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Monday, May 31

The New Yorker Fiction Formula A Princeton student has figured out a formula to determine what gets a story chosen to be published in the New Yorker magazine. She "read 442 stories printed in The New Yorker from Oct. 5, 1992, to Sept. 17, 2001, and built a substantial database. She then constructed a series of rococo mathematical tests to discern, among other things, whether certain fiction editors at the magazine had a specific impact on the type of fiction that was published, the sex of authors and the race of characters. The study was long on statistics and short on epiphanies: one main conclusion was that male editors generally publish male authors who write about male characters who are supported by female characters." The New York Times 05/30/04

Friday, May 28

Seattle Book Festival Folds "Bookfest's board of directors has decided to discontinue Seattle's embattled fall festival of books and authors. The festival's office will close June 30, and its two remaining staff members will be let go. Many factors contributed to the festival's demise, but the final blow was the requirement to come up with the $220,000 needed to mount this year's festival, which would have been its 10th. Bookfest successfully eliminated its deficit -- as much as $60,000 -- during the last two years, but faced the prospect of going back into debt if it attempted to produce another edition of the festival." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 05/28/04

Thursday, May 27

The Shrinking Newspaper (Literally) Circulation of broadsheet newspapers is shrinking. Some say readers are put off by the unwieldy size of the pages, so some newspapers are reinventing in smaller formats. "At Britain's Independent, total circulation has risen by about 15% from last year thanks to its small edition. This month it dropped its broadsheet edition altogether. As many as 30 papers from around the world are thinking about doing something similar." Can the key to circulation health really be that simple? The Economist 05/27/04

Children's Author Pleads Guilty To Abusing Children Prolific children's book author William Mayne recently confessed to having sexually abused little girls who came to visit him. "Will anyone, having read such details, want to read stories by Mayne again? Or want their children to read them? Even if they are innocent as can be, his stories for younger readers, about a bobbed, big-eyed seven-year-old called Netta, can hardly escape being contaminated by the interest we now understand he took in eight-year-olds. Then again, a book cannot be judged by its author." The Guardian (UK) 05/27/04

Rowling: Flattered By Fan Fiction JK Rowling has given her blessing to the flourishing genre of web fan fiction that uses her characters in new stories. "Thousands of fans have written their own stories based on the world of Harry Potter, which are published on the net. The release of the third Potter movie is expected to boost the already hugely-popular fan fiction phenomenon." BBC 05/27/04

Indigo Pulls The Plug On Amazon Suit Indigo Books & Music, the publishing giant that has been bankrolling the Canadian industry's lawsuit against the Amazon.ca, has abruptly pulled the plug on the suit, withdrawing its support and cutting off funding. Industry officials say that they simply cannot afford to continue the legal battle against Amazon, which is being allowed to operate its site without complying with rules governing foreign-owned bookstores, because it has no ground-based Canadian presence. Toronto Star 05/27/04

The Bickering (Yet Prolific) Minots The setup seems perfect for a novel: a tony New England family with seven children, living in a mansion by the sea; a mother who dies in a car crash; a father's descent into alcoholism and eventual death from cancer; and the various sufferings and melodramas of the children who must go through life contending with each other and their family history. But the Minot family is no fictional invention. The seven children do indeed exist, and no fewer than three of them have now published supposedly fictional books based heavily on their own lives. The latest to publish is George Minot, spinning a dark tale of murder and alcoholism, and, as has become a habit with the Minots, some of the author's siblings are furious. The New York Times 05/27/04

Wednesday, May 26

Resignations at Walrus The new magazine Walrus was supposed to reinvigorate the Canadian periodical scene. But the mag's first editor quit after only a few months, and now, new editor Paul Wilson and managing editor Gillian Burnett are quitting as well, saying that they can't work with ultra-hands-on Walrus publisher Ken Alexander. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/26/04

Tuesday, May 25

Troy Movie Spurs Interest In Classics Evidently, Brad Pitt makes Homer's The Illiad sexy. University professors are expecting an upturn in enrollment for courses in the classics. And book sales of The Illiad are rocketing up. "In fact, the Iliad has already cracked the Amazon.com top 100 book list at No. 86." TorontoStar 05/25/04

Monday, May 24

Getting Inside Your Reading A new interactive reading device expands the experience of reading. "You can get God's eye view if you want, or you can go in and be part of the scene. You can flip a switch and transition into an immersive VR experience. You can fly inside and see what it feels like to be a blood corpuscle going through the heart." BBC 05/25/04

