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Sunday, October 31

LRB Turns 25 "For the uninitiated, the best way of describing the London Review of Books, which celebrates its 25th anniversary this week, is that it is to words what Slow Food is to cooking." The Observer (UK) 10/31/04

A Matter Of Obscurity (But Not Awards?) Some critics blasted the National Book Awards' shortlist for being too obscure. Like including Christine Schutt, whose book sold only 100 copies (or is it 1099 copies?). But what's a writer got to do to pay dues?... New York Times Magazine 10/31/04

Friday, October 29

Bookstore Customers Burning Out On Political Books As the American election gets close to resolution, "many independent, Chicago-area booksellers are yanking the most partisan books out of their store windows and off their most visible shelves. The reason? It's just not worth the grief." Too many customers were complaining. "I don't remember this four years ago. I think everybody feels the stakes are higher this year on both sides." Chicago Tribune 10/29/04

Used-Book Sellers Complain Over Amazon Outages Used-book sellers have found whole new markets on Amazon. But lately they've been complaining that the Amazon site has been plagued with technical problems. "The mood right now is you just can't depend on Amazon anymore, and you have to go to other venues. It's just so many things." Seattle Times 10/29/04

Wal-Mart Returns Carlin Wal-Mart has returned about 3,500 copies of George Carlin's new book, saying it hadn't ordered it. The publisher begs to disagree (since he will take a loss on the books). "Publishing sources say it's unlikely that Wal-Mart — known to skip books that might be deemed politically or religiously provocative — would have ordered the book in the first place. But it's also unlikely that the books would have been shipped from the warehouse by accident. The most likely scenario is that someone ordered them, and then thought better of it. Retailers can return any unsold books to the publisher or distributor, at any time, at the publisher's expense." New York Post 10/29/04

Thursday, October 28

Congratulations! Now Get Out There And Sell, Sell, Sell! When an author wins the Booker Prize, as Alan Hollinghurst just did, publishers more or less expect a sales bonanza. But awards are no guarantee of public acclaim, and there's a lot of heavy lifting to be done to meet those high sales expectations. Hollinghurst is discovering that, for the recipient of the Booker, the work has only just begun. Job one: divest the literary press of the notion that he is a "gay writer" and that his book is a breakthrough work of "gay fiction." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/28/04

Wednesday, October 27

On Writing Prize Shortlist, One Very Familiar Name Of the writers shortlisted for Canada's 2004 Governor General's awards, one is going for her fourth win. "Alice Munro, who has won Governor General's awards in 1968, 1978 and 1986, was shortlisted once again in the fiction category for Runaway, her 10th story collection, when the finalists were announced yesterday." Toronto Star 10/27/04

Reading About Vietnam, Thinking Of Iraq With U.S. forces embroiled in Iraq, thousands of people in Philadelphia will be reading and discussing a novel about the Vietnam War, written by a Vietnam veteran. Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried" is this winter's timely choice for the One Book, One Philadelphia program. Philadelphia Inquirer 10/27/04

Tuesday, October 26

Graham Greene In A Time Of Bush-War "Greene has always been a difficult writer for Americans to deal with, so frank was his contempt for American materialism and, especially, he noted, 'American liberalism.' Were Greene alive and writing today, it would be this liberal—not reactionary—spirit he would identify in the Bush administration's crusading zeal, the endless terrifying unrealizable bromides on freedom, democracy, etc., that animated poor Alden Pyle in The Quiet American. Paul Wolfowitz would be the Pyle who survived, and made it to the top." MobyLives 10/26/04

Book TV - Lit On A TV Drama? Norman Mailer makes a guest appearance on the TV drama Gilmore Girls. A real live author on a TV series? But Dana Stevens writes that "literature has played a supporting role on the show since its inception. With its rapid-fire, hyper-caffeinated dialogue and who's-got-a-crush-on-whom plotlines, Gilmore Girls could easily pass as another wholesome WB teen show à la Dawson's Creek. But beneath its giggly female energy and family-friendly values lurks the most bookish series on network television." Slate 10/26/04

