bookish

I’ve been having a few bookish ideas of late. Not ideas that indicate I am of a ‘bookish’ disposition, which, of course, I am, but ideas for producing a book… or two. (And why isn’t the study of ideas called ideology?) I have been doing research online reading various information sheets from different publishers on how to transform one’s dissertation into a book. I am not too interested in an attempt at a wholesale publication of it as a single work.

My first idea is to produce a popular history of the scene of modified-car culture in Australia. I have about 60% of the content done, including most of the hard work of actually figuring out what happened. This part would be derived from my dissertation. I am thinking the history will be organised as a genealogy of various issues. For example, the first chapter would be on the importance of the ‘street’ in Australian modified-car culture, so I’d follow the current usage of ‘street’ back to 1973 and the formation of the Australian Street Rod Federation (and the Australian National Drag Racing Association) from the Australian Hot Rod Federation. The ‘street’ side of rodding split with the ‘drag’ side (ie organised motorsport). Next would be a chapter on the road registration/engineering of modified cars followed by another on the transition from rodding and panel vanning in the 1970s to street machining in the 1980s. Then on processes of globalisation and the near-death of the V8 in the early 1980s, and the spectacularisation of the scene, etc.

The historical stuff is sorely needed in the scene to give enthusiasts some awareness (‘consciousness’) of what has gone on and how the scene has developed. There have been a handful of similar books in Australia in the past. Most have not been written histories as much as they have been pictorial accounts of the past. One was an attempt at a kind of social analysis of the 1970s mucle car era. This failed because I don’t think the author or publisher realised that hoons and car dudes simply don’t go into bookshops to buy books. You need to take the books to them, i.e. set up a stall at every major car show event on the eastern seaboard for a year. Robert Post did the same thing with his history of US drag racing. In Australia, most (about 5 or 6 different shows) get more than 20-25,000 people through the gates. Summernats gets 80-100,000. Not all of the same demographic or market. All would be catered for in my book, however. Only 10% of the enthusiast market (of at least the 120,000 enthusiasts I guestimate who regularly purchase the main 5-6 car mags every month) would need to buy the book for it to be a success. I think it would have broader appeal though…

So I have started writing the introduction, and it is so much fun. I am writing in similar style to that of when I used to write for car magazines. It is almost poetic. While I aimed for conceptual precision and evidential competence in my dissertation, now I am aiming for expressive style. I have a few ideas about the layout, too. It would follow more the magazine-style (which in this context would almost be text book style!) of ‘breakout boxes’ for side stories and the like. (Latour did it in Reassembling the Social.)

I am not sure if this is the sort of thing that I could apply in the hope of postdoc funding? I am a bit sick and tired of the fucked university system at the moment after weeks of fine-paying and logon-details waiting. I would much rather fund it myself as the labor intensive hoop-jumping that I see my colleagues and mates perform really doesn’t interest me. The lumbering hulk of university bureaucracy inculcates a kind of organisational stupidity that I detest. Not that people who work at universities are stupid, but that they need to perform their jobs as if they were stupid. I don’t want that sort of burden. If I can get a few regular teaching gigs, then i would rather fund myself. Maybe I can’t? See what happens.

The other 40% content will come from interviews I hope to do with important people who played important parts in this history. I need the authenticity of their stories and their knowledge of events to fact-check the accounts I have gleamed from magazine archival work. I reckon this would be fun as it would require carrying out a whole bunch of interviews with very fascinating people.

The other book is a fuck-off theory number. I think called something like: “Enthusiasm: The ontology of the challenge” (Has anyone else noticed how often the word ‘challenge’ is being used at the moment?) Anyway, it would also be written in a performative expressive style, but in such a way to present a challenge and inaugurate a different kind of enthusiasm… Not sure about this one. It would be quite short, 4 or 5 chapters at most. It has to be some viscious sinister-looking thing, with a matt black cover and metallic chrome writing.

First I need to graduate and let the monstrous infantilising machine of the university do its thing.

5 thoughts on “bookish”

  1. “It would follow more the magazine-style (which in this context would almost be text book style!) of ‘breakout boxes’ for side stories and the like.”

    Funny thing is, what “in this context” would be “text book style” is also, nowadays, the predominant style of text books.

    Good luck with the projects, glen. They both sound great. Wish I could give you some useful tips on how to get a book contract, but the fact that it took me nothing less than 6 different proposals submitted to more than 30 publishers over the course of 7 years to finally get a contract (with possibly the smallest, least-known publisher in the world) suggests that you’re better off doing the opposite of whatever I might suggest.

  2. This is beautiful! I have been struggling with book ideas and had thought I’d just make it into an academic book version of the thesis’ argument. I only imagined that a ‘fun’ book, mostly to do with the history of contemporary swing dance (weird how our project overlap…) was impossible.
    Funding? Fuck off. My partner is funding my writing. So I owe him. I figure it’s the patriarchy’s turn to fund the Sister’s utterly indulgent project… so I guess you need a sugar daddy… and why does it feel like the ‘fun’ project is indulgent or naughty?

  3. thanks rob and dp!

    You may want to stay anon, rob, but what book!?!? I think the more visually tactile style of contemporary magazines better suits the reading practices of the target market than that of straight block-o-text style of traditional non-fiction books.

    dp! indulgent or naughty?!?!?! wtf! this is me in ruthless ultra-capitalistic child-of-neoliberalism exploiting-opportunities entrepreneurial mode. A non-fiction book that has the potential to sell 10 thousand copies to a core market and double that to the general population is a wonderful little commodity in the Australian publishing industry. All the ‘personalities’ of the scene I have already interviewed have been like, “Oh, damn. You so need to write this up as a book.”

    From a scholarly angle, I see this as part of the general feedback process of disseminating research and one of the necessary outcomes of an engaged researcher. What would be the point of my research if the people belonging to the social milieu within which I carried it out couldn’t engage with it too?

    Unlike other trade publications I don’t think I want to frame it in terms of getting to the ‘truth’ of the matter. Done well it is ok, but some of the heavy handed shit I have had to read (ie early 1990s environmentalist books about automobility!!) feels like I am reading the bible. No thanks! The various issues I want to explore will be presented in such a way to enable readers to generate their own perspectives and opinions, and hopefully generate some critical discussion in the scene.

    All I need is sponsorship from a car company to get some wheels and drive around Australia for six months 😉

  4. No need to see my anonymity as under threat: the manuscript isn’t even half-complete yet, so you won’t find it in any bookshops or anything. Probably won’t find it in any bookshops or anything even after it’s published!

    I think you’re onto a real winner with the “popular” book. The real hitch will be getting a publisher to understand and accept that the marketing/sales strategy has to be seen as part of the project itself. Because that strategy is so divergent from the normal patterns of production, distribution and retail, a publisher may literally have no way of coping with the book. For that reason, you might look to an Arts Press of some sort — though that of course presents its own problems, re. snobbery over the book’s subject matter.

  5. Glen you have some wonderful opportunties ahead of you – build up your bank balance, then you will be able to do more of what you really like doing. Approach some of the car magazines, once you have officially received your PHD.

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