The Death Of Literary Criticism What's happened to literary criticism, asks James Wood. It's been replaced by academic-speak. "For the first time in history, many poets and novelists are graduates of English studies, many of them put through the theory machine for good measure. Writers and academics teach together, attend conferences together, and sometimes almost speak the same language (Rushdie's essays and academic post-colonialist discourse; DeLillo's fiction and academic postmodern critique). But during the same period, literary criticism as a discourse available for, and even attractive to, the common reader has all but disappeared." London Review of Books 05/21/04

Sunday, May 23

Book Club Bests "Chat show hosts Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan have single-handedly catapaulted authors into the bestseller charts over the past year with their Best Read bookclub. Now they are moving into the holiday reading market with the announcement of the six new novels they will be championing over the coming months. Readers will also be invited to vote for their favourite summer read. The six novels on the list, for whom soaring sales are now guaranteed, fall firmly into light entertainment territory." The Guardian (UK) 05/23/03

Is The Saudi Royal Family Exploiting UK Libel Law? "House of Bush, House of Saud: The Secret Relationship Between the World's Two Most Powerful Dynasties, Craig Unger's book about the tangled connections between President Bush and his circle and Saudi Arabia's royal family, became a best seller in the United States this spring, and is now being published in Germany, Spain and Brazil, among other places. But it is not for sale in Britain... British publishing has long been notoriously hamstrung by the country's libel laws, which place the burden of proof on the defendant... But what is causing particular consternation in publishing and legal circles now is that Mr. Unger's case may be yet another example of how wealthy Saudis are increasingly using British laws to intimidate critics." The New York Times 05/22/04

Thursday, May 20

Library As New Urban Star "The number of visits made to libraries nationwide more than doubled between 1990 and 2001, according to the most recent data available from the American Library Association. Sixty-two percent of adult Americans surveyed in that 2002 study said they had a library card, and they visited libraries an average of 13 times per year. Part of the draw results from the depressed economy. "Instead of paying $24.95 for a best seller, they say, 'I think I'll get it from the library.' But a bigger increase, some analysts believe, comes from libraries' nimbleness in adopting new technologies. Rather than becoming obsolete in the Internet age, they have expanded their role." Seattle Post-Intelligencer 05/20/04

Today's Teachers - Making Illiteracy Look Good "Today's educational establishment is making actual illiteracy look good, like an act of humanity and rebellion. Writing, which ought to nurture and give shape to thought, is instead being used to pound it into a powder and then reconstitute it into gruel. The thoroughly modern grade-A public-school prose style is not creative or interesting enough even to be wrong. The people who create and enforce the templates are, not to put too fine a point on it, people without understanding or imagination, lobotomized weasels for whom any effort of thought exceeds their strength." Los Angeles Times 05/20/04

Conan Doyle Papers Sold "A trove of Arthur Conan Doyle's letters, papers and manuscripts, which gathered dust for more than 25 years in a lawyer's office while its future was debated, was sold on Wednesday for $1.7 million, according to Christie's, which handled the sale. Numerous items were bought by Bernard Quaritch, a specialist bookseller in London who may have been acting on behalf of unidentified clients." The New York Times 05/20/04

Wednesday, May 19

Man With The (NYT Culture) Plan As the New York Times' new culture editor, Jon Landman will oversee a plan to revampt the paper's cultural coverage. "Executive editor Bill Keller, in a staff memo, conceded that Mr. Landman — best known as the Metro editor who tried to warn higher-ups about Jayson Blair—'does not bring to the job a thick portfolio of cultural expertise.' So how’d he become the new culture boss? 'Bill asked me to do it,' Mr. Landman said. 'Sometimes life is simple'." New York Observer 05/19/04

Tuesday, May 18

The Mystery Of The Conan Doyle Papers The papers of Arthur Conan Doyle are about to go on auction. "Even as that auction house has attracted a stream of Conan Doyle enthusiasts thrilled at the newly released material, it has also been sharply criticized by some scholars and members of Parliament for allowing the sale because they say crucial legal questions remain unresolved. They also say that the material is too important to be sold off piecemeal." The New York Times 05/19/04

Monday, May 17

Racing To Save Sherlock's Papers Scotland's "foremost expert on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has launched a last-minute campaign to ensure that recently-discovered papers by the Sherlock Holmes author, which are due to be auctioned by Christie’s, are saved for the British nation." The Scotsman 05/17/04

