If you’ve spent any time in a corporate-owned bookstore lately, which isn’t easy as most have been eliminated from the cultural landscape, you may have realized the publishing world’s dirty little secret: books aren’t enough to keep the machine churning anymore, at least not books alone. Even Amazon, the world’s biggest superstore – and began their world conquest by selling books – now trades almost exclusively in anything but. Sure, they may sell loads of Kindles, but on Amazon.com every day is Cyber Monday.
Take a peek into any Barnes & Noble and you’ll be hit with the unmistakable scent of the modern world: toys, stuffed animals, board games, overpriced coffee and lemon loaf. Anything printed on good old-fashioned paper, sadly, has taken a backseat to anything not printed on the recycled compressed cellulose pulp. Even paper books about Paper. The marquee may say “Bookstore”, but we all know who butters their bread. Gas stations work on the same principle; come for the fossil fuel, stay for the microwavable burritos.
Only you’d never find something like The Snooty Bookshop: Fifty Literary Postcards being sold in gas stations, unless it’s the coolest gas station in the world. It’s the latest from Tom Gauld, that Scottish cartoonist whose comics have titillated those who prefer their pop-culture references a bit more wordy and esoteric. I say latest and not “newest” because if you’re looking for “new” you’ll want to check out last year’s Baking With Kafka, his superb collection of more recent reprints from The Guardian.
With Snooty Bookshop, however, you’ll get a wider cross section of cherry-picked highlights culling from the same well, each drawn in Gauld’s impeccably clean style that resembles classic woodblock printing mixed with Photoshop highlights. In this way it’s not unlike his sense of humor itself; a nice mix of old-fashioned fun for the future set.
Only this isn’t your standard collection of paper reprints, but fifty comics from one of the world’s finest observers of bibliophilic comedy, printed on high-quality paper (which feels like 100lb stock) and suitable for easy mailing. Because of this there’s nothing really ‘new’ for longtime fans, though when you consider its a collection commercially intended to be torn apart and circulated via snail mail it somehow makes a little more sense. With fifty ‘pages’ that’s roughly one postcard per week, meaning you should get a full year of usage from this if you plan your mailing activities properly.
Gauld’s comics work best when straddling the worlds of literature and publishing, both historically and critically, uncovering the unique peculiarities and peccadilloes that help make book culture so interesting. By doing so he mines, rather than mocks, untapped funny from those allusions, illusions and – I’m sorry writers! – delusions within literature itself. That he’s able to do all of this without a hint of mean-spirited cynicism or malice is remarkable enough, but that he’s able to make his illustrated beacons to literature so accessible to everyone really seals the deal.
Here’s some examples!
The poor literary classic (The Set Text) who doesn’t realize his place in the modern world. Or searching through those Airbnb reviews before staying at Castle Dracula. Or how the classic story of the “slightly vain but reasonable queen” with her magic mirror is different than you might remember. Gauld also offers some real health hazards one should consider before deciding to become an author, like how carrying all those royalties to the bank could be hell on your poor back.
Speaking of selling ideas, need some handy tips for getting your novel published during the skeleton apocalypse? You’ll get them here. Or about the dangers of waiting too long to write the perfect horror dystopian novel. What does author Jonathan Franzen say no to? He says no to Everything! And, of course, the timeless fact that all classic literature really is jealous of that jetpack.
Gauld isn’t alone in repackaging his greatest hits for more practical purposes; I bet Gary Larson rakes in millions selling desk and wall calendars from The Far Side, and that ended a quarter-century ago. Jim Davis still brings home the lasagne with Garfield merchandise and the world could always use more Charlie Brown and Snoopy. There’s still fortunes to be made with proper use of the funnies – just don’t bring up the subject with Bill Watterson.
And he isn’t above punning, either, and hardly the first cartoonist to overwork such an easy device into his funnies. At least he’s nowhere as overt as a certain rat and pig-drawing someone we know about it. Also, does anyone draw bookshelves so perfectly as Gauld? I didn’t think so.
The Snooty Bookshop: Fifty Literary Postcards is a collection that practically requires you to discard the modern world – and discard Gauld’s comics as well – to enjoy fully. But just think of the enjoyment you’ll have, either for yourself or for those lucky enough to receive one of his comics in the mail. So pick up a copy either for yourself (a wise choice) or with the noble intention of tearing out its pages, drafting your own witty sentences on the back and sending a little enlightened love through the post to someone who could use it. Just don’t forget the stamps!