Ode Of A Bibliophile Thomas Benton is mad about books. "Anyone who collects old books knows that most of what we call "literature" is never read. Large collections of books are fetish objects rather than authentic scholarly resources. I'm like all those architecture students who feel compelled to buy a pair of expensive and uncomfortable Barcelona chairs. I have not yet given up on my professorial aspirations, and each new book is a small investment in that future, which, with any luck, could last another 40 years." Chronicle of Higher Education 10/26/04

Monday, October 25

UK Government Tries To Turn Around Public Libraries Faced with a declining number of users at public libraries the UK government is drafting rules for libraries to beef up their collections. "The official standard will require libraries to buy 216 new items per thousand of the population they serve each year. The word item covers CDs, DVDs and other materials, but chiefly means books. The standards will also say that stock should be replaced when it is no more than 6.7 years old. There are no rules on these points at present, but many local library authorities are understood to be below the targets." The Guardian (UK) 10/25/04

Randomly Poetic (In Canada) This week is "Random Acts Of Poetry Week" in Canada. "From Newfoundland to British Columbia, published poets in 17 cities will be popping into parks, hair salons, cafés, supermarkets, libraries and wherever else tickles their fancy to delight randomly chosen strangers with bursts of poetry." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/25/04

Is American History-Writing Broken? Charles Hoffer writes that the field of American history is "two-faced - split between celebratory popularizers who often value rousing narrative over scholarly rigor and academic specialists whose jargon-riddled, often dour monographs ignore the ordinary reader. Meanwhile, Hoffer accuses the American Historical Association (AHA), where he has served as an adviser on plagiarism and a member of its professional standards division, of abdicating its responsibility to enforce basic scholarly principles in both realms." Boston Globe 10/24/04

Amazon - Remember When Just Having A Profit Was Good Enough? Amazon's profits triple in the third quarter, but on that news, the stock dives to its lowest price in a year. Why? It's that old analyst expectations game... Yahoo! (AP) 10/25/04

Sunday, October 24

The Underrated World Of Literary Instruction "What Canadian school will emerge as the most influential nursery of writers? The creative writing program at the University of British Columbia? They've been graduating young writers such as Kevin Chong, Eden Robinson and Madeleine Thien, all published by major houses in the last few years, to considerable critical acclaim. Or will it be the creative writing program at Humber College? The latter has moved into the spotlight this year — although not so much because of the success of its students as because of the success of its instructors." Toronto Star 10/23/04

Authors To Rice: Calm Down, They're Only Readers Last month, author Anne Rice took on the amateur critics who had been trashing her latest novel on Amazon.com, calling their negative comments "libel." It was an unusual if not unprecedented move, and other authors are making it clear that Rice crossed an invisible line with her rant. "I'd be more worried if I impressed a moron than if I made one unhappy. And on Amazon... it's usually clear within a sentence or two which side of the intelligence fence the commentators fall on." Boston Herald 10/23/04

  • Previously: Anne Rice: Satisfaction Or Your Money Back "Writer Anne Rice, whose extravagant fictions about vampires and witches have made her famous and rich, vents her anger at readers who dare criticize her latest book 'Blood Canticle' on the Amazon.com website and ends her lengthy, single-paragraph tirade by giving her home address in New Orleans and promising refunds to the disgruntled." Toronto Star 09/22/04
Friday, October 22

NYT Names Grimes As Book Critic William Grimes has been named the New York Times' new book critic. "Mr. Grimes, who stepped down as chief restaurant critic at the end of 2003, has spent most of this year writing reviews of consumer products and recounting his experiences under the heading "Just Browsing." The New York Times 10/22/04

Garcia Marquez Alters Book After Pirates Steal Copy Gabriel Garcia Marquez' publishers released the Nobel laureate's new book early when pirates began selling stolen copies of it. "Vendors were tapping on car windows, offering the long-awaited novel at half the official price." But it appears that Garcia Marquez changed the last chapter for the official version and that the pirated version is wrong. BBC 10/22/04