The Modern Book Star Tour "As more and more celebrities--Sting, Madonna, Hillary Clinton and her mate--latch onto their inner author (and the attendant hefty advance), then take to the road to publicize their efforts, book signings are requiring far more preparation than the purchase of a large box of Sharpies. There are rules, there are regulations, there are wristbands..." OpinionJournal.com 05/

Wood: The Problem With Novelists "The simple but profound problem with many novelists, as James Wood reads them, is that they have failed to realise the true nature of their chosen form; they are artists who have not yet learned how to reply to their calling. Stendhal once famously compared the novel to a mirror being carried down the road, innocently catching all the angles of life. By contrast, Wood argues, contemporary novelists too often treat their pages more like flypaper, ready to cling on to any randomly floating bits of cultural debris." The Guardian (UK) 05/15/04

The Curse Of The Big Advance Hari Kunzru "received a sum approaching £1.25m for the UK, American and European rights to his first novel, The Impressionist, and, around the time of its publication, he was so predictably and so tediously hyped, there was every reason for assuming that he would soon disappear - yet another literary shout reduced to a whisper. For the truth is that however many long-haul air fares and pieces of groovy Sixties furniture an advance buys you (I gather he likes Verner Panton), such immensely fat deals are more a curse than a blessing. Even if, by some miracle, the first book is a hit, the second is doomed." The Observer (UK) 05/16/04

Sunday, May 16

Are Britain's Libraries In Danger? A new report in the UK argues that, "although the use of museums and archives in Britain has doubled in Britain during the life of this government, there is an urgent and imminent library crisis. 'If we do not address the fundamental structural problem of the library service,' says the report, not mincing its words, 'there may be no libraries in 10 or 15 years' time'." The Observer (UK) 05/16/04

A Golden Era For Lit Magazines? "Literary magazines play an ever more indispensable role in the publishing food chain. And recently, especially here on the West Coast, they're starting to swarm..." San Francisco Chronicle 05/16/04

Ancient Library Of Alexandria Discovered Archaeologists have discovered what they claim is the long lost great Library of Alexandria. The Library is often described as the first great university in the world. "The 13 lecture halls uncovered could house as many as 5,000 students in total. A conspicuous feature of the rooms was a central elevated podium for the lecturer to stand on. It is the first time ever that such a complex of lecture halls has been uncovered on any Greco-Roman site in the whole Mediterranean area." BBC 05/15/04

Friday, May 14

TV: Where Serious Books Make It "In recent weeks, serious political books have flooded the best-seller lists, replacing the rants from left and right — the Michael Moores or Bill O'Reilly's — with reasoned and supported arguments. During that shift, the television book tour has been more crucial than ever in generating news from these works." The New York Times 05/14/04

Thursday, May 13

Huge Drop In US Book Sales In 2003 "With a struggling economy and competition for time from other media, 23 million fewer books were sold last year than in 2002, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Book Industry Study Group, a non-for-profit research organization. Sales fell to 2.222 billion books, down from 2.245 billion in 2002. The decline was in both hardcovers and paperbacks, in children's books and general trade releases. Even sales of religious titles, often cited as a growing part of the publishing industry, were flat." Yahoo! (AP) 05/13/04

A Book Without Verbs (Critic: It Didn't Move Me) "First, there was the novel written without using the letter "e". Now a French author has produced what he claims is the first book with no verbs. Perhaps inevitably, critics have commented unfavourably on the lack of action." The Telegraph (UK) 05/13/04

Why The NYT Is Changing Culture Editors? Why is Steve Erlanger moving out of the job as culture editor at the New York Times? "Most see the change as a sign that Times brass was not happy with the way Erlanger handled movie critic Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell had been sharing the lead movie critic job at the Times with A.O. Scott when Scott was suddenly elevated to the job of chief movie critic." New York Post 05/13/04

Wednesday, May 12

NYT Gets New Culture Editor Steve Erlanger leaves his job as cultural editor of the New York Times. And to replace him? Jon Landsman, about whom editor Bill Keller writer: "Jon will be the first to tell you that he does not bring to the job a thick portfolio of cultural expertise, but he more than compensates for that with a deep and wide-ranging curiosity, a gift for managing big undertakings." Poynter 05/12/04

The Examined Literary Life Is it true that the literary life is "swamped by its epiphenomena, that books' blurbs and author photographs have become more important than their content, that the industry is overrun by middlemen and women whom writers had to pay for, that bookstores resemble supermarkets whose fruit and vegetables had mutated and lost their flavour in favour of external appearance?" The Guardian (UK) 05/08/04

