Brought to Book

Gurdon RAC books column pic

There are plenty of book awards.

The easy-to-remember Booker, and the Orange Prize for Fiction, which thanks to a change of sponsor is no longer orange, since it’s now backed by Baileys, maker of the brown/beige liqueur.

There’s also the RAC Motoring Book of the Year Awards, which are announced at the RAC Club’s palatial headquarters on London’s Pall Mall at the end of this month.

There is going to be a panel discussion about car-themed autobiographies, with motoring journalist and motor racer Tony Dron, 1960s rally legend Paddy Hopkirk, F1 driver and original Stig Perry McCarthy and me, so no pressure there then.

The five titles in contention for the award look at the lives of motor racers Jim Clark and Sir Stirling Moss, the history of one lightweight Jaguar E-type, the Porsche 917 racing car and the Grand Prix cars made by Alfa Romeo between 1923 and 1951.

Some of these are very specialist subject, but these books have two things in common. They are all beautiful objects in themselves and they are likely to be treasured for years by the people lucky enough to own them.

Value my car


It’s also heartening that they exist at all. Book sales have been in serious trouble for years, and the publishing industry is still struggling to come to terms with the Internet and downloads.

We’ve not long had the ‘Super Tuesday’ release of hundreds of books from the likes of Bill Bryson and Brian Blessed (or should that be ‘BRIAN BLESSED!!!?’), all charging towards hopes for Christmas sales or sales oblivion. Publishers pay big advances to celebrities to tell us about their fascinating lives, only to find that we don’t care, so sales are in the hundreds rather than the thousands, but the RAC motoring book quintet are different. They might not sell like Lee Child’s latest, but they will sell because they tell stories people want to read and they are things people still want to own.

Often these very traditional looking books are the products of specialist, independent publishers of the sort that are no longer supposed to be viable, thanks to e-readers and downloads, but in fact some of their publishers are healthier than the big players. They are the literary equivalent of microbreweries.

You have to wear a jacket and tie to get into the RAC Club. It’s a very traditional place, where some classic books are likely to be celebrated, but I wonder if these car-themed, coffee table titles are part of the future of publishing rather than is past.