Thursday, October 21

Drowning In The Booker What is it like to be a judge for a prize like the Booker? "Reading 132 books in 147 days is like taking a course in kick-boxing; you quickly lose any flabby concentration and wishy-washy standards, becoming fitter and leaner and more demanding. In the process, you learn a great deal about why so many novels—even well written, carefully crafted novels as so many of those submitted were—are ultimately pointless." The Economist 10/22/04

Hollinghurst: More Than Gay Alan Hollinghurst's Booker Prize win earlier this week was announced in much of the British press as a victory by a "gay" novel. But it's much more than that. "I only chafe at the 'gay writer' tag if it's thought to be what is most or only interesting about what I'm writing. I want it to be part of the foundation of the books, which are actually about all sorts of other things as well - history, class, culture. There's all sorts of stuff going on. It's not just, as you would think if you read the headlines in the newspapers, about gay sex." The Guardian (UK) 10/22/04

Winning The Booker - Not Always The Ticket To Sales There is a myth that books that win the Booker Prize end up selling a lot of copies. But a look at previous winners' sales shows that isn't always the case. "Due to the scale of the Booker award any book that wins, whatever your reason for buying it, will be the sort of title that will become a library staple in many people's homes and will continue to sell across the decades. The surprise this list throws up is how some books you may not have expected are stronger sellers than some of the bigger names further down the list."
The Guardian (UK) 10/22/04

Garcia Marquez Book Hits The Streets Nobel Prize author Gabriel Garcia Marquez's first book in a decade went on sale in Latin America Wednesday (released early because pirated copies were being sold on the streets) and the interest has been intense. "Editors said demand for the book has been so strong that they were already in the process of publishing a second edition of 50,000 to add to the initial Mexican release of 100,000 in softcover and 30,000 in hardcover." Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 10/21/04

Wednesday, October 20

Dispute Threatens English PEN A dispute about the "modernizing" of the English PEN writers' organization threatens to bring down the group. "Suspicion, distrust, backbiting, smear tactics, simple loathing and sometimes extremely unliterary abuse have come to characterise a struggle that has been waged until now behind the closed doors of London's literary salons." New Statesman 10/18/04

Wal-Mart Cancels Order For Stewart Book Jon Stewart's "America" is the best-selling book in the country right now, but Wal-Mart has "canceled its order for the book after learning that page 99 features a doctored photo of nine naked bodies with the heads of the Supreme Court justices attached." Yahoo! (E-Online) 10/20/04

Declining Use Cripples UK Libraries Book borrowing from public libraries in the UK is down dramatically, says a new report. "These figures mean that book issues have fallen by on average 31% in Britain since 1995. In England the fall since 1995 was 33% , in Wales 38%, in Scotland 32% and in Northern Ireland 28%." The Guardian (UK) 10/15/04

A Fugitive's Tale (It's Scandalous) Radovan Karadzic is on the run, a $5 million bounty on his head, and facing charges of genocide in Bosnia at The Hague's war crimes tribunal. But that hasn't stopped him from writing and publishing a book. "The strong autobiographical element is a reminder of a man with a large ego and a small sense of responsibility. It is scandalous that he should have had the leisure to write anything but a confession. The fact that he has been able to publish a book does not inspire confidence that Nato and the Bosnian Serb police are doing enough to harass him and his network of loyal supporters so he can be brought to justice." The Guardian (UK) 10/20/04

Tuesday, October 19

García Márquez Vs. The Pirates It's taken Gabriel García Márquez a decade to get his new book ready for publication. Now the publication date is being moved up by the book's publishers to combat pirates who are getting their own version out. "In a full-page advertisement in Colombia's leading newspaper on Saturday, the publishers announced the early launch and denounced the pirated versions being peddled on the streets of the Colombian capital as 'mutilating the content of the work'." The Guardian (UK) 10/18/04

Are National Book Award Noms Too Obscure? People are still puzzling over the nominated field for the National Book Award. "Consider some of the writers who were eligible this year: Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe, Joyce Carol Oates, John Updike, Cynthia Ozick. And the nominees are: Sarah Shun-lien Bynum, Christine Schutt, Joan Silber, Lily Tuck, and Kate Walbert. All of the authors are women, and each lives here in New York City. According to the Times, only one book has sold even two thousand copies." The New Yorker 10/18/04

