Undaunted, We View the World and Its Woes
Posted by jonathanfryer on Friday, 20th April, 2007
Last night, I went to the launch of Giles MacDonogh’s new book, After the Reich (John Murray), at Daunt’s, the wonderful travel bookshop in Marylebone High Street, with its atmospheric, galleried Edwardian interior and endless shelves of tantalizing tomes that make you want to leave immediately for Turkmenistan, or to start learning Finnish. I have only two really big ambitions in life: to get into the European Parliament (having covered it as a journalist in the 1970s) and to visit every member state of the United Nations. Regarding the latter aim, I have clocked up 158 of the 192 countries so far, and Daunt’s fuels my passion to get to the rest before I pop my clogs.
Giles has effectively carved out a niche for himself as a chronicler of Germany and its history, but whereas some of his earlier books are full of joy and splendour (he is a passionate Prussophile), his latest work is a much more sombre tale, detaling some of the hunger, other privations and suffering in the aftermath of the Second World War. Moreover, he was in fairly combative mood last night, urging people to buy books not online but in bookshops, even if they are more expensive there — not just because this keeps lovely bookshops functioning, but also because authors get a decent royalty on full-price books (typically 10%), whereas on discounted books, they get far less. Only one of Giles’s books ever earned out his initial advance as a result — which oddly enough, is exactly the same situation as mine.
Whereas I lecture and continue journalism as my main ways of keeping my head above water while I write books and politically activate, Giles is a notable wine correspondent (very useful for inveigling Pol Roger champagne to sponsor his book launch!) and also a painter. So the party — for which Giles had himself made focaccia — was a lively mix of the Arts, literature and politics — the latter including the Liberal Democrat peer, Lucius Falkland. I’m not sure how many books the assembled guests had written between them, but enough to fill a couple of shelves anyway! I often think book launches serve a useful purpose of boosting each other’s morale, to give each other the courage to carry on, undaunted.