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Tom Eaton

@ Sunday Times Books LIVE

Mind the gap

Loitering in fiction section of a Bookshop, God knows why as new books make me anxious and depressed. But still, vanity frogmarches me down the shelves and the alphabet to the E’s, just to see if my novel is there. I realise I am walking like middle-aged men walk in sex shops, just before they are offered help by a clerk and blurt, “No thanks, I’m just looking.” Crabwise, raincoated, tumescent.

It’s not there, and there’s a brief and familiar argument between my two rival gangs of Greek choruses, standing at stage left and right. Gang A: “It’s not here because they’ve sold out.” Gang B: “It’s not here because they’ve sold out and haven’t re-ordered.” Gang A: “But they sold out.” Gang B: “YOU sold out.” Gang A: “Yo mamma.”

But they’ve become dull over the months, and in that time I’ve become more interested in examining the gap where my novel once stood than wondering what the gap means for global literature and my career.

The gap is usually demarcated by two pillars, obelisks in the desert that have not yet crumbled. Usually they’re worthy tomes by Easton and Eatwell, or Easter and and Ebbings. In more ratty bookshops they tend to be less terse and waspish, as harried staff re-shelve books by title instead of author: observe the Eagle Annual of 1958, then my gap, and then a collection of annotated Eggnog recipes.

If the bookshop is ratty and frequented by academics the pillars are usually very worthy and utterly unreadable: The Agony and Ebony (filed under ‘Ebony’ by accident), a postcolonial biography dwelling on Michelangelo’s Moorish influences; and either its sequel or something on quantity surveying by Edelstein, Edelstein, Edelstein and Smit.

But in this Bookshop the gap is somewhat more telling. It is constructed thusly: Dostoevsky, GAP, Eco.

How pernicious this writing stuff is. How it lies, constantly. Sit snug and smug between Fyodor and Umberto and you’ve made it. Provide a tennis court for fishmoths while the Russian and Italian loom on either side, and it’s as if you never existed.

I don’t mind the gap, but I do mind that it makes me so vain, and so erratic.

 

Recent comments:

  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 3rd, 2008 @15:59 #
     
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    Only middle-aged men? I wonder, do the yoof of today bound like Bambi into sex shops as if they're just picking up a quick multi-coloured cover for their cellphones, beaming still from that kiff new ring tone they've just downloaded?

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    December 3rd, 2008 @16:07 #
     
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    There are only two things to do in this situation. One: cultivate an appreciation for how negative space is useful to the right-brained -

    http://z.about.com/d/painting/1/0/d/W/1/NegativeSpace-Vase.jpg

    - and two: use said new appreciation to cancel the negative space out, knocking its ass back to whatever hole it crawled out of, by writing another book.

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 3rd, 2008 @16:31 #
     
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    I think that server is up the creek...

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 3rd, 2008 @16:45 #
     
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    Taffie darlink, you were never vain about your journalism, your sports writing, your satire, your funny stuff. In the case of The Wading, it's about bloody time you were vain. If I had written something half as lovely, I'd be unspeakably conceited.

    PS: Meg & Lily say that if they had opposable thumbs and credit cards, they would hunt down your book too. In spite of the terrible scene on page 9.

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    December 3rd, 2008 @16:51 #
     
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    What server?

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 3rd, 2008 @17:42 #
     
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    Server for the link you posted. Although, I notice that BookSA (homepage) also never completes a refresh. I mean, the page loads, but the loading bar in the bottom right (status bar) never completes, or remains empty.

    Taffie? Helen, this is a public space...

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  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    December 3rd, 2008 @17:48 #
     
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    Rustum, that's pretty troubling stuff. BOOK SA doesn't "hang" for me... Also - the link I gave above works on my end. But that's the web for you: generally fubaraat (that's "fubar at all times").

    Helen, didn't you mean, "If I had written something half as lovely beyond any singing" - ?

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 3rd, 2008 @18:08 #
     
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    Maybe my ISP is FUBAR, as it has been disconnecting constantly today. "Fubaraat" sounds very Arabic. Fubaraat, the bad things people gift you to take home, unlike Barakah (Barakat in Cape Town), the parcels of leftover food and goodies...

