For Books’ Sake

(We have a Facebook page – do come and “like” us and say hi)

For Books’ Sake is one of those places that feels like it’s been around forever. I think it feels like that in part because they started up at the same time we did and were one of the first places I stumbled across, but most of all because it arrived into the world fully formed and absolutely stuffed with fabulous things.

Most of all, the site’s success is, I’m sure, down to the irrepressible energy of its editor, Jane Bradley, and deputy editor, Alex Herod, whose passion to create a hub for “books by and for independent women” sparkles through everything they do. Combine that with a roster of exceptional contributors and some wonderful quirks like the Battle of the Bookshops, and it has the ingredients to become what every site dreams of – the first place you click in the morning to see what’s new.

They tweet here and have a Facebook page here.

DH: One thing that really surprised me was seeing you recently celebrate your first birthday. Has FBS really only been around a year? It feels like it’s been there forever, which must mean it has both a special alchemy and that you really hit the ground running. How did you manage that?

FBS: We’ve been around just over a year in our current incarnation (and for a few months before that as a more general books blog), and in that time we’ve managed to coordinate literary events at festivals around the UK, meet some truly amazing and awe-inducing people, and even wangle an audience with Margaret Atwood.

Putting together the three-day literary programme for Ladyfest Ten, which took place in November 2010 (after the site launched at the end of August 2010) was a baptism of fire, but it was an ideal platform that gave us an immediate audience of people passionate about feminism and the arts – the perfect community for For Books’ Sake.

It also meant we got to work alongside long list of wonderful women-focused organisations – such as The Girls Are, Storm in a Teacup and the London Rollergirls, who’ve been brilliantly supportive ever since. And I’ll also mention that we’re forever indebted to Group Of for designing and building the site.

DH: You cram so much into your website yet you never feel crowded. Rather like a perfect bookstore, in fact…

FBS: It was really important to us that the site was accessible as well as intelligent, and was partly born out of a frustration with media which was either frustratingly simplistic or so academic as to be almost impenetrable. It was important for us to recognise that celebrating and promoting women writers can mean talking about Harry Potter or our favourite fictional fat girls as well as the more traditional topics like surrealist women writers or sexism in publishing and literary prizes.

DH: which leads me to ask what your perfect bookstore would be like.

FBS: Both Alex and Jane have a soft spot for News from Nowhere in Liverpool and Shakespeare and Co in Paris, though we’ve added a long list of others to our to-visit wishlist since starting the Battle of the Bookshops series.

DH: What would you like to say to the mainstream cultural media?
FBS: With the cuts jeopardising the future of so many arts organisations, there is so much more that the media could do to safeguard the future of the arts. And yet the remit of what they’ll cover remains as fiercely restrictive as ever. Supposedly left-wing titles like The Guardian are often unbelievably culturally conservative. Amazing experimental performance, literature and art is being created all over the UK, but to survive, they need an audience. And despite having the reach and resources to champion them, they all-too-often remain unexplored by the mainstream media.
DH: Where are the most exciting things in the literary world going on right now? (And you can take where to mean a place, a part of the interweb, a discipline or format – anything)?

FBS: Manchester is an exciting place to be at the moment. The Salford Zine Library is at the Salford Museum and Art Gallery until the end of January, and then there’s the regular events organised by Bad Language. The Manchester Literature Festival always has amazing events with iconic authors (like Jeanette Winterson live at Manchester Cathedral), while this year’s Not Part Of Festival featured lots of weird and wonderful literary shenanigans (including our Mad Hatter’s Tea Party).  For online inspiration, we’d recommend Tara Books, Monster Emporium Press, Bad Reputation and The Strumpet.

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5 Responses to For Books’ Sake

  1. I like For Books’ Sake a lot too and was pleased to have a post published there on my three favourite ‘backroom girls’:

    Jane knows I have some reservations about a site ‘for and by independent women’ and that I particularly have a problem with the gender essentialism of things like Ladyfest.

    I am glad you champion and use the site though Dan it shows the gender thing isn’t so important really. But I genuinely do not see why it can’t feature writing by/for men as well.

    • Thanks QRG! We do occasionally feature writing by men (John Waters, Jack Kerouac, Bret Easton Ellis and Armistead Maupin have all been featured on the site in the past), usually when the authors or their writing ties into topics we’ve been discussing, but for now women will remain the focus. I think shifting that focus would dilute our identity, and since there are so many sites that primarily feature men – either by default or design – I like to think that by prioritising women writers we give a platform to some who might not be heard otherwise.

  2. danholloway says:

    That’s a fascinating piece, QRG.

    I absolutely can’t see any problem with the focus of the site. This is something I find myself coming back to again and again in my work – the more a site tries to embrace things from outside its remit within its virtual walls, the less its impact, the less the people who go there will feel truly connected to it. I’ve gotten into artistic problems whenever I’ve tried to be more inclusive or all-embracing – those books, or those shows, have ended up much weaker – many more people have liked them, but many fewer have loved them, and the important work I’m trying to do with my writing and the eight cuts shows has been watered down.

    I think what FBS do so well is what I struggle with constantly artistically and personally, and that’s being absolutely sure of what’s going on and what’s important on the inside, not compromising that for the sake of anything – and that in turn means that you can actually do more, not fewer, outward-looking things – you can embrace and promote those whose remit differs from yours more effectively and more generously because there are never any questions about where the boundaries lie – there are clearly defined “outside”s and “inside”s, but in a totally respecting way. I think a lot of artists come a cropper when they want to work with a group they love by being on its inside rather than working alongside – but that dilutes everything. I almost got through the comment without using the word federal – but not quite. I really do think the way forward artistically is for small groups with strong, confident identities to work alongside those whose identities are different but not compromised, and FBS are a paradigm of that at its best.

  3. Thom says:

    Agree entirely, Dan. FBS has a great identity, and their decision to focus on female writing allows them to go into much greater depth. Any independent site which tries to take on literature as a whole is going to spread itself extremely thin unless it has resources to compare to the likes of the TLS.

    I think its pretty well documented that female writers get less press attention than male ones, and that the gender balance of reviewers is ridiculously skewed. In a small way, FBS contributes to rebalancing that, without ever becoming inaccessible to male readers. But more importantly, choosing to specialise gives them the opportunity to write in much greater depth, and give more space to lesser-known writers rather than burying them under the latest Amis or Rushdie blockbuster.

  4. danholloway says:

    Thom I think the point about depth is a really important one. FBS has incredible breadth, but sticking to a very focused area does allow you to have real depth, and as time goes on that creates an incredible repository

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