Hollinghurst Nabs Booker Alan Hollinghurst has won this year's Booker Prize for his novel The Line of Beauty. "I hardly know where I am. My whole psychological technique for dealing with this evening was to convince myself I wasn't going to win it. BBC 10/19/04

  • Hollighurst By A Booker Nose The result was a split vote, with Hollinghurst, odds-favorite David Mitchell and Colm Tóibin's The Master, a fictional portrait of the author Henry James, "all very close". The Guardian (UK) 10/20/04

Radar Gets On The Screen Radar Magazine, which put out two "test" issues last year and has been involved in a long search to find funding, has found $25 million to open. Radar aims to be a general interest magazine aimed at capturing "the interest of young, single people who live in urban areas and are tastemakers in their own right" The first issue under new ownership will appear next April, with issues to follow every other month for the rest of the year before the magazine moves to a monthly schedule in 2006. The New York Times 10/19/04

Sunday, October 17

Where Are The City Folk? The shortlist for this year's Giller Prize is once again filled with historical novels, and almost obsessed with a rural sensibility that has dominated Canadian literature over the past few years. Philip Marchand doesn't see anything wrong with that perspective, but "I still wondered if, in our literary culture, a work of fiction set in present-day Toronto was somehow regarded as a bit trivial. A good writer who carefully observed contemporary life always ended up sounding satirical, and to some people satire was Not Serious. Better to have these soulful looks at the past, at a way of life that was vanishing. That was real literature." Toronto Star 10/16/04

Smithsonian Books To Shut Down Having lost $2 million over the last decade, the Smithsonian Institution is shutting down its publishing arm, causing an outcry from scholars who fear a void in the industry. Also of concern is that the dismantling of Smithsonian Books represents another step towards the bottom-line-first philosophy that has made Smithsonian chief Lawrence Small a controversial figure. Washington Post 10/16/04

Friday, October 15

Taking Poetry's Name In Vain Fans of high-minded pop singers like Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Billy Corgan like to talk of lyrics as poetry, and to celebrate their favorite performers as not only musical geniuses, but literary lights as well. But such trite assessments may be selling the art of poetry short, says Robert Everett-Green. "Rock poets who break out of their medium and into published poetry are still rare... And yet the cachet of calling oneself a poet continues, even as poetry declines as a subject of public interest." The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/15/04

Literature Regains Its Sex Life The sexual memoir has been gaining steam (no pun intended) as a literary form in recent years, and far from being near-porn, many of the books read like throwbacks to an age when sex was allowed to be beautiful, and not simply an animal act. "At a time when so much sexual writing aims... to demystify and de-emotionalize sex — to reduce it to a physical and hormonal process not much different from, say, scratching an itch — [the author] belongs to the old tradition of hyperbole and overwriting, the tradition of Lawrence, Norman Mailer, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, which sees sex as an avenue to spirituality, to the mystical and sublime." The New York Times 10/15/04

Thursday, October 14

They Can Pick 'Em The UK publisher of Yann Martel's Booker Prize-winning novel, The Life of Pi, has capitalized on the author's success to the tune of a "£1.1m pre-tax profit for 2003", enough to place the once-struggling Canongate Books firmly back in the black. Canongate, which had twice been in receivership before its current run of good luck, is also the publisher for Booker winner DBC Pierre. The Herald (Glasgow) 10/15/04

Out Of The Printer Tray, Into The Fire "Best-selling children's novelist, GP Taylor has accidentally burnt three of his original manuscripts while clearing his house before moving. Scarborough-based Graham Taylor was turning the embers on a bonfire when he noticed what was written on them." BBC 10/14/04

