Far being it from me, as a journalistic semi-professional, to violate the convention on embargoes, whereby critical breaking news is embargoed until a certain time or date to give journos a chance to prepare their story. So when a press release “Under Embargo Until 00.01, 25.02.15,” inboxed me late at night on the 24th, I was embargoed from telling the world how totally indifferent I was to that news. How ludicrously bathetic it seemed to employ such heavy-handed tactics for such trivia. And how symptomatic I found this of the overweening pretensions and control fixation of the book biz.

This remarkable, earth-shattering piece of news was: “World renowned cookery writer Mary Berry CBE announced as LBF’s Guest of Honour to open the 2015 edition as it returns to Olympia.” Yes, the London Book Fair 2015 is going to go out with a cookery writer as its iconic star guest. Forget Nobel Prize winners. Forget culture. Forget literature. Forget education. London’s biggest literary event is nailing a cook’s apron to its mast.

I’ve no doubt that, as a modern cookery writer, Mary Berry is a perfect specimen. She certainly has made her publisher enough lucre. “Dorling Kindersley (DK) alone has sold over 3.5 million copies worldwide of Mary Berry titles across an impressive range of territories, with her books being translated into over 10 languages,” says that selfsame highly embargoed announcement. “In 2013 DK celebrated selling the millionth copy of her bestselling Mary Berry’s Complete Cookbook.”

Yet even if we stick to the narrow confines of gastronomic literature, how highly is she going to rate? Will she compare to Alexandre Dumas, author of the Grand Dictionnaire de cuisine, as a writer and gourmet? (Oh, and incidentally, he managed to fit in a career as a world-bestselling literary writer as well as crafting one of the world’s classic cookery guides.) Or Grimod de La Reynière with his Almanach des gourmands? Or even Georges Auguste Escoffier with his Le Guide culinaire?

I bet that for the LBF and its sponsors’ purposes at least, Berry is just all about biz. Her publisher made a mint out of her and wants her out there, and cookpots and saucepans will crowd out the books that less fortunate writers have written in prison, under threat of torture, out of suffering, or simply in order to advance the human mind.

And yet, when such topics as DRM on ebooks, draconian anti-piracy legislation, or headline campaigns against Amazon, come up, those same publishers will go breast-beating to politicians and public alike about their cultural importance and the unique contributions they make to society, in defense of their trading arrangements, privileges and, entitlements. Berry bogus indeed.


  1. I like this ranty side of you. I think the purpose of embargos is to get a bunch of sites buzzing on the same day, which will in turn hopefully get even more sites to pick up on the story.

    I rarely report on embargoed news on good e-reader. Its just marketing ploys.

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