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    December 3rd, 2008 @18:27 #
     
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    I fear vanity more than death. I have a long history with this phobia, but the most recent origin I can trace to a fallen Austrian monk who told me that vanity like masturbation makes you blind and deaf and so is especially inconvenient for writers. I might have completely misunderstood him because he was speaking a combination of poor French and good German and I was replying in mediocre French and bad German. He also said something about the longest journey being the one from the head to the heart. Although fallen, he was the first monk I ever met and we were both on the way to Santiago. It is probably not a good idea to believe anything, especially not coming from a fallen monk (who had been an Olympic marathon runner on the Austrian team, got injured, became a monk for several years, but on the day I met him was just beyond the point of falling; he had fallen and was going to Santiago hoping the monks there would inspire him back to the cause). Two years later I was greatly insulted when a professor, my supervisor, told me I was not a thinker; so insulted that I turned him into a nun and put him as that dogmatic nun on the last page of my first book --which, Helen recently and kindly saved one copy of from the fate of pulping. The nun in the book was saying the insulting line and I thought until last week it was an excellent revenge. If I had remembered the fallen monk, I would have seen the professor was actually giving me advice and even possibly, a compliment. Now I have frequent ideations about blind deaf novelists going about the task of writing. At this moment these apparitions are like Edvard Munch’s many versioned screamer, who looks like I feel from time to time when I’m working in the book shop and I pause too long and think about all the new books coming daily, piled up high on the relentless new arrivals trolley.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 3rd, 2008 @19:15 #
     
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    The Minister of Sport wishes the Minister of Culture to know that in the course of her important research, she discovered that the writer Tom Eaton was christened Thomas Alexander Felix.

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  • <a href="http://tomeaton.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Tom</a>
    Tom
    December 3rd, 2008 @20:49 #
     
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    Okay Moffett, that's enough out of you. Alex, I think you may have stumbled onto something. If I write another book I will populate it entirely with nuns and monks. That way I can fight the vanity by making excessively humble people talk to each other about pious poverty and its accessories, which I believe include string, beads, bread boards and goats, which are all used to fashion simple pious clothing. Aside: is one still a despot if one forces extremely submissive people to do things? Aren't you just more of an Urger With Authority? The Nun Whisperer..."Sister Mary Magdelene, why don't you go and make me another latte? Now, Sister Mary Magdelene. Chop chop. Don't make me recite that limerick again."

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    December 3rd, 2008 @21:38 #
     
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    Henrietta and The Minister of Culture have some special knowledge of night goats, they will have all the answers.

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 3rd, 2008 @22:22 #
     
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    Now Tom. Just because my parents were sensible enough to give me only one name. BTW, what IS this obsession with goats?

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 3rd, 2008 @23:13 #
     
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    Falling monks. Good story. But, Alex, don't you think that, falling as he was, he was perhaps more of a reliable sage; perhaps he was falling because he was tripped by his own vanity?

    Tom, don't worry, I won't tell anyone. I know how you feel. For god's sake, my full name is Abu Rustum Taaliem Taktu Khan Kozain...

    Helen, yes, from whence does emanate this obsession with the goatly one?

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  • <a href="http://helenmoffett.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Helen</a>
    Helen
    December 4th, 2008 @09:09 #
     
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    Rustum, is that REALLY your name? (thinking how good it would look on the cover of our cookbook... or as a line of poetry)

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  • <a href="http://rustumkozain.book.co.za" rel="nofollow">Rustum Kozain</a>
    Rustum Kozain
    December 4th, 2008 @10:38 #
     
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    Helen, no (thank god); I was just trying to make Mr. Eaton feel better after you divulged some sensitive information.

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  • <a href="http://alexsmith.book.co.za/" rel="nofollow">Alex Smith</a>
    Alex Smith
    December 4th, 2008 @10:45 #
     
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    Rustum, with goats and sages in all stages of profane, pious, excessively pious, falling, fallen and resurrected, my strict policy is to expect no more than fifty percent reliability, it would be rude (and asking for trouble) to expect anymore than that.
    I cannot account for our unfounded devotion to the goat, but I rather like that goat.
    And I am envious of your name.
    And Tom, I look forward your next novel with or without monks and nuns.

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