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Sunday, August 31

BBC Takes On Chaucer For The 21st Century "Traditionalists, gird your loins, for they have updated Geoffrey Chaucer. From a shortlist of 10 tales they have invited the cream of today's television writers to create contemporary versions in their own voices but true to the spirit of Chaucer's original. 'Chaucer held up a mirror to the 14th century and we intend to do the same for the 21st, exploring themes such as the cult of celebrity, bigotry and the obsession with youth'."
The Telegraph (UK) 08/30/03

Slam-Dancing - Attacking Amis Tibor Fischer set off a literary storm earlier this month when he slammed Martin Amis' new book before it had even been published. "Fischer, whose fourth novel, Voyage To The End Of The Room, is published on the same day as Amis's Yellow Dog, is certainly shrewd enough to know that his column in the Telegraph earlier this month attacking Amis's novel with apparently unprovoked ferocity would get him talked about far more than any number of press releases for his own; he acknowledged as much in the piece: 'As a writer, I'm relieved that Amis has produced a novel unworthy of his talent. No one wants a masterpiece knocking around when your own book is looking for attention'." The Observer (UK) 08/31/03

Thursday, August 28

Let Americans In The Booker? There have been objections to opening up competition for the Booker Prize to Americans. Elena Lappin argues Americans ought to be there: "It is crucial to open this very important literary award to all the best writing in the English language—including the United States. The Booker Prize would then cease to be a tacit celebration of the former British Empire and would come alive with the most powerful and exciting contemporary voices." Slate 08/28/03

Is This The Device That Will Replace Books? "Researchers at Hewlett Packard have developed a prototype electronic book which can hold a whole library on a device no bigger than a paperback. The brushed metal device is about one centimetre thick and looks like an oversized handheld computer." BBC 08/28/03

Gluck Chosen As New US Poet Laureate Louise Gluck has been chosen as the next US Poet Laureate. "The selection will be officially announced Friday by the Librarian of Congress, who said in a statement that Gluck (rhymes with pick) will bring to the office "a strong, vivid, deep poetic voice." She is a professor of English at Williams College. Washington Post 08/28/03

Children's Book Draws Fire "A pile of about 300 copies of a book in a Bolton warehouse, which tells the story of a young Palestinian boy living under Israeli military occupation on the West Bank, is at the centre of an international controversy. A Little Piece Of Ground, written by award-winning children's writer Elizabeth Laird, is the subject of a campaign calling on the publisher to reconsider putting out the novel." The content of the book is fairly intense for the genre, but the author and her supporters insist that it is all too familiar to Palestinian children growing up under the Israeli occupation. Toronto Star 08/28/03

53 Ways To Slim Down For The Rapture A newly released edition of the New Testament is taking a bizarre tack in trying to interest the youth market. "Revolve" is the first edition of the Bible ever to be published in a magazine format, according to its creators, and it looks more like an issue of "Teen Cosmo" than a religious text. "Its tips are wholesome but perky. On skin care: 'As you apply sunscreen, use that time to talk to God. Tell him how grateful you are for how he made you. Soon, you'll be so used to talking to him, it might become as regular and familiar as shrinking your pores.'" Philadelphia Inquirer 08/28/03

Wednesday, August 27

Why Would Anyone Review Books? "It stands to reason that book reviewers enjoy reading. After all, as was noted in the first two installments of this series, they must choose (often with the help of assigning editors), from the immense heap of books that accumulates each year, the titles to read and write about—in fewer and fewer words, under deadline, and for not much pay. It wouldn’t be a stretch to call book reviewing a labor of love, except for the fact that it is so often a vilified profession. Reviewers are accused of having agendas and of cronyism, are called show-offs and career-killers. It’s a lot of heat to take for some free books, a few bucks, and a byline. So what’s the draw?" Poets & Writers 09/03

Audio Books On The Rise Call it a byproduct of the American car culture, a side effect of the rush to multitask, or simple consumer laziness: whatever the cause, sales of audio books are on the rise, and the publishing industry is taking notice. One installment in the Harry Potter series sold 575,000 audio copies in three days, and Hillary Clinton's recent autobiography has sold 90,000. Audio sales are still miles away from print sales, of course, but the industry is beginning to treat audiobooks as a serious part of its product line. Chicago Tribune 08/27/03

