Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The art of taking offence

Working on a regional paper changes the way you read. You begin to scan each text for references to your circulation area; and, although you probably try not to be conscious of it, you prefer the disparaging. Drawing your readers' attention to an insult and then loudly defending them from it promotes the togetherness on which local journalism thrives.

(This may be one reason why maligned and misunderstood places - shitholes, if you want to take the outsider's view - tend to nourish newspapers. Think of Wolverhampton and Dudley, with their paper bigger than the two Birmingham ones combined. Think of Aberdeen, with its two papers each larger than the prestigious Edinburgh equivalent.)

Also to be considered, especially if you're in a shithole, is the frisson of agreement some of your readers will feel at the insult. When I worked in Aberdeen for a few months, a friend told me to read Christopher Brookmyre's A Big Boy Did It And Ran Away, which gives the place several pages of full-on comic crying-down. I tried the local library, but all 23 copies were on loan.

There are five copies of Geoff Dyer's riff on DH Lawrence, Out of Sheer Rage, in all Nottingham and Nottinghamshire's libraries, and only two of them are in Eastwood. A shame, because his curses upon Eastwood and Notts are first-rate: "Lawrence country - north of Shakespeare's county, south of the Bronte country, bang in the middle of motorway country... there is no getting away from the fact that Eastwood is an ugly little town in an ugly little county".

Perhaps Dyer's whitewater-rafting version of the stream-of-consciousness narrative has kept Eastwoodians out. Perhaps it prevented filleting of the book by the people who would tell them to be offended. Or maybe the gatekeepers were distracted by the quality of the other jokes - this is a man who gathers momentum even as he describes depressed inactivity:

It went on for a couple of months. Laura went to work while I stayed home and did nothing. I read nothing and did nothing. I spent most of the time watching TV which may not sound so extreme but this was mornings and afternoons, it was Italian TV and - the clincher - the TV wasn't even turned on.

Something must be done. Do you think we could start a campaign to ban Out of Sheer Rage in Notts? I regret that I have come to the question so late, but the publicity would still surely bring others to the pleasures of this book. We might even get the libraries up to 23 copies.

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