diamond geezer

 Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I bought Stephen Fry's autobiography yesterday. Sorry, I didn't mean to.

I don't buy hardbacks. I can always wait a year until the paperback. Same words, half the price, so why throw money away? Hardbacks are for mugs. Hardbacks are expensive chunky things. Hardbacks are unnecessarily heavy and take up too much space on bulging bookshelves. The publishing industry uses hardbacks to extort additional cash from rich people with no patience. Want the book now? You can't have it unless you pay extra. And why would I? Except that yesterday I succumbed and bought a hardback, which is so very not me.

I didn't intend to buy the book. I hadn't realised it had even been released yet, because the publicity and hype hadn't yet hit fever pitch. I just happened to be walking past a bookshop window and there it was. A big white hardback with a picture of Stephen on the front and his surname flashing in shiny silver lower case letters. Ah, it's out, I thought. But I don't need it. Not yet.

And then I saw the sticker on the front. "Half Price". Ooh, I thought, half price. I don't know what full price is, but half price sounds like a bargain. Most importantly, half price now is probably equivalent to the full price they'll be charging this time next year for the paperback. So I went inside, and found that full price was £20. Even better, "half price" turned out to be £9.99, which was untrue but was at least in my favour so I wasn't complaining.

Last time I bought a Stephen Fry autobiography, back in 1998, it cost me £6.99. That was for the paperback, because last time I was patient and waited a year. A decade later Volume Two has cost me just three pounds more, which isn't bad considering rampant inflation in the book industry. I have an inbuilt ceiling of £10 when it comes to buying books (and CDs for that matter), above which I feel like I'm being exploited. Not in this case, one penny under, so I was willing to break the habit of a lifetime and buy the hardback.

I had a cross-country train journey to make, and filling it with a book seemed a good use of time. I'd finished my newspaper already, and I don't own an electronic device to act as a boredom killer. If I'd been technologically enabled I could have downloaded Stephen's book to my iPhone instead, because this is a pioneering technolgical book launch. Or I could have forked out £12.99 to transfer his words to some Kindle/iPad/bookreader thingy, if I had one. But I'm old school, I read paper.

I flicked through Stephen on the train all the way home. Before the end of page 7 he'd already managed to mention Twitter, Scylla, Charybdis, Sugar Puffs, ejaculation and a superscribed obelus, which was promising. Alas he then went on to spend almost half the book chronicling his three years at Cambridge, which was amusingly factual though not relentlessly entertaining. But then this is an autobiography, so I should have expected that.

I haven't finished the book yet, the journey wasn't long enough for 425 pages. And Mr Fry hasn't finished his complete autobiography yet, because this volume only goes up until 1987. By the time Volume Three comes out I wonder whether electronic editions will have replaced the printed word, just as downloads are inexorably replacing physical recorded music. That'll warm the technological cockles of Stephen's heart, and reel in several additional millions too. For now, let me reassure you that his latest hardback is well worth every penny of less than half price.

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