Monday, August 25

Piling On To Martin Amis Martin Amis' new novel hasn't even been officially released yet and it's been nominated for this year's Booker Prize and stirred up the ire of a number of critics. "Though it might seem odd to declaim in August about a novel that is not scheduled for publication until Sept. 4, nothing is odd, really, when it comes to Mr. Amis and the strangely potent brew of envy, unease, schadenfreude and fury he inevitably provokes in fellow writers here." The New York Times 08/26/03

Sunday, August 24

Leonardo Online For the first time, readers around the world can explore Leonardo da Vinci's notebooks and drawings, including plans for a town he designed but which was never built. "The new 3D Turning the Pages website version is unique in enabling readers to unscramble Leonardo's text. Not only was his language medieval Italian; his handwriting ran from right to left, since this came easiest to him as a lefthander. The software, developed by library staff, allows viewers to reverse the script and read a translation of the text. Clive Izard, project manager, said the technology would allow a full translation to be added." The Guardian (UK) 08/23/03

Wild About Harry - American Book Sales Soar "Even more than anticipated, the June release of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix gave business at the nation's largest book chains a much needed jump start, revving up quarterly sales and igniting optimism that the momentum will carry over into the rest of the year." Publishers Weekly 08/24/03

How About Investing In My Novel? Novelist Kent Nelson needed $5000 to help finish his novel, so he went to a friend and offered to cut him in on the profits if he'd put up the money. Trouble is, Nelson didn't exactly have a track record of profits from his writing, and he didn't even have a publisher. But the friend put up the money, Nelson snared a major publisher, and the book is getting great reviews. Are profits next? Rocky Mountain News 08/24/03

Thursday, August 21

The Chick Lit Put-Down Why do critics disparage "chick lit"? "A whole generation of writing about young women's lives is being trashed by commentators who took one look at a 'fluffy pink cover' and got out their knives. Chick-lit is a deliberately condescending term they use to rubbish us all. If they called it slut-lit it couldn't be any more insulting." The Guardian (UK) 08/20/03

Wednesday, August 20

Rowling For Nobel Laureate? Fans of JK Rowling have started a campaign to get her nominated for a Nobel Prize for Literature. They "yesterday launched a global internet campaign to have the Scottish writer nominated for the prestigious award founded 103 years ago by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish inventor of dynamite." Spporters of the idea believe that "in creating Harry Potter, one of the most popular characters in the history of fiction, Ms Rowling has done enough to become a Nobel laureate." The Scotsman 08/20/03

Tuesday, August 19

Writer Writes Her Revenge Ten years ago mystery writer Martha Grimes was dumped by Knopf, her publisher at the time. "Knopf dropped her, she said, probably because at that time she wasn't earning back her advances." Now - after a string of successful books, Grimes has written a story about the publishing industry that "may" bear a resemblance to real people in publishing. The New York Times 08/20/03

Sunday, August 17

Booker: A Short List Getting Longer What's the big deal about a longlist for the Booker Prize? Isn't it the shortlist that really matters? "Once upon a time, it was the announcement of the short list that could be relied upon to encourage literary commentators to break cover. Not any more. Faced with stiff competition, and some serious headline-hogging, from Orange and Whitbread, Britain's premier literary prize now resorts to the black arts of spin, announcing its long list a full two months before the ultimate showdown in the Guildhall. Betting on such a list is as much of a mug's game as taking a punt on a National Hunt steeplechase." The Observer (UK) 08/17/03

Librarian To The Rescue An "action figure" company has come out with its latest doll - an action figure librarian based on Seattle librarian Nancy Pearl. "The company, which has produced a successful series of historical action figures that include Jesus, Moses and Benjamin Franklin, jumped at the idea. Nancy Pearl became the second installment in their newest line of action figures based on everyday people in everyday jobs." Baltimore Sun 08/17/03

