For the last two weeks my life has stopped. Reading, blogging and all forms of social interaction have taken second place to my obsession with a Danish television crime drama called 'Forbrydelsen' ('The Crime') which is being shown in the UK as 'The Killing'.
Apparently, the viewing figures on BBC Four are higher than Mad Men and as this Guardian link clearly shows, it has been a huge hit with the chattering classes. Cynics might sneer and say that the intelligensia will happily watch prime time television as long as it has subtitles, but 'Forbrydelsen' is a great work of drama on its own merits.
I've no doubt that part of the appeal is the Scandinavian crime factor - the snake in the Garden of Eden. Police procedurals tend to be less compelling in countries where corruption and violence are a normal part of everyday life. A Swedish-style detective mystery set in Bogota would be as incongruous as a steamy, Magical Realist novel set in Wallander's Skåne.
On the subject of books (he said, seamlessly moving from television to publishing), I have been following several developments in the book trade.
First, it looks as if the last major bookshop chain in Britain is about to have a change of ownership. HMV, who have owned Waterstone's for the last decade, have been in a state of decline for years. They failed to fully embrace the digital age and are now being punished for their lack of foresight. By the time they had a chief executive who understood the challenges posed by Amazon and illegal downloads, it was too late.
However, it has taken HMV a long time to swallow any humble pie. During the last few years, several 'entertainment' retailers have gone to the wall, including Woolworths, Virgin, Silver Screen, Tower Records and Fopp. Each time, HMV has increased its market share of these ever decreasing circles, giving City investors the impression that the senior management knew what they were doing. They didn't.
Sadly, for the last ten years, Waterstone's have been saddled with a management team who thought that the key to survival was to run the business on sound retail principals, tackling Amazon and the supermarkets head-on. This was a huge mistake, as Waterstone's competitors could always afford to take a bigger hit and reduce their prices even further.
I don't know if bookshop chains have any future. The last few months in Britain, Australia and the USA would suggest that the age of the high street bookseller is over. It's quite possible that the change in the way people buy books will make any high street bookselling chain untenable, but my gut feeling is that there are still enough people out there who want real books to make a small chain sustainable.
During the next few weeks, it's possible that Tim Waterstone will finally regain control of the chain that bears his name, helped by a 'sugar daddy' in the form of Russian oligarch Alexander Mamut. It might turn out to be a Faustian pact, but could it be any worse that being saddled to a sinking music chain?
Waterstone's isn't sustainable in it current incarnation - we don't need 300 branches. Interestingly, the original chain only had 36 shops, but the brand had such a good reputation that a succession of bookshop chains were 'rebadged' - Sherrat and Hughes, Dillons, Hatchards, Ottakar's and Books etc - a sort of retail homeopathy, where an increasingly diluted formula was expected to retain its original properties.
The second development that I've been following is the controversy over the selling of ebooks by the agency model. This is a very important issue that hasn't received the press coverage that it deserves, but luckily Sam Jordison has written a very succinct summary of the issues involved and the apparent collusion betwen the EU and Amazon.
You can find his article here.
Finally, I've been continuing to try and get my head around the Kindle phenomenon, separating the hype from the reality. Amazon are understandably promoting the Kindle at every available opportunity and I take their bestseller lists and positive customer reviews with a pinch of salt. But when regular visitors to this blog and colleagues at work start waxing lyrical about the Kindle, my resistance starts to weaken, in spite of this excellent article by Jonathan Main.
I still think that there are many good reasons to have reservations about the Kindle. I don't like the 'golden handcuffs' relationship with Amazon - I abandoned iTunes for the same reason. I've also noticed that a large number of really important backlist titles (for example, Paul Theroux's Great Railway Bazaar and Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs and Steel) aren't available in Kindle format. So the jury's still out, but living in a small house with limted storage space, I am tempted.
Is there anyone out there who has a Kindle and hates it? Talk me out of buying one before it's too late. Please.