Coach House vs. Student Housing Coach House Books, an icon of countercultural Canadian literature, is in danger of being taken over by a University of Toronto student coop, unless it can negotiate a lease soon. "It's the first formal lease that the pioneer of small presses will have had since Coach House sprang up in 1965 as part of the wild cultural experiment that characterized Toronto's literary sixties. It's a lease that will likely sign off on the historic literary landmark where the early careers of writers such as Michael Ondaatje and bpNichol were nurtured, in the name of creating new residence space for students... Even if a lease is signed, the precise fate of the Coach House building, now rickety due to years of absorbing vibrations from the printing presses, is up for speculation." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/12/04

Who Says We Can't Launch A New Magazine? "Due to the rather dire current state of the print media, launching a new magazine goes against the grain of conventional wisdom. But when the Montreal-based creative team of Daniel Charron, Jean Blais and André Ducharme decided to create a new publication, they had a solid previous success in their favour. And with Manoeuvres, their ode to Montreal style, design, fashion and creativity launched tonight, the trio has maintained the principle rule they obeyed during their first print run of 1987-91: Ignore as many rules as possible." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/12/04

Monday, May 10

Are Big Publishers Bribing Bookstores For Better Shelf Placement? "Major publishers are spending thousands of pounds every month on 'sweetener' trips for the retail chains on our high streets, in a bid to influence retail buying strategy. The entertainment budgets involved, which can be as much as £40,000 per trip, are aimed at ensuring increased orders for their books." Smaller independent publishers are protesting. The Observer (UK) 05/09/04

The Soccer Bard Jonny Hurst is the newly-chosen Bard of the Boots, or soccer "chants laureate." Hurst beat 1,500 entrants for the post, more than 100 times as many as applied for Andrew Motion's job (as British Poet Laureate) last time it fell vacant. Most of them, like him, not only sing chants but write them and try to get football crowds to adopt them. His brief is less onerous than that of the poet laureate, who is expected to produce poems about big public events, whether or not these are interesting. The chants laureate has to watch matches and compose a selection of chants reflecting key moments throughout the 2004-05 season." The Guardian (UK) 05/11/04

Petrarch Was A Woman (Or At Least His Bones Were) The remains of what was supposed to be the poet Petrarch are instead someone else. "Analysis of a tooth and one of the ribs exhumed from Petrarch's tomb in Arquá Petrarca, the village near Padua where the poet died in 1374, showed that they belonged to a man and a woman." Discovery 05/10/04

Sunday, May 9

More Than Words Can Say It's not enough for authors to just get up and read, anymore. They have to entertain. "Once confined to libraries, bookstores and concert halls, these events have migrated to bars, with writers appearing in a new type of urban entertainment. On the reading circuit audience members drink cocktails and socialize, while readers work to entertain them. There are often a dozen readings a night in New York City, far more than the dozen or two in a month 10 years ago." The New York Times 05/10/04

Poetic License - Lyrics V. Poetry "Popular musicians attempting to cross over into the realm of poetry isn't a new phenomenon. Nor is it out of the ordinary for them to be scorned for their troubles." But stand-alone poetry is a different from lyrics, and the pitfalls are many... Chicago Sun-Times 05/09/04

Oldest Book On Display The world's oldest surviving printed book is now on display in the British Museum. "The Diamond Sutra, which bears the date 868 AD, was found in a walled-up cave in Dunhuang, north-west China, in 1907, along with other printed items. It consists of a scroll of grey paper printed with Chinese characters, wrapped around a wooden pole." BBC 05/09/04

Saturday, May 8

When Cell Phone Text Beats Newspapers Et Al "International editors and publishers warned Friday that nontraditional communications -- such as cell phone text messages -- are rapidly outflanking radio, television, and print media because of their immediacy and proximity to the public." Wired 05/08/04

Thursday, May 6

The Boy Girl Books (And Never The Twain Shall Meet?) Is there a gender gap in what we read? "The publishing flurry that surrounds Mother's Day means a spate of books with conspicuously feminine points of view. Fitness, gossip, middle-aged romance, the dating woes of bright young things and anything about Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis: these are standard subjects in the parade of Mother's Day titles. They are not to be confused with the sports lore, war stories and tough-but-fair paternal advice that arrive for Father's Day." The New York Times 05/07/04

National Magazine Awards Announced Esquire and The New Yorker were the big winners Wednesday at the National Magazine Awards, taking home seven awards between them. Other honorees included Chicago Magazine, Newsweek, and The Oxford American. Chicago Tribune 05/06/04