Saturday, August 16

Booker Nominees Martin Amis and Margaret Atwood lead the nominations for this year's Booker Prize. Amis has been nominated "for his novel Yellow Dog - not published for three weeks - while Atwood is recognised for her Orwellian tale Oryx and Crake. Big-name authors such as JM Coetzee and Graham Swift have also been selected, despite speculation that top literary stars would miss out." BBC 08/16/03

Influential Canongate Editor Steps Down Judy Moir, editorial director of the small but innovative Edinburgh publisher Canongate, has decided to leave. She says "that she was 'exhausted' after a decade and a half of working miracles on a shoestring. She also admitted having difficulties with Canongate's Byronic owner, Jamie Byng, who brought his unique style and taste to the company after bailing it out with a £100,000 loan." The Guardian (UK) 08/14/03

Thursday, August 14

Can Internet Help Students Write? "Today's students are struggling with writing. The rise of the Internet is often blamed for this deficiency. Parents worry that children are cutting and pasting paragraphs from Web sites rather than writing their own. But in patches around the country, teachers say that online technology is now becoming a powerful tool for improving, rather than undermining, students' writing skills." The New York Times 08/14/03

Releasing Books Into The Wild "Bookcrossing has hit Manchester. On Saturday, hundreds of books will be released on to the streets of the city. Books by Martin Amis and Alex Garland will be distributed along with cookbooks and others on the history of steam locomotives in an event organised by Urbis, Manchester's museum of the city. It is an American phenomenon that began in April 2001 and has taken off throughout the world. Almost half a million books have been "released" and there are more than 146,000 members worldwide. Books are left behind (or released into the wild). They contain a unique identity number which is registered on the website (bookcrossing.com). When someone finds one, they can register on the site and track the journey it has taken before it reached them." The Guardian (UK) 08/14/03

Mickey And Donald Are Back For two years Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck and his pals have been off the comic book shelves. Now a comics enthusiast is bringing them back. "It's always been a bit of a mystery why the Disney Comics are huge in Europe and Latin America but have languished in the North American market. Mickey Mouse, after all, is the ultimate American icon. Disney comics have had such a huge influence outside North America that they have been the subject of political rants arguing that they were thinly veiled American propaganda designed to spread capitalism and counter the spread of communism." National Post (Canada) 08/14/03

Poetry (And Poets) Explained "Being a poet in America makes as much sense as a butt full of pennies. That’s one of the pleasures of being a poet in America. There’s something wonderful, something perversely subversive about being disconnected from the world of goods and services and John Maynard Keynes, if only for an hour or two every now and again. It’s freedom. Poetry is an uncharted wilderness along whose margins capitalism wilts like arugula in the Wedge parking lot on the Fourth of July." The Rake (Minnesota) 08/03

Are UK Publishers Failing Readers? Are Britain's publishers failing their public? "The director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival has accused Britain's publishing industry of being parochial and leaving readers largely ignorant of intellectual debate in the rest of the world." The Independent (UK) 08/09/03

Tuesday, August 12

The Problem When Your Book Exceeds Expectations David Lipsky got his book launched with plenty of buzz. His publisher was foursquare behind him. And the opening round of publicity created aa run of sales any publisher would envy. One problem? You can't buy the book anywhere. Lipsky's book sold out of its first printing of 40,000, and making more takes three weeks or longer. By then, will people stiull be lining up to buy it? The story shows how cautious publishers have become... New York Observer 08/13/03

Why Literature Matters What's the point of literature? "Literature is a conversation across the ages about our experience and our nature, a conversation in which, while there isn’t unanimity, there is a surprising breadth of agreement. Literature amounts, in these matters, to the accumulated wisdom of the race, the sum of our reflections on our own existence. It begins with observation, with reporting, rendering the facts of our inner and outer reality with acuity sharpened by imagination. At its greatest, it goes on to show how these facts have coherence and, finally, meaning." City Journal Summer/03

