Rushdie's clash with fellow author
There is nothing truer in the literary world than the fact that it is fated to carry the cross of its patrons' idiosyncrasies. The V.S. Naipaul-Paul Theroux clash is the weightiest of them all. A potential rival is the latest row between Salman Rushdie and Malcolm Gluck. Only, the issue has shifted from the penning of ideas to signatures.
The Best of Booker winner is currently embroiled in a signature war with famous wine writer Malcolm Gluck -- The Guardian's books section being the arena where it is being fought out. The latest in the series is Rushdie's letter to the newspaper on Friday.
Gluck set the ball rolling recently by claiming a record of sorts for having signed 1,001 copies of his book, set at a wine warehouse in London in 1998. Gluck achieved this with the help of a team of three men, one fetching the copies, one opening them at the blank page, and another whisking the signed copies away.
Rushdie lost no time countering. He said he had signed 1,000 copies, on his most recent tour promoting the Enchantress of Florence, in a books warehouse in Nashville in the USA in 57 minutes.
The wine specialist then launched the controversy, questioning whether Rushdie could possibly have signed as many books as he had claimed, or whether he had just scribbled his initials.
Rushdie insisted in the letter to Guardian books: "Let me be clear: I did not initial the books, but signed my full name. I did have the support of experienced staff at Ingrams book distributors in Nashville, (and at many other US bookstores), who will confirm that among the fastest present-day signers of books are President Jimmy Carter, the novelist Amy Tan, and myself."
"Well, if that's true, I'm humbled," Gluck said yesterday. "I'm delighted to learn of Salman's achievement. I think it's very funny actually, it's like men boasting about the size of their sexual equipment, it's got nothing to do with any other aspect of their personality. I doubt there will be any women going for this record, this is just such a male thing."
As if expecting such a reaction from Gluck, Rushdie wrote: “It's always a delight to return to London from an arduous two-month book tour of North America to find myself being accused of "illusions" - that is, lying - in your letters columns.... I understand that Mr Gluck may be miffed that his own accomplishment has been equalled or bettered. That does not entitle him to accuse another writer of untruthfulness, without a shred of evidence to support the accusation.... He tells us he had the assistance of such staff when he did it, but refuses to believe that I could have.”
The exchange of such choice words between the two authors provides the twist to an otherwise well-known literary idiosyncrasy.
Children's author Jacqueline Wilson is also touted as a record-holder, not just for quantity but for how long she keeps going: she is famous for signing for as long as the queue lasts. At her most recent Hay book festival signing her queue caused chaos, forming hours before she arrived and snaking in and around all the other tents and lines. She had to be helped to stand up after one eight-hour session.
Thriller writer Ken Follett signed 2,050 copies in three-and-a-half hours at a book fair in Madrid earlier this year, beating his own record of 1,600 last year at a fair in Italy.
Clearly, the only way to settle the matter is a sign-off, possibly when Gluck's new book -- The Great Wine Swindle which may be his last, he believes, as it will insult absolutely everyone in the wine trade -- is published this autumn.
Till then, keep watching the letters column.