Wednesday, October 13

Bidding War Over The Next Big Children's Author For a high-school dropout, children's author Stuart Hill was garnering an awful lot of attention from the intellectual set last week. "His book was at the centre of a bidding frenzy last week at the Frankfurt Book Fair, when 20 European publishing houses fought for its rights. It has already been bought by Scholastic, which publishes J K Rowling's work in the US, and a film rights deal is in discussion." Why all the fuss? Hill seems to be the consensus choice of publishers as the "next big thing" in kidlit, and everyone wants a piece. The Independent (UK) 10/14/04

9/11 Report Nominated For Literary Award The finalists have been announced for the National Book Awards, with a big surprise leading the non-fiction list: The report to the nation by the 9/11 Commission, which has been praised as being eminently readable by the standards of government documents, and which has been a bestseller since being released several months ago. On the fiction side, the big news is who didn't make the cut, notably novelists Philip Roth and Cynthia Ozick. Also, for the first time ever, all the fiction finalists are women. The New York Times 10/14/04

Edinburgh's Literary Rep Garners UN Honor The Scottish city of Edinburgh will shortly be named "City of Literature" by the United Nations' cultural group, UNESCO. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sir Walter Scott, Robert Louis Stevenson and Robert Burns all spent time living and/or writing in the city. A host of current UK literary stars had backed Edinburgh's push for the designation, which could have a significant financial impact for the city. The Herald (Glasgow) 10/14/04

He Did, After All, Bring Us The Simpsons "It goes against nearly every stereotype about Rupert Murdoch, the conservative-leaning media baron who owns Fox News and The New York Post: a publishing imprint he owns has, in fact, released a new book titled, 'Unfit Commander: Texans for Truth Take On George W. Bush,' which takes a decidedly critical view of Mr. Bush's presidency. But ReganBooks, the publisher, and Judith Regan, its impresario, conform to few stereotypes - unless, that is, they involve making money. ... In politics, at least, ReganBooks goes both ways." The New York Times 10/13/04

Tuesday, October 12

If The Novelists Got To Choose The President In a survey of 31 prominent American novelists, Kerry supporters, unsurprisingly, vastly outnumbered Bush supporters. Still, the writers' choices differed. "Authors cited a range of reasons, from a vote for Kerry 'because I have a brain and so does he' (Amy Tan), to a vote for Bush because 'we're at war, and electing a president who is committed to losing it seems to be the most foolish thing we could do' (Orson Scott Card)." Slate 10/11/04

Monday, October 11

Snarling At The Snipers The "reader reviews" on Amazon.com have become a genre unto themselves, with some amateur critics posting thousands of the things. But authors tend to hate the self-styled literary judges, who think nothing of savaging an author's character as well as her work, and this month, Anne Rice had had enough. The popular author has seen her two latest books trashed extensively on Amazon, and in response, has posted a 1,200-word defense of her latest effort, and given the critics a taste of their own medicine, accusing them of "[using] the site as if it were a public urinal to publish falsehood and lies." The New York Times 10/11/04

Back To Booker Basics "The Booker Prize, currently under fire for concentrating on fashionable and quirky writers, will this week attempt to regain its reputation for high seriousness with the launch of the 'super Booker', a worldwide search for the living greats of fiction. While the winners of the main prize, due to be announced next week, must come from Britain or the Commonwealth, the new £60,000 competition will be open to all comers." The top contenders for the first 'Super Booker', which will be given not for any individual book but for a lifetime of literary achievement, are V.S. Naipaul, Margaret Atwood, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and John Updike. The Independent (UK) 10/10/04

Assessing The Frankfurt Code At the Frankfurt Book Fair, where cigar smoke hangs heavy in the hotel lobby and no one would think of passing an evening without getting blind drunk, trends are emerging, visible to anyone willing to throw himself fully into the spirit of the thing. Trend #1: Every book released this year must have the word "code" in the title if it expects to have any kind of commercial success. Trend #2: Shrill, ultra-partisan rants masquerading as intellectual treatises are selling like hotcakes to a polarized society eager to make themselves feel better about the world by reading political pablum with which they already agree. The Observer (UK) 10/10/04