Sunday, August 10

Remembering Evelyn Waugh Evelyn Waugh would have been 100 this year. "His boisterously playful satires of London life between the wars remain unmatched for their technical accomplishment and wicked skewerings of the smart set. Perhaps most famous for his 1945 novel, the sadly over-rated Brideshead Revisited, Waugh had one of the longest and most prolific literary careers of any English writer of the last century, penning some 12 novels, half-a-dozen travel books, several biographies, and scores of essays and reviews." National Post (Canada) 08/09/03

Is Edinburgh The Next Literature Capital? "Edinburgh is making an audacious - and as some see it, a bare-faced grab - to become the world's first official City of Literature.
The town in which Miss Jean Brodie admonished her "gerls" on how "one's prime is elusive", and where the heroin addict Renton shoplifted to feed his habit in Irvine Welsh's Trainspotting, is plotting to steal the honour from under the noses of London, New York, Paris, Dublin and Prague."
The Guardian (UK) 08/09/03

Will Toronto Literary Fest Survive? Will Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series survive the departure of impressario Greg Gatenby, who's now decamped for Berlin? "It is a sad departure for the man who built Toronto's Harbourfront Reading Series and the International Festival of Authors into the premier stop on the North American literary circuit. This is not the first time Gatenby has embarked on a dangerous game of chicken with government funding agencies, publishers and his own employers, but it may well be the last." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 08/09/03

  • Previously: The Rise and Fall of Greg Gatenby Greg Gatenby's life was a series of paradoxes and contradictions, says Philip Marchand, and that's exactly what made him such a valuable figure in Canada's literary society. "Like many amateur scholars, Gatenby resented what he felt was the cushy life of professors blessed with sabbaticals and tenure who didn't do nearly enough, in his view, to advance the cause of Canadian literature... He was certainly an elitist — but within the bounds of his elitism, he was remarkably democratic. Every writer was treated the same way at Harbourfront, whether he was Saul Bellow or a poet from Tonga." Toronto Star 08/03/03
Thursday, August 7

The Next JK Rowling? Yikes! Children's book writer Louisa Young was briefly touted in the press as "the next JK Rowling." That's good, Young supposes, but who wants to be the next JKR? "Why would anyone want a New JK Rowling? The old one works perfectly well. I'm not sure another one is practical. Are there enough trees? Well, I blame the papers. It's them wot want one, because JKR has become one of today's sure-fire, never-spiked topics." The Guardian (UK) 08/05/03

Where Are The Comics For A New Decade? The 70s, 80s and 90s each had their hit comics, those strips that seemed essential to their age. "Doonesbury and Bloom County—and heck, while we’re at it, let’s throw in Dilbert for the ’90s—each managed to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of the decade in which they were created. So what of our current decade—nearly four years old, without even a proper name to its credit (the Zeroes?). Are we still subsisting on fond memories of the long defunct Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side?" Newsweek 08/07/03

Wednesday, August 6

The Chicago Way The venerable Chicago Manual of Style comes out with a new edition - its fifteenth. "Still decked out in the familiar, tomato-orange wrapping, and spiffed up inside with two tones of ink and an antic sans-serif font for the examples, the Manual has been launched into the Internet Age. It wants to be as relevant to mainstream publishers of books and magazines, both on- and offline, as it has always been to academic presses. The nine selling points listed on the back cover have been phrased, thank goodness, in tidily parallel form. And most important, the Manual has at last given us a chapter on grammar and usage. At 93 pages, the chapter is by far the longest in the book." Slate 08/06/03

  • Sorting Your Hyphens From Your Dashes "Heads are spinning among those authors, editors and publishers who regard the Chicago Manual as the bible of printing style, grammar and punctuation. Well, not everyone's head. But still, it has been 10 years since the last edition of the manual, which is published by the University of Chicago Press. That one has sold 500,000 copies. The new one is the most significant revision since the 12th edition in 1969." The New York Times 08/07/03

New Era For Poetry Magazine A new era is beginning at Chicago-based Poetry Magazine. "After twenty years as editor, Joseph Parisi is stepping down to become executive director of the new Poetry Foundation, established through a recent bequest of around one hundred and fifty million dollars from pharmaceuticals heiress, Ruth Lilly. Poetry's new editor is Christian Wiman. He's 36 years old and his poems and essays appeared frequently in the magazine." The magazine gets 90,000 poetry submissions each year. WBEZ (Chicago) [audio link] 08/05/03

