Someone, or possibly a cartel of someones, was impersonating influential figures in the publishing industry to get access to unpublished manuscripts. They would pretend to be a heavyweight literary agent, say, or an editor, and would send convincing-looking emails to publishers asking that they send on the soon-to-be released novels of an array of writers, some famous and some not. Sometimes they’d approach the writers themselves. They’d make such underhand moves as changing a letter or two in their email address (e.g. @randornhouse.com instead of @randomhouse.com), using great sneakiness and considerable amounts of time and energy to do – what? To read a book slightly earlier than everyone else did.
Here was this bird, that should be in the jungle learning to emulate the sound of gibbons and rushing water, but was instead imitating Skype ringtones, trapped in a dreadful situation made still more wretched by the fact that its owner was also trapped, with nothing to look forward to for the duration of the lockdown except more Skype calls and getting whistled at by her parrot.
For those of us who get a kick out of spying on other people’s bookshelves, the last few weeks have offered an embarrassment of riches. Whole Twitter accounts have been set up for the sole purpose of scrutinising the titles that famous people choose to display in the background during their televised Skype calls. The point of the game is not to find out the books people are reading, but the books they want to be seen to be reading. Some people are more sporting than others, acknowledging the rules of the game and knowingly playing along.