Sunday, October 10

Roth Novel Gets New Cover The cover of Philip Roth's new novel, The Plot Against America, has run up against the German government's ban on any display of the swastika. The cover features a black stenciled swastika superimposed over a U.S. postage stamp. A shipment of the book was held up by customs at the German border last week, and the publisher announced that a new cover would be printed for the German market, with the swastika replaced by a black 'X'. The Globe & Mail (AFP) 10/09/04

What Good Is The Nobel? Certainly, great writers deserve wide recognition, but does the Nobel Prize for Literature really come close to delivering such immortality? "Even the most erudite among us will have a hard time naming a single book by a great chunk of past laureates. How about that Sigrid Undset (1928)? Who could ever forget her, right? Or how about Par Lagerkvist (1951)? Or Jaroslav Seifert (1984)? Got those names tattooed on the brain, don't you?" Even if you see the Nobel's mission as bringing attention to unjustly neglected authors, the prize could be considered a failure in that regard as well. San Francisco Chronicle 10/09/04

  • Well, It Sells Books, Anyway "Readers are eager to learn more about Austria's Elfriede Jelinek, who was virtually unknown in the United States before the announcement that she had received the Nobel Prize for literature. Within 24 hours of Thursday's citation by the Swedish Academy in Stockholm, four of her books had jumped into the top 70 on Amazon.com's list of best sellers." Chicago Sun-Times (AP) 10/09/04

Charges Of Anti-Semitism In Frankfurt "Publishers from Arab countries came to the Frankfurt Book Fair as the guests of honor, seeking understanding and tolerance as well as a greater appreciation of Arab culture and literature. But several publishers, as well as the book fair itself, have attracted criticism and charges of anti-Semitism for their display of at least a dozen books with strong anti-Zionist themes." The New York Times 10/09/04

Friday, October 8

GoogleLit On The Way Google is launching a new search engine which would allow anyone to search the content of books online, and observers are saying that the move "could help touch off an important shift in the balance of power between companies that produce books and those that sell them." The service works by searching the scanned pages of books provided to Google by publishers, and offering links to online sites where the books could be purchased. Publishers are giddy over the concept, which could allow them to eventually sell books directly to consumers, but the whole enterprise may be yet more bad news for traditional booksellers. The New York Times 10/08/04

Random Acts Of Publishing Pay Off The shortlist for Canada's Giller Prize is out, and the field is dominated by Random House of Canada authors. Four of six nominated authors write for Random House, with only one small-press book making the cut. The Giller comes with a CAN$25,000 cash award, and the winner will be announced November 11. The Globe & Mail (Canada) 10/08/04

Thursday, October 7

The Cult of the First Edition "What persuades anyone to part with more than two million dollars for a long roll of teletype paper covered in the scribbled script that would one day become On The Road? How can any old book be worth nearly half-a-million dollars when the same thing brand spanking new is sitting on the paperback classics shelf for less than $30?" Still, someone is clearly fueling the markups, and first editions remain one of the most cherished of literary collector's items. The Age (Melbourne) 10/08/04

Nobel Winner Known For Reinventing Dialogue Nobel Prize-winning author Elfriede Jelinek is an artist of many varying stripes, and it may have been that self-contained diversity that attracted the Nobel Academy to her in the first place. "In her dramatic works, the academy noted, Ms. Jelinek 'successively abandoned traditional dialogues for a kind of polyphonic monologues that do not serve to delineate roles but to permit voices from various levels of the psyche and history to be heard simultaneously.' She may be the first Nobel laureate in literature to have made a significant commitment to the Internet, frequently posting commentary on her own web site." The Chronicle of Higher Education 10/07/04

  • Is The Nobel Following A Pattern? It's become almost a tradition for the Nobel literature recipient to be someone who wasn't even on the critical radar screen at the moment, and so it is with Elfriede Jelinek. And yet, "Ms. Jelinek fits a more familiar pattern. She is the seventh European literature laureate in the past decade. The academy has also again shown a preference for literature with a political echo. As with several recent winners, including last year's, J. M. Coetzee, a critic of South Africa's apartheid government, Ms. Jelinek has used her literary work as a form of political engagement." The New York Times 10/08/04