NY Times Names A New 'Culture Czar' The new executive editor of The New York Times, Bill Keller, has promoted Adam Moss from the paper's Sunday magazine to "assistant managing editor for features." The position amounts to an appointment as the Times' new 'culture czar,' and will give Moss control over the "Book Review, Culture and Style sections, Travel, Circuits, Real Estate, Escapes and special sections of the magazine." Moss was previously offered a similar position by former Times editor Howell Raines, but declined. New York Observer 08/06/03

  • Previously: What A New Editor Might Mean To NYT Cultural Coverage So will New York Times' coverage of culture change under new exective editor Bill Keller? He's said to have a healthy interest in culture and can be expected to take it seriously. He "takes over with a Raines-named troika newly in charge of the NYT’s cultural coverage. In October 2002, former foreign correspondent Steven Erlanger was anointed culture editor; in January of this year, cultural kahuna Frank Rich was given even more power; and, just two weeks later, 28-year-old Jody Kantor, the New York editor for the online magazine Slate, was named editor of Arts & Leisure." LAWeekly 07/25/03
Monday, August 4

Lit In Pictures "Graphic novels aren't new – Will Eisner created the first one in 1978. What's new is their audience and influence. In last year's flat economy for books, sales for graphic novels leapt by one-third. Of the $400 million in annual comics sales, graphic novels now make up $100 million. Publishers Weekly, the book industry bible, calls them 'one of the fastest growing categories in publishing'." Dallas Morning News 08/03/03

  • Previously: The Serious Side Of Comic Books...Er... "Graphic Novels" "A generation of ambitious, serious artists and writers have been applying vast amounts of their creative energy into a milieu which is essentially the visual equivalent of the rock opera: the "graphic novel"—that is, a full-length book in comics format (cartoon drawings with word balloons for dialogue) printed between hard covers or glossy soft-cover. The idea is not new." New York Review Of Books 08/14/03
Sunday, August 3

Sorting Out Your "Da Vinci's" From "Leonardo" Dan Brown's thriller "The Da Vinci Code" has captured the popular imagination. But interesting as it is, it fails the test of historical accuracy. "Controversial in life, Leonardo still provokes a bewildering range of admirers and detractors. No other artist is burdened with such baggage, but then, the ambiguity and gaps in our knowledge render him a blank sheet onto which almost anything can be projected." The New York Times 08/03/03

The Rise and Fall of Greg Gatenby Greg Gatenby's life was a series of paradoxes and contradictions, says Philip Marchand, and that's exactly what made him such a valuable figure in Canada's literary society. "Like many amateur scholars, Gatenby resented what he felt was the cushy life of professors blessed with sabbaticals and tenure who didn't do nearly enough, in his view, to advance the cause of Canadian literature... He was certainly an elitist — but within the bounds of his elitism, he was remarkably democratic. Every writer was treated the same way at Harbourfront, whether he was Saul Bellow or a poet from Tonga." Toronto Star 08/03/03

  • Previously: A Backstage Drama Worthy Of A Novel "The dramatic parting of Harbourfront Centre and Greg Gatenby, announced Monday, was preceded by months of wrangling, intrigue and attempted fixes. Gatenby and Harbourfront officials are saying nothing, but based on the testimony of other players, the breakdown of the relationship emerges as a tale full of ultimatums, threats, end runs and cameo appearances by well-known personalities." Toronto Star 07/16/03

Great Words of the Depression "Writers are usually unabashed about claiming authorship for their work. So it's curious that many of the alumni of one of the most significant American literary projects of the 20th century were ashamed of it: the Federal Writers' Project, a program of President Franklin D. Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. Created in 1935, in the heart of the Great Depression, the Writers' Project supported more than 6,600 writers, editors and researchers during its four years of federal financing." Still, many of the writers involved in the WPA project were ashamed of their participation, and so their work has gone largely unnoticed in the years since the program's demise. A new exhibit at the Library of Congress aims to change that. The New York Times 08/02/03

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