Opinion

John Bird: A new chapter, and a bit of a revolution

I’m about to launch a new quarterly called The Chapter-Catcher with a hopefully relevant strap line: ‘Towards a revolution in reading’

Recently I have been revisiting the printer’s art. I’m about to launch a new quarterly called The Chapter-Catcher with a hopefully relevant strap line: ‘Towards a revolution in reading’.

‘Revolution’ is one of those words that can be applied to almost anything, if a promoter is determined to use it. When I was about 21 and only recently converted to progressive, non-racist thinking ‘revolution’ came via the handsome example of Che Guevara; only then to see a Che Guevara shop in Kensington High Street, around the corner from one of Richard Branson’s first attempts at selling stuff to the public.

Branson and other shopkeepers wanted to tap into the implications of the angry student movements that were breaking out all over the world. The youthful zest for change had cash tills ringing, and a shop called Che Guevara seemed sexy and smacked of sincerity; or so it would seem.

So I am on the phone to printers about paper and page numbers. And I’m hoping I can utilise the term ‘revolution’ without making it sound like a hollow sales pitch. And the reason I say “towards” a revolution in thinking is because we’re not there yet.

The Chapter-Catcher will do exactly that. It will bring together chapters to be read. No recommendations, no doing the reading for you. You read and decide for yourself if it’s crap or not. It’s audience participation.

We also want the readership to suggest books that chapters could be extracted from and that would encourage people to read. And if you have a novel in you, and you want to share a chapter pre-publication, you can send it in to us.

The revolutionary bit for me is getting people to try and read wider and deeper.

God willing. I hope this new publication will help take us on a rediscovery of lost books, brill books and mind-sharpening missives

I think the great crisis that has settled over British politics around Brexit is the incredible emptiness of expert debate. How crass most discussion was. How lacking in depth even the (supposedly) educated were. How there seemed little desire amongst the self-appointed arbiters of the argument to challenge their own thinking.

I was entirely caught out at the time of the EU referendum and was confused right up to the point of filling in my ballot paper choice. As a weak thinker myself, I thought getting me thinking deeper might also involve many others.

If I’m as thick as two short planks over Brexit – or not – what hope is there for others equally uninformed? You could say that out of my own failure to read deep, I have decided to create a magazine that will encourage the many to read deep and wide. And perhaps use reading as a precursor for deeper thinking.

The future demands us to know more. The jobs yet invented will probably demand expertise and skill on levels previously unheard of in earlier generations. How, among other things, are we going to solve our climatic and ecological crises while also trying to eradicate poverty and ignorance?

This tall order for future generations involves, I believe, a depth of thinking for all of us. So maybe beginning by reading wider and deeper, and doing the reading ourselves, is one of the small steps towards the reading and thinking revolution we are in need of.

As an ex-printer, I willingly embrace all the jargon of printing and production having, at times, helped create magazines for others and nursemaided The Big Issue into being, down to even choosing the name. It is my preferred professional territory.

So The Chapter-Catcher sounding like a kids’ book – or perhaps a rat-catcher in early retirement – will present dozens of chapters of a wide range of publications to whet your appetite for more.

In fact, one slogan we have abandoned kind of gets to where we want to be: ‘Chapters whet your appetite while stories sate it.’ The chapter will draw you in on a journey of discovery. It does not fulfil your needs, only stimulate them; if you see what I mean.

You could say I’m creating a magazine around my own ignorance. As I was saying to a daughter the other day, “Always claim ignorance as a companion because it astounds people when you show the little you know.”

So next month at the Hay Festival in drop-dead gorgeous Powys, The Chapter-Catcher will be launched, God willing. I hope this new publication will help take us on a rediscovery of lost books, brill books and mind-sharpening missives.

I hope it gets us grabbing chapters to begin a deeper engagement with reading so that we’re all au fait with what (at the moment) is left to tawdry commentators.

Just an idea, but what about a real, deep engagement with obliterating the poverty of the material and the mental?

As the Bard would say, “Aye, there’s the rub.”

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