I didn’t set out consciously to be a book hipster. I started out as an omnivore, cheerfully reading anything that I could get my hands on. Some years ago I started noticing a thing – namely that bookshops made me feel depressed. The TV and movie tie ins, the ghost written celebrity fluff on the front tables, the way in the speculative sections everything looked like everything else… and then the internet and ebooks came along (it was a long time ago!)and I was saved.
I don’t buy or read much from the big publishing houses any more. They just aren’t putting out material that interests me, for the greater part. Instead, I pick up books from small publishers, and self-publishers, and that’s been a joy. I have the advantage of being a reviewer known for doing this, so the books I want quite often come and find me.
Mainstream publishing is a mess, because the decisions are driven by the desire for profit, not the desire for good books. Smaller houses and self publishers can of course be trying to do the same thing, but many aren’t – there’s not much scope for wealth at that scale, you may as well write what you love.
I want to be surprised by books, not locked into a familiar formula. It’s really that simple. When publishing is run by the accountants and the marketing department, you mostly get things that are already famous (and therefore familiar) or you get things that are just like things you already know about. It’s the exact opposite of what I want.
This year I decided to start identifying as a book hipster. I was in a conversation at an arts centre, and someone asked me who I read. I paused, and then I said ‘you won’t have heard of any of them’ and there was really only one way to go after that. Unlike other hipsters, I’m prepared to get excited if more people find the things I’m into. Also, I figure I can probably annoy the other sort of hipsters while I’m at it, which is bound to be fun.