Homer Tops A Best-Seller List (Thank You, Brad Pitt) "The ancient Greek Homer remains one of today's most popular poets, topping the chart of bestselling poetry books for 2004 with online retailer Amazon. Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey, which both dealt with the Trojan War, were the first and second bestsellers. His popularity has been partly put down to release of the movie Troy, starring Brad Pitt, which is based on The Iliad." BBC 10/07/04

Austria's Elfriede Jelinek Wins Nobel Prize "Acclaimed and controversial Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek, whose work often explores the role of women in society, was awarded the 2004 Nobel Literature Prize, the Swedish Academy announced." Yahoo! (AFP) 10/07/04

Wednesday, October 6

The Plot Against Philip Roth The swastika is illegal in Germany, but at the Frankfurt Book Fair, they seem to be everywhere, emblazoned across the front of several bestselling books. "All the more curious then that a shipment of [Philip Roth's latest] book was held up at German customs this week, apparently because of the swastika cover." The New York Times 10/07/04

$100 Million Buys A Lot Of Verse Two years after a $100 million bequest fell unexpectedly into its lap, the formerly tiny and obscure Poetry Foundation has revealed just what it plans to do with the money. The group is planning "a host of projects, from a national recitation contest for high school students to 'the biggest and baddest Web site for poetry out there.' The projects are likely to comprise the most sweeping effort to promote poetry in the history of the United States or any other country. They may also make the Poetry Foundation a major force on the American cultural landscape." The New York Times 10/07/04

Frankfurt Focuses On The Middle East The Frankfurt Art Fair is broadening its horizons, inviting Arab writers to participate in what has traditionally been a near-exclusively European event. The idea is to promote translations of Arab literature, and the strategy may already be having an effect. "Some 50 titles have been translated into German this year, compared to between 12-15 in previous years." BBC 10/06/04

Scot Wins UK Poetry Prize "Scottish poet Kathleen Jamie has won the £10,000 Forward Prize - the UK's biggest annual poetry award. She took the best collection prize with The Tree House, a collection of poems embracing nature and spirituality. The award for best first collection was awarded to 29-year-old Leontia Flynn, from Fife, for her 'strikingly original' debut These Days." BBC 10/06/04

There's A Downside To Winning A Nobel? "Winning the Nobel prize turns writers into icons and takes best sellers far beyond their own culture, but there is a price to pay for often reclusive people whose work requires solitude; the media spotlight. Thursday, a writer somewhere who may be unknown to most of the planet or almost a household name will get a call from the Swedish Academy which has awarded the top accolade in the world of letters since 1901. The phone will not stop ringing." Yahoo! (Reuters) 10/05/04

Arab World In Spotlight At Frankfurt Book Fair "Many popular Arab authors remain unknown in the West. That may change as the Frankfurt Book Fair invites the Arab League as guest of honor this year. But the nagging issue of censorship (in the Arab world) might not be touched upon at all." Deutsche Welle 09/29/04

Arab World Is Focus Of Frankfurt Book Fair "This year's Frankfurt Book Fair is focusing on the Arab world amid worries that the U.S.-led occupation of Iraq and war on terrorism have warped Western perceptions of Arab culture." Accordingly, the "guests of honor" at the world's largest book fair will be a 200-strong delegation of Arab writers and cultural representatives. Toronto Star (AP) 10/06/04

But Your Money Is So ... Dirty When a well-known political figure pens a book, the automatic assumption is that all profits must go to charity. "But why this need to give away writing income at all?" wonders Erica Jong, who suspects the belief has something to do with the way we view writers and writing. "Of all natural resources, it seems, only literary talent needs disinfection, when what it really needs is nourishing." The New York Times 10/03/04

Tuesday, October 5

Those Crazy Nobel Voters "The annual Nobel Prize in Literature, which is to be awarded in Stockholm on Thursday, assures the happy laureate a gilded place in posterity. Or does it? The Swedish Academy is so eccentric in its choice that the astonished winner often enjoys 15 minutes of fame and is quietly forgotten. No less bizarrely, the academy has overlooked some pillars of modern literature, like Proust and Joyce. Then there are those well-known writers who year after year are considered to be contenders only to be disappointed. This year the word in Stockholm is that it is time for a woman to win again..." The New York Times 10/06/04

