Nottingham Five Leaves Bookshop will be organising a one day event in the autumn in conjunction with the local People’s Assembly, but at the Bishopsgate event you’ll find more radical publishers and booksellers in one space than anywhere else over the year.

The Institute will also be hosting a series of radical talks leading up to the Bookfair but on the day itself the shortlisted authors for the Bread and Roses Award for Radical Publishing will be strutting their stuff. The Award itself is now in its third year and will be presented along with the Little Rebels prize for radical children’s books on the 10th. The Radical Bookfair complements the longstanding Anarchist Bookfair in October, which has consistently attracted up to 4,000 people, from a wider range of political traditions than you would expect.

The other date in the diary for leftie bibliophiles is June 1st, when one of the events celebrating the fortieth birthday of the News from Nowhere Bookshop in Liverpool is marked by a bookfair at the Bluecoat arts centre in the city.

For radical booksellers, publishers and readers the best present 2014 could bring is a general shift away from Amazon by book buyers. Last year’s Panorama programme, press reports on the firm’s employment practices, strike action in Germany and independent booksellers constantly mentioning tax dodging, all had an impact. But we still need a critical mass of people to buy their books elsewhere.

Ideally, I’d say to buy from a radical bookshop or at least an independent bookshop, but I hope 2014 will not see a further decline in the only big chain left standing, Waterstones. Last year the company sacked 200 or so managers and Christmas sales were down. I could argue about the business’s stocking policies, but at the moment the industry needs the chain to thrive and the publishing economy depends on it.

But what will radical readers read? Bookshops will be heaving with books on WW1 but I suspect most readers here will be more interested in that recent - if less bloody - war, the one between Margaret Thatcher and the National Union of Miners. There will be many books published, including our own book on Nottinghamshire, Look Back in Anger: Nottinghamshire and the Miners’ Strike - 30 years On but the one that is likely to have  the most national attention will be the new edition of Seamas Milne’s The Enemy Within (Verso).

A couple of years ago the book everyone was reading was Owen Jones’ Chavs, about the vilification of the working class by the Establishment. In September he will vilify The Establishment itself in his book to be published by Allen Lane.  There will be a lot of books out about the economy, but the one the left will read most is perhaps Richard Seymour’s Against Austerity (Pluto). Leftist readers should also look out for the paperback of The Village Against the World by Dan Hancox (Verso) about the Spanish village Marinaleda where residents have been trying to create a socialist oasis as an answer to the collapse of the Spanish economy.

As the big publishing conglomerates continue to merge, space continues to open up for smaller companies. One new company to look out for is Pimpernel, which expects to launch in the spring with a new edition of Nairn’s London. Another small independent to watch is Notting Hill Editions, dedicated to bringing back essay publishing. Their essay writers  range from right to left, but are intellectually challenging without being inaccessible. We could do with more of that.

The arts event I’m looking forward to locally, which has no specific book interest (though the exhibition catalogue and several other books by him are available at the Five Leaves Bookshop) is Jeremy Deller’s All That Is Solid Melts Into Air. The exhibition has just ended at Manchester Arts Gallery before moving to Nottingham Castle Museum and Art Gallery on 29th January, and then to Coventry and Newcastle. Deller’s exhibition explores industrialisation and its impact up to today, and he draws on working class culture in photography and film.

But if I could have one wish for 2014 it would be that library campaigners win, against this philistine government!

A version of this article appeared in the Morning Star on 16 January

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