Wednesday, May 5

Wright: Great Poetry Requires Great Readers Pulitzer-winning poet Franz Wright on poetry in America: "Devoted and discerning readers with a genuine love of poetry will find, in this country, an astonishing wealth of wonderful poetry being written and freely offered—it is one of the finest things about the United States, though I’m afraid far too few people have the skill, patience, or the opportunity to benefit from it. I am always haunted by Walt Whitman’s remark to the effect that there will be no great poets without great readers. And there is, of course, a considerable audience for all this and always has been—there is a longing for poetry that can never be eradicated by the more glaring, consumer-oriented forms of popular culture; that’s pretty obvious." Playback St, Louis Review 05/04/04

NY Times Kills "Ideas" Section "The problem may be that the section seemed blithely uninterested in wooing the kind of readers who seemed most likely to want to devour it every week." Editor Patricia Cohen: 'From the beginning, I didn’t want to approach the stories with an agenda. The point was not to publish my idea or your idea about a subject, but to cover the intellectual world with the same sophistication and detail that the paper covers other subjects."
New York Observer 05/05/04

Is Non-Fiction Getting Sexy? "Non-fiction is finally triumphing over its traditionally sexier cousin, fiction, evident yesterday when non-fiction books swept the Trillium Book Awards, Ontario's pre-eminent literary honours. In the English-language category, Thomas King's series of Massey Lectures, The Truth About Stories, beat fiction favourites such as M. G. Vassanji's Giller Prize-winner The In-Between World of Vikram Lall and Barbara Gowdy's The Romantic, which made the long-list for last year's Man Booker Prize." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 05/05/04

Tuesday, May 4

The Unexpected Grammar Book Lynne Truss on her best-selling grammar book "Eats, Shoots & Leaves: A Zero Tolerance Approach To Punctuation": "I'm not a grammarian or a linguist or a professional editor and I don't want to pretend that I am. Punctuation was a topic that felt knowable, containable. If you get into the larger subject matter of grammar you do need to study it and I've always been a little intimidated by academe, although now my old college, University College London, has invited me to be a Fellow, which is nice." Toronto Star 05/04/04

Self Publishing Hits The Big Time "Call it self-publishing, vanity, subsidy, or print-on-demand publishing. It's all related, in that the author pays the publisher rather than vice versa, and with the advent of digital technology, it's become big business." Newsday 05/04/04

Chicago 'Zines And Success "The basements of Chicago have spawned a noisy, pugnacious little industry: self-published magazines. Aimed at the erudite and hip, attention-grabbing local titles from The Baffler to WhiteWalls and TENbyTEN have won small but loyal audiences from New York to Los Angeles and beyond. Now several of Chicago's upstart journals are dealing with an unexpected state of affairs: They are encountering small signs of success." Chicago Tribune 05/04/04

Monday, May 3

Brits Buy More Art Books Than Americans Although the American book-buying public is considerably larger that that of Great Britain, it buys fewer books about art than the British." BigNewsNetwork.com 05/03/04

World Tour Poetry By Helicopter Publishing mogul Felix Dennis is on a crusade for poetry (at least as he defines it). "In his newest chapter, the British multimillionaire is on a crusade to challenge the obscurity of modern poetry, by reclaiming old-fashioned values of rhyme and meter. His flair for marketing, and his bankroll, are giving him unusual success. His first volume of poetry, "A Glass Half Full" got barely any attention from serious reviewers but sold all 10,000 copies printed in Britain. Wall Street Journal 05/03/04

Sunday, May 2

PEN Lit Awards To Playwrights Wilson, Nottage "Pulitzer Prize winner Lanford Wilson and fellow playwright Lynn Nottage were honored with literary awards announced Sunday by the PEN American Center." Newsday (AP) 05/02/04

The Evolution Of Silly Book Marketing Techniques Book tours suck. With the demise of truly local TV in most major markets, authors making the rounds are forced to spend most of their days in bookstores, signing endless copies of their tomes for marked-up sale to the type of book junkie who likes that kind of thing. "A signed book [has quickly become] a sine qua non for collectors. The best comparison I can think of is to the dust jacket. Until 50 years ago, the book's paper wrapper was there to draw attention in a store, and to protect the book until someone actually sat down and read it. At that time it was commonly discarded—which is why so few books with intact dust jackets survive from those early days." Village Voice 04/26/04

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