Kirkus Goes Kommercial "Kirkus Reviews has long prided itself on being a sort of Consumer Reports for the book publishing industry, proclaiming its independence by steadfastly refusing to accept advertising and producing early, plain-spoken reviews that can amplify or smother a new book's early buzz. Now, however, Kirkus is embracing a new spirit of commercialism," offering to review any book for $350 in its new online publicatiion, and considering the possibility of selling ads in its main print edition. The New York Times 10/05/04

Monday, October 4

DaVinci Code Author Accused of Plagiarism "Two writers are suing the publishers of The Da Vinci Code, the biggest-selling adult fiction book of all time, claiming it was copied from their 20-year-old book. They claim Dan Brown, the American author said to have earned $A350 million from the book that has sold 12 million, 'lifted the whole architecture' of research for their non-fiction Holy Blood, Holy Grail." The earlier book actually makes an appearance in DaVinci, with one of the characters pulling a copy off a shelf and positing that its conclusions are sound. The Age (Melbourne) 10/04/04

Sunday, October 3

Roth's Lindbergh Forcing Midwest Soul-Searching In Philip Roth's latest novel, aviator and Nazi sympathizer Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR for the U.S. presidency, and a nightmare scenario of American anti-Semitism unfolds. It's fiction, of course, but the Lindbergh character is based on a very real human being, and the book is raising eyebrows in his home state of Minnesota. Lindbergh is held up as a local hero in Minnesota - the airport is even named after him - and many locals aren't keen to be reminded of the more sordid details of his life. But the book is providing an opportunity for the state to reexamine its own prejudices, and its devotion to a man who was not always what he seemed. Minneapolis Star Tribune 10/03/04

  • Ducking Responsibility Philip Roth's decision to write a fable of American politics and hate was less about surface prejudice than it was about every human being's capacity to ignore the suffering of others. "The deepest reward in the writing and what lends the story its pathos wasn't the resurrection of my family circa 1941 but the invention of the family downstairs, of the tragic Wishnows, on whom the full brunt of the anti-Semitism falls - the invention particularly of the Wishnows' little boy, Seldon, that nice, lonely little kid in your class whom you run away from when you're yourself a kid because he demands to be befriended by you in ways that another child cannot stand. He's the responsibility that you can't get rid of." The New York Times Book Review 10/03/04

A House Divided "Lawyers for the estate of author John Steinbeck's widow are seeking to quash a lawsuit begun by his other relatives over royalties and copyright. Steinbeck's son, Thomas Steinbeck, and granddaughter Blake Smyle are suing the late Elaine Steinbeck's estate for at least $18 million. They are also seeking greater control of Steinbeck's classic novels." BBC 10/02/04

Hurston/Wright Awards Announced Art and literature are supposed to be color-blind, of course, but there's no escaping the fact that the vast majority of literary prizes are presented by white people to white people. Thus the necessity of the Hurston/Wright Legacy Awards, which annually honor the best of black literature. This year's prizes were handed out last week: "In the debut fiction category, Purple Hibiscus, the story of a Nigerian teenager growing up in a rich and troubled family, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; in nonfiction, In Black and White: The Life of Sammy Davis, Jr. by Wil Haygood; and in the fiction category, Hunting in Harlem, the tale of three ex-cons in contemporary New York, by Mat Johnson." Washington Post 10/02/04

Friday, October 1

A Whole New Life Life magazine, which defined America in pictures for much of the 20th century, is back on newsstands again, only four years after its last comeback attempt floundered. "The photo journal disappeared from newsstands in 1972 and a short-lived revival in 2000 failed to match its circulation during its heyday from the 1930s to the 1960s. A new revival, featuring the classic red-and-white logo, appears on Fridays as a supplement in more than 70 newspapers around the country." Minneapolis Star Tribune (AFP) 10/01/04

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