I spent a few minutes browsing through a book shop this morning-- Eason's in Nassau Street. (Well, the shop is actually called Eason, but everybody calls it Eason's and always has, as far as I can tell.)
I was really depressed at what was on the shelves. It seems that nowadays every book has to have a gimmick, an angle-- that it has to be "high concept" in some way. Either it's based on a TV show, or it has a quirky selling point, or it's a tie-in to a recent anniversary, or it's an account of some very distinctive personal experience-- a memoir by someone who was taken hostage by terrorists, or the diary of someone who decides to take a vow of silence for a year, or some such thing. Even history books can't be straight history books-- they have to have some quirky angle, too. (Like Cod: A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World.)
Admittedly, that's quite a small Eason's, and there are better bookshops. But this seems all-too-typical.
This whole attitude bedevilled the 1916 commemorations last year, too. Thankfully, there were plenty of "straight" books and events about the Rising, but there were also far too many "new perspectives". One conference in UCD was themed "Globalizing the Rising." Why should it be "globalized"? It was an Irish event. Yes, if you try hard enough you can find a "new perspective" on anything, but all too often it's simply a perverse perspective- like the all-male version of The Importance of Being Earnest that was staged in Dublin some years ago.
Most of the time, I think the "straight" approach (to anything) can be pursued indefinitely, without becoming worn out. How many books could you write about world history, without taking any silly gimmick as your focus, such as the history of cod? It's as though one day you decided to walk about on your hands instead of your feet, since you decided you'd taken that approach as far as it could go. Walking about on your hands is really not going to offer any new possibilities. It might be worth doing as a joke, or to raise money for charity, or something like that. But if, after you'd spent a day walking about on your hands-- to everybody's great amusement-- you then decided you were going to give hopping or crawling or dancing a try, you could hardly be surprised if public enthusiasm for your antics began to diminish.
And yet, people still seem to want to buy world histories of cod, and books such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. What's wrong with them?